How to Use Leading Lines in Photography Composition (With Examples)
- Defining Leading Lines in Photography
- Going from Here to There
- Diagonal Lines in Photography
- Curves as Leading Lines in Photography
- Combine with Other Composition Tools
- Not Reserved for Scenics Only
- Equipment Choices for Lines in Photography
- Other Recommended Photography Gear
- Versatile Camera Gear You Need in your Bag
- 4 Times When Really You Need a Tripod
- Low Angle Photography Tips
- Portrait and Landscape Photography: Similarities and Differences
- Get Better at Landscape Photography
- How To Create Foreground Interest in Landscape Photography
Photo 1 by JacobH via iStock
Photography composition can be daunting for beginners just starting into serious photography. Trust me, it causes experienced photographers to double-think things, too, which is why looking for photography composition tips is an ongoing endeavor.
Thankfully, it’s an enjoyable endeavor, always adding to our techniques, skills, and artistic talent. Leading lines in photography is one of the basic composition tools, so let’s talk about it!
Table of Contents:
Defining Leading Lines in Photography
Photo 2 by Sjo via iStock
In its simplest form, leading lines in photography are subject elements that lead a viewer’s eye through the photograph to the main subject or point of focus. Lines in photography can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, or even curved.
As a compositional tool, lines in photography can also become the focus of the image by themselves, not necessarily leading to or from any other point, but being a subject in their own right. Lines in photography can also be implied or lead to an implied subject.
Going from Here to There
Photo 3 by FredFroese via iStock
Lines in photography are meant to take a viewer’s attention from something to something. Vertical lines will take a viewer from top to bottom or vice versa, and horizontal lines take them from one to the other. The lines do not need to be the entire width or height of a photograph. They just simply need to take our eyes from here to there.
There are many variations we can use. We could lead from somewhere implied outside of the image into whatever our subject. Alternatively, we could lead viewers outside the image, to something else implied.
Photo 4 by Leonid Andronov via iStock
These lines in photography can also be only a part of the image area. It’s not necessary to encompass the entire breadth or height of the image area. If the line makes the viewer’s eye or mind travel, it’s a leading line.
Such as in Photo 1, we see the windmill and clouds being led to by the gently curving multiple lines of the cultivated flowers. We see the entire image, but the lines lead our eye to the windmill.
In Photo 2, the lines themselves are used as the subject, with the colors also adding to the separation of the pronounced lines.
In Photo 3 and Photo 4, the lines of the bridges are pretty much the focus of the images, but they also lead us as a viewer into more implied adventure, the jungle and the city.
Diagonal Lines in Photography
Photo 5 by TomBaky via iStock
It seems that many of the times we see lines in photography, they’re more or less diagonal as opposed to either vertical or horizontal. Something about a diagonal line just really seems to work for photography compositions.
Photo 5 illustrates how we can use diagonal lines as a strong compositional element in scenic photography.
Diagonal lines in photography can be used in conjunction with vertical or horizontal. In fact, a series of converging lines becomes a very strong composition as they really guide the attention to the “focus” of the lines.
This brings up another aspect of lines in photography: more than one line can be in an image. Some subjects can even have lines coming from or going in several different directions.
Curves as Leading Lines in Photography
Photo 6 by mbbirdy via iStock
In architectural photography, many lines will be straight, regardless of whether they’re horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. In natural scenes, many of the lines in photography incorporate some form of a curve or arc.
In certain scenes, such as a shoreline, that leading line simply leads all the way around the focus, which may be the bay, lake or ocean we’re capturing. A curved line can surround the subject as opposed to guiding us into a subject.
In Photo 6, several S Curves are incorporated into a larger diagonal line to lead us into possible thoughts of adventure and exploration.
Photo 7 by ablokhin via iStock
Several straight lines can become a curved line as well. A stairwell, such as in Photo 7, may combine multiple straight lines into an implied curve, the spiral, and become an object of interest in themselves, while also leading to an implied goal, the room or roof above us that isn’t even in the picture.
Combine with Other Composition Tools
Photo 8 by Willard via iStock
These lines in photography can be a very powerful composition tool by themselves, or they can be combined with other rules of composition. Combining rules allows us to fully explore our artistic process concerning a scene.
The Rule of Thirds comes to mind readily as it’s one of the most used composition tools in photography. A leading line can intersect an area of thirds or become one of the ways to split subject elements into thirds. In Photo 8, the lines of the canoe are bound by the Rule of Thirds and the lake is framed into thirds as well.
Photo 9 by Stephen Harker via iStock
A very powerful tool of composition that can be combined with lines in photography is the Golden Spiral, also known as the Fibonacci Sequence. Used this way, the lines can be straight or curved and in any orientation, but diagonal lines of one sort or another are often seen in Golden Spirals in photography.
Photo 9 shows how the diagonal leading lines of the fence blend in with the trees and barn roofline for a Golden Spiral. Even the clouds serve as leading lines, as in several of our image examples so far.
Not Reserved for Scenics Only
Photo 10 by VioletaStoimenova via iStock
We likely primarily think of leading lines in photography as dealing with scenics, such as nature and architecture. But leading lines in photography can also be used when creating portraits, including groups.
Placement of people within a group shot or body and limb positions for a single-person portrait can act as lines, real or implied, leading to a central focus. Also not to be overlooked are figure studies and nudes.
In photo 10 above, the line is leading up from the furthest person and is accentuated by selective focusing.
Equipment Choices for Lines in Photography
Photo 11 by Octopad
There are some simple gear choices that assist us in our workflow as we capture leading lines in photography. Filters, lens choices, and options for holding the camera steady come to mind.
In many instances where we’re capturing lines in photography, we want a generous depth of field. So wide-angle lenses are a nice choice. The Tilt & Shift style lens in Photo 11 uses movements of the lens to mimic a view camera for control of the plane of focus, though any good wide-angle or wide-angle zoom lens will perform excellently.
Photo 12 by Octopad
Controlling depth of field is a function of lens aperture and other things, so we end up using smaller apertures for more focus depth. This gives us slower shutter seeds, so some form of camera support is welcome.
Photo 11 and 12 also shows the OctoPad camera mount, an ingenious alternative to using a full-size tripod. It’s a weighted disk with a non-slip pad underneath and a ball head on top. It can be used indoors or out and the non-slip pad allows it to be placed on virtually any type of surface, even if angled up to 45 degrees.
A good filter holder system with a graduated neutral density (GND) filter could be a welcome tool, helping balance out exposure issues, and a good circular polarizer (C-Pol) is invaluable for most scenic photography.
Photo 12 by AlbertPego via iStock
We end this tour of lines in photography with Photo 13, showing implied motion and direction, curved and diagonal lines, and creative use of focus, exposure, and contrast creating a powerful and lovely image.
Figuring out how to use leading lines in photography composition is beneficial and enjoyable, adding to our creative skills in our photography.