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Using Leading Lines for Better Photography Compositions

Leading lines are powerful compositional elements that help you control the way the viewers’ sees your photograph. They can be used to add impact to the picture, place emphasis to a particular part, to tell a story or to draw a connection between different elements in the picture.

lines in photography
Photo by: Debasisphotography

Leading lines could be found everywhere, formed by natural or artificial elements. They could be straight, curved or any other creative variation. The important thing is to arrange them in your composition so that they lead the viewers’ eye towards the most importing part of your photograph.

Some examples of leading lines found in nature are rivers, shorelines, waves, sand dunes, rows of trees etc.

leading lines in photography composition
Photo by: Hamed Saber

Roads, fences, bridges, rows of street lights, lamp posts etc. are examples of man-made elements that make great leading lines.

leading lines in photography
Photo by: Thomas Leuthard

Leading lines should be used to lead the eye of the viewer within your composition. If one is not careful, wrongly aligned leading lines could easily work against the composition by leading the viewers’ eyes away from the main subject.

Tips for Using Leading Lines in Photography Composition

Use Large Depth of Field

While composing your frame using leading lines it is highly recommended that you use narrow aperture (large f numbers, f/16, f/22 etc) for large depth of field to ensure that everything from the foreground to infinity is in acceptable focus.

photography composition technique leading lines
Photo by: Wolfgang Staudt

The very reason for using leading lines is to draw the viewers’ attention from the foreground to the elements in the background and if those elements in the background are not sharp then the whole exercise becomes futile.

Different Types of Lines Evoke Different Emotions

The effect they have on the picture varies depending upon the orientation and direction of the lines. Horizontal lines convey a sense of width, stability, calm, lazy, security, relaxation, constancy and timelessness. Whereas Vertical Lines convey a sense of strength, height, integrity, solidity, dominance, power, peace and tranquility, substance or permanence.

Diagonal lines have a more dramatic, dynamic effect than verticals or horizontals. Direction of diagonal lines also affects the picture it is said that a line going from bottom left to upper right moves in a perpendicular direction and has a much stronger compositional impact than one going from upper left to lower right. 

leading lines
Photo by: Muzaffar Bukhari

The reason for this is that we are used to reading from left to right and this feels natural. So in contrast lines going in the opposite direction seem dynamic.

Creative Uses of Leading Lines

As per the situation and the intended final effect, a creative photographer could use leading lines to:

1. Add a feel of depth and perspective

Using strong leading lines that originate from the foreground and lead the viewers’ eyes to the background.

using leading lines for better photography compositions
Photo by: Chris Smith

For example.

The converging lines formed by a road or a railway track can be used to emphasize distance and scale in a landscape picture.

2. Guide the Viewers’ Eyes from One Part of the Picture to Another

photography composition rules leading lines
Photo by: Nicholas A. Tonelli

Here lines capture the attention of the viewers and transfer it to the other end of the line where the main point of interest of the photograph will be located.

3. Retain the Viewers Attention

circular composition using leading lines
Photo by: Paul Bica

A third use of leading lines is to create a cyclical composition where leading lines would lead the viewers eyes in a circular motion; from one element to another to another finally back to the original element and so on. What this does is to help the photographer retain the attention of the viewers’ longer and making them pay attention to all the important elements in the picture and understand their inter-relationship.

4. Using Lines as the Main Subject of the Photograph

leading lines composition
Photo by: Bernat Casero

In certain situations where there are very strong lines present in the scene one could compose the picture in an abstract manner where the lines themselves are the main subject.

5. Suggested or Implied Lines

These are lines that you don’t see; but they are always present and are very powerful elements that could make or break a shot.

leading lines photography
Photo by: Rodrigo Cayo

For example.

Possibly the best example to narrate implied lines is the gaze of a human subject. There exists an invisible line originating at the eyes of the subject and extending in the direction in which the eye is looking.  Although invisible, it is probably the strongest line present in the scene. Consider the image given above, see how the viewers' attention is directed onto the yellow taxis (which is where the person on the roller board appears to look).

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