Leading lines. Everyone seems to talk about them when it comes to Photography. What are they and why are they so important when composing your image in camera? Is it really necessary to keep an eye out for them in the viewfinder? The simple answer is yes.
If you are not aware of what leading lines are, here it is in a nutshell. Almost every photograph has some form of lines in it. The lines could be bridges, roads, sidewalks, windows, trees, buildings, pathways, household furniture, etc. They can be curved or straight but more importantly, they lead the eye toward something in the image. Many people simply snap the picture for posterity and don’t worry too much about how the lines interact with the entire scene. And that’s fine. But if you want to tell a story with your image, then lines are very important in directing attention to your subject.
As you look through the viewfinder, get into the habit of doing a “once over” of the entire image with your eye. It only takes a second. With practice, you won’t even really notice you are doing it whenever you take a shot. In that second, you will see the full image, notice if there are any distinguishing lines, and much more (to be covered at a later date). Practice taking a step back from the scene and really look at it. I think of it as putting distance between the actual scene before me and what I want people who see the image to actually “see” and feel. The human mind processes data with amazing speed which means I have plenty of time to take it all in.
Sometimes, simply by shifting your focal point a bit, the “lines in the image will draw more attention to your subject matter. Instead of the image being chaotic and resulting in the viewer being a bit confused as to what you want them to see and feel, you “aim” their eyes to the very thing you want to grab their attention.
In this first image below, the viewer can clearly see the lines of headstones leading to the trees and blue skies at Arlington National Cemetery. Although the story is the amount of men and women who gave their lives for their country and are remembered with wreaths during the Holidays (Wreaths Across America organization), it also points to serenity and beauty. The blue skies and trees in the background help to soften the pain and anguish one may feel for the many lives given for our Freedom. Is that what you see and feel?
The second image has all the rows heading out into the distance. And if you follow those rows, you can see that they continue on and on. There are several lines in this photo. The white headstones leading into the cemetery, the shadows of the headstones pointing toward the ones in front of each line, and the tree trunks and two people at the top of the image drawing the eye upward and inward,. Do you see it? Simply by adjusting my position to capture the shadows of the headstone, I added lines, which pointed to each soldier buried there as if to say “we are all one”.
Now that you see how lines affect an image, take a look at this last one. The only thinking I did was that I wanted a picture of Audie Murphy’s headstone. I did not take that second to look at the whole scene before me. I simply focused on the headstone and pressed the button, because I wanted the headstone to take center stage. Unfortunately, I did not take that second to really “look” at the scene in the viewfinder resulting in a very chaotic and distracting background. Headstones going every which way, too many people at the top of the image, the angle of light “whited out” the tombstones…I could go on and on as to why this image is simply a snapshot that does not tell any kind of “story”.
Are leading lines important? In my opinion, yes. If you still don’t think as I do, that’s fine, too. What I would suggest is that you pull out your past photographs and really look at them. Would using the lines in the image have helped improve it? That is the question of the day! Have a good one until next time!