How to Use Leading Lines in Photography: Complete Guide

As photographers, we’re always looking for ways to improve our craft. One of the most important techniques I’ve learned over the years to improve my own photography skill set has to do with the power of leading lines.

I remember the first time I consciously used leading lines in one of my photos. I was on a family hike in the mountains and I came across a beautiful path leading up to the mountains. I knew I wanted to capture the sense of movement and flow leading up to the mountains, but my first few shots looked flat and uninteresting.

That’s when I noticed how the path itself consisted of two lines leading toward the hill in the distance. I positioned myself to include this line in my composition and also told one of my family members to walk down the path while I photograph them walking. Suddenly, everything clicked.

The line added a sense of depth and movement to the image, and the viewer’s eye was naturally drawn toward the focal point and point of emphasis.

From that moment on, I started looking for leading lines every time I went on a photo session. I discovered that leading lines could be found in all kinds of settings, from urban streets to natural landscapes.

They could be straight, curved, horizontal or vertical, converging or diverging — and they could also be used to create a variety of effects, from guiding the viewer’s eyes into the image to creating a sense of depth, motion, or mystery.

With that being said, in this guide, I’ll be defining what leading lines are in photography, I’ll be sharing my tips and insights into how to use leading lines in photography, different types, and lots more.

Whether you’re a beginner or have some experience with photography, you’ll learn how to find and use leading lines to create more dynamic and engaging images. So join me on this journey, and let’s explore the power of leading lines in photography.

If you’re more of a video person, be sure to check out the video I made titled “Leading Lines Photography: The BEGINNER’S Guide + Tutorial”:

What are Leading Lines in Photography?

At the most basic level, leading lines are visual elements within a photograph that draw the viewer’s eye towards a certain point or area — usually a point at the converging point of the lines or within the middle of the lines.

Leading lines are one of many photography composition techniques and can consist of anything from roads, train tracks, rivers, trees, rails, stairs, etc.

When people think of leading lines, they often think of two lines, but leading lines can also just consist of one line — and I guess in this case, it would just be a leading line.

For me, the key to understanding leading lines is to think about how our eyes naturally move when we look at an image. We tend to start at the bottom left corner and move our gaze towards the right, following the direction of the line or lines within the image.

This creates a sense of movement and progression as we examine the photograph and can also be used to guide the viewer’s attention to a specific subject or point of interest.

One of the best examples to visually illustrate leading lines in action is the classic image of a road stretching off into the distance. The lines created by the road draw the viewer’s eye toward the vanishing point on the horizon, creating a sense of depth and movement that can be powerful for the viewer.

Leading lines, however, can be found in all kinds of settings and not just on roads or paths. Leading lines can also be created by the shapes of buildings, patterns in nature, or the angles of a staircase.

Ultimately, the key to using leading lines effectively is to experiment and explore. Try different angles and perspectives, and look for lines that lead the eye toward your intended focal point or subject.

After you’ve experimented with them for a while, you’ll be noticing leading lines all around you.

leading lines road
leading lines created with the road

What Effect Do Leading Lines Have on an Image?

Leading lines can have a profound effect on the look and feel of an image and this is why they’re a popular composition technique.

But what exactly are these effects? Let’s dive into them now:

1. Sense of Movement

One of the effects leading lines can have on an image is that they can create a sense of movement.

Whether it’s a straight road or a curving, winding river, the lines within the photo guide the viewer’s eyes along that particular path — creating a sense of motion and progression.

This can be even more powerful when combined with other elements such as a fast shutter speed or blurred background.

curved leading line with model and road
curved leading line with model and road

2. Sense of Depth

Another effect leading lines can have on an image is that they can create a sense of depth within the image.

Since leading lines lead the viewer’s eyes toward a particular focal point, the lines within the image create a sense of three-dimensionality which can make the image feel more immersive and engaging.

3. Sense of Emotion

The third effect leading lines can have on an image is that they can create a sense of mood or emotion within the image.

