Notes Internes


Rules of Thirds

Negative Space

Leading Lines

When taking a river, if we include leaves in the foreground, pay attention that the leading lines lead to the main subject

Transitions : 

  • Big to small
  • Dark to light
  • cool to warm
  • High Contrast to low contrast


Capture décran 2020 12 22 à 21.50.09

Essayer de mettre un premier plan plus sombre que le sujet principal, ca aidera bcp la composition. 

The eye will naturally want to get throw the image to the background

Essayer de mettre le sujet dans la partie haute de l’image, vers le centre haut.

Composition in Landscape Photography

The rule of thirds

Curiously, an off-center main subject is almost always better highlighted than when it is in the middle of a picture.

Or, more precisely, everything around a centered subject seems to be in the order of filling in, so it’s a pity that this subject is not taken in close-up to occupy the entire image.

This phenomenon leads to the fictitious cutting of a photograph into three identical strips: three in width, three in height, hence the expression of the 1/3 rule.

This forms an imaginary grid of nine squares.

The first principle is to always place your main subject at one of the corners of the central square, but not in the center.

This positioning actually makes the scene more natural and harmonious.

Whether it is an animal, a boat, a tree or a mountain, the strong element will be more likely to attract the eye and will seem better in its place.

If the subject is too large to occupy only one angle, the marker becomes one of the lines (vertical or horizontal).

You must memorize this principle by heart.

When your image has no main subject strictly speaking, it will often have a horizon line (sky/land boundary, sky/sea, treetops, mountains, etc.): this boundary must also be off-center at one of the two horizontal lines.

The horizon will therefore be placed in the upper third of the image or the lower third.

You will then favor the top or the bottom of the landscape, depending on its interest: a sunset or a tormented sky will incite you to go down the horizon line, a meadow in bloom or a beach to go up it.

This rule implies that you make choices in what you want to favor; there is no room for half and half.

However, you can compose landscapes in three equal parts: for example, a lower strip of land, a central strip of trees and an upper strip of sky.

The sailboat is clearly positioned in the lower right third, the sandbank in the upper horizontal third, and the wooden stakes in the upper left third. A picture perfectly in order!
The hut, in the lower left third, balances a perspective that tends to the right (diagonal orientation). The landscape itself is cut into three horizontal bands (mountain-water-land).


Sometimes horizons and subjects are deliberately focused.

However, these sprains are limited to a few specific cases.

First of all, it is a question of playing with symmetry.

Certain landscapes, or certain details, sometimes make up geometrical patterns.

You may have in mind the famous photograph of a river “seen from the sky” whose meanders form a perfect heart.

Centering it in the image then reinforces its astonishing graphics.

It can also be the branches of a tree, equally distributed on both sides of the trunk, or a majestic mountain perfectly pyramidal.

Another form of symmetry, very often used in landscape, is the result of aquatic reflections.

A forest that is reflected in the calm waters of a lake, a setting sun swooning into the sea,
or the Eiffel Tower that shimmers in the basin of the Invalides, incite to center the horizon line, in other words the water line.

A perfectly centered reflection can even make you doubt the direction in which the image is read.

I have seen a photograph that won a prize in the prestigious BBC Wildlife competition be resolutely hung upside down: the organizers of the exhibition consulted three quarters of an hour before putting the photo back in place…
Another obvious exception: close-ups.

When the subject occupies almost the entire image, where do you want to place it, if not in the center? 

Less obvious are subjects that occupy a minority area; 

in this case, the rule of thirds must apply unless the subject is very isolated or is characterized by a very singular color or aspect.

Thus one can sometimes center a spare tree in the middle of a field, a small white pebble among these gray congeners, or a cloud lost in a blue sky.

This reinforces the exceptional, even strange, character of the scene, as well as the impression of loneliness given by the subject.

When it comes to architecture, symmetry around a centered main element can be very aesthetic. Note, however, that the image remains articulated around three large horizontal blocks (upper dome and ceiling, feet, floor).

Exploit the entire frame

This famous small rectangle of sight, which often represents 90% of the surface of the final image, is already not very large.

We sometimes even get caught wishing that it would lie down or stretch out to capture more things (as in panoramic photography).

Of course, its dimensions are invariable and offer only one alternative: horizontal or vertical framing.

But once the photo is taken, everything in it will be submitted to the viewer’s gaze.

From the center to the smallest corner, each element must serve the composition.

Even if the eye lingers more or less long on certain key areas, everything is important.

And when enlarged, nothing can go unnoticed.

So get into the habit, or better yet, make it your duty to use 100% of the available surface.

Don’t let yourself be blinded by the main subject alone.

We often forget to take an interest in what’s around, in front and behind.
Unlike shooting in a studio, you never start from a blank page: the world already exists outside your control and nature has set its scene.

So you have to deal with it and find the ideal layout.

“If the landscape doesn’t come to you, you’ll have to go to the landscape”: in the absence of a perfect composition, custom-made for your camera, you’ll have to move around and play with different focal lengths until you are satisfied.

Everything that appears in the viewfinder is yours! Behave like a demanding owner.

A greasy piece of paper lying around, take it off.

Unsightly electrical wires, an annoying car, a badly placed branch, it’s up to you to change the angle.

Bystanders enter the field, a cloud gives you shade, wait a moment (sometimes a long time).

This must be your attitude so that nothing is left to chance.

Imagine a canvas whose artist would have neglected the periphery, under the pretext that the essential is painted in the center.

There would be reason to be astonished, even afflicted by such amateurism.

Exploiting the entire frame is not only a personal issue, it is also a mark of respect and consideration for those who will be interested in your image.

On the other hand, mastering the composition does not necessarily mean filling it up: a clean sky is also a bias, the apparent emptiness can be an artistic and emotional choice as long as it has been thought of in this way.

The dense and abstract graphics of this pollen on the surface of a pond perfectly exploits the space of the image, thanks in particular to the highlighting of the angles that the lines seem to join voluntarily.
This vertical framing is fully occupied by the silhouette of the palm tree whose branches join each corner. This results from a precise will to exploit the space like a painting.

The strong element

The basic rules of composition will only be useful if you know how to identify and analyze the famous “main subject”.

A portrait, a still life, a photo of report imposes the subject in an obvious way.

A landscape, on the other hand, is by definition a set of elements that respond to and enhance each other.

Determining which one of them would be the hero, or the point of attention, is much more difficult.

In some cases, this star element does not exist: like a house of cards, everything contributes equally to the building of the image.

This applies especially to homogeneous compositions, on a single plane, such as aerial views of forests or mountain ranges, geometric effects such as the water reflections mentioned above, or even archetypal images.

Thus, an immaculate beach, bathed by a transparent sea against a background of blue sky evokes a concept (paradise) in its entirety.

The salutary intruder

Conversely, an intruder sometimes intrudes into the decor: a cottage among the larches, a flower in the desert, a bridge over a river, your cousin on the ice floe… In short, something you notice right away.

Some of these elements can make a mess (your cousin), others bring a touch of life or catch the eye simply by their presence.

It is precisely because they are “brought back” elements, foreign to the raw landscape, that they become anchor points around which the rest of the scene is organized.

They are not necessarily the most precious, or the most “beautiful” element of the photo.

It is not always this object that provoked your desire to make the image, but it is just the right moment to structure the whole; it is a plus for the form.

It will become a nerve center in terms of graphics and composition, not necessarily in terms of the background.

I am very attached to this picture. It is a perfect match between a landscape and a character. This woman was quietly admiring the setting on the Dead Sea. She illustrates by her posture and her grace all that the site contains in itself. It is also an anchor point to make the link with the landscape.

On the other hand, this intruder will always be a dream factory: understand that it will mobilize the imagination of any spectator, including you.

A photograph does not simply deliver a frozen, timeless situation.

It questions us about the past and the continuity of the scene.

Any element likely to tell a story is immediately used by our unconscious to give meaning to the image, to re-inscribe it in a temporal continuity.

The intruder will play this role wonderfully: ” … this cottage, it must have been there for a long time, the people who live there are lucky, they had to buy it for a bite of bread, a few hours after the light was supposed to be even more beautiful … “.

