rule of composition

composition for landscape photographers

In landscape-photography, Photography by Bob Wild

Who said?
Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment.
Ansel Adams

Golden Rule of Composition
for landscape photographers

“The Golden Rules of Composition” As It Applies To Landscape Photographer
Rules. What comes to your mind when you hear of any rules? Undoubtedly, you hated them when you were a kid. Perhaps, you still hate at least some of them. Whether you like or hate them, rules are there to guide us to do the right things to attain excellent results.
For all the great things that various rules/laws offer in our contemporary societies, they also have the unpleasant side-effect of stifling individual creativity and freedom. What’s photography but a way to express artistic creativity? There should not be any “rules”!
In fact, photography rules are like a pirate code. More of what you would call ‘guidelines’ than real rules. They’re there to offer guidance, but if you have to break them, then do so without any regret.

Manitoba Flood 1997 La Barrier Park

In a creative field such as landscape photography, one shouldn’t get bogged down by the ‘rules.’ But, the fact remains that certain ‘rules’ were formulated much before the invention of Photography. Most owe their origin to famous painters of the past period. For instance, portrait photographers still talk of Rembrandt Lighting even today.
Should we only disregard the golden rules of composition developed over the previous years in the name of creativity? It would be good to be aware of the rules but choose if you want to follow them based on your photography style, the effect you need to create and the prevailing conditions.
You may have to ignore the so-called rules and formulate your creative style entirely. However, for a beginner, some of these rules may be substantial as a starting point in taking good images. Let us take a look at “The Golden Rules of Composition” (okay, guidelines) to enhance your landscape photography.
Compositional Rules
Often, you hear many photographers talk about composition. But what exactly is composition and how’s it different from the subject? Simply put, “composition” refers to the arrangement of elements in a particular image. It includes all features in a picture, not just the main subject.
Good photography and composition go hand in hand. With enough practice, photographers like us can perfect their technical skills to take a well-exposed photo. It is your flair for composition which will set your pictures apart from the crowd.
The greatest difficulty is, while technical photography can be taught using concrete numbers and rules, photography composition is a bit more ‘artsy.’ The lucky few are born with the natural sense of visual balance and style. For the rest of us, me included it takes plenty of experience and time to create a talent for composition.
A human eye tends to prefer images which have a particular sense of order, as it tends to reject the images which are chaotic. That is the fundamental difference between excellent composition and poor photographic composition, although it is obviously a lot more complex than that when you move beyond the basics.
To create a good understanding of what works and what does not in the composition in photography, it assists in learning the “rules” and even practice to follow them. There are several rules. You have possibly heard of at least some of them, but they’re worth repeating. Of course, keeping in mind that these are more guidelines than the actual rules.
Rule Of Leading Lines
The technique of the leading lines composition is the easiest to learn and apply in landscape photography. In fact, most of us compose photos using these lines unknowingly! You may have done that as well, it comes to us naturally.

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Gold River Highway

For instance, imagine you’re driving through a forest, and you see a beautiful line of trees on both sides of the road. The autumn leaves are breathtakingly colorful that you could not help but pull your vehicle to the side. You desire to capture that lovely moment. Now, how would you take the shot?
Would you stand parallel to the road and only take trees on one side of the road, or would you consider taking a shot while standing right in the middle of the road, with trees on both sides?
Probably, you’d likely go for the latter approach. Right? Of course, you do not need to stand in the middle of a busy road, be cautious when you do it. Please do not misuse this idea. I don’t need to hear, “Bob told me to”
When you take a shot of the road starting from the bottom to the center of the photo, you’re already using the technique of leading lines composition. The road will serve as your line.
Therefore, a leading line is a one which leads you from one point to another in your photograph. Our eyes follow the line automatically.
So, landscape photography exploits this very nature of human beings, by composing a picture using the leading lines. By utilizing this essential technique, you can force your viewer to follow the line, taking them on the visual journey. The journey becomes very exciting when you have a lot of drama surrounding the line.
Leading lines are one of the most effective, and simplest composition techniques used in landscape photography. Landscape photographers often look for the leading lines in nature, to develop a sense of depth in the photograph, and also to lead their viewer to the primary subject of interest.
The main idea is to lead your viewer into the real scene with the assistance of literal, or implied/imaginary lines, in that scene. The image becomes much more fascinating when this line leads the viewer to the primary subject of interest or the anchor point.
Some of the essential aspects of using leading lines in composition includes:
1. Leads the viewer from one point to another.
2. Leads a viewer into the image.
3. Develops the illusion of depth, mainly required in landscape photography.
4. Leads the viewer to the primary subject of interest.
You can make the most compelling landscape photos, by combining the Rule of Thirds, with the leading line composition technique. The beauty of nature is that there are sufficient elements in nature which you can use as your leading/principal lines: roads, streams, railway tracks, pathways, pebbles or rocks on the shoreline, boardwalks, waterfalls, series of trees, poles, etc.
The list can go on. It is amazingly easy to use leading lines in your landscape photography; you only need to look.
Types Of Leading Lines In Landscape Photography
1. Tangible versus Intangible lines
Lines can be tangible/physical and created by real objects, or they can be intangible, so you just need to imagine the lines are there.
Tangible lines are very easy to understand since they’re real lines you can touch and see. Usually, these lines are features on the ground such as a river or road.
However, you can’t see intangible lines the usual way. They’re imaginary lines made of shadows, light, shapes and textures which lead the eyes of the viewer through the photograph. Also, the lines develop as a result of repetitive patterns leading the eyes in a particular direction.
2. Horizontal lines
Horizontal lines provide a sense of stability. Typical examples of the horizontal lines in the landscape photography are shorelines and horizons.
One common mistake in the beginner photography is a crooked horizon. Avoid the background which doesn’t provide horizontal feels or appears unnatural. If the horizon is crooked, this will most likely divert the attention from the primary subject in your photo. In many cases, you should also stop placing the horizon centered in the frame.
3. Vertical lines
Vertical lines tend to convey strength and power to a photo. Vertical lines can serve as a divider in your composition, and you can use them as the natural framing elements. Typical examples of the vertical lines in the landscape photography are mountains and trees.

