(c) Peter Bower.

Lines leading from the foreground to the background of the image. Mouse over the image. (c) Peter Bower.

It could be argued that the world is made up of lines. Straight lines, curved lines, zig zag and intersecting lines, wherever you look there are lines to be discovered.

As such, a fundamental compositional tool, much like the “Rule of Thirds”, is the implementation of “leading lines” in photography.

What are these leading lines, you ask?

Well, the human eye naturally follows a line when viewing a scene. As such, “leading lines” are lines that direct you in a particular way when viewing a photograph. They can lead you to a particular focal point, i.e. your subject, and really create an emphasis. Or they can direct you through different parts of the photograph, building a narrative.


Are Leading Lines Really Natural?

Consider this. You are driving your car down the middle of a road in the middle of nowhere.

Where are you looking?

(c) Peter Bower.

The lines of the platform draw the eyes into the abyss of the tunnel. Mouse over image. (c) Kevin Cheng.

Straight down the road, of course. And it’s not just because you don’t want to drift off the road and crash! You could be looking at the rolling hills or great expanse of desert, but instead you find yourself looking straight down the line.

Why? Because the natural lines of the road are directing your eyes where to look, with the two lines (each side of the road) eventually converging somewhere down where our eyes can no longer see. They form a focal point for us to focus on.

Within your photography, lines work in a similar manner. Lines of all forms can direct our attention to a particular point — a bright light at the end of a tunnel, a bride at the end of the aisle, that lone tree on the top of a hill — and, if we use them to our advantage, it can help create much more engaging and interesting photographs.

Does this mean we need to set out hunting lines to use in our photographs? No. Quite often, we will find these lines subconsciously when composing our photographs. But they are great to search for every now and then.


What Can Form Leading Lines?

Anything! Fences, roads, bridges, shorelines, railway tracks, buildings, footpaths, furniture, patterns on rugs, lines of trees (or anything in a road, such as street lights, etc), tree branches, clouds, doorways, hilltops and those cool lines that appear on sporting fields when the grass is mowed a particular way. Curved lines, straight lines, defined lines and soft lines. In fact, anything can form leading lines — your job, as photographer, is to find them, and then utilise them in your photography.


Where The Line Leads

Here we have a few examples of leading lines in effect. Hover over the images to see the lines in effect.

(c) Peter Bower.

The lines of the laneway causes the eye to be drawn to the photographer (the subject) in the photo. Mouse over image. (c) Peter Bower.

(c) Peter Bower.

The lines of the room / the band draw you to where Dave Carter performs. Mouse over image. (c) Peter Bower.

(c) Peter Bower.

The light through the clouds draw you to the dancers. Mouse over image. (c) Peter Bower.

(c) Peter Bower.

The lines of the boardwalk lead you to where Kevin is sitting. Mouse over image. (c) Kevin Cheng.

(c) Peter Bower.

Rows of books lead you down to where a lonely Peter sits in the dark reading a book… Mouse over image. (c) Kevin Cheng.


Do You NEED To Create Scenes With Leading Lines?

Much like the Rule of Thirds, this is a compositional tool. It can be used at your discretion to help bring emphasis, but it is definitely not essential.

BUT, you should keep an eye out for lines when you are composing your image. Lines can lead the eye of your viewer, regardless of whether you wish them to do so or not. As such, lines can often lead the eye away from your main subject.

Here is a really rough example. I whipped this up on my whiteboard just to show how lines can draw the eye away from your subject. In the first photo, the lines lead you to the car, creating a nice focal point for the eyes to land upon. In the second photo, the lines lead you to the side and out of the image creating a confusing and somewhat jarring photograph.

CarWithLines     CarOffLines

Yes, the two photos above are pretty ordinary, but even in them you can see the effect that lines can play on an image.


The Final Line
Leading lines are definitely something to consider when composing your photograph. They can lead the eye through a photograph to help bring emphasis to your focal point that you wish to highlight or to tell a narrative as you move through various parts of the image. How will you use it in your photographs? Share your leading lines in the comments below!


Four More Examples

Photos by Thomas Leth-Olsen (Left) and Mark Grealish (right).

Going Down by Jaime González   In the Middle of Nowhere by Brian Koprowski
Photos by Jaime González (left) and Brian Koprowski (right).


Peter Bower Bio PicPeter Bower is a mixed bag of tricks. He is a professional photographer, published writer, English academic, award winning poet, hater of soup, website manager, social media guy, ginger, and creature of the night. He is the Founder of VOTogs. When he’s not working, he is a semi-serious competitive gamer and lover of live music, bad movies and action novels. You can find more of his work at his website and ‘like’ him on Facebook. You can also say hello to him on Twitter @OeterB.


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