A Beginner’s Guide To Leading Lines In Photography

The technique of using leading lines in photography affects the viewer by leading his or her eye to a particular point of focus. You can use this tool in compositions as a way to provide a structure for the way you present an image or a subject.

At its most basic, the idea of this technique is that when you show a spectator a strong line in a picture, the eye of that viewer will naturally be drawn to follow that line. It can be almost anything, including a natural found object like a tree, or even a strong shadow. You can also make use of a structure like a telephone pole, or a manmade road stretching across the image. When shooting photos of people, you can arrange their pose so that the body itself draws attention to a particular focal point in the picture.

This tool can create a symmetrical, harmonious structure in your layout, by making one line into the visual journey. Or, you can have several lines that intersect, creating a tenser, more dramatic feeling as different points fight for the attention of the viewer. This compositional tool lets you control the emotion of an image, and change how spectators perceive your subject.

Sometimes this will naturally happen in a picture, almost as a happy accident, such as if you were to shoot a road heading into a setting sun on the horizon line. You may also choose a shot with this technique in mind, such as when you pose a person’s portrait so that shadows or the branches of a nearby tree grab the viewer’s attention, and meaningfully draw the focus to the face of the person who you are trying to capture.

This is not just a tool for taking photos, it’s also a way you can enhance them in the editing stage. When viewing your work, you may see potential leading lines, and choose to bring them out more fully them either through cropping, or through changing the white balance or contrast of a picture. These are a few of the ways that you can make lines jump out and grab the spectator’s eye.

This technique can help you lend motion to a photograph, as you make the visual journey dynamic and exciting by the way you lead the spectator’s experience of the image. If you wish to draw the eye beyond the edge of the photo’s frame, you can use strong lines to suggest a focal point just outside the picture itself.

Many formal training courses include particular tasks that are meant to help emerging photographers master this technique. If you are doing photography as a hobby, or are teaching yourself the medium, you may benefit from concentrating on this tool during a particular session, or a period of your work, as a way to integrate it into your growing artistic abilities. It isn’t difficult to master, and can prove very beneficial to your photography skills as they continue to develop.

With the amount of emotional power and compositional control leading lines in photography offer, it’s no surprise that so many books about photography include this technique. It’s no surprise either that many photographers, both professional and amateur, make use of this fairly easy way to control the viewer’s experience of their work.

Parker Michaels is a new media consultant and freelance photographer. For more information on leading lines in photography, visit www.photo-junkie.com.

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