One of the most effective ways to draw the viewer’s eye into an image is by use of line.

Lines are a very powerful compositional element, not only do they tell the viewer where to look, but they also influence how the viewer feels.

Horizontal lines such as a horizon can make the viewer feel relaxed, whereas vertical lines, trees, buildings, imbue a sense of power. Diagonal and converging lines such as railway tracks and fences provide a sense of depth and space, and utilising curved lines can lead to a  soothing or unhurried mood.

Lines are everywhere  though, straight, curved, meandering, both natural and manmade, they can all be used to great effect in guiding the eye towards the focal point of an image, and so the positioning of lines in the composition can therefore greatly affect how the viewer “reads” an image.

Because the eye is naturally drawn along lines and edges, so-called “leading lines” draw the viewers attention to a specific part of the frame, and similarly “visual pathways” guide the eye through the image usually to a visual payoff.

Some examples illustrating the technique

Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper


Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper with leading lines

But be careful, here is an example with strong leading lines, but a weak subject, the eye is still drawn along the lines, but is not rewarded, it therefore feels as though something is missing from the composition.

Tips for when on location

  • Look for leading lines, then add your subject
  • Look for implied leading lines such as lines of sight
  • If necessary ask the subject to move

© Andrew James Kirkwood – 2017

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