The 10 Commandments of Landscape Photography (and how to break them)

The 10 Commandments of Landscape Photography (and how to break them)

Commandment 3: Use the Rule of Thirds

Landscape Photography Tips (and how to break them)

Image copyright Angela Nicholson

The rule of thirds was first employed in painting, and it’s also really useful for helping to compose photographs. It uses the fact that, generally speaking, we prefer to look at non-symmetrical images, and it helps us to work out the perfect arrangements of elements within a shot.

Using the rule of thirds is simple but effective. When you’re composing an image, try to imagine that it’s divided up into three equal horizontal sections and three vertical sections (see our 10 rules of photo composition – and why they work).

Many cameras have a grid view that will make this a lot easier to visualise, but you may need to shoot using live view rather than the viewfinder to see it.

As you frame the image in front of you, try to arrange key elements along one of the lines or ‘thirds’, and where possible, position important features where the lines intersect each other.

With a landscape this could mean arranging the composition so that one third of the image contains sky, while the lower two thirds contain the land. Other elements, such as a tree in the foreground or a distant spire, can then be positioned where a vertical and a horizontal line cross.

Learn even more about how to use the Rule of Thirds.

Landscape Photography Tips (and how to break them)

Image copyright Zak Kendal

Break The Rules: Shoot symmetrically
Using the rule of thirds can help prevent your image from looking like a random snapshot, but there are times when the subject really cries out for symmetry, and breaking the rule can add impact.

If you decide to go for a symmetrical composition, it’s essential to pay attention to every little detail so that the image is balanced and there’s nothing on one side that will distract the viewer’s attention.

Symmetrical images often work well when they are square because the symmetrical frame emphasises the uniformity of the image.

If your camera doesn’t allow you to see different aspect ratios in live view mode, use the L-shaped pieces of card we mentioned earlier to help you compose a square shot.

Landscape Photography Tips (and how to break them)

Image copyright Paul Grogan

Go to extremes
There are times when it pays to shift the balance of the composition to extremes so that one element of the scene dominates the image.

This could mean shooting with a tiny slither of land in the shot with a huge expanse of blue sky above for example, or conversely, with just a tiny amount of sky above the land. It can make quite a statement.

Always take a good look at the scene before you, and weigh up which are the most important elements and where the real interest lies.

If there’s a winding footpath that leads to a statue on the brow of a hill for instance, the journey up the hill is of more interest than the sky above the statue, so just include a small strip of sky.

Commandment 1: Shoot during the golden hour
Commandment 2: Use a wideangle lens
Commandment 3: Use the Rule of Thirds
Commandment 4: Find foreground interest
Commandment 5: Use a steady tripod
Commandment 6: Focus one third in
Commandment 7: Balance the exposure
Commandment 8: Boost greens and blues
Commandment 9: Use a narrow aperture
Commandment 10: Use a low ISO setting


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The landscape’s greatest challenges: a free photography cheat sheet

  • jmeyer

    Thanks for the kind words, durand! Glad to have you here!