Landscape photography seems like it should be the easiest nature photography discipline: no elusive subjects, no fiddly focus, no pounds upon pounds of gear; just a camera, tripod, a couple of lenses, and the great outdoors. And who hasn’t seen beautiful scenery? It’s lying all over the place!
Landscape photography can be harder than it seems, though; and you might know what I’m talking about. Walking through gorgeous places, suddenly photography becomes difficult and confusing. Beauty all around, yet how to record it? You take some pictures, yet back at home they don’t seem to capture what you experienced. Or, perhaps worse, you don’t take any pictures at all. Nothing seems right, no compositions jump out at you. How do the professionals do this? What are you doing wrong?
I am still very much a student when it comes to photography, but—if I can think out loud here—there’s something that I feel I’ve missed for a long time. Probably it was there all along and it just didn’t click with me, but I think that a principle needs to come to centre stage for a moment, especially for those of you who are struggling with or just starting out in landscape photography.
The principle that I missed is this: choose a specific point of interest. In other words, pick a subject. In other areas of nature photography, you know what you’re supposed to focus on: birds, wildlife, flowers, bugs. The area of the frame that the viewer is supposed to look at is clear. The tricky thing with landscape as your subject is that it fills the entire frame. (Unless, of course, you photograph small, lonely islands from a helicopter.) That’s why I think we landscape photographers need to pick a specific point of interest in the landscape to draw our viewers’ attention to. Pick an interesting stone, a rocky outcrop, a plant, a waterfall, a tree. How about something man-made? A path, a bridge, a lighthouse, a barn? Pick something! Once you’ve picked a subject, then, and only then, pull out your leading lines, and rule of thirds, and negative space, and frame techniques. Having a clear subject will now guide your composition.
Hopefully this makes walking through that beautiful forest a little less intimidating for someone. Don’t look for pictures, look for subjects; that’s what a picture is all about. When you find yourself surrounded by gorgeousness, stop and look for something specific to frame in all the beauty.
For God’s glory,