Practice Composition – Leading Lines

Composition is key, without composition you could know everything about the mechanics of your camera, the proper rules of exposure, and be able to calculate the hyperfocal distance of every lens in your arsenal and still make photographs that look like a smart monkey shot them from the hip.  Composition is the glue that holds all the other things you know about photography together in a nice, neat, package.

What is a Leading Line

So what do we do when we want someone to look at our photograph and be immediately drawn to the exact point where we want them to focus.  Well, you could paste some arrows you cut out of construction paper to your photograph or you could just use natural (or man-made) lines in the scene to draw your viewers eyes where you want them to look.  This sounds simple enough but you have to remember that lines can lead your eyes to something of interest as well as away in a distracting manner.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA great way to think about leading lines is to picture your photograph with the left and right sides being brick walls…  The leading lines are a road and your eyes are the vehicle.  Do you want to drive straight into a brick wall?  Not likely.  Try not to include leading lines that take you off the edge of a photograph, they split up your composition and distract the viewer.

Some things to consider:

  • Straight lines seem more aggressive and dynamic while curved lines make a photograph seem more calming.
  • Keep lines from going from side to side (Don’t drive your car into a brick wall!)
  • The most effective leading lines start at the bottom of the photograph and lead to the point of interest.
  • You can use roads, fences, paths, bridges, rows in a field, snakes (just kidding), cracks in the ground, water ways, and the list goes on and on.


Take out the index card you keep in your camera bag.  You know, the one you jot down all the ideas you’d like to try while you’re out photographing.  What, you don’t have one?  Well get one… we will wait for you…  Seriously, get up and get one.  Geez.  Ok, now write down leading lines under black and white, panoramic, self-portrait, night photography, light painting, and all the other great exercises you’d like to try.  Next time you spend the day searching for leading lines and photographing the dickens out of them you can scratch that off your list.

If you take the time to train yourself to look for leading lines when you compose your photographs your images will take on a more professional and pleasing look.  If you get some great photographs using leading lines, and would like to share them, submit them to the Photo Journal Challenge and we will feature them here on PhotolisticLife.

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