The light that designates

Light or color can also designate the strong element of a landscape.

Any subject lit in a darker environment is magnified.

As a general rule, daylight floods the earth evenly, regardless of the weather.

When this universal principle is broken, Homo sapiens marvels: the smallest lake, the most insignificant rock can be literally transcended.

It is the power of storm lights or rays piercing through the clouds.

There is something divine and bewitching about this kind of phenomenon.

Light designates what it touches; nothing can contradict it.

This effect can concern immense areas as well as tiny plots of land.

But “it is in the dark that we see the brightest”: for it to become a point of attraction, the illuminated subject must remain a minority in the image.

Color Contrast

A color dissonance can play the same role: a poppy in a field of daisies or a daisy in a field of poppies cause the same effects.

More simply, a deciduous tree among conifers in autumn will bring the only touch of bright color.

The ruler designates as a strong element any subject that attracts the eye by its originality, brightness, evocative power or contrast.

But nothing is more mobilizing for attention than life and movement.
Any character moving in a landscape acts like a magnet: by affinity, curiosity or personal projection, we immediately spot the target.

The notion of character extends to the entire animal kingdom (even the plant within the mineral).

A bird or a sheep, as long as they are clearly identifiable, concentrate in them as much life as a hiker.

Beyond a simple silhouette or an insignificant size, the figure becomes somehow more important than the landscape.

It is therefore essential to watch whether such a subject enters the field; the composition of the image will depend on it.

In case of an unexpected appearance that would not serve your project, it is better to wait until the intruder leaves the frame.

This is what we do instinctively when a person stands in the middle of the set…
Life is also brought by movement, the perception of an action in progress.

It can be a lightning bolt that briefly zebras the sky, like a waterfall that is constantly flowing.

Illustration of the role of light when it only illuminates a particular area. The effect is all the more striking as it opposes darkness, all in an atmosphere of mystery. Spot metering should be used so that the exposure metering is done on the illuminated area only.

Beyond the photographic treatment of such phenomena, it is their very nature that designates them as acting: it is because we know that they are mobile or brief in essence that we automatically feel this action in a photograph.

A wave, frozen by the speed of the shot, will still be felt moving by the viewer, precisely because he knows that a wave always moves in reality.
The general principle remains that the most “alive” element is the one that will hold our attention first.

But it’s all a matter of context.

You will have to try to prioritize things according to what you have in front of you.

Likewise, the strongest element is not necessarily an individualized subject: it may be an entire area of landscape, such as a particularly striking sky, or a vast reedbed.

In this case, it is not a question of placing an object in space, but simply of judiciously positioning the horizon line.

The flow of a waterfall brings a notion of permanent movement. The use of a long exposure (1 s or more) and a tripod makes it possible to obtain this always fascinating whitish yarn effect.

Lines and perspectives

Every composition is dominated by volumes, tints, contrasts and lines.

We are not always aware of this in everyday life, but a landscape is always animated by movement and organized along dominant axes.


Documentaries on the evolution of species always approach with emotion the distant era when humans stood on their legs.

The need to orient ourselves, to anticipate dangers, to hunt and, already at the time, to dominate the landscape made us “vertical beings”.

Since then, we have benevolently (and by opposition) appreciated the horizontality of the world.

Not so long ago, the Earth was reputed to be flat.

This notion is still deeply inscribed in our collective unconscious.

Even though we now know the spherical shape of the planet, we continue to perceive lines rather than volumes: the simple terms “horizon” (horizontal), “planet” (flat surface), “expanse” (flat surface), “beach” (flat) to designate a landscape are symptomatic of our reading of space.


The foundations of the world are horizontal and it is the horizontal lines that dominate it.

The boundary between heaven and earth, sea and coastline, lakes, moors, plains, plateaus, peat bogs and meadows, everything that hugs the surface of the ground obeys this law.

This notion is so important that the ability of the objectives to avoid distorting the horizon line is a determining factor in their optical quality.

Very wide-angle lenses (14 mm APS-C and shorter focal lengths) tend to slightly bend this sacrosanct line.

A treasure trove of technology is therefore available to compensate for this distortion (aspherical lenses).

So we’re ready to spend a fortune to make sure that what should be flat stays flat at all costs… Similarly, the shooting formats include horizontal framing as a starting standard.

You have to turn your camera with discomfort to frame vertically.

Only 6 × 6 film viewfinders push heresy to the point of imposing a square format, but no one goes so far as to favour vertical framing.

The horizontal viewfinder is the one that most closely resembles our human vision because our eyes scan a field that is wider than it is tall.

Cinema, and more recently television, have very quickly understood the power of panoramic images.

More realistic, they give breadth to any setting.

In landscape photography, this extra-large format, and therefore extra-horizontal, is still very popular but difficult to handle.


With digital everything is possible, just play with the pixels or crop the image at will on the computer.

Some cameras have integrated panoramic functions when shooting.

It is also possible to take several slightly shifted images that will be “glued” on software to form a continuous band.

One of the best panoramic stitching software is Autopano, but it is quite expensive.

The most common tool is the Photomerge command in Photoshop.

Another is Microsoft ICE, which is free and efficient.

Landscape of the Basque coast dominated by horizontality. A stripped down, contemporary image that repairs objects as small graphic elements occupying the flat space.

When a landscape is governed by this horizontality (large bare spaces), it is important to blend in and respect the trend.

But the danger is to end up with a flat image, where the planes seem layered one above the other, rather than in depth.

It is then necessary to play with the alternations of colors, luminosity or a light relief to give a perspective.

The quality of the light is very important and can make the difference on its own.

Similarly, it is often advisable to use a short focal length to give breadth to the scene, and to adopt a low point of view to shave the ground.

Like an airplane flying low, this gives power and a more spectacular side to the composition.

Remember that you always have to have a bias: if it’s space that you want to express, then you might as well get physically close to that expanse.

The use of a long focal length will essentially allow you to play with the graphics of successive reliefs.

The typical case is that of a slightly hilly moorland, a distant mountain range or a stormy sea.

A telephoto lens will concentrate hollows and bumps, and the associated play of light.

Another champion of the horizontal, the sky. The organization of shades and clouds can generate magnificent compositions; we are here in pure graphics, almost in abstract art. The use of a zoom (type 75-300 mm) is very useful to adjust the space retained.

Another great classic of horizontality: the sunset.

Apart from the circle of the sun, the image is always strongly elongated.

Horizon line, clouds in bands, light diffusion in strata are its essential components.

Here, the star goes to the sky except when a body of water is mirrored; the reflections are then often more striking than the rest.

A telephoto lens, or a zoom lens in general, proves practical and efficient to precisely frame the most colored area. In all these configurations governed by horizontal lines, the management of shots, as well as the respect of the rule of thirds (for the horizon line) are crucial.

Finally, note that the eye generally explores an image from bottom to top.

The different horizontal bands will therefore serve as stairs for the viewer’s gaze.

With a 200 mm telephoto lens, the waves become larger and concentrated one behind the other. At sea, horizontality reigns, and you have to play on the tints and the succession of shots to create a dynamic.


Landscapes dominated only by horizontality are not so common.

In many cases, something will stand out in one way or another: a milestone, trees, a character, a large waterfall… It is usually the complementarity of the lines that will bring balance to the image.

If the flatness evokes the calm and the forces of the earth, the verticality inspires more an action, a force that rises towards the sky (or descends), the presence of life, an obstacle or a milestone.

Some landscapes are entirely dominated, forged in the vertical.

This will be the case of narrow gorges or forests.

Cliffs or trunks then supplant the cows’ floor and inevitably lead to a specific reading of the photograph.

When we leave nature, we will find the same configuration in big cities: monuments, skyscrapers, bell towers and buildings of all kinds are similar to an artificial forest. Composing with a single vertical subject Let’s first consider the case of isolated or few vertical subjects: a few electric poles on the side of a road, a lonely old oak in the countryside, a lighthouse at the end of a pier, etc.

As long as it is not a close-up, the treatment of the vertical subject will be easy: off-center in the image and restore it in its context (see what is around it).

