Using lead in lines in composition

Lead in lines are a simple yet powerful technique to engage the viewer with your photos. They provide an easy path for the eye to follow and allow the viewer to go on a visual journey through the different points in your image.

Lead in lines are all around us where ever you look in nature, close up and in our towns and cities. You just have to arrange them in your photograph.

The obvious lead in lines can be see in roads that head off into the distance or in streams that meander down a gorge or valley. The converging lines of tall buildings of bridges also provide great examples of lead in lines too. But lead in lines can be found at close quarters in many everyday objects. The lines of grain in exposed wood for example, or paint drips running down a wall are excellent examples you can incorporate in your images.

In nature, there are limitless examples of lead in lines to exploit. At the macro level, look closely at the veins in a leaf or the sinews of grass for these can provide excellent compositional close ups. On the wider scale, rows of trees or the lines down a field of corn are great examples to use. There are so many to choose from.

Positioning lead in lines

Once you’ve chosen the lead in lines, you can think about positioning and this is one of the things I teach at my workshops. Top to bottom or bottom to top? Left to right or right to left? Which is best suited and which is most pleasing? It can make a difference on how you position your lead lines and it may be more or less pleasing on how you factor this in. You may not realise it, but in western societies we read from left to right and we find it naturally pleasing to look at images that start from left to right. So, positioning your lead in lines from left to right may be more appealing to viewers in western society. The converse is also true for societies that read from right to left – Arabic and Hebrew for example. Positioning your lead in lines so they move across the frame from right to left may be more appealing to these societies. The choice is yours.

You can create depth and perspective by how you frame your lead in lines. Create a “near-far” effect by positioning your camera low to the ground. This makes the foreground look larger and leads the eye off to a distant infinity. Create a journey for your viewer by positioning your lead in lines to connect with various points along the image. For example, you can have a  leading it’s way up to a tree by the shore and leading on to a mountain in the distance. You can also look for circular lead in lines that lead your viewer round the image continuously.

Where to look for lead in lines

In towns, cities man made objects:

  • oads,
  • pavements
  • tall buildings
  • bridges
  • windows
  • masonry


  • roads
  • fences
  • crop lines, tall grasses, tractor lines
  • shorelines, wave lines
  • streams & rivers
  • sun rays, mist through trees, sunlight through trees

In close up

  • leaf veins
  • bark contours
  • sand contours on a beach, seaweed lines, pebble lines
  • grasses
  • direction of clouds in long exposures

Want to learn more about composition? Why not come along to one of my day courses or weekend workshops.


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