Making and Understanding Great Landscape Photos

Miners Beach, Port Macquarie, New South Wales

When people begin photography, one typical question they ask is what makes a great landscape photo and what doesn’t?  Why do some photos jump out and others don’t? Why do professional photographers create great landscapes and how can I do the same? These should be any aspiring photographers thought. We aim to explore these questions.


Firstly, it should be noted that there are many factors that create great landscapes. These include light, composition, subject matter, point of difference and colour. For this blog we will first explore light and composition.


If you have analysed any good photograph, the first thing you will notice is that lighting is an essential element for any good photo. This is so for landscapes, portraits and street photography. It can have such a dramatic influence on the final result, that it should not be ignored, but studied carefully as a keen photographer.


Arguably, for any landscape image, light is one of the most important aspects of a stunning photograph. If you have taken time to analyse any stunning landscape image, you will begin to notice that they have been taken when the light is lower and more even. Often just as the sun sets beyond the sunrise leading to the term “maximum depth of colour” where colours become more vivid and the light even. If you have ever taken a photo at 12pm in the day, where the light is at its strongest, you will notice the image is very contrasting with many shadows and harsh light. However, at evening as the sun sets, the light begins to soften the landscape, providing a warm glow of golden even light that make the scenery in front of you change dramatically. Equally this also occurs just as the sun begins to rise. This is known as the golden hour where the landscape lights up.




A second important consideration for a great landscape is composition. Composition in any image is essential to please the human eye. Good composition in your photos will attract interest immediately and better still, capture their attention for a reasonable time. A well-crafted composition will lead the eye through the entire photo. A failure to understand this process will make an image or break your image. However, some simple tested rules can help improve your photographs.


Rule of Thirds

The most basic rule is that of the rule of thirds. You will see and hear those in the photography world talking a lot about this rule. This technique aims at dividing your image in to thirds both horizontally and diagonally forming a grid. Placing compositional elements on intersecting positions of the grid is considered to appeal to the viewers eyes. The human brain generally finds this to be extremely pleasing when viewed. Try to think first third foreground, next third to have your subject and the last third for your skyline. But remember these rules are not steadfast. For example, if you have a boring sky but interesting foreground, the foreground could equally take up two thirds of the picture. Composition is about finding what works best. Equally cameras allow you to view in live view, your composition with the rule of thirds grid showing.


Golden Ratio

A second compositional element to consider is the golden ratio. This is a spiral figure that looks like a nine and is a well trusted compositional technique. In order to use this rule, place the subject matter in narrower compressed section of the spiral allowing the eye to move and be directed outwards through the picture.


Leading Lines

Incorporating leading lines into your landscape image can increase the visual impact of your photo. Lines are important in a landscape image to often direct the eye through the picture to a vanishing point. They are also important to create a notion of depth in an image. In the example below, you notice how the rocks allow your eye to move from the bottom right of the image to the top left-hand corner. You as the photographer are in a way forcing the viewer to follow those lines through the entire image.

Jokulsarlon, Iceland, September 14 2012






Learn from the greats:

Equally, studying art works and great photographers should be a priority for any aspiring photographer. Indeed, if you have studied master landscape painters or photographers and their works, you will have come to recognise some important compositional techniques that have served many well. Firstly, most have a strong foreground detail. This is a grounding an interesting aspect that grabs the viewer. Equally some form of subject matter in the middle ground and a background element. What does this achieve in a photograph? It creates a sense of depth. What your eyes see every day is a 3d world that pops out and depth is clearly defined. However, the camera only produces a 2d representational view that doesn’t seem so dramatic. So how do we achieve this? It is up to the photographer to use techniques to trick the viewers eyes into believing what they are seeing is three dimensional.


Planning your image:

Ask what the scene in front of you is telling you. Question everything. What made you stop and decide to take the photo? Ask whether the sky is eventful? What middle image are you going to focus the photo on? Is the foreground dynamic? How can you use it? Should you get lower or higher? Move left or right? Where is the light hitting? Also what is the focus point of the photo?

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1 thought on “Making and Understanding Great Landscape Photos

  1. Composition is one of the hardest elements of landscape photography. For some reason it is hard to get everything to line up. Too many elements. However, the use of leading lines is very interesting How they draw your eye into the image.

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