The Composition of Michael Kenna’s Photographs: Leading Lines

Michael Kenna is one of the most important living black and white landscape photographers. With a career stretching more than 45 years, his work has been exposed in hundreds of exhibitions, and, to his count, he has published 72 books, with more in the works.

I recently had an opportunity to meet Michael Kenna and interview him for the PhotoActive podcast, just before the opening of a 45-Year Retrospective Exhibition at Bosham Gallery, on the southern coast of England. One thing I took away from our discussion – both during the interview and afterwards – was the carefully refined composition of his photos. Thinking about this, and looking over his work in the dozen books I own, I’ve isolated a number of types of composition in Kenna’s photos.

In this article, I will discuss Michael Kenna’s use of leading lines. This is one of his primary compositional elements, and looking at a collection of his work, even the one in this exhibition (which contained about 40 photos), it’s clear how he uses this technique. I don’t need to go very far to find examples, and, to discuss leading lines, I’ve decided to limit myself to the photos that were in this exhibition, though there are plenty of other examples throughout his work.

Leading lines are a common element of composition. The eye is drawn by the lines which generally stretch from the foreground to the distance. These lines may be straight, crooked, or angled, and light can affect how they are perceived. There is something satisfying about leading lines, as they give the viewer a path to follow in an image. Sometimes, lines lead the viewer to a main subject; other times, which is common in Kenna’s photos, they lead into the distance, often into a vanishing point of nothingness. Leading lines don’t always have to be straight lines, and can sometimes be implied by elements of a photo.

Here’s a photo from the exhibition: Winding Wall, Mont St. Michel, France 2004.

Winding wall mont st michel france 2004

This is a very simple image, but it represents the most typical use of leading lines in Kenna’s photography. Here’s what he said to me about the above photo:

"I think with many of my images I have pathways, I have directions, I have tunnels of trees… I have boardwalks that go out because I’m creating something of a stage for the viewer to go onto and to be on their own, to be solitary. Naturally, in a black and white photograph, you go from dark to light, it’s the way we see. So you come in here [bottom right] and you wander along and you go out here [top left]. And this is the lightest part; it’s not by coincidence. Everything guides you to that corner and out, into a place […] we don’t know what’s there. And I love that, because there’s a question mark. We are naturally inquisitive animals and we want to see what’s behind there. It’s that enigma, that illusion, that use of our own creative imagination that’s very important to me."

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The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 44: Minimalist Photographer Michael Kenna

Photoactive 400Michael Kenna has been photographing for 45 years, and is well known for his minimalist, black-and-white landscape photos. Kirk took a trip down to Bosham, on the southern coast of England, to see a 45-year retrospective exhibit of his work, and to talk with Michael Kenna about his photography.

Listen to PhotoActive, Episode 44: Minimalist Photographer Michael Kenna.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.

Save Time Editing Photos in Apple Photos with These Keyboard Shortcuts

As always, there are lots of great keyboard shortcuts that can save you time in Apple Photos. Apple has a comprehensive list of these shortcuts.

But some of these shortcuts are especially useful when you edit photos, since they allow you to switch around among the different editing tools. And these aren’t the usual keyboard shortcuts, with modifier keys (such as the Command or Option key); these are single-key shortcuts. Here’s what you can do when in edit mode with these shortcuts:

  • Space: Press the space bar in library view to view a photo full screen. Press it again to return to thumbnail view.
  • Return: Press Return in library view to edit a photo.
  • Arrow keys: Move through your photos – even in edit mode – by pressing the right- or left-arrow key.
  • C: Activate the Crop tool.
  • A: Open the Adjustment tools.
  • F: Display Filters.
  • . : Press period to mark or unmark a photo as a favorite.
  • Z: Zoom in and out.
  • M: Toggle between the original photo and the version showing your edits.

There’s one other shortcut that works with the editing tools, but is a bit more complicated. To rotate a photo 90 degrees, press Command-R (to rotate counter-clockwise), or Command-Option-R (clockwise).

You can also copy adjustments from one photo to another, as I explain in this article, by pressing Command-Shift-C, then paste them to another photo with Command-Shift-V.

If you learn the above single-key shortcuts, you’ll save a lot of time editing photos. And that M shortcut is indispensable, to compare your original photo with your edits.

Peak Design’s Innovative New Travel Tripod

Peak Design, the well-known manufacturer of camera bags and straps – I have a couple of each – has launched a Kickstarter for an innovative new travel tripod. With a compact form factor, light weight – in either aluminum or carbon fiber – this tripod also features an innovative ball head and and single ring to adjust it, rather than the many knobs on most tripods.

TT L 1051

The company says the device is about the size of a bottle of water; a pretty large bottle, but it certainly is smaller than your average tripod.

TT S 1002

At $289 for the aluminum model (retail price will be $350) and $470 for the carbon fiber model (retail will be $600), this device is priced around the mid-range for quality tripods. The aluminum model is 1.56 kg and the carbon fiber is 1.27 kg; certainly not enough difference in weight to justify the price, for me, but if you really need to save every ounce possible, you’ll want the lighter version.

This may be the most successful Kickstarter ever, having blown away its initial $500,000 in the first day, and currently there is more than $5 million pledged. Peak Design has launched many new products in this way, and this is a reputable company, so there’s no worry about getting your tripod. I’ve ordered the aluminum model, and I look forward to getting it at the end of the year.

Check out the Peak Design travel tripod.

The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 43: Autofocus with Rishi Sanyal

Photoactive 400You rely on your camera’s autofocus feature, but how does it work? Phase-detection, contrast-detection, machine-learning algorithms, AF-C, AF-S… autofocus quickly becomes a complicated subject for any photographer to keep straight while shooting. Rishi Sanyal, Science Editor at, joins us for this breakdown of autofocus works and how you can use it more effectively.

Listen to PhotoActive, Episode 43: Autofocus with Rishi Sanyal.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.

The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 42: Memory Cards

Photoactive 400Your camera stores photos on memory cards, but trying to understand them is a confusing mess of acronyms, speed claims, and marketing. What’s the difference between a UHS-I SD card and a UHS-II card? We break it all down, including why you may not want the fastest (and more expensive) cards available.

Listen to PhotoActive, Episode 42: Memory Cards.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.