Photo Lesson – Leading Lines

– Posted in: Garden Photography, Garden Photography

path leading to homeWhen trying to find a photo in a garden, a key concept is to look for leading lines.  These are lines you, the photographer, find in a garden that can lead the viewer’s eye into the photo.  These lines can frame your composition and lead to focal points as well, but fundamentally they must start at the bottom, out of the frame, and lead up into the composition.

They can be fences, walls, streams, rows of plants, hedges, and especially pathways.  Whenever you find a path in a garden you can use it to help compose a photo and guide your viewer to where you want.  A pathway is designed to lead people, let it lead your photo too.

veggie bed framed by pathways

Note how the diagonal lines lead your across the vegetable bed and end where the designer, Rosalind Creasy, just ‘happened’ to place some bright red flowers.

Sometimes you will want the leading line to go completely across the frame, other times you will want it to stop, as in the photo above where the house becomes the stopping point, blocking the eye from wandering out of the frame.  The photo is all about the vegetable bed so we want the eye to stay in the frame.

pathway with retaining wall

Other times a diagonal line may help draw the eye to the bottom of the photo as we see in the photo with the small trough fountain.  The lines of the retaining wall parallel  and reinforce the angle of the path.

Walls and fences also can be used as leading lines and in this next photo, I backed up just enough to allow the wall to both frame the left side and let its natural curve lead the eye through the frame.


I love it when I can find curving lines to work with.  I nice technique for when you find a curving path is to get just outside of the curve and point your camera down with a wide lens.  It will exaggerate the curve.

curving pathway into garden

Note how the path leads both the visitor and the photographer’s eye into the garden and to the patio.

When you come across an interesting line of sight in a garden always go to the other end of the sight line and look back for a potential photo.  If you have a strong leading line in one direction, it often offers another photo looking back.

stair entry to garden

Upon entering this garden, right away I knew the strong line of the path leading up the hill would create a strong photo.

And from the top of these stairs looking back:

Pathway down stairs

The pathway not only continued up the hill, it curved around to the back of the house. What a fine leading line it made looking back down from where I came.

Leading lines in a vertical photo can really help create a strong graphic composition.  When the garden presents you with strong lines, recognize the potential and work it.  The lines don’t have to start as walls and paths, a stream in a garden offers great potential:

In some gardens there are no obvious leading lines, no paths, walls, or hardscape to help your composition.  Look to the planting for inspiration.  You may find shrub borders, a line of trees, a group of similar plants echoing each other and providing visual connections you can exploit as a photographer.

In this mass planting at the Lurie Garden in downtown Chicago the meadow provided swaths of color:


See my little camera icon in the photo?  Going to that spot, getting low, and looking across the purple meadow sage for an interesting point of view (remember our last lesson on point of view?) creates an leading line:


All the above examples deal with landscape views, wide shots of gardens.  But there are plenty of times when we are simply fascinated by a single plant. There will be an entire chapter on macro photography later in the book and I will talk about all the composition tools then, but for now I will leave you with a palm tree photo where the leaf structure and stems provide an explosion of lines.


Never got a 2013 wall calendar ? This is the cover of my Light in the Garden Calendar:

More examples in the Photobotanic Garden Photography Workshop….  Coming soon …..

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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7 comments… add one

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Diana/SharingNaturesGarden January 25, 2013, 8:34 am

Love those line photos. There is as much to catch your interest along the way as there is at the end of the line.

Diana – That is EXACTLY the idea – to draw the viewer to keep looking down the line. Thanks – Saxon

Susan January 25, 2013, 9:34 am

Great lesson! I think this is one of the best. It not only gives me some tips for improving my photos but also some ideas for the garden this spring. Thank you Saxon!

Thanks Susan – I am consciously trying to include tips for the garden photographers out there. Afterall, the book is called a Workshop… – Saxon

Karen Chapman January 25, 2013, 11:38 am

Want the book!

Karen – I need to be 3 people. As soon as I launch my new website the first section will be available – Saxon

Jason January 25, 2013, 1:17 pm

The third and second from the bottom are the Lurie Garden in Chicago, right? I LOVE that garden, especially the river of salvia, and your pictures are outstanding.

Jason – You nailed it. In fact regular readers probably know I love the Lurie garden and have used it as inspiration for numerous posts including this one from June 201l – Photo Overwhelm

michelle d. January 25, 2013, 3:35 pm

loving these tutorials.
and that photo of Don’s garden is smashing !

Thanks for dropping by Michelle (I do promise to feature photos of your own wonderful garden one of these days) Here are more photos of Don Worth’s garden:

Katie E-P January 27, 2013, 3:33 pm

And this is why you get the big bucks, Saxon! Really cool and informative post. I’ve been sharing it with different Facebook pages. Good reminders about design and photographing the design. Cool!

Charlie February 2, 2013, 8:09 pm

This was really useful information and the photos were fantastic. Thank you for sharing.

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