Composition in landscape photography is challenging because the subjects are most often static, and they cannot be moved around to suit you composition idea. Furthermore in landscape photography you cannot move or adjust the light yourself.
Because of this you have to plan ahead when shooting landscape. At least you have to if you intend to shoot great photos that will get attention from viewers. With regards the light you have to learn when the light is at its best for photography, and you have to shoot at the best times.
Due to the limitations, composition in landscape photography relies on using different techniques and tools to help you get most out of your composition.
One of these techniques is to move yourself to get a different perspective. Beginners often shoot from the first point of view they see and often with the camera from eye level. Most times this will not give you the best composition and result in a less pleasing photo.
Another common technique used in landscape photography to give the photo depth and dimension is to compose with a strong foreground to background.
Main subject vs. Focus point
Ideally you should have a vision and plan for the image. This is not so easy as it sounds but with practice you can improve compositional skills. It is important to understand each individual have a different view of what is pleasing and not. But, in general, most of us will react positively on a well composed photo.
To understand composition in landscape photography, there are a couple of important terms you have to understand - main subject and focal point.
Every image should have a main subject, and the viewer should be able to understand what the main subject is in your image. Sometimes it is obvious what the main subject is and in other photos it is not so obvious.
Ideally the main subject and focal point should be the same. Most often it is but not always. When you have decided on the main subject the other elements in the frame is used to balance the composition and lead the viewer’s eyes to the main subject.
Main subject: is the elements the photographer has built up the composition around. In every image it should be clear what the the main subject is. The main subject should be interesting and make the viewer stop at a photograph.
Focal point: is elements in the frame that draws the viewer’s eyes and attention. Be aware the eyes always go to the brightest part of an image. This might unintentionally lead the eye away from the main subject. Even a small flare of white/bright spot might lead the eyes away.
So be careful when composing and check the frame for such bright elements if they are not your main subject.
Composition in landscape photography - the main subject must stand out
There are three essential elements you must consider when composing landscapes images.
Subject and surroundings
How the different elements in a composition are placed and positioned relative to each other is important. By using size and proportions of these elements, you can decide which of them to emphasize. In an image, larger object will dominate smaller object.
Typical when composing in landscape photography is the use of wide angle lenses. These lenses exaggerate depth and size making closer objects looking bigger that further away object looking smaller.
The same way as with size you can use colors in landscape photography composition to put more attention on certain objects. Warmer colors have more impact that the cooler ones.
Direction of light and shadows
As mentioned earlier in landscape photography you have to pick the right time when the light is at its best. Typically this means early morning or late afternoon when the sun is low in the sky. Not only is this because of the nice warm colors at that time but also because of the long shadows which bring drama into the image.
With highlights and shadows, you can control the viewer’s eye through the photo. Light and shadows are powerful tools when composing photos. Light illuminates and shadows define and create depth.
With flat midday light, you will not be able to create this three dimensional feel of your images. Read more about light here
Vantage point and perspective
One challenge in landscape photography composition is to create depth in a two dimensional photograph. This can be done by carefully select the best vantage point from where you shoot.
Vantage point is where you position and angle your camera relative to the subject.
Perspective is how the different elements relate to each other in the frame. Finding the vantage point and the best perspective for an optimal composition requires practice. Some photographers are better at this and have “an eye” for composition. Depending on what you want to achieve, the choice of lens is also important.
A common misunderstanding is by changing the focal length of your lens you are also changing the perspective. This is a wrong understanding. To change the perspective, you must move and change the vantage point of your camera.