Landscape Photography Composition:
Let's bake a cake!

Landscape Photography Composition: Let's bake a cake!

Composition is a term you will hear in photography a lot. And for good reason. Good Composition is the one of the key fundamentals to successful photography. In this article I will explain a bit about how I choose my compositions, showing you some images and highlighting the areas where I feel there was good composition. I am not claiming that every image in this blog is perfect by any means but I find the best way to illustrate the points i’m making is through images. But firstly, what does composition mean? A quick search on google will tell you that a composition is basically the make up of something. A cake’s composition is its ingredients. In a similar way the composition of a photo is what its made up of and it’s these ‘ingredients’ that create powerful and beautiful landscape photos. So let’s treat this like we are baking a cake and I am going to outline 4 key ingredients I feel help to create a juicy landscape photo.

Ingredient 1: Leading Lines

The meandering river is the leading line in this image. It creates depth and helps draw the viewers eye down through the valley

In simple terms, a leading line draws the viewer into the Image. It creates depth and allows the eye to be drawn through the shot to a possible focal point which could be a subject, a burst of light or simply to infinity.

This boardwalk provided the perfect leading line to the mountains and moody sky in the background
In this image the road provides a leading line which gives symmetry and depth to the shot.

Ingredient 2: Light

I was debating whether or not to include light because light is a whole separate element which could be discussed in length however it is also a fundamental part of composition so here we go. When I say light, I am not solely referring to beautiful sidelight, dramatic rays of sun breaking through clouds or roaring skies at sunset/sunrise. Light can be soft and this type of light can compliment an image very well. However, light from the sun can really add to your composition and create beautiful tones, shadows and drama. You need to really think about lighting and its relationship with your composition. With regards to light, you have a couple of options such as sidelight, backlight or shooting relatively into the sun illuminating your foreground.
This is an example of where I used a break of light from the clouds to add drama and mood to this image. It also brings the viewers eye to that really nice bowl shape in the valley
Sidelight: allowing sidelight to stream in from the left hand side of the shot illuminates the building along with my foreground. This was a nice soft light just after sunrise which added warmth and glow
This is a very minimalist image but it is an example of how a cloudy or misty day can create very pleasing soft light in an image

Ingredient 3: Lines and Shapes

Lines and shapes help create definition and symmetry in an image. They are pleasing to the human eye even if we do not realise it! This overlaps a bit with leading lines however you can use different parts of the landscape to create shape and give the shot structure. Different shapes can often help create layers and separation in a shot

Initially this may look like a busy scene but when you look closely you can see those vertical tree trunks create nice parallel lines across the image while the different outreaching branches give nice definition and character.
This fantastic bowl nestled into a cliff face is a perfect example of how shapes can be appealing in the landscape.
Here we have both leading lines stretching out both sides of the frame and also a beautiful curve shape to give the image aesthetic appeal

Ingredient 4: Breaking the image into thirds

I stumbled upon the idea of the rule of thirds purely by experimenting and recognising what looked good and what didn’t in a shot. I began to understand how placing a focal point in your image helps with its composition. One thing I always try do if I can help it is include an appealing element in each third of the shot. By third I mean breaking the image into lower, middle and upper third i.e foreground, middle and background. You could also break it into first, second and third. Having an element in each third of your image creates depth and makes it feel almost 3D. You want to make the viewer feel like they are there with you taking the image, that’s what good composition does. I am not really sure if this ‘3 thirds’ of an image is science or proven fact but it seems to work for me and its a nice change from the classic rule of thirds/grid spiel.
I feel like this image has a strong immersive effect. In my foreground was this torrential flow of water through the gorge, my middle ground has a very picturesque waterfall and in the upper third or background was some soft light filtering through the autumn colour in the trees.
Foreground rocks, middle ground trees and a golden sunrise to finish it off.
For this image in the first third we have the the boat which fills the frame. Looking through the image we have some mist in the middle of the shot while in the background is a nice sunrise sky.

Last but not least: Rules are there to be broken!

Sometimes you just shoot, it is nice to go out with your camera and take images not worrying too much about all the technical stuff. And when light plays its part the rules of composition can be broken while still creating pleasing images. Here are a few examples
Breaking light provided some really nice drama and mood here
Fog inversion. I literally just pointed my camera at the mountains engulfed in fog and shot.
Maybe this does have pleasing compositional elements but it was a quick handheld shot that I didn’t think a whole lot about!
Living on the edge!
Everyone has their own style and way of shooting. My rules or ingredients for composition may be different to yours and that is ok. This is what works for me. Once again I hope this article was a help and addresses some of the questions I get asked regarding composition on instagram a lot. Thank you for reading and I hope everyone is safe and well during these dark times. All the best

Thanks for reading!

Sean O'Riordan

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