Geometry, diagonals and leading lines in photography

Photo of author

Words/photographs: Tony Eveling

Previously I talked about compositional balance and visualization, but how do structures like geometry, lines, symmetry and layers affect composition?

This post will concentrate on leading lines in photography, as well as geometry and lines.


Compositional balance, the rule of thirds and so on, is about placing elements (otherwise known as objects) in a frame.

Those objects (or elements) are obvious, they are forests, trees, roads, buildings. In fact, all the things that we see when we go outside and line up our shot. Obviously!

But there are other elements that are not objects in the conventional sense, but must be placed in a photo in the same way as objects.

Creatively Composed part 6. Geometry and lines in photography
Misty Forest in winter, Austria. The objects in this photo are trees. But this photo is not just about trees, it is about the composition of lines.

Those elements are geometry, lines, leading lines, vanishing points, layers etc etc.

The above mentioned elements create specific visual effects in an image, and it’s understanding those visual effects that is important. Knowing this will help you use them in your photography, and that is what this article will concentrate on.

Once you are aware of those visual effects, you will be able to use standard compositional techniques to place them in an aesthetically pleasing way in your compositions.

So let’s start off by looking at one of the big guns in all of this, that being ‘leading lines’.

What are leading lines in photography?

Leading lines in a photograph are an arrangement of naturally occurring lines that are visible in a landscape scene, or an urban scene.

Those lines are arranged in the composition in such a way that they have the visual effect of dragging the eye into the photograph.

That visual effect can be very strong, and even a little ‘dizzying’ for the viewer, especially if there are many lines in the composition.

However, the visual effect can also be more muted and subtle, where the viewer is gently ‘hand held’ through the image and onto the subject.

The trick is to notice when these lines appear in a scene, and to think visually about how to present them in your composition. Visualization is key to this.

Geometry and lines

It might not look like much on a piece of paper, but the line is really quite important.

It divides two areas of interest in a photograph, and where you place that line in a composition will fundamentally affect the way someone will view your image.

Lines help provide perspective and depth, they can be horizontal, vertical and diagonal, and there can be many, or just one.

They can be used to make patterns and they can be used to create symmetry.

There are many instances in landscape photography where nature provides perfectly straight, naturally occurring lines.

Geometry plays a big role too.

Sometimes composing a line diagonally across the frame or dead straight will fundamentally change the composition, even though the scene itself will be the same.

All these elements and geometric shapes be composed in a similar way to conventional objects. And remember, those geometric shapes appear and disappear as you change your composition and/or viewpoint.

The next four examples in this section are nice and simple.

The beach here with no people is a very graphic composition.

The beach was very wide and I wanted to express this in the photograph, so that dictated more sand than sea.

People walking along the beach.  View from the clifftops at Watergate Bay, Cornwall, England,uk
People walking along the beach. View from the clifftops at Watergate Bay, Cornwall, England,uk

In your minds eye you can look at this image and move the line to different positions using your imagination.

What do you prefer? That is also what you have to do when you are out there taking photos.

Imagine the composition in your minds eye first,
and then put camera to eye where you can adjust to create your vision.

The next two images are similar in style to the empty beach, but with these it was the depiction of the people on the beach that
drove the final composition.

The second of these two images is more intimate, concentrating more on the people on the beach, and less on the wider environment

the first of these two images contains the horizon which splits the photo into three
geometric shapes with the horizon that helps give a sense of the enormity of our surroundings.

Those three geometric shapes need to be placed in the composition in a way that helps direct the eye to the subject of the photo.

To place them correctly requires instinct, personal opinion, intuition etc etc…as well as discipline.
The discipline comes from applying techniques like span>separation, balance and placement.

The beach at the devon seaside town of beer, devon,england,uk
The beach at the devon seaside town of beer, devon,england,uk
Beer beach, Devon, England, UK
Beer beach, Devon, England, UK

The fourth image is a detail shot of the shape of a landscape.

Kinder Scout,peak district national park,derbyshire,england,uk
Kinder Scout,peak district national park,derbyshire,england,uk

I have ‘flattened’ the hilly landscape by zooming in and removing the
outline of the hills, and so removing the context.

What is left is a composition of textures and lines that are carved into the landscape.

