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 walkEdward 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.
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!
The Taj Mahal of course
Quite possibly the best example of leading lines any photographer could wish for!
Itmad-ud-Daulah, also in Agra
Looking back at the gate of the so-called ‘Baby Taj’; the paths create multiple leading lines.
Angkor Thom, Cambodia
The devas (guardian gods) on the causeway direct the eye to the south gate with its carved face.
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.
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.
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.
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?
A street in Arpino, Italy
Here’s a literal leading line, a washing line!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
Albatz Travel Adventures
Lovely examples of ways to use leading lines. My post is a collection of leading lines from around the world: https://elizabatz.com/2022/05/15/leading-lines-from-around-the-world/
Thanks for joining in – excellent examples and from the sorts of places I love to visit!
As I say in my post, this is just an excuse to show you the cats in our hood. 🙂 The lines, if there are any of the right kind, are just a fluke.
Thank you Manja 😀 There are a few of the ‘right kind’, and many just lines that don’t really lead, but in any case the cats are the stars!
philosophy through photography
Love the Bana street and Dune clicks.
Fantastic collection Sarah.
Are my comments landing in your spam folder?
Thanks for joining in 🙂 No, I don’t think there’s an issue with your comments. This one arrived OK and there’s nothing in my spam folder right now apart from an advert for some dodgy-sounding medicine 😆 But pingbacks rarely work here so you may find you have a problem with those. Off to check out your contribution right now ..
philosophy through photography
Thanks for the information.
Now I have become wiser.
From next time onwards I shall paste the URL directly in the comment box instead of depending on the purposeless P I N G.
Ping is a pain in the A** I guess so.
Yes, please do 🙂
philosophy through photography
I have to.
Thank you Sarah
Another amazing series, Sarah! Of course, the Taj Mahal!! The Sossusvlei photos is breathtaking!
Thank you Amy 🙂 I’m sure had I climbed that dune it would have been literally breath-taking!! I hope you’re going to join in? I’m sure you must have some great examples!
Oh, the Places We See
Such excellent examples of lines and composition. Although I’ve been to only a few of these places, I’m especially intrigued with the shot at Angkor Thom. I loved that bridge but never thought to go off the bridge to capture the whole of the photo-shot. Great idea! (And I hope you didn’t get your feet wet!) I always learn from you, so thank you for taking the time to teach others.
Thank you so much 😊 No, I didn’t get my feet wet! It’s always worth moving a few steps away from the first position you select for a photo, just to explore other possibilities. In fact I have that ‘lesson’ in mind for a future FFC!
That’s amazing … how lines in a photo can lead your eye to something. I like all of your examples here (but again – there is always that favourite one – the photo of Banana Street on the Cape Verde islands appeals to me).
Thank you 😊 I always like to hear about favourites, as you know!
Wonderful examples Sarah. I was inspired to contribute and make comments. 🙂 🙂
Thanks Brian. I don’t think I’ve seen a contribution from you – have I missed it or is it still a work in progress?!
All punlished as a double challenge
Thanks, I have it now. Pingbacks don’t always work on my site so it’s worth leaving me a link in a comment too, in future – I’d hate to miss anything!
Will remember to do that Sarah 👍😃
Wonderful post, Sarah, with great examples from all over the world. Just fabulous. And thanks for the kind words about my post!!
Thank you Patti, and you’re welcome – as you know, those words really resonated with me 🙂
Aletta - nowathome
your photos are so beautiful!
Thank you Aletta 😊
I don’t think he is right – I think he is quite wrong. The ‘rules’ of composition are nothing like the laws of gravity. You do need to think about the composition of a photo when you are taking a photo. As your excellent post points out.
When I was teaching middle school (12 to 14 years old), I would have a question on the board for them to copy into their composition book and answer. One of the questions I wrote was “What happens when you disobey the law of gravity?” Because natural laws are not the same as civil laws.
I see what you mean but I think I’m reading the quote differently to you Rosalie. I take it to mean that you shouldn’t have to actively think about the rules, any more than you think about gravity, but that doesn’t mean the rules don’t exist. They need to become second nature so you compose well without stopping to think about it. When you’ve studied the rules enough you no longer have to consult them, you ‘just know’ when a picture looks right. Or at least, that’s what I think he is getting at – but I could be wrong!
Yes, that’s one way of putting it. But I still don’t agree. I do think you should think about the rules of composition when you are taking a photo. After you have experience it is probably almost as automatic as walking. But while you don’t have to reference gravity when walking, you do have to look where you are putting your feet lest gravity take effect in an unfortunate way. 🙂
Haha yes, good point!
I nearly always “see” the photo before taking it. A friend once said to me that I see photos where she has to look for photos
I’m the same, and I often see photos even when I don’t take them!
