How to Use Leading Lines

Great photography has less to do with the camera you’re using, and more to do with how the photographer applies photography basics to achieve a beautiful image. One of the easiest, but often overlooked compositional tools in your photography arsenal is the use of “leading lines.” We introduced this concept in 7 Basic Photography Rules. Today, we dive a bit deeper into how to use leading lines to improve your photos.

Leading Lines

What Are Leading Lines?

Leading Lines
Leading lines are the “lines” within an image that lead the eye to another point in the image.

Interestingly enough, leading lines don’t always have to be “lines.” In fact, they can be any element within your image that draws your eye further into the image. Specifically, drawing your eye to the main subject or focal point. They may also lead the eye away from the image. As we mentioned before, they can be any element within the image frame that draws your eye further into the image and onto the main subject or focal point.

If you’re not sure what we’re talking about, here’s an example:

How To Use Leading Lines 1 Daily Mom, Magazine For Families

Here’s an example from a family portrait session. We’ve used red lines to indicate where you can find the lines.

The railing, brick steps and windows all lead your eye into the center of the frame so the focus is on the family. However, there are also lines within the family’s pose. Each of the parents’ legs create a line to draw your eye into their little girl, and their little girl’s arms redirect your eyes back to the parents. Thus, the collection of lines allow your eyes to effectively navigate the entire image.

Where can I find a Leading Line?

Leading lines can be anything: a road lined with trees, stairs, bricks, textured walls, fences, chairs and people posing. Once you’re aware of them, you’ll find that leading lines are everywhere and that we’re only limited by our own creativity.

If you are using leading lines within the context of a portrait session, your goal is to use your leading lines to draw attention to your subject.

Alternatively, you can use leading lines within landscape photos to create movement and “move” the viewers eyes straight out of the frame.

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For example, this brick wall does a great job of drawing your eye straight into this woman’s face.

Unfortunately, many novice photographers don’t know how to effectively use leading lines, such as a textured wall to create impact.

The Secret

So, let’s continue with this concept of a textured wall. We’ve often witnessed momtographers during “Christmas card” photo season attempting to capture their kids in front of a cool looking wall. What normally happens is that the momtographer positions her children right on top of the wall and the resulting image falls flat.

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A straight on image such as the one above can be okay, especially if you’re working with an old barn. However, how much more interesting could it have been if you had changed your perspective to better use the leading lines within the image?

The secret to using leading lines is to position yourself to maximize the impact of the line. 

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If you’re not sure how to maximize the use of leading lines in your image, start by changing your position. You can start by shooting straight on. Then, move to the side. Use a lower f-stop (f/2.8 or lower if you have the ability) and focus on your main subject. This wide aperture will create some depth of field and lead the eye directly to where you want it to go. 

For additional perspectives, you can get down low and shoot up, or use a step stool to get above your subject. The key is to change your perspective so that you can see the leading lines more clearly. As a result, you’ll be able to better utilize them in your photographs.

When you are working with leading lines, be sure to position them leading toward your subject. You want to direct the viewer’s eyes to the main focal point within your image and not lead their eyes straight out of the picture.

Are you interested in applying more photography techniques? Check out our post on How to Use Negative Space

Photo Credits: Ashley Sisk



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Ashley Sisk
Ashley Sisk
Ashley lives in North Carolina with her husband, two kids and Kitty Paw. She’s a work-from-home mom with a natural light photography business and a passion for sharing everything she knows. Since leaving the corporate world, she now spends her time trying to get through elementary school with her daughter, chasing her firefighter loving little boy, writing and finding ways to enjoy life. You can find her on Facebook, Google + or on her website.