Where you put those lines will determine the aesthetic qualities of the image.

Again, it’s discipline and gut-feeling that will help you compose.

There are lots of lines in this photograph of a pier

These are called leading lines, because they lead the eye into the photograph.

Leading lines provide depth and perspective.

Bournemouth Pier, Dorset, England,UK
Bournemouth Pier, Dorset, England,UK

They don’t have to be as simple and obvious as this, but they always have the same three dimensional effect.

The composition that I have used for the pier is a very common composition, used for roads and rivers and anything flat and long, so objects on the ground or rising upwards (like buildings) suit this type of composition.

This is an easy composition to repeat, just face
head on to your subject and create a symmetry with the pathway, road or river, equal distance
either side of you, decide where you want the horizon and snap!

Practice of course, makes perfect, so the more you practice these simple compositions, the
more you will hone your compositional skills and find new, more original compositions of your

The view of chesil beach in Dorset, UK is another example of leading lines

Again there is a feeling of depth as the eye is led into the photograph via the curve of the beach on the left hand side.

chesil beach at dusk, isle of portland near weymouth,dorset,england,uk
chesil beach at dusk, isle of portland near weymouth,dorset,england,uk

The sun is setting over the landscape in this shot and the last of the light is reflecting off of the sea, but not the land, which all creates a nice visual effect.

Chesil beach is a strip of shingle beach that is separated from the mainland by a lagoon.

This can be seen in this photograph where the sea, the beach, the lagoon and the mainland all drift into the distance somewhere to the left of the horizon.

This is the vanishing point.

The vanishing point is where all the lines meet, and in
theory disappear into a dot on the horizon or in the distance somewhere.

Lines, leading lines and vanishing points should be seen as objects within a composition rather than some other abstract idea.

So the
compositional question is where do you put the vanishing point and where do I place my lines and
leading lines in the frame?

And that is up to you, your choice…but where you put them will decide how aesthetically pleasing an image is.

check out the earlier posts in this series on separation
placement and balance, they are the only techniques that you need for good composition….
it is those techniques that provide the discipline. The rest of the composition is your feeling and engagement for and with a place, mixed with intuition.

Had I blindly applied the ‘rule of
thirds’ with these compositions I would have unbalanced the photographs with too much sky or, as in the Chesil beach photo too much dark foreground.

That would have greatly upset the balance of the photograph.

Think creatively then apply technique and discipline.

When you want to depict depth in a photo, you very often have to direct your camera at an angle towards your subject (blurry backgrounds will depict depth too, but that’s not what I am talking about here).

Detail view of a block of flats and four balconies
Detail view of a block of flats and four balconies

So in the case of the pier scene above, my camera is at an angle relative to the boardwalk

If I shot from directly overhead from a hot air balloon there would be no angle and there would be no depth or perspective.

So, here I have photographed this block of flats head on with no angle, and all depth has gone, giving me a flat image.

I could have used a wide angle lens, walked to within a meter of the building pointing the camera up at an acute angle, which would give the building the feeling of height.

The bottom of the building would look much wider than the top, which is the same visual effect as the photograph of the pier, or to put it another way, the same composition.

However, it is the balconies and content of the balconies that I wanted as the subject of my photo, and I felt the best way to depict the balconies was head on and flat.

It’s really just deciding what the subject of the photo is and then how you want to depict it. For me that process is driven by instinct and what feels right.

So that is it for Geometry and lines….it really is simple.

Remember, that these posts have been adapted from my ebook Creatively Composed.
There are more examples with explanations in the book, and you can download it completely free here.

The ebook also contains a number of really simple exercises to have a go at at your leisure

I can’t emphasise enough that there are no rules in photography. None, zilch, zip, zero…

Good photography is discipline and technique, which is one hundred percent learnable.

The rest is feeling, intuition, expression and engagement…all things that are personal to you.

So if you put your mind to it, you will become a better photographer, and you will become a genuinely very good photographer…

These posts have been adapted from my free ebook.
If you want to read the whole series of articles in one convenient ebook, you can, just follow this link.

So that you don’t have to trawl through my blog posts to find the next one in the series,
please visit this link which has all the individual article links to each post in this series. You could also bookmark the page as a reference too,
as it will contain more links as I continue to write articles.

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