Words and images by Ben Boswell.
This is a really broad idea, and there are all sorts of reasons why it is a good one. It is very easy to take dull landscapes: so often there just isn’t a focal point to the picture, or perhaps the scene was beautiful when you looked at it, but that doesn’t always mean that it makes a good picture. When there is a point for you to focus your attention on, it will usually give the picture more interest. It is also possible that this focal point will give scale to its surroundings, or that the surroundings will give scale to it.
Another thing that a focal point does is to give you something to work with in composing your image. In this instance, I have chosen to position the tree well over to the left and the horizon about a third down from the top. The size of the tree makes this work OK; if it had been closer I might have dropped the horizon quite a bit lower.
As you can see I quite like this position, but this time the object is all there is: I have just placed into an environment. The landscape beyond the frame this time was just not very nice.
This picture is about scale; the cow shed is actually quite large, but in this sweeping landscape, it is dwarfed.
Sometimes this is an approach that you can adopt: looking at the surroundings and isolating the focal point in an otherwise minimal landscape. The perfect example of "less is more". You can change the focal length of lens or move to a different position to achieve this. At other times the scene will simply impose this result on you.
When I was asked to write this, I had just made a plan to visit Anthony Gormley’s installation "Another Place" on Crosby Beach just north of Liverpool. I didn’t know much about it, but when I arrived there was a sea mist rolling in off the Irish Sea which left me with another version of the minimal landscape. In this case you would have little choice, but that does not mean that it is not worth taking the pictures.
Success depends on getting the scale right and the arrangement: getting too close will take the object out of the environment; too far away and it might simply not be obvious what it is in the picture. Whatever you do, if you want the picture to work, make sure that it looks like you meant it to be that way.