In this article, I’m going to share 10 simple landscape photography composition tips, so that you can start creating beautiful, flowing, dynamic, balanced landscape images.
Specifically, you’ll discover:
- How to draw the viewer straight into the scene (and keep them wanting more!)
- How to position your horizons for maximum dynamism and balance
- A simple trick for minimalistic landscape shots
- A cool technique to focus the viewer exactly where you want them
- Much more!
So if you’re ready to take your landscape compositions to the next level, let’s dive right in, starting with my number-one most useful technique:
1. Include a main subject to engage the viewer
To instantly level up your landscape compositions, then here’s how you should start:
By including a clear, identifiable subject in each photo.
The subject can be anything: a rock. A mountain. A river. A shell on the beach. Waves crashing on the shore. Lightning in the sky.
The point is to include at least one element in your photo that the viewer can grab onto – something that sucks them into the frame and piques their interest. Otherwise, your viewer will become confused. They won’t know where to focus, so they’ll move on to a different image and never look back. (Not good!)
Is it okay to include multiple interesting subjects? Absolutely! In fact, many landscape photographers these days specialize in packing both a foreground subject and a background subject into a single photo (more on that later). But be careful not to include so many subjects that the viewer no longer has a place to focus. When in doubt, simplicity should win out.
2. Use the rule of thirds to position your key elements
The rule of thirds is one of my favorite landscape composition tools. It’s a great way to get started with composition, and it’ll give you an easy way to arrange key elements within the frame, like your main subject, your horizon, and other supporting elements.
For those unfamiliar with the rule of thirds, here’s a quick explanation:
The rule of thirds tells you to split your composition into vertical and horizontal thirds, so you end up with a series of gridlines. Then, for the most powerful compositions, you should place compositional elements along those gridlines (and at their intersection).
This often comes into play when working with horizon lines. Instead of putting the horizon smack-dab in the center of the frame, you can put it along the top rule of thirds gridline (a good idea if your foreground is especially interesting) or along the bottom rule of thirds gridline (a good idea if your sky is colorful or dramatic).
For this image, the blowing sand in the foreground is stunning – so the photographer chose to put the horizon along the upper gridline:
You can also use the rule of thirds to position your main subject. You might put the subject along one of the vertical gridlines, or – even better – at an intersection point.
A quick word of caution, though:
The rule of thirds is a helpful technique. But despite the name, it’s not a landscape composition rule – rather, it’s a guideline, so you don’t need to follow it all the time. Instead, use it when it works, break it when it doesn’t.
3. Use foreground interest to create depth
Most landscape photos, even the mediocre ones, include background interest (such as a distant mountain, a dramatic sunset, or a house on a cliff).
But if you want to really take your landscapes to the next level, I highly recommend including foreground interest, which should sit somewhere between your camera and the background. (It’s also referred to as the near-far composition technique.)
This is a powerful tool, one that’s insanely popular among today’s professional landscape photographers. And the reason it’s so popular? It helps create the illusion of depth in a scene.
For instance, a photo of a distant mountain can look nice, but it often appears rather flat.
But add some grass close to the camera, and the whole composition immediately deepens. The viewer first focuses on the foreground grass, then moves into the midground, then finally sees the stunning mountain in the background:
So the next time you find a beautiful background subject, like the mountain I mentioned above…
…take a few moments to look for foreground interest. Then include both foreground and background in a single shot.
Note that the foreground interest can be a discrete subject, like a patch of grass. Or it can simply lead the eye into the frame, as I discuss in the next tip:
4. Use leading lines to suck the viewer into the scene
Leading lines are lines that draw the viewer into the scene. They generally start in the foreground of the composition, then move back, back, back…until they reach a distant subject.
In the photo below, the road acts as a leading line, which moves the viewer toward the beautiful sunset:
The road isn’t really a discrete subject, but it does provide foreground interest, and it moves the viewer toward the background.
By the way, you can make leading lines out of pretty much anything. I highly recommend you take a look at some of your favorite landscape photography and see how it incorporates leading lines; you’ll find all sorts of creative compositions, with lines created out of roads, rivers, fallen trees, ferns, lines in the dirt, and much, much more.
5. Use lots of negative space to create minimalist landscape compositions
These days, minimalism is all the rage in landscape photography. Here’s how it works:
First, find a scene full of negative space. (Negative space refers to emptiness in a composition, like a long stretch of blue sky, a swathe of green grass, a smooth, barren beach, etc.)
Second, find a small, isolated, lonely-looking subject, like a tree in a field, a rock jutting out from a flat landscape, or even a person.
