Having Trouble Editing a Landscape Photo? Turn It Upside Down

Some artists think better standing on their head. Personally, I produce better edits when I turn photographs upside down.

Last week’s vlog broke down a few images into the essentials of composition, shapes, and lighting. But to discover these elements in the first place, I flipped the image upside down or horizontally to trick my brain into thinking I hadn’t seen it before; it’s a trick I shamelessly stole from middle school art classes.

According to 1979-era perceptual psychology, beginner artists are encumbered by their preconceived notions of how objects ought to appear. Betty Edwards, author of the bestselling book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” proposed a teaching methodology that tricks the brain out of its modus operandi so it only perceives edges, spaces, relationships, and lighting.

My mom is a traditional media artist, so growing up, I was forced to take art classes. I landed in software development, but not without enduring some instruction in art principles. Now, as a landscape photographer, I find that those artistic principles have counterparts in photography, especially during post-production.

Next time a shot with potential is stuck in post-production purgatory, flip it upside down or find a mirror and apply your analytical skills to pinpoint what works and what doesn’t. It might be as simple as a busy texture, uneven saturation, or poor cropping choice.

Depending on your fitness level, now might be a good time to master handstands or your Lightroom keyboard shortcuts. How do you overcome editor’s block?

Jonathan Lee Martin's picture

Jonathan Lee Martin is a fine art landscape photographer, educator and globetrotting digital nomad. He’s traveling the world for a year to discover unique landscapes and help fellow landscape photographers lighten their load to go further.

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Apply a black and white adjustment layer is also a good way to ignore color and just look for distractions.

^^ absolutely! I tap "v" (B&W mode in Lightroom) especially when I'm second guessing whether the photo has potential or not.

I think fstoppers has done a few articles on check layers in Photoshop too. Black and white is one. Another is saturation. Sometimes it's hard to tell how saturated a color is just by looking at the photo. A saturation check layer will show you exactly what is going on so you can bring down the saturation in areas you don't want to stand out. These are used with portraits more but can help with landscape work too.


Another way to accomplish this is to set aside your digital equipment and go old school with large format photography ;)

(For those who don't get it, the image appears upside down and reversed when viewed through a LF camera. This has often been cited as helpful for composition "back in the day").

Lol, I seriously started doing this in the field: shooting upside down! It was awkward, but helped.