A successful photo is one that draws the viewer in, capturing their interest and holding their attention.
Leading lines can help you create just such an image.
Leading lines are visual paths through a photo. These paths catch the eye and draw the viewer in, encouraging them to take a visual trip through the image, following the lines to move around from element to element.
There are two big compositional advantages to using leading lines:
- Leading lines help to coax the viewer into interacting with the image. And this interaction keeps the viewer’s attention.
- Leading lines allow you to direct your viewer’s attention to a specific part of the frame, pointing them to your main subject(s).
For example, consider the image below. The line created by the path through the tall grass in the image below takes the viewer down that path to the two running children and beyond.
This same idea applies to the photo below. The wooden railing directs our attention squarely on the little boy.
Use Leading Lines in Your Compositions
So when shooting, look for lines to include in your compositions.
Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Think about where the lines in your scene lead
The purpose of leading lines is to lead your viewer into the frame and to your main subject.
So be on the lookout for lines that either lead nowhere or lead the eye away from your main subject.
As a quick check, ask yourself where the lines in your composition are leading you. If the answer is “nowhere” or “out of the frame” or really anything other than “to my main subject”, something’s not working and you might want to recompose to put those lines to better use.
Consider the image below. There are definitely leading lines in this image, but they don’t really lead anywhere, at least nowhere of interest. The result is a boring photo.
The image below also includes leading lines. But in this case, they do lead somewhere–out of the frame and away from the main subject.
Leading lines don’t need to be straight
Leading lines can be straight or curved.
In the images below, curved lines lead the viewers eye to the main subject.
The soft curl of the railing brings the focus of the image below to the newly married couple:
And the curve of the string in the image below moves the eye to each of the three bunches of flowers hanging below.
Leading lines don’t have to be actual, real lines
Leading lines are often literal lines but that they don’t have to be. Any visual element that leads the viewer along a line and through a scene are implied leading lines.
A contour of objects and the borders of shapes and walls can all act as implied lines. So can the boundary of a shadow, the edge between light and dark areas, the line between clouds and a blue sky, the flow of a river or stream, the horizon…Even the direction a person or animal is looking or moving–a subject’s line of sight or line of motion– can work as an invisible leading line, guiding the eyes to another area of the image.
For example, the lines of boats in the photo below leads the viewer through the frame.
The implied line created by the hand-holding family in the image below leads the viewer’s eye to move from the first little girl all the way down the line to the other members.
The gaze of the young artist as she is painting creates an invisible line and leads the viewer to consider her handiwork.
And the fixed look and quick movement of the fox catches the viewer’s attention as they wonder what lies below.
As you can see, leading lines, used correctly, can help you shoot dynamic images that capture your viewer’s attention and lead them through the story that you are creating with your photo.
So keep your eye out for the lines that are all around and use them to your advantage.
To see all this in action, with lots of great examples, check out the video below: