Photo Basics – Composition IV

In the first two articles of this series on composition, we looked at ways to break up the viewfinder to frame an image and place important scene elements off centre for enhanced visual interest.  In this instalment, we’re going to look at using elements that exist in the scene to create that visual interest through the use of Leading Lines.

Very simply, leading lines are strong elements of an image that can be used to ‘lead’ the viewer into and through the image.  They can be natural, like a river or mountains or man made like a fence or road or foot path.  They can also be created by the photographer through camera angles and by taking advantage of things like perspective distortion.

In the image below, the river provides a natural line that leads the eye through the image up to the bridge and the open space at the end.  I’ve included the red lines to highlight the effect.

Leading Line (click for larger version)

That’s using a naturally occurring scene element to lead the viewer into the image.  In the image below, an exaggeration of perspective distortion – converging verticals caused by pointing the camera upward – has been used to take the viewer from the bottom of the image to the top.

Leading Line (click for larger version)

This strong diagonal was created by angling the camera and choosing my shooting position so that two adjacent towers overlapped in the viewfinder.

Not all such diagonals work; however.  We need to take care to use the lines to lead the viewer into the image rather than out of it, or to create lines that effectively block the viewer from proceding further.

The image below is much the same as the one above but it’s angled the opposite way.  It doesn’t work.  The strong diagonal in this case leads the viewer out of the image and the camera angle causes the viewer to feel like s/he is falling over.

Falling Over (click for larger version)

In addition, the second strong diagonal formed by the larger bank of windows about 1/3 up on the left and 2/3 up on the right serve to accentuate the falling effect and lead the viewer out of the image.  The opposite is true of the same diagonals in the first version of the subject.

We can also create lines through camera movement.  In the image below, I used the multiple exposure function of the camera to take 10 images in a single frame and, as you can see, I moved the camera on a diagonal from down and left to up and right.  This creates some very strong diagonals in the image.  But these strong diagonals, combined with the placement of the foot path act to take the viewer out of the image rather than into it.  In this case, the foot path also serves as a block to the viewer.

Diagonals (click for larger version)

A slightly different version of the same scene gives a very different result.  In this case, I used the same multiple exposure feature of the camera but moved the camera in slight up and down motions to accumulate the shots.  The result is that now, the path provides a way to lead the viewer through the image.  The path curves along the side of the image then turns left at the top allowing the viewer to follow along and take in all the colour along the way.

Path (click for larger version)

The lighter area at the top of the image also helps draw the viewer and this is an aspect of composition we’ll cover in a later article on using contrast as a compositional tool.

That, in a nutshell, is how leading lines work.  As with other compositional tools, the goal is to create movement on the part of the viewer through the photo.  Give it a go next time you’re out with your camera.

As always, feedback and comments are most appreciated and welcomed.

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