A simple compositional element known as 'leading lines', when applied, can have a significant impact on the overall visual appeal of your image
First of all, what is a leading line in photography? Simply put, it is a line in your image that guides the viewer's eye to the point of interest in the frame.
Leading lines are very effective at guiding the viewer through the image as the eye will naturally follow lines, and their optimum use is to send the viewer to the focal point of the picture. You can also use leading lines to add depth and perspective to your photo–and they don’t necessarily need to be straight, solid lines. You can incorporate them into your composition in various imaginative ways to make it part of your photo's overall story.
You don’t need to look far either to find leading lines to include in your shots. Once you start searching for them, you’ll see them everywhere. This guide will show you some of the different types of leading lines and how you apply them to your images.
1 Converging lines
Converging lines are when two lines come together to meet at a point. Include this type of leading line in your compositions when you want to add a sense of perspective to your shot, and/or if you want to draw the viewer to a vanishing point. See the examples below:
2 Horizontal lines
These are especially effective in landscape format pictures, and when you want to guide the viewer through the scene from one side of the image to the other.
3 Vertical lines
Vertical lines are particularly striking form of leading line. They lend themselves well to abstract scenes, or with shots of the urban environment as they can also add a sense of scale to the scene.
But vertical lines aren't just for cityscapes or when you want to make a statement. They work for a range of subjects, even something as delicate as macro photography.
4 Curved and zigzag lines
Leading lines in your compositions don’t need to be straight. In fact, some of the best uses of leading lines are those where they are curved, zigzag, or otherwise atypical. This is where you can add an extra creative flair to your compositions.
5 Diagonal lines
Placing lines diagonally through your image will create a strong draw to the main subject and can give your images a touch of the dramatic. Also, when diagonal lines are used to guide the eye from the foreground of the image to a subject in the background, they will also add an additional layer of depth to the composition.
Place you camera close to the ground to get an even stronger sense of depth and perspective when using converging or diagonal lines in your composition.
6 Implied lines
An implied line is when a group of objects or elements in your composition come together to form a linear path. They act the same way as other leading lines by drawing the viewer to a specific part of your frame–however, these types of lines tend to be much more subtle.
7 Objects as leading lines
Sometimes a single object can act as a leading line. Take this example below where the driftwood is perfectly paced for guiding the viewer through the scene:
Where to find leading lines?
As seen in the visual examples above–you can find a significant amount of leading lines in the everyday environment around you. But if you're looking for a springboard to get started, here are some ideas for where you can find strong linear elements:
- The built environment: skyscrapers, roads, railway lines, tunnels, bridges, power lines, rooftops, stairways, benches, viaducts
- The great outdoors: waterfalls, rivers, streams, trees, fields, sand dunes, lakes, tracks
- The coast: piers, jettys, rockpools, seaweed, waves, sea defences, cliffs
Now you know the basics of how leading lines work, the best thing you can do is to get out there with your camera and experiment with them in your compositions. As with anything in the world of photography–the more images you take, and the more you practice with adding leading lines to your compositions, the more you'll see your images improve.