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How to Use Lead Room Effectively in Photography

Posted by Jacob Hawthorne on

Ask a photographer what they think the most important aspect of great photography is and they are likely to say composition.

Composition accounts for how a photo is set up in terms of shapes and negative space. It gives the picture a specific overall look that initially draws the viewer in providing a (hopefully) great first impression.

Lead room plays a major role in composition. It is the amount of negative space put in front of a subject in the photo. It is also called ‘nose room’, ‘look room’ or ‘leading space’. It is a big part of what makes your photo visually appealing.

Read on to find out more about lead room and how to use it to your advantage.

What is Lead Room?

Lead room may be best expressed in filmography. If a character is looking to the right, they will be placed on the left side of the frame making for negative space on the right.

If an object is moving, lead room will be placed in front of the object in the direction it is traveling. This will provide the image with a sense of movement while the negative space draws the viewer’s attention.

Why is Lead Room Important?

You may try to be creative and break the traditional ‘rules’ of lead room. For example, you may have a subject looking to the right without providing enough negative space on the right side.

However, if you don’t add the right amount of negative space, you will take some of the tension and emotion out of the scene which will be frustrating for the viewer.

As viewers, we like to see the subject moving or looking into space. If there is not enough lead room to provide this sense of space, it seems suffocating. It makes it seem as if the frame is too small for the image.

How to Apply Lead Room to Photography?

Lead room is often applied to living subjects like humans and animals and objects in motion like cars and motorbikes. When it comes to using it, practice makes perfect. Try taking photos incorporating lead room to decide what works best.

Some photos may have an ample amount of lead room to convey a sense of vastness in what’s in front of the subject. Keep in mind, you can always cut down on lead room by cropping in the editing process.

The lead room should always be applied in the direction the object is going in or looking towards, even if you are shooting from behind. If you are concerned that the lead room may be taking away from your subject, make sure the space in front of them is bigger than the space behind them.

Lead room is an important part of composition that really sells a photo. Now that you know how to use it, you are ready to get some great shots. How much lead room do you think is right for you?


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