What is line photography?
While you can of course take photos of lines and will get some great abstract results, line photography is not just about photographing lines, but how you use lines in photography composition for impact.
Lines in photography composition can be actual lines, or implied lines. Lines occur all around us, in nature and in man made structures. Even how we pose a subject in portrait photography creates lines.
In fact, it’s almost impossible to photograph anything without lines in photography. So, you need to pay attention to the lines in your scene.
Even better, seek out lines when composing an image. Just applying this extra level of though before creating an image will help you to take better photos.
Why is line important in photography?
Lines add to the composition of an image. They direct the viewer’s eye into and along a photo to the focal point. They also impact the mood of a photo, depending on the type of line and how it is used.
Paying attention to the impact of lines in photography and using the lines to add to the viewer experience takes your photography composition to the next level.
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The 7 types of lines in photography composition
If I asked you to name two types of lines, you’d probably tell me vertical and horizontal. But there are several types of lines you can use in photography composition and they all have a different effect on the image.
Next, we’ll get to the details of each of these types of lines in photography:
- Vertical lines
- Horizontal lines
- Diagonal lines
- Leading lines
- Implied lines
- Converging lines
- Curved lines
Now let’s take a closer look at each of these types of lines.
1. What do vertical lines represent in photography?
Vertical lines represent growth, strength and confidence in photos. Just like with our body language, when we stand up straight, we appear more in control, confident and strong. If a subject is leaning against a vertical line in an image, they look supported.
However, the width of vertical lines in photography conveys different feelings. Thick vertical lines feel strong and imposing and add stability to the composition. On the other hand, thin vertical lines feel more fragile and elegant.
We scan photos from left to right, rather than top to bottom or vice versa and our eyes follow lines in photos. So vertical lines in photography can be used to direct the viewer’s eye upwards.
Taking the viewer on this upwards journey in a photo conveys a message of growth and determination. Just as in life, when things grow, they grow upwards. Except for snakes and runner beans of course, but you get the picture.
For the most part buildings are vertical and straight, so it’s very important to ensure that when buildings and man made structures are included in a photography they are straight. If you’re going to tilt the camera, make it very obvious, otherwise it will simply look like you weren’t paying attention and the viewer will feel like they’re sliding off the image.
Further reading: Using vertical lines in photography composition
2. What do horizontal lines represent in photography?
Horizontal lines in photography represent stability.
Something that’s lying down flat can’t fall over, so a horizontal line feels more stable to us. It also feels restful, purely because it’s lying down.
Unlike vertical lines, the width of horizontal lines doesn’t change the feeling in a photo. Even though a thin horizontal line looks and feels more fragile than a thick horizontal line, it’s still restful and offers stability.
Our eyes will follow a horizontal line from left to right in a photo. So interrupting the line by placing the subject in its path leads the viewer to the subject.
If the subject is vertical, the viewer’s eye then travels up the length of the subject. This makes the viewing experience more interesting as it’s taking the viewer on a journey through the photo.
Make sure that, if the horizon is included in a photo, it’s straight. Like a wonky building, your scene will feel like it’s about to slide away if your horizon is skew.
Further reading: How to use horizontal lines in photography composition
One time it’s okay for your horizon to be skew is when you’re on a slope!
3. What do diagonal lines represent in photography?
Unlike horizontal and vertical lines that feel strong, reassuring and restful, a diagonal line in photos creates tension and energy.
We expect something on a diagonal line to slide off and you can’t easily lean up against a diagonal line without slipping. This feeling of tension grabs our attention, which makes the photo more engaging.
The tension can be used to heighten the message of the photo and the viewer experience. Adding tension doesn’t make a photo negative, it can be expectant tension of something about to happen – good or bad. Other elements in the photo inform the viewer of the type of tension.
Diagonal lines also create depth in a photo, especially when they’re converging lines. More on this in a moment.
Further reading: How to use diagonal lines in photography composition
4. How do you use leading lines in photography?
We’ve talked about how we read a photo from left to right and how we follow horizontal lines sideways along an image. Also how we follow vertical lines upwards, and sometimes downwards, in an image. These lines are being used as leading lines in photography – they lead the viewer on a journey through an image and to the focal point.
The mere fact that you’re taking the viewer further into the image adds depth to the photo, so that it feels more three dimensional.
Placing the subject at a point along the leading lines takes the viewer straight to the subject and leaves us in no doubt as to the focal point of the image.
You can place the subject at different points along the leading line for different effects:
- Placed part way through the line takes the viewer to the subject and then onwards into the photo
- If leading lines lead directly to the subject and then ends, the viewer will linger over the subject (as in the maternity photo at the top of this tutorial)
- When the subject is dominant and at the start of the leading line, we start with the subject and then follow the line onwards in the same direction that we expect the subject to go
You don’t just have to have just one leading line in a photo. Several leading lines can direct the viewer’s eye towards the subject and they can come from the same direction or different directions. Whichever you choose, leading the viewer to the subject, will make the experience easier for the viewer to enjoy the photograph.
Further reading: How to use leading lines for awesome photography composition
5. What is an implied line in photography?
Photography is a subtle art and very often the techniques we use to inform and lead the viewer are subtle. For this reason lines in photography don’t have to be actual lines, like a line in a road. They can be implied.
An implied line can be made up from a row of similar objects, like:
- A row of trees
- Lampposts at regular intervals at the side of a road
- Skyscrapers along a street
- A group of people in a queue
- Repetition of similar shaped objects or colors
An even more invisible line is the line of site.
People are curious, so our eyes naturally follow a person’s gaze. We want to know what they’re looking at. So, once a viewer has locked onto the subject in the photo, they will follow the subject’s gaze.
Just because implied lines aren’t actual lines, doesn’t mean that they’re less powerful as lines in photography composition.
The wall on the left and the row of pillars on the right are converging into the distance. By placing the subject at the point where they converge, the viewer is immediately drawn directly to her. In addition, her gaze out of frame then directs the viewer to the right, where they are then led back into shot by the leading lines. This journey adds to the viewer’s experience.
6. What are converging lines in photography?
I mentioned converging lines earlier when discussing diagonal lines. That’s because when you get two or more diagonal lines in an image that move closer together as they go from the foreground into he background of an image, they converge.
Most of the time we see diagonal lines converging vertically into the distance. Here are some examples:
- The sides of a long straight road
- Parallel line of trees
- Looking up from the ground between two or more close together skyscrapers
To maximise the use of converging lines, position your subject at the point where the lines converge.
7. How to use curved lines in photography composition
The natural world is full of curved lines.
Unlike straight vertical, horizontal or diagonal lines, curved lines can lead the eye around the image. They can meander through the image, like a winding river. The journey with curved lines is slower than with straight lines, so it makes the image feel more restful, less hurried.
One particularly powerful and popular curve is the S curve. The curve follows the shape of an S. When photographing women we use the S curve a lot in posing. Not only is it flattering on the female form, but it leads the eye around the photo at a gentle pace.
Further reading: Female poses – 9 tips for photographing women
Lines in photography composition conclusion
Using lines in photography isn’t always about seeking out lines to lead the viewer to the subject. Sometimes it’s simply about being aware of lines within a scene and recognizing their impact on your photography composition.
Lines in photography composition can just as easily distract the viewer if you’ve not taken their effect into account and paid attention to where they’re leading, or not leading, the viewer.
It doesn’t matter what type of line you use in photography, used thoughtfully, any type of line will improve your photography composition.
Train your eye to see lines so that using them becomes a natural part of your photography composition.
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By Jane Allan
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