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Landscapes of course are great subject matter, you can make an entire career out of shooting landscapes. For the most part, your compositional concerns when you're shooting landscapes are no different than they are when you're shooting anything else. You at least want to consider your four essential composition elements: Subject background, a good sense of balance. You want to think about a good point of view, and you want to work to simplify your image. That last one, simplifying, can be particularly difficult with landscapes. Invariably, you find a great landscape and there is a telephone wire running across it, or there is a fence in the way or a parked car or something like that.
So, a lot of times that's going to be the thing you're wrestling with the most when you're working with landscapes. And of course, once you found a good location, in addition to those four things, you'll still be able to consider lines and shapes and shadows and negative space and all of the other things that we've talked about. It's very easy, that's a whistling windmill right out there. It's very easy when you come out to a landscape and see it and it's really pretty, particularly when you got a nice sky. It's really easy to go wow! I need the widest angle lens that I can, so that I can take all of this in and only on rare occasions does that work.
Remember, as you go to a wider angle lens, all the details in the distance are going to get really, really small. And then you may get confused about, well if I can't have the whole landscape and everything is really small, I'm not sure what to do. That's when you start trying to work smaller details, more up close to evoke the landscape that you're in. And I don't mean that you have to get right on top of things. But while I have this whole landscape here in front of me, I am going to focus on that windmill and the fence around it. That mix gives me a good subject, that gives me something to anchor in my composition.
And I've got these nice big poofy clouds moving through. I'm also of course thinking about light. I'm trying to come out here when I've got good light because light that's casting more shadows is going to give me more of a sense of depth. It's going to give me more detail. Shooting landscapes in flat light is almost always a pointless activity, because you simply have no sense of depth and there is no texture in the image. Something that you have to consider with landscapes that you don't have to consider with other types of shooting, is the importance of the horizon line. You've got this really strong horizontal line running across your image, what are you going to do with it, where are you going to put it? Are you going to put it right in the middle, or are you going to let it go up, you're going to let it go down? Here are a few different options, shooting this windmill with the horizon right across the center of the frame gives me equal sky and equal ground, equal foreground, and I still have a shot of the windmill and the fence around it.
Look what happens though, if I tilt up and include more sky. I get an image with a very, very different feel. Now I have this wide-open sky. On an image where the sky is particularly attractive, this might be the best choice. Maybe I am really wanting to feature the sky and I'm using the foreground more as an anchor for that. It's interesting though to tilt the other direction and put a lot of foreground into the front of the shot. There is a tricky exposure situation there. At that point I need to start thinking about depth of field. All of the stuff that up close to me, I need to be sure that it's in focus. So I'm shooting with a small aperture to get deep depth of field.
I am choosing my point of focus very carefully. These have different weights to them, having the horizon line up very high with not a lot of sky and having all of this heavy foreground down at the bottom has a very different feel than having a lot of open sky and this sense of empty space up above. I am not going to put a value judgment on any of these. I think it's pretty obvious how different they feel, and you're going to need to think about those sorts of things when you're out shooting. Obviously the easiest way to handle this, if you're unsure, sure is to do what I did just here and try it in different ways.
Very often your main task when you're working your shot with a landscape is trying different positions of the horizon, in addition to trying to simplify and find the right angle. Again, landscape shooting is something you can study for the rest of your photographic career, but you will want to start by following these basic compositional tips that we've covered here.
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