Using Leading Lines (And Triangles) In Photography Composition

Updated: 16 Mar 2022



Most good photographers are capable of creating images that naturally draw your eye along subtle, organic lines and triangles to a specific focal point.


In order to achieve this effect, many skilled photographers use a compositional tool known as leading lines. Leading lines and forming subtle triangles are incredibly effective at directing a viewer’s attention and learning how to use them will greatly improve your photography composition skills.



The Four types of Leading Lines in Photography


In order to use leading lines, it’s useful to understand the different types of leading lines and how they are best used.


Leading lines



Some of the categories of leading lines include:


1. Horizontal lines:

Horizontal leading lines are often found in nature and landscape photography. Because horizontal leading lines often stretch across the entire width of the image, they tend to be used when shooting with a wide-angle lens.


2. Vertical lines:

Vertical lines tend to communicate power and hierarchy. They draw the eye up or down within the frame and can be used to convey status within your picture. Vertical leading lines are often found in fashion photography and street photography.


3. Diagonal lines:

Diagonal lines are used to create a sense of movement and change. Diagonal lines work to emphasize a sense of distance and often track from foreground to background. If you’re working with a large depth of field, try experimenting with diagonal lines to accentuate the sense of depth in your image.


4. Converging lines:

If there are converging lines present in your frame, it’s best practice to situate the subject of the image at the axis of these leading lines. Converging lines are very effective at drawing the eye to the point of convergence and can be a strong compositional element to include in your photographs.


Forming subtle triangular patterns from these leading lines formations can produce a very aesthetic image.


Leading lines is an image composition technique that features line shapes to draw the viewer’s eye to the intended subject of the photograph. Whenever people look at an image, our eyes are naturally drawn to the lines present within it.


Leading lines



The Golden Triangle


The Golden Triangle is a rule of thumb in visual composition for photographs, especially those which have elements that follow diagonal lines. The frame is divided into four triangles of two different sizes, visually done by drawing one diagonal from one corner to another, and then two lines from the other corners, touching the first at 90 degree angles.

There are a couple ways this can be used:

1. Filling one of the triangles with the subject

2. Placing the diagonal elements so that they run along two of the lines


Golden Triangle



Why are leading lines important?


Leading lines guide the viewer through a composition. So by carefully positioning leading lines in the frame, you can draw attention to areas of a photo that really matter, like an impressive mountain or sunset over the ocean.



Six Tips and techniques for using leading lines in your photography


Learning to effectively use leading lines can help you create dynamic and powerful images that highlight your chosen subject matter. Practicing the techniques outlined below will help hone your photography skills and improve your final product:


1. Always evaluate your location and the time of day. Are you outdoors in nature or among skyscrapers in an urban environment? Is it late in the day? If so, the sun’s rays might cast long shadows that could be used as leading lines. All of these questions can help determine how leading lines might serve your photographs.


2. Notice any natural lines. Scan the area in which you’re shooting and look for natural and manmade structures that could be positioned in the frame to create strong leading lines.


3. Determine what your focal point is. Your location might be full of potential leading lines, but it’s up to you to determine which of them best serve your subject matter. You might be shooting along railroad tracks or among lamp posts, but unless you can line up these lines with the focal point of your image, they will only serve to confuse the viewer.


4. Position yourself accordingly. Once you’ve determined which leading lines you will include, align your camera so that the lines lead your eye towards the focal point of your image. Take your time doing this, but also be aware that if you are using shadows as leading lines, you have to account for their movement over time.


5. Adjust for lighting conditions. Once you’ve framed up your image, take stock of the lighting conditions, and adjust your shutter speed and aperture accordingly. Strong leading lines can’t compensate for an under- or overexposed photo, so it’s important to make sure that your camera is suitably adjusted.


6. Take multiple shots. As always, it’s important to give yourself options once you get down to editing your images and choosing your favourite shots. Vary your angles and camera settings in order to cover your bases.


Leading lines



The Essential Guide to Leading Lines in Photography:


To increase the impact of any photographic image every photographer should learn how to use leading lines and triangles.


Leading lines in photography: a definition


Leading lines refer to lines that lead the viewer’s eye from one part of a composition to another. Usually, these lines start at the bottom of the frame and guide the eye upward, from the foreground of the image to the background.


When used as a compositional technique, leading lines generally move toward the main subject of a photo. For instance, a river might lead the eye toward an impressive mountain in the background or a ridgeline might lead the eye towards a stunning sunset.


Note that leading lines can be anything: rivers or logs, as mentioned in the examples above, but also marks on a road, pointed rocks on a beach, lines in the sand, the walls of a house – if it looks like a line and is capable of guiding the viewer’s eye, then it can work!


