5 Composition Techniques That Will Improve Your Landscape Photography

5 Composition Techniques That Will Improve Your Landscape Photography

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Top 5 Composition Techniques That Will Improve Your Landscape Photography

Composition is one of the most important factors in photography and it becomes even more crucial when photographing the incredible landscapes of Iceland. To create truly stunning photos during your photography workshop in Iceland, the first step is to understand that composition is an art that ties everything within a scene together for the absolute maximum impact that the image can have. 

Learning how to effectively use compositional techniques is one of the best ways that you can create masterful landscape imagery. So if you’re looking to improve your landscape photography and take your skills to another level while you’re in Iceland, then you’re in luck. Don’t run out to buy the newest gear! Just follow our top 5 tips for composition and you’ll be taking visually striking landscape photos of Iceland in no time.

Tip #1: Have a Focal Point or Subject

Top 5 Tips for Composition in Landscape PhotographyFlowers make a great focal point or subject. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

A focal point or subject is a point of interest that draws the viewer’s attention within your photograph. Having a focal point or a subject is the most important thing that you need to consider when you are composing a picture. When you don’t think carefully about what you are taking a picture of, then your photo becomes a “happy trigger” scene, something that anyone can take, rather than something that tells a story.

Whether you’re just starting out in photography or whether you’re a seasoned professional, choosing the perfect subject for landscape photography can be very challenging. When you are first presented with a scene in nature, particularly in Iceland, it can be so overwhelmingly splendid to look at that it becomes difficult to focus on an appropriate subject when composing what is inside your frame. To make things easier, imagine that you are standing in front of a stage. You want to take a picture of what’s on the stage but not the entire stage. Therefore, you need something on that stage that will draw the viewer’s attention.

When considering things that you might be able to use as a subject on nature’s stage in Iceland, think about why you’re visiting in the first place. What are some of the things that you want to see? Iceland is known for its wild and rugged landscape, characterised by glistening glaciers, mighty fjords, active geothermal areas, volcanoes and lava fields. Wherever you look, there will be strong focal points just waiting to be found.

If you need a bit of a hint to get started, then consider the mountains. Iceland abounds with beautiful mountains, much like the majestic Kirkjufell on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

Top 5 Tips for Composition in Landscape PhotographyThese shards of ice are a great focal point at the base of Kirkjufell. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

If you’re more into seascapes, then try the Reynisdrangar sea stacks at the famous black sand beach, Reynisfjara. 

Top 5 Tips for Composition in Landscape PhotographyThere are beautiful rocks that you can use as subjects to lead into Reynisdrangar at the black sand beach. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

Waterfall buffs simply can’t go past the stunning Skógafoss waterfall but if you’re in for something truly breathtaking, then the icebergs within the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and nearby Diamond Beach will blow you away.

Top 5 Tips for Composition in Landscape PhotographyAdding a person into the foreground at Skogafoss is a great photography technique to create scale. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

Top 5 Tips for Composition in Landscape PhotographyThe icebergs within Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon are an interesting focal point in themselves. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

For those who like a little bit of structure, Iceland is dotted with hundreds of lighthouses and churches that make great focal points for landscape photography, such as the black church of Búðir.

Top 5 Tips for Composition in Landscape PhotographyA grassy pathway leading in to the black church of Budir. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

Meanwhile, if you head to Iceland in summer, then you may even be lucky enough to be able to use wildflowers as the subject of your photography, when the country comes alive with carpets of purple lupines.

Tip #2: Use Leading Lines to Create Visual Flow

Top 5 Tips for Composition in Landscape PhotographyThese natural lines formed within an ice cave create visual flow. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

Leading lines are a landscape photographer’s best friend and one of the most important tools in composing incredible landscape images. By using leading lines effectively, you’ll be able to create interesting photos of Iceland that will capture your audience’s attention.

Leading lines can help you to create depth in a picture. They do so by catching the viewer’s eye and leading them into the scene. Of course, there needs to be something of interest that the lines lead to and if you’ve taken tip #1 onboard, then you’ll already have a strong focal point or subject.

Having said that, when using leading lines to draw your viewer’s eye, there should be no doubt about what the focal point actually is. To really emphasise the subject of your photo, you can try using straight lines that come in from the edges of your frame or even get creative and use something like a natural S-shaped curve. Just make sure that the lines don’t lead the viewer’s eye out of the picture.

Top 5 Tips for Composition in Landscape PhotographyA natural S-curve at the base of Vestrahorn. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

Another important thing to consider when using leading lines is that you don’t use them to lead the eye through the picture into an empty horizon. Doing so can be quite boring, so always make sure that you have an interesting focal point. 

