Landscape Photography – Break Some Rules!

Chase Jarvis tweeted earlier today, “if you can’t take a picture the way you want, it’s probably because you’re playing by the rules”. Now that I’ve shamelessly plugged his blog and Twitter feed, here’s the deal. He is exactly right!

Everyone knows that in landscape photography, its bad form to place the horizon line directly in the center of the frame. If fact, if you open any recently published photography book you’ll find this “rule” cited time and again as a way to prevent beginners from shooting boring landscape images. I’m going to be completely honest here folks. This rule stinks and should be thrown out the window in my (not so) humble opinion.

Sunset Over Lake LBJ

Sunset Over Lake Lyndon B. Johnson
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 40D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 40mm, f/13 for 0.8 seconds at ISO 100 on Sandisk digital film. Post capture processing was done entirely in Lightroom 2. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Here’s a better rule as taught by folks like Moose Peterson. “Regardless of where the horizon is, a good landscape images needs an interesting foreground, middle-ground and background to pull the viewer into the image”. In this image the water is the foreground element, the trees are the middle-ground elements and the hills in the distance and the dramatic sky are the background elements. I framed this image to pull the viewer in from the water to the trees, to the mountains and then to the sky. Notice that the actual horizon is almost dead-center.

6 thoughts on “Landscape Photography – Break Some Rules!

  1. Well, rules are made to break them, aren’t they?

    I take the rules as something you have when you start your learning process (I’m not talking just about photography).
    As you become more proficient, you can little by little move away from them, and do some experimentation.

    This way you will achieve nice goals.

    But then again, in the beginning you needed something to start with.

    Other than that… Nice picture 🙂 !!


  2. It’s not much the two halves thing going on, as the rule of thirds, there are three distinct parts of this photo – the sky, the hills and the water and they are in the approximate thirds of the image. Plus you got strong color contrast going on. If you go look at any of the great artwork, you’ll find that they use strong color contrast. Ansel Adams was a master of contrast. You also have a way for the eye to move into the image and a way to move out. The diagonal of the water and that of the sky provide entrance and exit points.

    But sometimes you’re just standing in the right place at the right time with a camera in your hand.

    • Jan,

      Thanks for reading. As for “standing in the right place at the right time”, in landscape photography we usually have to wait for several hours till the light is just right. Luckily, I had a good chair and a tall iced tea to sip on while I waited.


  3. Why this works so well is the photo has two halves, it is a dichotomy, it illustrates ying and yang, it is like pouring the grenadine into a tequila sunrise…please keep showing us how to break the rules!!!

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