To understand how to create compelling compositions in landscape photography, you should first look at the lines in the scene. The lines are the structure of the image and, if you study the classic artists in history, most started their masterpieces by sketching a pen and ink drawing to establish the structure of the painting rather than focusing on the details, which would come later. Where you place the lines in your photograph will determine if you create a successful composition or not.
During my recent workshops in the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales using lines became a major part of many images. One morning, we climbed up overlooking Winnats Pass leading into the Hope Valley. The road through the pass made an ideal leading line coming in from the lower left corner stretching through to the misty valley. At that time of the morning, there was a lot of traffic through the pass with people going to work so I made use of the car lights by exposing just over a minute using a 6-stop ND filter. I made another exposure for the sky and combined these in Lightroom.
One day we hiked up to photograph a gritstone rock formation called the Salt Cellar and along the way there were so many images jumping out at us. An obvious leading line was the footpath, but what caught my eye was the way the clouds mimicked the shape of the path. A polarising filter helped to accentuate the clouds.
On to the Yorkshire Dales. I wanted to take the guys to a location that I photographed back in 1998, mainly because of the S-shaped road and barn, but also to see if it had changed much in that time. It was nice to see the barn was still there. A tight composition concentrating just on the snake-like line moving through the frame ending at the stone barn makes the image. Including anymore of the landscape around it would weaken the composition.
One of the evocative features of the Yorkshire Dales are the trees growing out of the limestone pavement. The much-photographed tree at Malham is an easy subject as it’s just a short walk from the road. Another 4 am rise to get to this location before sunrise was worth it as these clouds drifted over. Unfortunately, they didn’t light up any more than this, but I used the subtle lines of the limestone pavement leading in from the lower left corner of the frame and the line of the illuminated cloud leading to the tree. It helped that from this position, the tree naturally leans into the frame.
A more challenging hike that looks worse than it really is, was the hike to the top of Twistleton Scar near Ingleborough. There are several wind-blown hawthorn trees to choose from, but this was my favourite. I first positioned the sun behind the tree to create a sunburst, but even though the strong lines of the silhouetted tree make a strong image I wanted to create a completely different image by utilising the lines in the clouds. I moved around to the side to capture the beautiful side-lighting using a polarising filter to bring out the lines of the clouds that seem to emanate from the tree. This composition only works by placing the tree in the middle of the frame so the lines are symmetrical.
The next time you’re out with your camera, or better yet book one of my workshops, look closer at the scene beyond the details and place those lines within your frame to create your masterpiece.
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