Creating and Using Leading Lines

One of the most important considerations any photographer makes is determining the compositional lines in the images they create. In this short article I’ll be discussing how various elements can become leading lines and add to the visual flow of your images.

(NOTE: click on images to enlarge them)

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Leading lines often enter from the bottom left or right corner of an image, or from across the bottom of it. A good leading line provides a sense of flow and balance to an image and draws the viewer in almost like a magnet.

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Both natural and man-made elements can serve as leading lines. The paving stones in the image above create a very strong leading line, making the image feel deeper. You’ll notice that the adjacent paving stones are running perpendicular to it which sets up some visual ‘opposition’ in the image. This further accentuates the leading line.

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At other times you can position a leading line from a top corner as in the image above. The high contrast between the spines of the umbrella and the light fabric help to a very strong leading line even though its physical width is quite narrow.

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Even in busy images containing a lot of detail a leading line can still be created, like this moss covered branch entering the image from the top right corner. Sometimes the main subject of a photograph and its leading line are one in the same.

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At other times you may find a pattern in nature where a series of lines are converging and that pattern can serve as a very different type of leading line to draw viewers in.

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Man-made structures and the streets and sidewalks adjacent to them can often provide strong leading lines.

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A leading line can undulate and form a softer entry point into an image. Our eyes are often attracted to groupings of three. Notice how the three red items in the centre of the following composition help to focus a viewer’s attention.

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Differences in texture or pattern naturally draw our attention and can form a leading line, even if it is not entering an image from the corner, as in the above image. The positioning of the bright red objects helps to accentuate the leading line composed of decorative floor tiles.

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Some leading lines, like the pathway in the above image, can start out as a broad perspective that quickly narrows. This acts like a visual funnel to draw viewers into the image. You’ll also notice the cropped portion of the tree truck in the right hand corner serving as a ‘corner anchor’ that helps to push eye flow into the image.

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Buildings often give us opportunities to frame images with leading lines entering from both the top and bottom corners as seen in the above image.

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There are times when a scene with very dramatic lighting can benefit from a leading line. In the image above the leading line stretching out from the bottom left corner helps to hold the subject down in the frame so it is not overpowered by the sky.

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Our eyes are attracted to contrast and it can form a leading line just like the dark grey street stones do in the above image.

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We may also discover opportunities to combine natural and man-made elements to create a leading line. In the image above you can see how the triangular shape of the beach umbrella, the white tubing on the beach lounges and the natural curve of the beach have all been combined to create a leading line drawing the viewer’s eye to the building on the opposite side of the image.

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Colour, pattern and contrast can be combined to create a leading line like chair cushion and arm in the above image. The combination of strong horizontal lines as well as the abrupt vertical separation of colours in the rest of the image create some ‘opposition’ and helps to accentuate the short leading line in the bottom left corner.

It is important to remember that there are a range of compositional factors that can come into play when creating an image, and not every image will have, or need, a leading line. When we can incorporate leading lines they can add interest to our images and help create eye flow.

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Article and all images Copyright 2014, Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, reproduction or duplication including electronic is allowed without written consent.

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