8 photos to showing “Leading Lines, Habit Forming for Better Photos”

Because of all the “Random Elements” coming together to create the leading lines, “Bird’s Eye View” is a favorite photo of mine.


As an older photographer, I can reflect on my years of fun and games with a camera.

My 1st darkroom, 16yrs. old in 1974. 1st camera in hand at 4 yrs old.
As a Photo Editor of 6 weekly newspapers for 9 years, I had to have a quick eye to see a “grabbing” shot. Wet darkroom, 35mm b/w film for dozens of years, 500-1000 prints a week, easy and that was a small county.

I can still hold a negative and in most lights bend it to cause it to become a positive, messed with reporters minds, telling them of subjects having eyes closed just looking at the film. Of course the national and state awards during my tenure for photos, graphics (I introduced the newspaper to MAC graphics) and writing says I had a good company to work with.

Bad, inside joke, would hand the Managing Editor a photo around my birthday, “to consider for a front page photo”, giving myself a birthday present if it made it, quite a few years of fronts in January.


Leading Lines Bird_Eye

While almost everything in the photo leading the viewer’s eye to the city is a random movement element, the directional leading lines are there. Norway 2015, Copyright Vanderhoof Photography 2016


But I also cheated, I was a Security Officer at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for 3 years too. Job description: stare at art and don’t talk to the pretty women. Great theory, but even the female officers got talking to guys. Whole lot of art theories discussed, docent lectures, school tours to escort, and important visitors.
Saw my 1st real Ansel Adams photos while working there, a 4th floor exhibit. Had to walk it for shifts many times.
I started painting in oils during that time and later moved to acrylics. Studied the Masters on the walls, the traveling exhibits. Watched the artists in training come in and make copies of paintings.
Did one of my own, bought a postcard to have at home, would go sit in front of the painting, studying it.
As a person who loves building businesses just for fun, I also studied advertising, a book called “The Hidden Persuasion” does an excellent job of telling you the WHY, you pick up this product or that product, why newspapers and magazines put photos and text and colors in places, why store shelves are arranged the way they are. How the whole concept of designing a package for a product starts with with the corporation Profit margins and desires. Not the product.
While studying all of this did one thing, make me become very aware of “leading lines” in painting, photography, buildings, nature and advertising.
Newspapers and magazines are build with the idea of photos, colors, type styles as well as placement & size, are all creating leading lines.
This photograph of mine, is one of my favorites for leading lines.
Taken in Norway in 2015, I was on a cruise ship. The ship was going to leave port in an hour or two, no place for a landscape photographer to go quickly, I stepped out my stateroom on to my mini private deck.
In “Bird’s Eye View”,


Leading Lines Birds Eye clean

Clean of arrows, you move through the photo, almost unaware of the leading lines. Copyright Vanderhoof Photography 2016


