Sunday, July 04, 2010

Some Thoughts on Landscape Composition

This is just a quick personal take on landscape composition to show how I would compose a scene from this view. You may find a better composition of course, but I am trying to share the thought process in the hope that it will help some readers.

Most of the time if one is standing on the spot, one would see a much wider vista than the one in the picture below of course. The temptation is to paint it all. We are captured by the vastness of nature and our first instinct is to document the beauty before us as it is. How can we improve on something that just too our breath away?

So the fact that we are looking at this limited view picture is already an edit of the vast vista that we are standing in. Some may think this is a perfect picture. And why not? It has three levels of value changes in the areal perspective and interesting angles and planes.

If we squint (Picture below) we can see clear lines that make out the outlines of the planes. They look majestic!
But if we look closely, there are some traps in the scene that some painters will only recognize once they are too far into the painting process and perhaps too late to correct and work their way out of them.

Here I have simplified the planes and set them in a gray scale. Something that you can do in the field using pencil and paper. Can you see the problems?
No? Well let's go over them in the picture below:

Parallel Lines
Escape highways
Symmetrical slopes
Resting spots too close
Almost equal height towers

Moreover, away from the sloping lines and the resting spots, there is little that is of any interest to us. What if we were to narrow our view to the area below?

We still have the problem with the slopes, but we have reduced all the others.

Now let’s say we reduce the angle on the middle slope and bring up the tree line higher in the picture.
Here it is in gray scale

Let’s add some highlights

And finally let’s pull the closest tree line higher and flatten the farthest plane a bit.
For me, this is a much more successful composition than nature gave us. More powerful as a painting. What are your thoughts?


  1. Just amazing how you reduce the photo down to the basic elements. I've always been weak on composition and so I follow these tutorials closely. I can't say why, but I would have stopped on the next to the last example.

  2. Thanks Bobbie. There are no hard rules in composing a scene like this of course and if you were to stop at the next to last image you would be correct. My only take on it is that the close treeline would be below the middle distance treeline and I would rather keep things simple for the viewer who expects closer things to be larger if the same.

    Its all in the Kiss principle ;)


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