Anyone can point their iPhone camera at an amazing view, but it takes a more skilled photographer to create a truly stunning landscape photo. In fact, with the right techniques you can turn a very ordinary landscape into a beautiful and compelling image. The key to great landscape photography is to compose your shot with thought and intention. In this tutorial you’ll discover ten essential composition techniques that will turn your iPhone landscape photography into something you can be really proud of.
1. Include An Interesting Focal Point
When you look at a scene with your eyes, you’re taking in the whole experience. You can move your head, listen to the sounds around you, and notice the changing light.
But when you take a photo of that glorious vista, it can look boring and nothing like the picture in your head.
Taking a photo is different from just looking at a scene. You have to be a hunter to hunt out what will bring that scene to life.
An interesting focal point will catch the viewer’s attention and keep them interested in your photo.
In the two photos above, where is your eye drawn to? It’s likely that in the first photo your eye was drawn to the lone tree, and in the second photo it was drawn to the stone building.
Now imagine these two photos without these focal points. While they would still be nice landscape photos with great light, they probably wouldn’t hold your interest for very long.
Including a focal point gives your photo meaning, and it provides you with a main subject around which to build your composition.
2. Eliminate Distractions
Once you’ve decided on your focal point, you need to make sure you don’t spoil the photo by including other distractions from the scene.
Even if the distraction is attractive, for example another tree, you might decide to leave it out for the sake of the composition.
When I see a photo I want to take, I often find myself walking around a bit until I’m in just the right place to get everything I want in the frame, while leaving out everything that I don’t want.
This might involve moving forwards and backwards, gaining some height, or shooting from a lower perspective.
Sometimes it’s just not possible to exclude everything from the frame. So don’t forget that you can always crop the image afterwards, or use an app such as TouchRetouch to remove any small unwanted objects that you just can’t avoid.
The photo above was actually taken from a small boat when I was visiting the island of Staffa. Below is the original photo that includes part of the boat a couple sitting in front of me.
There was no way I could eliminate these from my composition, so I took the shot anyway, and then simply cropped them out afterwards.
3. Use The Rule Of Thirds
It’s easy to improve a photo by thinking carefully about the placement of the focal point and other important elements in the scene.
The rule of thirds is a composition technique that can be used to help you decide where to position the main elements within the frame.
The rule states that a picture will look more naturally balanced and visually pleasing if you position the main elements off-center within the frame.
So when you’re deciding where to place your main subject within the composition, imagine your viewfinder divided into a grid of nine equal parts, then position the subject where two of the gridlines intersect.
To make this easier, switch on the gridlines in the camera app (Settings > Photos & Camera > Grid). Now you can use the grid to help position your subject.
In the photo above, I used the rule of thirds to position the large rock in the foreground at the bottom left intersection of the gridlines.
You can also use the rule of thirds to help you decide where to place the horizon. Rather than having the horizon run across the middle of the frame, try positioning it on either the top or bottom horizontal gridline.
Once you start using the rule of thirds, you’ll find that you won’t have to think too much about it, and you’ll start to use it almost instinctively when composing your landscape shots.
However, don’t be scared to try something different too. Sometimes breaking the rules produces more dramatic results!
If the composition doesn’t feel right to you, it might be that the balance is off in some way. It’s often good to start with the rule of thirds, and then experiment from there until the composition looks right.
4. Look For Symmetry
People love to see symmetry in nature, and you can use it to your advantage to create striking landscape photos.
So whenever you’re around a very calm sea or lake, puddles on a path, or even wet sand, keep your eyes peeled for interesting reflections that you could photograph.
Creating perfect symmetry in a photo is one example of when you need to break the rule of thirds because the horizon needs to run across the middle of the frame.
If you don’t quite get the horizon central at the time of shooting, you can crop the image in post-processing. This is what I did with the photo below to ensure the horizon sat halfway between the top and bottom of the photo.
Getting the horizon level is very important in order to make this kind of photo work. Use the grid in your camera app to help you get the horizon level when shooting.
If you don’t quite get it right when you capture the photo, make sure you level it up using an editing app such as Snapseed.
When you’re out shooting landscapes, you could also look for opportunities to create horizontal symmetry where the left side of the image mirrors the right.
Using a long straight path that leads into the distance is a great way of achieving this. Simply stand in the middle of the path and use the converging lines to create the symmetry.
5. Make Use Of Leading Lines
There’s something about seeing a path, railway line or jetty leading into the distance that makes us feel like we’re really in the picture.
Using leading lines in your landscape compositions is a powerful way to create depth and draw the viewer into the scene. Your eye can’t help but follow the line into the distance.
Photography is about creating a spark in the person looking at the photo, and getting an emotional response from them. Leading lines tend to create the feeling that we could be there and about to set off on an adventure.
I find that my most popular photos usually have some kind of vanishing point. So whenever you spot a road, path, fence, footprints in the sand, or other lines in the landscape, try incorporating them into your composition.
Aim to shoot from a perspective where the line leads from the foreground of the scene into the distance. Think about where the line leads to, and how this can help you tell a story about the landscape.
This photo was taken on a grassy headland near my home in Oban. The path through the grass leads the eye naturally to the sea, taking you on a journey through the beautiful scenery.
6. Include Foreground Interest
When taking a photo of a landscape, it’s tempting to just stand there, point your iPhone at the view, and press the shutter.
Sometimes this can work well, but for added depth and context, it’s often a good idea to include some foreground interest.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to get down low so that the ground immediately in front of the scene becomes more prominent and important.
This particularly works well with beach scenes as you can use rocks or interesting sand formations in the foreground of your shot.
