Leading Lines is a photography composition technique that uses lines to draw the viewer’s attention to the subject, provide depth and perspective, and creates a visual journey for the viewer. You typically see roads, railroads, and buildings used as examples of leading lines in photography; but you can also use nature such as shores, rivers, light, cliffs, and trees. Railroad tracks disappearing off into the horizon is one of the most prominent examples, but there are many different types of leading lines that can help frame a beautiful photograph.
Horizontal lines create a sense of permanence and stability. To maximize this effect, make sure to frame or edit the photo so that the lines are as perfectly horizontal.
In this example, the telephone wire is straight and rigid and gives the feeling of stability for the resting birds.
Vertical lines are often used with tall trees or buildings to convey a sense of scale or strength.
Here, the trees in Sequoia National Park are some of the largest in the world. The eyes are naturally drawn from the bottom to the top of the photo which emphasizes how grandiose these trees are.
Diagonal lines take the viewer on a journey through the image as the eye follows the line from the foreground to the background, or the reverse.
The slope of the mountain leads the eye up from the left side of the image while the trail gives a sense of motion and direction as it leads back down the mountain. The trail is also a leading path which I will discuss later in this post.a
While straight lines add a sense of rigidity, curved lines help create a more relaxed and tranquil atmosphere. They are especially effective in creating a natural feeling in landscape photography.
The curves and bends in this photograph emphasizes the feeling of a winding river, creating a relaxed and free-flowing mood.
Converging lines meet at the subject leading the viewer directly to the image’s focal point rather than the journey found in diagonal and curved lines.
This photo has subtle converging lines from the trail, the clouds, and the horizon that all point towards and place emphasis on the focal point of the image, the Gold Butte Lookout Tower.
Implied Lines are ones that do not actually exist in the image but that can be inferred such as following a person’s gaze or lights and shadows that guide a viewer’s eyes to follow a particular direction.
There aren’t any lines directing the viewer to the sheep in this image, but the viewer will be inclined to follow the gaze of the rancher who is watching over the sheep.
Leading lines typically direct the viewer to the subject in the frame; a path leads you to a vanishing point outside the frame providing a sense of wonder or mystery.
The trail disappearing behind the trees adds a sense of location in a calm peaceful forest. If this were a photo of just the bench, the image would feel a bit flat and lack perspective
I’ll be honest, this is not a technique I spend a lot of time thinking about, but I wish I did. Creating leading lines in art takes a conscious effort to think about framing a photograph that takes advantage of lines in a scene. When done well, leading lines creates a mood and changes the viewer’s experience by giving the image depth and making things feel more dynamic as they move through the lines.