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Problem seeing composition in landscape photography

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by rossi46, Mar 8, 2013.

  1. rossi46

    rossi46 Mu-43 Regular

    Mar 1, 2012
    At least for me, I think that landscape photography is much harder than I thought.

    I have been taking photo for about 1 year, I am usually taking candid shots or sort of street photography due to time limitations. All the while, I have this thoughts that landscape should not be too hard to master, and I would be quite good at it. My ego was inflated when some time last year, I managed to find a time for a sunrise landscape, and it was my first proper landscape attempt. I was delighted with the result.

    But during my second real attempt not too long ago, photographing a man made dam in the morning, I was kind of lost. I could not see where is the interest, how I should use the overall shape to make it interesting. Was standing behind rows of trees, going near the dam,...all the shots sucks. Did a panaroma (but have not stitched it yet), but I believe it will be pretty boring shots as well. The dam is not a particularly a photogenic place, but I am not going to use that as an excuse.

    My respect for those who takes good and great landscape photos (amatuers or pros), has gone up many many notch.

    I find landscape a real challenge, when compared to city scape, or composing within small space, eg. temples,...buildings etc -
    - In landscape, the area is so huge vs other type of photography. Different frame of mind in seeing things is required when scanning huge area
    - When having a vast space to photograph, you really got to know how to use the overall shape, or identify which part of the place to be in frame.
    - Big big effort, required finding different point of view, huge walking around distances

    Overall for me, its like being so used to photographing smaller space, then being thrown into big vast open world and I got lost.

    Coming back to my man-made dam attempt, I have rethink and analyzed, my biggest problem is I got lost, and in the process, lost creativity.
    There are a few areas and angles I should had tried but did not try. One of the area, requires a 20 minutes jog.
    Another failure of mine is reaching alittle bit late, 7am, sun is already rising, I sort of panicked abit and tried to do things as quickly as possible.

    I am going back there for a second attempt once I found time. Meanwhile, all photos from my first attempt will be deleted.
  2. speedandstyle

    speedandstyle Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    I hear you! I have been working on a landscape photo I shot of several palm trees and their reflections in a pond. I thought I had good comp when I shot it. After getting home I was not happy. I have cropped it several times and they are better but still not quite right. Worse is that it has some other issues such as an aquamarine color fringe around the palm leaves.

    Here is a very useful webpage on composition for landscape.
    10 Landscape Composition Tips: Illustrated with Pictures from Eastern Washington

    Do you have any examples that others can try to help you?
  3. jeffg53

    jeffg53 Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    Aug 22, 2012
    Sydney, Australia
    Jeff Grant
    Here's a few things to consider. I hope they help a little.

    First, don't assume that you need to shoot wide for landscape. Most of my landscapes are shot on standard or longer lenses.
    Second, take a look around an area and see what there is that takes your interest before starting to shoot.
    Third, take a number of shots at different focal lengths, positions and heights.
    Fourth, use a tripod religiously. You simply can't frame a landscape handheld.
    Fifth, practice, practice, practice and then look at what you took that works.
    It's amazing how one image sings while another will fail yet be very close.
    • Like Like x 1
  4. Kiwi Paul

    Kiwi Paul Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Aug 15, 2011
    Aberdeen Scotland
    Always study your shots you have taken, even the bad ones and work out why they didn't work and what you could have done to improve them.
    Another thing you can try is shooting with a wide angle lens then once home on the PC trying cropping parts of the picture with different aspect ratios, sizes etc, it's often surprising what you can find within a picture that makes a good composition, the quality of the crop may not be good enough to use for anything (or it might) but it will give you ideas for future compositions.

  5. kwalsh

    kwalsh Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Mar 3, 2012
    Baltimore, MD
    I'll second the recommendation to not assume wide angle. That was a problem I had a lot when I started. I was always trying to "vacuum up" the view but the result was rarely satisfying. Remember, photographic composition usually should be subtractive - we want to *remove* things in order to focus attention and wide angle goes in the opposite direction for achieving that.