Natural vertical elements can be found outside the trees. A good example of this is the mineral chimneys characteristic of canyons. Note that the main subject is off-center and the planes stand out well.

It must become a reflex.

Of course, this element can also make a perfect foreground.

You must then watch the background: your vertical subject must have a background on which it stands out well, avoiding that this background clumsily cuts the subject.

It will often be necessary to bend down or to rise: your shooting “altitude” is decisive, and this is sometimes a few tens of centimeters.

If the rest of the landscape is strong, your vertical subject can be quite banal: a cactus or an old sign will give character to any American desert, a cairn or a worm-eaten fence post will perfectly embellish our latitudes.

It is important to understand that it is the verticality that makes the subject attractive here (compared to the horizontality of the rest of the scene), not its aesthetic value.

Everything is allowed as long as it remains in context: an ice axe in the foreground of a mountain landscape, okay, planted in the middle of a peat bog, it’s less appropriate…

Framing and sense of Scale

Note that, until now, horizontal framing has always been used.

On the other hand, it will no longer be necessary in the case of a tight shot.

Vertical subjects often make you want to get close-ups, perhaps because they seem particularly well suited to the vertical format of the viewfinder.

Probably also because they often fascinate by their dimensions.

A secular tree, a rocky outcrop or the Eiffel Tower, so many colossuses that impress us.

But whether it’s a flower proudly standing on its stem or a giant redwood, everything will be reduced to the 3.6 cm high film or the 2.5 cm of the APS-C sensor.

Without a reference, it is impossible to find the true scale of size.

Photography makes a mockery of the original size of things.

It is up to you to reconstitute (or not) the right proportions of the world.

And this is especially true for vertical subjects, not associated with a familiar element whose size we know well.


Tight vertical framing, moreover in low-angle, upsets the notion of scale of size. Here, quite clever who can precisely evaluate the real size of the characters.

Another factor that complicates things considerably is the distance that separates you from the different planes.

Imagine a daisy in the foreground and a church in the distance: when framed up close and at ground level, the daisy will be large and the church will appear smaller.

This is partly because the church is far away and follows the rules of perspective and partly because the eye will compare the proportions of the flower and the church.

Any normal brain knows that a church is much bigger than a daisy, but the photo will show the opposite, especially if the angle of view adopted places the church “under” the flower.

As a result, not only will the picture be confusing, but it will completely disrupt the notion of scale.

One might even wonder if the church is not a model.

Now imagine the same effect with a stalagmite (whose size is never standard) instead of the daisy and a child instead of the church: quite clever who will be able to restore the stalagmite to its true size, and the scene to its true proportions.

Verticality is not our natural dimension of evolution; our brain is made to apprehend horizontal distances and evaluate depths of field.

We always have great difficulty in guessing the size of a vertical object: as soon as a tree exceeds 5 meters, we just say that it is big, and personally I always had trouble realizing that the diving board of the municipal swimming pool was only 10 meters high… On the contrary, we are perfectly capable of evaluating hundreds of meters, or even kilometers horizontally.

Thanks to the backdiving, it is therefore very easy to exaggerate the proportions of any vertical subject: a short focal length, an upward pointing angle of view, a tight framing so that the base of the subject takes root at the edge of the image and the effect is guaranteed, the subject seems to soar towards the sky like a rocket.

Another example of the notion of upset scale. The lamp post in the foreground also seems to corner the church; of course, this is intentional, I wanted to give an unusual character to this photograph

Scattered vertical elements have three main characteristics:

  • they balance and “embellish” the all-horizontal aspect of a landscape,
  • they constitute good foregrounds
  • they remain delicate to “measure” when they are spread out on different planes or when photographed in close-up.

Composing with vertical lines

Let’s now consider vertical subjects in number.

It is very frequent that a landscape with a horizontal base (a flat ground…) integrates many vertical lines.

In nature it is mostly trees, plants or rocks.

In gardens, flowers, bushes, statues.

In the city, towers, lampposts, columns.

In a port the masts of boats, on a beach of umbrellas, in a cave of concretions … All these examples involve a mixed management where verticality will often have the upper hand.

In fact, these vertical subjects will be the real animators of the landscape, the elements whose presence and arrangement will have motivated the shooting. The direction of the framing (vertical or horizontal) is one of the first difficulties: there is unfortunately no infallible rule.

It is above all the solution that will best serve the rule of thirds, as well as the best enhancement of the strong element, that will govern the choice.

Vertical framing can notably prolong or accompany an imaginary or real movement: something falling (a waterfall, stalactites) or something rising (a tree, fireworks).

It is also a way to isolate a part of the landscape by narrowing the field, or simply to introduce a more intimate atmosphere, as if stolen through a keyhole.

This increases the effect of the bias of the framing, of choice, of isolation of a portion of the landscape.

We designate what is photographed as a direction, a course to follow.

We encourage the viewer to want to discover what was next door and what does not appear.

We thwart the ordinary, rather panoramic perception of things.

If you also take care to show some ends of branches, the frame of a door, or any other element that indicates that you have photographed the scene from a “hole”, the viewer will really have the impression of entering somewhere, of going towards what is being photographed.

The photograph will be more in line with the temporality, linked to the situation and the progression imagined in the landscape.

Finally, it is of course a way to reinforce the verticality of already vertical subjects…

From a vertical hole, the impression of entering, of going towards a landscape is reinforced. As if the path was irresistible.

Once the framing direction is adopted, vertical lines can have many functions.

In particular, they play a lot with light.

Shadows will be particularly important at certain times of the day.

In the sun, any vertical subject will project its double on the ground, and it is no longer one movement but two that we will have to master.

This animation of the shadows will guide the gaze, making it follow an angular geometrical path that must be taken into account in the composition.

At dawn, and especially at dusk, the light can literally selectively “turn on” the vertical subjects, while it seems to ignore the rest of the landscape: we see trunks, cliffs, or glass towers dressed in red in the last hours of the day.

A repeated and orderly verticality will introduce strong perspectives.

Rows of trees or posts along the roads, fences, lampposts, all these regular markers then act as graduations of a scale of distance and depth.

Repeated but unordered verticality will produce the opposite effect: this is the case in forests where the random number and position of trees disturbs both scale and perspective.

Vertical lines can also be part of horizontal planes.

This will be the case of furrows in a slightly sloping field, framed from the front with a long focal length.

The vertical effect is purely graphic but divides the image into strips.

In this type of image, a horizon line is usually included in the upper quarter to mark the end of this verticality and rest the gaze.

Repeated verticals reinforcing perspective.


The diagonal is the perspective line par excellence; thanks to it the two-dimensional image suddenly acquires a third one.

If you know how to find and use these lines, you will considerably improve the impact of your photos.a first basic principle: orientation.

A diagonal can be oriented southwest, northeast (bottom left, top right) or southeast northwest (bottom right, top left).

This direction is not without incidence on the reading direction and on the interpretation which is made of it.

Just as we read an image from bottom to top, the eye moves from left to right (at least in the west).

The southwest and northeast diagonals are therefore perfectly adapted to our instinctive reading direction.

Beyond this “mechanical” aspect of reading, any movement from left to right evokes (even unconsciously) a progression, a becoming, an action in progress.

These evocations will therefore also be conveyed by this type of diagonal.

In the opposite direction, south-east, north-west, the direction of reading is jostled and requires an effort on the part of the spectator.

Here, the vertical line is stopped by the waves and the horizon line.

The values are no longer the same: the right to left direction is linked to evocations of going backwards, past and sinking.

For example, a road going to the upper right corner of the image will give the feeling of leading to new adventures, of crossing the landscape to gradually leave it… Oriented towards the upper left corner, this same road will seem to enter the landscape to bury itself in it, or even to retrace its steps.

It is not an absolute rule, but I advise you to take into account these often powerful symbols.

Don’t deduce that there is a good and a bad meaning: it all depends on the context and what you want to emphasize in your composition.

For example, the left to right road will be perfect to reinforce a clear, reassuring or restful image; the right to left road to dramatize a stormy scene or a chiaroscuro charged with mystery.

