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Summer Photo Tips #6: Guiding Viewer’s Eyes in Your Photos

graduated neutral density filter ND Grad filterphotography leading lines natural frames
Recently I discussed how Leading Lines can help make some photos more compelling and help move the viewers eye through a scene. Because of the many comments and emails I’ve received about that post want to add some additional information and also introduce the topic of natural frames.

1. More on Leading Lines
To review, a leading line is anything within a photograph that helps lead the eye from one place to another within or out of the image. A few easily found elements that can be used as leading lines include roadways, biking paths, sidewalks or even railroad tracks. They can also be created from fences, social trails (paths worn into the ground by foot traffic) or even a series of telephone poles or mail boxes. Here are four examples.
natural frames leading lines photography tips

Once your eyes become accustomed to finding them, you’ll notice how leading lines are found everywhere on the landscape. The shape of a meandering stream flowing through a field, a row of flowers growing in a straight or curved pattern or even a lengthy tree trunk lying on the ground are some other examples.

Light can also create leading lines. The first rays of daylight illuminating a series of trees or a shaft of sunlight pouring through an opening in the clouds can easily guide a viewers eye through an image. Here are two examples.
photography natural frames leading lines

2. Using Natural Frames in a Photo

     A natural frame is an opening through which you photograph a subject. Some examples of natural frames include an open barn door through which you photograph a horse in its stall or an opening in a rock formation through which you photograph a distant mountain or sunrise. Including at least part of that natural frame in the image helps to set off the main subject and adds a sense of depth to the image. The two photographs below each contain natural frames.

Finding leading lines and natural frames takes practice and experience. Start by including some easily found examples in your photos like a highway or door opening and study the results. Once you gain experience and understand their benefits in different situations your ability to identify to find other examples more easily will grow.

ND Grad filter - graduated neutral density filter

  1. July 30th, 2014 at 10:49 | #1

    I really love these tutorials, please keep doing them. They make me want to break out my Nikon and get to work. Thanks Rick!

    • Rick
      July 31st, 2014 at 07:11 | #2

      Oh Cao, your comment means so much to me and it arrived at the perfect moment. Creating these tutorials takes lots of time, and sometimes that creates a time-conflict in other parts of life. But knowing that others are finding them useful lets me know it was time well spent and helps me keep on going. It’s a delight as always to hear from you my friend. Now, your assignment is to get that Nikon camera out of storage and get to making some cool photos!

  2. July 30th, 2014 at 14:39 | #3

    Wow…you’re such a great photographer Rick! I love all of your photos!! Hope you’re enjoying your summer. xoxo

    • Rick
      July 31st, 2014 at 06:08 | #4

      It is so great to hear from you world traveler. I am so delighted knowing you are enjoying the images and thanks so much Sherry for your kind words about my work. Summer is going great and when I’m home between photo assignments the weather here in Ohio as you know has been delightful. { }

  3. July 30th, 2014 at 16:08 | #5

    These are great, Rick. I notice the most important part of each of these photos is the use of light, however. I admire your patience in waiting for that perfect light to illuminate the subject that your leading lines are directing our eyes to – or are actually creating the leading lines. I learn a lot from studying your photos.

    • Rick
      July 31st, 2014 at 06:32 | #6

      What a fabulous observation, Pat. At its core, photography is all about light. Although knowing basic camera operation and some powerful techniques (leading lines, natural frames, etc.) are important I believe making the best of friends with light is the most important. That means studying it, learning its characteristics and coming to understand how it can change when various events occur (an upcoming storm, during a fog, just before a sunset, etc.). Although we can all get lucky being at the right place & right time, it’s not uncommon for me to spend hours waiting for the right light to appear in the right place and time. Below is a quote from George Eastman that I think says it well.

      Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.
      ~ George Eastman.

  4. July 30th, 2014 at 20:34 | #7

    Your posts have made me so much more aware when I look through my EVF. I can’t thank you enough for your generous nature in teaching a novice like me.

    • Rick
      July 31st, 2014 at 06:41 | #8

      Thank you LuAnn. It’s a joy sharing some of what I have learned over the past decades spent doing what I love – landscape photography. And it makes it even more joyful for me knowing that others are bringing some of those ideas into their own photography. Sending you and Terry my best wishes. ~ Rick

  5. July 30th, 2014 at 21:05 | #9

    I also learn a lot from your posts, and studying your photos. I especially love the trees, they seem to be marching up the hill.

    • Rick
      July 31st, 2014 at 06:51 | #10

      Hi Angeline. Thank you so much for taking time to let me know that you are learning from these posts. As a blogger yourself you know that writing helpful posts takes a great deal of time to craft. And, reading comments like yours makes it feel worthwhile and helps keep me going. As for that tree photo, there is a power and presence to trees, isn’t there. That photo was made just before sunrise and it seemed to me they were all standing in a perfect line, as they did each morning, waiting to welcome the sun. Thanks for taking the time to comment. :-)

  6. July 30th, 2014 at 23:04 | #11

    Thanks for the tips!
    I think I finally get leading lines. :)
    Now – I must practice them…

    • Rick
      July 31st, 2014 at 06:57 | #12

      You are very welcome RoSy. And you’re right–learning then practicing and practicing some more is a key to making better photos. Heck, I’ve been photographing for decades and I’m always discovering and practicing something new in my own work. It makes us all better photographers.