    I also find that "rushing" landscape just doesn't work. When I'm on a dedicated photo trip I try to scout my compositions many hours before the golden hour (or the day before for sunrise). Of course that isn't always possible, but usually things work out a lot better if I can do that.

    Finally, for me at least, I actually have a hard time "finding" a landscape shot just anywhere. I need to be a place that I love and want to show to a viewer rather than just looking around for something to shoot. I live around lots of nice pastoral scenes but I rarely try and never succeed at much, I have to be in the deserts that I love to really get anything good. I do know that is probably just my limitation, I see some amazing work from those good at using "available" landscapes well.

    Best of luck!

  6. MajorMagee

    MajorMagee Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2011
    Dayton, OH
    Here is an example of using different focal lengths to get a completely different effect from a winter landscape the other morning.

    Wide Angle
    E-PL1 with M.Zuiko 9-18mm at 9mm, f/4, 1/60 sec, ISO 200

    Short Telephoto
    E-PL2 with Zuiko OM 50mm f1.4 at f/2, 1/400 sec, ISO 200
  7. mattia

    mattia Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 3, 2012
    The Netherlands
    +1 on the 'don't restrict yourself to wide-angle'.

    Sometimes landscape is about vistas (wide-angle, or stitching), sometimes its about compression (telephoto) and focusing line of sight in some way. I love taking them, but they remain a challenge. You also need to develop a sort of taste and style that works for you. For example, I quite enjoy 'portrait' orientation landscape photographs. I take quite a lot of them, particularly more telephoto options
  8. nickthetasmaniac

    nickthetasmaniac Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 11, 2011
    Don't be silly, of course you can... Tripods are very very useful, and in some cases absolutely essential, but if you can't frame a landscape without one I'd politely suggest you're doing something wrong.
    • Like Like x 2
  9. Kiwi Paul

    Kiwi Paul Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Aug 15, 2011
    Aberdeen Scotland
    I agree, I rarely if ever use a tripod for any work other than long exposures, there are advantages to using a tripod but they are not essential.

  10. MAubrey

    MAubrey Photographer

    Jul 9, 2012
    Bellingham, WA
    Mike Aubrey
    Wait! Before you do that, go through them and try to state explicitly why they don't work. And go beyond "they're boring." It's generally easy to recognize whether a photo is a good photo or a bad photo, but most people don't get beyond that to the why. If you methodologically work through your photos looks at the compositional elements, asking where the problems are and what motivates the problems you'll get that much farther. Do the same with the technical elements: exposure, shutter speed, ISO, aperture. There's plenty for you to learn in the photos you have to get to where you're satisfied with your landscapes (or any genre for that matter).

    Also another vote for using more than just wide angle lenses. Normals and even telephotos have their place. Some of my own favorite landscapes have come from non-wide angle lenses:



    • Like Like x 1
  11. veereshai

    veereshai Mu-43 Top Veteran

    May 12, 2011
    Arlington, VA
    That's the best advice you can get and it's not just limited to landscape, you can use it for everything.
  12. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    Perhaps not quite the way to think of wide angle use in landscape, because wide angles can be used incredibly successfully in landscape.

    You're right about subtraction so what gets "subtracted" when you use a wide angle? In effect the mid to far distance gets subtracted or at least minimised, and the foreground to middle distance gets accentuated. If you're going to use a wide angle for landscape you either need something very strong up close so you don't get the impression of acres of empty space in front of the subject or the acres of space in front of the background has to be the subject. Wide angles can work beautifully in those situations.

    What you don't want is a wonderful scene of a majestic range of mountains on the horizon with the middle to foreground areas looking like acres of empty car park. That's the thing that it's easy to do wrong with a wide angle. You think in terms of capturing a wide angle of view horizontally and forget that it will also capture a wide angle of view vertically. If you want the wide horizontal vista without a lot of nothing in the mid to foreground you need to either crop severely in the vertical dimension or stitch a series of shots taken with a longer lens together into a panorama.
    • Like Like x 3
  13. EasyEd

    EasyEd Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 16, 2010
    Hey All,

    I think the best thing you can do is find some landscape photographers you like and study their work. Really study it - try to figure out why a picture works - what drew you to it? Read what landscape photographers say and write. Even if you may not care for their work - if they are verbal - on youtube or blogs or whatever - you can learn from them. It's even better if a photographer writes and produces what you like.