The second important point is the nature of these diagonals.

The second important point is the nature of these diagonals. It should be understood that some diagonals sink into the landscape and become vanishing lines, while others only draw surface lines.

The vanishing lines follow the previous principles: they are mainly roads, paths, low walls, rivers, garden paths, agricultural furrows.

An impressive configuration remains the “perfect” perspective, with two vanishing lines meeting in the distance.

This is the effect obtained from the middle of a road or canal.

A wide-angle viewpoint with a lowered perspective is then used so that the two symmetrical diagonals are steeply inclined and meet quickly.

Generally speaking, short focal lengths exaggerate the perspective while telephoto lenses limit it.

The diagonal orientation of the trunks produces a very energizing effect. The left tilt induces the impression that you are moving forward and stealing the image as you go by.

The surface lines are of a different interest: they lead the gaze, not in depth, but from one corner of the image to the other.

They are also used to lock the framing by adapting perfectly to the dimensions or supports of the photo.

Thus, a diagonal starting from an exact angle of the image seems to indicate that the frame was made just for it, that everything is perfectly organized, like custom work. The impression is reinforced when it ends at the opposite angle.

These lines can be verticals in the background (trees, posts, buildings, etc.), horizontals framed at an angle, or subjects that appear as they are (sloping branches, slopes of reliefs, roofs, etc.).

Often very aesthetic, they break with the right angles of the photographic frame and create triangular zones that energize the composition.

They also help to better identify the different planes, especially when they face each other in staggered rows.

This is the case of a landscape of hills that follow one another on either side of a valley.

This airliner wing on landing approach seems to point the ground and the promise of a successful vacation …
The diagonal is a key element of the architectural photo, as here in this church in Caen. It must be taken into account in your framing to encourage bias shots.

Except for a strictly geometric pattern, it is better to avoid crossing diagonals.

This acts as a graphic interference (which always attracts the eye), a point of conflict, a node that disturbs the reading of the image.

Even if nature offers many possibilities, the realm of vanishing lines and diagonals remains architecture and landscaping.

Whether old stones, modern cities or formal gardens, it is the hallmark of landscapes shaped or landscaped by man.

You will therefore have many opportunities to deal with diagonals during an archaeological excursion (ancient sites, ruins, etc.), an immersion in a large city or a visit to a castle.**Complex linesThe poetry of a landscape is also revealed in the multitude of random forms, shapes, volumes, colors and lines.

Life and nature rarely express themselves through straightness.

Apart from human arrangements, everything is curved, sinuosity, irregularity, and divergence.

This structural and graphic abundance generally leads to a balanced situation, an order in disorder.

In order to perceive on the one hand, and to select on the other hand the most harmonious sets, you have to try to translate everything you see into a draftsman’s sketch.

There is no need to use charcoal for all that, it is simply a question of focusing on the silhouettes and contours, temporarily forgetting volumes and hues.

For the simplest landscapes, some obvious poles will emerge: cloudy spots, the modeling of a ridge line, the meanders of a stream…

Sometimes natural lines can be used for a diagonal composition. At 18 mm on the sea of ice.

Here, the cohabitation of simple but diversified lines brings an essential animation to the image: the straight lines of rigor and stability, the undulations of softness and sensuality, the fleeing lines of perspective, etc.

For richer configurations, the mix becomes heterogeneous: the contortions of a tree in the foreground, the fantasies of a rocky chaos, the furrow of a path, the play of shadows, the lace of foliage… Even in the most tangled landscapes, you will notice that general movements and main lines of force always emerge.

It is necessary to exploit the graphics of these complex lines by taking advantage of their originality.

Some of them are so attractive that they alone justify the photo.

For example, the arches and all the tunnel or cave effects are very strong.

They can be natural rock arches, vaults formed by branches, the porch of a cavity, a rainbow, or the arches of a cloister… We can take them from the outside to enhance them as monuments, get under them to induce the idea of a progression inside (or outside), and take advantage of the design of their arch to frame the outside landscape. Other very powerful lines: sinuosity.

The regular S’s of a river, the successive bends of a road, or the strata of certain rocks are fascinatingly animated.

Indeed, this pattern refers to the flowing and inexorable progression of the snake.

One always has the impression that this shape is in movement.

The effect is all the more pronounced as the S stands out by its brilliance or bright color.

Here, a raised point of view is necessary to visualize the repetitiveness of the shape.

A too low perspective compresses the curves and limits their extent. Apart from these particularly attractive lines, the secret is in the symbiosis of genres.

Lines and curves must enrich each other, which often requires a limited dispersion.

You’ll notice that nature tends to bring together things that are intrinsically (and graphically) different.

Apart from vegetation, shapes do not mix so easily and you will always have small “packages” of similar things.

This is an important factor for composition because it allows the eye to identify distinct and homogeneous subjects, even within a general complexity.

Note that on this point, color photography allows the reading of more confused landscapes than in black and white: colors reinforce the differentiation of graphically complex subjects.

Conversely, one should avoid overly mixed configurations where the eye can no longer distinguish genres, shapes and lines.

To avoid, or at least limit this risk, it is useful to play with depth of field.

By deliberately limiting the sharpness of certain shots, the complexity of lines that are too heterogeneous can be reduced.

This process is widely used to photograph flowers and gardens.

A large aperture isolates a subject (a flower) in a graphically complex environment (stems, leaves, other flowers) while preserving the perception of the natural setting (a garden path, a clearing).

A succession of lines animate this landscape of Iceland. Diagonals which oppose each other, a stream which meanders, the whole enriched with various colors: a true patchwork of which it is necessary to study the balance calmly.

The blur must be just enough to erase the disturbing details, leaving readable the general contours that allow to identify the landscape.


This photo of a Breton lagoon is only worth its graphical value. It uses lines and colored masses as a palette. To succeed in this kind of image, it is necessary to feel it more than to analyze it. There is no equation to follow nor an absolute recipe for such diverse lines, just a feeling of balance and exact position that must be inscribed in you.

Point of view

The staging of the lines and the perspective is largely dependent on the point of view adopted.

The height or the angle chosen considerably changes the perception of things.

In fact, there are three possibilities each time.

For the vertical angle, a neutral point of view at man’s height, a lowered point of view when diving, or a raised point of view when diving.

For the horizontal angle, a front point of view, a left lateral point of view or a right lateral point of view.


By habit and a little laziness we always tend to adopt the most natural and stable point of view: the standing position.

It is from our height that we see the world and we are deeply convinced that one meter more or less will not make much difference to the profile of a landscape.

The dimensions of nature are so vast that our size, and the leeway it gives us, seems insignificant.

In fact, the differences in rendering are very large, a small change causes great upheaval.

Lie down in the grass or stand on a low wall and you will see that the height of the shot alone upsets the whole composition.

This angle first changes the perspective.

If you bend down, all the vanishing lines on the ground will become more important and converge more strongly on the horizon; vertical objects will also converge towards the sky, giving the impression of stretching and tilting towards each other; all the objects on the ground will become decisive in the marking and progression of the shots.

This gives depth to a bare landscape by shaving the floor and all the little things on it (stones, plants, etc.).

By shifting the horizon line upwards, the landscape will seem to tilt towards you, as if to show itself better.

It may even look like a slight slope with a flat landscape in reality.

Indeed, if you lower the horizon line, subjects close to you will gain height and stand out better against the background of the sky.

By dominating a landscape, we compose in a completely different way. The fascinating effect of the earth seen from the sky is within everyone’s reach, as long as one finds a promontory, here a lighthouse. Note the path of land that ends in the exact angle of the image, the table and the figure, as well as the mass of water that “locks” the other angles.

As you rise, relief and vertical subjects settle, but horizontal or flat elements are revealed; a lake will expand and surface, and scenes with many successive and close shots will become clearer.

As on a battlefield, one can better distinguish the position of each protagonist.

Perspective fades to resemble the rendering of some older paintings where the subjects are organized more above (or beside) each other than in depth.

The foreground shots are less prominent and all shots tend to be equally important.

The horizon line is positioned at the top of the image, or disappears from the frame.

