Leading lines are probably one of the most well known compositional tools in photography and visual art, alongside the rule of thirds.

Great composition can make a photograph stand out, regardless if it was taken with a point-and-shoot or a high-end DSLR. In fact, this is the first “trick” I teach my teenage students in camera club in the school where I work. At the beginning, they might have no more than a camera phone but are observant and eager to learn.

Working on composition is a great step to take at the start of the photography journey (or at any stage) as it doesn’t rely on the quality of photography equipment.

What are leading lines?

They are visual lines in a photo that lead the eye from one point in the image to another. The most successful lines lead from the bottom corner(s) or the bottom edge of the frame but there are many possibilities as photography is not an exact science!

boy tossing a ball by Renata Plaice

Why are they helpful?

Leading lines will point to the subject, making your intention easy to read. They also add dimension, depth and an awareness of space.

boy walking along path in pool by Renata Plaice

How to find leading lines?

They are everywhere.

Architectural elements: streets, rows of street light, pillars, columns, churches, corridors, tunnels, sidewalks, patterns on the pavement and of course photographer’s favourites: bridges and fences (as you can see, there is really no need to put your child on railway tracks!).

brother and sister walking by Renata Plaice

architectural lines by Renata Plaice

Countryside and nature: rows of trees, country roads, paths, fields, rivers, sea shore.

kids walking on a road by a farm by Renata Plaice

child standing on fallen leaves in the fall by Renata Plaice

child walking in the snow by Renata Plaice

Inside your home: stairs, stair railings, any longer furniture (table, sofa or bed), kitchen worktops, window sills and even the floor.

black and white photo of kid sitting on floor by Renata Plaice

Groupings of objects (or people) in a row. Think a row of chairs or play blocks

Play areas: ropes, ladders, slides.

kids playing at a playground by Renata Plaice

Keep your eyes open, the lines really are anywhere:

campfire photo by Renata Plaice

A few more tips for including the leading lines:

1. Consider your perspective.

In one of the photos above, I had to shoot from floor level to get the leading lines that were on the rug. If you want to include a railing, place your camera just above it. If you see lines on a wall or a fence, you have to be very near to the wall to include the lines. Or you might consider a bird’s eye view perspective.

child swimming towards ladder by Renata Plaice

2. Center yourself.

Stand exactly in the center if you would like to show the symmetry of the lines

dad and daughter walking on a bridge by Renata Plaice

3. Place your subject further away if you want the leading line to point to your subject.

The viewer’s eye will follow the line and stop at your subject. Having your subject up close and the lines behind him or her will not have the effect of the line pointing to your subject. However, the sense of depth will still be achieved.

boy looking at a harbor by Renata Plaice

5. When working in tight spaces, a wider lens will help.

It will not only include more of the line in the image but the use of a wider lens creates an illusion that the distance between the edge of frame and the middle of the frame is much bigger. This follows from the fact that a wide angle lens will make objects in the foreground big whereas objects in the background will be much smaller.

In lifestyle photography in particular, good composition can make a difference between a snapshot and an intentional image. Leading lines can be compared to a pointer tool, an arrow to draw attention to your subject, making your intention clear and easy to read.