Sue Barthelow's

Articles For Photographers



Landscape Composition - Adding Dimension

by Sue Barthelow

Add dimension to your landscape photo by including foreground, middle ground and background features. A landscape is usually not dynamic, so it won't change while you decide how to shoot it. Take your time to move around while you look for positions that show the scene at its best. Walk about; get low; get high.

Foreground - include something nearby to anchor the scene. As long as your foreground feature has line or texture, it will create depth. It might be tree branches, the top of a bush, the sand on a beach or a nearby rock. Change your location to find foregrounds that improve the composition. Check your viewfinder and try to achieve good balance of size and placement of your foreground and middle ground objects. Unless a foreground object is your subject, don't let it dominate the scene.

To get everything sharply focused for a long distance scene, keep the foreground objects a short distance from your camera, use a small aperture (large f-stop) and focus one-third the way into the scene

Middle ground - this is usually what the picture is all about. It's what caught your attention and made you grab your camera. Look for the most interesting features and let them be your subject. Frame your picture so your subject is presented at its best. Include surrounding features that support your subject, giving it context without being overly distracting.

Unless it's important to you that your subject is centered, position it off-center. Imagine lines running through your viewfinder, cutting the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Compose your subject at or near the spot where two of the lines cross each other. If the scene includes a horizon, don't place the horizon across the center of the image. When the land is more interesting than the sky, place the horizon about one-third the way down from the top.

Background - this is the distant part of the picture. It may be the sky with or without clouds. It may be the ocean or a lake as the water runs its way to the top of the image. Whatever it is, it should be far enough behind the middle ground that it gives the middle ground features depth.

If the scene has a sky full of interesting clouds or colors that are too good to leave out, consider placing the horizon about one-third up from the bottom.

Example Photos

In the Sonoma Coast picture, notice how the foreground rock makes you feel like you're standing right there. The wave-splashed rocks draw you up to the subject rock, the one with the hole. The background rocks become progressively smaller until the hills provide a backdrop that forces you to look back into the scene. This photo has incredible depth.

The Goat Rock picture has less depth because the background is a simple sky that sits directly behind the middle ground subject. The small view of the ocean that shows itself from behind the subject at the right edge helps connect the middle ground to the background sky. The foreground grass gives most of the depth to this image, drawing your eyes through the scene to the subject rock.



Sonoma Coast
Sonoma Coast

Goat Rock
Goat Rock


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