Attention-Grabbing Photography Composition With Leading Lines

Updated on November 20, 2017
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Chris is a photography enthusiast and blog writer. He enjoys learning new photography techniques and practicing old ones.

Leading Lines Composition

When I first started in photography, one of the first techniques that really stood out was the rule of leading lines. As my interest in photography grew, and I began seeking knowledge, this was the one rule that continued to make a difference. I knew it was something that would consistently make my photos more interesting.

Leading lines composition is typically found in landscape photography. It is the easiest guideline to understand and apply when taking landscape photos. It would be arguable that no other technique is as powerful visually when composing a scene.

What is a leading line? It is a natural or man-made line that will lead viewer’s eyes from one location in a photograph to another. The idea is to create a sense of depth within the photograph leading the viewer eyes along a path to the intended subject. A person naturally will simply follow the line without consciously knowing they are doing it.

Essence of Photography Storytelling

Leading lines is in its essence storytelling photography. There is a journey that the photographer is taking the viewer on. It may start on a path at the bottom of the photograph and progress into the distance to the top of the photo. Where did that path come from? Where is it going?

The composition involves 3 main things:

  1. The lines will lead the viewer into the photograph.

  2. The lines will lead the viewer from one location in the photograph to another.

  3. The lines ultimately will lead to an object of interest

These elements will give the photograph an illusion of depth. This is important particularly in creating a dynamic landscape photograph. It is very useful in grabbing the viewers attention and taking them from a start point then over to the desired subject in the distance. It can be an object that you want to highlight or even some unseen point in the distance.

Items Used for Creating Leading Lines

Any natural or man-made object can lend itself for creating leading lines. As long as there is a discerning line in how the objects are presented then they can use for this technique.

Some items that can be used include:

  • Roads, driveways

  • Rivers, creeks, streams

  • Fences

  • Boardwalks

  • Paths, trails, walkways

  • Rock outcrops

  • Trees, electric poles, hedgerows

I could literally list a page full of things that could be used in leading line photography. The trick is to find what works when you are composing your shot.

Types of Leading Lines

Leading lines can be curved, straight, diagonal or vertical. The idea is to find something that enters at the edge of the photo and leads the eye to another point in the photo.

Horizontal lines simply start at the bottom and draw the eye to the top of the photo. Diagonal lines can begin at the corner of the photograph and lead the eye to the subject in the middle.

Curved lines can be more mysterious and give a sense of adventure and discovery to a photo. The eye naturally traces over the curves until it meets the subject. Lazy long curves can be calming to a viewer while tight s-curves can evoke a sense of speed and danger.

Where Do They Go?

Leading lines can lead to an object or it can lead to nowhere. It may start in the foreground in a sandy trail and lead all the way into the photo to a little beach house. Or it may be the beginning of mountain trail that winds it was into the distance with no noticeable termination.

Leading lines only have to go someplace. The destination does not have to be known to the viewer. Sometimes the mystery is the best part of the story in a photograph.

Tell a Story

Leading lines are one of those photographic techniques that always strive to tell a story. Once you decide to photography a leading line you almost naturally crate a story. You want the viewer to see the line that you are photographing. You also want the viewer to be lead on a discovery as their eye’s wander down the line to get to something, even if that something is infinity. The journey too is what you are trying to convey in your photo as well.

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is also useful in leading line photography. This guideline would suggest that you place the subject that you are leading the viewer’s eye to be placed along one of the gridlines. For example, if leading lines guide the viewer from the foreground to the background it would be suitable to place the focal point onto the upper third of the gridline.

Conclusion

Leading line composition is an easy but powerful technique of transforming your photograph into a journey. It is effective in drawing the viewer’s attention through a photograph by drawing their eyes along a visual line. The beauty of leading line composition is that it adds depth to and adds a sense of realism to the photograph. It is an element with a little planning which adds a huge amount of interest to a photo.

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