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Landscape Photography

Lesson 5 of 27

The Creative Trinity

Marc Muench

Landscape Photography

Marc Muench

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Lesson Info

5. The Creative Trinity
The subject, composition, and light work together in what Marc calls the Creative Trinity. Learn why the subject should be considered first, and why composition and light come second for digital photography.

Lesson Info

The Creative Trinity

The next part is about the creative trinity and I look at it in the same way as I mentioned the technical trinity so I try to bring the two together, but they're so different. I wanna isolate each one for you so that you understand why I call it a trinity. I think these are actually in order of importance. I think that the subject, in the end, is by far the most important thing that's going to bring somebody to your picture and keep them there. The composition and light can be interchanged and I'm gonna talk about that, show you examples of that. It does help me quite often to separate these three things out, especially in the landscape because we don't always have the same subject matter in the landscape that we're used to seeing in other pictures and by that I mean fashion photographers, architectural photographers. We do bond with other pictures of people and portraits faster than we do a landscape so unfortunately, you guys all picked the wrong genre of photography or at least the ...

hardest one. You think it's easiest because it's landscape, but in the end, to make that landscape be as powerful a picture as a portrait, it takes a little more work and so isolating the subject is key. I'm breaking this down, like I said, to show you a couple options that you can think about, especially in sand dunes. We go out and we love sand dunes because they're sculpted beautifully and when the light gets low, you get these beautiful shadows, but to some degree, because you know now what I'd like to photograph, I think it's kind of subjectless. It's about the light and the composition maybe and so in my mind I wanna add the subject. So in this case it's a person walking up the dunes over there and that bonds the two elements together of the composition and the light, and gives us a subject matter to look at. So again, that's really what I enjoy doing is connecting the landscape with a person. So subject first. It's a little bit more of a journalistic approach. Then composition and light come second. So when you're looking at this in that sense, you might not even care about the other two, composition and light, and there are many pictures in history that are great illustrations of just that, where you take what you can get in composition and light, but it's all about the subject. So here's Tanzania. This was a scouting trip actually and we were driving along this riverbed, and this couple had set up a camp there. It was really cool, beautiful place and they ended up having quite a surprise. We went out to photograph and about a half hour, 40 minutes went by and we came back, and these lions had killed a baby giraffe, and it was right in front of their camp. So basically, at that point, I'm just capturing this scene and it's kind of funny because they're sittin' over there with their binoculars and she kind of looks like, "Oh my god, now I can't enjoy this camp anymore." It's really quite funny and they've got the old tent and everything set up to enjoy this, and they probably didn't realize all of this drama would happen right in front of them. The guy that was with us told us that it's just beginning. Once the lions leave, then the hyenas will come in and the vultures will start taking over. They're going to be up all night listening to this whole ruckus goin' on. So really this picture's not about the composition. I wanted to show the lions and the subject. So composition first, light second. It's just another way to look at the landscape and in this case, we don't hear always that you should photograph in the middle of the day because the light's no good and it's true. It's not colorful light, it's not gonna be as dramatic, sun's not as low on the horizon to give us that nice color, but if you study composition, then you can find these things any time of day. So this is a field of flowers in Colorado. Couple of pine trees, but it's really just about the composition and that's what caught my eye was this snaking river. All right, light first. Well there are times when, you know the phrase, "It's all about the light." I'll let you finish the sentence. Essentially it's more abstract, I think. We don't always have to compose with a subject because in scenarios where the light is literally so dramatic, again, you're just getting a shot of that light. A scenario like that would be.. Again, this was taken up in that same hike in Alaska and the light was coming up the valley so I'm looking down a ridge and over this little hill, and there's a deep, deep valley right beyond this rim here, and the sun came out under the fog, and lit up just a tiny bit of the fog and it was colorful. So in that scenario, I ran around to find a pool with it, but essentially, it was all about the light. I just wanted to make sure I captured that light that was striking the fog. So to go into in a little more detail, the subject. I think most of us can connect with the fact that when we look at landscape, the Grand Teton or when you go to the Grand Canyon, that's your subject and so we try to frame it that way. This is the Eureka Dunes, which is a sand dune up in the northern region of Death Valley National Park. Just a typical example of taking that subject and photographing it in the landscape. You've got the early morning light striking in and then, of course, some beautiful clouds behind it to compliment it, but in the end, it's all about those dunes, that's our subject. And then composition. Just to talk about it briefly, introduce it. Composition is about so many other things than the rule of thirds and especially in situations like this where you have these incredible lines and they're not just leading lines, but I'll talk about it later. They're design lines and in addition to that, you have to understand composition is about arrangement. So I'm going to talk later about the proportions of what we're looking at here and the arrangement of the foreground or one part of the picture to another part of the picture. In this case, a real good example that's real simple to practice is using the foreground. This is one of those mountains out in the valley and it's a beautiful mountain, some nice warm light on it, but there's this big kind of moonscape in front, and there's nothing there but a couple footprints from people who have walked by. I don't have a foot fetish, but I do have a fetish for footprints in the landscape. It drives me nuts. I don't want to see someone's footprints walking through the scene and so I always go out of my way to get to a place where there are no footprints. Just something that I enjoy not in my pictures. I didn't like the composition so you walk around until you find something of interest. In this case, it's that nice spiral or swirl in the creek and it just adds a whole bunch to a picture, and it's not hard to do this if you walk around and look down for a foreground. Light. Light is just one of those great things that I think all of us connect with. We can see it right away. We understand when the light's good. We don't always know what creates that great light, especially in studio photography, that's a great mystery. But the good thing is we don't really have to create this light, we're just visualizing it and we're capturing it on the camera. In this case, I think the best tip I can give you is that when it's all about the light, then you have to frame something and get something in the composition. But really, when you see light streaming through clouds and casting shadows in the sky, just take a picture of it and you'll learn, eventually, to add some other elements to it to make it more interesting. This is horrible shot of great light. This has the potential to be something, but it's way far away from it right now. This is taken out in the eastern edge of the San Juan Mountains, up near Telluride. Basically, this big storm was coming in and the sun was going down, and it was kind of a race between the storm enveloping the sun and the sun going down to light up that storm underneath because really that's a scenario that creates some of the most dramatic light is when the sun gets low and lights up these clouds from below. So here I was standing there, looking at this potential and walkin' around, finding compositions that just weren't working and this happens. I mean we all get in that position where you, you know, you cannot find something that comes together as much as we move around and as much experience as you might have. I literally did not take this picture to show you how bad composition can be, I took it because I was in a cycle of trying to find the composition. So one of the things I'll do, often, is a photographic yoga. I will go through all of the steps multiple times even though I know I have to delete the picture or I know I won't potentially use it, I just need to go through those steps of getting the shutter speed, exposure, all of that done, and setting up the camera, taking the pictures, and then realizing, sometimes, even on the back of the camera that this just isn't workin'. So it helps me to go through those steps. I did get a little lucky and the sun did not get enveloped by the clouds and so fortunately, I could turn around and the sun hit these aspens, and now it was more about the light. I wasn't really disappointed in that row of trees. It was something that was quite beautiful because some of 'em are turning Autumn and there's a nice glow on 'em, but essentially without the light, this picture wouldn't have the elements or the dynamic components of what I would consider a really good landscape photograph. So I was chasing the light and found a composition.

