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Composing Landscapes and Streetscapes

As a photographer, it’s your job to lead the viewer through your image. You accomplish this by utilizing the principles of composition, which is the arrangement of elements in the scene that draws the viewer’s eye through your image and holds their attention. As the director of this viewing, you need to understand how people see, and then use that information to focus their attention on the most important elements in your image.

There is a general order in which we look at elements in a photograph. The first is brightness. The eye wants to travel to the brightest object within a scene. So if you have a bright sky, it’s probably the first place the eye will travel to. The second order of attention is sharpness. Sharp, detailed elements will get more attention than soft, blurry areas. Finally, the eye will move to vivid colors while leaving the dull, flat colors for last. It is important to know these essentials in order to grab—and keep—the viewer’s attention and then direct them through the frame.

In Figure 8.16, the eye is drawn from the road to the mountain peak and into the sky. The leaves framing the top of the image redirect the viewer back to the mountain. The elements within the image help keep the eye moving without leaving the frame.

Figure 8.16

Figure 8.16 The composition of the elements pulls the viewer’s eye around the image, leading from one element to the next in a triangular pattern but never out of the frame.

ISO 200 • 1/125 sec. • f/8 • 35mm

Rule of thirds

There are, in fact, quite a few philosophies concerning composition. The easiest one to begin with is known as the “rule of thirds.” Using this principle, you simply divide your viewfinder into thirds by imagining two horizontal and two vertical lines that divide the frame equally.

The key to using this method of composition is to locate your main subject at or near one of the intersecting points.

By placing your subject near these intersecting lines, you are giving the viewer space to move within the frame. The one thing you don’t want to do is place your subject smack dab in the middle of the frame. This is sometimes referred to as “bull’s-eye” composition, and it requires the right subject matter for it to work. It’s not always wrong, but it will usually be less appealing and may not hold the viewer’s focus.

Speaking of the middle of the frame, the other rule of thirds deals with horizon lines. Generally speaking, you should position the horizon one-third of the way up or down in the frame. Splitting the frame in half by placing your horizon in the middle of the picture is akin to placing the subject in the middle of the frame—it doesn’t lend a sense of importance to either the sky or the ground, creating two equally competing areas of the image.

Figure 8.17 incorporates the rule of thirds by aligning the horizon in the bottom third of the frame. In doing so, I have created a sense of depth in the image. By selecting the right lens focal length (24mm, in this instance) and the right vantage point, I was able to place my horizon line so that it gives the greatest emphasis to the subject. (To learn how to set up a rule-of-thirds grid, please see Chapter 6.)

Figure 8.17

Figure 8.17 With the rule-of-thirds grid atop this image, you can see that I composed the shot so that the horizon line and road meet in the lower-right intersection.

ISO 100 • 1/125 sec. • f/10 • 24–70mm lens at 24mm

Creating depth

Because a photograph is a flat, two-dimensional space, you need to create a sense of depth by using the elements in the scene to create a three-dimensional feel. This is accomplished by including different and distinct spaces for the eye to travel: foreground, middle ground, and background. By using these three spaces, you draw the viewer in and render depth to your image.

Landscape images need not always have everything in focus. Figure 8.18 illustrates that as the eye travels around the frame, the focus on the foreground draws the eye to the stacked stones.

Figure 8.18

Figure 8.18 The focus on the stones in the foreground draws the eye.

ISO 100 • 1/320 sec. • f/7.1 • 35mm lens

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