There you are, trekking through the backcountry with your camera, visually overwhelmed by the beauty and the majesty of the landscapes that surround you. With a scene like this in front of you, you’re confident that you’re about to make something memorable.
However, when you try to distill it all down into a single image, you come up short. The result is an uninspiring photo that fails to recreate the magnificience and power that attracted you to the scene in the first place.
Don’t worry, this happens to every photographer from time to time. Capturing the landscape in such a way that your photos have punch and drama is an endless pursuit that we all strive to do during our entire photographic lives. Here are four techniques that I use to give my landscape photos more visual power.
1. Make use of bold color.
Our eyes are drawn to bold colors, specifically those in the ‘warm’ and ‘hot’ end of the spectrum. This stems from our evolutionary need to quickly recognize things like fire, and ripe food items in the landscape, both of which demand out attention.
By including, and focusing on hot colors, like reds, yellows and orange in your scene, you inherently help draw your viewer’s eye into the frame.
This is particularly effective when those colors are placed against the more cool colors, such as blues and greens.
Also, since our eyes are naturally drawn to those warmer colors, you don’t even need very much. Just a spot of red or yellow can have a strong impact, and in fact too much yellow can overwhelm the image if it’s not balanced against the rest of the elements in your frame.
2. Strive for simplicity.
What’s going on in this mountain photo above? Basically, we have a ridge and, well… not a ridge. Pretty simple. Very simple in fact. This kind of minimalist composition can go a long way with your photography. Give your viewers as little as possible and they’ll use their brains to fill in the rest. Anytime you activate your viewer’s brain, you’ve gone a long way towards creating a memorable photograph.
Also, note the strong diagonal line. That’s also giving this image a much more dynamic feel. Imagine this photo with the ridge going straight across the frame. Exciting? Not so much.
3. Lead your viewer’s eye through the frame.
Through careful placement of your subject matter, you can lead your viewer’s eye through the frame and direct how they look at your shot. Lines such as the mountain ridge in the previous photo work well for this technique. Here I’ve used three subject elements, the stream, the boulder and the distant mountains in the background, each of which acts as both a pathway and a visual tidbit that lets the looker stop, and take a breath before moving onto the rest of the image.
The stream leads them in, the rock lets the rest and the background leads them out, or rather back in, which is usually the case. Also, the yellow tundra acts as a magnet to bring the in the door. Once they’re closer, those lines and pathways take over. Essentially, I’ve combined a couple of these techniques in order to give the image more power.
4. Get closer.
When all else fails, get closer. Go macro. Move in tight and focus on the details. Give your viewer a much more intimate look at the world and show them something that they’ve probably seen before, but might not have necessarily noticed. This is the key to all great photography.
Note: All other compositional techniques and methods of creativity still apply; just shooting close won’t get the job done.
Want more tips? Check out my eBook, Making The Image- A Conceptual Guide to Creating Stronger Photographs.