Using vertical lines in photography composition

Using lines in photography composition is a great way to strengthen your composition. Different types of lines, such as diagonal lines, horizontal lines and vertical lines in photography composition create different effects. Even the type of vertical lines (thick or thin) in an image impacts the photo differently.

I’ve included Lightroom tips for perspective correction at the end in case your vertical lines in photos are skew. It happens.

Including lines in photos

You don’t always get a choice about using vertical lines in photos, because most of the time you can’t help it.

Vertical lines are everywhere, especially if you’re anywhere near anything manmade. If this is the case, it’s about how you use the unavoidable vertical lines in your photo.

Vertical lines photography composition

If you don’t pay attention to lines in photos, not just vertical lines, you could ruin your photo, because:

  • You’ll miss out on a great tool that could strengthen your composition
  • If lines are accidentally skew, they ruin a photo

Before we get into that though, let’s first look at why vertical lines are important and how they can be used in photography composition.


Why use vertical lines in composition?

For something to stand up tall and straight, strength is required. To appear confident and in control we stand up straight. 

So it makes sense then that vertical lines in photography generate the same feelings in us.

Even the width of the lines impacts a photo. Heavy vertical lines lend strength and dignity to the composition and the photo feels more stable. On the other hand, thin lines feel vulnerable.

Our eyes follow lines in photos, which is why leading lines are so powerful in photography composition. When scanning a photo our eyes move from left to right, rather than up and down, so vertical lines work well to lead the viewer’s eye upwards.

When we think of growth, we think of an upwards direction. Using vertical lines to lead the eye upwards emphasizes growth and determination.

Camera orientation for vertical lines photography

The impact of vertical lines in photos is affected by the camera orientation. In other words, whether you’re shooting in:

  • Portrait orientation or
  • Landscape orientation

Why use portrait orientation for vertical lines?

Portrait orientation is the most obvious choice for vertical lines photography, because our eyes will follow the lines up the length of the photo.

If you can’t see the end of the vertical lines, they feel never ending and therefore longer and more majestic.

Portrait orientation and vertical lines

Why photograph vertical lines in landscape orientation? 

To emphasize the strength of large verticals, use a landscape orientation. Because the verticals can’t be contained within the frame, they appear bigger and more dominant.

When a series of close together vertical lines are photographed in landscape orientation, the pattern becomes more obvious. Patterns are another useful composition tool for grabbing attention and, if your subject is used to break the pattern, it will immediately draw the viewer’s eye.

Landscape orientation vertical lines

4 tips for photographing vertical lines

Vertical lines can act weird in photos, so here are a few tricks to control them.

  • Keep your camera straight, don’t tilt it upwards or downwards as this will cause the vertical lines to converge. Unless that is your aim.
  • Don’t use a wide angle as this will make the lines bend in, so rather use a telephoto lens with a longer focal length for straighter lines.
  • If you’re able to switch on a grid that you can see in the viewfinder, you’ll find it very helpful for ensuring vertical lines in photos are straight.
  • Make sure the vertical lines are parallel to the sides of the photo. Sloping vertical lines will lessen the impact of the lines in the photo.

5 tips for composing with vertical lines

Photography composition is best when you combine several techniques, so here are a few that work well for vertical lines.

1. Rule of thirds

Observe the rule of thirds composition when positioning vertical lines. If you place a vertical through the middle of a photo it’ll cut the image in half.

You can of course, also use this knowledge to break the rule and confine your subject to part of the image as I did in the image below to emphasize wedding day nerves.

Vertical lines in photography composition

2. Patterns

As mentioned earlier, patterns of vertical lines can make an image interesting, particularly when broken by other lines, shapes or colours.

3. Tension

When a horizontal line in a photo intersects a vertical line, it makes the viewer’s eye pause. This adds tension and therefore interest to the image.

As we automatically seek out intersections, it’s also a good way to direct attention to your focal point by placing it near the intersection.

4. Depth

Because we know receding objects get smaller as they disappear into the distance, receding lines of objects of the same height in a photo create depth.

Leading lines for depth

5. Perspective

The further away lines are, the closer together they’ll appear.

You can further manipulate the perspective with your focal length choice. Longer focal lengths make objects further way seem larger and closer to the foreground and subject than wide angle lenses.

How to fix vertical lines in Lightroom

Of course it’s better to “get it right in camera” by photographing vertical lines straight in the first place. But sometimes things happen and when we load our photos to the computer, we realise that the camera wasn’t straight.

I’ve recently started wearing glasses more and they really get in the way when I look through the viewfinder, so I’m finding a lot of my photos lately need straightening. (I’m sure I’ll get used to it in time, but if you have any advice on how to shoot straight with glasses, I’m all ears – let me know in the comments!)

The good news is that there’s a really easy photo perspective correction tool in Lightroom for fixing vertical lines in photos. 

It’s not just a matter of straightening the lines though. If you’ve tilted your camera when photographing a building so that the lines of the building have converged slightly, the Lens Corrections and Transform tools in Lightroom are a great place to start correcting perspective.

It doesn’t work perfectly every time, but you’ll be amazed at the difference just a few clicks make. For the more difficult scenarios you might need to make further manual adjustments as well.

Lightroom steps to perspective correction

There are two parts to straightening the vertical lines in photos with Lightroom. 

The first part isn’t essential for achieving straight lines, but if you’re going to the trouble of correcting perspective, you may as well use the Lens Corrections feature in Lightroom at the same time.

In the Develop Module towards the bottom select Lens Corrections.

Straighten vertical lines in Lightroom

Then check the Enable Profile Correction box.

Fixing vertical lines in Lightroom

The lens profile information of the lens you used will automatically populate the Make, Model and Profile boxes and you’ll see a small change in your photo.

Now select Transform and click the Vertical button.

Straighten vertical lines in Lightroom

The wonkier your photo, the greater the transformation will be. Sometimes you’ll even see a bit of white around the edges of your image, like in this example.

Don’t worry about that, there’s one more step – check the box Constrain Crop.

How to fix vertical lines in Lightroom

You’ll see that Lightroom automatically crops your image so that none of the white is visible.

Just like that you now have a straightened image!

If you’ve tilted your camera up, the perspective will need a bit more correction, so try clicking the Full button instead of the Vertical button.

It’s easy to undo your actions if you don’t like the result – just click the Reset button. 

Wouldn’t it be great if all mistakes were as easy to fix?

Online Lightroom workshop for professional photo editing

Leave a comment

If you have any questions about vertical lines in photography, let us know in the comments.

Also, I love good news, so if my photography lines tips have helped you to understand vertical lines photography, share that too.

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