Having a great smartphone camera, using the best camera apps, researching your subject, or waiting for the optimum moment is all well and good, but if you frame or compose your shot badly, you will most likely end up with a disappointing result.

When we are considering how we can use composition to improve the photos we take with our smartphones, there are many different techniques we can use. Leading lines are one of those techniques and is a powerful tool for creating impactful and visually stimulating photographs. By drawing the viewer’s eye into an image, leading lines can be used to create depth and interest in an otherwise static shot. Whether you’re shooting with your iPhone or a DSLR camera, this simple technique can take your photos to the next level.

When we think about leading lines in photography, one of the most clichéd examples might be a road as it stretches from the foreground of your image to the horizon line and a vanishing point in the distance. This creates a path for the viewer’s eyes to be naturally drawn toward. However, there are many other possibilities beyond this where leading lines can enhance a photograph.

example iPhone photo of a road

For example, in this next photo, black and white photography, long shadows, and a wooden walkway have been used to create strong leading lines that draw attention into the scene.

example iPhone Photo of a walkway

What Are Leading Lines?

When we talk about leading lines in photography, we are referring to anything linear, or even vaguely linear, that leads the viewer’s eye into, out of, across or around the image.

The primary benefit is that it helps take the viewer on a brief journey into the scene and along the leading line. And because a journey has a beginning and an end, there’s the added benefit of holding the viewer’s attention during this short journey – helping to heighten their enjoyment of the scene.

In the photo below, the winding River Thames provides a leading line that guides the viewer’s attention into the cityscape, towards the horizon and the clouds above.

example iPhone photo showing curved lines of the river thames

Additionally, leading lines can help break up a scene into geometric shapes. In the black and white photo below, the leading line separates the strongly lit vertical lines of concrete from the parts of the scene that are in strong shadow. This creates a geometric structure in the composition, which helps to lead the eye into and across the scene.

example iPhone photo of vertical lines

What are the Different Types of Leading Lines?

Leading lines can be used in a variety of ways to create more impactful and visually appealing photographs. In landscape photography, rivers, roads, walls, paths and fences are all prime examples of linear elements that can be used as leading lines to draw the eye into a composition. In architectural photography, straight lines such as columns or doorways are often heavily featured.

Additionally, shadows can be used as leading lines – the longer or darker the shadow line is, the more prominent its presence will be in your photo. Shadow-filled alleys and winding staircases are particularly effective for this purpose. The use of patterns also helps to create leading lines – from brick walls to cobblestones or wood panels – these repetitive shapes guide the viewer’s gaze around the frame and help viewers explore different sections of an image.

Leading lines don’t have to be restricted to straight lines either – they could also take on a curved form like a riverbank or sand dunes. These organic shapes can add an extra dynamic element to an image compared with its more rigid counterparts.

When taking pictures with your iPhone camera, it’s important to think about how you can use various types of leading lines creatively in your compositions – experiment with different angles and perspectives to find new ways of using them effectively in your images. It’s also worth bearing in mind that sometimes less is more when it comes to the use of leading lines so that the focus remains on other elements within your shot rather than detracting attention away from them.

What Are The Benefits of Using Leading Lines in Photography?

The benefits of using strong leading lines in your photos are clear – simply put, your composition will be much more enhanced. Photographs that incorporate leading lines become more engaging and much more visually stimulating. It also helps to keep the viewer’s attention on the subject, direct their eye into the scene towards a converging point and help to create depth and perspective in an image.

No matter what device you are shooting with, be it a smartphone or DSLR camera, leading lines are a great way to add impact to your images.

Tips For Using Leading Lines in Your Photography

Tip 1: Decide What the Subject of Your Photo is

This may sound obvious, but one of the first steps in taking any photo is to decide what the subject of your photo will be. This will most likely be the main focal point where you want your leading lines to direct the viewer’s eye too.

Tip 2: Look Around For Leading Lines and Converging Lines

Once you know the subject of your photo, look around for suitable converging leading lines that point towards your main subject.

Leading lines can be anything from a road, a path, a river or stream, a fence or the patterns you get in foreground elements, such as sand dunes, that will lead the eye into the distance. They can also be straight lines, curved lines, continuous or broken lines, regular or irregular lines, singular or multiples – basically anything that influences the viewer to follow a predetermined path through the image.

example photo of vertical leading lines on a stairway

The aim is to use the lines to influence how the viewer’s eye travels through the scene. You want the eye to start in one place and end in another, rewarding the effort with a subject they might have missed without the use of the leading line.

