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Leading lines are a composition technique used in photography that draws the viewer’s attention to lines that lead to the main subject of the image.

A leading line paves an easy path for the eye to follow through different elements of a photo. Usually, they start at the bottom of the frame and guide the eye upwards and inwards, from the foreground of the image to the background, typically leading toward the main subject. Leading lines create dynamism and a feeling of motion in an image. Sometimes the lines go so far inwards that they reach a vanishing point instead of highlighting a subject.

Leading Lines

Leading lines create depth and dimensionality when they connect the foreground to the background of a scene. This helps to draw the viewer into the image. A simple example of this is a railway track. Where the camera is set up and how the lines move through the frame will change the feel of the shot. The most common way to use converging lines is to position the camera in the centre of the frame in order to have symmetry as well as the leading lines. As the eye often looks at the bottom left of an image first before working across the shot to the top right corner, the lines can also be positioned such that they flow from corner to corner. A line which follows this path will unknowingly guide the viewer through the shot. Multiple diagonals can guide the eye to one spot in the image and by intersecting they create a focus point in the shot where the attention of the viewer is held.

If the lines lead out of the frame it can create a sense of wonder but equally, it could lead to frustration as the viewer doesn't know what's beyond the frame and as they've followed the direction of the line, they'll end up not looking at your shot.

The strongest lines available in a scene should be used to enhance the photograph’s composition. Leading lines can create the following effects:

1. Create depth and perspective

Create depth and perspective

When leading lines are positioned such that they connect the foreground to the background, it creates an effect of depth in the shot. This creates a more interesting and dynamic photograph. Leading lines also guide the eye to the main focus of the image and draw more attention to it.

2. Create a visual journey

Create a visual journey

Leading lines can guide the viewer’s attention from one part of the image to another, thereby creating a visual journey. Using leading lines in this manner guides the eye of the viewer across the frame, vertically, horizontally or diagonally.

3. Give the subject more importance

Give the subject more importance

If the subject is placed at the point where the lines converge or intersect in the frame the viewer’s attention is drawn directly to it. In this case, the leading lines keep the focus of the image sharply at one point or a few specific points in the frame.

4. Make a cyclical composition

Make a cyclical composition

In this type of composition, the lines lead the eye in a circular motion and never out of the frame. These lines are curved and therefore more dynamic. The images have a feeling of motion to them.

Leading lines can be created easily using everyday objects and sceneries. Pay special attention to man-made things such as:

  • roads

  • fences

  • boardwalks

  • bridges

  • bricks

  • anything in a row such as lamp posts

  • buildings

  • doorways

  • window panes

In nature, pay particular attention to:

  • rivers

  • shorelines

  • waves

  • sand dunes

  • trees

  • tall grass

  • cliffs

  • rocks

  • sun rays

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