Class Description


  • Capture great shots of landscapes and nature
  • Confidently shoot in manual mode
  • Fine-tune your eye for composition
  • Master light for landscape photography
  • Work with HDR and panoramas
  • Perfect your images with post-processing in Lightroom


Turn a spark of passion for the outdoors into beautiful landscape photography in this start-to-finish course. From gear and exposure to light and post-processing, master the landscape photography workflow with veteran artist Marc Muench. End the frustration of being unable to capture the raw beauty of nature and capture inspiring awe-inducing views on camera.

With both live instruction and on-site photography tutorials, you'll master both the technical and creative necessities for capturing better landscape images. After the adventure, learn to perfect the scene using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to crop, color and fine-tune those images. In addition, you'll tackle advanced techniques including HDR and panoramas.


  • Beginners ready to get off auto mode
  • Intermediate photographers looking to improve
  • Photographers ready to tackle landscape photography as a new genre

SOFTWARE USED: Adobe Lightroom CC 2015, Adobe Photoshop CC 2015


As a third-generation photographer, Marc Muench has spent nearly 30 years working as a landscape and sports photographer. His work has appeared on the cover of publications like Time, National Geographic, Traveler, Outside, Sierra Magazine and more. In addition to shooting, he leads photography workshops around the world. He teaches with a mix of technical and creative details and personal insight.

