Using Leading Lines for Composition

In the last post I discussed using the Rule of Thirds for composition. Now I want to go into using leading lines.

Leading lines do exactly what you think they would. Lead your eye through the photo. You can use almost anything for a leading line. A highway, water, rocks, lines in the sand, etc. The best part about using leading lines is giving your photos dimension.

When it comes to leading lines, make sure the lines leads somewhere. You can see in the photo below, the road goes through the photo but falls off the end without going anywhere. That is exactly what your eye will do when looking at the photo.

Line falls off the frame.

Line falls off the frame.

This photo was taken while I was on a workshop learning photography. The instructor asked me why the road was off the frame. I didn’t have an answer. Then he explained how the lines need to stay in the frame to complete the story.

Take a look at the next photo. This was taken from the same location just a couple days back when we had a lot of snow in Seattle. Notice how the road leads your eye from the left corner to the upper right where the downtown Seattle is the main subject. I also lucked out and had some amazing gold light wash over the city briefly due to a break in the clouds.

Road leads your eye to the city.

Road leads your eye to the city.

When it comes to photos with creeks and rivers, the water is the subject. The path of the water leads your eye through the photo. That is all it needs to do. Start in one corner and go to the water’s end. This next photo shows how this works. You eye starts in the lower left, heads to the right of the frame then back to the center. It gives direction your eye can follow. Notice how the water stops around the top third of the frame. This photo uses leading lines and Rule of Thirds. Crazy, I know.

Grade Creek-Edit.jpg

One other example of leading lines is from a backpacking trip I did last year around the Copper Ridge Loop in the North Cascades. The second night of our trip we were at a small tarn above Whatcom Pass with Mt. Challenger and Whatcom Peak in the background. As the sun set, I found this group of rocks on the edge of the tarn leadings my eye to Whatcom Peak. Although it is not an actual line like a road or river, the rocks and edge of the tarn accomplish the same job.

Using rocks as a leading line.

Using rocks as a leading line.

Now you have an understanding of how to use leading lines and to make sure your eyes do not fall off the frame, put them into practice on your next photo shoot. The lines don’t have to start in a corner, you can put it in the middle of the frame if you want. It is your photo so do what you want but have fun in the process.

Until next time, happy shooting and unless you are getting paid, fill the frame with what you like.