Defining Leading Lines in Photography (with 12 Examples!)
The term “Leading lines” is a compositional technique in which lines are used in a photograph to direct the viewers’ attention to the main subject of the image. The line(s) can be created by any elements in the scene such as roads, buildings, arrows, signs, or light and shadows. These lines create a natural path for the viewer to follow and provide interest to the overall image. In the following article, we’ll help you understand how leading lines work by providing you with examples from our community of award winning photographers.
You can use this compositional tool in a variety of locations all by just shifting your perspective, changing your lens, or switching your angle at which you view your subjects.
The beautiful thing about the rules of composition is that they are more so just guidelines to offer photographers a starting point on how to create more interesting imagery. In addition to the examples showcased below, we recently put together an article on Adorama’s 42 West blog with six tips and examples for how to use leading lines into your own photography.
Leading Lines Photography Examples
We asked our community to show us their favorite images using leading lines as their main compositional tool and got such a strong variety of photos. We hope that these leading lines photography examples inspire you to create some interesting compositions of your own.
“This engagement session was for another wedding photographer and his fiancé. They wanted something different and creative for a location, so their pick was a shipping container yard in Long Beach, California. I was a kid in the candy store! There were colors, compelling geometry, and lines everywhere. As we walked around the yard, I turned my head abruptly and saw this 4-foot space between two skyscraper-like piles of shipping containers. As the couple got into place, my mind was stirring with composition ideas. I was initially drawn to all the repeating and leading lines gradually pointing down towards the couple and the opening. It had the potential of being very dynamic! I got down low, almost in a puddle to get this composition. I framed the couple in that square behind them, I moved them into the shadows for a silhouette, which also gave them a perfect reflection from the water that gathered. Lastly, I noticed a banner that was hanging on one of the containers which said “GIVE” and I knew I wanted that in the shot so I adjusted my aperture to f/4 to retain as much detail as possible. I also thought it would be lasting advice for the couple moving forward.”
“I made this one at the top of Mammoth Mountain this summer, at 11,000 feet. There was a bit of ambient light from the moon and the metro areas on the opposite side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains about 50 miles away. That much ambient light isn’t ideal but I like how it lit up the snow fence above them and gave me the latitude to shoot at a smaller aperture to create more depth of field.”
“This was an afterthought image once we concluded the formal images in the church. After burning incense during the entire ceremony, I didn’t realize how much atmosphere was still leftover, so as soon as we back-lit the bride it highlighted the ethereal nature of the light and really made her look angelic. I had my assistant holding a speedlight with a MagSphere and 1/4 MagMod CTO gel on a monopod about 3 feet in front of the bride.”
“I took this photo on a particularly gloomy day in San Francisco. I don’t get to play with architectural leading lines often, so I knew I wanted to give it a go with the iconic San Francisco Bay Bridge! This was shot with my Nikon D850, 35mm. f/5, 1/250s. I used one flash, camera right with a MagSphere and MagGrid to control the spill. I also had a 1/4 MagMod CTO gel to keep their skin temperature warm! My flash power was at 1/32 power.”
“Roseborn, the model, was wearing this detailed bridal jumpsuit and I created a 7ft ponytail for her because it seemed fitting and it would serve the dual purpose of being the perfect prop. I wanted to incorporate movement and use the ponytail to draw the eye to the model because she was so effortlessly fly. To make this photo I first positioned Roseborn for light and composition, stood in front of her while holding the end of her ponytail and gently whipped the ponytail towards her with one hand while shooting through with the other. We got some fun shots out of it.”
“We rarely get to shoot city weddings, which is a bummer because Denver has an eclectic array of interesting architecture. This is the Denver Art Museum, which I’ve always loved for its unique geometry. We lit this one from camera-right with two AD200s, each outfitted with a MagSphere. Our go-to lighting setup on bright sunny days is the MagBox + FocusDiffuser, but it was super windy, so we opted for the lower profile of the Spheres.”
“When I set up this shot, it was originally my intention to get a cool backlit shot of the Bride walking down the aisle. When we were waiting for her to appear from behind the curtains, I noticed that the candles led right up to the end of the aisle, sort of pointing there. While doing a test shot, I realized that I could silhouette the people who were about to open the curtain for the Bride, and that made an even better, storytelling shot. Sometimes what you originally planned turns into something very different!”
“We used a 1/2 MagMod CTO gel and MagSphere behind our couple to create this surreal image of the couple on the beach. We wanted to create a warm backlight and add separation from the background while using the incoming tides to form a shape around our couple.”
“This couple requested some open sky shots for their engagement session. However, it was really cloudy and we weren’t sure if the weather would break for some nice sunset shots. Nonetheless, we drove up to the top of a parking garage on the campus of Georgia Tech in the hopes of catching a break. While we were there I saw some outdoor stairs with tubular handrails and some iron cables against a concrete wall. I figured we could use those elements in combination with a mirror to get a funky shot. I went for a high key, minimalistic look making the sky white so we could just focus on the subjects and the elements we were using to draw attention to the couple. Stairs always provide great leading lines when shot from an angle. Using a Nikon D850 with a Sigma Art 35mm lens I kept the lens setting at F/1.8 so I could blur the edge of the mirror reflection with the composed scene. I positioned the couple at different levels of the stairs for a more layered and contemporary look. I then went down to the bottom of the stairs and sat on the floor. I had my wife holding a monopod at full extension behind me with a Profoto A1 and a MagSphere so I could add a little light to brighten up the subjects. All the time I was holding a replacement truck side-view mirror (You can buy these at any Auto Zone store) up against the lower half of my lens. From there it was just a matter of playing with the positioning of the mirror so I could have the reflection perfectly line up with the rails and the iron cables on the concrete wall. This type of setup also provides a very geometrical look to the image. About 10 minutes after this shot was completed the sun broke through the clouds a bit; delivering the colorful sky they were looking for. So it pays to work a scene even if it doesn’t seem to provide what you thought you would get from it.”
“They have a ton of these little walkways where I live and I love using them for my compositions. I do this by centering my subjects so that the lines of the rails lead right to them. In this image, I had a Godox AD200 with a MagMod 1/2 MagMod CTO gel and MagSphere behind them for backlighting. When I backlight subjects this way it also creates a shadow in front of them which is another leading line element that leads right to my subjects. I also used a Godox AD600 in a MagBox held camera right by an assistant.”
We hope this article helped you understand the true definition of leading lines photography and how you can incorporate more of these compositional tools in your portfolio.