How To Use Leading Lines In Photography

Brandon LazovicSeptember 14, 2020

Leading lines are an essential component in any photographer’s toolkit. Read our guide to learn what leading lines are in photography, how to find and use them in your composition, and other tips to help enhance your photos. 

What Are Leading Lines In Photography? 

Photo Challenge 2018: Leading Lines in Photography Bridge Example

As the name suggests, leading lines refers to a composition technique that directs the attention of the viewer through lines that lead them to the main subject in an image.

Roadways come to mind when thinking of leading lines; there isn’t much difference between the two, only that roadways and paths direct our attention toward a vanishing point compared to a line where the focus is to lead our attention toward our main subject.

Here are a few man-made objects that can serve as leading line in photography:

  • Roads
  • Fences
  • Boardwalks
  • Bridges
  • Lamp posts or rows of buildings in a street
  • Doorways and window panes

If you’re in a nature setting, you can use rivers, shorelines, trees, cliffs and rocks to great effect alongside incorporating various angles that compliment leading lines. 

Why Are Leading Lines Important In Photography?

Leading lines are great for catching a viewer’s attention, due to human eyes being naturally drawn to lines in photos. It creates a hint that directs the eye to the most important part of a photo. 

Not only do leading lines help with composition and positioning in your shot, but they can also produce depth in a way that isn’t available when they aren’t present.

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Common Mistakes To Avoid When Leading Lines

There are two ways that you can go wrong when you use leading lines in your composition to direct focus to your main subject. The first is not having a subject to lead focus to (seems explanatory, right?). It’s important to have purpose when setting up your composition. Not having any subject to direct attention to detracts from the technique for leading lines in your photos.

The second mistake is to not placing emphasis on specific lines. There are many different lines that lead that we can make use of in any photo shoot. It’s all about finding the right one and avoiding others that might serve only to distract your viewer.

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Difference Between Paths Vs. Leading Lines

Both paths and leading lines are compositional techniques to draw a viewer’s eye to a specific point in the composition of your photo. However, paths are used as a tool to point the viewer toward the horizon line, whereas leading lines can draw the eye to a main point or subject of interest.

Leading Line Composition Tips

Photo Challenge 2018: Leading Lines in Photography Pond

There are many ways to set up your composition when leading lines. You can position a strong line that leads from the foreground to the background, creating depth and perspective.

Another method is to place your subject at the center of your line of convergence to add more emphasis and importance to that subject.

Instead of converging, you can set your subject at the end of your lines to give a sort of visual journey from start to finish. You can even perform a circular composition to keep the viewer’s focus within the frame.

One important consideration is to keep a straight horizon and have a central focal point when leading lines. Straight lines look best when centered and start at the bottom of a photo. 

You can also start the composition from one line at the corner of a non-symmetrical image. Most leading lines are shot vertically, but in certain circumstances, they can work horizontally. 

Leading Line Examples & Different Types Of Leading Lines

Additionally, you can make use of different kinds of lines to produce various results in your composition.

Horizontal Leading Lines

Photo Challenge 2018: Leading Lines in Photography Horizontal Line Example

These are great for shooting nature and relaxing photos, especially if you can achieve the sunburst effect as the sun sets on the horizon behind an object or the natural landscape.

Horizontal leading lines are most associated with landscape and nature photography, and are often shot with a wide-angle lens because they span across the entire width of the photo composition. 

Vertical Leading Lines

Photo Challenge 2018: Leading Lines in Photography Vertical Line Example

These kinds of lines produce a more authoritative effect for your subject in the photo, often drawing the eye up or down. Vertical leading lines are most associated with street or fashion photography. 

Diagonal Leading Lines

Photo Challenge 2018: Leading Lines in Photography Diagonal Line Example

Winding pathways are an example of this as they draw the attention of a reader through a photo. Again, you can place your subject at the end of the line to produce more of a natural flow.

Diagonal leading lines create change or movement within a photo, creating a strong sense of depth. 

Curved Leading Lines

Photo Challenge 2018: Leading Lines in Photography Curved Line Example

Waves of a beachhead are a good example of curved lines and can be used to great effect in nature photos.

Converging Leading Lines

Photo Challenge 2018: Leading Lines in Photography Converging Line Example

Again, these lines produce a sense of importance because the focus a viewer’s attention to a single point in the photograph. Converging Leading Lines are great for creating a strong compositional element to your photos and can be used to situate your subject to the axis of these converging leading lines. 

Intersecting Leading Lines

Photo Challenge 2018: Leading Lines in Photography Intersecting Line Example

You should be careful when using intersecting lines in your composition. They can be used to great effect but can also serve to confuse or distract the viewer.

Implied Leading Lines

Like the name suggests, these lines don’t exist and are implied by other factors in the photo, such as being drawn in the direction of a subject’s gaze. 

Tips For Using Leading Lines In Your Photography

Beyond the  information already shared in this post, here are a few other tips for using leading lines in your photography: 

Evaluate Location and Time Of Day

There are several photo ops that create great leading lines; whether you’re in an urban environment, or using the sun’s rays to create long shadows on trails or walkways, think about your surroundings and time of day when shooting. 

Photo Challenge 2018: Leading Lines in Photography Bridge 2

Shoot Using Natural Lines

There should be a lot of natural lines that you can work with when setting up your composition. Try to look for strong leading lines in the form of natural/manmade structures. 

Focal Point and Positioning

When setting up your shot, you’ll want to lead your lines to the focal point of your image, and figure out what your subject is going to be for your photo. 

Lighting Conditions

Make sure that you’ve adjusted your shutter speed and aperture; leading lines can’t compensate for under/over-exposed photos. 

Shoot At Different Heights

Try shooting at different heights and see how the leading lines change your overall composition. 

Use Your Lines To Create Depth

Conveying depth can be difficult, especially with landscape photos, which often appear flat. Leading lines can help create depth, as it creates a foreground of interest, and something for viewers to focus on before their eye drifts to other objects that appear in the distance. 

Photo Challenge 2018: Leading Lines in Photography Header

Post-Processing Photo Edits For Leading Lines

Although I shot multiple photos, I’m sticking with just the edits for the bridge (I consider it to be the best shot that I took). Here are my edits:

  • Contrast: +31
  • Shadows: -14
  • Blacks:  -29
  • Clarity: +48
  • Vibrance: +30
  • Saturation: +21
  • Point Curve: Medium Contrast

As you can see I didn’t do much for this shot. I wanted to saturate the photo just a smidge to provide more depth and color. I also played with the clarity as I normally do in all my photos.

One thing that I want to mention regarding the other photos that I shot is performing color selection and reducing the saturation to make other aspects of the subject stand out. My intent was to draw more attention to the subject or viewing points in the photos, but I’ll leave that up for your interpretation!

Photo Challenge 2018: Leading Lines in Photography Selective Color Editing Photo

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