How do you ensure your photos make a lasting impression? Is there a formula that can help you achieve better visual design?
Landscape photography goes far beyond simply documenting a certain place through photographs. It’s not just about traveling to take pictures of a place. The profound goal of a landscape photographer is to find the best way to view a particular place and provide its viewers with a memorable experience through their photographs.
One way to make a lasting impression in your photos is to give your viewers a satisfying experience of viewing your image. In landscape photography, this can be achieved in a number of ways in which you entice the viewer to take a little longer to look at the image and see it not just as one image but also as a harmonious blend of many different parts. With meticulous composition and visual design, you can achieve better consistency in your photos, wherever you are and whatever the location throws at you.
One way to achieve a more dynamic visual design is to give your shot more depth. This is achieved by using visual elements present in several layers of the scene that would suggest that each layer is practically going further. For more complex compositions, you can divide each image into three main layers; the background, which is usually the sky; the middle of the field, where distant visual elements are seen, such as mountains, buildings or distant bodies of water; and the foreground, which is basically everything in frame near the camera. Each of these layers can contain visual elements that suggest depth.
There are several ways to achieve a sense of depth in the background. Specifically in the sky, lighting and movement can emphasize the presence of multiple layers, even at relative distance. One of the main reasons sunrise or sunset lighting is often preferred is that the direction from which sunlight shines on clouds often accentuates the edges and gaps between multiple cloud layers. . This is of course in addition to the effect produced by the colors projected by the light of the setting or rising sun. Another way to make your background more dynamic is to use motion. One of the reasons for using a long exposure when there is relatively enough light is to allow the movement of clouds to render unique textures that suggest direction.
Middle and foreground can sometimes be interchangeable. The midplane often contains visual elements that are relatively distant but do not occupy the farthest layer. The depth in the middle of the ground often depends on the structure itself and how it is affected by light, but certain environmental factors such as fog or mist can also add depth to this layer. A common approach to getting more depth in the foreground is to use ultra-wide-angle lenses. Wide lenses have an effect that stretches both structures and the spaces between them so that objects closer to the camera stand out more. The use of visual elements that create a diagonal pattern also emphasizes space and distance in the most proximal area.
Another aspect through which you can provide a satisfying experience for your viewers is when you strike a balance in your visual design. It’s a fundamental factor in aiming for balanced exposures, but balance is actually part of what governs the entire framing, composition, and even color. Each visual element of your frame has its own visual weight. Empty spaces also take on a lot of visual weight. It is not synonymous with the amount of space an object takes up but with the amount of attention it demands. This can be through its size, brightness or color.
While perhaps the most automatic example of balance in visual design is symmetry, it’s not an absolute requirement. The frame doesn’t have to be symmetrical to look satisfying. Instead, relative visual balance should be the goal. This means that objects with a lot of visual weight should generally be reciprocal on the other side, not necessarily of the same size or brightness but with a similar effect. A luminous object can be the equivalent of a larger negative space, or an identifiable figure such as a silhouette of a person can be equivalent to a waterfall. What’s important is to weigh each visual element with how you perceive it yourself and how its presence affects the whole frame.
The third factor to aim for is a consistent visual flow within your photography. While most landscape images have a focal point, which is perhaps the highlight of the scene, it’s important to consider how each other part of the image contributes to the whole. Imagine the visual experience your image provides as a visit to a place. You can use certain visual elements as guides or arrows that will lead your viewers’ eyes in and around the photo. You can use actual lines present in the scene to point in a direction, or you can use objects that represent rhythm or sequences. It can be the flow of water in a stream, traffic paths in the city, the repetition of lampposts or pillars, or virtual lines created by rocks. Following this idea, the flow will of course have to lead somewhere and the way you compose your images should be clear about this. The goal is for the visual flow to lead to a focal point at which your viewers will find resolution in the experience of seeing your photo, and then see the image as a whole. Every line that strays from that flow and every visual element of considerable weight that competes with the focal point will be distractions.
Shooting landscapes and aiming to complement all visual factors is not always possible. As landscape photographers, we are often limited by what the environment actually offers. Nonetheless, the goal is to create as much visual experience as possible in a single frame from what the venue has to offer.