I believe composition is the most important part of a photo, especially in landscape photography. A photo with perfect technique will still be dull without a good composition. If there was one thing I could teach about landscape photography it would be the composition part. Wide angle shooting composition has a few guidelines, when followed and applied they can make your photos a lot more interesting and powerful.
The foreground is one of the most important parts of a landscape photo and a part that many photographers ignore. I’ll consider it as the lower third of the frame. A good foreground needs to be interesting since it is usually the first part that attracts the viewer’s eye for being the closest part in the frame. There are several elements that can make your foreground more interesting. These elements can be interesting on their own, but even stronger if combined together.
Every photo needs a subject, preferably a strong subject. Without a subject the viewer is less drawn into the picture and loses interest very quickly. In landscape photography I call this subject the “anchor”. The anchor is an interesting object that can framed at the foreground of the frame. An anchor can be a rock, a small puddle, a lake, a bunch of flowers or any other interesting object. There are several traits that will make the anchor more interesting:
– if it stands out of its surrounding (by color or texture…).
– if it is fully defined and uncut inside the frame.
– if it takes meaningful volume in the foreground.
When using a wide angle lens, in order for objects to have volume in the frame they should be quite close. Therefore you have to get close to your anchor until it has significant volume in the frame. A good and interesting anchor will act as a “subject” in the photo, draw the viewer inside and will act as balance for the background.
In the photo above you can see the small puddle serves as good anchor.It is located at the bottom third of the frame, it stands out of the surrounding rocks mostly by color and it is fully bordered and uncut. It also has a significant volume in the frame.
Guiding lines are lines in the photo that will lead from the foreground to the background. Combined with a strong anchor they create a very strong composition that leads the eye back and forth from the foreground to the background. Guiding lines are mostly effective when they come out from the corners of the photo and move (through or close to the anchor if you have one) diagonally or in “S” shapes to the background. In case you don’t have an anchor, guiding lines can still be interesting on their own, drawing the attention to the foreground and lead the viewer’s eye to the background.
In this photo there’s no real anchor. Instead of an anchor the ridge of the rocks serves as a guide line that starts from the bottom right corner and continues diagonally into the background.
Sometimes an interesting texture is all you need to get an interesting foreground. No doubt it can work even better along with a nice anchor or guiding lines. Good textures can be “waves” of sand, crystal or ice formations or even a field dotted with flowers.
In this photo the foreground is mostly defined by the sand “waves” that create an interesting pattern the eye can follow. It is also combined with guiding lines that move from the foreground to the background.
A good background is always a bonus and sometimes will even be the main thing in the photo. Good background will also balance our foreground. It’s sometimes a matter of moving a bit up/down/left/right and your background will be a lot more interesting. It can be beautiful skies, sun rays behind clouds, mountains far away or anything else interesting. Just look for a good background!
Up & down – we’ll usually consider about where to place the skyline. If your anchor and foreground are very interesting and the background is less interesting, then place the skyline at the upper third (or even higher). If it’s the other way around and the background is the main interest then place the skyline at the bottom third. If you have a very symmetrical composition like mountains reflecting on a lake you might want to consider placing the skyline in the middle.
Left & right – here I usually consider the anchor and guiding lines. If the anchor is very symmetrical like a round pond, putting in the middle will probably be complimenting. If the anchor is not symmetrical or directs to a certain direction you should see if it stands well in the right or left third near the corners. Guiding lines are very complimenting when going through the thirds from bottom left to upper right or bottom right to upper left.
In this shot I framed the rocks at the bottom right
to leave room for the lines of sand that created a diagonal line.
In this shot I framed the skyline at the bottom
third in order to leave more room for the special
cloud formations in the sky.
Portrait (vertical) orientation has the advantage of seeing a lot of bottom and up,which creates a great sense of depth, but less left and right. It is also better when your anchor is quite small and you want it to have good volume and presence in the frame. Landscape (horizontal) orientation has the advantage of seeing a lot of left and right, but less up and down, giving a more panoramic sense. It is also good for anchors which are relatively large you want to get close to, and still keep them whole it in the frame.
It’s not always easy to find and consider all these matters. They’re also not always there. If you practice and try to find them it will get easier and things like anchors and guiding lines will start “popping out” wherever you go.