In the latter case, the sensation of a “flat” landscape, without depth, is reinforced; a horizon line placed at the bottom of the frame makes little sense with this type of angle.

At human height, the vision is “natural”, classic, and is justified all the more when we rely on the quality of light or when it is a distant landscape.

We attach importance to the real proportions of things, without exaggerating a foreground or changing the perception of scales of size.

When the action or the main subject is very distant (a sunset for example), the height of the shot has less influence and is not of prime importance.

It is mainly the placement of the horizon line that will position the angle of view.

The landscape must be clearly legible, with clearly identifiable shots.

The photo is more part of everyday life than the spectacular, in a feeling of spontaneity rather than meticulous preparation.

Vertical lines are best respected, without any convergence or curvature effect (with wide-angle lenses).

One can account for the layering (agricultural terraces) or the natural relief of things (coastal coast).


Lowered frames are usually associated with short focal lengths that exaggerate the perspective and impact of the foreground, and raised frames with long focal lengths, which will isolate a portion of the landscape and highlight its natural graphics.

As for framing at human height, they are well suited to medium focal lengths (50 mm), close to natural vision, and telephoto lenses to look for a distant scene.

See how perspective and distribution of landscape elements may vary depending on the shooting height. At lower height, the ground becomes more important and the sky is minimized (the rock becomes central); at human height, the horizon line can be refocused for a more even distribution of things (the glacier becomes central).


The horizontal angle of view also has its influences.

In nature things have no particular sense of presentation: there is no front or back, good or bad profile… It is all a matter of context and the overall layout of the landscape.

However, an intentional lateral shift can be justified in certain situations, first of all when you are dealing with a more or less straight line on the ground.

River, path, lying trunk, and stone walls will orient themselves differently depending on your position.

They can either run straight ahead if you frame them on the axis, or turn diagonally if you move sideways.

The dynamics of the image, like the perspective effect, will not be the same, so it is common to go out of the path you are walking on and include it in a composition: it becomes a self-contained element, not just the obvious place you were.

When a child draws a country landscape, he often includes a road in it, but as an element outside his imaginary position; he doesn’t draw it as if he were on it, it’s instinctive… Same for a bridge or a railway.

By placing oneself in a “neutral”, offset position, outside of the elements that make up the landscape, one takes advantage of all the graphic resources of these elements: they become subjects in their own right. The lateral point of view is also justified when it comes to taking into account shadows and light.

The sun is not multi-directional and sometimes forces us to move to avoid a bad reflection or to optimize the action of a polarizing filter.

This is particularly sensitive in the case of backlighting (frontal sun) where a small displacement can make a difference on the contrast or iridescence of a subject.

Same thing when you want to show both the illuminated and the dark part of a subject.

An angle of three quarters in relation to the illuminated side gives volume and is modelled by the play of the different luminosities.

It is a classic technique to bring relief to a geometric figure drawing: we introduce shaded faces that simulate a fictitious lighting.

But where lateral displacement makes sense is in architecture.

The perspective is always more accentuated when an angle appears.

When only one side is visible, a house or chapel appears flat.

A slight profile and everything takes volume.

Instead of converging vanishing lines as with a road, it is the divergence that creates depth here.

The lines start at the protruding corner and move further and further apart.


Moving to the left allows the boats to be positioned diagonally, thus responding to the opposite lines of the mountains. The whole thing balances very well to form an imaginary triangle. The red color also complements the bluish tones of the rest of the composition.

The eye recognizes this factor as an indicator of perspective.

Finally, an off-center viewing angle will have strong implications on the direction in which the photograph is read.

Compared to vanishing lines, the induced reading direction will be that of your movement.

Let’s take the example of a garden path.

With this alley facing you, as an extension of your gaze, you move to the right; the alley will then turn into a diagonal oriented towards the upper left corner of the frame.

Based on our reading reflexes, the eye will travel this line from bottom to top, and therefore from right to left.

Conversely for a movement to the left.

Once again, a small movement will generate big changes and big consequences on the final feeling. A last tipYour position in space is very important.

It can be much more decisive on the quality and impact of your image than the material used.

This point of view management should serve as a guide when you examine a photograph you like or analyze an unconvincing one.

This places you, the photographer, at the heart of your image’s personality.

You should not be limited to the first confrontation with a landscape, this does not exclude spontaneity or the pleasure of discovery.

Your enthusiasm and the emotion you feel should not be rooted in the precise place where you are.

Learn to savor this emotion, to nourish yourself with it in order to act, but analyze what is around you before you press the trigger.

The ability to distinguish between the immediate desire to take a picture and the reasoned construction of that picture is paramount when it comes to landscapes.


The square offers a perfect balance, particularly artistic. In digital photography, it is necessary to think about the composition of your photo in advance, before cropping it on a software program.

Format and orientation of the frame

Photographs have, by definition, a format.

This format is the synthesis of dimensions and shape.

The dimensions are only important when considering different print sizes: the larger the surface area of the original, the better the definition of the enlarged image will be.

The shape has more immediate consequences, it conditions the shooting from the source.

There are, for the moment, only two possible shapes: the rectangle or the square.

The rectangular format is, by far, the most generalized, especially with the 24 × 36 or APS-C.

The square format is only available with 6 × 6 silver.

Once widely used, it still has a few followers (especially in black and white), including landscape.

This format is, in a way, extremely practical: it allows you to concentrate on the composition of the image, in a frame that is always constant and perfectly balanced.

The square is in fact a kind of neutral and fair compromise between verticality and horizontality.

It immediately positions the photograph as an artistic element (a format especially usual in painting).

On the other hand, the square also acts as a kind of barrier.

The spectator does not really enter the image, he remains at the edge, as through a window or in front of a painting.

Horizontal framing is particularly good for mirror effects, here for a long graphic where the horizon line is used as a centered marker. This is an exception to the rule of thirds that this line is usually off-center.

Horizontal framing

A rectangular viewfinder offers two framing possibilities.

Horizontal framing is the default orientation: cameras are designed and assembled from the outset to facilitate this way of seeing things.

Buttons, knobs, viewfinder, fixing nut, grip handle, etc., everything is organized around it.

It is interesting to become aware of this and to question the practical consequences of this standard of aiming.

This already “imposes” on us a way of looking, all the more easily since a perception that is wider than high corresponds to our natural vision.

Secondly, this enlarged format implies that more happens laterally than vertically.

This is true enough for landscapes, but it is also true that our attention is willingly focused on fascinating subjects of height (forests, cities, monuments, cliffs, waterfalls, mountains…).

Horizontality also reinforces a left-right reading of photography.

It is indeed in this sense that there is the most space to go through and elements to identify.

This horizontal reading brings us back to the Earth and to all that is spread out on it.

It seems to say “it’s down there that it happens”, and so much the worse for the heavens… The horizon line is valued there as an essential reference point.

To fill the space, she encourages compositions of elements next to each other.

Perspectives with long diagonals (and horizontal lines) are favored.

Close (or large) vertical subjects will often stand out of the frame.

To avoid this, one will be forced to move backwards or change the focal length.

Finally, we will naturally tend to keep this sense of focus and to adopt it a priori, vertical framing being an inconvenient exception or last chance before giving up… This elongated format is therefore fraught with consequences to which we generally do not pay attention.

This should no longer be your case: you should adopt horizontal framing by choice, and with full knowledge of the facts.

In fact, you will make more horizontal images than vertical ones, but photography in general, and landscape photography in particular, does not establish horizontal framing as a primary rule (even if equipment manufacturers have made this choice, which is more commercial than artistic).

As a proof, the publishing world where the standard is reversed: the vertical format far outweighs the panoramic (Italian-style) presentation.

The books, starting with the covers, are filled with full-page photographs, therefore vertical.

Vertical framing

Vertical framing establishes other conventions.

Vertical framing establishes other conventions. Of course, it favors subjects with the same orientation, but only for close-up views.

It suggests a reading from bottom to top, which often enhances the upper part of the image (what the eye is focused on).

It favors images built on the opposition sky-terrestrial.

