Have you ever noticed that roads, paths, and trails tend to grab your attention while you shoot? These natural and man-made elements, known as leading lines, add depth and dimension to your photos. They’re one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve your composition. Here are some cool ways to use them to your advantage.
WHAT ARE LEADING LINES?
Leading lines are features that guide your viewers’ eyes. They also create structure, balance, and movement.
Check out some of the most common uses of leading lines:
- To lead a viewer into your photo
- To guide a viewer to the main subject
- To draw a connection from one part of your photo to another
- To tie the foreground and background together
- To create specific perspective
Shot by John LaGuardia with an Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III Camera | M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ Lens | 1/125 sec | F8.0 | ISO200
FINDING LEADING LINES
Anything that creates a definitive path is a leading line. This can be in both nature and in cities. A photographer’s job is to locate them. Hard, straight lines are easy to spot, but leading lines can also be curved, winding, or even incomplete. They can go any direction and be narrow, thick, or changing in size throughout the image. Some of the most effective lines are implied, like a sightline.
Olympus User Gallery Contributor, David Booth | Shot with an Olympus OM-D Camera |M.Zuiko 7-14mm F2.8 PRO Lens
Leading lines to look out for in nature are anything from rivers, cliffs, and waterfalls to sun rays and rows of trees.
Olympus User Gallery Contributor, Lara Andra | Shot with an Olympus OM-D Camera |M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO Lens
And don’t forget about man-made structures. Roads, bridges, and train tracks make great leading lines, as do smaller structures such as window panes and doorways.
Shooting a pattern from the right angle or capturing multiple of the same item in a row can also create leading lines. Once you spot them, they’re hard to ignore.
Olympus User Gallery Contributor, Michael Radcliffe | Shot with an Olympus OM-D Camera | M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 Lens
HOW TO USE LEADING LINES CORRECTLY
After you’ve found the strongest lines in your scene, you’ll need to decide how to use them for maximum impact. When framing your shot, ask yourself, “Where are the leading lines taking me?” Usually, the answer is a point of interest or tension but sometimes, the line can be a subject itself. Just make sure they don’t accidentally lead viewers out of the frame or away from core elements in your scene.
The most dynamic images usually combine leading lines with the rule of thirds. They often start at the bottom of the frame and bring a viewer upwards and inwards, from the foreground of an image to the subject. This immerses viewers in a three-dimensional scene. The further the lines go and the smaller they get, the greater depth you can add. Don’t be afraid to lead your viewers to a vanishing point.
Olympus User Gallery Contributor, Nam Ing | Shot with an Olympus OM-D Camera | M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 Lens
MAKE LEADING LINES WORK FOR YOU
Stay loose while you’re shooting. If your leading lines aren’t aligning with your subject, move yourself or adjust the camera angle. For example, if a line is leading out of frame toward the left but you want your viewer to notice something on the right, move to the other side of the line so the subject is properly framed.
Don’t feel limited by a single leading line. If there are multiple sources of tension in a scene, take advantage. You can place your subject at the intersection of several lines or create a cyclical composition if your lines are different shapes. Just don’t overcomplicate things to the point where a viewer can’t locate focal points.
Olympus User Gallery Contributor, Tom Robert Strande | Shot with an Olympus OM-D Camera | M.Zuiko 7-14mm F2.8 PRO Lens
For something different, try an interchangeable lens camera so you can play around with different lenses. To capture width and depth, add a wide-angle lens. This can exaggerate the length and shape of the leading lines, placing viewers directly into the frame. Also shoot in a narrow aperture to get a deeper depth of field so the line is in focus right to the back of the frame.
Of course, not every image has or needs leading lines. Sometimes, you’ll find a leading line actually detracts from the statement you want to make. If you can’t find any natural or man-made lines, let your creative eye be your guide.
Shot by John LaGuardia with an Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III Camera | M.Zuiko 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ Lens | 1/60 sec | F4 | ISO500