In this example photo, the tiny surfer in this beach scene might not be immediately apparent. However, the winding line of the water’s edge gently leads the viewer’s attention from the bottom right to the top left – introducing the surfer along the way.

example of leading line on a beach

Tip 3: Be Bold With the Use of Leading Lines to Connect Two Objects

Don’t be afraid to use leading lines to lead the viewer to a more obvious, larger subject.

In this next photo, nobody would miss the church in the distance, but the path creates the leading line, which effectively delays the viewer in focusing on the church and provides the sensation of travelling along the path to the destination.

This creates a much more engaging and rewarding experience for the viewer rather than just presenting them with the church to look at. Additionally, the path effectively joins the wildflowers in the foreground with the church in the background, strengthening the overall composition.

example of leading line in landscape photography

Prominent leading lines can also be used to connect multiple subjects – in this case, hundreds of books in a library – but it could easily be several interesting yet different types of subjects along a road – e.g. a letterbox, a tree and a signpost.

example of vertical and horizontal lines in a library

Tip 4: Look for Subtle Lines and Patterns in the Scene

Leading lines are everywhere! As mentioned, the obvious examples are roads, paths, walls, railway tracks and river banks. But many other more subtle lines can be found, such as coastlines, rows of trees, and footprints or tire marks in mud, dirt or sand.

The muddy track in the photo below offered a more subtle leading line. It’s less obvious than a clean-lined pavement, road or wall, yet I think it works because it’s having the same effect of leading the eye into the scene, through the richly coloured and detailed foreground to the less important horizon.

example of lines created by a track in the landscape

Tip 5: Consider the Angle and Perspective Your Are Shooting From

When composing your photograph, pay attention to where you are shooting from. Positioning yourself in the right place will help you to make use of any existing leading lines – this will be key. You may sometimes need to move around, change your angle or even re-position yourself until you find the best place to shoot your photo from.

While most leading lines are immovable – meaning you have to move to include them – don’t overlook the opportunities to create your own leading lines by moving objects such as a length of rope or chain, a fallen branch, or an artistic arrangement of natural or man-made objects.

For example, in this photo, there were dozens of different positions to photograph the boat from – but only this low position allowed me to incorporate leading lines in the form of this long metal chain.

example photo of diagonal lines going towards a boat

When To Use Leading Lines

There’s no hard and fast rule about when you should use leading lines in photography, but try not to use them unless they serve a purpose. Ask yourself whether the inclusion of leading lines will enhance the image or distract the viewer’s eyes from what was already a well-composed scene.

Just because there may be obvious leading lines available, it doesn’t mean you should use them. Equally, just because there isn’t an obvious leading line available, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for one if it improves the resulting image.

How To Use Leading Lines To Create Powerful iPhone Photos 1

Leading lines sometimes present themselves, i.e. you just find you’re in the right position and notice an obvious leading line that you can use. However, this sort of situation is generally down to luck, so it’s a good idea to get into the habit of looking for leading lines, so you don’t miss any good photo opportunities.

You might have found the perfect subject to photograph, but a change of position could allow you to include leading lines that will enhance the overall image.

Final Thoughts About These Leading Lines Photography Tips

Remember that leading lines are merely another tool in your composition toolbox – only to be used when it will enhance the image. Don’t rely solely on leading lines – use them in conjunction with other composition tools, such as the Rule Of Thirds.

For example, you could position your leading lines on or near the horizontal lines or the vertical grid lines about a third of the way up or across your scene. Or have the leading lines pass through or start/end where two of the gridlines intersect. By taking this approach, you will effectively be incorporating two powerful composition techniques in photography – the rule of thirds and leading lines.

an iPhone photo of leading lines on a beach scene

To recap, remember to look for opportunities to use leading lines in your photography. It is important that you train your eye to look out for and practice finding leading lines wherever you may be.

Rather than just shooting from where you happen to be, change your position and perspective and shoot from different angles and positions. This will increase or decrease the effect that your leading lines have on your composition.

Lastly, the only “rule” about leading lines (and any other compositional techniques) is only to use them when they’ll improve or enhance the image.