The term landscape (sometimes scenic) seems to have a different
definition for everyone who uses it. For today’s post, it can mean any
medium to large scale scene, whether the subject is all land, land
plus water, land plus sky, or even the land with a manmade structure
I have no idea how many times I’ve written about the different forms
of photography that I and many photographers have practiced over the
years. Nature in the form of landscape, macro/close-up (recently),
birds, mammals, all wildlife, nature abstracts, and then non-natural
things like buildings, and action such as auto racing, abstracts of
manmade objects, and on and on. Smart photographers who love making
images, create imagery from any or all (and more) of the categories
above. Each and every subject we photograph, regardless of which
subject that is, requires a lot of the same disciplines and skills. They
do however, require a certain change in mindset for each subject. Landscape
photography requires a mind set for the subject at hand. A “land mind”
Landscape compositional techniques began with paintings long before
the technology of photography existed. Those rules (better said
tools), have served well over the years and almost all successful
landscape photographers use them either on occasion, or very often. The rules
of thirds, leading lines, framing and others, will guarantee some or
much success with your imagery.
Dinosaur N.M., Colorado/Utah
White Sands, New Mexico
The Pike River, Wisconsin
The Mingo River, Missouri
The Sonoran Desert, Arizona
West Texas canyon.
A Smoky Mt. River, Tennessee
Rules are made to be broken. In small ways and big ways.
The rhythm has been broken in mid stride in this image from Dinosaur
N.M.. The tree breaks the consistency of the rock formation, and the
cloud is uneven in its position over the formation. I love finding
patterns and symmetry within a landscape but sometimes that can be a
bit boring. In this case, the “bothersome” factors I mentioned earlier,
are exactly what makes this picture interesting.
Multiple compositional tools are used in this image from Trout Lake in
the northern Wisconsin. The curve of the lake is a leading line and
the bit of autumn color at the top is an example of framing.
Tools can be good, in helping us build an image, and they can also
cast a negative shadow so to speak, when and if they prohibit you from
exercising your artistic vision, or from making the picture at all. This image is from Bond Falls, Michigan.
The rule (tool) of thirds is almost employed in this image from
Dinosaur N.M. It is mainly in use of the 2/3rds bottom and 1/3rd top
combo, but it was accidental. I composed colors and patterns purely by
instinct and intuition. A beautiful place is a beautiful place.
This New Mexico roadside rock form spoke to me in every way. My comp
was actually made very carefully but only a little bit conventionally.
My main objective was to compose color and texture, in the rock, the
grass, and the sky, in a way I found pleasing.
Whenever I can, and whenever I remember, I create any given landscape
in both the horizontal vertical formats. This is Summit Lake high up
in the Colorado Rockies and it lends itself well to both formats.
Visual compression is rarely taught in landscape photography books,
but is a valuable tool. This 220mm image of Great Sand Dunes N.M.,
Colorado was made at the perfect location to compress an image. No sky, just
trees and sand.
In the original concepts of landscape photography composition, there
was no room for deep shadows. I not only believed in using shadows but
I searched for them. In fact I would return to a scene at a time when I thought
that interesting and dramatic shadows would develop.
With a scene like this one in Monument Valley Arizona/Utah, I was more
interested in how the shadows brought attention to the colorful
highlights on the Navajo Sandstone. You can find bits of both shadow
and highlight, throughout the image.
Every landscape subject cannot be made in the high desert of the west.
An ordinary meadow with some pretty flowers in a central Wisconsin
wildlife area, makes a nice subject for a photographer who is tiring
from searching for wild animals.
Landscape photography can be used for telling the story about a
location, just as well as any form of image making. This hillside in
Yellowstone N.P. in Wyoming, tells the story of wildfires in previous
years. The selection of this hillside and my choice of perspective
(70mm) helped to say what I wanted to say.
Every landscape image need not be pretty.
This autumn scene at a county park was enhanced by use of a tree trunk
in my comp. The tree became an anchor to the scene, and provided both
textural and color contrast to the small autumn trees.
