Photographs Without Good Composition Are Boring, Plain And Lifeless

All types of photography rely on strong composition to deliver an effective image.

All photographers need to learn about composition when starting out. Composition is a part of photography that each photographer must discover for themselves. And, yes, there will be some steep learning curves along the way.

Composition is a subjective matter. Views differ on the best composition approaches to landscape photography. Composition is a personal preference where opinions on what works and does not work is often debated.

It is no fault of photographers that composition is a complicated topic. You can assign this tension to the subjective nature of our artistic inclinations. It is human nature to debate the artistic merit of an image.

The journey to master landscape photography composition is a journey that challenges our inner thought processes and creative abilities. 

Basically, a photographer can apply 3 approaches to composition.

1. Follow the rules of composition.

2. Follow your artistic intuitiveness. 

3. A mix of both.

I like the third option.

Below are 10 perspectives you may apply to your composition techniques.

1 Communicate visually through your photographs

Photographs are powerful communication tools. One image can speak a thousand words. Photographs should intend to convey a message. 

Think storytelling. What emotions can your image spark in the viewer? 

Will your moody landscape take them to a dark place in their minds? 

Will your black and white photo make your audience feel nostalgic? 

Does your compositional colour play invoke joy? 

Pictorial narratives can be a single image or a combination of images. Your image must wow the audience and create a connection that impacts the viewer. Consider what message your image might communicate when working out your composition.

Make your images appealling by telling a story.

2 Identify your subject(s) 

We can change the headline of this article to “Photographs without a subject are boring, plain, and lifeless.” 

A subject in your photo should grab the attention of the viewer. A photograph without an obvious subject will render the viewer confused. You cannot communicate a clear message without a subject.

The photograph must make sense to enable a successful outcome. Identifying your primary subject is a vital starting point when composing your photo.

alt="vulture depicts the subject of the photo composition"
The subject in this photograph is clear and obvious. The subject grabs the viewer’s attention.

3 Scout the area for the best composition

Scouting your location before hitting the field will get you better prepared. You will need to consider factors such as logistics, equipment, weather, and terrain.

There will always be unknowns when executing your shoot. Scouting out an area will help your planning and avoid pitfalls.

Some landscape photography locations need considerable planning. Think of a situation where your chosen location may be hard to reach, or you have to hike for hours, even days.

This will need some planning.

The best time to shoot landscape is in the golden hours (around sunrise and sunset). If possible, do your scouting before, or between these times. Then consider how you want to capture the scene. Then think about the photography gear required to achieve your preconceived ideas.

alt="mountain may be difficult terrain to reach and scouting"
Scout your terrain and make plans accordingly.

4 Be patient. Like a photo hunter

In the city, our lives are rushed. Life is short, and sometimes we suffer from time anxiety. But in nature, life is slow, and needs patience.

Photographers are like hunters. They need to stalk out their prey.

A hunter needs patience.

A photographer needs patience.

Great landscape photography needs patience.

Learn to approach your landscape photography like a patient hunter and be prepared to make multiple attempts to achieve your landscape masterpiece.

alt="patience gets landscape photographer the subject of the photograph"
Be patient and take your time to get those elusive images.

5 Level your photograph before releasing the shutter

Always think about the alignment of your photographic composition. Doing so will save you unnecessary corrections in your post-processing. This can be a tedious process and is a waste of your precious time. An example is post-process cropping of the photo. To achieve the image must be cropped. This will reduce your image size and add to your workflow requirements. Level off at the time of shooting to avoid this annoying problem.

A handy tip is to use the grids in your viewfinder to check alignment when composing your photo.

A tripod would be the best tool to get your camera level and remain level.

alt="level your image for a better photograph horizon lines"
Photographs with no horizons need to be levelled off. Do this while shooting. Use a tripod.

6 Avoid placing your primary subject in the centre of your frame

Photography beginners make the same common mistake. Placing the subject of their composition slap-bang in the middle of their frame. There are compositions that work when you place the subject in the centre. Placing your subject off-centre brings dynamism to ordinary compositions.

A reliable guideline to figure out how to place your subject off-centre is the rule of thirds.

Keep this in mind.

alt="do not place subject in the centre of photo frame for composition"
In this image the subject is placed in the centre. Do you feel it works or not?

7 Look for shapes and curves

Shapes and curves are artistic elements that entice the human brain. Look out for the “S” curve in your scene, as well as any interesting shapes that may lie in folders, mountains, trees, or other objects within the frame. Include these elements in your composition when possible

Other shapes to consider are triangles and diagonals. Incorporating triangles and diagonals into your photos creates a sense of dynamic tension.

alt="look for shapes and curves in photographic image composition"
Look for shapes and curves in your composition.

8 Balance your composition through symmetry

Symmetry is a pleasing aesthetic. Symmetry creates balance in your composition. Water reflections are a typical scenario where symmetry becomes relevant in landscape photography. Try to avoid having unbalanced elements in your composition.

What other types of scenes have symmetry in landscape photography? See if you can find other examples of symmetry in nature.

alt="symmetry in photography composition brings balance"
Symmetry is shown on the water’s reflection.

9 Fit main subjects in the frame

What this means is that you should not have any of your main subjects on the edge of any part of the frame, ie. don’t have any subject cut at the edges of the frame.

For example, if you have trees, single bushes, or other objects, either fit them into the frame or exclude them completely. Do not cut subjects out of the frame. This will result in leading the eye out of the frame and causing visual distractions.

alt="frame your subject for best photography composition"
Look for interesting framing opportunities in your composition.

10 Carefully frame your photograph

Learn how to frame your shots and think before you press the camera shutter. Not framing the shot is a mistake that many beginners make. The end result is that you end up with a stack of useless images.

Avoid point and shoot tactics.

Rather, think about the framing more before squeezing the trigger. Ask the question wether your framing composition is aligned with your overall communication idea before pressing the shutter release. This will save you from ending up with a camera roll of low-quality images that clog up your digital storage and slow your workflow.

In Conclusion

I hope that next time you set out to capture your landscape masterpiece you consider the above mentioned approaches to your compositional planning.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of guidelines for composition, but starting with some of these will help bring more clarity to your composition. As a result, your photographs will increase their impact on your audience.

So, as always, happy landscape shooting. Till next time.

Originally posted on

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