This opposition is not necessarily conflicting, but concerns the contrasts of colors, textures or brightness.


The verticality gives a spiritual, solemn side, which encourages elevation.

It can also reinforce the effect of falling to the ground and restore the impression of vertigo.

Photography, on the other hand, reduces everything to two dimensions.

Each element appears on the same plane (the surface of the photo).

The eye is then looking for clues to reconstruct this 3D perception.

The structure of a landscape is defined by the successive planes that make it up and help the progression of the eye in the image.

They are like milestones or relays that we grasp to reconstruct the depth dimension.

Still, these planes must be clearly identifiable and sufficiently distinct from each other.

In this respect, the notions of planes and subjects should not be confused: several subjects can cohabit on the same plane (trees lined up on the edge), just as the same subject can cross different planes (a road is sinking into a landscape).

In order for the planes to fulfil their role effectively, they must be occupied by subjects that are relatively distinct from each other, by their nature or appearance: different textures, colors, shapes, lighting, etc.





A single main subject or foreground will be highlighted more.

The attention is thus directed more narrowly by isolating it from collateral subjects.

Moreover, in a vertical image, a subject centered (horizontally) shocks less than in a horizontal frame.

This seems more natural (as in a portrait) and, because of the narrow format, the space is more easily occupied.

Finally, the vertical vanishing lines are particularly emphasized (backwards) while the diagonal compositions, with a bottom-right, top-left line, are harmonious and the zigzag constructions easy to follow. This format favors a vertical organization of the shots: the closest at the bottom, the farthest at the top.

This is particularly suitable for elevated viewpoints.

Vertical format fits well on doors and to the porches, as in this village of the Tarn.
Cliff edges, when it is impossible to face them, often require vertical framing. The light can draw well differentiated volumes, which helps to read the plans. The gaze is then naturally guided upwards, that is to say towards the horizon, voluntarily placed high as here, to leave the mineral part of this point of Dinan. 28 mm lens.

One can then construct images with “void” on one side, for example the edge of a cliff on the seafront, the void being the sky facing it (instead of overhanging it).

In a vertical format, finally, it is easier to take advantage of the frame effect within the frame – a pergola, an archway, a porch, an opening in the vegetation that is integrated to frame the background.

The sky or earth bias can be even more assertive, with a particularly high or low horizon line.

How to decide which Format ?

There is unfortunately no infallible recipe to determine the direction of the framing.

It is on a case-by-case basis, depending on the actual configuration of the scene.

We take into account a bundle of details that ultimately influence our intuition, because it is a decision that often seems instinctive.

In the first instance, the essential thing is at least to ask oneself the question.

Far too many people don’t even ask it! Then, it is the optimal use of the frame that must prevail: 100% of the image must be exploited.

In the end, nothing is better than a simple test: if in doubt, try both possibilities and see what happens.

In addition, you can very well make two images, one horizontal and the other vertical, both of which will justify themselves.

As we have seen, each photograph is a unique way of seeing the world, and just because the subject is the same does not mean that there is only one framing solution.

In fact, professionals are the first to frame the same scene in both directions in order to offer their clients a choice.

Notice that between the two frames, there was a different choice of focal length (35mm for the vertical format, and 24mm for the horizontal format) and that I moved. Choosing between the two orientations does not imply that one stays planted in the same place, the composition can be readapted.

The case of panoramic

For years, this format was the prerogative of the cinema.

The famous “Cinema-Scope” gave much more breadth and realism than the 4/3 format of television or 2/3 of photography.

In fact, a banner image forces us to move our gaze to capture the entire scene, like reading a sentence.

The mechanism is identical in reality: we must scan a landscape with our eyes to fully grasp it.

It is precisely this visual gymnastics that makes the panoramic format so realistic and fascinating.

One is confronted with something that goes beyond the mere glance.

It is no longer a “detail” that can be instantly identified, but a universe that overwhelms us, that goes beyond immediate perception.

The setting must still lend itself to this reading.

This is far from being common.

Many landscapes suffer from the lack of height of this format (it goes beyond the frame) and do not necessarily have something to express over the entire width of the panorama. Remember that a panoramic photograph suffers even more than others from emptiness.

Remember that a panoramic photograph suffers more than others from emptiness. If the eye wanders, it is to discover interesting elements across the entire width.

In use, you must therefore focus all your attention on the constraints of the format and find suitable subjects.

Lakes, mountain ranges, forests, gardens, beaches, islands, coastlines, moors or crops are classics of the genre.

Wide angles are then to be favored so that the sky can be present.


Lakes are often good candidates for panoramic format, here again served by the mirror effect for this image of Lake Achard, in Isère.

Contrasts and colors

Colors embellish life and give personality to landscapes.

It is also a landmark in time and seasons, an active vibration that animates everything.

Color is an unconscious code that seduces or repels, attracts or worries … it acts beyond form and graphics, it builds a feeling.***Degradation and monochrome atmospheresNumber of people swear by black and white; more artistic, less vulgar than color? In any case, easier to read, it favors graphics and contrasts.

A code of the past, nostalgic and timeless at the same time, which requires to think differently its shots.***Black and whiteBlack and white are colors? On a physical level, white is a synthesis of all colors at once, black an absence of light and therefore color.

On an artistic level, they are colors in their own right, just like green or yellow.

On the photographic level, this means translating the world through the full spectrum of shades of gray, from the lightest (white) to the darkest (black).

Black and white photography is therefore the most familiar example of a monochrome (gray-based) color representation of things.

One could just as well imagine a photographic genre “purple and pink” based on a gradation of red, or “navy and sky” based on blue.

In fact, all photographs use a color spectrum, more or less extended, without which there would be no possible translation of reality.

But, it is only a more or less faithful translation of reality, not reality itself.

The monochrome is, in a way, the photographic translation of the world reduced to its simplest expression.

This is because we are fortunate enough to be a species with colorful vision (within certain wavelengths), which is not the case with all animals.

So you can consider the black and white photo as an excellent exercise in color photography, in the sense that it is reduced to a single range of hues and you will have to focus on the whole alchemy of the gradient.

Managing a single color is both simpler (you care less about the weather and the seasons, all subjects are equal in color…) and more complex.

This complexity results especially from the “impoverishment” of the image which makes a clean sweep of the variety and the brightness of the tints.

One must therefore focus on the interest of the subject in the graphic and emotional sense of the term, and this is no small matter.

The most difficult thing is to make oneself abstraction of the colors.

Because, if the film or the numerical treatment of the image are wedged on a monochrome representation, our brain continues to perceive the world in colors: impossible to disconnect from this organic perception.

It is thus by pure imagination and concentration that you will have to ignore all these colors become “parasitic”.

It is a very formative exercise and a source of progress.

You will become aware of the importance of graphic compositions, contrast and the absolute strength of emotions.

Graphic design is characterized by the mastery of volumes, shapes and lines, as well as by the balance of the composition.

Emotions may or may not be present depending on the “story” your image tells.

Keep in mind the fabulous photo of a couple kissing on a Parisian sidewalk, by Doisneau.

Of course, trees and hills rarely kiss each other, hence the difficulty of generating emotion in landscapes.

But there are other springs, other ways of being moved by nature, the key to the system being what you yourself feel when you take the picture.

Black and white also emphasizes contrast management and exposure control (see next chapter).

Also, the quality of light is far from negligible.

A small difference though: a dull and gray weather will lend itself very well to black and white shooting, while it will take a lot of talent to exploit it in color…

Even without color, a sunset can be an excellent black and white subject. The graphics and shadows then take precedence over the flattering side of the light and give a completely different interpretation of the landscape.

Finally, note the importance of the print: between the choice of paper, the nature of the chemicals, the type of filter, the exposure times, the effects of masks, etc., a black and white silver photo is built as much after the shooting as before.

You will sometimes find that by converting a color image into a monochrome image (via photo software or directly on the camera body), it can become more interesting, more beautiful or more touching.

By removing the colors, you will find an authenticity, romanticism or grace that was disturbed by a poor quality (colored) shot.

