Photography leading lines are one of the most effective and under-utilised compositional tools available to photographers.
You can use them to draw a viewer’s attention to a specific part of the frame. This can be a person, a vanishing point in the background of the frame, or both.
This article will give you all the information to start using leading lines for better images.
Leading Lines vs Paths
The leading lines photography definition is a simple composition line concept. The viewer’s eyes are naturally drawn along vertical lines, parallel lines, diagonal lines and even strong horizontal lines.
Some of the main subjects in images, such as these, are paths, rails, buildings and streets. These make us feel as if we’re standing within the photo itself.
It’s important to understand how to use leading lines in photography. This is because used incorrectly, they will be more detrimental than anything.
When it comes to leading lines pictures Vs. paths, there’s little difference between the two. Same camera settings are used, such as the shutter speed, where as the aperture might change.
The difference between a leading line and a path is simple. A leading line takes you to a point of interest in the frame. And a path tends to lead you to a vanishing point.
For example, the image below contains a leading line as it draws your attention to the persons at the top of the hill:
And the image below contains a path, as it winds through the frame, to the vanishing point in the distance:
The Incorrect Way to Use Leading Lines
Where are your leading lines photography directing you? This is the all-important question that you must ask here.
If the answer is ‘nowhere in particular’ or ‘out of the frame, avoiding the subject’, then you’re doing it wrong.
The other week I was out taking photos of a local viaduct. I was walking around the adjacent field, trying to find the best angle.
As I made my way around the field, I noticed there were many leading lines. I could use these to direct my viewer’s attention to the viaduct. But I had to find the right one first.
I did find the right lines to use. But I first passed many others that would have only served to confuse a viewer.
Here’s one in particular:
Pretty nice photo, right? Good use of lines, directing towards the bridge? Almost.
If you follow the lines through the frame, your eyes move out of the frame towards the left.
It’s quite easy to get excited about finding powerful photography leading lines. But if they’re not pointing exactly where you want them to, they’re doing more harm than good.
Now let’s have a look at how you can use leading lines in photography correctly.
The Correct Way to Use Leading Lines in Photography
So, same location, only this time I’m a few meters further down the field. Notice the difference?
I didn’t go looking for some lines which took the attention out of the frame. Instead, I found some lines which bring your eyes up towards the bridge, and down that path.
It makes you feel as if you’re standing in the frame, and looking at the path you have to follow to get to your destination. That destination is the bridge in the distance.
Notice how much more powerful this photo is, now that the leading lines are being used correctly? It doesn’t matter if you use Canon or Nikon cameras, the best photography tips are your own position.
Whether you capture landscape photos or street photography, position and perspective are everything. If you didnt get it quite right, there is always Photoshop.
Some More Examples
Here’s a photo I took on the Underground in London.
The wide angle lens places you in the frame, and exaggerates the length of the leading lines.
At a quick glance, I can see twelve different lines. These are drawing your attention up the escalators, to the final destination at the top. A great example of a path.
Here’s another one:
The repeating arches add depth, and we follow each repetition as they form lines. You can even use these further by incorporating the rule of thirds.
A very simple way of creating a path with leading lines. Make the lines in the image the main focal point.
If you want to draw attention to a certain part of the frame, look for lines which already exist. And then use them to your advantage.
So that’s how leading lines work. Look for them, utilise them, and always ask yourself ‘where is my attention being directed?’.