Leading Lines in Photography: The primary Guide

Leading Ranges in Photography: The Essential Instruction

leading lines in photography guide

What are top lines in photography, and exactly how can they improve your compositions ?

In this article, you’ll discover everything you need to know about leading lines, which includes:

  • Exactly why every photographer should learn how to use leading lines (hint: they can majorly increase a photo’s impact)
  • Plenty of easy places to look for leading lines
  • How to use lines for wonderful, three-dimensional images
  • Much more!

So if you’re ready to become an expert, then let’s begin!

Leading lines in photography: a description

Leading ranges refer to lines that lead the viewer’s eye in one part of a composition to another. Usually, these lines start at the bottom of the frame and guide the eye upward, from your foreground of the image towards the background.

When used as a compositional method, leading lines generally shift toward the main subject of a photo. For instance, a water might lead the eye towards a fog-covered mountain in the background, or a log may lead the eye toward a wonderful sunset.

Remember that leading lines can be anything : streams or logs, as mentioned in the examples above, but also marks on a road, pointed stones on a beach, lines within the sand, the walls of a house – if it looks like a line and is capable of guiding the viewer’s eyes, then it can work!

lines leading toward building

Why are leading ranges important?

Leading lines guide the viewers through a composition.

So by carefully placing leading lines in the body, you can draw attention to parts of a photo that matter, like a beautiful mountain or sun on the ocean. In other words, you may use leading lines to get the audience to look where you want them to look – and avoid places you’d prefer they prevent.

You can also make use of leading lines to create flow , also known as dynamism , throughout a composition. Leading ranges naturally take the viewer on a journey around the photo, which keeps them engaged (always a good thing! ).

In addition, leading lines are a great way to make three-dimensionality (i. e., depth ) in an image. By focusing the start of a line prior to letting it fall away to the backdrop, you create a 3D illusion that looks incredible in scenic landscape digital photography.

log leading toward mountains

Using leading lines: the basics

Working with leading outlines requires two simple steps:

  1. Find a leading line
  2. Integrate that leading line into your composition

Of course , this is easier said than done, yet neither of the above steps is actually difficult; they just take a bit of perseverance. Let’s take a look at each step in turn.

Step 1 : Find leading ranges

No matter where you reside, and no matter where you like to take photos…

…leading lines are all about.

It might not seem likely, but it’s true. After all, remember that leading lines are just lines , and lots of those exist, right? The important thing is to find them (and incorporate them creatively into your compositions, as I discuss in the next section).

So where, specifically, should you look for leading lines?

Personally, I think the best place to start is with the path; paths are inherently leading because they go someplace, and the path edges often create a vanishing point on the horizon (the place where several lines converge at theoretical infinity). Plus, you can find pathways all over the place – in forests, at parks, in the town, even in the countryside (roads count as paths! ).

Leading Lines, Avenue of Oaks, South Carolina
The leading lines of the road converge at a vanishing point.

But you can find lots of other leading lines, too. While photographers certainly use paths in their compositions, they also work with patterns in the fine sand, fallen logs, bunches of flowers, interesting rocks, bridges, fences, and more. Here’s a whole list of items to consider:

Human-made leading lines

  • roads
  • fences
  • boardwalks
  • bridges
  • bricks
  • anything in a line, such as lamp posts
  • buildings
  • doorways
  • window panes

Natural top lines

  • rivers
  • shorelines
  • waves
  • sand dunes
  • trees
  • tall grass
  • cliffs
  • stones
  • sunrays

Of course , the list is certainly hardly exhaustive; there are always more leading lines out there simply waiting to be found! So the next time you’re setting up a shot, take a moment to examine the scene to get prominent lines. You’re guaranteed to find some good ones, even if it takes a bit of searching.

logs leading toward house sunset at Ross Bay, Victoria, British Columbia
The logs on the beach lead the viewer’s vision into the frame and guide up to the house.

Step 2: Incorporate leading lines into your composition

Therefore you’ve found a leading collection or two. Well done – but the work isn’t total! Now it’s time to really incorporate the leading lines into the composition, a deliberate, innovative process.

Initial, ask yourself: Where do I want this leading line to take the viewer? Oftentimes, the solution will involve an interesting feature within the background – such as a sun – so you’ll need to adjust your camera place until the leading line factors roughly in the right path.