Contrast management is one of the keys to black and white. Most of the time, it is fine-tuned at the time of post-processing of the file, as one does when printing with negatives, in silver. As such, black and white has always been an art that is developed especially after the shooting

Other colors

Without entering the world of black and white, you will sometimes be confronted with monochrome atmospheres generated by nature, the type of light or weather conditions, not to mention the voluntary use of color filters.

The big difference with black and white is that you won’t have to imagine the result of the scene: the colored atmosphere will be directly visible in your viewfinder.

For the rest, you will have to deal with the same constraints and the same issues (graphics and emotion).

The graphics are extremely important: a succession of green hills, or the infinite echo of yellow dunes are classics.

This kind of image is based on repetition, of course, but above all on the balance of lines and masses, the play of shadows, all within a single range of colors.

It is necessary to give the impression of a ballet of waves, to play with the soft and sensual curves of the relief, to capitalize on the succession of planes and the perspective.

To reinforce this graphic design, one even avoids including a lot of sky (or one does not frame it at all) so as not to let the gaze escape.

A spring or autumn canopy is approached in the same way.

On the other hand, the undergrowth is a little more delicate.

The lines are no longer the same and the planes are much less distinct.

It should rather be treated as a flat image, a painting.

Don’t worry too much about depth and play more with the spots of color (more or less dense), the placement of lines (trunks, branches …), the positioning of large masses, as if it were an abstract painting. On its own, the light can also unify a whole portion of the landscape.

This is evident at the moment of certain twilights, capable of setting water, stone and sky ablaze with the same fire.

One must avoid being blinded by the fascination of the hue itself, because one would then tend to strafe a little bit anyhow, obsessed by the only glow …

This strange orange light is not due to to a filter, but in the light of moonlight. Surprisingly, with a very long exposure (20 s at f/4.5), the night turns into a small day bathed in an almost alien light.

On the contrary, one must keep calm and ensure that the landscape retains a graphic interest.

The masses, their contours and the range of possible reflections should be used to structure your composition.

After sunset, when night falls, the residual light gives a pronounced and uniform bluish rendering.

This is not perceived in the same way by our eyes which remember the true colors.

The phenomenon mainly concerns the water and the sky and, to a lesser extent, the earth elements.

Finally, climatic conditions can cause very interesting degradations.

This is the case of mists and fogs that melt the elements together.

The whiteness of the humidity tends to bathe the decor in a monochromatic milt, which becomes stronger with distance.

But the prettiest result is produced by the conjunction of mist and colored light: dew to yellow in the morning, orange in case of a beautiful simultaneous twilight (rare), or bluish in the evening (very much used by the pros).

The last classic of monochrome remains the snow landscape: this case logically meets the same constraints as black and white, with a large white dominance.

Blueish rendering characteristic of the early night, in long exposure (here 5 s at f/5.6).

Polychrome compositions

The diversity of natural colors is almost infinite.

Even if the human eye only distinguishes a little more than two hundred colors, it is to restore this richness that color photography exists.

The limits of this restitution are related to the quality of the chemical pigments used for the films, or the algorithms of the digital sensors which already routinely translate millions of colors! Even low-end printers are capable of high fidelity … No doubt, we have entered the area of color: all the technology of recent years is oriented in this direction.

We desire, consume and produce colors in abundance.

With a few exceptions, our daily life is surely much more colorful than that of our ancestors: from the packaging of any kind of hair to the advertising posters, through the food itself, we are bathed in color.

It is important to be aware of this because this artificial overkill influences the way we photograph and perceive landscape photos.

In comparison, a panorama often appears rather uncolored: we find mostly brown (earth, trunks), gray (rocks, clouds), green (vegetation), a little yellow (dry grass, sand), blue (sky, water), white (clouds, snow), and then? Hence a great tendency to look for stronger “doses”, with flowers, sunsets, deciduous trees in autumn, or exotic and colorful regions.

Blasé about color, we only look for quantity and extremes.

We gradually lose awareness of the notion of golden shades, it is mainly what gives us to contemplate nature.

To find the path of color and its true richness, let’s even say its poetry, I advise you not to focus only on bright, warm or unusual hues.

It remains very interesting to photograph, but at the risk of missing many treasures.

Color always fascinates by its intensity, especially as it emerges from a neutral or grayish environment like a city, here Montreal.

Impact of colors

The association of several colors implies understanding their hierarchy and their complementarity (or their opposition).

Not all colors attract attention with the same force.

In this, a hierarchy can be established, from the most attractive to the most neutral.

It is obvious that bright, shimmering colors are at the top of the list.

The eye spots them very quickly and “likes” them particularly.

This interest in bright colors comes from the depths of time: on the one hand it is a reference to fruit, a source of sugar particularly appreciated and sought after by humans, on the other hand it is a danger signal used by many plants and animals to mean: “Beware, I am poisonous or venomous! “Magnets or alerts, colors always attract our attention.

Red in nature is not so common. When it appears, as here in the Clarée Valley, it gives an exceptional impact to a composition.

Among all, red (also associated with blood) is certainly the most powerful color, especially in a landscape.

Then come the orange and then yellow derivatives.

White (or pink) can be a good candidate if few or no bright colors compete with it.

These hues can be found in fluffy clouds, the foam of a waterfall or a bed of daisies.

More austere or cooler colors such as blue or purple come in second place, but remain mobilizing if they contrast with the environment (flowers, roofs, lake, etc.).

Of course, a deep blue sky will always be appreciated especially in complement of other shades.

Green, which is generally matt, is all the more fascinating the darker it is; it takes on much more importance when it is associated with water (torrent basins, certain lakes…) like mint syrup.

Some thunderstorm lights give a fascinating pink dominance. No filters are used here.

To radiate in the plant, it needs light or rain.

Flooded with sunlight (in backlight) or water (after a shower), green foliage captures more attention.

Other dark colors are not very successful and are hardly noticeable, with the exception of the dense, sometimes captivating black (a burnt stump, some ponds or rocks).

The progression in the reading of the photo will follow these more or less powerful calls of the colors.

It will be necessary to take them into account in the choice of the main subject and the general composition (see the relevant chapter).

Symbolic aspect

In addition to their attention value, colors also carry meaning and symbolic references.

Warm colors reassure, brighten, challenge, energize, invigorate, fascinate.

The cold colors are conducive to introspection, melancholy, immobility, calm, mystery, loneliness, silence … The colors speak and direct feelings, they are like the bubbles of a comic book deciphered by our unconscious.

Thus, a landscape expresses itself enormously by its colors: it parades, cries, laughs, suffers, falls asleep, raises its finger timidly or explodes like a symphony.

Autumn is the key season to find exceptional colors, as here in the Perche.
A color always evokes a feeling, something that carries beyond the landscape itself. These two shores (Cap BlancNez and the Crozon peninsula) show it well.

To compose with colors is to organize emotions.

Aesthetics is only one aspect.

Without a state of mind, a “beautiful” photograph would have no meaning: colors always give it one! Think about what the colors you perceive evoke.

Lean on this feeling to give a basis to your image and keep well in mind what you feel to communicate it through your framing.

The colors will then begin to tell a story.


Complementary and monochrome

Beyond the hues themselves, it is the association of colors within the space that will decide their impact: colors said to be opposite (or complementary) reinforce each other, while less distant tones tend to calm each other down.

The rule is that blue opposes orange red, green opposes purple red, and yellow opposes purple.

Whenever these couples are brought together and juxtaposed, the intensity of the colors is at its peak.

Conversely, hues that are close together tend to temper each other and appear less vivid.

This is the case of yellow and green, red and violet, green and blue, red and yellow, blue and violet.

For example, orange rocks against a background of intense blue sky (as in Piana, Corsica) are always extremely striking, whereas one hardly lingers on a clump of buttercups in a green pasture.

Blue and red-orange form an explosive couple at the end of the day as here, in the creeks of Piana.

This cohabitation of colors also influences the impression of sharpness: the more the colors are opposed, the more distinctly one can see the contours of the shapes which seem to stand out more from each other, while a subtle gradation will tend to erase the boundaries of the subjects and successive shots.

From this phenomenon is also born the notion of harmony, which favours nuance over contrast.

