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  • Filip Hrebenda

Composition in landscape photography

Good composition in landscape photography is the foundation of good photo, and while they say rules are meant to be broken, that's not the case with composition. If you know the rules of composition, you can afford to break some of them, but never all at once. If you do this, the resulting photo is unlikely to interest anyone. Composition determines whether the photo will be pleasing to the eye or if it will disappear among thousands of other photos and remain unremarkable. It is a relatively common phenomenon to have nice photogenic conditions, but the composition is not well controlled. So, what rules should you follow to make your photo interesting not only today but also years from now? Let's talk about it.

1) The Rule of thirds

The best known and most universally used rule of composition is the rule of thirds. It utilizes imaginary vertical and horizontal lines to divide the image into thirds. The main objects are placed on the intersections of these lines or on the lines themselves.

The proportion of the horizon and sky is also determined by placing the interface on one of the lines. You can position the horizon either in the upper or lower third of the photo according to your intention. The rule of thirds is very simple and can be applied directly on the display of your camera to make composing easier.

Composition in landscape photography - Rule of thirds

TIP: Almost every camera today allows you to turn on the grid division into thirds directly in it. This rule - like all rules in composition - should not be taken too literally. While it is true that the composition is meant to be divided into thirds, it is a rough division, and it doesn't have to be extremely precise. Now, let's show some examples of third composition directly in the photos.

Composition in landscape photography - Rule of thirds

Composition in landscape photography - Rule of thirds

Both photos used the rule of thirds, where imaginary lines divided the composition into thirds, with ⅓ falling to the sky and ⅔ to the bottom of the photo. However, in both cases, the main subject is not in the same position. While the subject of one photograph is located at the intersection of the imaginary lines, in the second one, the main subject is located in the center of the photo. This brings us to the next aspect, which is the selection of the main theme.

2) Choose main object of your landscape photography composition

The selection of elements in the frame, or the choice of the main subject itself, is a fundamental aspect of approaching composition. If there are elements in the shot whose presence is not important or whose purpose is unclear, we can label them as distracting. In landscape photography, there should be a clear main theme. This could often be a mountain, a waterfall, a tree, a church, a building, or a person in the landscape. There are no limits to imagination, and we should always strive to be creative.

The main subject should be clearly visible and recognizable at first glance. It should never be cut off on the side of the photo in the composition, and it is ideal if it is placed in the golden section or the center, depending on the type of composition we choose.

Placement of the main object - golden rule

This is probably the most commonly used position for the main subject – when it is located at the intersection of imaginary lines. It looks natural and pleasing to the eye. Whether we choose the left part of the intersection or the right part, it doesn't require laser precision. Let me show you some examples.

Composition in landscape photography - Rule of thirds

Composition in landscape photography - Rule of thirds

Placement of the main object - central composition

Many people think that using a central composition is inappropriate in landscape photography. Well, that's not always true. The central composition can look good in some cases, and in fact, it can be even more effective than the golden ratio. Let me show you some examples of compositions where we place the main subject in the center of the photo.

In both cases, the main subject, which is the mountain, is placed in the middle, making it a central composition. Our eyes are drawn to that main theme. These are examples of photos taken in portrait orientation, but you can also use the central composition when taking landscape photos, especially when the main subject is symmetrical on both sides.

Composition in landscape photography - Central composition

Composition in landscape photography - Central composition

Here, the photos are taken in a wide format, but the principle of central composition is still observed. In both cases, the main subjects are volcanoes or rocks, and they are placed in the center. This kind of composition is very versatile, it is not difficult to achieve, and it can be found and used nicely in various locations. It allows the main subject to stand out. However, it is good to have some guiding lines in this style of photo, which brings us to point No. 3.

3) Use leading lines

Geometric shapes are powerful elements in photography, and among them, lines are undoubtedly the most important. Our eyes are naturally drawn to them. Trees, rivers, roads, and bridges all serve as perfect leading lines, guiding our gaze through the photo. Sometimes these lines simply lead us through the composition, while other times they direct our attention towards the central subject located somewhere in the frame. Curved lines are particularly attractive and often become the dominant feature of the entire photo. Look for and photograph motifs with such lines, and your shots will immediately become more interesting. Lines are a great photographic tool to lead the viewer's eye to the main subject of the photograph. Let's provide some examples.

In both cases, the leading lines run nicely from the bottom of the photo, guiding the viewer's eye up to the main subject, which is the mountain. When looking for a composition, it's essential to find an interesting foreground. Many times, it will appear in the least expected places – a tuft of grass, rocks, or some contrasting elements in the sand. Even the sea itself can create lines for us; the outgoing wave that returns to the sea can be beautifully utilized in this way.

Composition in landscape photography - Leading lines

4) Symmetry and similarities

Our brain loves symmetry, and therefore, we find symmetrical scenes attractive. Unlike the rule of thirds, which emphasizes only one part of the photo, symmetrical photos strive for optical balance throughout the frame. Finding symmetry in the landscape is not always easy, but it can be discovered from time to time. As an example, I would share a photo from Iceland where the erupting volcano was in symmetry with the lava in the foreground, creating a resemblance to the main object in the background, which is the volcano.

Composition in landscape photography - Symmetry

5) Frame your scene

A good trick to draw attention to the main subject of your photo is using natural framing. The world around us offers a multitude of natural "frames," such as mountains, hills, tree trunks, leaves, water surfaces, or the horizon. Use these objects to your advantage, position them around the edges of your composition, and suddenly your photos will gain a completely different sense of depth, making your main subject much more prominent.

Composition in landscape photography - Framing

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