Leading lines in photography can be a powerful compositional tool. This simple technique helps a photographer bring the viewer’s eye to a focal point, and gives a picture an overall structure in terms of layout.
Basically, any time there is a strong line in a photograph, the spectator’s eye will naturally follow along it. This can be anything from a man-made object like a telephone pole or a road, to a natural object such as a tree or even a dark shadow. You can also pose people so that their posture creates this kind of focal point.
You can use this technique to control the viewer’s experience in a way that creates harmony or symmetry, by using one line to create a peaceful narrative. Or, you can create tension and drama by having intersecting or competing lines that fight for a spectator’s focus. When you master this compositional trick, you have vastly more control over how the emotional content of your photos will be perceived.
Sometimes these lines will occur naturally in a snapshot, such as when you take a picture of a road going into a sunset on the horizon. Other times, you may wish to particularly choose a shot because you can use this technique to meaningfully capture a found subject, such as by positioning a person in a portrait shot so that tree branches or shadows pull the viewer’s focus towards the subject’s face and facial expression.
It is also a technique that many photographers use not just when taking a shot, but when later editing their work. When you are looking over your product, you may see the potential for leading lines that you didn’t notice at the time the picture was taken. You can choose to highlight these either through cropping the image to bring a particularly strong visual aspect to the viewer’s attention, or by altering the white balance and contrast in the photo so that particular elements stand out.
You can use them to give a picture a feeling of motion, by creating a visual narrative that leads the eye on a dynamic journey. Some photographers use them as guideposts that actually draw the viewer’s attention across the photo to the edge of the image, and suggests a focal point beyond the picture’s frame.
As part of formal training in the medium of photography, many classes will include assignments designed to help emerging shutterbugs master this technique. If you are a self-taught photographer or hobbyist, you may find it beneficial to focus on this aspect of your work in particular for session of shots, or for a period of time, so that you can go on to have it in your toolkit as your skills develop.
Using leading lines in photography can give your pictures more emotional and compositional power. It’s little wonder that many books about this medium cover this technique, and that so many artists at both the hobbyist and professional level make use of a relatively simple way to guide their viewers’ experience of seeing an image.