Design, Photography, & Fashion

10 Essential Landscape Photography Composition Tips

Written by MasterClass

Aug 27, 2019 • 3 min read

Capturing a nice landscape photo requires more than just pointing and shooting a camera. You can have the most advanced camera on the market, but if you don’t know how to properly compose a shot, your photos will lack artistic perspective and professional quality.

Fortunately, with practice, these composition techniques and photography tips will help you become a pro at composing and shooting beautiful landscape shots.

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What Is Landscape Photography?

Landscape photography is the photography of outdoor vistas, scenery, and topography. Usually, landscape photography captures an impressive natural scene—an imposing mountain range, a serene, sprawling field, a river roaring by—untouched by human presence (besides the photographer’s, of course).

Learn more about landscape photography in our comprehensive guide here.

10 Essential Photography Composition Tips for Landscape Photographers

When you’re shooting an image, you’re telling a story. It’s your job to direct the viewer’s attention to the photo’s most important elements. There are a number of tools you can use to tell the “story” of your image, including:

  1. Follow the rule of thirds, a popular trick for composing perfectly balanced and aesthetically-pleasing photographs. The rule of thirds creates a grid of three horizontal lines and three vertical lines, which you can set up through your viewfinder or on the back screen of your camera. The points where the lines meet are the points of interest, so place the most dynamic or compelling parts of the main subject there, off-center in either the left-third or right-third of the frame. Learn more about the rule of thirds here.
  2. Add depth, which is having something in both the foreground and background of your shot. To bring more depth to your images, place something in the foreground of your frame. It allows your viewer’s eye to travel back and forth between the foreground and background, giving the photo a deeper sense of space.
  3. Leave negative space around your point of interest, or a large area of the photo that’s mostly “empty” to balance the photo. Shoot an evergreen tree next to a snow-covered field or a lighthouse next to a bright blue ocean.
  4. Use leading lines, which are a compositional tool that brings the viewer’s eye through the frame, traveling along the lines as it moves across your photo. When shooting a mountain range, the ridge of the mountain acts as a leading line, drawing your viewer’s eye up to the summit.
  5. Level your horizon. Crooked photos look unprofessional, but a level horizon can be difficult to capture if you don’t have a steady hand. Shooting on a tripod will ensure your photos are level. If you don’t have one, you can level and crop them in Lightroom during editing.
  6. Compress your shots by using a very long lens to make the background appear a lot closer than it actually is. The longer your lens, the more compression you get. At 400mm, you’ll be able to create arresting images that we can’t see with our own eyes, resulting in dramatic, fantastical photos.
  7. Try a new point of view. Staying in one place limits your creativity. Play with high and low angles and photograph a landscape from the side. Move around to see things from a different perspective.
  8. Create a frame within your frame. Look for tree branches, architecture, or other elements that you can cleverly use to create natural frames within your photo.
  9. Experiment and give yourself options, especially if you’re shooting on a digital camera, which doesn’t limit the number of shots you can take, the way film photography does. Look for ways to capture alternates, which will give you more options when it’s time to edit.
  10. Once you learn the rules, break the rules for dramatic effect. A great photo doesn’t have to follow the basic composition rules, but it’s still critical to learn and internalize them so that it’s clear you’re breaking them not out of ignorance, but for stylistic reasons. Once the basics become second nature, you can really play with focal point, depth of field, and space to produce stunning photos.

Whether you’re just starting out or have dreams of going professional, photography requires plenty of practice and a healthy dose of patience. No one knows this better than celebrated National Geographic photographer Jimmy Chin. In his adventure photography MasterClass, Jimmy unpacks different creative approaches for commercial shoots, editorial spreads, and passion projects and provides a valuable perspective on how to bring your photography to new heights.

Want to become a better photographer? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons from master photographers, including Jimmy Chin and Annie Leibovitz.

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