I stood out there, my back to the setting sunset, I noticed that the seabirds were flying past me towards the city. The breaking clouds made it hard to have the city in sunlight and balanced light on things in the foreground. Lightroom, Photoshop, fear of using those tools???? I had a whole collection of wires that had paper disks and other shapes for “dodges”, plus sheets of heavy paper with holes in them for “burning”, in my Wet darkrooms. I knew I could correct if I kept it middle ground.
But, that “gut feeling”, “if I stay here something will happen”, persisted and I kept shooting. With the ferries coming through with so close a passing, I did not know if it was regular timing or not but I was watching and shooting, looking for “Some Thing Nice”, the bird came in from behind me flying straight down towards the “City” in the frame. I did not notice the upper bird doing a wheeling turn back in towards the city also. The dark blue of the sky and heavy clouds at the top  of the image anchor the image. You are drawn to the bright spots in the clouds and these then lead you along the dark mountains “line” and motions of the ferries coming and going. The bird takes the viewer into the point of interest, the city. Again, the eye is going to either the brightest or darkest spots, an automatic reaction. So if the viewer starts at the bottom of the photo, the motion of the ferries, and that “line” of the wake leading right to the docks, will lead the viewer to the city. Coming from the sides or top the eye is drawn from the darker edges, in to the bright areas and hotter spots of clouds, to have the dark line of mountains and 2 birds lead to the city. The dark clouds over the area above the city, will cause the eye to drop down into the city. I did have to use lightroom to lighten the city up a bit more but the sunlight is natural, just dodged as I would have done in a wet darkroom.
Because all of these elements are of “random events”, the photo is much more interesting to me, personally.
I had a view, and time to kill. I knew the ferries had been passing all night and day and the birds were playing around in the breezes, while looking for scraps.
Digital photography is great for sports and action, if you have plenty of memory card and battery. Shoot away, keep a originals folder and then a editing folder set. Delete in Lightroom, not the camera.
As a manual shooter, I am in single shot mode most the time, but I can hit the shutter fast enough and pause if something is not quite there yet. I did an Indy car race, if the cars coming around a corner were thick, rapid fire, if the was just one or two, or I was getting ready to leave that spot, selective firing. I change my finger action instead of the camera setting. Go some place with any amount of birds in an open setting, i..e city park or nature preserve. Single shot setting, just play around, you are not judging the photos for style, you are shooting to train you finger to let you select how the shutter trigger reacts. Film days you went out with an empty camera. Digital, you can go back and see if you need auto focus or manual focus.
A photographer who’s digital work I admire made the comment to save everything and go back a year or later and look at your work. You will have a different perspective, than the day you shot the frames.
I still have a little bit of film to look back at, and will revist my digital, Lightroom virtual copies to try a new version of an image. If you every look at Ansel Adams work, he worked in the wet darkroom and many of his images were reworked differently in later years.
When you start looking at your photos to see where you put your “lines”, going through all the shots is good because you might see a slight change in angle and a BIG different in the impact.

A static building, a pier going out into water, these are all things to learn to look for and learn to use in every shot.
Fence lines, tiles in an old city street, patterns of people for group shoots, i.e. quickly seeing a series of similar colors or shapes, not normally thought of and doing an arrangement to make the photo pop. Being able to see the alignment to make the product shoot you are doing get just alittle higher quality in the shots
Graphic designers will enjoy working with your work more, shooting product shots, where will text go? What leads the eye to that area AND Where does it lead the eye to next?
You cell phone photos will amaze your friends, because instead of “snap shots” you are shooting with purpose.
When you shoot a camera as much as a pro or fanatic hobbyist, you have the reflexes. Social media, has those cameras popping, but without the training, nothing wrong with a cellphone photograph as far as a camera. Polaroid, pin-hole cameras, experimenting in the darkroom was that era of photography, digital will have it’s era too.
It is no different than the 1st year you drove car, started a job, moved into a new home.
Do not beat yourself up because you went out for a weekend and did not get even close to want you wanted.
Keep shooting. I have been around cameras for 54 years, not constantly, but near at hand or I was painting, drawing, graphic design.

In the next example, I have an Eastern Sierra lake with fall colors.
Rather simple set of lines, the hard angle of the foreground mountain, pulls the viewer to the whiter mountain cliffs and the reflections. A standard use of light to dark transition, outside top angle edge has a cloud on the mountain, making the “dark” stop at the edge of the photo The fall tree colors cause draw along the bottom, to the waters edge, the lighter rocks causing the eye to be drawn in to it, they are somewhat boring causing you to naturally shift to the reflections. A semi circle is also present, I use the orange line as the flow can be either direction. The reflection flows up to the mountain’s brighter cliffs, then flows up to the clouds and across and back down the speckled bright spots in a detailed darker area to the bright rocks in the center. Since the subject matter is those cliffs and crags, to make the person’s eye circle around, meaning they will keep coming back to those center cliffs.

Print{insert photo of Convict lk with arrows}

And the clean shot.

{insert Convict lk}Leading lines Convict lk clean

In this next photo I was walking along the coast and this protection fence made a nice s-curve up to the Lighthouse. Catalina Island out in the distance makes a dark stop and the natural lightening of the image as it progresses to the lighthouse and cliff point, causes the viewer’s eyes to draw towards the cliff point. As you follow the fence, which enters as an “Diagional line” and causes movment in the image, flows up to the big round “Stop Sign” of the palm tree and you are drawn back to the lighter area to the right into the water.


