Many professional photographers will tell you that every winning shot is about composition. You may have captured all of the action, instilled in your photograph a certain mood or emotion or even shot your photos at a breathtaking location. But without good composition, your photographs will still look amateur even to the untrained eye.
Composition is the encapsulation of many concepts that all strive to do one thing — make the positive and negative, the foreground and background, and the shadow and highlights all work harmoniously. Composition is about your use of space, how that space interacts with itself and where your audience’s eye is drawn to and the subsequent path it takes. One key to great composition, which is often overlooked, is known as the “leading lines technique.”
What are leading lines?
Even in nature, lines can be found that tell our eyes where to look, what path to follow and what is most important, even if all of this is done subconsciously. In photography, the concept of leading lines takes this unconscious habit and tries to control it. Using lines, either natural or man-made, to lead your audience in a certain way when viewing your photography.
Composition is all about hierarchy and leading lines are one of the best ways to establish an intentional one. Things like train tracks, though innocuous in most settings, can act as a clever way to bring attention to your subject. While train tracks are an obvious example, many others can be found if you cultivate the special awareness and intuition of a great photographer.
Why are leading lines important?
While leading lines aren’t present in all photographs, they’re still a unique, often underused technique to put in your arsenal. Not every backdrop will have them and sometimes you simply don’t need them. However, when you see them in their natural habitat, it would be worth taking advantage of them even for just a few photographs.
A photograph with great composition that utilizes leading lines effectively has an exceptional quality that’ll catch the attention of many people. Something is alluring about subconscious direction and that’s exactly what the concept of leading lines aims to do.
How do you use leading lines in photography?
To use leading lines effectively, you first must have an eye for them. Finding them in nature can be hard when you’re in a session. Yet, it’s best to train yourself to keep your eyes open. Being aware of your surroundings even amid photographing your model is what will make you a great photographer.
Keeping a mental (or physical) list of backdrops with leading lines can be a beneficial asset to your photography business. Not only does it take the guesswork out of finding the perfect location, but it allows you to decide preemptively if that is the look you want for your client.
When it comes down to it, composing your shot using either the golden ratio or by playing with both symmetry and asymmetry will get you different results. For instance, a perfectly centered shot of train tracks so they grow smaller, eventually disappearing against the horizon, is a great way to use the lines drawn by the tracks. In other cases, using the golden ratio or introducing those same lines asymmetrically might get you an unorthodox result, which can be just as good.
Leading lines photography ideas
Leading lines can be found anywhere be it in nature or as part of a man-made structure. However, there are some great go-to options that photographers often utilize when using the leading lines technique.
What better way to draw attention to your subject matter than by positioning it in the middle of train tracks? Or maybe your wish is to buck the trend and place them outside of that space? No matter how you decide to use the bold lines creating by a set of train tracks, you’ll find it quite easy to conjure up striking imagery with little effort.
When you’re shooting from ground level, placing your lens close to the surface of a wall can give you an interesting angle that leads your audience’s eye toward the horizon. The closer you get to the wall, the smaller your viewer will appear against the imposingly large wall framing your photograph.
Stairs & escalators
There are many ways to shoot a set of steps. No matter where you position your camera you’ll be able to capture the stark angles and leading lines created by the stairs. Shooting from the bottom looking upward can give your photographs an imposing quality. Shooting in the opposite direction can capture your subject matter as they exit the frame.
An archway or tunnel can be a great place to shoot a portrait. Not only does it provide you with visually interesting curves, but it brings immediate attention to your subject, making them a literal keystone to the photo. Depending on your lens, you can make their figure imposing or meek or something in-between. There’s plenty of room for experimentation.
Leading lines & framing are just one tool in your arsenal
It’s best to treat the idea of leading lines as one tool of many that you have in your arsenal. Not every session needs it and it’s not always appropriate. However, when used appropriately, leading lines are a straightforward way to build your photograph’s composition. Most of all, it’s a great way to highlight your subject matter.
There are many ways to build composition in a photograph. Your job as the photographer is to build something for your client that sits on a sturdy foundation and has lasting power. That means you should keep the gimmicks to a minimum and use your knowledge to enhance your client. Leading lines is just one way to enhance a photograph but it’s an effective and creative one.