For example, converging lines can create a sense of tension or conflict, while a winding path can create a sense of tranquility or relaxation.

Combining this knowledge with color grading and the setting of your image, you can better convey a certain emotion whether it be moody, bright, airy, or happy.

tranquil curved leading line
tranquil curved leading line

4. Story Telling

The final and perhaps the most important effect leading lines can have on an image is that they can help to better tell a story within an image.

Sure you can look at the lines as just lines, but they are so much more than that. They are an entrance into a narrative or story behind the image.

For example, a road leading towards a distant horizon or a series of steps leading up to a grand entrance can convey a sense of journey and purpose within the image. Or a bride walking with the groom with family and friends around them can convey a sense of union.

Why Would a Photographer Use Leading Lines?

All in all, a photographer would want to use leading lines to either convey a sense of movement, depth, emotion, or story within the image.

Leading lines are one composition technique of many that photographers should have under their toolbelt when the situation calls for it.

Different Types of Leading Lines

As a photographer who often uses leading lines, I’ve found that there are many different types of leading lines that you can use to create a dynamic and engaging image.

Each type of leading line has its own unique properties and effects and knowing when to choose the right type of line for a particular image can be crucial to the overall success of an image.

1. Straight Leading Lines

The first type of leading line is the classic straight line.

Straight lines can be a great leading line option when you want to create a sense of strength, stability, and order within the image. This makes sense because buildings, trees, poles, and other objects with straight lines usually symbolize strength, stability, and order as well.

Examples of straight lines include roads, columns, building edges, walls, etc.

leading lines road
straight leading lines example

2. Diagonal Leading Lines

The second type of leading line is the diagonal line.

Diagonal lines create a sense of movement and dynamism in the image and can create a sense of progression.

This makes sense because similar to when reading something or looking at an image, we either scan left to right or right to left depending on our culture, and diagonal lines often move in the same direction. This is unlike straight lines which are usually just vertical or horizontal.

Examples of diagonal lines can include paths, staircases, rooflines, roads, etc.

diagonal leading line railroad
diagonal leading line railroad

3. Curved Leading Lines

The third type of leading line is the curved line.

Curved lines are great at creating a sense of grace and fluidity within the image, guiding the viewer’s eye along a meandering path and creating a sense of motion and progression. Similar to diagonal lines, they can also create a sense of movement and dynamism in the image.

Examples of curved lines can include winding rivers, certain roads, spiral staircases, etc.

curved leading line with model and road
curved road leading line

How to Use Leading Lines in Photography in 7 Steps

As a photographer who loves leading lines, I’ve learned that the key to effectively using leading lines in your photographs is to incorporate careful consideration and thoughtful composition.

Here are some tips I used in order to incorporate leading lines into my images that I believe you will find helpful as well:

1. Identify Potential Leading Lines

The first step in order to incorporate leading lines into your images is to first identify any leading lines in your immediate setting.

You’ll want to look for natural or man-made elements in your scene that can serve as leading lines such as streets, rails, trees, roads, cars, buildings, walls, etc.

As mentioned earlier, don’t just look for straight lines — also be sure to look at diagonal lines, curved lines, or even abstract forms of lines that are created by tonal contrast of light and shadow.

2. Identify Your Subject or Focal Point

The second step in order to use leading lines in your photography is to then identify your subject or focal point.

The leading lines need to “lead” up to something. There needs to be a point of emphasis or focal point that the lines direct the viewer’s eyes to.

The subject or focal point can be a person or a natural or man-made element.

And to be honest, I listed this as step two, however, this step and step one usually go hand-in-hand and happen at the same time.

Sometimes, you’ll find a subject you really like and then look for leading lines in your surrounding area to use to lead them to your viewer, or you’ll find leading lines and then try to find a subject you could lead the viewer to.

3. Consider the Direction

The third step to using leading lines is to consider the direction of the lines.

