Leading Lines

“Leading Lines” in photography are exactly what they sound like – lines that direct a viewer’s gaze to an important part of the photo or to assist the viewer’s journey through the photo.  The nature of the lines, however, are not always so straightforward.

Both naturally occurring and man-made features can form useful leading lines.  Railroad tracks, roads, fences , sidewalks, and buildings all prove useful as leading lines in photographic composition.   Converging lines, such as railroad tracks, often serve a dual purpose of providing a sense of depth to the picture.  Sometimes the main subject of the photo is the leading line – inherently intersting to the human eye.

Photo Credit: Dan Scott
Notice how the edge of the bench forms a leading line to draw the viewer's eye to the main subject. Photo Credit: Shawn Roberts
Photo Credit: Elaine DesPres

Notice how the rails and planks converge on the lighthouse – not only leading the viewer’s eye, but also providing a sense of depth to the photo as well.  The use of a wide angle lens enhances such an effect.  This photo also nicely highlights how the natural feature of the shoreline (blue arrows) converge and “meet” at the lighthouse.  Even the clouds get in on the action  with patterns of light and dark and cloud formation edges pointing to the main subject.

The clouds provide an additional important example of leading lines – they need not be straight.  Consider the possible lines in the images below and then hover to flip the images for one possible interpretation of leading lines present.

Notice how the riverbanks lead to the waterfall
while converging - thus providing a sense of depth.

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Leading lines do not even have to reach all or even most of the way from one side of the image to the other.  Im the image below, the tire tracks suggest diagonal direction towards the sun while the angled nature of the sign caused by use of a wide angle also points toward the sun.

Photo Credit: Elaine DesPres
Photo Credit: Dan Scott

Street Photography expert, Dan Scott, masterfully used multiple types of leading lines in the photo to the left.  The counter top, shot at the level of the counter, leads the viewer’s eye right to the man on the right.  The photo also exhibits a second, and extremely powerful use of leading lines, the gaze.  Humans  are curious creatiures.  If one observes another looking towards something, the natural tendency is to look and see what is so interesting.  In this case, the counter draws the viewer’s attention to the man and then his gaze causes the viewer to look left to see what is so interesting to him.

Advertising photographers will often use the human gaze towards empty space (called negative space) which allows a company to put a logo and/or text in a location that is emphasized by the gaze.

Photo Credit: Dan Scott

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