Image composition in landscape photography

Easily get 90% of your image composition in landscape photography right! Stick to the esential rule: “Photography is visual communication”

The golden rule

Many books have been written about colours, shapes and contrasts. But what of it can be implemented in reality? Almost nothing. Unlike a studio photographer, a landscape photographer has to take nature as he finds it. The balance of colours, shapes and contrasts belongs to the last 10% of the fine-tuning of a successful photo.

You get the other 90% of the picture structure in landscape photography with the following rule:


  • Photography is visual communication.


Once you have understood and internalised this rule, you will take the biggest step possible in landscape photography. But what does this sentence mean to you?

this is how you set up the picture in landscape photography

How does image composition work?

A successful composition in landscape photography rounds off your photo. You can travel and photograph the most beautiful places in the world, but only if your composition is right will you get aesthetic photographs that attract attention. There are countless books on the subject of composition, but the most important rule is often not explained.

This rule is often applied unconsciously by professional photographers and is therefore never properly communicated. If you have understood this rule, then you have 90% of the image composition in landscape photography correct. All other rules concerning colour contrasts, leading lines, golden section etc. are a creative tool. The problem is that nature is never perfect! You have hardly any influence on these creative means. If you don’t have colour contrast on your subject, you can’t change it.

Many amateur photographers still don’t understand these two rules even after years and focus on the last 10% to round off the image composition in landscape photography with creative means, while the 90% that is really needed is simply missing.

this is how you create a picture composition

Golden rule for image composition: Create a motif!

Far too little is landscape photography associated with human perception and it is often viewed too artistically. Photography is visual communication. Memorise this sentence. This is the most essential rule of image composition in landscape photography of realistic, not abstract photography. But what does it mean?

A viewer looks at a photograph for a reason to look at it and engage with it. The viewer wants to identify and perceive a piece of information in the photograph. This is the most primal purpose of human seeing. Seeing is always composed of the physical image of reality created by the eyes and the interpretation of the information by the brain.

When we as humans walk through the world with our eyes, our brain always makes us focus our attention on one thing. This thing stands out with some special stimulus from all the other information and less dominant stimuli in the environment. For example, when you walk through the forest, you don’t actively notice every single tree.

That would be a flood of information that you would not be able to process. The same applies to a crowded pedestrian zone. The crowds of people blur into a grey nothingness for your perception. But suddenly, in the middle of the forest, there is a huge old oak tree. In the pedestrian zone, you suddenly notice a street performer dressed as a clown.

What happened? Both the oak tree and the clown stand out from the monotonous chaos and get your attention. And that is exactly the essence of good composition in landscape photography! You have to create a motif. An object in the photo that stands out from the chaos of the rest of the photo because of a physical feature. A motif is therefore a visual stimulus that has come to your mind as a photographer and you communicate this to an uninvolved third party through your photo. They perceive the stimulus in your photo. That is visual communication.

forest photography
design a photo in landscape photography

The biggest mistake for image composition in landscape photography

This mistake is the worst mistake you can ever make for your image composition as a landscape photographer: Not creating a clear subject. You miss the communication. Your photo serves no purpose if you don’t communicate a subject.

Beginners in landscape photography tend to photograph what they see. This is a big problem. Because just because you noticed an object and took a photo of it, it doesn’t mean that someone else will recognise that object as the subject in your photo. There is a discrepancy between what you see and perceive and what you communicate in your photo.

Realise that once you have noticed an object and it has received your attention, that object is pre-memorised by your brain. You will therefore have no problem rediscovering this object in your own photo.

But of course this does not apply to a third person looking at your photo! They will only perceive the object in your photo as a motif if you have placed the object in such a way that it physically stands out from the rest of the photo and attracts the viewer’s attention.

Many photographers fail for years because of this fact! So remember: it’s not you who has to recognise your subject in the photo, it’s the viewer. You don’t take photos for yourself, but for the viewer.

photo composition for landscape photos

But what is a good composition in landscape photography?

When you discover an aesthetic object or scenery in the landscape, the first task of image composition in landscape photography is to make this object a subject. Look around on location, think about what objects you would have in your frame next to the object that is to be the subject.

Place the camera in such a way that the object you have chosen becomes the subject in the photo through a physical feature. Here are a few ways to set up the image in landscape photography to make an object the subject:

  • Size: the object becomes the subject because it takes up a large area in the photo.
  • Colour: The object stands out from its surroundings with a bright colour
  • Shape: The object has a shape that is not otherwise found in the photograph
  • Light: The object is found in a bright area of the photo.
  • Dominance: Several identical objects (group of trees, mountain range…)
  • Structure: The surface of the object stands out from the surroundings
  • Contrast: The object has a greater contrast than the surroundings

Basically, this list is nothing more than a list of human perception while seeing why objects get our attention. The same rules apply to you when you want to create a motif in your landscape photo. By the way, you don’t even create the motif yourself, you find the motif.

Thinking even further, this means that you cannot think up the motif. The motif in your photo determines itself. The object that can combine most of the listed characteristics, this object is automatically the motif in your photo for a viewer. Whether you like it or not, you cannot change it. As a consequence, not everything that you find aesthetically pleasing will end up being a beautiful photo that is interesting for a viewer.

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