Thanks to our partner, Rocky Nook, for this chapter on leading lines from “The Enthusiast’s Guide to Composition”. This title and many and more books for photographers are right here.

Leading lines

As the name implies, “leading lines” guide the viewer’s eyes around the image. The “lines” can be literal (like the double yellow stripes down the middle of a road) or a loose interpretation (tall grass swaying to one side in the breeze).

Like repeating patterns, once you know what to look for, you’ll find leading lines everywhere in both nature and the man-made world. The road in the opening photo is a classic example of a man-made leading line. And did you notice the cyclist’s position in the frame? Is he centered?

No! The leading line of the road brings your eye directly to him — in the bottom-left third of the frame. Combining multiple composition principles (in this case, leading lines combine with the rule of thirds) makes your photos that much stronger.

The couple’s footprints on the beach is another strong example of leading lines combined with the rule of thirds. In this image, the leading line invites viewers to literally follow in the footsteps of the subjects.

Leading lines guide the viewer’s eye

When using leading lines in your composition be aware of how they’re positioned in relation to your intended subject. Because they guide your viewers through an image, it’s important to stop and pay attention to where the lines are leading your viewer’s eyes.

The beach is a leading line that guides you to the two people then curves around them to lea to the plane.
The beach is a leading line that guides you to the two people then curves around them and leads you to the plane.

The goal is to have them directed toward your subject and/or keep them circling around the image. In some cases, the leading lines are only implied, where the airplane, the kayak, and the boy and his dad form a triangle that keeps the attention moving among all three pieces.