You’re out enjoying the vast beauty of nature all around you. It’s spectacular, you set up your camera and snap a few shots. You look down at the view screen and you’re… disappointed. That’s not what it looks and feels like, what happened? The experience of a place live is much different than the experience a viewer of your image will have. They don’t have the benefit of sounds, smells, the feel of sun, wind, cold, nor do they have the same emotions you have while immersed in all of this. All they have is a 2 dimensional representation of what you saw and experienced. So it’s up to you to bring that landscape to life. To entice others that they wish they were there. That they can almost feel those other sensations.
One technique for landscape photography is layering. Imagine building a sandwich, you have a bread layer, a condiment layer, a layer of veggies and/or meat and then another layer of bread. Layering a landscape works much the same way, except you usually have a foreground layer, middle layer(s) and a background layer – usually sky. This technique keeps the image dynamic and interesting.
For this to work, all of the layers must have something of interest, such as color, texture or a strong subject element such as a barn, tree, mountain and so forth. If you include the sky it must be interesting. Look for color and/or dynamic clouds. A plain blue sky is often just as boring as a washed out sky. But it can be used as a layer in your image, just don’t include too much of it.
Now that you have some layers it’s time to proportion them. Is the foreground or background stronger? Are they equal in strength? You might emphasize a foreground and minimize the background or you might have equal amounts of each layer. See below for some variations. Mentally divide the layers into proportions.
The first image has a foreground layer of grasses with a strong element immersed in them. Then there are two thin layers of rolling fields and a small strip of blue sky. The sky is minimized as it is not that interesting. The truck element is the strongest part of the image and is emphasized proportionally.
This image has a foreground layer of grasses with a strong element, the barn immersed. Then there’s another layer of rolling hills and finally a sky. This image is more 50:50 with the sky as there are dynamic clouds and color.
Here the sunset lit house is minimized against a very menacing sky. There are only 2 layers, the foreground field with house and the sky. The effect and feel is quite different from the previous 2 images.
The foreground of this image has color, texture and a leading line of tire tracks that leads the viewer into the vast landscape. The middle layer is a fallow field and the remainder 50% of the image is filled with an interesting sky of blue and clouds.
Here the image has a diagonal foreground triangle with the sign. A diagonal road line divides the foreground from the middle ground of fields and then another dynamic sky of color and texture.
Next time you’re out shooting landscapes, look for layers to include in the image. Then decide what is more interesting or powerful. If you’re uncertain, take several images emphasizing the foreground and then the background. One will more than likely stand out from the others. Good Luck and Happy Shooting!
All images above are from the Palouse region in Eastern Washington state. It’s a beautiful area for landscape photography. My friend Rod Barbee and I teach a workshop out there every summer. For more information and see more images from this area visit my website.