How to Use Leading Lines for Exceptional Composition

Leading lines are a powerful tool that experienced photographers use to improve the balance, and overall composition of their images. Lines are often used to lead the viewer’s eye through the photograph, towards points of interest. Our eyes our trained to “read through” images, just like we read through the words on a page. Lines can help to facilitate this, making it easy to “visually read” an image. Because of this leading effect, lines are also used to convey a sense of depth and distance in a photo.

While most well-composed photographs have lines that help to lead viewers through the photo, lines have another somewhat surprising effect. Lines can also be used to affect the overall mood and feel of a composition, and can be used to add a sense of drama, excitement, stability, or even harshness to an image. Lines really are a powerful, and versatile, compositional tool!

Leading lines can be found just about everywhere, in both natural and man made settings. Everything from jagged coastal shorelines and winding rivers, to roads and architecture contain lines. While they aren’t always immediately obvious, even implied lines can be surprisingly effective – and by intentionally looking out for leading lines in your compositions you’ll soon become adept at spotting them.

Let’s explore the three main purposes of leading lines in a photograph, and see how lines can help to add depth, draw attention, and change the overall mood of a photo. Find out how you can use leading lines to enhance your compositions!

Create Depth

Lines are often used to add a sense of depth to a composition. Despite the fact that photography is very much a two dimensional medium; leading lines help to create a real sense of distance and depth in a photo.

Converging lines – lines that reach the disappearing point at the horizon, are a great way to convey depth and distance. The further away the lines are, the smaller they get, drawing the viewer through the scene and adding a sense of perspective to the photo, helping the viewer to feel as though they are there.

Draw Attention

Leading lines essentially form a visual path, and are often used to help draw attention to various aspects of a composition. Because of their attention-grabbing capabilities, lines are often used to draw the viewer through the image, to varying points of visual interest, or to a main focal point looming in the distance.

Change the Image’s Dynamic

While lines are most commonly used to draw the eye through the photo, lines have another hidden talent. That is, they are sometimes able to affect the overall dynamic of an image. Our minds tend to associate different lines with different moods – jagged often means harsh or ominous, while horizontal tends to convey a feeling of restfulness, or calm. While this isn’t always the case, and there are other factors that play into a composition’s overall mood, it’s worth paying attention to the effect that leading lines can have on the overall feel of an image.

Let’s look at a few characteristics that are often associated with different types of lines.

Horizontal

Horizontal lines are the most common lines in photography. They tend to convey a sense of calm, rest, and stability in a composition. Think of the peaceful feeling that the stability of a horizon line adds to the overall feel of the image.