I’ve been photographing a lot of landscapes lately, and I keep coming back to one helpful technique: compositional subtraction. What is this? Put another way, this concept means ‘Should that be in my picture?’
Often with landscape photography you have more time to figure out your composition. Now if the light is changing fast, you might be in a hurry. But hopefully you have scouted the location, and carefully set up your shot. Compositional subtraction simply means taking things out of the photo that don’t contribute to the photograph. Should that branch be in the corner? Should I take out more of the sky to create a better image? Does the road help, or hurt, my envisioned concept? Slow down, carefully look at your image in the viewfinder, and ask yourself does everything in the shot make sense. If something isn’t helping your composition, then maybe you should recompose your image.
Here is a simple example. I was photographing redwoods in Yosemite National Park, and took this quick shot of a grove of trees. But when I looked closer, I included some busy elements in the bottom of the frame that didn’t help the shot…in fact these logs and bushes hurt the shot. Sure, I could crop down later in the computer. But I never want to rationalize sloppy technique in the field. Get it right in the camera is how I like to work. So just zooming in a little cropped out the busy bottom part of the frame. The final image is at the top of this post.
Remember, ask yourself, why are you taking this photo? The answer may improve your composition, and result in a more powerful image.