Leading lines are very effective ways of creating powerful compositions with your photography that tell your audience exactly where to look.
Of all of the techniques we can use to help us compose great-looking pictures, leading lines are among the most powerful and the easiest to use. Their name gives you a clue as to their role – they lead the eye around the frame, making sure it travels the route that the photographer intended, and ends up at the right place.
These visual signposts are usually (but not always) diagonal, and most often start in the foreground before directing us to an object in the background. You’ll see them at work most often in landscape and architecture photography – look for examples like rail tracks, paths, rivers, rocks, and bridges, which can all do the job very effectively. In fact, leading lines are so ubiquitous that using them in your own compositions is super easy and soon becomes second nature.
Once you’ve decided on your leading lines, the next thing to consider is where they should lead to. That might seem like an obvious question to answer, but you’d be surprised how often photographers of all levels can get this wrong. When leading lines lead our eyes out of the frame, or off in the wrong direction, they’re doing more harm than good.
If there is a single focal point or main subject in your picture, get the leading lines to point to this. In portraits, this is a person, so direct attention to your subject’s head or eyes. In a still life, decide which part of the scene is the most important. In a landscape, where there often isn’t a single point of interest, try to get your leading lines to point to a natural vanishing point – a place in the distance where converging leading lines come together.
You’ll notice that it’s easier to find and exploit leading lines when you’re shooting landscapes with a wide-angle lens. This lets you get more foreground in the shot and exaggerates perspective, making the distance between near and far objects seem longer. Zoom out to the widest setting on your standard zoom lens to see the effect at work, then slowly zoom in a bit if the composition seems a little loose.
Leading lines are powerful when used in combination with symmetry – for instance, the view down a corridor or a low-down shot along a road or rail track. But they are just as important in asymmetric scenes, too, even if their role is more subtle and the viewer doesn’t realize they are being directed around the frame.
Fine-tuning your composition so that your leading lines do their job properly is very important, but extremely easy to do. You’ll be surprised how the tiniest of movements can bring about a huge change in the way that leading lines work. Try stooping down low or holding your camera up a little higher above your head (your X Series camera’s flip-out screen can help you do this comfortably). Move to the side by a few meters to change the relationship between foreground and background. You’ll know when you’ve got it – it’ll just feel right!
Your Next Steps
- CHALLENGE Use the wide-angle end of your zoom lens to shoot some landscape photos this week. Point your camera down a little and try to make what is in the foreground work with what’s in the background. Post your best efforts to social media with the hashtag #MyFujifilmLegacy. You can also submit your work here for a chance to be featured on our social media channels