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Post pegs found under the highway bridge

4. Diagonal lines
Diagonal lines have energy and are more dynamic since the high contrast to the vertical or horizontal lines in your picture. In landscape photography, you usually include a horizon line. In these pictures, the diagonal line will create both depth and perspective to the composition.
In the western world, we read from left to right, a diagonal line starting at the bottom left corner feels more dynamic and natural.
Diagonal lines in different directions or intersecting with each other in the same photo can provide a sense of action and tension to the picture.
5. Repetitive lines
If the arrangement of many lines follows a repeating pattern, this can be a useful composition element. Since these lines repeat themselves, the eyes will always follow them in a natural and attractive manner. By using the repetitive lines, you can develop a rhythm in your composition.
6. Triangular lines
By placing your elements in the three corners of the triangle and balancing them properly, it makes an attractive photographic composition to the eyes.
The eyes will follow those lines naturally in a trilateral motion. The eyes will follow the first line of the triangle towards an object. The second line of the triangle will guide the eyes to the next object. When the eyes follow the third line, they’ll come back to where they started.
If this kind of composition is well balanced, the eyes might do numerous rounds through the photo; thus, keeping the viewer in your composition.
7. S-shaped lines or Curved lines
Curved lines are very gracious and designate a sense of softness and quiet to images. They’re aesthetically attractive and develop a stronger dynamic in a picture than the straight lines do. Curved lines can also guide the eyes around in the image in a smooth manner.
8. Converging lines
Add distance and depth to photographs, as well as perspective and scale. Converging lines are essential in developing a three-dimensional look in a picture that’s a two-dimensional medium. As the lines converge into a distance, they get smaller and smaller.
Converging lines are among the strongest composition tools in landscape photography. The point in your photographic composition where a particular line converges can be a very powerful focal point. The effect of converging lines is more powerful if you use a wide angle lens than a telephoto lens.
Golden Triangles And Spirals
If your photograph has diagonals, try composing it using the “golden triangles.” To do this, divide your photo diagonally from one corner to another, then draw a line starting from one of the other corners till it meets the first line at a 90-degree angle. Now position the elements of your photograph so that they fall within the developed triangles.
As you might guess, the golden spiral is a compositional tool used together with the objects which have curving lines instead of the straight ones. It’s drawn based on that the complex series of the rectangles, but you can visualize this depending on nautilus shell of nature that matches the golden spiral shape almost exactly. If that appears a bit too convoluted to you, just look for the compositions where there’s a spiral which leads the eye to a particular point in the picture.
Leading lines are the most powerful and natural technique a landscape photographer can use to lead the viewer into the picture. When utilized together with the Rule of Thirds, you will be able to take more compelling pictures.
It’s by far the easiest technique to develop a three-dimensional effect, in a two-dimensional photograph. Landscape photographers use it effectively to force the viewer to scan the photo from foreground to background.
Embrace it now, and discover how it transforms your landscape photographs into something more interesting and realistic.

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