In photography, composition has one clear goal, and that is to make your image interesting. For most of us, an interesting thing is something that stands out and draws your eyes in. That’s why I’d like to take some time to talk about one very easy way to do this in your photos. By using shapes and lines, you can draw your viewer into an image and make it more engaging. What’s the end result? You guessed it. A more appealing and visually interesting image.
What is a lead-in line?
A lead-in line is any line your eye can follow into an image. It could be the edge of something, the horizon, or an interesting pattern you observe. Possible lead-in lines can be found in almost anything in nature or the world around you. They’re the edge of a building, a flower, a cloud, a street, or your friend’s face. Because they are a purely geometric thing, they could literally be anything.
The image above is a perfect example of that I'm talking about. In the photo, your eyes follow the edge of the plate to the tops of the cupcakes. The plate is your lead into the image.
Why is it important to use lead-in lines?
If you think about it, interesting things stand out for a reason. A person with a bright yellow shirt stands out because most people don’t wear bright yellow. This creates a sharp line between the person and the background. A similar sort of thing goes on when you use lead-in lines properly. You make your subject stand out by making all lines in the scene point to it.
Rule of thirds
The rule of thirds is a simple rule for deciding where to place your subject in the frame. A lot of research shows that we find images interesting when the subject is positioned about one third of the distance into the frame, either from the top, bottom, or the sides. Lead-in lines can help you accentuate what you do with the rule of thirds. By drawing your viewers eye to a subject placed at any of these thirds locations, you can create a more visually interesting image.
Finding a good lead-in line?
To find a lead-in line, you simply need to look at the scene from a bunch of different angles and perspectives. Sometimes they aren’t there at a certain angle, but they’re very present at another. Sometimes you need to zoom in to get a lead-in line to work. Sometimes you need to zoom out. Look from above. Look from below. Walk around your subject and see it from all sides.
Where do the best lead-in lines start?
Lead-in lines can start anywhere on the side of the frame. There really aren’t any hard and fast rules about that. As long as the lines go somewhere through, or point towards, a main subject, they should work quite well. The best way to test a lead-in line’s effectiveness is to take a step back and look at the image. Notice what your eyes do. Do they go through the entire image, focusing on the subject, or do you get the feeling that you’re stuck?
Using shapes and lead-in lines for other purposes
The most interesting part of this whole exercise is using shapes and lead-in lines for other purposes. Sometimes you can use other shapes to stop your viewer’s eyes from moving through the scene. You can also use them to direct your viewer’s eyes back out of the scene. Depending on what you’re trying to do, certain approaches will be better or worse than others. It’s really up to you to step back and trust your intuitions on this one.
Lead-in lines can’t always be used with every image you make, but they do make your images more interesting. Use them whenever they help draw your viewer’s eye through an entire photo, and you’ll have a winning combination.
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