Third, position your isolated subject so it’s small in the frame, and it’s surrounded by plenty of negative space. Here, it often pays to break the rule of thirds; instead of putting your subject at a rule of thirds intersection point, you put it closer to the edges of the frame, which serves to emphasize the emptiness.
You’ll end up with an attention-grabbing shot, one that feels both contemporary and timeless.
6. Don’t be afraid to go tight
Most photographers do landscape photography with wide-angle lenses. And in general, this works really well; you can capture the vastness of the scene while emphasizing foreground and background subjects.
It sometimes pays to zoom in tight using a telephoto lens (a 70-200mm or 100-400mm will do a good job).
This works especially well on relatively flat subjects with graphic lines: a distant waterfall, cracks in a canyon wall, overlapping mountains. Zooming in will compress the scene, so advice about adding depth tends to fly out the window, and that’s okay.
Instead, focus on using landscape compositional tools like the rule of thirds to create balance and flow. And as I emphasized at the beginning of this article, make sure to include a clear point of interest!
7. Use layers to help simplify the scene
Layers are one of my absolute favorite landscape photography composition techniques, because they make scenes simpler, easily digestible, and all-around beautiful.
When you’re out with your camera, just look for a clear bottom layer, middle layer, and top layer (though more layers is fine, too!).
One of the great things about layered compositions is that they work regardless of your focal length or subject of interest. You can create layered wide-angle shots by incorporating clear foregrounds, midgrounds, and backgrounds into the composition.
And you can create layered telephoto shots by compressing distant elements (as I mentioned in the previous tip, overlapping mountains look great, but you can also layer trees, sand dunes, and more).
Not every composition is amenable to layering. But when you find a scene with repeating or overlapping elements, that’s a good sign you can get a layered shot – and when possible, I recommend you go for it.
8. Incorporate diagonal lines to add movement
This one’s a more advanced landscape composition tool, and the effect can be subtle – but when done right, it can level up a good photo to a great one.
You see, diagonal lines are an effective way to move the eye around the scene and add flow to a shot. They’ll carefully push the viewer toward the main subject, while also prompting them to have a fun little journey around your photo.
To get started, I’d recommend first identifying your main subject. This should be the focal point of your image, and the place you want the diagonal lines to lead.
Then walk around, looking for potential diagonals that point toward – not away! – from your subject. You’ll often need to get creative. Consider all your options: paths, lines of trees, fences, rivers, a shadow, even clouds!
Finally, compose your photo, including at least one diagonal line moving toward your subject (and feel free to use two, three, or four lines if you can find them).
Note that diagonal lines can be foreground leading lines, but they don’t have to be. It’s perfectly acceptable to find a diagonal line that starts far off in the distance, as long as it moves toward your main subject.
9. Use geometry, especially triangles, to add flow and stability
In landscape photography, geometry is your friend.
Specifically, you can incorporate shapes, such as triangles, squares, and circles, into your compositions. These will help create both flow and stability, plus they just look very cool (especially when done with subtlety!).
For instance, consider the triangle, one of the most powerful shapes available to the landscape photographer. It includes diagonal lines and therefore adds plenty of movement. It also tends to be very stable, thanks to its strong edges and wide base.
Circles are great, too – partial circles create nice curves for plenty of flow. And complete circles create eye-catching points of interest.
You don’t need to find full shapes in the landscape, by the way. It’s okay to use a somewhat circular rock, a vaguely triangular mountain, and so on. The point is to include shape-like elements when you can, without stressing too much about whether you have a complete shape or an implied one. That way, you create strong compositions that still feel natural.
10. Find natural frames to focus the viewer
As emphasized earlier in this article, foreground interest is a great way to add depth to landscape compositions.
But sometimes, you run into foreground elements that can’t quite work as a discrete compositional element…
…yet can still sit around the edges of your photo as a frame.
This is the landscape photography framing technique: You include tangential elements around the outside of an image, and use them to direct the viewer toward the interesting midground and background.
For instance, you might include an overhanging branch toward the top of the image, in order to guide the viewer toward the subject in the middle of the shot:
Or you might find a tunnel of rocks that leads the viewer toward the sunset in the background.
In wide-open spaces, finding frames can be tough. But if you’re shooting in a more chaotic landscape, you can often find trees or rocks to create a frame. In fact, it’s often these simple frames that take a good composition to the next level; they provide much-needed focus by showing the viewer exactly where to look (and when positioned carefully, they can also block out distracting elements).
Landscape photography composition: final words
Well, there you have it:
10 techniques to enhance your landscape compositions.
Practice these techniques, and above all, have fun!
Now over to you:
Which of these composition tips is your favorite? Which are you going to try first? Share your thoughts in the comments below!