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I like landscapes. Always have. Everywhere I go in life there is a camera tucked away in my car, and I drive people crazy when I have to stop, get out of the car and make a picture. I’m not alone. Photographers and painters, even some musicians (think of Groffe’s Grand Canyon Suite), have been contemplating landscapes for hundreds of years. Museums the world over are populated with the landscape.  Here are a few ideas to think about if you happen to be like me and you just can’t help yourself.

1. Be Aware of the Horizon Line

Take a look at the photo below. Landscape or no? I say yes. What makes it a landscape? I don’t know if there’s a definition of what a landscape should look like, but I know one when I see one! This photo has reminded me of mountains time and time again. It may seem a bit more conceptual, but in my book it qualifies. And what is it about this photo that brings it into this particular category? The horizon line, of course. It has one! You may say you can’t see it, but there it is. The clouds themselves define the “horizon” in this photo. You can’t see the land, but there is the horizon, at the very top of the picture. Take note, because the next photo has its horizon line at the bottom of the frame. When making choices about landscapes, remember to ask yourself what exactly are you looking at: what’s the most important element of the scene? If it is the sky, then it’s very likely the horizon line is going to be low. If the land is the key element, there may be little sky at all. And then there is the in-between landscape, like the one below. There are actually several horizon lines cascading to the middle of the photo, very nearly splitting the picture in half.

2. Learn How to Crop – Change the Format

Does it look better like this:

or like this:

Here’s what the original looks like:

My pick is photo number two, the vertical image.

Notice anything unusual about the collection of photos in this blog? There is an array of formats. Not one photograph has the same dimensions as another. And there’s a reason for that: pictures don’t fit into neat categories all the time. What your eye sees may not always agree with tradition, but it will, more often than not, make for a better picture. The traditional landscape has always been a horizontal picture, but the day of hard and fast rules has long gone out the window. A square landscape, or a vertical one can be just as engaging as the time-honored horizontal. Don’t be afraid to use whatever format works for you.

3. Integrate a Person into the Picture

Putting a measure of perspective into a landscape makes it a better one. The flat, distant panorama better be off-the-charts interesting without a sense of dimension, and anything will do to make that point of focus transform a good photo. In the examples below, a person, a tree or even a bird will do to enhance your landscape.

See more: Creating the Perfect Panorama

The photographer got lucky here. He didn’t have those birds in his travel bag, but he waited long enough for a happy accident to come along. In the photo below, an average, even ordinary sunset is given a great deal of drama by adding the trees as a dominant element into the photo.

The last photo in this group adds the element of human being into the landscape, creating a dramatic moment in an otherwise normal, but not memorable scene.

Additional perspective is offered by the tree on the right making the picture nearly three-dimensional. Cropping the photo, converting it to black and white and applying a dose of blue filtration in Photoshop make this a far more interesting picture than the original

4. Use Your Headlights

While a great sunrise with a tree or two placed in front of it can make a great photo, the silhouette must be used judiciously. If it dominates the photo, you wind up with a lot of negative space and the pictures becomes all about that instead of it being an interesting landscape. So, when you’re up in the mountains first thing in the morning, make sure you park your car in the right spot. Your headlights can make all the difference in the world!

5. The Landscape Itself Does Not Have to Dominate the Scene

Just because it’s a landscape, doesn’t mean that the landscape itself has to be the dominant element in your picture. I know it sounds kind of crazy, but look at the photo below. You’d have to agree it’s a landscape, wouldn’t you? But the thing being photographed, that is, the central object in the photo is minuscule when compared to the pine branch hanging out into the frame. The pine branch is not the focus of the photo. Your eye naturally goes to the point of rock atop the hill in the background. What make this a successful landscape is the combination of dominant and recessive elements, all the while having one focal point for your eye to move toward in the photo. The best of landscapes almost always have some key element or composition (or both) that bring the eye to a central point of focus in the picture. Otherwise you have a flat picture where your eye wanders the landscape looking for a place to land, just like those birds in the picture up above. It’s good for them to have a wandering eye because they’re probably looking for lunch, but your eye needs some singular point to keep your attention for any length of time.

James Schuck

James Schuck is a writer and photographer working in Southern California. He is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City and has photographed everything from Architecture to Auto Parts to Cookies to Portraits and Weddings.

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