Using Composition in Landscape Photography on Yellow Mountain

A very symmetrical image, underpinned by strong composition, on Huangshan (i.e., Yellow Mountain) in China.

While traversing the many trails that guide the way across the range of peaks on Yellow Mountain, also known as Huangshan, I realized that I wanted to do more than simply document my journey.

I decided to set myself the task of making some photos that were, primarily, studies in composition.

Composition | Practice Really Does Make Perfect

Actually, I pay attention to composition in all my photography. Because of this I’m able to work quite intuitively and make decisions much quicker than I’d be able to articulate them.

This fact proves the motto that practice makes perfect.

To achieve good composition I'II often consider the following:

  • Placement of primary focal points (i.e., subjects) within the frame, and in relation to each other.

  • Negative Space: when and how much to include it.

  • Compositional elements such as color, line, shape, texture, scale, rhythm, balance and repetition.

Tree trunks and a fence provide excellent subject matter for a photo exploring the art of composition on Huangshan (i.e., Yellow Mountain) in China.

Use A Tripod To Improve Composition

When it comes to more contemplative photography, such as landscape and architecture, the act of slowing down the process of composing your images can make a huge difference to the communicative power of the photos you make.

Under the right circumstances consider employing a tripod so that you can slow down the process of image making and encourage a more contemplative and careful approach to image composition.

Deep snow and encroaching mist almost hide my path, clinging to the side of the mountain, on Huangshan (i.e., Yellow Mountain) in China in the middle of winter.

Composition Can Affect The Mood Of Your Photos

Granted you want to make sharp and correctly exposed photos. But, ultimately, you want your photos to tell a story from your own life’s experience.

Your most memorable photos are those that connect, on an emotional level, with your audience. And the best way to elicit an emotional response is to create images with mood.

For example, is the scene or subject constrained by the frame or does it appear alone within its surroundings?

Can you employ a more dramatic angle of view (e.g., worms eye or birds eye) to produce a more emotive result?

Consider how the quality, direction and color of the light affects the mood of the image.

You might also ask yourself if the color palette of a photo is predominantly pastel or highly saturated, monochromatic or displaying contrasting colors?

As a case in point the photo directly above shows a difficult road ahead, along a steep and narrow path, through the mist on a cold winter’s day on Yellow Mountain.

The heavy blue monochromatic color palette is a result of the weather, which alters the color of the light.

I can tell you the cold, flat and diminishing light only added to the sense of foreboding I felt as the mist rolled in.

But, so long as there’s a path to follow, I knew a hot shower and a good meal was not all that far away.

Photography And The Changing Color Of Light

The human brain, like your camera, is programed to neutralize such color. Only someone with a strong interest in color is likely to be aware of this fascinating phenomena.

The good news is that a better appreciation for the changing color of light, and how to use it creatively in your photography, is within your reach.

It’s this kind of knowledge that opens up our perception of the world around us. It’s also one of the jewels of knowledge that I most enjoy passing onto other folks.

Stairway to Heaven, Huangshan, China

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Improve Composition By Using Your Camera’s Viewfinder

One thing that will dramatically improve your photography is to use your camera’s viewfinder, rather than the rear LCD screen, to compose your photos.

But to do so you need to ensure that you can see all four edges of the frame while looking into the viewfinder. Unfortunately, glasses make this difficult.

You’ll probably find it helpful to turn your head slightly to the left or right when looking into the viewfinder.

It will stop your nose from getting in the way as you try to put your eye right up into the viewfinder.

It’s frustrating trying to look at your photos when the rear LCD screen of your camera is dirty. You’ll be amazed that, by keeping your nose from touching that screen, just how much easier it will be to view the photos you’ve made.

What you want to see is the subject or scene you’re about to photograph, floating in space, and surrounded by blackness. It’s a bit like viewing the earth from space.

Notice how your image now appears to exist outside of the real world. This is important because your camera is no longer a physical barrier between you and the subject of your photo.

The image you’re now creating exists, in a world of perpetual light, inside your camera.
— Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru

The simple process of being able to properly look inside your camera’s viewfinder will really concentrate your attention on image composition.

What’s more it will help draw your attention to those critical numbers displayed along the bottom of the viewfinder.

Adjusting Your Camera’s Diopter For Your Own Eyesight

In particular I’m talking here about the Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. If you make photos without paying attention to those numbers you’re simply not in control of the process.

Is all the information on the bottom of your viewfinder easier to see?

If you can see the numbers, but they appear unsharp, adjust your camera's built in diopter adjustment so that it's aligned with your own eyesight (e.g. -2, +1, etc).

You’ll find the diopter adjustment along one edge of your camera’s viewfinder. Just turn it until the numbers are razor sharp.

Wow! I was blind, but now I can see.

With luck you’ll be able to adjust the diopter in your viewfinder to such an extent that you won’t need to wear your glasses while making photos.

However, as there’s no diopter adjustment for your camera’s rear LCD screen, you’ll need to put your glasses back on to check your photos on a DSLR camera.

If you have a mirrorless camera this issue is minimized because immediately after you’ve made each photo it will be displayed inside your camera’s viewfinder.

This means you’ll be able to view your images without taking your eye away from the viewfinder and without having to deal with those nasty reflections that are common when checking photos on the rear LCD screen on both mirrorless and DSLR cameras.

If you value this information please share it widely and wildly.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru