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Friendly Friday,  Photographic techniques,  Themed galleries

Friendly Friday Challenge: leading lines

To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk

Edward Weston

Weston is right of course, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t helpful to be aware of these ‘rules’. Instead, they should be so much part of our understanding of photography that we no more need to think about them than we do of pressing the shutter!

Patti, in her excellent response to Tina’s Lens Artists challenge theme about the rule of thirds (which I also discussed recently), made a thoughtful point. She said that she asks herself two questions before clicking the shutter:

What parts of the photo do I want to emphasize?

And where am I placing these parts within the frame?

Reading this I realised that I do the same thing, albeit subconsciously at times. By being clear what it is that we actually want to stand out in our image, and really thinking about its placement, we can create more impactful photos; ones which provoke the response in the viewer that we hoped to get.

Leading lines

When we look at a photo our eye is naturally drawn along any lines within it. By thinking about how and where you place any lines in your composition, you can influence the way people view the image, pulling us into the picture, towards the subject, leading us on a journey through the scene.

There are many different types of line of course. They can be straight, diagonal, curvy, zigzag … And each can be used to enhance a photo’s composition and impact.

Architecture especially tends to throw up good leading lines opportunities, paired with symmetry. You’ll see in some of my examples below how by breaking one ‘rule’, the rule of thirds, we can maximise the use of another to direct the viewer’s eye. On other occasions you might be able to combine both rules!

Large ornate white building with domes

The Taj Mahal of course

Quite possibly the best example of leading lines any photographer could wish for!

Red sandstone structure with white decorative features

Itmad-ud-Daulah, also in Agra

Looking back at the gate of the so-called ‘Baby Taj’; the paths create multiple leading lines.

Line of statues on a bridge leading to a stone gate with a face on it

Angkor Thom, Cambodia

The devas (guardian gods) on the causeway direct the eye to the south gate with its carved face.

Avenue of carved stones with cows grazing

Wat Phou ruins in southern Laos

The avenue of stones leads the eye towards the terraces and staircases up to the main sanctuary among the trees.

Lots of people browsing small shops in front of an oriental temple gate

Sensō-ji, a temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa district

Shops line Nakamise-dōri, the path to Kaminarimon, the temple’s outer gate, leading us forwards to explore.

A couple standing by rows of small wooden boxes

Also at Sensō-ji

The small boxes contain omikuji, Japanese Buddhist fortune strips. They lead the eye towards the couple examining the fortune they have chosen at random from the boxes. This shot also follows the rule of thirds, with the placing of the couple.

Lane with row of small houses and mountains behind

Banana street in Cidade Velha on Santiago, the original capital of the Cape Verde islands

Does the line of houses help you to spot the chicken in the distance?

Row of houses with washing line

A street in Arpino, Italy

Here’s a literal leading line, a washing line!

A lake with a boat's wake and mountains half-hidden by cloud

On Lake Arenal, Costa Rica

The wake of a boat can often provide a great leading line, so remember to look behind you when out on the water! Here it directs the eye to the distant volcano, half-hidden in clouds.

Man at the top of a sand dune with footsteps leading up

A dune at Sossusvlei, Namibia

The footsteps lead us to the figure at the top, my husband. I could pretend that I stayed at the bottom in order to get this shot but the truth is that I didn’t fancy the climb on soft sand!

Beach with small boat and hazy far river bank beyond

On an island in the Mekong, southern Laos

The locals use scraps of wood to create more grip for carts and tractors on the soft sand. I used them to direct the viewer’s eye to the small boat moored offshore.

Path through dry grass with distant lighthouse

On San Juan Island, Washington State

This is an example of a curvy leading line, with the path through the long grass and the hedge beyond pointing us towards the lighthouse.

Black and white kingfisher on a bare branch

Pied Kingfisher near Mandina Lodge, Gambia

In bird photography a branch can provide a strong leading line, especially a bare one like this. This is also a good rule of thirds example, and the two compositional techniques together create a strong image. It would be less visually interesting if the branch crossed the whole photo with the bird at its centre.

So now it’s your turn. Please share some examples of leading lines from your archives, or maybe get out on a photoshoot and look for some you can include to add impact to your shots.

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who had a go last time around, sharing your images highlighting the use of frames in composing a photograph. I loved seeing them all! Please do check out some of these contributions if you haven’t already done so. Let’s share the love, and the inspiration!

Anne used frames to show off her home city of Bristol.

Brian gave us a varied selection with a particular emphasis on birds.

Margaret shared some lovely arches used as frames.

Sofia used natural and manmade frames, illustrating how effective they can be in creating depth and setting a scene.

Eklastic’s Pictures Imperfect response included some lovely tree frames and a pair of birds that obliged by almost framing themselves!

Aletta used trees, a fence and a window to frame her subjects.

Margaret was ahead of me with her lovely arches and trees in Yorkshire and Barcelona.

Sandy took us to Cuba to enjoy a lively party and musical performance.

Jez combined forces with the Sunday Stills ‘urban’ theme to show us Glasgow through a variety of frames.

Manja shared a great variety of frames, from trees, to doorways and windows, and to mirrors.

Albatz focused on an interesting variety of frames in Denmark.

Bren shared a pastoral shot of grazing sheep in a double frame.

I can’t wait to see what you’ll all do with your leading lines! The next Friendly Friday challenge will be hosted by Sandy in two weeks’ time so watch out for her post.


Do share your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you!