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Leading lines

leading lines

You may recall from one of my previous articles, we talked about leading lines when composing your shot. This is particularly useful in landscape photography, but of course, can also be utilised to great effect in other genres too. Its well worth going into this topic in a little more detail as I feel it can really be the difference to a successfully composed shot and one that just doesn’t work.

As I said before, when we read text, we generally read from left to right. (I know, in some languages, it’s the other way round, but for our purposes we will assume left to right), and thus, our eyes are trained to view images in a similar way. Leading lines in an image, if used well, will draw your viewer’s eyes through the image and will help tell the story you want them to see and can be a very powerful compositional tool. The lines need not be straight. Strong lines, diagonal or horizontal, straight or curved, can help to make a stronger composition, as long as they take the viewer to what you want them to see. This should be a focal point in your image, a lone tree perhaps, or a building, or maybe, a person in the distance. A strong leading line can help take your viewer through your image and directly to the focal point. In my own photography, particularly with landscape images, I really like, if possible, to have a person in my image somewhere. My wife comes in very handy for this in many cases! Often when we are out walking, I’ll hang back until she walks into the position I want her to be in, or I just ask her to go stand in a strategic place! As a fellow photographer, she understands! Using a figure in your shot can add some human interest and also adds scale, as well as a focal point for your leading lines to point to. You can see some examples of this in the accompanying images.

There are different types of leading lines you can use:

Horizontal lines: Often found in nature and landscapes. Since these horizontal leading lines can often stretch across the width of the image, they tend to be used when shooting with a wide-angle lens.

Diagonal lines: Commonly used to create a sense of movement and dynamism. They can help to emphasize a sense of distance and often can be used to accentuate the sense of depth within your image.

Vertical lines: They can draw the eye up or down within the frame and can be used to convey status and a sense of power within your image. Vertical leading lines are often found in fashion, architectural or street photography.

Converging lines: Can be very powerful if used in the right way. If there are converging lines present in your frame, use them to lead directly to the main subject of the image at the point where they meet. A very powerful tool too, in architectural work with tall buildings.

When you look around, there is nearly always something you can use as a leading line. Some good examples of strong leading lines could be; a fence or hedgerow in a landscape, a road, track or winding forest path in amongst trees, a railing or railway tracks, a pier leading to a lighthouse or even lines/edges of a building or architectural detail, all can be used as a leading line. Diagonal lines can work especially well, when used in the right way. One other thing to consider is Shadows! When shooting in strong sunlight, which direction is the light and where are the shadows? Can you use those shadows as leading lines in your shot? Perhaps your own shadow can create a strong compositional leading line if you stand in the right place. Think too about changing your viewpoint. Crouch down lower, or stand on something to create a higher perspective, (but stay safe!)

Leading lines are not only useful in landscape photography. You can use them in, for example, portrait photography too. Body parts such as hands, arms, legs, the bridge of a nose and fingers etc. can all be used as an effective leading line to draw your view to the subject’s eyes which, generally, are the focal point of any good portrait. When taking a portrait, think about what poses you could use to make your viewer ‘read’ through the image and follow those leading lines to the eyes. Keep in mind too, though, the other composition ‘rules’ we discussed previously such as the rule of thirds. If you don’t, you can sometimes find your leading line may lead the viewer right out of the image and you lose them, or at least they lose interest in your shot.

Whichever genre of photography you prefer, think about what you want the viewer to take from your shot and try to use some leading lines to take them there. So learn your lines, but above all, have fun and enjoy it!

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