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How to Rock Your Photos with Leading Lines
If you’ve never heard the term Leading Lines, you may wonder what the heck they are and how do I use them? No worries – it’s easy, and we’ll have you using them in a NY minute after this post! Leading Lines are exactly what they sound like. They are the lines in your imagery that lead your eye to the focal point. Some artworks have multiple focal points, but we would like to draw attention to the most important focal point. Leading Lines help the viewer’s brain to know exactly where to look and in what order. Leading Lines serve as tiny tour guides for your brain.
Sound complicated? It’s really not. In fact, you may already be rocking leading lines without even trying! For some artists, using these lines is intuitive. But if not, you can easily learn how to use them in your photography. It’s really a matter of paying attention when you’re composing your images so that you can use what’s already present to guide your viewer’s eyes. Here are some examples.
Some Real-Life Examples
Can you see in this image how the rows of tulips lead your eye to the windmill? Even if you look at the windmill first, your eyes move to the rows of color and then come right back to the windmill. This was taken in my hometown, Holland, MI, during Tulip Time, our annual town festival.
Can you see in this image how the rows of tulips lead your eye to the windmill? Even if you look at the windmill first, your eyes move to the rows of color and then come right back to the windmill. This was taken in my hometown, Holland, MI, during Tulip Time, our annual town festival. Tulip Time takes place on the first full week of May since 1929. It is the largest tulip festival in the United States. If you’ve never been, you should surely check us out! In fact, after Tulip Time was canceled in 2020 due to Covid-19, we learned how important tulips are in our community. You should definitely put us on your bucket list for future years. You won’t get better tulip photos anywhere! Here are Seven Reasons You MUST Visit Holland, Mi During Tulip Time.
Here’s another excellent example of leading lines. In this photo, the fence lines work to draw your eye right to the people. Like arrows, the white fence rails point directly at the main subject: the people and their adorable dog.
Fencelines are easy to find at almost any park or yard and are especially fun at setting your photo’s tone. Try finding some leading fencelines at your local zoo or farm when you’re out with the family!
Related: Everything You Need to Know About When and How to Creatively Use White Balance
Another great place to find leading lines is along pathways. I love this example! Roads and walkways almost always make fantastic leading lines. When in doubt, find a road to practice with. You’ll see how the road leading into the distance takes your eyes right down that road. A curvy path like this one is especially fun because not only does it guide your eye; it also creates dimension and draws you right into the image, connecting the subject to the background. A curvy path like this one makes me wonder what’s at the end.
Both of the above photos were taken on the grounds of the Felt Mansion in Saugatuck, Michigan.
Leading Lines work here too!
If you are taking photos inside, you can find many lines that will also work. Here my son was lying on the steps, a common place for him when watching his Minecraft videos. I’m not sure why he likes this spot so much, but when I saw him there for the hundredth time, I knew I couldn’t resist photographing him with all those leading lines! A simple shot from above captured a memory that will last for a lifetime.
Bridges and Things!
Ahhh…. The beautiful Anagh… How can you take your eyes off of her? She oozes confidence and youthful beauty. This shot is a great one to demonstrate how a bridge can make delicious leading lines. She is perfectly framed between the railings where they fade into the distance and then end, creating a frame around her. Lovely, isn’t she?
Here is another example of a Senior girl taken on a bridge. Can you tell how much I love bridges!? This is the lovely Hannah, who specifically wanted fall colors and this bridge! I love it when clients lead me to new locations! Can you see how once again, the lines of the bridge frame her perfectly on both sides?
A side tip here is to make sure your subject is centered in this kind of shot. Here’s another quick tip: One Small Photo Tip that will Make a Big Difference
Finding Leading Lines Can be So Much Fun!
Sometimes a pop of color adds even more to the effect. This time take note of the contrast between Anagh’s dress and the blue railings that bring your eye right to her. Your eye begins at the front (or right) of the shot and moves right down the line to focus on our beautiful subject. The contrast between the blue lines and her orange dress adds so much interest!
If you’re having trouble figuring out how the lines move your eyes through the photo, try this exercise. Pick a photo and line it up right in front of you. Close your eyes for a few seconds and take a deep breath. When you re-open your eyes, take notice of what details you see first. Then pay attention to where your eyes move through the photo. Then do it again. I’ll bet you notice that the same thing happens twice. As an artist, you can indeed control where your viewers look when looking at your photo. So, let’s keep studying.
This is the same blue railing from Anagh’s photo above, just taken from the opposite direction. This time the railing serves as a guide from both sides, leading your eyes straight to the three subjects in the center. As I mentioned earlier, when you are using both sides of a railing or bridge, center your subjects in the frame to get this effect!
Of course, it’s always fun to try a few different angles to see what you like as well. Better to have extras to choose from!
And once again, this beautiful blue railing does the leading. Because of the strong silhouette effect, you can’t even tell it’s that bright blue railing, can you? But no matter the color, it is another example of how the railing does the leading. When you are in the field composing your photo, be sure to move around and look at your options. This scene would not look at all the same if you were shooting the lighthouse straight on.
Circular works, too!
Remember that part of controlling the viewer’s eye sometimes includes keeping those eyes right inside the photo. The lines in this image lead your eyes in a circular motion, so you never leave the frame. The log on the bottom right third line sends you right back up into the photo. I didn’t place the log here, but I did walk all around while looking through my lens to find the best composition. It’s a great exercise to learn to move around and change your perspective to get just the right composition.
Get Crazy When You’re Searching for Lines!
Leading lines do not have to be straight. Look at how the green moss in the cracks here directs you right to the blue spot on the building. These lines draw your eyes from the foreground up and into the image. This image would lose character if it didn’t have those lines giving direction. This shot also employs another simple tip. You can read about it in One Small Photo Tip that will Make a Big Difference.
Are We Ever Really Done Learning?
If you aren’t used to looking for leading lines when you’re composing your shots, don’t worry. It’s never too late to start. Leading Lines can be made of almost anything.
Check out the lines on this bench. This is a shot I took of my son a few years ago. The lines on the bench all point right toward our main subject. I didn’t do it on purpose. In fact, if I were retaking the shot, I would step a bit further back and have even more lines in the photo, maybe even some behind him. It’s important to practice and see what looks best, especially while you’re learning. And when are we ever really done learning?
The good news is that I still live near that spot and can easily go back and re-shoot if I want.
If you want to improve your photography, you need to practice! The use of leading lines will improve your results. Now get out there and practice! Look for lines in everything. Once you start looking, it’s hard not to see them. As always, if you have any questions, please send ‘em my way! You can comment here or pop on into the private Veronicajune Photography FB Group HERE. We are a friendly, kind, and helpful community of like-minded photographers!
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