Composition is often the difference between a good landscape photograph and a great landscape photograph. There are oft-quoted rules that we all try to adhere to and break in equal measure (the rule of thirds, leading lines, golden spiral, etc.), yet when considering what we are trying to capture, we don’t always think about the frame itself.
The aspect ratio of a photograph can make or break the composition by either emphasizing the subject and removing distractions, or by putting the whole scene off-balance. When looking through the viewfinder, about to press the shutter, it’s a good idea to try and envisage the final shot, including the aspect ratio, in order to optimize your composition. Too often, the aspect ratio is an afterthought, applied during post-processing to correct for poor compositional choice.
But how does each aspect ratio impact compositions in landscape photography?
I’m going to discuss a few common aspect ratios (with examples). I’ll show the benefits and drawbacks for each, and explain where each aspect ratio may be applied.
1:1 – Square format
The square format can often be used to simplify an image and give your subject a striking presence at the center of the frame.
By keeping the width equal to the height, the way in which we read the photograph changes, as there is less of a need to move from left to right through the frame.
The square format also offers a good opportunity to break the rules we so often follow; place the horizon along the center of the image or place a subject in the center of the frame, and the composition may only get stronger.
You’ll often see a 1:1 aspect ratio used to emphasize minimalism (again, it’s the theme of simplification).