Every piece of instruction out there about photography composition probably at least mentions the use of leading lines.
But all too often, they use real obvious examples of landscapes. But what about using leading lines in portrait photography?
Good composition techniques like this can often be overlooked when shooting portraits, but they are just as important. You can use leading lines to guide the viewer through the photo and control their attention to the portions of the image that are most important.
So here are some useful techniques to improve your portrait photography with leading lines.
1. Look For Roads
Roads and paths are the easiest (and most common) way to incorporate leading lines into your portrait photography.
You can see examples of this all the time. Whether it’s an individual or a big family portrait, it’s easy to place them on a road or trail to keep the focus on the people.
There are two popular ways you can implement this.
The most common is to find a relatively straight road and place the subject(s) right in the middle. Then when you take the shot, make sure to leave a little space below the subjects to see the road.
The two sides of the road will give you lines coming in from the corners of the image pointing at the people. I like to try to line up the image so that the lines originate right at the corners. If you give yourself a little extra space when you shoot it, you can crop after the fact for a more precise crop.
2. Shoot Along Fences
This is another popular use of leading lines when shooting portraits.
Fences are easy to find in many outdoor spaces and work great as leading lines. You can use them in a few different ways.
The simplest way is to just use the fence to frame your subject or create contrast, especially if the fence is high enough to be above their head. This works great with little kids.
Just have your subject stand in front of or lean against the fence. As long as it is white or some other color that contrasts with the subject, it will serve as an interesting background and the lines of the fence will draw the viewer in from the top and bottom of the image.
But my favorite way of using a fence is to have the subject lean on or against the fence and shoot along the fence so that it is larger in the foreground and narrows as it gets farther from you.
If you frame the shot so that your subject is about a third of the way into the image, the fence in the foreground will give you nice leading lines from the top and bottom corners on one side of the image that lead the viewer’s eye right to them.
3. Try Different Focal Lengths (Go Wider)
Most photographers prefer to use longer focal lengths for portraits. They give that compressed look and great bokeh that everyone is looking for in their portraits.
But the downside to shooting portraits with long focal lengths and larger apertures is that you lose any sense of the environment where the shot was taken. This can be good in some cases, but if you found a great spot to shoot the portrait, why not use it?
Shooting with a wider focal length means less background blur, it also means being able to make use of the environment where you’re shooting. This means taking advantage of the same kind of leading lines you find when shooting landscape photos.
So next time you are shooting a portrait, try a wider focal length and look for ways to use your environment.
Portraits always look better if you shoot when the sun is low in the sky around sunrise or sunset. The light is softer, warmer, and just more flattering overall.
But an added benefit of a low sun is the long shadows it produces. If you position your subject with the setting or rising sun behind them and/or off to the side, then the long shadow cast by the low
5. Take Advantage Of Buildings
Buildings are another easy way to get leading lines in your portraits. Especially buildings that have actual lines on the outside, like brick buildings.
You can use the building in much the same way that you would use a fence by positioning your subject along the wall and shooting at a sharp angle to the wall.
You can also position them farther from the wall, use a wide angle lens and make use of the entire building if it has an interesting shape or features.
Look for both.
Find the small sections of a building that you can get close to and then take a step back and see what type of composition you can create by positioning your subject in relation to the entire structure.
6. Get A Different Perspective
If you can’t find any leading lines to use in your portraits, try getting a different perspective.
Most people tend to shoot most of their photos from standing eye level. Because this is so common, it’s also boring.
So look for high vantage points and then try shooting from low angles too. These different approaches will reveal new backgrounds and new parts of the environment for you to use in your image.
Often, you can find lines on the ground that work great as leading lines. To incorporate these into your portrait, try using a wide angle lens and getting low to the ground.
PRO TIP: When using a wide angle lens to shoot portraits, be sure to position your subject near the middle of the frame so their features aren’t distorted.
7. Look For Patterns Everywhere
Patterns show up in nature, in cities, and just about everywhere in between.
These can be something as simple as repeating street lights that are just starting to light up at dusk. You can use them to draw the viewer’s eye to the subject’s face.
Look for pattern interrupts as well. Interruptions in an otherwise consistent pattern will draw attention and can often be used to lead the viewer into the frame.
Most of all, experiment and try new things.
Even when you don’t have your camera, keep an eye out for lines and patterns in the world around you and imagine how you would position a person in that scene for a portrait.
It’s great practice for the next time you are trying to shoot a portrait!