Leading lines and photography composition – quick tutorial for beginners
Harbour bridge, Sydney Australia
12th August 2018
The story behind the photo
Since 2 months in the middle of nowhere in New South Wales, Australia, I decided it’s time to leave the parrots and kangaroos for a weekend… and head to the crazy Sydney! This evening, I was passing by the bridge at Sydney harbour. I wondered how not to get another boring photo of this so cool looking bridge. Walking further, I found the lines made by the bridge and the fence a powerful photo composition. They reminded me of the promenade in Manhattan.
Urban photography – focused on architecture in cities – is an exercise I tried here for the first time… challenging to find my way through all the elements, shapes and colours which pop up around you in an innovative and cosmopolite city like Sydney!
It’s outdoor photography. So, we don’t need to set up any artificial light. The light this day was good – bright day and at golden hour, showing a smooth blue and orange light – even if we don’t see the colours on the final photo!
Focal – 40 mm. Why? The longer the focal is (typically, all focals above 35mm), the closer the subject seems to be. It means that the angle of view will be narrow and the individual objects will be highlighted. Perfect for portrait, closeups and street photography – we don’t want to give much importance to the background but focus the attention on our photo subject.
Aperture priority – f/14. Explanation: to get perspective and to have details even on the end of the bridge lines. Plus, no need of adjusting manually the shutter speed this day because of an optimal light situation.
ISO – 100. Reason: still enough light to keep the ISO at the lowest and avoid extra noise on the photo.
Focus – zone. Why? I put the focus zone on the first third bottom of the image to enhance the perspective and the meeting point of the bridge and fence lines
White balance – shadows. Explanation: to reinforce the smooth light provided by the golden hour (orange tons and warm colour temperature). When shooting at sunset, you can use the shadows setting.
Recognizing interesting leading lines
First step, when you are out with your camera: look around! Luckily, leading lines can be found in the landscape very often. Especially in cities, where the human being creates geometric buildings. Lines in architecture are basically everywhere!
The challenge is rather to find interesting leading lines. Lines which will give you a dynamic composition. Try to put together several lines close to each others and see the general shape they create together. The picture of the bridge and the fence is a good example for that. They form a triangle. Try to find diagonals, triangles, rectangles, squares… a dynamic game of shapes. Leading lines make the image dynamic also when they point to different directions.
Composing with leading lines
I took the photo from below to make the elements look bigger. They fill the frame. Which means that there is no distraction to take your attention away from the leading lines. I also chose to give perspective to the image. Using a low aperture and the focus on the bottom of the photo helps as well. I put the fence on the lowest line of the camera grid. That way, you create a dynamic image and you make of the fence a door to the picture – the eye enters the photo through it. Our eyes are led to the vanishing point – a point of disappearance, where the eye just sees infinity. It is created by the meeting of the two leading lines – under the bridge.
The leading lines in this photo go also in two opposite directions. The bridge brings the eye to the right hand side of the photo. At the same time, the fence seems to plunge straight into the picture and rush to the vanishing point at the last end of the photo.
It results a game of strenghts between these powerful leading lines. It’s not a common composition and it doesn’t respect the rule of leading lines pointing to the same direction. But still, the photo shows us harmony – harmony rising from chaos, from a battle between the bridge and the fence lines. The fighting leading lines add a huge sense of dynamism to the photo.
I desaturated the whole photograph. Before doing that, play around with colours and contrasts – increase them in order to have a lively desaturated image.
I also enhance the blur on useless elements in the background – like houses, urban artefacts… Anything that could distract from our leading lines is not welcome! Notice that the water is not blured – the waves add even more lines!
The usual settings like curves and contrasts are always set up at the beginning. Here, I also increase a bit the black levels to highlight the black contours of the bridge and fence lines.
My photo tips
Leading lines are a very powerful pattern. The human eye needs to be led in a clear way. Leading lines in photography are perfect for that.
Symmetry, which we normally want to avoid on a photo, is in this case welcome to structure even more the image.
As beginner photographer, you can train your eye to recognize interesting leading lines in the landscape – in nature, in architecture, indoor. The lines also allow you to use the vanishing point – the point used by the painters at Renaissance to enhance perspective.
Try to think in terms of shapes and geometry. The objects become abstract to form dynamic lines.