Subjects like waterfalls are great for landscape imagery. Notice that
I made the “logical” choice of leaving room to our left, which is the
direction that the falls is headed. Logic, is not the be all, and end
all of artistic photography, but it will most often provide you with a
Where we make our picture from, is not always a decision we are given.
If all that is left for us to decide, is should I move east to west,
or north to south ( as with this image), then judge the direction of
light, which is to my right (south), select your focal length, and
pull the trigger. In this case I also waited for the wave to crash.
The hardest parts of making this image was making sure I did not get
wet with some very cold Lake Michigan water, and staying upright on
the icy stones in the parking area. When in doubt, always make the
The animate landscape is always a nice departure from the traditional
landscape. In all these years I have never shown this particular image
because admittedly, it has plenty of flaws. Those are Bighorn Sheep
and that is the Badlands you see in back of them. The biggest issue is
that blank ugly sky. Also for many, it would be the one animal who is
Now I could crop out all or at least most of the sky, but I wanted you
to see it the way I shot it. I could also reduce the values in the sky
through the editing process and make it less bothersome.
Some images say exactly what you want, and some fall short, but the
more you shoot, the more ways you will discover to succeed.
Technically, landscape photography means photographing the land, and
in most cases, its all nature. The landscape, can have man-made objects in it. Images with human made architecture, contain almost all of the same qualities and problems,
as do their natural cousins. They have the same rules and tools, and
they provide you with the same opportunities to ignore them and create
One of the rules/tools I haven’t talked about is power points.
In this winterscape with a snow covered road and a shocking red barn,
we approximate the use of a power point.
This very crude graph that I put together for this example, shows (at
the red circles) where the so labeled power points exist, It is those
(imaginary) points where vertical and horizontal lines intersect.
Within a square or rectangle, our attention is to those areas. Putting
primary subjects within a picture frame, at or lat least near those
intersections, will help us keep the image in proper perspective. That
said, there should be a rhythm or flow; going to, or leaving from that
point. Like all compositional tools, they should be ignored whenever
you choose. They are there as guideposts, and not the kind which is
written in stone.
This observatory, photographed in late afternoon with an approaching
storm, is another example of power points.
Leading lines work just as well with a covered bridge as they do with
a mountain. You (the viewer) do not have to be centered with the
leading line for it to serve its purpose in guiding you to the
intended primary subject. With this picture, viewers sort of stumble
for a moment, and then find the road and take the journey to the
bridge. This is Smith’s Rapids Bridge, in Wisconsin’s Chequamegon
This historic old Door County, WI lighthouse, was photographed as I
taught a workshop. The tool/rule of framing was used here. Framing and
leading lines may be the two oldest compositional aides.
When the photographer begins to “close in” on their manmade landscape
subject, the sorts of thoughts that a naturescape photographer might
use with a western rock formation, or maybe even an autumn tree begin
to instinctively take over.
Note that these building are all old (or really old), as I tend to
lean towards human history when photographing architecture. Old
buildings seem (to me) more organic, as is nature, than newer
buildings. I guess that is why I treat them like they are the land,
only with human remembrances and feelings.
When I photograph buildings (once again old ones), in the context of
their environment, I become a full fledged landscape photographer. The
buildings, like this abandoned old adobe ranch in New Mexico, or this
barn on the horizon in Wisconsin, could just as well be a sandstone
rock formation, or an weathered Oak tree as far as I am concerned.
Minimal subject on maximum land or sky.
A landscape? Really?
There’s a lot of sky here and a foreground of water, and one
strip of trees (from the land) in this photo. Shucks, there’s not even
any detail in the picture. I approximate the tool/rule of thirds in
this picture. I point that out because landscape photography, if it is
in your heart, plays a role in every picture you make.
In my opinion, the best thing for any photographer is to be versatile
and make lots of pictures of lots of subjects. Pay attention to the
rules, but never let them dictate to you how you “have” to make your
picture. This is supposed to be fun, and it’s should satisfy your
creative urges. If you are a serious landscape photographer, use what
you know for macros and wildlife, and certainly for architecture.
Landscape photography is a mindset of the creative urges and
sensibilities inside you.
Happy Trails, Wayne