Most photographers frown at the idea of “Composition Rules” and I agree that following rules make your photos just look like everyone else’s. However, there are some common guidelines that you should keep in mind and look out for while taking pictures. They don’t have to be the rules you follow, but are definitely a set of guidelines to think about while framing your picture -

Rule of thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a guideline which helps you frame photos better. The easiest explanation is that if you were to divide the frame into 9 boxes using 2 equally spaced horizontal lines and 2 equally spaced vertical lines, then the subjects of interest should be placed on the lines or there intersections. Although there are many explanation offered on why this is aesthetically pleasing, the main benefit of using this rule is that you get out of the habit of always composing shots with the subject in the center. There’s nothing wrong with putting the subject in the center and in fact it works great for frames that have 2 symmetric halves. However, the rule of thirds helps you find other compositions as well. It also helps compose photos with 2 subjects.

Explore the Horizon Placement

Very often, photographers tend to hold the camera completely horizontal while composing photos. It’s the most natural way to hold the camera. It also leads to all your photos having the horizon in the center. This gets quite boring. Angle the camera up or down to include more of the sky or more of the land.

Notice how the horizon is placed on the lower 2/3rd line of the frame in the Photo by Paul Bica.

In this photo by Daniele Zedda, the photographer chooses to place the horizon on the upper 1/3rd line. This gives importance to the scenery on the land and also adds a sense of distance.

 Lead the viewer into the picture, not away

It’s important to lead a viewer into the picture. For example, hiking trails or streams of water should typically lead the person to the center of the picture. It’s helpful if you photograph a curve or ‘S’ shape of the stream/trail. This makes the viewer slowly follow the path. A straight line stream would take the viewer through the picture much faster. Here’s an example -

In this picture by Steve Dunleavy, the winding stream makes the viewer lazily move his eye along the stream, admiring the entire landscape.

Add a subject

A barren landscape without any subject can get difficult for the viewer to appreciate. A subject like a fence, barn or animal draws attention of the viewer and can make the landscape photograph much more interesting.

The anchor in the photograph by Per Ola Wiberg makes the landscape a lot more interesting that it might have been otherwise

 Get up early and stay till dust

The best light is around Sunrise or Sunset. The light during these times is warmer and gives a golden effect. The long shadows give a sense of depth. Around noon, your landscape photos are likely to be washed out. Often, photographers scout around during the day to figure out the best vantage points and come back later at dawn or dusk.

Sunrise at Bryce Canyon by Steve Dunleavy

Get there in the right season

Try to add some clouds in the photograph. Without clouds, the sky gets boring. Try to frame the picture to include some clouds. Check out the season for wildflowers or fall colors to make the picture that much more special.

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