You can also use leading lines to create flow, often referred to as dynamism, throughout a composition. Leading lines naturally take the viewer on a journey around the photo, which keeps them engaged.

Leading lines are a great way to create three-dimensionality (depth) in an image. By emphasizing the start of a line before letting it fall away into the backdrop, you create a 3D illusion that looks incredible in scenic landscape photography.



Leading lines



Working with leading lines requires two simple steps


1. Find a leading line or triangle

2. Incorporate that leading line or triangles into your composition


Of course, this is easier said than done, but neither of the above steps is actually difficult. It just takes a bit of perseverance and practice.


Step 1: Find a leading line or triangle


Leading lines are all around us.

It is worth remembering that leading lines and triangles are just lines and plenty of those exist.

So where, should you look for leading lines?

Here’s a whole list of items to consider:


Human-made leading lines:

Roads, fences, bridges, brickwork, buildings, doorways, window panes and stone walls and anything in a row, such as lamp posts and other forms of lighting.


Natural leading lines:

Rivers, shorelines, waves, sand dunes, trees, tall grasses, cliffs, rocks, sunrays, hedges, fields, ridgelines, hill slopes, mountains and many more!!


Next time you’re out with your camera, take a moment to examine the scene for prominent lines. You’re bound to find some good ones, even if it takes a bit of searching.


Leading lines



Step 2: Incorporate leading lines into your composition


So you’ve found a leading line or two or triangle. Now it’s time to actually incorporate the leading lines into your composition, a deliberate and thoughtful process.


Where do I want this leading line to take the viewer?

Often the answer will involve an interesting feature in the background – such as a sunset or a mountain – so you’ll need to adjust your camera position until the leading line point roughly in the right direction.


By moving your position, you may find another leading line that works better in your composition. A leading line that points away from your main subject is likely to be counterproductive.


Then ask yourself: Is the leading line interesting and strong enough that it can act as a foreground subject? And can I get close enough to make it large in the frame?


If your leading line is interesting and you can get close, do it. The best photos often involve a strong leading line or triangle, one that draws the viewer into the foreground then leads them from foreground to background.

Of course, some leading lines will not hold the viewer’s attention, or they’re not accessible – leading lines are always powerful, even if they aren’t significant. Still use them, but make sure you find an interesting foreground subject that catches the eye or really tighten up your composition to focus on the main subject.


Finally, once you’ve roughly positioned your subject and any leading lines, evaluate the scene one more time. Think about ways that you could enhance the effects of the selected leading lines or triangle and perhaps change your camera position, by getting lower or higher or even by using a wider or longer focal length.


Leading lines



Tips and tricks for working with leading lines


Here are a few tips to improve your compositions with leading lines, starting with:


1. Use the widest lens you have available


You don’t need a wide-angle lens to create stunning leading line compositions. But it does help.
A wide-angle lens lets you capture an expansive scene – so you can position leading lines towards the bottom of the frame, then let them flow into the shot, slowly getting farther and farther away until they disappear (or reach your main subject).

Compare this to a telephoto composition, where the leading lines generally start close to the subject, then quickly terminate. Less dynamic, less interesting, and less three-dimensional.

Many landscape photographers shoot with ultra-wide focal lengths for this exact reason. They often find a leading line, use a wide-angle lens to emphasize it, and create a stunningly deep composition.


2. Don’t be afraid to incorporate multiple leading lines and triangles into a single composition


A single leading line is nice but if you can find multiple leading lines and triangles, all guiding the viewer toward your main subject, your composition will be extremely strong.

Note that all of your leading lines should point toward the subject as much as possible. If the lines deviate from your subject, they’ll guide the viewer in the wrong direction, which will prevent them from fully appreciating the image.

Getting two or more lines to converge toward your subject may take some creativity, but the end result will be worth it.


3. Use the near-far technique to create plenty of depth


The near-far technique is especially common in landscape photography. It’s a simple way to create tons of depth in your photos and it’s how you can capture powerful photos.


Firstly, make sure your leading line is suitably eye-catching. It should act as a subject in its own right – like an interesting rock formation or long grass.


Secondly, make sure you use a wide focal length and would recommend working with at least 35mm (on a full-frame camera), but 24mm, 18mm, or even 14mm is productive.


Thirdly, mount your camera to a tripod and get down low over your subject. You want to make the leading line prominent in the frame, even if it means getting a few inches from your subject. And you’ll want to dial in a narrow aperture, such as f/8, f/11, or even f/16, in order to keep both the foreground and background sharp.

Your final shot will look incredible – with an interesting foreground subject, a line that leads the eye, plus an interesting background subject to complete the composition.


Start thinking about leading lines and triangles wherever you go. Practice finding leading lines and your compositions will get very good, very fast!


Thanks for your time,


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