(If the leading line isn’t proceeding where you want it to, you can try moving forward and backward or side to side along the line, you can also find another leading range that works better in your structure. A leading line that points away from your main subject is likely counterproductive. )

Next, ask yourself: Is the leading line interesting sufficient that it can act as the foreground subject matter ? And can I get close enough to make it great in the frame?

If your leading line is interesting and you know you can get close, do it. The best pictures often involve a strong leading line, one that draws the viewer into the foreground after that leads them from downroad to background, like the stones in the photo below:

water leading toward cliffs Boquillas Canyon by Anne McKinnell
The soft leading line of the river’s edge creates depth.

Of course , some leading lines just can’t hold the viewer’s attention, or they’re not accessible, and that’s okay – leading lines are always powerful, even if they aren’t showstoppers. You can still use them, but be sure you find an interesting foreground subject matter that catches the eye or really tighten up your composition to focus on the main subject.

Finally, once you’ve roughly positioned your issue and any leading lines, evaluate the scene one more time. Consider ways that you could enhance the effects of the leading lines, perhaps by changing your camera place, by getting lower or higher, or even by using a wider or longer focal length.

Then take your shot!

Tips and tricks with regard to working with leading lines

Now that you’re familiar with the basics, let’s discuss some tips to improve your compositions along with leading lines, starting with:

1 . Use the largest lens you have available

You don’t need a wide-angle lens to create spectacular leading line compositions.

But it really, really assists.

Why? Well, a wide-angle zoom lens lets you capture an extensive scene – so you can placement leading lines toward the bottom of the frame, then allow them to flow into the shot, slowly getting farther and farther away until they disappear (or reach your main subject).

Compare this to a telephoto composition, where the leading lines generally begin close to the subject, then rapidly terminate. Less dynamic, less interesting, and less three-dimensional.

Many scenery photographers shoot with ultra-wide focal lengths for this specific reason. They often find a leading line, use a wide-angle lens to emphasize it, and create the stunningly deep composition.

Make sense?

path leading toward mountains

2 . Don’t be scared to incorporate multiple leading outlines into a single composition

A single leading line is definitely nice…

…but if you can find multiple leading lines, all guiding the particular viewer toward your main subject, your composition will be insanely strong.

For instance, you might use both edges of a road to point toward a distant hill. Or you might use 2 lines in the sand – one starting in the underside right, and one starting in the bottom left – in order to point toward a blue ocean.

road leading off into the distance as a leading line

Note that all of your leading lines should point toward the subject as much as possible. If the lines deviate from your subject, they’ll direct the viewer in the bad direction, which will prevent all of them from fully appreciating the image. Getting two or more lines in order to converge toward your subject may take some creativity, however the end result will be worth it.

3. Use the near-far technique to create plenty of level

The near-far technique is especially common in landscape photography. It’s a great way to create loads of depth in your photos, and it is how you can capture powerful pictures like this one:

stones leading through a Japanese garden

It’s also really easy to use. Here’s what you do:

First, make sure your leading line is suitably eye-catching. It should act as a subject in its very own right – like an interesting rock or a patch associated with colorful flowers.

Second, make sure you use a broad focal length. I’d suggest working with at least 35mm (on a full-frame camera), but 24mm, 18mm, or even 14mm is better.

3 rd, mount your camera to some tripod and get down lower over your subject. You would like to make the leading line prominent in the frame, even if it means getting a few inches from your subject. And you’ll wish to dial in a narrow aperture , like f/8, f/11, or even f/16, in order to keep both the foreground plus background sharp.

Your final shot will look incredible – with an fascinating foreground subject, a line that leads the eye, plus (hopefully! ) an interesting background susceptible to complete the composition.

How to use leading ranges for better compositions: last words

Top lines are the key compositional elements that carry our own eye through a photograph. They can be used to inform a story , place focus, and draw a connection between two objects.

So start thinking about leading lines wherever you go. Exercise finding leading lines within the chaos of everyday life. Your compositions will get very good, very fast!

Today over to you:

What do you think about top lines? Do you plan to incorporate them into your photos? Do you have any examples of leading range photography? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Anne McKinnell

Anne McKinnell

is a photographer, writer and nomad. She lives in an RECREATIONAL VEHICLE and travels around North America photographing beautiful places plus writing about travel, photography, and exactly how changing your life is not as frightening as it seems.

You can read about her adventures on the girl blog and become sure to check out her free photography eBooks .

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