How To Capture Great Scenics

Focus on three key elements when taking scenic photographs
Click Images To Enlarge This Article Features Photo Zoom

A great outdoor scenic hinges upon three key elements—the direction and quality of the LIGHT; the COMPOSITION must be dynamic and compelling; and the SUBJECT should have intrigue to hold the viewer’s attention. The more tightly woven these elements are combined, the more successful the outcome.

LIGHT is categorized in four ways—front, side, back and soft. Front Light is the easiest with which to work, but for scenic photography, it’s not flattering. Because of its flat quality, shadows are minimized, depth is hard to depict, textures are non-existent and details are easily lost. There's no modeling of the landscape that's essential in getting good scenic pictures. The only time I shoot a landscape with front light is within the first five minutes of sunrise or sunset. In that the light is so warm and appealing, it helps offset the flat effect.

Side Light emphasizes a subject’s three-dimensional aspects—textures, shapes, patterns and form all become more well defined. As the light rakes across the landscape, peaks and valleys of light and shadow are revealed. By creating these areas of contrast, more depth is conveyed. To side-light the landscape, you need to shoot at sunrise or sunset.

Backlight produces dramatic results. It portrays the subject as a silhouette or gives it a rim lit glow emphasizing its shape and form. Because backlight isn’t commonly sought out, a backlit image is more unique.

COMPOSITION is the intentional arrangement of elements seen through the viewfinder. It’s how secondary lines and shapes impact the primary subject. It’s the organizing of separate elements to create a pleasing form. It’s up to the photographer to place the camera in a location where balance and harmony is achieved.

Painters start with a blank canvas and begin to add important details where they want. Photographers start with a canvas that’s already painted but must eliminate distractions. Photography is therefore a subtractive process. As a photographer, you need to find serenity amid the chaos and confusion. The key to good composition is learning how to selectively eliminate distractions that prevent the viewer from looking at the main subject. Decide what landscape feature you want to be the main focal point. Study the surroundings and eliminate distractions by moving closer, zooming in, or changing your viewing angle until the composition is clean.

SUBJECT choice is important to keep the viewer interested in studying your images. An unattractive subject will quickly lose the viewer’s interest. Equally as important are the supporting pieces of the composition. Even if the primary focal point has intrigue, if the subordinate elements are weak, the image will fall short. Ideally, the supporting pieces should enhance the center of interest.




    Great tip, very true on all three elements. However, I would add that at certain times of the year when the sun is in the far north or south, such as June and December, it is possible to capture reasonable side-lit images with good shadow and texture detail even close to midday. This might be something to consider if one happens to oversleep!

Leave a Reply

Main Menu