Lesson 55: The Rule of Leading Lines

This is a “rule” of photography that we haven’t really talked much about.  When you’re composing your photo (meaning deciding what angle to shoot from, what to include in the frame, how close to get, etc.) one of the considerations should be whether there are leading lines in the subject or scene you’re shooting.

Leading lines refer to lines (they don’t have to be straight) that lead the eye into or through the photo, usually helping to draw the eye to a point of interest or main subject.  I sometimes end up with just lines because I find the 3-dimensional aspect they add to photos interesting.

For examples of leading lines, I could just refer back to yesterday’s lesson on symmetry–many of those examples work because of the leading lines combined with the symmetrical framing.  However, let’s look at some new examples.  First, here’s are a comparison to make this concept obvious :

The photo on the left captures the Tennessee Aquarium across the river.  While the piece of foreground tree branches in the lower right (which are otherwise more of a distraction than a help) and the shadows on the river in front of the aquarium help create some sense of three dimensions, it’s what one might call a “flat” photo.

In comparison, the photo on the right creates a strong line that the eye follows down the gray curb and path to discover the Tennessee Aquarium at the end.  While, if you goal is to show off the Tennessee Aquarium, this perspective might be a bit far away to really achieve that, the strong lines drawing the eye create a different a much “deeper” photo than the previous one and provide an interesting option, at least.

I mentioned the shadows in the previous comparison.  Shadows can create interesting leading lines that add to photos like in the following examples:

Similarly, light can work the same way.  While the light in the following example doesn’t exactly for a “line” per se, the reflection on the water creates a visual path through the image that draws the eye in from the front and then up to the moon above.  To demonstrate this, I removed the reflections on the water from the photo.  Notice the difference on how your eye moves over the photo and the sense of depth in the two versions:

Here are some more examples of photos with leading lines (not all are iPhone photos, as noted in captions).  Notice the variety of ways to create leading lines, including dogs’ legs:

Your Assignment:  If you’re sitting on the couch reading this and your iPhone is in reach, try taking a photo of something at the end of your couch by positing yourself/phone so that your using the back of the couch to form a leading line to your subject.  Or if you have a wood floor, how about getting down close and using the lines formed in the floor boards?  Maybe walk outside and use the sidewalk, street, gutter of your roof.  Leading lines are everywhere.  Sometimes you just have to move around a bit to find them.  Do you like this look?  Can you see how it can help make some photos have more depth and interest?