Saturday, June 7, 2014

Composition: Leading Lines

The concept of "Leading Lines" is the second composition topic this month for the Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge. (Join the Google+ Community to share your weekly photographs and receive feedback.) The first topic this month was the Rule of Thirds.

What are Leading Lines?

Lines are a powerful element of composition in photography (and in many other forms of art as well). Lines can convey balance, motion, scale, perspective, and more.

The concept behind the technique of leading lines is to use the visual power of the line to draw your viewers into your photograph. The more a person feels visually drawn into to an image, the more time they will spend examining and appreciating it.

These columns from the Mayan site of Chichen Itza demonstrate the power of leading lines. This composition has a series of leading lines, as both the tops and the bottoms of the two rows of columns march off into the distance. As they recede in size, our brain knows to interpret this change as a result of the vast distance and depth of the original site.

We are drawn visually toward what is known as the vanishing point, or the seeming point at which all of these lines converge. This is what gives us the sense of scale and three-dimensional perspective in a two-dimensional image. (Read more about perspective and converging lines in the article Photographing Architecture: Watch Your Lines.)

Leading lines can do more than add depth to an image; they can also direct your viewer where to look.

The ancient and modern cities of Jerash, Jordan

In this photograph from the ancient city of Jerash, lines of columns are again used to create leading lines. Once again, your eye is drawn in to the center of the image, as the ancient road converges on the modern city. The strong pull of these lines directs you to see the contrasts between the two cities, as they appear to seamlessly blend from the ancient into the modern right near the center of the photograph.

Leading lines are not limited to drawing the eye towards the center of your composition, however. Lines at strong angles can grab your viewer's attention to any location within your photograph.

Here in the Prague subway system, the strongly angular lines converge towards the tunnel on the far left, creating a dynamic composition. The wider aperture (f/3.5) creates the shallow depth of field, and the increasing blur as your eyes move towards the tunnel further accentuates the feeling of movement.

Think beyond literal lines too when you are trying to incorporate leading lines into your composition. In the photograph of the fort Qasr Azraq, above, the line of Jordanian flags serves to guide the eye down into the image and towards the arrow slit above the sign and main entrance. This serves as a subtle reminder of the original defensive purpose of the fort and makes sure that this feature does not go by unnoticed.

Curves as an Element of Composition

While not, mathematically-speaking, lines, curves can serve many of the same compositional roles as leading lines. Curves can also be used to pull your viewer into your image, to establish a feeling of depth, and to guide your viewers' eyes around your photograph. In the photograph below, the curve of the walking path serves to draw you into the image and make you feel like you are interacting with the scene yourself. The use of the tree to block 'what's around the bend' from view adds a sense of mystery and invitation to the image.

How will you use leading lines or curves in your photographs this week? Consider joining the #BYP52Weeks Google+ Community to share your photographs and see what others are coming up with for each weekly theme.
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