How to Achieve More Creative Compositions in Landscape Photography

In this video tutorial, landscape photographer Robert Rodriguez speaks on the difficult art of composition. Composition is often considered the essence of a landscape photograph. But the problem really is in explaining what it is. Rodriguez draws analogies from another form of artistic expression—music—to attempt explaining composition. It’s an absorbing hour and a half of tutorial which should interest any budding landscape photographer:

One of the fundamental questions that Rodriguez attempts at answering is “What is composition?”

In his own words,

“Composition is one of those things that is easy to talk about but difficult to explain.”

But he also uses one of Edward Weston’s quotes to further define it:

“To compose a subject well means no more than to see and present it in the strongest manner possible.” — Edward Weston

Over the course of the video, Rodriguez shares some of his thoughts on this difficult art.

“Composition for me is probably the essence of any visual art work. It establishes the relationships between the objects in the frame, and the relationships are really everything in composition. It’s how one thing relates to another that makes a composition work.”

composition in landscape photography

Landscape photography composition by Robert Rodriguez

“Obviously, we use things like lines, shapes, forms, light . . . to compose. To put something together. And how these elements relate to one another, that is really going to define the context by which a viewer, a person looking at your picture is going to interpret the image. And more than that how they are going to give it any kind of meaning the way you have put these elements together.”

Robert Rodriguez landscape composition

All about lines, shapes, forms and light

“Meaning is what gives life to an image. Without meaning your image really does not have much life, at least any extended life beyond the first viewing.”

music and photography

Robert Rodriguez draws analogies from Music to explain elements of composition in photography

Drawing a parallel from an earlier career, Rodriguez explains,

“Music isn’t static. Music has a flow to it. Music breathes. You just don’t listen to a piece of music for one second. You listen to it over time or you go into a journey with a piece of music. Music takes you from one emotional state to another. Any good composition does the same thing.”

landscape photography composition tips

Landscape composition example

“As an arranger as a photographer I have recognized certain similarities that have shaped my approach to composition in general. There is composition in arrangement in both music and photography. Music and both photography have a rhythmic component to them. So, there’s a certain visual rhythm that every visual artwork has.”

Understanding the elements of composition

Landscape photography tips

Similar to high frequencies and low frequencies in music, there are highlights and shadows in photography. Certain frequencies in music are so low that you can barely hear them—more sort of feel them. The same with shadows in photography, where deep black areas essentially accentuate the other areas with light around it. Basically, it’s all about composing these elements in an image.

highlights and shadows

High and low frequencies similar to highlights and shadows in composition

Volume normally isn’t an attribute that is associated with photography. But Rodriguez highlights the importance of that word. A picture can be composed in a manner that is almost in your face—or loud. On the other hand you can also make it more subtle and serene.

loudness of your composition

How loud is your composition?

One of the great ways to improve your visual sense and your understanding of how composition works is to look at landscape paintings.

The most difficult thing in landscape photography is to keep things simple. Keeping things simple means keeping the statement—or story—simple. Often by keeping things simple you leave more in the image to be explored.

landscape photography tips

One of Robert Rodriguez’s earliest landscape compositions

Watch the rest of the video for some more great insight into landscape photography composition.

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