In a time where virtually everyone is an amateur photographer, there’s still something special about landscape photography that sets it apart from the many, many portraits of people and pets that fill image sites, social media, and digital photo frames.
The beauty captured in a landscape is often something that can inspire a viewer to come and see that sight for themselves. It can also allow someone to experience something of an exotic place they may never visit on their own – but seeing it through your art can allow them to feel some connection to that place nonetheless. The ability to take one’s breath away, the way a perfectly captured image of a mountain range, valley, ocean or city can, is what separates landscape photography from the pack.
Just as pictures of living beings tend to focus on a subject, so do landscapes. Without a focus, there’s nothing to hold a viewer’s attention, and they’ll quickly move on to the next piece. Often, you’ll have a focus in mind – a manmade structure, a lone tree, a solitary mountain peak, or a bank of clouds. That’s only half, if not less, of what you need, however. You’ll also need to determine where to put your focus. Time for the Rule of Thirds.
The Rule of Thirds
Briefly, for those that do not know it, the Rule of Thirds is a basic photography method for creating balanced shots. Of course, it’s not a rule in the sense that it must be followed, and plenty of interesting shots can be created without using it – but it’s a good idea to learn it and use it so you can better know when not to use it.
The Rule of Thirds gets its name from its basic idea. Imagine dividing your photo into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. That should give you nine boxes, like a tic-tac-toe board. If you are imagining this as you take your picture, you should strive to put the most interesting parts on either the intersections of lines or along one of the lines.
Even as you edit, you may want to keep this rule in mind, in case you want to reframe the image to emphasize something else or crop out something that distracts from what you believe should be the main focus.
For landscape shots, this means the best place to put the horizon, should it be featured in your work, is along one of the horizontal lines you’ve imagined in the viewfinder. In all shots, you first need to determine what you wish to focus upon, then how to place it in the picture.
A Focused Choice
Landscape photographers tend to want to keep the whole image in focus, or at least as much as possible. A small aperture is chosen to create a larger depth of field, so things that are both close and distant have a better chance of being at least a little in focus.
There is also a tendency to make the middle of the piece the focus or to put the horizon through the center of the shot. That’s a natural impulse, but in this, the Rule of Thirds can be a great help. Try placing the horizon about a third of the way up, if there is no specific point of interest for your focus.
As stated before, just like all ‘rules’, this one isn’t hard and fast. Different lenses, environmental factors, your equipment, or even how you hold your camera will all make little differences that can accumulate into big changes.
Photography is an art form, and like any art, it’s more important to create what feels right and what communicates your intent, than to follow any given rule. A simple rule or suggestion can be a good jumping-off point, however, to finding your own special and unique style of photography.