    Now there are so here who say photography is all about what you leave out - others say include all you can. Both are right but you need different vision and technique to deal with one or the other.

    Now I will illustrate:

    These two sites represent a husband and wife team with very different visions.

    Photo How To - eBooks, Tutorials, Tips, Blog by Jay Patel | Home

    Photography by Varina | Home

    They are big in social media and they have several videos - very good by the way.


    Guy Tal Photography

    His images have matured so much that his early stuff that I recall isn't even on his site.


    Landscape Photos | Pictures of Scotland | Scottish Landscape Photography | Isle of Skye | Scenic Landscapes

    No media no blog but the images are awesome.

    There are many others that I really like but I hope these help.

    You can learn so much from others work.

    • Like Like x 1
  14. kwalsh

    kwalsh Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Mar 3, 2012
    Baltimore, MD
    Perfect clarification David! I was typing mobile and didn't have the energy to elaborate but you hit the nail on the head. Thanks for the excellent post.

    • Like Like x 1
  15. ~tc~

    ~tc~ Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Oct 22, 2010
    Houston, TX

    Just because you can fit so much in a frame doesn't mean you can get lazy. I find with WA, you have to work A LOT harder framing the scene to not fill the foreground with empty space.
  16. CarlB

    CarlB Mu-43 Veteran

    Neat idea. I rarely consider a tripod. I don't have one, and my imaginings of the hassle of bringing one and the cost of a decent one ... Well, I haven't been able to bring myself to get one yet - although I want to.

    But when you put it that way, I think of what one could do differently with a tripod:

    • Set up a potential shot, and leave it to consider other vantages,
    • Set the camera settings without having to reframe the shot again.
    • Allow for slower exposures without relying on image stabilzation - almost always sharper by at least a bit.

    Did I catch the main advantages that you find when using a tripod?

    I'd need to bring a short tripod, too - many of my best landscapes come from vantages closer to the ground than eye-level.
  17. MAubrey

    MAubrey Photographer

    Jul 9, 2012
    Bellingham, WA
    Mike Aubrey
    It also allows you to stay at base ISO = less noise & more dynamic range.
  18. ~tc~

    ~tc~ Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Oct 22, 2010
    Houston, TX
    Yes, but that's not the point here. A tripod allows you to set a composition, evaluate it very carefully with the live view and make small adjustments.
  19. MAubrey

    MAubrey Photographer

    Jul 9, 2012
    Bellingham, WA
    Mike Aubrey
    What a silly thing to say...

    Is this worth starting a debate about? really? I used the word "also," which last time I check meant something like, "in addition to." I was making an additional point about the benefits of using a tripod for landscape. He asked about the main advantages (plural) of using a tripod. Low noise and high DR are included in "main advantages." We could also add:

    Using a tripod allows landscape photographers stop down to their desired DOF and/or stop down to the highest resolving aperture of the lens being used.

    Is there some mu-43.com rule that I missed that prohibits addition extra information?
    • Like Like x 1
  20. jeffg53

    jeffg53 Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    Aug 22, 2012
    Sydney, Australia
    Jeff Grant
    That's a few and others have been pointed out. As an old person, I still use ND grads which mandate the use of a tripod. I have a landscape set on the OM D which turns off IBIS, and uses ISO 200. Also for blends, the tripod makes life easier. It also lets you frame shots accurately so that lines run out in the corner etc.

    Most tripods let you get pretty close to the ground. At the risk of being told that I am doing something wrong again, I would advise against a tripod with a center column, or shortening it to let you get lower if you can.

    My background is medium format where there is little choice of using a tripod or not for landscape.It would never occur to me not to use one. They are expensive ,and cumbersome but deliver the results.
    • Like Like x 1
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