Introduction to Landscape Photography: 3 - Composition

May 23, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Previous: Introduction to Landscape Photography: 2 - RAW


Composition is a slippery creature. There are a great many debates concerning what is or isn't a well-composed image and as tastes change over time, the arguments rage on. There are, however, a few hard and fast rules concerning composition that have stood the test of time and I shall highlight a few of them here that will stand you in good stead when determining how to frame your landscape photographs.


Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is probably the simplest compositional rule to understand and follow. In fact, quite a few cameras have an option to switch on grid lines to simplify the capturing of images to follow this rule. The basic principal is to imagine lines on the image that divide it into thirds, a bit like a Noughts and Crosses board. Then align your image so that at least one point of interest (the more, the better) either travel along the lines or, preferably, are placed on one of the intersections. In Lightroom, the Develop Module has a tool called the Crop Overlay that allows you to crop and rotate your image while displaying lines that help you to recompose the layout. More on this at the end of this blog entry. Here is an example of the Rule of Thirds overlay:

Rule of ThirdsRule of Thirds


Diagonal Method

The Diagonal Method was discovered by Edwin Westhoff in 2006 while researching Rule of Thirds composition. To quote Edwin:

"The technical side of Diagonal Method is rather simple: each 90 degree corner of a work of art can be divided into two angles of 45 degrees. This dividing line is actually called the bisection line (a bisection is a line that divides an angle into two equal parts). It appeared that artists were intuitively placing details which they found important, on these lines with a deviation of max. 1 tot 1,5 milimetre.
I called this the Diagonal Method because these lines are also the mathematical diagonals of the two overlapping squares within a rectangle. People seem to look through pictures in the same way as the artist did; they follow the bisection lines or Diagonals."

"The difference between the existing theories of composition (the Rule of Thirds and the Golden Section) is that the Diagonal Method is not concerned with making “good” compositions, but with finding details which are important to the artist in a psychological or emotional way. On this level the DM is completely subjective. It has nothing to do with placing lines or shapes in a certain location within a frame with the intention of getting a “better” composition. So we can use the DM to find out what the interests of the artist were. The positioning of these details is done in an unconscious manner. That’s why the DM is so exact."


There is a detailed explanation of the theory here. Here is an example of the Diagonal Method overlay (note how the lines pass through the eyes of the carvings, as these are the focal points to which the viewer's eye is drawn):

Diagonal MethodDiagonal Method


Triangle Method

The Triangle Method is similar in principal to the Rule of Thirds, where at least one point of interest, preferably more, occur on or near a line and/or intersection. Here is an example:

Triangular MethodTriangular Method


Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio is also known as the Divine Proportion and has been used heavily in designs by artists and architects since the Renaissance, and even before that — it is evident in the architecture of the Parthenon, The Great Mosque of Kairouan and, most notably, Leonardo da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man". The ratio is 1:1.618 and approximates the Rule of Thirds grid pattern, although it is much more aesthetically pleasing as it creates a sense of harmony and balance. There is much more information on Wikipedia. Here is an example:

Golden RatioGolden Ratio


Golden Spiral

An alternative approach to the Golden Ratio is the Golden Spiral, also known as the Golden Mean or the Fibonacci Spiral. A Fibonacci spiral approximates the golden spiral using quarter-circle arcs inscribed in squares of integer Fibonacci-number side, shown for square sizes 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, and 34:

Fibonacci SpiralFibonacci Spiral

Here is an example:

Golden SpiralGolden Spiral


How to use Crop Overlays in Lightroom

From the Library Module, you can enter the Develop Module by pressing 'D' then press 'R' to activate the Crop Overlay tool (or you could even just press 'R' while in the Library Module, which will switch to the Develop Module and activate the Crop Overlay tool at the same time).

To cycle through the overlays, just press the letter 'O'. Certain overlays, notably the Golden Spiral and the Triangle, also have the option of pressing 'Shift-O' to allow you to cycle through different layouts.

If your image does not directly line up with your desired overlay, you can adjust the crop by dragging one of the edges or corners of the image. You may also move the cursor slightly out from an edge or corner in order to rotate the image for a more pleasing composition.

Once you are happy with your composition, just press the 'Done' button in the lower-right corner. Remember that Lightroom edits are non-destructive, so by cropping or rotating you will not lose any of the image data that falls outside the boundaries.



Lightroom contains numerous crop overlay templates that will assist you in selecting a more fitting composition for your image. These overlays are also available with the Crop Tool in PhotoShop CC.

Lightroom has quite a steep learning curve if you have never encountered it before, so I can strongly recommend Scott Kelby's book 'The Adobe PhotoShop Lightroom 5 Book for Digital Photographers', available in both hardback and Kindle editions.

For more advanced tips I recommend Victoria Bampton's book 'Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 - The Missing FAQ', also available in both hardback and Kindle editions.


Standard Caveat

The content of this blog entry, as with all my blog entries, is my own personal opinion. I don't profess to be the fount of all knowledge on any particular subject; I'm just a guy with a camera and a computer, and around forty years experience taking photographs, both film and digital. I am still experimenting and learning, and I've done more things the wrong way than the right way, and from this I have learned what works and what doesn't. To quote Albert Einsten, "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." There may be a great many blogs, books or magazines that take a different view to my own and that's how it should be. There is never any single, definitive way of doing things, but what I write about here is what works for me. If it works for you too, then that's great!

Disclosure: In order to pay for the hosting and upkeep of this site, I have taken the liberty of including links to the Amazon site for any items that might be of interest. Please feel free to ignore them or to just click through to find out further information in a new browser window. However, if you do decide to make a purchase via the link then Amazon will kindly reward me with vast riches beyond my wildest dreams (I wish!), which will enable me to fund my increasingly expensive hobby.


No comments posted.

January February March April (1) May (4) June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December