At some point in our progression as landscape photographers, we need to gain a greater understanding of composition if we want our photography to continue to improve.
The first composition tip any photographer will typically learn is that of the Rule of Thirds, which states that you should place the interesting elements of your photo on imaginary grid lines that evenly divide the photo into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. Next, the idea of leading lines is usually introduced so that we can use features in the scene to guide the viewer’s eye into it. These are both fantastic composition tools, and I still use them all the time in my photography. However, just because one tool works well enough for many situations in photography, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reach for a more specialized tool compliment it or replace it to take your photo to the next level.
The following is a list of 12 composition tips to keep in mind next time you are setting up your camera to capture a scene.
1. Survey Possible Compositions BEFORE Setting Up Your Tripod
Whenever I first reach a photo location, I do my best to survey the scene with only my eye before holding up a camera to it. I always want to examine what is in front of me, take it in, and figure out what about it I find to be visually interesting. Once I do that, I tend to bring my DSLR up to my eye, move around, zoom in and out, and see at how the scene looks through the viewfinder at different angles and focal lengths.
I tend to avoid setting my camera up on my tripod at first for two reasons. First, holding the camera up to my eye allows me to move freely throughout a scene to examine many possible composition options. Second, once I commit to a composition and set up my tripod, I tend not to move until the good light is finished, so I better make sure that composition is a good one. Unless you are really pressed for time, try to commit to giving yourself a predetermined amount of time, something like 5 minutes or so, to explore different options before setting up the tripod. I find this to be useful especially if there is an obvious composition at my location, because those tend to suck me in and guarantee that I won’t find a spot that is potentially more interesting.
2. Rank Your Foreground, Midground, and Background by Level of Interest
When you are in those first moments at a photo location, deciding the things about it that you find appealing, keep in mind that you have three main “zones” in your image: foreground, midground, and background. These zones are obviously roughly defined and will change based on the scene in front of you, but we can think of them as the things that will be the closest to your camera (the foreground), the farthest away from your camera (the background), and all of that good stuff in the middle (the midground).
If you decide that the foreground is the most interesting zone in your composition, you will likely want to choose a low tripod height and/or camera angle to emphasize its details. If the background or midground in your scene make the foreground look ugly by comparison, getting the camera higher off the ground will be the way to go. As a result, determining which part of your composition deserves the most attention will help to narrow down the options of where you will need to stand and how you will need to position your gear to capture your vision in a photo.