Leading Lines

When looking to compose an image, there are very few human-made objects that can be used to direct the eye of a view quite so succinctly as a jetty. The leading lines of the jetty can be used in either a perfectly symmetrical photograph or to draw the eye to another area of the image.

Meetup at Long Jetty on 3 September > book here

I'll be meeting up with my students at Long Jetty, and I am going to start our photographic composition journey with Leading Lines.

What is photo composition?

Photo composition is how a photographer arranges visual elements within their frame. Everything else can be perfect, like your exposure balance and environment, but it is the composition will set your photography apart from the rest.

Good photographers have an eye for subjects and scenes. Next-level photographers tell a story through a single image. Composition is the canvas to which photographers tell their story.

Leading Lines

Leading lines are visual elements that pull the viewer’s eye toward a subject or focal point. Once you start looking for them, lead lines are everywhere in many different forms.

Horizontal Lines

Side-to-side leading lines give the viewer a sense of stability. They're associated with feelings of tranquility or calmness. Most lines are viewed from left to right as if reading a book. You can compose your images to use this flow when showing movement or a journey.

Horizontal lines at Long Jetty, NSW
Horizontal lines at L'abbaye du Thoronet, C12th Cistercian abbey, Lorgues,France
Vertical Lines

Lines that run up and down convey authority or power. Repeating structures are fabulous for vertical lines. The jetty railings provide the vertical line that repeat and draw your eye to the young lads chatting in the distance.

Vertical lines draw you to the young lads in the distance at Long Jetty, NSW.
A flock of birds above the repeating vertical lines at Long Jetty, NSW

Vertical lines can offset a complete random event such as golden light hitting a row of trees or a flock of birds taking flight.

Light hits this row of tree in Lorgues, France


Diagonal lines through the frame make the viewer sense movement and change. A line that slopes down will have a different feel than a line that slopes upward. Downward sloping lines feel soothing, while lines going upwards create tension.

Diagonal lines create a different perspective and mood, Long Jetty, NSW

Crossing or Intersecting Lines

Crossing and intersecting lines can cause confusion and tension. When two lines meet, the eye doesn't know which exit to take. These are taken on my overseas trip.

The first is the detail from a gothic cathedral in Portugal. Can you feel the tension of all those designs arguing for space in your mind's eye?

Details and converging patterns where typical of this style of architecture from the Mosteiro da Batalha, Portugal.
National Monument in Edinburgh begun in 1822 was never finished.

The lines of the National Monument in Edinburgh go in, out and up.

Depth of field

Focus and depth of field also add to the illusion of a third dimension within the photo. Shallow depth of field can give the viewer the impression that they’re focused on something immediately in front of them and it provides a look of depth and scale.

An ancient stone wall from L'abbaye du Thoronet, Lorgues,France
Very, very old cobblestone road in Rue, England.


There are certain situations where there is a line that the viewer's eyes follow, but there is not actually a line in the photograph. The most commonly cited example is when the model or subject is looking at something in the frame. In this case, the viewer's eyes naturally follow the subject's gaze. The audience wants to know what has the model's attention.

Negative Space

The negative space in a photograph could be referred to as the emptiness. This big skies or large bodies of water. Controlling that space can create powerful results. A lot of negative space can provide an openness or a feeling of freedom from the photo.

The lines draw the viewer into that space. What story does it tell?


Foreground can frame your lines giving an extra dimension to your image and story.

Peering through

Lines that make you feel like you are looking through into another world are powerful. The diagonal lines of the foreground rocks draw your eye to the distant spire in Edinburgh, Scotland.

So that is a quick run-down of leading lines. As you can see, lines are the 'backbone' of a pleasing image.

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