Follow these three basic steps for harmony and balance in your landscapes.
Crop Out Nonessentials
Now you’re ready for cropping— the best possible placement of the frame’s boundaries. These determine what’s kept in and what’s left out of your picture, so place with surgical precision. Zoom lenses make great tools for this.
In cropping, whether in the camera or after shooting, you should pay close attention to the borders of the frame. Make sure they do not cut through interesting elements and that no rogue objects (such as branches, shadow lines, and especially your tripod’s feet) peek in. In the photo of corn lilies on page 58, I made sure the borders didn’t bisect the two most prominent plants.
A good technique to detect intrusive culprits is to stop down the aperture to around f/11–16 and use the camera’s depth-of field preview. This sharpens items that may otherwise be too blurry to see clearly with the lens wide open. If your DSLR has live view, you may be able to check the depth of field on the LCD without darkening the image.
Also try framing your subject without looking through the finder. Form your thumbs and forefingers into a rectangle (or carry small cardboard L-shapes) to visualize the best placement for the frame before pointing your camera at the scene.
This has the added advantage of liberating you from the camera’s built-in aspect ratio, which may not always be ideal—there’s nothing wrong with cropping in software (or the darkroom) to achieve the best composition or to get rid of those rogue objects you may have missed.
In the end, no rule will guarantee a successful image, and some of the most successful photos blatantly defy the rules. For instance, the picture at the bottom of page 58 uses a centered composition, typically considered a no-no. But the complementary patterns in the tree and the canyon help balance it.
So use these ABCs as a starting point, but remember the ultimate test of any composition: Step back, look at the scene, and ask yourself: Does it work? If the answer is “yes,” push the button.
Visit Guy Tal’s new gallery in Torrey, UT, right outside Capitol Reef National Park. Not in the neighborhood? See his photos at guytal.com, and Twitter @guytalphoto.