Composing Landscape Photographs

Landscapes have a huge potential to overwhelm us with emotion. Dramatic scenery fills us with wonder. We are inspired to capture a once in a lifetime moment with our digital photos and sharing that with others is exciting. Nobody will see these things exactly the same way again. The sun will never reflect on the same spot in the same way again. A good digital photo can communicate the wonder of what we see that words could never quite describe.

You probably don’t often get to visit places with spectacular landscapes very often, so it is all the more important for you to be well-prepared when you do get the chance to photograph these places. You will want to inspire the same awe in your family and friends as you felt when you were there, and you may not be able to go back again.

Although it is important to have the technical knowledge necessary to utilize your camera effectively,
it is just as important to put your own personality into your pictures; to take photos that have an emotional impact on you, regardless of whether other people will find them appealing. You need to create your own style and your own methods of capturing your unique interpretation of the landscape. You have your unique set of life experiences that color the way you relate to our environment. You don’t want your pictures to look like everyone else’s; you want them to be an expression of your unique relationship to what you are seeing.

The best landscape photos are dramatic. They tell a visual story; so, like a book, they have a central theme and a cast of characters with strong relationships between them (it is these relationships that add the drama to the picture). The central theme of your photo will be the answer to the question “What is the ONE thing here that really moves me, and why is that?” Once you have found your central theme by asking yourself this question, you can determine the main relationships, and from that, you can identify the characters. You may want to try experimenting with different angles to discover less obvious relationships between your characters, and to search for unusual colors, textures, contrasts, shapes, and lines. Slow down and think about what you want to accomplish with your photo.

You may want to ask yourself the following questions before you take your shot:

1) What do I like about this scene?

2) How can I best express this central theme in my photo?

3) How can I clarify the main theme and the most important characters?

4) What equipment is best to use for this shot.

5) Are there any complications, such as fast moving elements, wind, rain, extreme lighting etc, that will affect how I will take this photo?

6) How will these complications affect the image itself? How will I minimize them, or utilize them to take a more creative photo?

You will want to emphasis the main subject, and eliminate the unimportant, so that you don’t distract your viewers by having too many things in the picture. A crowded picture weakens the message you want to give your audience. It dilutes the significance of the photo’s visual story.

You do, however, not want to be so focused on your subject that you don’t “see” the background. Take a moment, in the viewfinder, to scan everything that is there. You don’t want to find out later that some distracting object has ruined your picture. Another thing to keep in mind is that film doesn’t record the depth in what we see; so if you shut one eye and take a couple of breaths and the photo’s elements still look right, your view will be more like the cameras and you will probably create a better picture.

When you compose your photos of spectacular landscapes, you want your audience to be just as awe-inspired by the scene as you were. Express your unique viewpoint in your pictures, capture the main theme and relationship between the most important characters while eliminating the unimportant, and “see” things the way the film would. This will allow you to compose great creative and dramatic photos.



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