Take note of which direction the leading lines are pointing and how they can guide the viewer’s eyes toward your intended focal point.

As we discussed earlier, different types of lines can evoke different emotions or create different visual effects so you’ll want to choose the type of line that best suits the mood or story you’re trying to convey with your overall image.

For example, if you’re trying to convey a story of solidarity and “power” with a traditional male portrait photoshoot, then perhaps you’ll opt for straight lines.

If you’re trying to create a mysterious mood, then perhaps you’ll opt for curved lines.

4. Experiment with Angles and Perspective

The fourth step is to experiment with angles and perspectives.

Once you identify your leading lines and the subject or focal point you want to use, it’s time to start taking some photographs.

When you’re photographing, try shooting from different angles and perspectives to see how the leading lines interact with other elements in the scene and how they can better convey or detract from the story or mood you’re trying to portray in your image.

For example, you can photograph from a low angle to emphasize the height of vertical, straight lines which will also make the subject look more “powerful,” or you can photograph from a high angle to accentuate the length of diagonal lines and provide a more “top-down” perspective.

The point is, don’t be afraid to be creative and experiment to find the most visually compelling composition.

Usually, when I’m photographing leading lines, I’ll take images in all the angles — from a standing position, squatting position, sitting position, and sometimes from a prone position just to see and play with all the different angles to see how they look.

5. Pay Attention to the Composition

The fifth step to using leading lines is to pay attention to the overall composition of your image.

Leading lines is just one of many photography composition techniques, so you’ll want to keep in mind how the leading lines interact with other elements such as the rule of thirds, balance, and framing.

For example, you may find a good angle to use leading lines, however, let’s say if you shifted your body position just a little bit to the right then you could also have the subject on the rule of thirds intersection point as well. It’s little tweaks like that that are important to have in the back of your mind when photographing.

6. Play With Depth of Field

The sixth step to using leading lines in photography is to play with the different depths of field.

Experimenting with different depths of field to highlight the leading lines or subjects will create a sense of depth and dimensionality within your image and make it more visually interesting overall.

You can use a shallow depth of field (small f-stop number) to blur the lines in the foreground or background and just focus on your subject or the lines, or a narrow/deep depth of field (larger f-stop number) to keep all the lines as well as the subject/focal point in sharp focus.

Whether you want to use one over the other is your personal choice. If the subject should be your main focal point because you’re doing portrait photography, then perhaps you should opt for the shallow depth of field to put emphasis on the person, however, if you’re doing street photography then you could opt for the deep depth of field.

7. Practice, Practice, Practice

The seventh and final step to using leading lines in your photography is to practice, practice, practice.

Like any other photographic technique, becoming comfortable using leading lines takes practice.

It’s like busting out a dance move at a party, you may not feel comfortable using that dance move until you’ve practiced it. Well, the same goes for any other skill or technique.

If you’re going to practice leading lines, go out on a photography session and explicitly tell yourself to focus on leading lines so you be consciously active in the scene looking for leading line opportunities.

Once you feel comfortable with leading lines, then it will be another technique in your photographer’s toolbelt!

Other Composition Techniques that Can Be Used with Leading Lines

Experimenting with different composition techniques in conjunction with leading lines can open up new creative possibilities and add depth and impact to your photographs.

We touched a bit on this in the previous section, but I wanted to dedicate a whole section to other composition techniques you could use with leading lines.

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a fundamental composition technique in photography that consists of you dividing the image into a 3×3 grid and placing your main focal point on one of the intersecting lines.

By aligning leading lines with the rule of thirds, you could create a beautiful sense of balance and harmony in the image while also drawing the viewer’s eye toward the main subject.

using rule of thirds and leading lines
using rule of thirds and leading lines


Framing is another technique that uses elements within the scene to create a natural frame around your subject or focal point.

The beautiful thing about leading lines is that you can often use them as part of the framing and even create a frame within a frame.

For example, using trees or archways as frames can lead the viewer’s eyes toward the subject and create a visual leading line or pathway through the image.


