Soft dusk light paints this stand of snow-dusted aspen with a subtle pink glow in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah.
What is composition, and why is it so supremely important to creating the complete outdoor image? Composition is the careful placement and arrangement of all the elements in an image that matter. Composition isn’t just about inclusion, however. We also must consider what necessitates exclusion to have maximum impact on the viewer.
Our biggest challenge as photographers involves erasing the two-dimensional barrier that prohibits many from fully relinquishing themselves to the viewing experience. If it doesn’t feel real, then it doesn’t feel real.
We can overcome this barrier through the way we construct our images. By breaking up our images into foreground and background elements, we give the viewers the near/far dimension that they experience in real life. Look for strong foreground anchors that will instantly grab the viewer’s attention. As seen in some of the imagery examples throughout this article, this may be a backlit cactus or a grouping of wildflowers. It may be a submissive bison or a sidelit bunch of ice plants.
The Pacific Ocean from Twin Peaks Overlook, San Francisco, Calif.
Complete this foreground with a secondary background subject like mountain peaks, puffy clouds, a sunstar or rolling waves. By including these foreground/background elements, we provide the image with good visual tension and an opportunity for the viewer to explore all the parts of the image around and in between.
Consider every image a visual journey. It must have a beginning and an end. If our image is to be successful, the viewer will make this journey over and over, exploring even more with every pass along the visual path. By including compositions with leading lines, we can direct the viewer into and through the image. These "leading lines" might be a meandering mountain stream, sidelit striations in red rock or repetitive patterns in color or contrast. These leading lines may not be lines at all; they may be strategically placed pillows of snow, rocks or other subject matter that carry the viewer through the image.
In the end, we must take the viewer "there," and this is done by delivering on our mission as dedicated outdoor photographers to create complete images, leaving little to be desired. Perfection is a pinnacle reached by few, but by including all the components of the complete outdoor image, we’re sure to come close!
1Choose locations wisely. Know where the sun will rise and set, and set your image up appropriately. If possible, choose locations that give you shooting options both into and away from the sun. 2Understand your postprocessing approach, and shoot accordingly. Understand how your camera functions, as well as how the information captured translates into your vision for the final image. 3 Use a tripod. Creating a complete image leaves little room for soft or fuzzy images. Make a habit of shooting on a tripod and providing yourself with a stable platform from which to shoot. Additionally, you may want to use a cable release and utilize mirror lockup to ensure a tack-sharp image, especially on longer exposures. 4Previsualize. Know beforehand what you’re after. Have both a creative and technical plan B should locations/conditions go south on you. 5Choose the right lens. Understand which lens the scene calls for. Use different lenses often, and learn how to "see" as if you were looking through your different lenses.