Composition Tricks and Tips: Leading lines

As photographers, we work hard to make compelling images. As is human nature, the more we look at an image, the more our eyes stay within that image, the more compelling we find that photograph to be.

I love it when someone looks one of my photographs on the wall and they stay rooted and can’t stop looking at the photograph. I know at that point that I have created a compelling image!

I have found that the longer someone stays in front of a photograph, the more compelling that photograph is for that viewer. And this is what photography is about, making compelling images. I want photographs that are not just pretty landscapes, but that are interesting in their own right!

One of the ways to create a compelling photograph is to provide ways for the eye to stay within the photograph as it wanders through the image.

One of those ways is to use leading lines.

A leading line is a line, or a series of objects that the viewer catches at the edge of the image and leads the viewer’s eyes into the image, hopefully leading them to the subject of the photograph.

Sometimes we have photographs with leading lines, but the lines are not strong as they don’t point the path of the eye to the subject. These lines are better than nothing. But I will find myself moving myself and my camera to see if I can find stronger leading lines.

Obvious Leading Lines

Road to Forever

Photograph taken near the Little Painted Desert County Park.

Now this is a photograph with really obvious leading lines.  The white lines on the side of the road leads one’s eyes into the photograph, the center lines, the road itself, all lead the eye into the distance.  Even the power lines on the right side and the fence on the left side – all lead the eye to follow the road into the center of the photograph.  Of course, the subject is somewhat abstract, it is the sense of the road leading on forever right to the horizon and beyond.

Less Obvious Leading Lines

The leading lines don’t have to go all the way to your subject, but merely provide a pathway for the eyes to move into the photograph, and point towards, or suggest a way, if you will, to the subject of the photograph.  Take this photograph below of Toroweap Overlook at the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

Looking Down into the Chasm

Looking down into the inner canyon from Toroweap Overlook, north rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

Now consider this photograph above. There are some obvious leading lines. For one, there is the Colorado river at the bottom of the photograph that goes up into the first third of the photograph.  There is also the ridge line of the canyon wall on the right side of the photograph at the bottom third of the photograph that mimics the river in that it follows the same line of the river, moving the eye into the photograph.  These are examples of leading lines, and no doubt you can even see a few more.

Common Leading Lines

A lot of photographs I see would be much stronger images if the photographer was able to use the landscape and those natural lines within it to help improve the composition of the photograph.

Common leading lines I find are:

tree lines
canyon walls
series of rocks
ridge of a hill
Power lines
shorelines. . .

The list goes on and on. The point is that you want to avail yourself of the leading lines that are present in your landscape to provide a way to help the eyes of the viewer to enter into the photograph.

The stronger the leading lines, the more they will help keep the viewer coming back into the photograph as their eyes leave the center of the photograph.

I find that the strongest leading lines tend to be at the bottom corners of the photographs, and depending on the subject, from the top corners as well.

So next time you are on location and shooting landscapes, look for leading lines. They well help you compose are more compelling photograph!

Psst . . . check these out . . . 


David Cote is a landscape and travel photographer who makes stunning photographs of beautiful locations around our wonderful world. When not selling photography at art shows or online, he can be found sharing his love and knowledge of photography with others who love photography.

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