Phones have the capability to take great photos. But, that doesn’t mean every photo snapped is great. As an artist, art teacher, and former professional photographer, I have gathered these questions to ask yourself before heading out on your next photo shoot for some great landscape shots:
1) What are you trying to communicate? Where do you want the viewer to focus? What’s the main point? That main point in your photograph is your FOCAL POINT. Sometimes it is a small specific area in a photo; sometimes it is the whole scene—such as a sunset. In the sunset photo, we all understand what the point is: awesome sky. In the bird picking up the fish on the beach, you can center the focal point, but generally it’s more appealing to scoot it a bit to one side or the other. In art, our sense of composition typically prefers an arrangement that is not “perfectly balanced.” Just as no human face is exactly the same on each side, we are comfortable with variations in symmetry and balance.
2) How do you want to say it? This is your POINT OF VIEW. People tend to shoot photos straight on at their own eye level. New technologies such as “Gopro” cameras on dogs, drones, skateboarders, etc., have helped the world see that an unusual point of view can be especially engaging. Don’t be afraid to tilt the camera. Lift above your head and shoot down. Lie on the floor and shoot toward the heavens.
3) How will you help the viewer enter the scene? Two good techniques are SCALE and a PATHWAY. Scale can be indicated by including something human-made, such as a fence, or the drinking glasses in Siena, Italy. Or, an actual path into the photo allows the viewer to mentally step into the photo and walk the path. Your landscape reached out and grabs a viewer if he feels he can walk right into the scene.
4) What will make the image pop? A POP OF COLOR will catch the eye, and generally as the viewer continues to examine the photo, the pop of color pulls her eye back to the intense splash of color. It generates eye flow which tends to force the viewer to linger on the image. This is human nature. Our brain is trained to identify things which stand out against their backgrounds. A red male cardinal rustling in a tree. The movement of a deer in front of forest shrubbery.
5) When should you use special FXs? I tend to prefer more natural images although many times for fun, to create or amplify an emotion, or simply to experiment, you may elect to add an effect. In the photo with the yellow finch, the bird had flown across my yard and landed on the external side of my window screen. I had time to grab my phone before it zipped away. But the screen was distracting. Using a standard filter on my Android, I created a vignette with a theme, and it minimized the distraction caused by the screen. On the winter landscape photo, the image was primarily two colors (blue and black) and seemed a bit flat. By using another standard filter on an Android, I created an emotional context for the image that seems to emphasize the stark, solitary frigidness of the scene.
Some of the images in this post, such as the one with the glasses on the ledge in Siena, have incorporated the answers to several of the questions. This strengthens them.
All these photos (except for the two included under “FXs”) are straight from a camera. None of the scenes was composed. Each one was shot in situ—exactly as it appeared. This isn’t required when you shoot your photographs. You are the artist and you can compose scenes and you can manipulate photos. But if you start with a strong image, life is easier. And, your photos will look like you know how to think like a photographer.