Diagonal Lines in Landscape Photography

Today’s landscape photo tip involves diagonal lines. In a landscape photo, portrait photo, still life or any other kind of photo, the first major task of the photographer is to draw the viewer’s eye to the most important aspects of the shot and keep it there!

rule of thirds

Photo by Jeff Wallace; ISO 160, f/8, 1/60-second exposure.

We want our photo to send some sort of message. If not, we shouldn’t be taking the shot. So we want to be certain that our viewer’s attention is focused in the right area. By the way, the message we’re sending could be as simple as wanting them to see an attractive cloud formation or some pretty colors in a rainbow—whatever.

We’re taking the shot because something in that scene attracted us and we want the viewer to see it, too.

This is actually the whole point to the photo composition rules. To make sure the viewer sees what we want them to see in the scene.

First, let’s consider how a person looks at a photo. Obviously it’s not a hard and fast rule. After all, people are individuals. But eye tracking studies have shown that people tend to start off in the lower left of the frame and let their eye travel up toward the upper right. Add to that the tendency of a viewer’s eye to follow natural lines in a photo and you have the genesis of a pretty powerful compositional tool.

In photography, diagonal lines starting at the lower left and traveling toward the upper right are very powerful.

photography diagonals

Photo by Giuseppe Milo; ISO 100, f/9, 1/50-second exposure.

Why does the viewer’s eye typically go from left to right? For many of us, it’s because we’re accustomed to reading from left to right. We tend to look at all text and photos in that way.

Keep this in mind… I haven’t seen any studies to support this, but I suspect that in countries where people read from right to left, the viewer’s eye will travel from right to left. In that case, design your diagonals to lead them into the photo from right to left.

Keep your potential viewers in mind when you’re designing your photography composition.

When you’re trying to determine where to place your diagonals, try not to start or end right in the corner. Photography diagonal lines that split the composition in half are no more interesting than placing the main subject in the bulls eye position.

Your diagonal lines don’t have to be an actual line. It could be a fence drawing a viewer’s eye, the horizon (if you’re shooting at some funky angle)—anything!

Try this: have diagonal lines coming from both right and left and converging at the subect of your photo.

While vertical and horizontal leading lines are nice compositional elements, diagonal lines are more dynamic and will impart more strength and verve to your shot.

photography lines

Photo by Flickr user Dimit®i; ISO 200, f/5, 1/1600-second exposure.

Your assignment for today is to get out there with your camera and find ten different ways to add diagonal lines to your photos. This landscape photo tip—while it seems simple—is one of the big photo composition rules. Master it!

About the Author:
Dan Eitreim writes for ontargetphototraining.com. He has been a professional photographer in Southern California for over 20 years. His philosophy is that learning photography is easy if you know a few tried and true strategies.

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