Top 5 Tips for Composition in Landscape PhotographyThe Northern Lights can be leading lines in themselves. Photo by: 'Iceland Photo Tours'.

Leading lines can also be used for storytelling, such as when captured in motion to convey the visual flow of clouds or the Northern Lights as they dance across the night sky in Iceland. Again, just be sure that they lead to something. The Aurora is not a subject within itself. You still need to consider other elements within your frame and how they tie in with one another to create an image that tells a story.

Tip #3: Brightness & Contrast

Top 5 Tips for Composition in Landscape PhotographyBright photos with just the right amount of contrast capture the eye. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

The most successful landscape photos of Iceland are those that immediately capture your eye, whether they are in small format on social media or large enough to hang on a wall in your lounge room.

As humans, our eyes are immediately drawn to areas of most contrast or brightness. That means that if your subject is on a bright background, it will create a lot of contrast and intrinsically snare your viewer’s attention. However, if there is too much contrast, then parts of the scene may battle for attention, making it difficult for the eye to rest on something of interest.

By harnessing brightness and contrast when composing your landscape photos in Iceland, you can actively draw attention to specific parts of the scene that you want to highlight, such as your main focal point.

Tip #4: Balance

It might not be overtly obvious, but creating balance in a scene is very important if you want to have beautiful photos of Iceland. By balance, we mean the visual balance of the picture – that is, whether the elements within your frame are equally distributed so that they create a feeling of satisfaction when being viewed, rather than a feeling of unease.

Imagine that you have a scale and you then put your picture onto that scale. Does the picture feel like it’s going to tip left or right? If you don’t balance the elements within your picture, then parts of the frame may feel empty, leading the eye to focus more on one side of the picture rather than the entire image as a whole.

Consider the pieces of ice in this photo of the Diamond Ice Beach from the south coast of Iceland. If you were to eliminate the piece of ice on the left of the frame, then the rest of the photo would become unbalanced and tip too far to the middle and right, where the other piece of ice sits in the background.

Top 5 Tips for Composition in Landscape PhotographyIcebergs shaped like diamonds on the beach. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

Although you can easily balance a photo by cropping during the post-processing phase, it is always best to try to compose the elements in such a way that you capture the balance at the time of shooting in your camera. That way, you’ll be able to maintain maximum resolution and learn to really master composition in-field in Iceland.

Remember: At the end of the day, making a picture that is out of balance will create unease for your viewer. The last thing you’ll want to do is to make the viewer feel seasick.

Tip #5: Keep the Elements Within the Frame

Top 5 Tips for Composition in Landscape PhotographyMake sure that nothing is cut off at the edges of your shot. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

The last but final tip for composing fabulous photos of the landscape in Iceland is to keep all of the elements within the frame. When considering which elements you choose to include in your frame, don’t let them lie too close to the edges. Make sure to give all of the elements some breathing room. The reason for this is that when the elements are cut off on the edges, it can create another source of unease for your viewer. Much as you wouldn’t cut off your subject’s arms or legs in portrait photography, it is important that in landscape photography, you don’t cut off your subjects.

When learning to keep the elements within the frame, it is useful to look at the scene in the live view mode of your camera, rather than through the viewfinder. This way, you can really get a sense of what the final image is going to look like, including all sorts of small details that you actually want to be part of the picture and which you might not notice when you are looking through the small viewfinder.

Top 5 Tips for Composition in Landscape PhotographyHvitserkur wouldn't be the same if you cut off some of the top of it! Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

For example, take this image of Hvítserkur, a basalt sea stack that stands along the eastern shore of the Vatnsnes Peninsula in the north west of Iceland. This image has everything, with leading lines capturing your eye and moving you through to two strong focal points that are well-balanced and which have enough brightness and contrast to capture your attention.

Now consider if you were to cut off part of Hvítserkur itself at the top of the frame, or if you were only to get part of the green mossy rock into the bottom of your frame. Doing so would immediately create a sense of unease and lead to an unbalanced composition. As you can see, it is very important to keep all of the elements within your frame when you are composing a picture of the landscape in Iceland.

Although it may seem difficult at first, the art of composition is one that you can certainly learn to master in order to create visually striking photos of the landscape in Iceland. By following our top 5 tips for composition, you’ll be on your way to effectively using compositional techniques for landscape photography in the blink of an eye!

About the author:  Serena Dzenis is a landscape photographer based in Iceland. You can find more of her work on her website or by following her on Facebook and Instagram.

Are you ready to try out your composition skills in the incredible landscape of Iceland? Check out our 3 Day Photo Tour of the South Coast and Vatnajokull National Park, where you'll be sure to find some amazing foregrounds for landscape photography!