The subjects of landscape photography are vast and wide – and can be interpreted in many different ways. Rather than go into the specific subjects most commonly used (i.e. lakes, mountains) – I want to talk about the bigger picture – what elements make a successful landscape photo. This will help turn whatever environment you’re in – from the desert to the mountains – into a limitless canvas for your landscape images.
Lines and Layers
Two basic concepts in any area of photography are lines and layers – and landscapes are no exception. Strong lines lead a viewer throughout your photo and layers create interest that grabs your attention and keeps you glued until you take the entire composition in. Image content can be either simple or busy, and yet still have lines and layers.
Photo by Tyler Wainright
This photo of the Smoky Mountains above is the perfect example of using leading lines and layers in a landscape – the gradual transition from light to dark outlined by the sharp separation of the mountains is quite dramatic.
Some of the most powerful landscape photos are ones that say very little. There is great strength in using negative space as your subject – the trick is being able to find it. Foggy days and snowy landscapes are fantastic for this kind of approach since they provide the perfect blank canvas – it’s then up to you to decide where to place your focal point.
Photo by Jon Ragnarsson
Photo by Christopher O’Donnell
Seeing in color is a strong approach to landscape images – it provides a solid base when creating interest in your photo. It’s certainly not the only thing you should be looking for, but strong color – whether opposing or monochromatic – has the power to turn an average landscape into a powerhouse of interest.
Color can be found in any situation – whether it be the mood of your sky (for example, the golden and blue hours) to a colorful focal point that makes your landscape stand out.
Photo by Trey Ratcliff
Photo by Christopher O’Donnell
It’s much more difficult to put a landscape photo into context than it is to simply capture the beauty you see – it can take a bit of creative thinking and the use of unique perspectives as you’re typically dealing with subjects you can’t manipulate. However, when you’re able to tell a story with your camera, the results are unparalleled.
Photo by James Jordan
Photo by TBSteve
The strongest landscape images are ones that have one prominent focal point – and sometimes many more. Foreground interest is a great place to start and is a fantastic way to compliment a landscape. If you come across a beautiful sunset or a dramatic mountain range, take a look around your scene and find additional interest that you can compose your photo around. This simple method can turn your average travel snapshot into a powerful landscape composition.
Photo by gigi 62
Photo by Jono Hey
The most important tip I can give when searching for landscape subjects is to (at first) focus on your immediate surroundings – or at least those within distance. Many landscape photographers become fixated on where they live and the lack of landscape opportunities – mountains, oceans, fields of flowers, and so on.
The best landscape photos can come from what you’re most familiar with – you just need to get creative with your viewfinder. Even your local park can be a plethora of opportunities – you just may need to get diligent with your cropping. Once you learn how to compose a landscape, you’ll be able to take outstanding images in any environment….which is why it’s so important to learn landscape techniques prior to any round-the-world photo excursion.
Use the broad subject ideas I’ve given you to find unique landscape opportunities within your own environment and you’ll find yourself creating images you never thought possible.