How to use leading lines in landscape photography composition
Leading lines in landscape photography are very important composition elements when you create your photos. As the name suggest, leading lines help drawing the viewer’s eyes into the photo as well as taking the viewer around in the photo.
The main purpose of lines is to guide the viewer’s eyes to the main subject in your composition. In some situations the line itself can be the main subject in your photo.
If you manage to create a composition that keeps the viewer within the frame and make him look at the whole image you have created a good image.
Lines are basic elements in photography composition, and a lot of information is available on this topic. Still there are many photographers who don’t understand how to use leading lines in their composition.
If you are like me, you have probably experienced you are looking through a lot of images without spending much time seeing the image.
Did you recognize I used the terms looking and seeing? There is a difference there. Looking is what we do all the time more or less passive. Seeing is different. When you see you spend time reflecting and engaging with the subject, in this case a photo.
The few times an image make me stop and see is when the image is special and stands out from the crowd - it speaks to me. I don't get excited about colorful sunsets or ordinary landscape photos anymore because I have seen so many. The image must have something extras (not only nice vibrant colors), to make me want to see more.
Clever use of lines in landscape photography can be the extra that make the photo stand out from the rest.
The most typical leading lines in landscape photography are often man-made, like roads and fences. There are a lot of natural lines in the nature which can be used as leading lines. Rivers and streams are typical examples of natural leading lines in landscape photography.
Other examples are:
- Footsteps in snow or sand
- Rows of crops
- Railway tracks
- Ski slopes
- Trails and paths
- Rows of trees
- Mountain ranges
Don't forget to look for leading lines when you compose your landscape images. It takes some practice but it is very fun when you start getting it. For experienced photographers, it is second nature.
Different types of leading lines in landscape photography
Tangible vs. Intangible lines
Lines can be tangible and formed by real objects, or they can be intangible, so you have to imagine the lines are there.
Tangible lines are easy to understand as these are physical lines you can see and touch. Often these lines are elements on the ground like a road or river.
Intangible lines however, cannot be seen the usual way. They are imaginary lines made of light, shadows, textures and shapes that lead the viewer’s eyes through the image. The lines can also be created from repeating patterns leading the eyes in a certain direction.
Vertical lines tend to convey power and strength to an image. Vertical lines can act as divider in your composition, and they can be used as natural framing elements. Typical examples of vertical lines in landscape photography are trees and mountains.
Horizontal lines give a sense of stability. Typical examples of horizontal lines in landscape photography are horizons and shorelines.
One common mistake in beginner photography is a crooked horizon. A horizon that is not horizontal feels unnatural and should be avoided. If the horizon is crooked this will most likely take the attention from the main subject in your photo. In most cases, you should also avoid placing the horizon centered in the frame.
Diagonal lines are more dynamic and have energy because the strong contrast to the horizontal or vertical lines in your photo. In landscape photos you often include a horizon line. In these photos diagonal line will create both perspective and depth to the composition.
In the western world where we read from left to right, a diagonal line starting at the bottom left corner feels more natural and dynamic.
Diagonal lines in different directions or intersecting with each other in the same image can give a sense of tension and action to the image.
Curved lines or S-shaped lines
Curved lines are gracious and denote a sense of quiet and softness to photos. They are aesthetically pleasing and create a stronger dynamic in a photo than straight lines do. Curved lines can guide the eyes around in the image in a smooth way.
By placing elements in the three corners of a triangle and balancing them, it makes a pleasing composition to the eyes.
The eyes will follow the lines naturally in a triangular movement. The eyes are led along the first line of the triangle towards the object. The second line of the triangle will guide the eye to the next object. When the eyes follow the third line, they will come back to where they started.
If this type of composition is well balanced, the eyes might do several rounds through the image. Keeping the viewer in your composition.
If several lines are arranged in a certain repeating pattern, this can be a powerful composition element. As these lines are repeated, the eyes will follow them in a natural and pleasing way. By using repetitive lines, you can create rhythm in your composition.
Add depth and distance to photos, as well as scale and perspective. Converging lines are important in creating a three-dimensional look in an image that is a two-dimensional medium. As lines converge into the distance, they get smaller and smaller.
A typical example is a road leading from the foreground to the background of an image. The road is wider in the foreground and gets narrower as it reaches the background. Our brain assumes this as distance.
Converging lines are one of the strongest composition tools we have in landscape photography. The point in your composition where the line converges can be a very strong focal point.
The effect of the converging lines is stronger if you use a wide angle lens.
Common mistake when using leading lines in landscape photography composition
- Leading lines point out of the frame. By doing this, you will lead the viewer’s eyes out of your photo. You should be very careful in which direction strong leading lines take in your composition.
- Leading lines pointing in the wrong direction can lead the eyes away from the main subject. This mistake is typical if you don’t pay attention to all elements when you frame your composition.
- Tangible lines that are easier to see are not as much of a problem in getting it wrong as intangible lines are. As you might not see the intangible lines in your composition these can cause problems if they unintentionally lead the viewer’s eyes in a wrong direction.
So take care when you are composing and spend some time looking thoroughly in the viewer before pressing the shutter.