Best Composing Dynamic Landscape Images

As a landscape photographer I am constantly seeking that next X-factor shot – an image that leaps from the screen or page and demands the viewer’s attention – preferably attention of the favourable variety.If you spend an hour or two on a photosharing site like Flickr viewing landscape images in un- curated groups you will note that a very small percentage of the total image population stands out from the crowd.

However, if you view a carefully curated collection of top-shelf landscape images you will probably start to notice some themes appearing. Certain visual cues and devices appear across multiple images – there will often be subtle commonalities between these attention hogging photos. In many instances these images will possess the qualities of what I consider a dynamic landscape image.

What is a Dynamic Landscape Image?

Image: Summer Storm, Queenstown New Zealand. An example of a dynamic landscape image. To maximise th...

Summer Storm, Queenstown New Zealand. An example of a dynamic landscape image. To maximise the number of dynamic elements in this image I locked this composition off in the field and shot multiple images. The best of about five wave-action frames were then blended together to form the final image.

There is no dictionary entry that defines a Dynamic Landscape Image* – heck, there’s not even a Wikipedia entry – so it is a somewhat personal interpretation.

To my mind, a dynamic landscape image is one that in some way conveys the energy and scale of the natural world. Dynamic images also often seek to breach the confines of their 2D medium by inferring a sense of depth – many truly dynamic image have an almost 3D quality about them.

*As far as I am aware, the term Dynamic Landscape was first popularised by the late Galen Rowell – one of the most influential American landscape photographers of his generation. Rowell used the term to demarcate his work from the somewhat literal colour landscape photography that dominated the early 1970’s. Although he was certainly not the only photographer employing these principles in his work, he appears to have been an excellent self-promoter and the term is somewhat synonymous with his name.

Dynamic Composition

Composition is the backbone of all great photos – dynamic or otherwise – but it is essential in the creation of a truly strong landscape image.

I feel that the goal of a successful composition is to draw the eye into image and hold it there for as long as possible – which is seemingly, a maximum 15 milliseconds these days*. The following image is an example of an image that I feel achieves this objective.

Image: Sunrise Over The Moeraki Boulders, Otago New Zealand. Seascapes lend themselves to the creati...

Sunrise Over The Moeraki Boulders, Otago New Zealand. Seascapes lend themselves to the creation of dynamic landscape images.

This image combines all of the elements that I feel comprise a Dynamic Landscape Image:

  • Leading or converging lines
  • Interesting perspective
  • Visually interesting foreground elements
  • Visually interesting mid-ground & background elements
  • Vivid colour or incredible light
  • Vision-locking tonal control
  • Suggestion of movement

It is important to note that not all dynamic landscape images possess all of these factors. In fact, it is depressingly rare to have it all come together in one moment. It must also be stated that what follows is not a recipe for creating great images. Photography can only be practised as an art when personal interpretation is injected into the process – only use this information as a guideline for evolving your own images.

So let’s have a very quick look at each of these Dynamic Landscape factors.

Leading Lines & Converging Lines

One of the simplest ways to draw a viewer’s attention into an image is to use converging or leading lines. Converging lines have been used by painters for centuries to create the illusion of depth within a 2 dimensional medium.

This is why photos of wharves, roads, and rivers make such successful photographic subjects. Although many consider such subjects to be cliches, I strongly council my workshop students to shoot them heavily to build an awareness of the power of a line in an image.Leading lines not only draw attention into the image, they can also help to hold the eye within the confines of the image.

Check out the crudely overlaid wharf image below combines the strong converging lines of the wharf with secondary supporting lines in the water, hills and clouds.Look for these lines whenever you are shooting – they are almost everywhere.


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