How to put a landscape photographer out of business - Part 2

September 10, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Part 1 a few weeks ago covered what to do with light, since photography is fundamentally about capturing interesting light.

In Part 2, I'm following up with composition, because what's in your pictures is almost as important as the light you use.

1.  Move the horizon from the middle of the frame

I've already covered the reasons for getting up early for sunrise and staying out until sunset.  The Grand Canyon surprised me with the number of visitors willing to do just that - get up early.  Normally I'll see five to ten other people for a good sunrise.  During each of the sunrises I photographed at the Grand Canyon, I shared the overlooks with 50-100 people- many people up and about with a good chance of getting an interesting photo.

That being said, many of those people did not get great photos.  The biggest mistake I saw in viewfinders and on smartphones and tablet screens (the current state of cameras in 2014) was putting the horizon dead center in the frame.

Take a look at the following examples.  I cropped the same photograph two different ways to demonstrate how simply changing the horizon makes a more interesting photograph.

Grand Canyon Composition ExampleGrand Canyon Composition ExampleWhere you place the horizon makes a big difference Grand Canyon Composition ExampleGrand Canyon Composition ExampleWhere you place the horizon makes a big difference

Grand Canyon, Yavapai Point, late afternoon sun :: Moving the horizon makes a more interesting photograph

 

Fortunately, this is an easy fix.  Just pick which part of the scene is more interesting!  When in doubt, remember the rule of thirds, and place the horizon either a third of the frame from the top for an interesting foreground, or a third of the frame from the bottom for a dramatic sky.

Before I leave this topic, there's one more thing I feel obligated to mention: make sure the horizon is-- well-- horizontal.  I can't tell you how much it bugs me when the horizon is tilted for no reason!

2.  Start to see compositionally

This is less about the horizon itself and learning to see compositionally.

Some arts like painting, writing, and music are arts of addition.  The only way something ends up in the finished product is if the artist adds it or puts it there on purpose.

In contrast, photography is an art of subtraction-- everything ends up in the finished product unless the photographer specifically subtracts or excludes it from the frame, either by physically moving the object or the camera (and sometimes by Photoshop).  Those unwanted elements distract people from your otherwise beautiful photograph.

As an example, I accidentally included the railing in the first photo below.  Moving over a few steps and adjusting my zoom subtracted the railing from my frame and resulted in a better composition.

Grand Canyon Composition ExampleGrand Canyon Composition ExampleUse your framing to naturally crop out unwanted elements Grand Canyon Composition ExampleGrand Canyon Composition ExampleUse your framing to naturally crop out unwanted elements

Grand Canyon, Yavapai Point, moments before sunset :: Adjusting the framing gets rid of distracting elements

 

As the photographer, you OWN the space that exists in your frame, so make it count!  If you don't like what you see as you compose a photo, it isn't going to get any better by pressing the shutter.

3.  Include a foreground

A good foreground makes a huge difference when it comes to drawing others into your photo.I probably make this mistake more than any other.  When working in a two-dimensional photograph, I constantly need to remind myself to add visual depth by including a foreground.

Grand Canyon Composition ExampleGrand Canyon Composition ExampleA good foreground adds depth to your landscape

Grand Canyon, Yaki Point, sunrise :: Including a foreground adds depth to engage the viewer

 

4.  Pay attention to the details (look around!)

Some of my favorite photographs from the Grand Canyon combine these last two points.  When I started looking around for better foregrounds, I found some beautiful details.  Those details, in turn, allowed me to add greater depth to my shots and come away with more unique photographs.  Click each for a larger version.

Grand Canyon Composition ExampleGrand Canyon Composition ExampleLook for details to make your photos stand out.

A lone hiker takes in sunrise at the Grand Canyon just west of Mather Point

 

Grand Canyon Composition ExampleGrand Canyon Composition ExampleLook for details to make your photos stand out.

A small butte in the Grand Canyon glows with early morning sunlight

 

Grand Canyon SunsetGrand Canyon SunsetGrand Canyon Sunset

Sunset panorama from Yavapai Point at the Grand Canyon

 

BONUS TIP: Experiment!

After you have the traditional shots, experiment.  I emphasize after because you'll typically want to spend your time experimenting only to find that you've missed an opportunity.

After looking around for a while at sunset, I followed the light across the other side of the canyon and saw a DRAGON!

The Dragon of the Grand CanyonThe Dragon of the Grand CanyonWhen you start experimenting, you never know what you'll find.

The Dragon of the Grand Canyon

 

This dragon was not the reason I came to the Grand Canyon, but I enjoyed playing with the light as it moved.  You never know what you will find!  With God and my wife as witnesses, this is actually what we saw a few minutes before sunset - no Photoshop manipulation.

A word about gear

You may have noticed that I virtually ignored gear up until this point.  The reason is that every tip up until this point will improve your photography without changing anything about your camera or spending more money.  Starting to experiment is the one and only tip I offer that may be gear dependent.

For example, I posted one of my favorites from the Grand Canyon a few weeks ago where I used a long exposure to capture the motion of the clouds.  I needed a neutral density filter, a tripod, and a cable release (with timer) to pull that off.

You may choose to experiment with additional angles, points of view, gear, toys, props... I don't know - be creative!  Sometimes you'll get some great shots this way, and other times you'll strike out.  That's OK -- it's why it's called experimenting!

 

Of course, if your goal is simply to improve your own photography and not to put me out of business, you could support a small business and buy my prints.  :-)

 

Thanks for looking,

Adam@LiC


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