The faded and monochrome tints of this view of Paris are the consequence of a shot through a tinted glass associated with a Neutral colorimetric mode on the body. The result gives a very soft and slightly diffuse tone that introduces a lot of poetry.


The management and choice of contrasts is an additional way to play with colors.

Contrast is the expression of the differentiation of colors, whether by their opposition or their saturation.

The most obvious case remains black and white.

This is the most advanced form of contrast, each being the perfect opposite of the other in terms of brightness and hue.

Thus, the black and white photo is only a permanent management of more or less strong contrasts.

Contrast can concern any landscape as long as it is the differences between the colors that are at stake.

It is not an intrinsic characteristic of the color, but a phenomenon related to the confrontation of colors between them.

The contrast thus depends on the more or less marked difference of the hues (tonalities), their purity (saturation) and their brightness (luminosity).

Scenes with little contrast

It is the contrast which makes the outline of the forms appear, by difference between the subject and the background on which it is drawn.

Even if the tendency is rather to look for strong contrasts in landscape photography, the opposite is just as interesting. The absence of contrast softens the image, gives it more subtlety, mystery and delicacy.

This is perfectly suited to morning and winter atmospheres.
Contrast is minimized with low brightness, absence of shadows, dry and cloudy weather, tone-on-tone moods, and of course fog, rain or snow (when it is falling).

The danger is to get into a flat and bland rendering that mixes everything up a bit. That’s why low contrast images often need to include a strong, contrasting or animated element, to balance or give dynamics.

A particularly beautiful light, because lightly colored, a sharp foreground, because it is closer and more saturated than the background, the perception of a movement or action in progress, like grasses lying in the wind or the spinning of a waterfall, so many ways to exalt low contrasts.

The use of granular film (high sensitivity) in silver, high sensitivity (which increases grain) in digital, or a diffusing filter (which blurs) blends well with this type of photography.

This enhances the desired effect by further masking details and blending colors together.

Note that this type of image gives more consistency to the air, to the vacuum if you prefer.

The lower the contrasts, the more you can perceive the consistency of the atmosphere, as if it were matter and the space between things was palpable.

Photography has the power to make the untouchable and the invisible perceptible.

This undergrowth of Fontainebleau draws all its charm from a low contrast and a homogeneous light. A diffusing filter and a slight overexposure (+0.7 EV) have been applied to further soften the image.

Contrast scenes

Many landscapes, on the contrary, fascinate by their frank and vivid colors, their details, their depth or their clarity.

And then we keep this taste for the spectacular that the great Anglo-Saxon photographers have been able to develop.

This landscape of the Jura evokes the whole imaginary of the landscape. A juxtaposition of shades and materials, served by a light both warm and cold. This abundance of branches and lines remains perfectly legible thanks to the high contrasts of planes and lights.

The large, beautifully contrasted landscape, perfectly sharp, with warm colors, of which we make posters, very often comes to us from the American national parks.

This reference has become a cultural model, as well as westerns or jeans…

We have all dreamed about this kind of image.

The contrasts are very pronounced: the opposition of colors between the mineral, the plant and the sky, the quality of the light (often twilight), the extreme finesse of reproduction, everything contributes to make the photograph very striking and flattering.

A kind of reality more beautiful than reality.

To obtain this type of result, all the parameters count:

  • The originality of the landscape (shapes, colors, geology…)
  • The sun exposure or the type of weather (grazing light, dawn, twilight, stormy sky…)
  • The sensitivity used (=s 400 ISO), the image settings (high saturation)
  • The light metering (in slight under-exposure)
  • The possible filters (neutral gradation, polarizing)

A high contrast makes  the image :

  • Dynamic
  • Clearly differentiates the planes and elements of the landscape
  • Creates a pattern and improves the sensation of relief
  • Gives a strong autonomy (or identity) to the most colorful subjects
  • Refines details and contours, gives the impression of greater sharpness
  • Brings a kind of raw strength to the photograph.


At first glance, a high-contrast image will always attract more attention than another.

The eye likes strong contrasts as they make it easier to read immediately.

It is no coincidence that one reads (and writes) in “black on white”.

The use of an 18mm wide-angle lens and the body’s Saturation mode, combined with a polarizing filter, gives this Ille-sur-Têt landscape maximum contrast. An almost caricatured American atmosphere, without leaving France!

The evening lights, the autumn landscapes, the beautiful days of blue sky, the very colorful subjects naturally bring contrasting images.

Recent rainfall can also work miracles, especially on plants, bringing exceptional brilliance and depth.

But the magic tool of contrast remains the polarizing filter: dark blue (or green) in appearance, it does not color the image but removes all the reflections and milky lights that impoverish the natural contrast.

It is particularly effective on the sky (which can turn to navy blue), water, green plants, and some rocks.

You can visualize the effect obtained by turning the filter on itself, to the optimal position.

The effect is maximal when the sun is located sideways.

It is so effective that it is very difficult to do without it once you try it, but don’t become a slave to it!
Note that the polarizing effect seems more pronounced with short focal lengths (wide-angle lenses).

Indeed the scene being larger, the filter acts more widely, especially on the sky.

But this can also lead to a lack of homogeneity, with darker portions than others.

To avoid all these situations, choose a filter called “circular” (according to the diameter of your lens) and extra-flat (extra slim).

The thickness is important because it can be a source of vignetting with wide-angle lenses.

This optical phenomenon darkens the corners of the image and is more pronounced with the use of small apertures, starting at f/16.

Other use of polarizer (with a 28 mm) and a saturated silver film. The contrasts are important, the colors are bright and the red and blue dominants are perfectly complementary. The composition of this image has been particularly careful, right down to the distribution of the birds.
Contrast and Back Lighting

The light configuration that offers the greatest contrast is the backlight, when the sun is facing you.

In this case, the background is extremely bright, but no elements are illuminated from the front.

All subjects therefore tend to be drawn in shadow.

The colors fade and only the dark/light contrast remains.

This phenomenon is not visually obvious, but it will appear clearly in the picture, as long as the camera is set to the bright area to adjust the exposure.

This results in images that are almost black and white, where only the outline graphics count.

On the other hand, if the light passes through the subject (by transparency!), the contrast will be based on the color and the iridescent contours of the sun.

This is a classic with the diaphanous leaves of trees in spring.

This old lady coming back from fishing in Madagascar drew a very touching silhouette in an intense backlight.
Relatively uncluttered, this image is only possible because of the contrast and the management of contrasts.


The light reserves still other surprises to bring life to your landscapes, starting with reflections.

In nature, this particularly concerns water in all its forms; in cities, it extends to glass or metal surfaces.

Beyond their aestheticism, reflections attest to a light that plays, bounces and creates mirror effects.

It is a real light animation that considerably changes the perception of a landscape.

The reflection on a lake always gives wonderful results that you must know how to highlight by an adapted framing. Here, an 18 mm wide angle and a neutral gradient filter.

Another example, on a lake, which exploits the pure symmetry of the reflection.

This requires perfectly smooth water, without any sign of wind.

Note the inclusion of the branch, which provides a foreground and brings additional poetry.

To capture all the nuances, you must position yourself at a particular angle.

With the sun from the front, you inherit intense and often very glittering reflections; with the sun from the back or from the side, you optimize mirror effects.

The moment of the shot is also very important: white and blinding light during the day, smooth and warm at the end of the day.
Of course, if you want to include reflections in your composition, you should not use a polarizing filter, designed to avoid reflections.

Of course, you will lose contrast and saturation compared to an image taken with a filter, but it is a choice to be made.

Don’t forget that the reflection is a bonus for your photo, but not necessarily its only focus: the rest of the scene, especially the quality of the light, remains to be taken care of.

One exception is the intense reflections against the light, which give very contrasting photos, almost in black and white; the different elements then appear as shadowy shadows.

This is the type of image that you can make at the seaside in the middle of the afternoon.

In the city, shop windows can be surprising sources of reflection. We mix several superimposed worlds, playing on the angle of the shot which changes the composition and the reflection.

Best Videos about Composition in Landscape Photography

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