21 essential landscape photography tips you need to know

The secrets of great landscapes

11. Create a visual balance

Alongside great light, the right weather conditions and a perfect exposure, composition is one of the most important aspects of landscape photography. Composition is simply a term to describe how elements of the scene are arranged within the image frame. There are a number of tricks or devices you can use to give your shots visual balance and draw the viewer into them.

The rule of thirds is the most basic, and also one of the most reliable compositional devices. It can be used in conjunction with the other devices we’ll be looking at, so consider it to be the foundation of your shots. By following this rule, your landscapes will have a true sense of balance that’s pleasing to the eye.

With the rule of thirds, you have to imagine that the frame is split into nine equal sections by two horizontal and two vertical lines. 

The idea is that you position the main focal point of the image on one of the four points where these lines intersect. When you’re using foreground interest, positioning that area as well as the focal point according to the rule of thirds will result in a much more pleasing image. Equally, the horizon line could be positioned on either the top or bottom horizontal line when shooting in both portrait and landscape format.

Some cameras offer a rule-of-thirds grid in the viewfinder, or on the LCD screen when you shoot using Live View, so if you find it hard to imagine the grid, this is a great way to actually see it. The viewfinder setting will most likely be found within your camera’s custom function menu; with Live View, the Display button will toggle through the available display modes.

12. Step into images

Foreground interest is a powerful compositional device that has the ability to make the foreground and background areas of images work in perfect harmony. By positioning an object such as a rock, water or anything that relates to the scene as a whole, you create a visual stepping stone – a starting point for the viewer’s eye to enter the image. 

Don’t include a random object as foreground interest for the sake of it. It needs to have relevance to the scene, and ultimately complement it. And by composing the object using to the rule of thirds, you’ll keep balance and visual harmony.

13. Direct the viewer's eye

If you want to create dynamic landscape images that draw the viewer into and through your images, lead-in lines are an amazing compositional device to employ.

You’ll need a strong linear element in the scene, such as a wall, a road, rocks or a bridge. By positioning this element so it begins in the bottom third of the frame, ideally right at the bottom, you can compose the shot so the lines aim towards the focal point in the image. In some situations, lead-in lines can also act as foreground interest.

14. Break the rules

We’ve looked at some of the rules and devices that can be used to make your landscape scenes look fantastic. But aren’t all rules made to be broken?

Once you learn how to use the rule of thirds, it often becomes second nature, but there are times when completely ignoring it and composing with the main subject or the horizon line in the centre of the frame produces the most eye-catching image possible. 

You’ll discover that the best types of scenes to compose centrally are those where there’s an obvious element of natural symmetry, such as a pier, lavender fields or lone trees.

15. Discover minimalism

Minimal landscapes can look amazing. They can be just as compelling as a classic landscape scene bursting with detail and light. In photography and art there’s a compositional idea called ‘the rule of threes’: the premise behind it is simply that three objects are more visually pleasing than two or four.

So when you’re shooting minimalist landscapes, if you don’t have a lone tree or a single derelict groyne on a beach, try to find three. Give it a try – we’re sure you’ll agree that the rule of threes really is a winning formula.