Leading lines are an aspect of photography that sometimes gets overlooked in favor of the Rule of Thirds and the Golden Ratio. Fortunately, the concept is simple and easily applied with a bit of practice. So what are leading lines and how can they enhance our photography?
How do I use Leading Lines?
Lines can be found everywhere in the world. Wherever I look, in both natural and man-made scenes, if I’m paying attention, lines present themselves. And knowing how and where the lines should show up in a photograph is an artistic technique in of itself.
So what are leading lines? Leading lines are lines within a scene that draw the viewer’s eyes towards specific parts of the image. The classic train tracks vanishing into the horizon is enjoyable because the lines of the tracks, ground, and other elements of the scene lead the eye straight to the horizon.
Notice how in this bridge photo, the path of the bridge takes combined with the struts leads the viewer’s eye towards infinity. My eyes track from the bottom of the frame right down the center, taking in the entire scene. Without leading lines, the eyes of my viewer will often wander about without moving directly to the main subject.
Not that there’s anything specifically wrong that this approach. Some subjects take up the entire frame or are organic in nature and don’t have straight lines. But leading lines are a solid, and often underappreciated element of composition. They work especially well in landscape and architecture photography.
Where can I find Leading Lines?
The two major places I shoot are in the man-made world of cities and buildings and the natural world. In the world of man, try scoping out roads, sidewalks, bridges, and the edges of buildings for composition elements. These are quite obvious and easy to work with.
When it comes to nature leading lines aren’t always so obvious at first because the natural world doesn’t have straight lines all that often. So I need to be a bit creative in how I compose things. Mountains, rivers, trees, the rays of the sun, the sky and horizon, and other aspects can all incorporate lines into their form. But because it’s a subtler play than the man-made world I need to be more creative in my composition.
Take a look at this next image closely and pay attention to where your eyes track. For me, my eyes are immediately drawn to the high peak in the upper right corner. From there, the sides of the hills, natural flow of the valley and brightly colored autumn leaves all subtly guide the eye to the next major point of interest: the brick cabin in the bottom right. If I didn’t have leading lines, the cabin could easily be forgotten in the face of the snowcapped mountains, bright sky, and even the large boulders in the foreground.
Leading lines are often put into use even if we don’t necessarily know what we’re doing. But when it’s clear they’re being used to showcase a subject they can do wonders. Remember, leading lines aren’t just straight lines! So take advantage of these natural pointers and use them to enhance your composition. Happy shooting!