Photography Composition: Five Ideas for Creating Impact

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What is impact? It is the WOW factor. An image with impact grabs a viewer’s attention.

How do you go about creating impact? This is a difficult question to answer because there are no hard or fast guidelines. But here are few ideas to get you started…

Define Your Subject

In many cases this is the first step in creating impact. Most photographers view the subject as a physical object. But that’s not always the case. Sometime it can be nothing more than mood. My chosen subjects are anything that grabs my attention and for this I often need to step back and allow myself to get lost in the location that I am trying to photograph. The more specific you are in defining your subject, the easier it is for you to highlight it in your photograph.

  • Photography Composition example from Grand Tetons, Wyoming

    Subject – Cabin, Grand Tetons, Wyoming

  • Photography composition example of capturing mood at Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

    Subject – Capturing Mood, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Use Out-of-the-Box Thinking

I love to photograph iconic locations. Let’s face it… who doesn’t? But I always make it a point to look around the iconic location to see what else I can find. It may be difficult to pry your eyes away from the icon you have come to shoot but if you keep an open mind, you may discover the opportunity to create impact even if you are not photographing that icon. On our way to Horseshoe Bend we ran into this breathtaking scene and quickly abandoned our plan to photograph the Horseshoe Bend. We captured this shot instead.

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Captured near Horseshoe Bend, Arziona

Work with Available Light

One of the fundamental differences between landscape photography and other forms of photography is that, with landscape photography, the photographer has no control over the light. All landscape photographers complain about having less than ideal light conditions… but the reality is that you can create photos with impact even in the dreaded blue sky days or in middle of the afternoon. Here are few examples of photos that were shot in middle of the day under harsh lighting conditions.

  • Bruarfoss, Iceland

    Bruarfoss, Iceland

  • The Wave in Vermillion Cliff, Arizona

    The Wave in Vermillion Cliff, Arizona

  • Birubi Beach, Anna Bay, NSW, Australia

    Birubi Beach, Anna Bay, NSW, Australia

Use Compositional Elements to Draw Attention to Your Subject

We use compositional elements like colors, textures, mood, weather, contrast, and more to draw attention to our subjects. For example, a single human figure in the middle of a deserted island stands out from its background. A spotlight effect created by an open patch in the clouds can create a strong tonal contrast between the subject and the background which draws attention to your subject.

  • Varina on Sandbar, Fiji

    Varina on Sandbar, Fiji

  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

    Using Spotlight Effect to draw attention to Yellowstone Falls, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Camera Settings

We use our camera settings to create impact for our photographs. Camera settings can be used to enhance the mood of the scene, create dreamy effects, bring out colors, and more. Here are some examples where we used camera settings to create impact in our photos. We sometimes use shallow aperture to capture a mood by creating a dreamy effect… or deliberately create abstracts by capturing an out-of-focus image.

  • Creating Impact using under exposure at Pearl Spring, Yellowstone National Park

    Under exposing by 1-stop to create moody effect – Pearl Spring, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming (WY), USA

  • Creating a dreamy effect with narrow DOF at Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

    Using shallow DOF to create a dreamy effect at Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

These concepts are what defines our latest Creating Impact Course. We go beyond the basics by helping you understand how to use different elements of composition (colors, contrast, textures, negative space, and more) and camera settings to capture photos with visual impact. Our Creating Impact Course was filmed entirely in Iceland and includes in-depth cases studies that demonstrate how to build your photograph around your subject matter.

Furthermore, we’ve partnered with professional photographer Anne McKinnell to bring you Lightroom tutorials for the Creating Impact Course case studies. Anne demonstrates how she uses her streamlined Lightroom workflow to process the images from our Creating Impact Course.

Check out the following tutorials on Visual Wilderness:

About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.
Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams