Leading Lines in Photography: The Ultimate Guide

Ready to learn everything you need to know about leading line photography?

The composition of your photos can either make or break your image. With the boom of social media, and everyone owning a camera phone these days, photography is becoming a highly competitive field.

It’s important to learn techniques to help your photos stand out among a sea of images online. 

Leading line photography is a form of composition that can elevate your photos to the next level.

If you don’t know how to find a leading line, this guide will cover everything you need to know about this composition technique.

You will understand how leading lines work and learn tips for incorporating leading lines into your photographs.

At a glance, here is what this guide will cover: (click to jump ahead)

  1. What is a leading line?
  2. How leading lines work
  3. Why it is important to use leading lines in photography
  4. How to use leading lines in your photos
  5. Where can you find leading lines?
  6. The impact of the direction of leading lines
  7. Tips and tricks for using leading lines in photos
  8. The most common leading line mistake!

Let’s get started.

What is a leading line in a photo?

A leading line is a line that directs the viewer’s attention from one area of the image to another.

It is usually applied to draw attention to the primary subject or region of interest in the shot, and it is a powerful tool for influencing how a viewer interprets your image.

leading lines in photography gray concrete boardwalk

How Leading Lines Work

A leading line often begins around the bottom or corner of your image and guides the viewer’s eye through the picture to the main focus point.

When composing your shot, you need to be mindful of the way you are directing the audience through the image. If your subject is at the front of the photo and the line leads away from them, the viewer’s eye will follow the line out of the frame.

Leading lines frequently appear towards the left of the image as that can be where the viewer’s eyes typically glance to first. However, this is just a guide, and you can place your leading line elsewhere.

The composition technique of using leading lines can help give your photos a perspective of size and distance.

Usually, your leading line will appear larger in the foreground than it does in the back of the photo. It is therefore a fantastic method to give a picture depth and three-dimensionality.

You can create a 3D illusion by highlighting the beginning of a line before letting it drift away into the background.

Why it is important to use leading lines in photography

By employing leading lines, you’re effectively taking charge of the image’s story and assisting in telling it correctly. You’re leading viewers both within and outside the image.

This composition instructs the audience where to look, what to look at, and in what sequence rather than merely shooting without intention.

Leading lines can also be used to give a composition fluidity, commonly referred to as dynamism. Leading lines naturally guide the eye through the image, keeping them captivated.

Your photos will get a new degree of depth and vitality if you can master the technique of leading lines.

Rather than letting the viewer’s eyes wander where they decide, you effectively ensure that the audience will discover the subject matter and get the correct message of your photo.

It is well known that using leading lines can often prove to be a wonderfully successful tactic.

Some of the most famous photographers have used leading lines as a technique throughout history and created some outstanding photos. 

However, this does not imply that leading lines should be used in all of your photographs or in all styles of photography. They won’t always work with all compositions. 

leading lines photography concrete footbridge with black chain link fences

How to use leading lines in your photos 

Creating photos with leading lines involves two straightforward steps:

  1. Find the leading line 
  2. Incorporate the leading line into your composition

It is obvious that this is easier said than done, but neither of the aforementioned tasks are really difficult.

You just need a little bit of perseverance and practice.

The next part of this guide will teach you exactly how to find a leading line and how to incorporate these lines into your photos.

Where can you find leading lines?

Leading line photography composition can feel complex at first. However, it’s one of the easier composition techniques to learn.

If you take the time to slow down and really notice your surroundings, you will soon realise that leading lines are everywhere.

In order to direct the audience and arrange the scene, leading lines can be applied in all disciplines of photography.

You can often find examples of leading line photography in every genre, including portrait, astrophotography, landscape, sport, wildlife, architecture, and photojournalism.

Examples of some different leading lines in photography include:

  • A person’s finger pointing to a subject.
  • A fence that spans a field and directs you toward roaming sheep.
  • A driveway leading to a home.
  • A log or branch pointing to a subject.

Almost anything can work as a leading line. Interestingly, they are not just found in naturally existing lines.

For instance, many excellent photographers use leading lines they construct with props to create stunning compositions.

The most important thing for you to remember is, successful leading lines direct the viewer’s attention to the image’s main subject.

Additional examples of types of leading lines you could use in your photography include roads, footpaths, rivers, electric lines, people’s limbs such as their feet, water ripples, a line of people or animals such as birds, traffic, coastlines, waves, pebbles or boulders and footprints.

This list could continue forever!

Remember, curved lines can have a similar impact as straight lines, therefore consider this when you are thinking about how to compose your photo. Your leading line doesn’t need to be straight.  

train railway leading photo near trees

The impact of the direction of leading lines

The direction of a leading line in a photo can completely change the vibe of the image. It is important to consider this before you shoot. 

Ultimately, your aim as a photographer is to tell a story through your image. You should direct them on a journey with your leading line so they can feel the moment. If done correctly, it can invoke the same feelings you had when you were taking the photo. 

