Using Leading Lines in Photographs

Using leading lines is one very effective method of harnessing compositional technique to create more impactful imagery. Leading lines can either be very bold and easy to follow, or they can be quite subtle and almost subconsciously guide a viewer through the frame. The goal of using leading lines is to create a path through a photograph that the viewer should run their eyes along. While it isn’t always necessary to lay out a predetermined scan path for your viewer, doing so does create an image that is more easily read and can result in a more impactful experience of the frame.

Using Leading Lines: Man-made

Structures made by humankind provide a wealth of opportunities for leading lines. Look for edges of buildings, fences, areas where two planes intersect to create a corner, staircases, railings, lines on pavement, etc. Often, I will shoot from very close to a wall or railing, in order to create a diagonal line that will lead the viewer across the frame to my primary subject.

Down the railing, with and towards the subjects.

Down the railing, with and towards the subjects.

Along the walls towards the car.

Along the walls towards the car.

From camera left towards the subject along rail.

From camera left towards the subject along rail.

All primary lines lead toward the center of the frame and the glow of the light

All primary lines lead toward the center of the frame and the glow of the light

Lines lead up along columns to top of building and the sun.

Lines lead up along columns to top of building and the sun.

Strongest lines along edge of bed and down the red curtain head towards subject.

Strongest lines along edge of bed and down the red curtain head towards subject.

Along railing toward red car and bridge span.

Along railing toward red car and bridge span.

Path and edgings lead toward subjects.

Path and edgings lead toward subjects.

Lines in floor boards and railing lead towards boy.

Lines in floor boards and railing lead towards boy.

Lines down railings lead to subjects in center.

Lines down railings lead to subjects in center.

Railing leads toward subject.

Railing leads toward subject.

Lines in siding lead towards subjects.

Lines in siding lead towards subjects.

Lines along edges of wall and fence all lead towards subject.

Lines along edges of wall and fence all lead towards subject.

Converging lines of roof and building at the top of the frame meet at the subjects.

Converging lines of roof and building at the top of the frame meet at the subjects.

Using Leading Lines: In Nature

Often, natural leading lines have more shape than man-made lines. The horizon is an easy line to locate, and is often quite straight, but if you shoot along a shoreline, down a path in a forest or across a line of naturally planted trees the captured line will often have a much more organic and soft shape. This softness can lend itself nicely to a quieter, peaceful, un-rushed mood. You can also use subjects to create physical (along their body, such as when pointing or reaching for something) or implied (by the direction of their gaze) lines.

Along both meandering shoreline and horizon towards castle.

Both meandering shoreline and horizon lines lead towards castle.

Along horizon towards SUPers.

Horizon leads towards SUPers.

Along horizon and shoreline to subjects.

Along horizon and shoreline to subjects.

Along horizon and roadway edge towards the light.

Horizon and roadway edge lead towards the light.

From tourist towards the mule.

From tourist towards the mule.

Along the reaching length of the subject's arm towards the window/the light.

Along the reaching length of the subject’s arm towards the window/the light.

Using Leading Lines: Line as Subject

Lines can be photographed as a stand along subject. Viewers feel compelled to follow along with the line to either its termination within the frame, or across the entirety of the frame to exit the frame on the opposite edge that it entered from. Combined with dynamic light use, line-only images are a great way to add a subtle sense of movement and mood to a set of images.

Along both blinds and sheers.

Along both blinds and sheers.

Up the sheers.

Up the sheers.

Do you have a favorite type of leading line? Let’s hear about it in the comments!

-M

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