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Check out almost any beginner landscape photography tutorial and you will likely see a discussion on depth of field, using a tripod or camera support, and landscape photography composition tips such as Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines, and S Curves.
I’m going to zoom in on using leading lines in landscape photography techniques in order to enhance the visual appeal of our images. Many of the points in my leading lines tutorial will work as general landscape photography tips, a phenomenon we notice in many discussions about landscape photography.
Leading Lines Definition
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Landscape photography composition tips are full of all sorts of interesting phrases. Leading lines in photography refers to the same thing it does in other art forms such as painting and drawing. Leading lines are an element of the scene that leads your eye to something.
A classic example of leading lines is the long, straight road going off in the distance. Railroad tracks are imaged this way a lot as well. Parallel lines recede into the distance, the lines themselves appearing to get closer and closer to each other. These lines lead your eye and your thoughts into the distance.
(Public service announcement: roads, highways, railways, runways, and so on are inherently dangerous places to be for photography. Additionally, in some instances it may be trespassing. Stay safe!)
This definition also helps us see that leading lines can be straight or curved, can lead you to a point of interest within the photo or outside of the image area, and can be placed in any orientation, up and down, across, or diagonal.
Leading lines can be a shoreline, a person pointing, an arrow on a sign, a sidewalk, a stairwell, a cloud formation, the edge of a building, a river, a path, a rock, a mountain range, and so on. It can be an actual, well-defined line or it can be a more subtle transition from light to dark, in focus to out of focus, and even different colors or textures. You get the idea.
Leading Lines can also become the focus of the composition itself. Instead of the line pointing toward a subject of interest, the leading lines themselves become the focal point of the image. It all works.
How Depth of Field Factors In
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Depth of field or depth of focus effects such as deep depth of field or selective focus are standard landscape photography techniques that can enhance or lessen the effect of leading lines.
In those classic examples of leading lines often cited or shown in a leading lines tutorial, deep depth of field is used to have us mentally travel along the lines toward our point of interest, real or imagined. This also works for less well defined lines such a forest leading to a lake or a mountain range leading to the sea.
Shallow depth of field or selective focus can be used as well, with the point of interest being highlighted by this technique. With this technique, you could also imagine our viewers being led away from something; that counts as using leading lines too.
Importance of Steady Cameras
When we’re implementing landscape photography composition tips such as leading lines and including depth of field as a photographic tool, it often is very beneficial to have our camera stationary.
All of my currently used digital cameras have amazing image stabilization features, but there are times when nothing beats a tripod or some tripod alternative for allowing us to capture beautiful compositions.
Another thing I like about using a camera support of some type when out in the field is that it allows, some would say forces, me to slow down and really pay attention to my photography. I feel like Ansel Adams or William Henry Jackson when I’m out in nature with my carefully placed camera, crafting an artful image.
Those times when I don’t want to take my tripod with me, I can still get many of the benefits of one by using my favorite new tripod alternative OctoPad. It’s small, lightweight, and inexpensive, so I have a couple on hand virtually anytime I’m out with my camera, even if I’m not specifically on a photo trek.
One of the added benefits of a tripod or portable camera mount is that it frees us up to consider long exposure techniques, GND filters, deep depth of field effects, and HDR photography, all of which are wonderful landscape photography techniques.
Combining With Other Composition Techniques
photo by Gary Webber via iStock
As is true of all of the landscape photography composition tips, we can combine leading lines with other techniques. Especially since leading lines can be so many different things, such as a curved line or some other transition.
Combining Leading Lines with Rule of Thirds and S Curves is probably the simplest method for combining techniques, but also watch for the Golden Spiral, Negative Space, Asymmetry, and Symmetry.
These techniques themselves can become our leading lines, which is another reason I personally like to use some form of camera support so my creativity has a chance to come out and assert itself.
Leading Lines is one of the most useful landscape photography techniques. Combine it with other composition ideas, use depth of field to control its impact, and take advantage of your opportunities to include Leading Lines in your landscape photography.