One of the most useful compositional aids for photographers is the technique of using leading lines. As it implies, the term simply means lines (either man-made or natural) that lead the viewer’s eyes around the image. This can be to a point of interest or through the image on a journey. Leading lines will often start from the foreground of an image and head off into the distance. But they also work across the image too. If you have never heard of or used leading lines in your photos, fear not. In this article, I will cover how to use them to improve your photography composition.
Anything can be a leading line
The first part of being able to use leading lines in your photos is to practice seeing them. Lines are everywhere around you. From roads and paths to rivers and the coastline. Fences, fallen trees, canyons and even rocks can all act as a leading line within a photo. Think of these lines like arrows pointing to what you want people to see in your photo.
Some examples of what can be used as leading lines are:
- Roads and paths
- Sand dunes
- Rock formations
- Fallen trees
- Canyons or cliffs
How to use leading lines
The easiest way to use leading lines in photos is to make them act like a map taking the viewer from one object to another. For example, this could be by having something in the foreground and something in the background with a path connecting them. Your eyes will see the point of interest in the foreground and then move along the path to the background. This is an example of a very literal leading line within a photo.
But there are also more subtle versions of leading lines that you can use. These are things that are not necessarily the obvious roads, paths or even fences. But for example, the edge of a cliff or even the shoreline on a beach can also act as a leading line. You can even use things like rocks in a formation that leads the eyes into the image. These subtle lines are often more difficult to spot, but if you can incorporate them into your photos they will really aid the composition.
Primary or secondary
The next part of using leading lines effectively in your photos is to consider if they are going to be an essential part of the image or not. For example, is that pathway in your photo going to be the main focus of the image? Or is going to be secondary as part of a wider landscape shot? There is no right answer here. It’s just a case of what you feel will work in the image and help tell the story you are trying to get across.
Lines can divide your image
Understanding how lines work in an image is also important in making sure you are not using them wrong. A poorly placed line can detract from your photo by dividing it. Our eyes find it much more difficult to cross these lines within an image. The most obvious example of this is a horizon line which separates the ground from the sky. Or coastline that separates water and land. Pretty obvious when you think of it that way right? So if you are not careful where these lines appear in your image, even unintentionally you might find that it has a negative impact on your photos.
Not every photo needs lines
The most important thing about adding leading lines into your photos is that it has to feel natural. There has to be a reason that it is there and it should blend effortlessly within the environment. For example, a beautiful landscape shot might be ruined if you force in a nearby fence on one side. Always ask yourself if whatever line you are using is actually helping the image or not. If it feels like you are forcing it in then try to find an alternative angle that possibly crops it off.
Leading lines are a great way to bring structure into an image. They can help tie in different parts and elements of a photo to create a more harmonious composition. They are also great in helping you think about the story and journey that you want the viewer to take. By actively thinking about the composition and looking for these leading lines you will naturally spend more time thinking about your composition. So even if you end up not using leading lines in your photo, you will still likely take a better photo than you would have done before.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission.