Sunday, March 1, 2009

Tutorial 2 - Composition for Landscapes part 1

I think of composition in landscape photography as a bit like Zen gardening. You have a limited space - the frame - in which to arrange all the elements in a manner which is particularly pleasing to the eye.

If you're thinking "how do I arrange a landscape", the answer is that while you may not be able to simply pick up bits of the landscape and put them where you want, you can change not only where you point the camera, but also where you take the photo from, how high above the ground your camera is, and your focal length (ie wide-angle, normal, telephoto), and these things make a big difference to your composition.

What to include: give your shot a clear subject or focal point so the viewer knows what they're looking at.

What to exclude: before you take the shot, look for unwanted details such as power lines or rubbish bins that you can leave out of the shot by moving a bit and re-composing.

Now lets explore the tried and true composition tools.

The Rule of Thirds. It's a bit misnamed, as it's really just a guideline, but it's good.
Imagine your frame is divided horzontally into thirds. Next divide it vertically into thirds. You end up with a grid that looks like this:

The rule of thirds says that the eye is drawn to things that rest on these imaginary lines and at their intersections, so if you place the important elements in your landscape on or near these lines and intersections (the horizon in particular), then you immediately have a much stronger, more interesting image than if you just placed them in the centre of the frame.

Leading Lines. Obvious lines in the picture create paths for your eye to follow. They can be straight, curvy, wiggly, whatever. They are powerful ways of drawing attention to a part of your shot, and can create a strong and visually arresting image.

Foreground, middleground, background. Including all three of these gives a real sense of depth to an image. When you do this, it often helps to include something of interest in the foreground. To get all of it looking sharp and in focus, have a look at Tutorial 1 - Getting it all in Focus.

Balance. Balance the visual weight of elements or tones across your frame. This can be symmetrical as in a formal garden (ie using reflections on lakes), or asymmetrical, as in a Zen garden, which is more common for landscapes. While there is even a mathematical formula (the Golden Mean) for achieving this balance, you have a natural instinct for the visual weight of something and you will know if a picture seems balanced or unbalanced.

To view more of my landscapes, check out my gallery here:

Coming next, Tutorial 3 - The Light and Landscape Photography (Composition for Landscapes part 2 will be after we've covered the basics).