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Design your photos for success

By August 22, 2017No Comments

Story and photographs by Jennifer King

Summer is here, and a great time to get out and photograph. As you are capturing all that summer has to offer, I want to remind you of the impact that fundamental design principles can have on your photography.


Are you photographing a mountain or beach? Where you place your horizon line can help you to create depth and dimension in your photo and also help call attention to the hero in your photograph. Consider referencing design tools like the Golden Ratio, Rule of Thirds or the Fibonacci Spiral when setting up your composition.


Dominant lines can also play an important role in your landscape photograph by breaking the horizon, making that line less important.


Having a horizon in the center is perfectly acceptable, and works incredibly well for mirror reflections.


Just be sure that you are not cutting a landscape into two parts. You want the landscape to blend into the sky, or be highlighted by it.


Leading lines are a great way to guide the viewer into your photo or point to the subject. Our eyes naturally want to follow lines, so by using either an obvious line, or perceived lines, we can help the viewer find their way into our image. Leading lines can also help to create depth and dimension which is important in landscape photography. Leading lines are all around us. They are natural and man-made. All we have to do is find them.


Using foreground details is a great way to create dramatic photos. Foreground details in our images allow us to exaggerate spatial relationships in the landscape by increasing the size of the foreground element while allowing more background distance to show. I can exaggerate the size of the ice at the Glacier Lagoon in Iceland, or increase the amount of foreground by getting low to the ground, and close to the subject.


Another wonderful thing that foreground details can do for a photograph is to create an emotional connection with the viewer. Give the viewer a place to put their foot, or the ability to reach out and touch flowers. This can give the viewer the sense they can be part of the landscape.


Framing the subject is done for two important reasons: it can create visual balance and eliminate distractions. Framing is also done in two different places: in the field and in processing.

We can often be limited by the size of our lens when it comes to wildlife. When I was photographing birds in Florida, my eyes saw these egret chicks, but the reach of my lens captured a nesting family. When I reframed in processing, I was able to better visually communicate what I wanted.

There is a difference between cropping and reframing. Reframing forces the photographer to study the image and effectively achieve what he or she wants to communicate.


There are a number of ways to emphasize the subject in your photo. One of the most effective tools is using a shallow depth of field to allow the subject to pop from the background. A shallow depth of field is extremely useful for wildlife, portraits, and flowers.


There are some great processing tools that allow you to emphasize your subject. One of my favorites tools for emphasis is a vignetting tool. With vignetting, you can darken the edges of a photo, which will draw the eye to the center of the photograph.


Converting a photograph to black and white or even utilizing a “high-key” appearance can really dramatize your photo and help it to stand out from the rest.


We have all experienced a person stepping into our photograph. Why not incorporate them into our photo? There are a couple of things that the human element in a landscape photo can do. First, it can provide a sense of scale. Second, a person in our photo can help us feel connected to that person. Have you ever looked at a photo and wished you could be in the same place as someone else? People connect to people. When we can visualize someone in a location, we know that we can go there.


Every thing, every place, and every person has something unique about them. Knowing what makes something unique before photographing can help us to tell a story. Before heading out to a new location to photograph, research the subject. Try to find unique qualities about an animal or something special about the location that can help tell a story. Did you know owls have feathered eyelashes? Try to capture personality, or look for someone who stands out in the crowd.


Locations have an “It” factor too. A little research will help you determine what you want to capture. The Smoky Mountains are a great example of this.


Weather plays a role in landscape photography, as it can add a great deal of drama to your photo. If there is likely to be fog in the morning, then place yourself in a location where the fog will best enhance the landscape. If there are clouds in the sky near sunset, try to place yourself in a spot where the clouds reflect in the water.


Every location and every subject can be captured in different ways. It is all a matter of perspective. Be sure to move around and look through the lens before choosing where to set your tripod. Two feet to the right, five feet to the left, or even a lowered tripod can all give you a different perspective. Changing your lens or focal point can also give you a very different view. For Skogafoss Waterfall, I began with a 24-70mm lens. then switched to a 70-200mm lens, repositioned myself, and took a completely different shot. Same location–different perspective.

Could you simply crop? Well, yes, but placing the right lens on the tripod forces you to adjust your perspective, even if slightly, to get the best shot possible.


Patterns and textures exist everywhere. They are both man-made and natural, and can be found in almost every setting. Photographing patterns and textures as a subject is a fun way to improve your photography and fine-tune your eye.


What makes photographing patterns and textures so effective a a self-teaching tool? It trains your eye to look for these elements when you go to a vast landscape to photograph. It helps you to find the elements that add drama to your photography. Patterns, just like lines, are something our eyes will study, and textures are something we want to reach out and touch.


Nothing catches the eye more than simple beauty. Just like photographing patterns and textures, the practice of photographing the art of simplicity will not only help you to hone in on details, but it will train your eye to find simplicity in an otherwise busy world.


Not every photo needs to be a grand landscape. Sometimes the simplest things in life are best.

Spend some time this summer working with design principles, and see what new images you can come up with. Hope to see you in the field.

Jennifer King

Jennifer King is an international landscape and wildlife photographer with more than 20 years in the photo industry. Her lifetime passion for teaching photography, exploring the world and discovering new and beautiful locations to photograph has gained her acclaim in the United States and around the world. King spends much of her time photographing America’s national parks. While she first did this as a retreat from the hectic corporate world, she soon realized that nature photography was her true calling. She began teaching photography at her home base in North Carolina and currently teaches at events across the country. Her published works can be found in Outdoor Photographer, Outdoor Photography Guide, VIA Magazine, Camera in the Wild, Our State Magazine, CNN, and Smoky Mountain Journal of Photography. Two years ago 500px named her as one of 15 “Amazing Women Landscape Photographers You Should Follow.”  For the majority of these photos she used a Canon 1Ds Mark III and Canon 1Dx Mark II, Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 16-35mm lens, Canon 24-70mm, Canon 70-200mm, Canon 300mm ƒ2.8, and a Canon 800mm for wildlife. See her photos and workshop schedule at