When you look at a photograph, you usually immediately find it either compelling or not. With more practice and experience, you can distinguish what impacts the effectiveness of a photograph. Composition is a big part of photography, and leading lines are a great way to start taking your images up a notch.
Leading lines help you create visually captivating images. They help guide the viewer’s eye through a photograph. When you can tell the viewer’s eye where to go, you have more control over how they experience your photos.
There are a lot of great composition techniques to learn and practice implementing. If you spend some time focused on a specific technique, you’ll eventually be able to instinctively adjust a composition to incorporate it, making the photograph a little bit stronger. Leading lines are invisible corridors and staircases that transport the viewer’s gaze. They are whispers revealing secrets and leaving a trail of intrigue in their wake, and they construct frameworks that draw us deeper into the photograph.
The Pathway to Understanding Leading Lines
Leading lines are prominent visual elements that draw the viewer’s attention and guide their gaze. Their purpose might be to create depth, add visual interest, or direct focus.
You might use leading lines in a variety of ways for various effects. For example, a diagonal line might evoke a sense of dynamism and movement, while a horizontal line suggests stability, symmetry, and tranquility. Think of train tracks versus the horizon of the ocean.
Vertical lines convey strength, grandeur, or height, while curved lines might feel whimsical, graceful, or fluid. The type of leading lines you choose to implement can communicate various feelings as your viewers experience your creations.
Following the Trail to Seeing Leading Lines
To use leading lines in your photography compositions, you have to be able to find them in your environment. Leading lines can be found in nature, man-made structures, or everyday objects. You will start seeing them everywhere once you know what to look for.
When looking for leading lines in nature, think about mountains, rivers, shorelines, roads, trails, tree branches, plants, or other patterns. When it comes to man-made structures, you can often find leading lines in buildings, bridges, corridors, streets, alleys, railings, staircases, bridges, tunnels, fences, pipes, or other architectural features. Lastly, smaller everyday objects have lines, too, if you consider patterns and textures like tiles or fabrics.
Sometimes your leading lines aren’t objects. Sometimes you might use light or shadows to create lines. The goal is to start to see the types of things that can be used as compositional elements.
Using Leading Lines in Your Photography Compositions
Once you’ve found something in your environment that you can utilize as a leading line for your photograph, it’s time to implement it into your overall composition. You might consider things like placement, direction, perspective, depth, emotion, and storytelling. From there, you’ll use other photography techniques to increase the impact of your leading lines.
When it comes to placement and direction, you might combine your leading lines with the rule of thirds to create balance, or you might use them to direct the viewer’s eyes to the subject. Incorporating leading lines in both your foreground and background will help create a sense of depth, while you can use overlapping lines for added complexity.
Beyond the technical aspects of leading lines, such as where they are, you’ll want to consider what they say regarding mood or story. From there, you can play with the impact different focal lengths might have to emphasize or diminish the effect and subtlety of leading lines. Lastly, you can continue to enhance your leading lines in post-production by exaggerating contrast by adjusting the light and shadows.
My Favorite Leading Lines
I love a good curve. Whether it’s a road, trail, or river, there’s something about a nice curve that makes me feel both at peace and excited. The graceful curve of a trail invites the viewer to explore the image further and leads them on a visual journey.
Bridges can’t be beaten if you want to symbolize connections and transitions. A nice bridge spanning over water and connecting two land masses can be used to create a sense of direction, leading the viewer across from here to there. The height at which you photograph the bridge can quickly change the story by changing the depth and perspective.
While railroad tracks are a predictable and classic leading line source, I much prefer the unpredictability of the shoreline. The gently curving shoreline can intersect with the horizon line, leading the viewers’ attention there. It’s less direct and more implied, making it a gentle and pleasing path of flow and harmony.
Leading You to 5 Techniques to Try
- Look for naturally occurring lines in your environment, whether a path or a shadow.
- Get high, low, near, and far, and try different lenses to see the impact of different perspectives.
- Play with symmetry, patterns, converging lines, parallel lines, or combine with the rule of thirds.
- Decide the story your leading lines tell about your subject and where you draw the viewer’s eye.
- Enhance your leading lines in post-production.
Leading lines are a simple yet powerful composition tool. It takes practice to start to observe leading lines in your environment. Once you develop a keen eye for recognizing leading lines, you can experiment with incorporating them into your compositions.
Let leading lines be your guide (literally) toward more dynamic photography. Follow them (pun intended) toward stronger and more meaningful compositions. Hold onto the handrails as you follow the gentle curve of the trail on your way toward the adventure of discovery.
Use them right, and leading lines will create a link connection between your images and your audience. I can’t wait to see how you harness the power of leading lines in your compositions. Because let’s be honest; there’s something oddly powerful about a simple image of a road because it makes us question where we’re going and what the journey will be like.
Marc and Brenda Bergreen are a husband and wife photo and video team based in Evergreen, Colorado. They photograph weddings and other adventurous stories in beautiful places.