How to Take Better Landscape Photographs – Create Depth

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During this episode, we’re going to talk about how to create depth in your landscape shots and the reason that’s important.  I’m sure you’ve had a time where you travel to a magnificent location taking photographs only to get back home and say the photographs just didn’t do it justice. That is very common. In fact, let me show you an example. I recently went to Yosemite National Park and we went to this place called Taft Point and the scenery was magnificent. Let’s compare a few examples.

BAD Landscape Example (No depth perspective)
BAD Landscape Example (No depth perspective)
Good Landscape Example with a sense of depth
Good Landscape Example (Sense of depth and scale)

  This first photograph looks ok, but I promise you it does not do the scene justice. However, when you create a little bit of depth and you add perspective to the scene, you show the magnitude of what you’re looking at. Take a look at how the photograph improves simply by putting myself on the side of the cliff. You can get that perspective of the size of a human being in relation to the scene that you’re looking at. That changes the shot. That’s what we mean by creating depth in the scene. To put that real life perspective into it and it makes a huge difference. 

We’re going to give you a few different tips to really improve your landscape shots by adding that depth to the photograph. So let’s get started with the first tip, which is to put something in the foreground of your landscape shots.

Drift wood as a foreground element creates depth
At Rialto Beach in Olympic National Park, drift wood can help create depth

Here’s an example from Olympic National Park.  This is Rialto Beach and the beautiful thing about this beach is that there is driftwood all over the beach and so the way that we improved this landscape shop was to take that driftwood and put it in the foreground of the shot. Using the foreground is a way to create depth in the scene.

Photography lesson and tutorial
This tree helps create depth for the view of Half Dome

Here’s another shot back at Yosemite National Park, coming back to that first example, this is Glacier Point and you can see this is a beautiful shot. That main attraction there in the photo is Half Dome but what helps add this perspective is the tree in the foreground. Use the foreground, whether it’s tree, whether it’s wood, whether it’s rocks, find something that you can put in the foreground to really show the scale of the scene.

Always be looking for something you can put in the foreground just to add that perspective to your photograph.  For the situations in which you can’t find something to put in the foreground, maybe there just isn’t something there to use but you still want to get a great landscape shot, what are some options that you have?

Photography lesson and tutorial
View from the top of Half Dome – the person creates the depth

For this next example, we will take you to the top of Half Dome (see picture above).  If you’ve ever been there, you know it’s a flat rock. Basically you’re just standing on top of a really big flat rock and there’s not a lot of things that you could put in the foreground because you’re just standing on top of the rock. When that’s the case and you might not have those foreground options, think about using people in the foreground like I did in that very first example.

You can see how the person on the left side of the picture adds depth and perspective to this photograph.

The last tip I’m going to give you as it relates to the landscape shots is to think about the composition of landscapes. I’m sure you’ve heard or you’ve seen some discussions around the rule of thirds. When shooting landscape shots, try not to always put the horizon line right in the middle of the frame. Use the rule of thirds. Have the horizon line up at the top third if you really want to call out what’s below the horizon line. Maybe it’s the mountains or the cliffs and things like that. As you can see in the prior examples, I had the horizon line in the bottom third of the frame for the Rialto Beach photograph.  I then had the horizon line in the top third of the frame in the first shot looking out at Half Dome.  Then, in the third example on the right, I had the horizon line in the center, which is what I would suggest doing the least frequently.  This will allow the sky or foreground to play a bigger role in the scene.

When taking landscape photographs, remember those three tips: 1) putting natural elements in the foreground 2) putting people in the foreground and 3) think about your composition with where the horizon line is. Use these ideas to improve your landscape shots and remember the most important thing is trying to create that depth in the landscape shot so it really adds that perspective and magnitude that you’re looking for when someone looks at the photograph.

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