What are “leading lines”?
Leading lines is a concept of using particular elements within a framed composition to assist in moving the onlookers eye from one section of a photograph to another. This often (but not always) assists in an aesthetic way, making the photograph more pleasing to look at. Below I am going to give examples and detail the different way of How to use leading lines successfully when composing your shot.
Many different objects can be used to create the effect of leading lines. From natural rock formations to picketed fences; a crest on the top a sand dune to the lines created from using a slow shutter speed on a retreating wave. These can be plucked from anywhere, using anything, and don’t have to literally be a “line”. Let’s look at the below examples…
Tat Kuang Si Falls, Laos
The photograph of Tat Kuang Si cascades above is a great example of how to use a leading line. Starting at the bottom left hand corner, the fall over water over the cascade moves up towards the upper center of the photograph to which the main action is taking place. Using a leading line and placing it towards one side of the frame also provided an opportunity to create negative space and give volume to the soothing turquoise water.
Machu Picchu, Peru
This iconic tourist attraction is normally depicted from further away, encompassing the entire ruin. However, once walking amongst the ruins, a series of stone archs along a straight wall gave way to unique opportunity to capture some leading lines, displaying the ruins in a way which is rarely achieved. This time the leading line starts from the middle right of the frame and moves horizontally left towards the dramatic distant mountain covered in mist.
The Siq to Petra, Jordan
Leading lines are abundant in the canyon on the path leading up to The Treasury at Petra, so finding them wasn’t hard. The challenge was trying to pick the best part of the canyon to use for a leading line. Discovering some intriguing round rock formations against part of the floor of the canyon, provided me with something interesting to use as a foreground and to use to help draw the viewers eye into the center of the photograph. In addition, the natural top edge of the canyon as it went in to the distance, also provided a natural leading line towards the same central end point. This last point works slightly better if the camera is facing slightly upwards towards the sky.
Leura Cascades, the Blue Mountains
This particular set of leading line relies heavily on the skilled use of an extended shutter speed and a tripod. By keeping the camera very still (via the use of a tripod) and slowing the shutter speed down to 1/2 a second to a few seconds, I was able to capture the moving bubbles of water in the shape of multiple lines. This had to be observed first to figure out the direction of the moving bubbles in order to position the camera. As you can probably tell, the natural flow of leading lines goes between the bottom right third of the photograph and curves up towards the upper centre to where the main focal point occurs.
Dunes of Huacachina, Peru
Probably the most obvious out of all examples is this photograph of the sand dunes outside of Huacachina, in southern Peru. The top crest of the wind swept dune provides an immediate line that curves from the foreground to upper centre providing a flow throughout the frame. If this line was to be going from left to right in the foreground (instead of how it is), with no connection or “lead” to the rest of the photograph, it would not be quite as effective.
As you can see there is a myriad of ways in which you can derive leading lines from elements in nature. The trick is to be creative with what you’re doing. Try and visualise the final frame before taking the photograph and experiment with the environment around you. Your first shot will more likely than not, not be your best shot.