Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The 7 Elements of a Good Scenic Photograph

After applying The 10 Basic Elements of a Good Photograph (see previous post), we will now consider specific factors in the creation of good scenic photographs. Scenic photography is the art of capturing with a camera the beauty of a place, whether natural or urban. This category may also include travel and landscape photography. By good scenic photograph we mean one that would be appropriate for most publications like magazines, travel guides, books, and more.

1. The Sky is Key. One of the first elements that distinguishes good from bad, snapshot from pro-shot is the quality of the sky on a scenic landscape picture. Washed out skies, as well as totally black ones point to substandard quality overall. A happy day sky is solid blue and may have white uniformly scattered clouds. Dramatic moody skies are usually cloudy. A good night picture should still hold some tone in the sky. These are done just before total darkness.

2. Representative Supporting Elements. Elements that are common to the place should be emphasized in a scenic photograph, particularly for the travel market. Out of context or unrepresentative elements, while eye catching, may simply cause confusion to the viewer. A tropical beach scene looks solid with a coconut palm tree included; a pine or spruce would do the same to a snowy mountain.

3. Framing. Many good scenic photographs are framed using elements of the scene that, beside acting as supporting elements, direct the attention of the viewer to the main subject. A bed of flowers in the foreground or a prairie picture; part of a cactus on the side of a dessert shot; a palm tree branch from above a beach scene, are all effective ways to frame a picture. These are usually closer to the camera, thus improve the composition by adding spatial contrast to the scene. Sometimes these elements themselves are as important and necessary as the main, broader, subject.

4. Good Color Saturation. Tropical waters should look turquoise or aqua; foliage should look healthy green; skies should be deep blue during daytime. Watch out for reflections on surfaces, particularly on foliage and water that desaturate the otherwise rich color. Due to bad lighting, improper exposure and other factors, colors may not look as they appeared in the real scene.

5. Straight Horizons, Vertical Columns. Though not all photographs will include a horizon, there is always an imaginary horizon line that must be leveled. Building photographs should ideally have a corrected vertical perspective, whereas columns or wall edges should be vertical in the frame and not crooked. Though this is mandatory for most architectural work, it certainly elevates de quality of the image when done properly. This rule should be ignored for extreme low-angle shooting or wide-angle effect, as the converging lines may be the intent of the picture.

6. Control the Elements of the Scene: No Distracting Accidentals, Neat and Clean Look and Simplification. A good scenic photograph will have elements that are harmonious or look natural with the scene. Distracting accidentals should therefore not be included in the scene; an unappealing cyclone fence behind a beautiful blooming tree; a delivery truck parked right in front of the entrance of a historic building, etc. The scene should look neat and clean, meaning not only the obvious absence/removal or litter, but the good condition of the elements involved; or the neat blending of objects in relation to the character of the place. It is important also to seek simplification and avoid overall clutter, juxtaposed competing elements and messy or hard to define silhouettes.

7. Timing. In the broader term, a good scenic photograph would have been photographed on the right hour, on the right day and even on the right time of the year. The sun position as well as the climate changes throughout the seasons, making a scene better or worse suited for photography at a particular time. The photograph of the north face of a building on a sunny day during the winter may just be too dark too difficult to balance with the amount of light of the sky above. Timing also refers to the exact moment you click the shutter. A truly effective photograph would have that moving element at the place where a painter would have put it; the perfect surf over the sand; the cyclist at the right place of an empty street scene; flags on a pole, waving fully extended.

So there it is and as mentioned in a previous article, due to photography's nature, it normal for even great photographer to have a rather small percentage of his library follow all of these elements. But the potential and possibility to transform any image is always there, waiting to be done.

Next I will discuss the elements of great scenic photographs; that is, photographs that have been carefully and masterfully worked for an outstanding result.

©A.E.Amador. All Rights Reserved.
You may see my scenic photography of Puerto Rico and The Caribbean at

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