Rules of Composition for Landscape Photography

From beaches to forests to mountains to deserts, landscapes are pleasing to the eye. Photographers are attracted to beautiful scenery, and photo sharing sites are packed with landscape photography examples. However, without appropriate attention to detail, photos of natural scenery can leave something to be desired. To create breathtaking landscape images, consider these general rules of composition.

 Landscape Photography Rule #1: Follow the Rule of Thirds

Landscape Photography

Dutch winter landscape wallpaper by Bart Hiddink

The rule of thirds, a commonly referred to commandment of photographic composition, is based on the theory that the human eye is most attracted to subjects that are not placed in the center of an image. If you were to draw a tic-tac-toe grid evenly across your picture, breaking it into three rows and three columns, the places where the grid lines intersect are said to be good places to feature subjects. As far as landscapes go, this means moving the horizon from the middle of the frame to a third of the way from the top or bottom of the picture. But there’s no need to hold to this rule strictly. Plenty of gorgeous landscape images have horizons that are higher or lower than one third into the frame. Whatever you do, aim to keep your horizons from splitting the image exactly in half.

Landscape Photography Rule #2: Add Foreground Elements of Interest

Landscape Photography

Dynamic Serenity by Andrew E. Larsen (foreground element of interest)

Nature is often stunning on its own, but you can make your pictures stand out even more by choosing a point of interest that will make people want to gaze at your landscape image even longer. Look for a flower, man-made item, water ripple, alluring tree, or other intriguing aspect that will draw people into the scene.

Landscape Photography Rule #3: Show a Sense of Scale

Landscape Photography

The Message by Dr. Wendy Longo (include person/animal/object for scale)

Piggybacking on the rule of adding foreground elements to your images, when it helps the photo, try to include a person, animal, or object to provide a sense of scale. The giant Sequoia you saw from a lookout on your hike may just look like a typically sized tree in a photograph unless you give your audience something familiar, like a human, for comparison. Show your viewer how small or how vast the scene before you appeared.

Landscape Photography Rule #4: Lead Viewers in With Lines and Curves

Landscape Photography

The Road Home by Ian Sane

The human eye naturally follows lines and curves. Place your subject at the end of a road, fence, or naturally occurring line or curve to increase its impact. Viewers’ eyes often start at the bottom of the frame, so lines leading up into the image are usually powerful elements of a well composed photograph.

Landscape Photography Rule #5: Keep it Simple

Landscape Photography

Fields of Gold by Shadowgate

Successful landscape photos often omit many details of a scene. Rather than creating a photograph that attempts to capture everything your saw around you, try including less in your image for a minimalist approach that focuses on color or one key subject. Highlighting just one small part of a scene keeps your audience’s imagination searching for more.

Landscape Photography Rule #6: Look for Patterns and Lines

Landscape Photography

Clear Cut Lines by Ian Sane

Use repeating patterns, shapes, and lines to your advantage. Most of us are intrigued by the symmetry that’s found in the world around us. Photograph concentric circles, neat rows of crops, or the curved shapes formed by layers of mountain peaks. Show a welcome sense of order amid an otherwise disorderly scene. An emphasis on these graphic elements makes for a strong image.

Landscape Photography Rule #7: Creativity

Landscape Photography

“My forest dream is still a dream…” by Vinoth Chandar

By-the-book landscape images are pleasant. But adding your own creativity to the picture can create a more memorable photograph. Experiment with zooming your lens in or out as you release the shutter. Or pan the camera to blur all or part of the image. Move to a high or low point to find an atypical perspective that you haven’t seen done before. Straying from the ordinary is almost always worth it when it comes to making fascinating images.

Landscape Photography Rule #8: Break the Rules

Landscape Photography

Sealight centre by Les Chatfield

But, remember: sometimes the best landscape images are made when you consider the rules and then toss them to the wind. Don’t be afraid to break the rules when it makes sense.

Improve your landscape photography by taking your time in setting up your shot. Look for repeating shapes and colors, include objects that will give your photos more appeal, and try something new and creative. Keeping just a few simple guidelines in mind, and breaking the rules when inspiration strikes, will help you to create landscape photographs that contain within them all that you felt by being out in nature.

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Profile photo of Nicoal Price About Nicoal Price

​Nicoal is a New England photographer with a penchant for learning. Her work ranges from nature-inspired portraiture to outdoor product photography. Visit nicoalprice.com for more info.

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