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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Nailing the Shot: Composing to Showcase Wheat Field Patterns

2022-06-08
2
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We often associate landscapes with wide-angle lenses, but depending on what we want to show, sometimes, a longer focal length works better to fulfil our intentions.  In this article, we find out how a medium telephoto focal length of 85mm and some composition techniques work together to showcase the patterns in these colourful wheat fields. (Reported by: Toshiki Nakanishi, Digital Camera Magazine)

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS II USM/ FL: 85mm/ Manual exposure (f/11, 1/50 sec)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight

In this article:

 

The story behind the shot

This image was shot in the vast farmlands of Hokkaido. The colours are because of the different species of wheat in each field. I wanted to create an image that showcased the interesting patterns they created, enhanced by the stacking effect of the slopes.

 

Why 85mm?

I decided to choose a mid-telephoto focal length to compress the slopes and bring out the patterns better. 85mm provided the best balance, especially in making the best of the Z composition (see point A). A wide-angle lens would have emphasised the vast expanse of the landscape by making the slopes look further from each other. While that would have no doubt made another kind of impressive picture, it wasn’t appropriate for my intended image.

Find out why 117mm provided the best balance for another scene in:
Composition Tips for Making Mist Pop

 

Other shooting decisions: Of colours and light

To make the colour patterns of the wheat fields look more impressive, I avoided shooting on a fine day with clear blue skies. Instead, I chose a day with thick cloud cover—I explain more in point C. To complete the composition, it was important to have a bit of light—see point B. I watched the sky and waited for some light to trickle out from between the clouds, lighting the slope. In that fleeting moment, I released the shutter.

 

Deconstructing the composition

Main composition points
A: Compose so that the slope patterns create a ‘Z’.
B: Strong light on the wheat field directs the viewer’s eyes.
C: Contrast between cool colours (sky) and warm colours (fields) to enhance the lighting.

 

What else?


Darker foreground, brightest tones in the centre

I chose the field with the brightest tones to be in the centre of the composition and placed the duller-toned fields at the bottom of the frame. I wanted to create the effect where the green increases as the viewer’s eyes follow the ‘Z’ upward from the foreground towards the slopes at the back.


The proportion of sky to the fields

As the main subject was the wheat fields, I kept the sky at no more than 1/3 of the frame.

To learn about composing landscapes with a larger proportion of sky, see:
Minimalist Landscape Photography with the Sky

Let’s look at points A, B, and C in greater detail.

 

A: Z composition moves the viewer’s line of sight and brings out a sense of rhythm


What is the Z composition?

The Z composition guides the viewer’s eyes along a path in the image that forms the letter ‘Z’. This path is created by the elements in the frame—for this image, I made use of the triangles created by the slopes and fields.

A viewer’s eyes will move from left to right when following the lines of the ‘Z’, which makes it a good composition technique for creating movement. That’s one way to make two-dimensional forms of art such as photography look more dynamic! At the same time, the zig-zag motion creates a comfortable rhythm.


Placing the ‘Z’ for the best balance—the biggest challenge

Seeing the ‘Z’ isn’t necessarily difficult: for landscapes like this one, all you need is to observe, and you should be able to find the lines that form it. The challenge is, how do you place the ‘Z’ so that the rhythm created balances well with the rest of the image? The solution is different for every image, and it’s something you will have to try out for yourself. The slightest shift in camera angle, position and framing can make a huge difference. For this scene, the 85mm angle of view also played a huge part in making it more obvious.

Also see:
Decisions in Landscape Photography: High Angle or Low Angle?


Pro tip: Look for triangles

Can’t see any ‘Z’s? Look for triangles in the scene—once you find them, it should be quite easy to find your Z composition. In the example above, the tree at the back of the image may be tiny but it’s hard not to notice it, thanks to the visual guidance provided by the Z lines.

A close relative of the Z composition is the S-curve composition. See how it is used in:
Professional Composition Techniques (2): “Pattern & Rhythm” & “S-Curve”
Landscape Colours: When Sunset Pink Meets the Blue of Night

 

B: A bright spot within the frame that draws attention

Bright colours tend to be more attractive to humans than dark or muted colours. Understanding this can help you to use light better when you compose your photographs. That’s why I waited and observed until a spot of strong light shone onto the wheat fields near the centre of the frame.

See another example of this concept in action in:
Macro Photography Technique: Creating the Illusion of Space and Depth


Pro tip: You need strong contrast for best results

Weak light

Strong light

The image above is the exact same scene. Light is shining on the fields in the middle too, but the patterns don’t stand out as much because the sunlight is too weak and diffused. Like throwing a spotlight on an actor onstage, this technique requires a larger separation between bright and dark areas, and for that, the light needs to be intense.

Such lighting can also be the main subject of your landscape photography. Here’s one example, with an account of how it was shot and edited:
Handling Natural Light: A Corridor of Light on an Autumn Forest

 

C: Strike a contrast between warm and cool colours to enhance the lighting

Composition is important to photography, but so are colours! Having just one main colour in the image is perfectly fine, but the colour balance could look even more appealing if you add a complementary colour as an accent.

One way you can do that is by contrasting warm-toned colours with cool-toned colours, like I did in this image. The blue sky on a fine day would have been warmer-toned, which is why I chose to shoot on a grey, cloudy day where the sky was cooler-toned.


Pro tip: All you need is a bit of the complementary colour
You don’t have to include a lot of cool tones to make the warm tones stand out more—just a bit is enough!

This image makes use of the complementary relationship between orange and blue. All it takes is a little bit of blue to create contrast and make the orange sand look even more prominent.

Also see:
How Do I Use Colour Accents to Draw Attention to a Subject?

 

Summing up

- 85mm gave the best angle of view and compression to showcase the colourful patterns created by the fields.
- Framing: The Z composition moves the viewer’s eye so they notice the patterns.
- Light-shadow contrast: The spotlight effect draws attention and adds impact.
- Warm-cool contrast: Cool-toned cloudy sky makes the warm-toned fields even more prominent.


How else can a particular lens or focal length change the way you approach landscapes? Find out more in the following articles:
50mm Landscapes, My Style: The Lens that Inspires Adventure
Telephoto Landscapes: Contrasting Stillness with Movement


If you’ve made any discoveries of your own, we’d love to hear about them—tell us about them in the comments, or share your shots in My Canon Story!

 


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About the Author

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Toshiki Nakanishi

Born in 1971 in Osaka. After learning photography on his own, Nakanishi moved the base for his photography activities to the town of Biei located in Kamikawa-gun of Hokkaido. While capturing landscapes that focus on light, he also produces works that bring out the figurative beauty of nature. Head of PHOTO OFFICE atelier nipek.

http://www.nipek.net/

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