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Lightroom Develop Module Tutorial

Lightroom Master Catalog Tutorial

Tips and Tricks

Equipment List

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes


Jeff McPheeters

This was my first class with Creative Live and also my first exposure to landscape photographer Marc Meunch. I've been a photographer for many years, an educator in science and technical fields for more than two decades, and a lifelong learner of the craft of making photographs. I am pretty picky when it comes to educational resources and when it involves recommending something that I want to reflect my own standards of excellence. That said, I came with an open mind, with some expectation that I would learn a few tricks, but also with the understanding that after spending thousands of hours in books and online courses as well as direct workshop and tutorials from a range of photographer workshops, Adobe training, KelbyOne and other professional organizations, that some of what I'd hear would be stuff I'd already known. My first impression was positive, as I think Creative Live did a good job explaining the purpose, intent, and scope of the workshop, as well as giving me a good idea of the speaker's credentials. As the session begin on Day 1, I was immediately impressed with the quality of the technical aspects of the live feed. It was like I was there. The sound quality was outstanding. The video streamed effortlessly and I only have wireless access to the Internet. I'm not on high speed wired cable. The bandwidth can fluctuate, yet it worked extremely well. The speaker, Marc Meunch, was relaxed, engaging, professional, and possessed such a comprehensive and deep understanding of the topic that I felt extremely lucky to have been told about this workshop. I don't think I've ever been able to watch someone who was so masterful in their presentation, so thorough in their organization and outline, so enthusiastic about their work, so passionate about the craft of landscape portraiture, or so articulate and engaging with the audience; at least in the realm of Photography. I'd jump at any chance to listen to Marc Meunch again; and especially to attend one of his outdoor workshops. One of the unique aspects of this workshop was that Marc uses some video clips from his outdoor workshops to illustrate what he's talking about in the classroom. Very effective. And the slides he chooses to share are effective and easy to understand. It's very inspiring to watch Marc present ideas and illustrate them through his own work, showing before and after and alternate compositions to demonstrate the point he's making. Day 1 was so good that before it was over I'd already purchased the two day workshop. I was that certain it was worth the cost. Frankly, I'm not sure I'd find a class like this for under $100/day. This is a pretty good deal. Day 2 was equal in usefulness and inspiration as Day 1. The discussion of gear selection and scouting techniques along with the introduction to his Lightroom and Photoshop workflow was very helpful and would be especially apropos to someone getting more serious about their landscape work but not very experienced with Lightroom or Photoshop, even perhaps a little intimidated by the prospect of needing to learn those two software giants, because Marc shows the power and easy of learning them. I was pleased I was able to attend and even more pleased I can watch these over and over and study points I didn't quite grasp the first time through. I highly recommend this course. The viewer will be inspired and encouraged as a result. Marc doesn't make it look easy; rather he makes landscape photography look fun and exciting and worthy of the effort and time to find ones own style and vision, clearly imparting the practical how-to's to aid each person in their own journey to make it more enjoyable and satisfying.

a Creativelive Student

I don't like writing reviews. Seems like everyone just wants to hear that everything was... awesome. So, let me try to be specific about what I liked: I thought that the concept of the creative trinity was brilliant. I thought that Marc's presentation on composition was the best I've ever seen. His ideas on having a theme for shooting was inspiring because it was simple. He also had some great tips on light. The other thing I appreciated about Marc's presentation was the wide variety of locations shown and his knowledge of them. I also am always interested to learn more about the people that have inspired presenters. Sometimes, it feel like CL classes are aimed at the lowest experience levels. But, as someone else said in review... there is always a nugget or two and review is beneficial. I wish Marc was more animated. He's obviously very self contained and reflective -- gotta be who you are, right? I have purchased Marc's class, the Shive class, and Art Wolf's class. All have had different benefits. I wish they would do others and take complexity up a notch -- specifically, helping others understand the planning necessary... how they find reliable contacts to guide them and what those things cost. How they are transporting all the gear they carry. More specific information on permits, camping gear, dealing with adverse conditions, etc. And, more information on how they get different images of frequently photographed locations.


I happend to stumble upon the course by an email. I clicked on it and realized that Mark had come to my town (Sitka,Alaska) to do a trip with my good friend. So I thought I'd watch a bit. After awhile I realized this is good, way good. So I shot a lot of that day just eating it up. The director would come on every bit and say there was a show price. I thought well I'll just watch. Then on the second day he did some things that the announcer said he had never seen. I thought the same thing. So I bought. I have been shooting for 40 years and I still LOVE to learn. A noted psychologist said "We are happiest when we are learning" and I couldn't agree more. Thank you Creative Live for offering these courses. I live on an Island in Southeast Alaska with 14 miles of road. BUT I can be a front row student with some of the best teachers in the world. Thank You! Also a Huge thank you to Mark. It takes a ton of time to do this, and Im sure you get tired of the same questions again and again, but it truly changes the lives of us who love this type of life.