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Picture This: Leading Lines

Diagonal composition can pull a viewer into a photo and tell a visual story.

By Earl Nottingham

Using the right techniques, photographers can not only draw the viewer’s eye to the main subject of a photo but lead it throughout the composition, thereby telling an interactive story rather than showing a static object.

The proper use of leading lines — particularly diagonal lines — can actually pull the viewer into a photograph, like a magnet, and gently direct eye movement throughout the image.

Last month’s Picture This column introduced the Rule of Thirds concept of photographic composition as a starting point to make images that are more engaging and pleasing to the eye. The typical snapshot where the subject (focal point) is placed directly in the center of the frame, which we termed a “bull’s eye” photo, tends to be visually static … OK, boring.

Expanding on that concept, we now introduce one of the best tools available to the photographer for directing a viewer’s eye.

The diagonal lines created by the cypress tree's roots gently pull the viewer’s eye into the frame and up the tree to the lines created by the overhanging branches — adding to the overall feeling of circulation.

For centuries, artists have incorporated lines found in nature and in the human form to guide or to contain the direction we visually “read” a composition. It’s in our nature to follow a defined pathway, and the manner in which the eye travels is no exception.

For the outdoor photographer, leading lines can be found in many forms and in any location. Although straight lines tend to be more dynamic, gentle, curving lines are more often found in nature. Some examples include rivers, shorelines, tree roots or branches, flower stems — basically, any object that can be composed diagonally.

The secret is to not only recognize potential leading lines in any given scene but to incorporate them in a manner that will maximize their diagonal characteristics to best pull the viewer’s eye into, and throughout, the image. Many times, just changing the camera angle or direction slightly can turn a static vertical or horizontal object into a more interesting diagonal. Also, lines that enter from the left side of the frame tend to have an easier flow than lines that enter from the right since we typically read from left to right.

Additional diagonal lines throughout the frame, when properly composed, can direct the travel of the eye in the direction desired by the photographer, allowing the photograph to be experienced and not just seen.


Please send questions and comments to Earl at earl.nottingham@tpwd.state.tx.us.

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Picture This: Getting Colors Right With White Balance

For more on TP&W magazine photography, go to our Photography page

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