Symmetry is another powerful compositional technique that can also create a sense of balance and harmony in the image.

By aligning leading lines symmetrically, you can create a sense of order and stability, while also drawing the viewer’s eye toward the main subject.

For example, using reflections in water or using a row of buildings as symmetrical leading lines can create visually striking images.

frame within a frame photography example
using symmetry and leading lines


Contrast is another composition technique that can be used effectively with leading lines.

By contrasting the lines with other elements in the scene, such as color, tone, or texture, you can create visual interest and make the lines stand out more prominently.

For example, using a brightly colored leading line against a muted background can create a sense of vibrancy and draw attention to the line.

Negative Space

Negative space refers to the empty or blank spaces in an image and it is another compositional technique that pairs well with leading lines.

Negative space adds a sense of balance and can emphasize the lines in your scene as well as further draw the viewer’s eyes toward the main subject.

For example, using a long straight road as your leading lines against a vast empty sky can create a sense of serenity and solitude and can be a great way to incorporate negative space into the composition.

using negative space with leading lines
using negative space with leading lines

Enhancing Leading Lines in Post-Production

After you’ve taken your photos, it’s time to take them into post-production to further enhance the impact of the leading lines in your image.

Here are some insights on how you can use post-processing techniques to further enhance the leading lines in your photographs. In case you were wondering, I use Adobe Lightroom for my post-production edits:

1. Adjusting Contrast and Saturation

One of the simplest ways to enhance leading lines in post-production is to simply adjust the contrast and saturation.

Increasing the contrast ever so slightly will make your leading lines appear more prominent and defined.

Adjusting the saturation can also make them stand out even more against the surrounding elements

2. Cropping and Framing

The second post-production edit is to add cropping and framing.

By adjusting the crop and frame of your image, you can further emphasize the direction and flow of the leading lines.

I recommend experimenting with different cropping ratios, orientations, and aspect ratios to find the composition that best enhanced the leading lines as well as the mood and story you’re trying to convey with your image.

3. Sharpening and Clarity

Applying selective sharpening or clarity adjustments to the leading lines can help to make them appear more defined and crisp, further emphasizing their presence in the image.

This can be especially effective when working with images that have softer or less defined leading lines, allowing you to bring out more details and make them stand out.

Just like with everything, be careful not to overdo it.

4. Color Grading

Experimenting with the basics of color grading can also enhance the impact of leading lines in your image.

By adjusting the color tones along the leading lines, you can create a visual flow and harmony that guides the viewer’s eyes along the intended path.

For example, if your leading line is an orange road and the sky is blue, then this will be a nice complementary color and you can further enhance the orange to make it a bit more prominent and draw further attention to the leading lines and subject (again, without overdoing it).

You can use color grading to add warmth, coolness, or emphasize specific color tones that will complement the leading lines and your subject and to further enhance the story or mood you’re also trying to convey.

Examples of Leading Lines in Photos and Movies

Let’s take a look at some examples of leading lines in movies:

The Shining

leading lines the Shining

Ex Machina

leading lines ex machina

Stand by Me

leading lines stand by me

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, leading lines is a compositional technique that every photographer should have under their toolbelt.

But just like any other compositional technique, it’s easy to start using but hard to master, and even I’m still exploring different ways I can best use it in my images!

So go out there and start practicing some leading lines and use the tips I presented in this guide. Good luck and happy photographing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Do leading lines have to be straight?

No, leading lines in photography do not have to be straight. They can be curved, diagonal, or even organic, depending on the subject, composition, and desired visual impact. The key is that they guide the viewer’s eye along a specific path and create a sense of direction and flow within the image.

Why do we use leading lines in photography?

Photographers use leading lines in photography as a compositional technique to create a sense of depth, perspective, and visual interest in their images. Leading lines can guide the viewer’s eye, create a sense of direction, and draw attention to the main subject or focal point, resulting in more engaging and visually dynamic photographs.