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A leading line draws the eyes into a photograph and creates a greater sense of depth for the viewer. Leading lines are an element of landscape composition that create a 3D-like feel to a two-dimensional image. It takes practice to develop an eye for composing with leading lines – this technique is more artistic than, say, working with a camera itself. By introducing this compositional technique, we will give you an artistic and creative tool for your photographer’s toolkit.

Digital Photography: Leading Lines

Lead by Example

Consider the above example with the fence and its shadow. Where do your eyes move as you briefly look at the picture? A marked-up version of the image is below that highlights why your eyes move in the direction they do.

Leading Lines

You can see several different elements walking the eyes to the same area of the image, giving a strong sense of depth.

A Little Art History

Leading lines in landscape composition have been used for hundreds of years. Let’s take a look at how Claude Monet used a leading line to create the feeling of a path into his painting. The image below shows a side-by-side comparison with and without the leading line. Notice the version on the left has a much flatter feel than the one on the right. The path through the field encourages the viewer to look down the path, and visualize themselves walking towards the poplar trees. Monet has created a feeling of movement.

Digital Photography: Leading Lines Claude Monet Painting

Opposing Lines

For our third example, we’re going to introduce an advanced approach to composing with leading lines. Looking for opposing lines – those that draw the eyes in different directions – can create even more depth in your photographs. We’ll consider this picture of Azure Lake and demonstrate the opposing lines.

Digital Photography: Leading Lines Opposing Lines

Let’s start by looking at the right-hand side of the image. You can feel the eyes moving towards the lake and off into the horizon.

Digital Photography: Leading Lines Opposing Lines: Part II

Now consider the lines on the left-hand side – the eyes can follow multiple paths to the left edge of the photo. These lines oppose those on the right. This is especially clear looking at the two lines at the front of the lake. Look back at the original image for 20 seconds. Notice how much your eyes move around the scene? This is encouraged by the variety in lines which create a different feeling than a scene where the lines all head to one point (such as our first example). Including opposing leading lines creates a more complex artistic feeling in your composition.

Opposing Lines: Part II

Lead On

Digital Photography: Leading Lines Willow Lake from above

Keep your eyes peeled for leading lines while out with your camera. Once you recognize them and practice including them in your compositions, you will find it easier to add to your photographs. Be creative and enjoy this new artistic tool that will lead your photography to another dimension!