Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Leading Lines In Photography (Composition)

Foggy Mountain Road - Tehachapi, California
The lane stripes lead the viewer right into the emptiness of the fog.
Yesterday I wrote about the Rule of Three. Today I'll talk about Leading Lines.

Photographs are not the capturing of objects, but the capturing of light (highlights and shadows) and color (if not black-and-white). Highlight, shadow and color make up the shapes within each image. Those shapes often have natural lines--some are straight lines and some are curved lines.
Old Tracks - McKinney, Texas
The rail lines lead the viewer from the bottom (left and/or right) into the center of the image. The surprise is the switch stand in the distance.
You can use those lines to guide the viewer through an image. In order to get the viewer to see what you want them to see in an image, you sometimes need to tell the eyes where to go. If you don't lead the viewer to what you want them to see, they may miss it altogether. Leading lines is one of the primary methods to guide the viewer. Contrast (light and/or color) and focus are two other primary methods to guide the viewer through an image, and these methods can be used together.

The first principal of Leading Lines is that you want to avoid lines coming from the edge of the frame. Often lines that extend to the edge of the frame will lead the viewer right out of the image. Lines that come from the corners are fine because, for whatever reason, these lines tend to lead the viewer into the frame. So it is much better to put the lines into the corners of an image than along the edge.
Filming The Train - Tehachapi, California
The train itself is the line that leads the viewer from the rocks to the man's head. Because of contrast and focus, the viewer's eyes stay on the man and the camera in his hand.  
The second principal of Leading Lines is how it interacts with the other methods of guiding the viewer through an image. The eyes are drawn to areas of high contrast, so if the beginning of the Leading Line is an area of high contrast (light and/or color), the viewer will naturally gravitate to that spot. If the beginning of the leading line is an area of low contrast, the viewer may have trouble finding it. With focus, the eyes will be drawn to the parts of an image that are sharp and will avoid areas that are fuzzy. Keep this in mind when composing your images.

The third principal of Leading Lines is that they need to lead to something. If there is no punchline, the viewer will be guided to boredom. Leading Lines that don't lead are not Leading Lines. So have something (typically, the main point of the photograph) at the end of the lines as a surprise for the viewer.
Go Into The Unknown - Tehachapi, California
The rail line leads the viewer from the lower left towards the signal post.
Carefully and thoughtfully compose your photographs to use the natural elements that are already there to guide the viewer to what you want them to see. This will keep the viewer's attention longer and give them the impression that what they are viewing is worthwhile.

It is important to make meaningful images. If the viewer cannot find the meaning within a short look, then the photograph is pointless. Don't let that happen. Use Leading Lines to take the viewer's eyes to where you want them to go.
Crossing The Tracks - Flagstaff, Arizona
The rail line leads the viewer straight to the walking man. The yellow line (which is contrasted with the blueish bricks), leads the viewer to the bicyclist.

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