My dad was a really good photographer (back in the day when nothing was automatic). My mom once commented that he didn’t have the ‘eye’ that we (Mom, and me) had, but that once the photo was pointed out to him, he would get the best photo because he was better (and she also attributed it to his better equipment – he German cameras with really good lenses).
I am always looking for photos. Even when I don’t have a camera with me. It’s a good thing photos are digintal now – otherwise the house would be crushed into the earth with the weight of all the pictures. 🙂
Same here….so many images I probably couldn’t afford the processing. Sometimes people point out something they want me to photograph. Having the eye is a gift that’s for sure 🙂
You’re both right about the number of photos!! I can’t imagine going back to the days when every shot cost money and had to be carefully considered. But I wonder if that consideration would result in a higher proportion of successful images?
all your photo’s are a amazing and speak of a life well travelled but wow, I love the Italian washing line so very much!!
Thank you Cath, that’s a favourite of mine. It’s in the small town from which my husband’s grandmother and her parents emigrated to the UK 🙂
Sorry if I posted this again but it seems the first one didn’t load. Here is my entry and hope you like it! https://mywanderings.travel.blog/2022/05/07/leading-lines/
For some reason your first comment was registered as anonymous and I had to moderate it before it would appear (see below). Sorry for the confusion, I’m not sure why that happened unless you’d logged in with a different email address perhaps? Anyway I have it now – thank you for joining in and with such great examples!
Was motivated to join you this week. Here is my entry and hope you like it! https://mywanderings.travel.blog/2022/05/07/leading-lines/
Wow, great examples, Sarah! I liked the photos in Laos and Cape Verde Islands.
Thanks Siobhan, glad you liked them 😀 I hope you have some examples to share?
I’m playing catch up on my blog. Busy, busy…
You have two weeks to join in!
Great photos Sarah!
Thank you Teresa 🙂
Wonderful collection of leading lines, Sarah!
Thank you Ann-Christine – I do hope you’ll join in, I’m sure you’ll have some great examples!
Sounds great, but I am afrid my life is so busy right now that I only do the most necessary things. Being a grandmother is great!
Oh gosh yes, that will be keeping you busy!
Wow. Great selections. Leading lines indeed!
Thanks John 🙂
Oh my! More rules. Your photos certainly speak for themselves and I know what you mean in theory, but you see, I may ask these two questions before I click as well, and I do, but it doesn’t help. Answers might help! I’ll just keep doing it in my thoughtless, automatic manner… And I’ll do the best I can for my post next Friday.
As I’ve said, despite what they are usually called, these aren’t so much rules but guidelines – tools to assist you in deciding on your composition 🙂 You can think about them when you click, or wait till you get to the editing stage and do a bit of cropping at that point to draw the viewer’s attention where you’d like it to fall. I’m sure if you look you’ll find that some of your most successful photos do follow one or more of these ‘rules’ even if you didn’t plan it that way. But it depends what you want to achieve. If your main aim, as I feel yours might be, is to record sights and places that you find beautiful or interesting or worth remembering and sharing for some other reason, all that matters is that you capture it on camera. But if you want the image to be beautiful or interesting in its own right, almost regardless of the subject matter, these tools help. Of course ideally both subject AND composition are interesting!!
I think I’m confused. Especially about what I want to achieve. Primarily I want to show what I’ve seen. I want that my photo stirs the same emotions I felt as I was taking it. Sometimes I’m surprised because in my photo is MORE than I felt at the time. I guess this is something to aim at. Thanks for your help!
Often you’ll find that by considering composition you can help to create those emotions in the viewer. An example. You photograph a beautiful poppy which has made you excited about the spring and the landscape it sits in. You want that poppy to be THE thing that your viewers focus on so that they’re moved by it too. If your composition is cluttered they won’t notice it – you know that of course. So you put it in the centre of the image which may seem the natural thing to do. But for some reason, maybe how the human eye sees things or the brain interprets them, having the poppy off centre can make it look more arresting. And it also allows you to set it in its landscape while ensuring it’s still the most important thing in the shot. Does that make sense?
It does, Sarah. Thanks. To the side is better than dead centre. I didn’t before, but I am doing this now, once I found out about the rule of thirds.
Emotions help when taking some photos Manja 🙂
Luckily, bushboy. It’s about the only thing I always have at my disposal. 😉 Thanks.
Some beautiful photos Sarah and great comments. Maybe I have something!
Thank you Ali – do share if you find something appropriate!
Bren (Brashley Photography)
Great images and tips… Here is my entry…
Thanks for joining in so promptly and with such a great example!
Bren (Brashley Photography)
My pleasure xx
Many thanks for the free lesson. I shall do my best to remember these pointers, (No pun intended.)
You’re welcome – you can practise with me in Newcastle 😆