Beginning Waterfall Photography :: Part Four: Creating Interesting Photos

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In my first article about composition, I introduced you to the rule of thirds and the three parts of a landscape photo. Thinking about your photographs in this way will help you anticipate how they will be viewed by your audience. But there are many, many elements of composition you can use to control how a viewer will relate to your photographs. And the beauty of these tricks is that your viewer does not need to know anything about composition in order for them to be effective, they relate directly to the way human beings process visual information. Here are a few more techniques you can try to make your waterfall photos more interesting.

Repetition

Crabtree Falls

One of my primary goals as a photographer is to draw the viewer into my photograph by imparting a sense of depth and scale. When done well this makes the viewer feel like they are a part of the scene, which creates an emotional connection and transforms a mere picture into an experience. One of my favorite tricks for creating the illusion of depth is repetition.

In the picture of Crabtree Falls above I placed a water splash near the front of the composition because its closeness provides a level of detail that is not possible in elements placed farther from the viewer. Our innate sense of perspective tells us that things closer to us will have more visible detail and allows our minds to infer detail about objects deeper into the frame.

In the case of waterfalls you get another added benefit of using water as a repeated element. The water splash close to the viewer suggests information about the flow of water in this creek that is otherwise not visible in this photo. This suggested flow makes the photo more dynamic and interesting.

Diagonal Lines

Hidden falls

Lines can divide your picture into sections or they can direct the viewer's attention to a specific element of the composition. The most powerful lines for directing attention are diagonal lines, especially those that touch the edge of the frame. This picture of Hidden Falls in Panthertown Valley uses the diagonal line of the log to direct attention to the subject of the picture, the waterfall.

Lines can be a double edged sword, however. Just as a well-placed line can direct the viewer's attention to your subject, so can a stray line provide a distraction that diminishes the impact of your photo. It is very important to remember that you do not need to consciously understand the principles of composition in order for them to affect the way you see an image. The lines touching the edge of your frame and leading nowhere may not seem like a big deal to you, but I promise your image will have more impact if you can eliminate them.

Brightness

Tiny world

One of the oldest tricks in portrait photography is the use of a vignette to focus the viewer's attention on the subject of the photo. A vignette is a light or dark circle around the subject of the photo. The vignette removes detail and possibly brightness from the edges of the frame, directing your attention to the center of the image.

I have seen photographers use a full portrait style vignette around landscape images, but I prefer to be a bit more subtle. By darkening the edges of this picture of a tiny cascade near Catawba Falls slightly, I was able to remove distractions from the edges of the frame. You do not need to be heavy handed for this to be effective. Just take a large soft brush in Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop and darken the corners and any especially bright areas at the edge of your image by a stop or two.

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