Nurse log among Coast Redwood trees, Redwood National Park, California

Create A Sense Of Depth In Your Photographs Using Leading Lines

One of the age-old dilemmas of photography has always been the desire of photographers to create a three dimensional feel in their images using a two dimensional medium. A number of compositional techniques have evolved to create this sense of visual depth, with leading lines being one of my favorites.

aerial view of vineyard at sunrise, Santa Ynez Valley, California

aerial view of vineyard at sunrise, Santa Ynez Valley, California

Essentially, a photographer includes diagonal elements in an image that create visual lines leading back into the image. These lines can be objects, such as rows of grape vines in a vineyard or they can be composed of just light and shadow, which I used to focus the viewers attention on two racing sailboats on San Francisco Bay.

sailboat race, Big Boat Series, San Francisco, California

sailboat race, Big Boat Series, San Francisco, California

Almost anything can be used to create leading lines. even the simple tracks of a lawnmower leading to Opus One Winery in the Napa Valley.

Opus One Winery, Napa Valley, California

Opus One Winery, Napa Valley, California

Leading lines often have a destination. The curved walls at Pueblo Del Arroyo Ruins in Chaco Canyon National Historic Park in New Mexico draw you back to another part of the ruins. Just as often, however, they merely draw the viewer back into a scene, creating that sense of depth, as does a large log lying in a redwood grove in Redwood National Park in Northern California, seen at the top of this page.

Pueblo Del Arroyo Ruins, Chaco Canyon National Historic Park

Pueblo Del Arroyo Ruins, Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, New Mexico

Have you ever shot a landscape and felt it was a little flat, just two-dimensional? Sometimes a flat composition can be very graphic, but often it is just plain flat. Look for those objects or shadow patterns in the foreground that will give your audience that visual path that creates a sense of depth. After a while leading lines will become part of your compositional approach to creating imagery, eliminating those dull, flat photographs of the past.



stormy sunset over the Santa Barbara Channel

Just Wait For It: The Rewards Of Photography At Dusk

California’s rainy season is coming up soon. At least we hope it is. During the rains, building exteriors look dull and the sky is either gray or white. I usually head indoors in weather like this, photographing historic sites, museums or restaurants, but I always make sure I am in the right location for a shot of the city at dusk. Many times the skies stay gray and gloomy, but often enough the setting sun lights up the storm clouds, putting on a light show that is hard to beat.

Like most cities, San Diego looks beautiful dressed in city lights and a sunset sky. It had been raining off and on all day but I was hopefull I would get a break in the clouds at sunset. There is a great view of the city from a residetial neighborhood on the Point Loma Peninsula overlooking the harbor marinas and the distant city and mountains. I set up there with a 70-200mm zoom lens waiting for the magic to happen.

Sunset came and went and the clouds remained dull gray. I had given up and began to pack my gear when a soft pink glow in the clouds began to intensify. By the time I had my camera back on the tripod, the sky had flooded with color and the lights of the city were burning brightly. Below the horizon, the sun had found a break in the clouds and brightly colored light was bouncing along the bottoms of the storm clouds all the way back to San Diego. It was a great end to the day and I almost missed it. I now wait until thirty minutes after sunset to break down my gear, just in case.

stormy sunset, San Diego Bay, San Diego

stormy sunset, San Diego Bay, San Diego, California

A dusk shot is often a longer exposure than normal and you will need some way to steady your camera. A tripod is ideal, but you can also sit your camera on something flat and use the self-timer to fire it. If you have preset exposure modes, you probably have one for shooting cities at night.

About twenty minutes after sunset, the city light and ambient light of the sky and clouds balance each other. Use a cable release or remote release, or a self-timer, so you don’t introduce vibration by touching the camera. Make sure you have enabled Long Exposure Noise Reduction in your menu and make sure you have turned off Image Stabilization on your lens. Image
Stabilization fights with the stability of a tripod and gives you soft images at long exposure times.

San Diego is a beautiful city at any time of day, but it puts on the best show just as night falls. No matter what the weather, be ready to capture some of the most dramatic images of the day, after the sun goes down. Just wait for it.

Photograph Rainbows And Find A Pot Of Gold


I love it when a plan works out. I had been photographing petroglyphs in Saguaro National Park all day and towards evening, rain clouds began to build over the Tucson Mountains. Although hazy much of the day, it looked like rainbows might be a possibility right about sunset if the sun popped out under the building storm clouds. I found a good vantage point with my camera pointing directly away from the setting sun and sat down to wait. Times like this, you have to have confidence that the weather will deliver. Would the sun actually come out? Would a shower be in the right location to deliver a rainbow? Would I get sunset-tinted clouds along with a rainbow? If I had worked out the odds of all that happening, I probably would have just gone back to my camper for dinner, but sometimes luck really does favor the prepared and I got everything I wanted. It really did feel like a gift, the proverbial pot of gold.


Although rainbows are a fairly rare event, sometimes repeating weather patterns makes it possible to anticipate their creation. Oddly enough, Santa Barbara, with its consistently clear skies, is one such location. During the winter, when we do have actual clouds, the sky tends to clear at the end of the day. Maybe it’s the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other controlling our westerly winds, but even on rainy days, the clouds tend to break at the end of the day. A shot of a double rainbow over the Santa Barbara County Courthouse was a result of this specific pattern.

Logan Temple and rainbow, Logan, Utah

Rainbows can occur any time during the day, of course, and the only trick to photographing one is making sure your own shadow does not appear in the image. Photographing the Mormon Temple in Logan, Utah, for a book by the Smithsonian, required me to sit down to avoid having my shadow break up the beautiful pattern of a fence surrounding the property. I had not noticed it before, but the second rainbow of a double rainbow always reverses the order of the colors.

We are coming up on rainbow season in my part of the world and you can be sure I will be looking for subjects to frame with a bright band of color. Scope out your location, place the sun at your back and enjoy photographing one of these great gifts from the clouds.