Even though when taking the image, you might not realise it, the correct positioning of a leading line in your image creates an emotional connection with your audience.

Similar to how colours affect people’s feelings, the direction of lines can have an impact on how people feel too. Which is worth considering if you are trying to make your audience feel a certain way.

  • Horizontal lines will evoke feelings of safety or comfort.

Horizontal lines are usually inconspicuous because they are found abundantly. For example, in the finest landscape photography, the horizon acts as a natural horizontal leading line.

  • Diagonal lines will provide the impression of motion and energy.

Different emotions are evoked by a diagonal line with a downhill trajectory as opposed to one with an upward gradient.

Consider an aeroplane landing with diagonal descending lines that soothes the spectator.

Contrarily, as an aeroplane takes off, diagonal lines will go upward, creating a sense of anticipation.

  • Curved lines can create the feeling of balance or stability

Curved lines are less structured and less likely to be identified by the audience as a leading line. However, employing them will have the same result.

Curved lines also have the tremendous benefit of guiding your audience’s gaze in an indirect manner.

This enables you to direct them through a larger area within the frame and they spend more time exploring your photo.

  • Vertical lines will convey a sense of authority and growth.

Think about being in a forest where tall trees loom above you. Their trunks create leading lines that ascend upward from the earth to the sky.

To determine how high they can go, your eyes are pulled to the top. 

  • Intersecting lines can cause confusion

Avoid intersecting lines in compositions unless you intend to use them to your advantage. They can create tension and a sense of collision in the viewer’s mind.

The audience’s gaze is unable to determine which path to take when two lines converge.

  • Implied lines can generate curiosity

There are instances where the viewer’s eyes are drawn to a leading line even if there isn’t a prominent line in the photo.

The most frequently used example is when a person is staring at something in the frame. The viewer’s eyes in this instance, will inevitably follow the subject’s gaze.

Creating an audience that is naturally intrigued as to what the model is focusing on.

brown bridge leading photo with usa flag on top under blue sky

Tips and tricks for working with leading lines

1. Know your focus point

Before searching for your leading lines, identify the focus point in your photos. Even if you see an excellent line, it may not work out if you do not compose your shot with your focal point in mind. 

Position yourself properly for the photo and align your leading lines with your focus point. Set your camera’s alignment such that the lines naturally direct your audience’s attention to the image’s focal point.

2. Take several photos

This advice is useful for a range of situations since it allows you to post-process photos in numerous ways.

It serves as a safety net in case your initial photo wasn’t set up exactly how you had envisioned it. Or perhaps, your focus point wasn’t where it should have been. You will find the lighting and angles that best suit your photo and vision by experimenting.

3. Consider your lens 

With the help of a wide-angle lens, you capture a vast vista. As a result, you can place leading lines at the bottom of the frame, then let them flow into the picture before gently fading away until they reach your subject.

For precisely this reason, a lot of landscape photographers use ultra-wide lens lengths. It allows them to locate a leading line, enhance it with a wide-angle lens to produce a strikingly deep composition.

Check out this guide to camera lenses explained if you want to learn more about different types of lenses.

4. Experiment with multiple leading lines

When learning to incorporate leading lines into your photos, it’s good to have one leading line, but what if you saw multiple in your scene?

If you can discover a few leading lines that all point the audience in the direction of your focus point, your composition will become really powerful.

Keep in mind that all of your leading lines should point towards the focus point in your photo. The viewer won’t be able to completely appreciate the image if the lines stray from the focus point, as they will lead them in the incorrect direction.

It will take a little more thought to get two or more lines to converge on the focus point, but if found, the outcome will be worthwhile.

brown dock line photography

The most common leading line mistake!

Having a line that doesn’t direct the viewer to a subject is the most common error made while applying this composition technique.

Make sure there is something at the end of the line for the audience to see. 

For example, the thought of using a pathway as a leading line may seem appealing.

However, this line may not genuinely be a leading line in your photo if there is nothing or no one that you want the viewer to see at the end of the path.

This will just be a line in the photograph, and not lead the viewer anywhere.

Bonus tip

Don’t let your creativity end here. Go and check out this guide to motion blur photography!

Final thoughts

Making use of leading lines in your photography will help you generate distinctive images.

Take your new skills on the road and check out the Best Places to Visit in Cornwall for Photography.

By adopting this photography composition approach, you can perfect the skill of drawing the viewer’s eyes to your focus points organically while also taking stunning photographs.

If it doesn’t work the first time, don’t give up! If you make it a tradition of searching for leading lines before each shot, it will soon come easily.

Want to learn more photography composition techniques? Check out this guide to the rule of thirds explained.

DISCLOSURE: I may earn a small commission from some of the links above. For the benefit of the doubt, please assume all links might be affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

lights night dark curve lining the road

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