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It may be hard to believe, but you can take very nice landscape photography even with the most basic equipment. You don’t need the latest and greatest ultra-wide lenses (although that does help create a unique perspective) or the fastest lens with a f1.2 aperture. Landscape photography generally benefits from a deep depth of field, and ironically the type of camera with inherently deep depth of field are compact point and shoot digital cameras! DSLRs have shallower depth of field, hence they lends themselves to creating shots with nice bokeh (out-of-focus elements).
These 5 tips will not feature the discussed-to-death rule of thirds. Anyway, for those looking for something on the rule of thirds, just remember this rule: Don’t place your subject right in the middle of the frame unless you are aiming for symmetry (see the next tip below).
Symmetry vs Asymmetry
Decide if you want the picture to be symmetrical, or asymmetrical. Slight errors in composition (eg. a crooked horizon) will dilute the effect of the picture. The shot below uses the shadow to create symmetry. Taken from my Laos gallery.
The temple shot below benefits from symmetry, which means that the left and right sides are nicely mirrored.
On the other hand, the picture below benefits from asymmetry, which means that the left side is dramatically different from the right side. I could have chosen to aim for symmetry, because there were roof tiles on either side of the street, but I opted for asymmetry because it would strengthen the core focus of this shot, which is to show the softness of the flowers against the hardness of the roof tiles. Taken from my Japan gallery.
Yes, timing plays a part in the composition of a landscape photograph as well. Timing in the elements within the picture includes choosing the right moment to click the shutter. I was composing the picture below in my Nikon D70 (my first DSLR, now discontinued) during a nice clear afternoon. The sun cast some interesting shadows across the bridge floor, but I wanted something more. Hearing footsteps behind me, I turned around and saw a farmer walking towards me. I waited for her to cross the bridge a little more, and clicked the shutter. It made the picture more interesting than if I had shot just the bridge alone.
Timing also includes choosing the right time of day to shoot. The shot below uses the shadow of another temple to lead the attention of the viewer to the temple that is in full view. This type of shadow only appears when the sun is at a certain angle (see my post on light ratios for landscapes).
By choosing your framing elements carefully, you can bring a new point of view to a subject. Slow down, and look for interesting angles. The best way to do this is by taking a walk. Sometimes we pass by too quickly if we travel in motorized transport. Trees can be easily used as framing elements.
Here the sakura (cherry blossom) flowers provided the frame.
You can also use the framing elements to tell a story, as in the picture below. The door panel had a sculpture of a sentry, guarding the entrance to the palace.
The tea plantation shot below uses foreground elements (close up of tea leaves) to anchor the shot, enabling me to tell a more complete story then if I just shot the faraway terraces and hills. Taken from my Cameron Highlands gallery.
Using a wide angle lens, we can exaggerate the perspective of a picture to shift the focus of the story to a specific element in the picture. This picture was shot at a very low angle, with my camera almost touching the ground, using an ultra wide angle lens. This exaggerates the height of the trees, and creates converging lines that seem to meet at the top.
The other extreme is using a telephoto lens to compress perspective. Telephoto lenses make distant objects appear closer than they are, thereby allowing you to stack elements together, like the mountain ranges in the picture below.
Isolation and Focus
Giving the subject plenty of white space (as designers call it) around it can focus the viewer’s attention to it. The panorama below was taken in Laos. The white stupa is actually a tomb, located in the middle of nowhere in the plains of Xieng Khouang. I wanted to convey the lonely feeling of it sitting there all by itself. The panorama below did not need an ultra-wide angle lens. A standard kit lens is all you need, to take several shots side by side and later stitch them up on the computer. In fact, an ultra-wide angle lens would create too much distortion to stitch a panorama easily.
By choosing elements within the picture to feature, you can create isolation and focus. The picture below was shot with a Nikon D70 (6 megapixel entry level DSLR) and 18-70mm kit lens, followed by a pseudo infra-red treatment done using channel manipulation in Photoshop. Taken from my China gallery.