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Taking pointers

Image of the January 2020 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
January 2020 Issue

Photographers have many options in their toolkit when it comes to drawing attention to their subject. Leading lines are particularly powerful at guiding viewers on a visual journey.

It’s all connected
Any naturally or artificially existing line in an environment can be utilised as a leading line that draws attention to the subject. Rivers, streets, fences, skylines and shores are common examples.

Dotted lines
Thanks to our brain’s ability to fill in gaps, a leading line need not be continuous. A string of prominent rocks, a line of trampers in colourful jackets, or footsteps on a beach can act as a make-shift visual pointer.

Pulling it all together
The goal is to arrange a leading line in a way that guides the viewer from the edges of the frame straight to the subject. Leading lines originating in corners or from multiple starting points in the image are particularly powerful. Keep in mind that leading lines can further be emphasised by aligning them with other compositional devices like the rule-of-thirds.

Small steps
While you cannot change the shape and orientation of naturally occurring leading lines, your own relative position allows for a lot of creative control.

Especially when using wide-angle lenses, a few steps to the left or right can entirely change the composition of your scene. As always, shooting close to the ground helps to shift the relationship of foreground and background objects drastically.

The Breakdown
When I was sifting through my bounty of images after returning home, I noticed how the leading lines of horizon and mid-ground rock all pointed towards a sweet spot that my subject happened to occupy. I have to admit, this was purely coincidental – sometimes you just get lucky! The rest of my composition was put together in a rush. The sun had just dipped into our valley and it would soon be too intense for nice photos. I dropped to the ground behind a bush for some foreground texture, then placed the track in the bottom right-hand corner to give my subject a destination (this also acts as a minor leading line). My subject’s red jacket further helped to make her stand out in a landscape of greens and yellows. The impact of leading lines in this image is subtle, but a combination of four directional clues helps to add impact.

Photo details

  • Camera: Fujifilm X-T2
  • Lens: Fujifilm XF16-55
  • Settings: 23mm, ISO200,f8, 1/200s

– Dennis is a commercial photographer and teaches photography here.