Creative images in photography include many compositional elements that come together to form a beautiful photograph. Lines exist everywhere in the world and likewise, exist in every image we take.
Learning to see these leading lines in photography and using them to lead to your subject, should be part of your journey to becoming a great photographer.
1. What are Leading Lines?
Leading lines in photography are lines that lead the eye of the viewer through your image, and often directly to your subject. These lines can be very direct and visual, or they can be subtle.
Often, photographers become so worried about their subject; they forget to pay attention to the lines that exist in the image.
Hence, paying close attention to these lines, and using them to strength the image, your images will be better, and you will become a better photographer.
Take a look at the images below. Do you see the leading lines in them?
2. Finding Leading Lines.
When seeking leading lines in photography, the natural place to find them is on the ground with roads, paths, and walkways. These types of leading lines are everywhere, and they create beautiful lines that lead to your subject.
They also create a sense of depth in your image, strengthening the composition even further.
In this photograph, the road is placed at an angle adding interest and tension to the picture. Your eye initially is lead to the roadway and follows it before taking in the rest of the scene.
The contrast of dark and light on the road draws your eye in as well. Lines form a crucial part of a composition, so practice seeing them around you in everyday life. As you look at the images in the article, take notice where your eye enters each image and where it goes from there.
As you do this, you will begin to see the importance of leading lines as a key compositional element in photography.
Take a look at this photograph of a city street below.
What do you notice first?
Where do the leading lines take your eye once it enters the image?
I would suggest that your eye begins with the scene as a whole and then naturally follows the road to the end before soaking in the rest of the image.
Once you have visually made it to the end of the road, you then take in other details like the planter boxes, house lights or even the bicycle at the end of the road.
If this was your image, where would be the ideal spot to place your subject?
There, of course, are multiple answers to this question, but this process of considering it helps you to understand composition better. One great spot would be where the lines begin to converge.
The leading lines of the image pull the eye to this convergence, effectively leading the viewer to the subject.
3. Start to See Leading Lines Everywhere.
It’s easy to spot the lines that are staring right back at you, but what about the more subtle lines?
Take a look at this image. Do you see the leading lines?
Of course you see the lines! They’re everywhere in this image. But would notice them and place your subject in a location where the leading lines strengthen the image?
Do you realize that the lines lead you to to the plant in the corner?
Distinct lines that form that form the windows and doors, as well as the lines of the building outside. There are also less distinct lines in this image, like the lines produced by the light or the lines created by the edges of the wall.
Or, lines that lead to others lines.
Therefore, training your eye to see all the leading lines in your image, becomes an important part of creating beautiful photographs.
Almost as important as seeing light.
4. Practice Seeing Lines.
Wherever you are right now, stop and look around. Look for the leading lines that exist around you. If you’re indoors, there are walls, blinds, cabinets, shelves, etc..
If you are outside, there are roads, buildings, windows, paths etc…
As you begin to take notice of the lines around you, you’ll begin to see the power they have in leading the eye of the viewer directly to your subject.
This exercise, of stopping and noticing lines around you is one that I suggest you do every day. You see, practicing seeing and thinking like a photographer can be something you work on everywhere you go, every day.
It doesn’t require that you carve our ‘special practice time.’ Practice being a photographer every day, all day, even when you don’t have a camera, although with cell phone cameras, how often are we truly without a camera?
5. Seeing Lines Created by Light.
Light and shadow, as you know, are essential in photography and applying vital elements to form leading lines is a ‘next level’ compositional skill that you can develop, simply by working on it.
Begin using light and shadow to create leading lines in your images by using shadow to create lines in your images.
It can be a bit harder to use light as a leading line, but as you begin to see the lines created by light, you will start to have success using light to lead the eye of the viewer to your subject.
6. Exaggerating Leading Lines.
As the photographer, you have the power to soften or exaggerate the lines in your image. This exaggeration can help you use leading lines to create the look you are after.
This concept is important to understand as you learn to use lines to lead the viewer’s eye in your images.
Look at the two images below of railroad tracks. In the second image I exaggerated the lines. How did I do it?
I did it by getting close. As I stand above the tracks, notice how they gently point inward, slowly moving to the vanishing point in the distance.
Conversely, if you sit down between the tracks, the parallel lines converge at a much more severe rate. All lines work this way; you exaggerate them by getting close.
In the image below of my son, I brought my camera right next to the railing to exaggerate the line as it leads to him. Employing this technique can help create visually appealing images.
There is a real power in using lines in your images to strengthen and lead to your subject. You as a photographer need to first, learn to see the lines. You do this by noticing the lines around you every day.
As you go about your day, notice lines and do a bit of street photography with your cell phone, trying to use lines to lead to a subject you have selected.
It may seem difficult at first, but the more you practice, the easier it becomes.
Then, as you go out and shoot with a client or with a purpose, your use of leading lines will become more natural and easier to accomplish.
Remember, there will almost always be lines in your images, so make sure they create interest and lead to your subject, rather than distract and lead the eye of the viewer away.
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