Simple Landscape Composition Rules

I hesitate to write this post since there are about as many rules of composition as there are photographers and the best landscape images I’ve ever seen break these rules with impunity. It’s hard to describe what makes the composition of a certain image “work” for me and I rarely follow the “rule of thirds”. For me it’s more a feeling of “rightness” than anything else, although I do tend to follow Moose Peterson’s advice; “Regardless of where the horizon is, a good landscape image needs an interesting foreground, middle-ground and background to pull the viewer into the image”.

Take this image for example. I walked around this small lake at Buescher State Park in Smithville, Texas looking for different shots to capture. The late afternoon light was almost perfect and the still lake reflected the autumn colors beautifully. The reflections in the water made a wonderful foreground with the trees providing the key subject of the middle-ground and the high, thin clouds providing a striking background. I used the tree branches on the left to add some framing to the image.

Picture Perfect – Buescher State Park, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on manual (M) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens hand-held. The exposure was taken at 47mm, f/16 for 1/10th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer. All post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 Beta. Click on the image above for a larger version.

6 thoughts on “Simple Landscape Composition Rules

  1. Beautiful shot. Guess I never really thought the “rule of thirds” when it comes to landscape photography. At least not much, anyway. I do find myself trying to have the interesting foreground, middle and back, though.

    • Thanks Terry.

      It didn’t hurt that it was so cold that I had to keep moving so I didn’t freeze in place. Don’t know how you do it up there in the Great White North. 🙂


  2. Though of course in this photo the horizon is exactly one third of the way from the bottom of the frame 🙂

    Great photos and advice, always a pleasure reading your blog.

    • Yotchi,

      Thanks for reading. Actually, there are two horizons in this image, the water line and the tree line but neither is at the 1/3rd position. This is pretty much what I composed in the viewfinder and no cropping was required in Lightroom. Having the grid viewfinder screen installed on my 5D2 helps.

      Composition Example


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