A classic compositional rule called “leading lines” is used to direct the viewer’s attention through a photograph. Based on my experience teaching photography over the years, this isn’t an easy technique to master, so let me share some tips that might help you develop this skillset.
Leading lines can be literal, such as lines on the ground, or they can be implied, such as an imaginary line between people looking at each other. My approach to incorporating leading lines in my photographs is to first find an interesting subject like a building, flower, lake, or mountain. Once I’ve defined the subject, I then move around the foreground looking for leading lines and foreground objects that will direct the viewer’s eyes towards the object.
Once you find the subject, look for a good background element to lead the viewer’s eyes into the scene.
Nikon D800, 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S. Click on the image for an enlarged view.
Wide-angle lenses are the prefered lenses for this technique because they allow you to get really close to a foreground object which increases its significance in the scene. For an example of this approach, look at the image above that was taken at a Seattle produce market. I wanted to show people shopping for fruit, so I decided that they would be my subject. Then, I searched for something in the foreground to point towards the shoppers. The trays of raspberries fit the need perfectly, so I pushed in really close to the berries with a 14mm lens to make them appear larger in the composition. The repeating patterns of the green containers serve as the leading lines that draw the viewer’s attention directly to the shoppers.
Here I used the pig’s snout and body as the leading line. Nikon D800, 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S
Click on the image for an enlarged view.
Here, the connection between these two young women form the leading line and direct the viewer’s eye towards the Public Market sign. Nikon D800, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S. Click on the image for an enlarged view.
There are lots of elements in our surroundings that can be used to lead your viewer’s eyes towards the main subject. Here are a few that you can use in your own photography:
- People gazing into the scene
- People looking at each other
This under water rock formation works perfectly to lead the viewer’s eyes into the scene.
Nikon D800, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S. Click on the image for an enlarged view.
I know that producing compelling images sometimes feels out of reach for many photographers. I often hear from participants on my workshops that their images don’t have depth or don’t seem very dynamic. If your landscape and travel photographs suffer from the same issues, then I highly recommend incorporating the basic rule of leading lines and begin including them in your shots.
Editor’s note: You may want to read more on Composition Technique, here.