Leading lines lighthouse clean

In this next shot, the ship put in about 12 hours early at night, due to a approaching storm. So, I got off the ship and went shooting, nighttime photographer, sleep what the heck is that?
In this photo, very simple leading lines, point of interest is the mountains and Moon. The clouds highlight the area, and the viewer is drawn back into that area by several diagional lines pointing to the bow of the ship and the bow of the ship point to the Moon. A “Cheap Shot”, amusing on selling it to the Ryndam ship’s parent company. Later in the trip, I learned the ship was in the process of being sold, final arrangements, transfer dates were being made. However, note that in my composition, I did leave a large dark area, the ship’s body and water down to the dock, in case I did sell it and they needed to put text on it. Also the rail of the dock “anchors” the viewer to the dock. Put them there on the dock. Cover the dock rail, and the draw of the ropes is much faster, it would make the viewer jump past the text.

Print{insert Ryndam with arrows photo}

Leading Lines Ryndam clean

Later in the same walk I took this shot, while the image is dark, it shows the reverse “leading lines” in use. The triangle shape of the building in the back of the pond has some light areas but most the area is dark. The human mind/eye is drawn to a “dark hole” or “bright light”, the dark triangle shape in the water points up to the building point. The highlights of green and the slightly lighter weathered wood at the top of the building give both interest to keep the eye, and the illusion of a “bright light in a dark hole”. I also in Lightroom, lighten the plants in the left side foreground to cause a circling back into the photo. Off-camera fill flash is also good for this, I will write some later article  will cover some ideas on landscape fill flash and light painting. The lighter greens on the middle right side also lend a hand in creating a reverse tunnel drawing you up to the old weathered buildings.

{insert Norway photo}Print


20160407 Leading linesNorwayclean


In this next photograph, I have in the foreground desert wildflowers as the center of attention. I want you to be aware of the environment behind them, but not spent much time on it. So, first off, I have the depth of field shorten to keep the flowers in focus and the background “soft” or Boyket (?), slightly out of focus. Cell phone users, might not have any ability to control their f/stop setting, with is what you use, f2.8 will have less depth of field, area in focus than f/8 and f16 will have even more area in focus. Lenses used or setting used, wide angle vs telephoto vs macro will change how much depth of field you have. And therefore it is a “Leading Line” to change the depth of field, you direct the viewer to where you want them to look.
The flowers in the branch, the branch on the ground draws the eye across the branch to the brighter hill behind it. The almost in focus “Green spots” draw the eyes down to the center and over the flowers, sharp details draw you back in to the flowers. Just enough motion in the circle, to not be a boring photo. Also, solid blue skies are boring, while these are not interesting clouds, the bright tops, stop the eye from wandering off the photo and the darker base of the give a downward motion. The clouds are a triangle shape leading back over the hill point, thinning out and letting the natural mental process of “blue sky” to “earth tone” transfer happen. Thus, also completing the cirlce effect and drawing your eyes back to the flowers.  If you hate flowers, not you kind of flower is not the issue. It is the “leading lines”, that are always there.


20160408 Leading lines_Joshuaflowers clean


Learn to see them, even a portrait or wedding photographer needs to be aware of these things. A photojournalist needs to hone these skills, a award winning photo is often a quick grab shot of a breaking news story or a well set up series of photos telling a story with good to great composition in all of the photos. In this world of Blogging, anyone can become their own photojournalist and build to their dream’s delight.

In these photojournalism shots, leading lines again. The box at the top, gives the graphic designer some room and an element to play with. Inset text box, or crop off as needed. Push and flow to keep a person looking around “All the action”.


In this shot it would be a good middle column filling shot. Action going both up and down to the center.


Put in the middle of a story, it keeps the reader interested, but don’t stop the reader for long.

I could have left more on the bottom for a floating cutline.

Well, that is it for today’s little lesson.

Stay tuned to more stupid stuff from an old timer.

And give me a question or 2 if you have one, love to have feedback.

Creative Shooting!


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