Grass and flowers are another favorite subject of mine to use as foreground interest. Including the leaves and flowers in the foreground of this photo has made it much more appealing.
When I took the photo below, the sun was getting near to setting and I noticed these beautiful bog cotton flowers. So I lay down in the grass and photographed them with the sun filtering through.
I’m not always keen on taking photos of the sun with my iPhone, but I think it works well when you use foreground objects to partially block the light.
7. Frame The Scene
When you’re taking a photo, think of your iPhone’s screen as a painter’s canvas. Think about different ways that you could capture the scene in front of you.
One really effective technique is to find something that will create a natural frame around your main subject or focal point.
Framing objects include trees, windows, archways and bridges. If there’s a tree anywhere near where I’m shooting, I’ll always try to get it into my shot, especially in winter when the bare branches create delicate patterns against the sky.
Framing the scene helps to draw the viewer’s eye to a particular part of the landscape, placing more emphasis on your focal point.
It also provides context because you’re giving the the viewer a better idea of your immediate surroundings, rather than just capturing a distant landscape.
You can use the framing technique in lots of ways. You can just use it in one corner or along the top of the frame, such as some overhanging tree branches.
Or you can create a complete frame around all four edges, like the photo below that was taken from a ship I was traveling on in North Norway.
I was walking down the passage and I saw this perfect view through a port hole. I was able to capture it almost instantly as I had my iPhone in my hand!
8. Use Negative Space
Don’t forget that it isn’t always about putting everything you can into the photo. Sometimes it’s about what you leave out.
Including lots of negative space can be a very powerful technique whereby you create photos with large areas of empty space.
This empty space actually helps to emphasize the main subject or focal point because there’s nothing else in the scene competing for attention. It also helps to create a calming mood in your photos.
If you want to create striking minimalist landscape photos, you’ll need to use lots of negative space in your compositions.
You can easily create this look by finding isolated subjects, such as a lone tree against a big sky or a person stood in a large field. If you’re shooting near the sea or a lake, look out out large expanses of water with a tiny boat or island.
When shooting minimalist scenes with large expanses of sky or fog, it’s often worth increasing the exposure to brighten up any dark grey areas.
To adjust exposure, start by tapping on the screen to set focus, then swipe up or down to make the image brighter or darker.
I took this photo in a torrential downpour, where I find the iPhone really excels! The sky and sea were both quite bright, creating an ethereal atmosphere. I asked my friend to stand on that rocky outcrop to act as a focal point, and she kindly obliged.
9. Add A Sense Of Scale
Do you often feel disappointed when the vast scale and grandeur of the landscape doesn’t come across in your photos?
Scale is often difficult to achieve in photography. When you’re looking at a scene with the naked eye, you have enough cues around you to enable you to easily see the scale of what you’re looking at, and your place within it.
But that’s often lost in a photo, so we need to come up with ways to add a sense of scale to our landscape shots.
The easiest way to portray scale is to include something of a known size which enables the viewer to immediately sense how large (or small) the scene is.
Using a person is an obvious choice. We all know the size of an average human, and this allows us to judge the size of the surroundings.
If you know the person, you can direct them to stand exactly where you want them, such as on top of a hill or cliff, looking out to sea, or walking along a forest path.
It’s often better to get the person to look away from you towards the view. This brings a bit of anonymity and mystery into the photo, and the viewer can imagine that it was themselves standing in that landscape.
You could also try to get them to wear red or another bright color so that they stand out better. A pop of color in the photo can often be the perfect finish.
If I don’t have another person with me, I often look about to see if I can catch people in the right place, or wait until they move into the right position.
Alternatively, you could use a tripod and take a photo of yourself, which is what I did in this photo.
Other subjects useful for adding a sense of scale are animals (I often use sheep), cars, tents, trees and houses. Look around and see what else you could use!
10. Focus On Details
Landscape photography isn’t just about distant vistas. You might also find small details in nature that you want to concentrate on and highlight in a photo.
You may see a flower or a feather, beautiful bark textures on a tree trunk, or a piece of colorful sea glass.
To focus on something near to you, make sure you tap the screen on the subject you want in focus.
This will then throw the background out of focus, creating a shallow depth of field. This blurring of the background will help to emphasize the subject.
When you’re out in the landscape, be sure to take a close look at the smaller objects around you. I spotted this seaweed clinging to a rock on a pebbly beach, and held it up in front of the sea to give the photo more context.
Using these ten composition tips should set you well on your way to creating beautiful landscape photos with your iPhone.
Make sure you look for interesting subjects to catch the viewer’s attention, move around to get the best vantage point, look for interesting frames, and think about capturing close-up details.
And don’t forget to look behind you! Some of my best photos have been the result of glancing round away from what I considered the important scene to reveal another even more beautiful vista.
Remember that you’re not trying to capture a scene exactly how you see it. You’re trying to use your iPhone as a tool to create a beautiful picture.
Many professional photographers never say that they’re “taking” a photo… Instead they say they’re “making” a photo which illustrates this point perfectly.
Look out for shapes, curves and diagonals that could be used to catch the eye and draw the viewer into the image. Watch how the layers in the scene interact with each other, and how even a small detail can complete a scene.
Take lots and lots of photos. You may find that one composition is much better than another, but until you try it you won’t know.
And once you’ve captured the scene, you can then edit the photo by cropping and playing around with the highlights and shadows, brightness and contrast, color saturation, and a whole range of other adjustments to create your finished masterpiece.
Keep all these points in mind, but don’t forget to experiment. The more you shoot, the sooner you’ll start to find your own photographic style.