  7. July 30th, 2014 at 23:49 | #13

    I enjoyed your comments Rick. I like it when I find a natural frame.

    Thanks for all the tips and advice you share along with your superb photographs.

    • Rick
      July 31st, 2014 at 07:02 | #14

      Glad to hear you watch for those natural frames too Rod. As you know, finding the right ones for a subject or in a scene isn’t always easy but when it all comes together, WOW! Thanks for your comment.

  8. July 31st, 2014 at 07:20 | #15

    Another simply and clearly explained helpful post. Thanks Rick!

    • Rick
      August 1st, 2014 at 05:44 | #16

      Many thanks Jim. ~ Rick

  9. July 31st, 2014 at 11:38 | #17

    Great post, Rick! Tips like this are very helpful. Thank you. :-)

    • Rick
      August 1st, 2014 at 05:56 | #18

      Thank you so much Jackie for the kind words on the posts and letting me know they are helpful. I appreciate your visit and hope you can stop back from time to time. ~Rick

  10. July 31st, 2014 at 20:36 | #19

    Great lighting technique…

    • Rick
      August 1st, 2014 at 05:51 | #20

      Thank you Lor.

  11. August 1st, 2014 at 09:22 | #21

    Good advise. Works exactly like with painting, it’s just so that with photography you have to more use what is and as is. In painting, I can create anything or take off whatever.

    • Rick
      August 1st, 2014 at 12:47 | #22

      Greetings Inese. So nice of you to visit and, what a fabulous point you make. I completely agree that painters have much more flexibility to create their art (choice of colors, thickness of paint, etc.) and to interpret their subjects. In almost all commercial photography work I do my job is to create photos that mirror the world “as I experienced it” using digital and film cameras. For some of my personal art projects though, I do get to the chance to be much more creative. One process I use and enjoy very much uses special techniques to carefully remove the ink from a printed photo, and then transfer that image (using hands and special application tools) onto watercolor paper. With this process, each resulting image is unique and no two are ever the same. While it’s not quite the same freedom as painters have, it does allow my artist side to be expressed. I hope you will stop back from time to time. ~ Rick

  12. August 1st, 2014 at 20:46 | #23

    Wonderful photos! And great advice again. What you tell about your personal art projects above sounds intriguing!

    • Rick
      August 2nd, 2014 at 07:29 | #24

      Hi Tiny. Thanks for your lovely comment on the photos and advice. As for personal art projects, they are a wonderful way to let out your creativity and create art that might end up being ‘just for you.’ You can create an art project about anything like a subject, theme or social issue you feel excited about create one about an idea you have for creating art in a totally different way and which has no guarantee that it will turn out. In my art career I’ve created for myself several art projects like this one such as a project to photograph huge rock formations across the Western U.S. that were important to native people centuries ago. Another was to photograph individual trees throughout as they looked during the various seasons. The first project became a published book called Standing With the Ancient Ones, the second project became a traveling exhibition.

  13. August 2nd, 2014 at 10:36 | #25

    Well, you gave me new perspective on the woodlands here in my backyard! It never once occurred to me to use lighting through the trees as a leading line, let alone the tree itself. I can think of several aspects of the woodlands in the application as I sit here. How many times have a seen a fallen tree either caught in another tree or on the ground that led to another subject (sky or deer), or on walks to the river, the animal paths, or the cut of the riverbank leading on to a focal point? Sun streaming through the trees creating shafts of light. I will certainly be more cognizant of this technique as I walk through the woodlands.

    I will say I have dabbled with natural framing in the past and find those shots most rewarding, especially in nature.

    Again, thank you for posting these tips. I know it can be time consuming and a lot of work for you. You have a knack for speaking in layman’s terms and giving good examples of photography in your discussion. I appreciate it!

    • Rick
      August 3rd, 2014 at 06:14 | #26

      What a joy it is to hear you’re starting to visualize more and more examples of elements in nature that you could use in your photos to guide the viewers eye Lori. Forests/woodlands/wetlands contain all kinds of possible examples (trees, paths, fences, creeks, etc.) that are stationary (remain in place each day) so you can practice how to best photograph them over and over. they are also a great place to find temporary leading lines–ones created as the light changes through the day (deep shadows on the ground, shafts of light streaming through a forest canopy, etc.). How great you live surrounded by nature and have so many opportunities to capture and share her beauty with others. Thanks too for your lovely comment acknowledging the time it takes to create these posts–I’m deeply grateful. And hearing that these ideas and examples have got your mind and camera busy discovering for yourself new ways to photograph helps make it all worthwhile. { } ~ Rick

  14. September 18th, 2014 at 14:00 | #27

    Hi Rick,

    Thank you for stopping my and “liking” my post. It was a pleasure to hear from you. This post on leading the eye is excellent.

    • Rick
      September 19th, 2014 at 05:17 | #28

      Hi Melissa. I very much enjoy visiting your blog and resonate deeply with the way you weave a gentle philosophy about Nature and life into the write-ups about your own art.

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