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Design & Style

How to Use Leading Lines in Photography

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 3 min read

Good photographers are capable of creating images that naturally draw your eye along subtle, organic lines to a specific focal point. In order to achieve this effect, many skilled photographers use a compositional tool known as leading lines. Leading lines are incredibly effective at directing a viewer’s attention, and learning how to use them will greatly improve your photography composition.

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What Are Leading Lines in Photography?

Leading lines are lines that appear in a photograph that have been framed and positioned by the photographer to draw the viewer's eye towards a specific point of interest. These lines often draw the viewer’s eye in a specific direction or towards a designated portion of the photograph.

4 Types of Leading Lines in Photography

In order to use leading lines, it’s useful to understand the different types of leading lines and how they are best used. Some of the categories of leading lines include:

  1. Horizontal lines: Horizontal leading lines are often found in nature and landscape photography. Because horizontal leading lines often stretch across the entire width of the image, they tend to be used when shooting with a wide-angle lens.
  2. Vertical lines: Vertical lines tend to communicate power and hierarchy. They draw the eye up or down within the frame and can be used to convey status within your picture. Vertical leading lines are often found in fashion photography and street photography.
  3. Diagonal lines: Diagonal lines are used to create a sense of movement and change. Diagonal lines work to emphasize a sense of distance and often track from foreground to background. If you’re working with a large depth of field, try experimenting with diagonal lines to accentuate the sense of depth in your image.
  4. Converging lines: If there are converging lines present in your frame, it’s best practice to situate the subject of the image at the axis of these leading lines. Converging lines are very effective at drawing the eye to the point of convergence and can be a strong compositional element to include in your photographs.
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What Is the Difference Between Leading Lines and Paths?

As you develop your photography skills, it’s important to know the difference between leading lines and paths. Both leading lines and paths are compositional techniques that use lines to draw the viewer’s eye towards something and give an image a sense of perspective. The difference is that unlike leading lines, paths function as a compositional tool that always draws a viewer’s eyes to the horizon line. Leading lines are more versatile in that they can be used to draw the viewer to a main focal point or point of interest that varies depending on the main subject of the photograph.

6 Tips for Using Leading Lines in Your Photography

Learning to effectively use leading lines can help you create dynamic and powerful images that highlight your chosen subject matter. Practicing the techniques outlined below will help hone your photography skills and improve your final product:

  1. Evaluate location and time of day. Are you outdoors in nature or among skyscrapers in an urban environment? Is it late in the day? If so, the sun’s rays might cast long shadows that could be used as leading lines. All of these questions can help determine how leading lines might serve your photographs.
  2. Notice any natural lines. Scan the area in which you’re shooting and look for natural and manmade structures that could be positioned in the frame to create strong leading lines.
  3. Determine what your focal point is. Your location might be full of potential leading lines, but it’s up to you to determine which of them best serve your subject matter. You might be shooting along railroad tracks or among lamp posts, but unless you can line up these lines with the focal point of your image, they will only serve to confuse the viewer.
  4. Position yourself accordingly. Once you’ve determined which leading lines you will include, align your camera so that the lines lead your eye towards the focal point of your image. Take your time doing this, but also be aware that if you are using shadows as leading lines, you have to account for their movement over time.
  5. Adjust for lighting conditions. Once you’ve framed up your image, take stock of the lighting conditions, and adjust your shutter speed and aperture. Strong leading lines can’t compensate for an under- or overexposed photo, so it’s important to make sure that your camera is adjusted accordingly.
  6. Take multiple shots. As always, it’s important to give yourself options once you get down to editing your images and choosing your favorite shots. Vary your angles and camera settings in order to cover your bases.

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