Facebook Pixel Combining Rules of Composition to Improve Your Landscape Images

Combining Rules of Composition to Improve Your Landscape Images

One of the most elusive and frustrating elements of photography is finding the right composition. Many otherwise good images are often derailed by poor compositional choices. There are several primary rules of composition to be aware of, and by being aware of them, and then combining them, you can give your landscape photos a real boost in terms of interest.

Image: In this image, I had a flat gray mist killing any interest in the sky. But when this lone sai...

In this image, I had a flat gray mist killing any interest in the sky. But when this lone sailboat began sailing right at the edge of the mist, I began to see possibilities. By placing the sailboat at the intersection of the rule of thirds, and placing the horizon line at the bottom third of the image, I allowed the negative space to take up a lot of room. That negative space gives the boat a place to go, and keeps the interest squarely on the sailboat.

The first and most basic rule is the Rule of Thirds.  This rule states simply that elements of interest in your photos should be positioned one third of the way in from top, bottom, left or right of the image.  Elements of primary importance should be positioned at the intersection of those thirds.  The rule of thirds tends to be the first rule I look to when composing my images.  But I find my strongest images happen when I am able to combine the rule of thirds with other rules.  These rules include using leading lines, using negative space, and using framing.  Of course, there are always times to break these “rules”- they are actually more guidelines than rules. But that’s another article altogether.

Use negative space to help your subject stand out. Too often photographers try to eliminate negative space, simply because there’s nothing of interest in that space. Negative space is simply an area of the image with nothing in it- a blank sky, a dark shadow area, a flat expanse of land.  However, that negative space can be used to contrast against your subject, ensuring the viewer’s eye goes right where you want it to.  Ideally, your subject should be heading or pointing IN to the negative space, to lead your eye into the composition.

Image: The shoreline in this image leads the viewer's eye right to the lighthouse. The lighthou...

The shoreline in this image leads the viewer's eye right to the lighthouse. The lighthouse is positioned right at the intersection of the rule of thirds, with the water on the right creating some nice negative space in contrast with the rocky shore. The horizon line is roughly at the top third of the image.

Leading lines are another excellent tool to use to help draw attention to your subject. Ideally these lines are created by other elements in your composition and help lead the viewer’s eye right to your subject.  Leading lines help create depth when used to lead the eye into the frame, giving a more three dimensional feel to the image.

A very effective way to draw attention to your subject is to use other elements to frame it within the image. Framing can be used to help keep interest where it belongs, and keep the eye from wandering aimlessly through the image.  Framing can add context to an image.  For instance, trees at the edges of an image, framing off a lake, or mountain peak, give a sense of where the photographer is when taking the image.  Eliminating those elements removes the context. This is not necessarily bad, but another variation to consider when photographing at a location. I’ve often found myself frustrated that a tree was in the way, or I couldn’t get the view I wanted because a building was in the way. Then I realize that I can use the trees, or use the building (by shooting through an open window), to add that context that gives an added layer of interest to a photo.

By keeping these four simple compositional guidelines in mind when shooting, you can create a variety of images from the same subject, increasing your keeper ratio finding images you may not have found otherwise.

Image: In this image of Half Dome, foreground trees are used to set apart Half Dome and make it stan...

In this image of Half Dome, foreground trees are used to set apart Half Dome and make it stand out, while providing a context. In addition, note that the trees are roughly at one third on each side of the image. This need not be exact, but it helps create a space within the image that the eye finds pleasing.

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Rick Berk

Rick Berk is a photographer based in Freeport, Maine, shooting a variety of subjects including landscapes, sports, weddings, and portraits. Rick leads photo tours for World Wide Photo Tours and his work can be seen at RickBerk.com and you can follow him on his Facebook page and on Instagram at @rickberkphoto.

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