An exploration into landscape photography and the classic ‘sweeping vista’ composition.
In this article I discuss my take on the classic landscape photograph, what I call the ‘sweeping vista’ composition.
The sweeping vista is a fixed composition that works best with a particular view in a particular light, you scout the location beforehand and wait for the light to perform in front of your lens.
Then I’ll briefly discuss the alternative to this classic landscape photograph, which is to take photographs outside the Golden Hours and think spontaneously too. Not only will you be more original, you will also learn how to be creative.
The classic landscape photograph
Landscape photography goes way beyond standard compositions like the sweeping vista that you can see in the image above.
The sweeping vista is a fixed and repeatable composition that requires a very specific view in a very specific light.
It means they can only be taken in fixed locations and in light conditions that only happens at certain times of day, namely the ‘Golden Hours’.
This is what photographers often mean by ‘chasing the light’ or ‘waiting for the light’. These compositions only work as well as they do because of the ‘quality’ of light.
By quality though, it is implied that dawn and dusk light is high quality. In reality light is light, and it’s up to the photographer to create new and original compositions that suit the light, regardless of colour and regardless of time of day.
Anyway, the sweeping vista is a very commercial composition, and is still and always will be in great demand. It’s a great way to practice your technical skills and it is guaranteed to impress your friends with it’s ‘wow factor’.
Just don’t forget the summer storm in the middle of the day. They can look good too!
Pre-determined compositions in landcsape photography
There are a number of fixed, pre-determined compositions in landscape photography.
I use these as a safety net if the conditions are right, before moving onto something more original and spontaneous. Then I’ll use a more original composition that (in my mind) takes into account the uniqueness of the landscape that I am in at the time.
If I am in a landscape at dawn, looking down into a valley with the sun creeping up above the horizon, then I will try and use the classic sweeping vista composition.
It’s the one with the foreground subject, leading into the middle distance and all the way to the horizon, where the light from the low sun bounces around perfect clouds.
The whole thing is drenched in beautiful dawn light.
But if the light is dull and the clouds are steely gray and the light is dull and colourless, then you need to delve into those composition skills and be a little more creative.
In my example above, the image fits the classic landscape photograph, or what I call the sweeping vista. I had scouted the location beforehand, and knew the night before that this would look good at dawn.
The landscape photo on the right was a spontaneous shot. I was cycling along at midday and noticed the houses set against the mountains in Kotor Bay, Montenegro.
This Montenegro photo is a good example of composing elements in a spontaneous way without any pre-planning. It requires an open mind, and a willingness to take landscape photos at any time of day.
Are you new to landscape photography?
If you are new to photography and you are struggling with your compositions then I’d recommend learning compositions like the classic sweeping vista because they look great, they have commercial value (if you are that way inclined), they will impress your friends, and you will learn good technique.
The downside is that they require very specific dawn and dusk light, and look better in spectacular surroundings…
You have to wait for the right light and search out the landscape, which takes a lot of effort and therefore concentrates the mind on creating the best photograph.
The sweeping vista is loved by photography magazines too, which provide a great source of information on how to perfect the technique.
Find your favourite photographers and compare your classic landscape images against theirs!
Be hyper critical about your photography, but don’t be intimidated by other peoples photography.
You will improve your own photography over time, try not to forget your own originality. You can apply a classic landscape composition at dawn and dusk, but make sure you make use of the rest of the day too…
Exploit the very specific and unique light and land conditions that occur throughout the day, any day, come rain or shine, dawn, dusk, midday or midnight.