The human eye is drawn to lines. Our natural curiosity follows these visual paths in search of a destination, which photographers can use to their advantage. Using lines, we can shift the tone of an image, or manipulate the focus of the subject matter with just a slight change of composition. Here are the main types of lines to explore in your image making.
Horizontal lines signify strength and stability. Much like a set of stairs, a bridge, or a fence, they symbolize order and safety. Horizontal lines can be used to photograph repetition of an object, or be placed behind a subject for a stable background. They make great backdrops for portraits, as they often provide an organized pattern that compliments the subject. When shooting horizontal lines, make sure that they are flat with your horizon, and not shifting diagonally in any way.
Vertical lines symbolize growth. They can create powerful imagery as the eye is led to look up or down through the image, creating a sense of lengthening in the frame. This technique is most often used in nature and architecture photography, such as photographing trees or tall buildings. The image’s tone can change depending on how thick or repetitive the vertical lines are. For example, the above image of a building reads as stoic and confident due to the close repetition of the windows. The image below reads as lighter and airy, as there is more room between the trees. Pay attention to your framing and make sure that your vertical lines are in fact straight, as tilting them will make the viewer feel unbalanced.
Diagonal lines are most used in portraiture and can be used to focus the viewer’s eye towards a subject, especially when converging. Diagonal lines in photos are often charged with energy, and remove the image of any stillness. In the image above, the lines are intersecting right over the subject’s hand, communicating an emotional response. The use of diagonal lines offers more depth and pulls the viewer into the image. The portrait below is a great example of this. Not only do the lines lead directly to the subject, but the light also traces shadows of the lines directly onto the subject’s face.
Curved lines are used to transform an image and give it depth. We see these used most often in photos of winding roads, stairwells, and bridges, and are a great element to any landscape. The “S” curve is the type of curved line that is most used, which is illustrated as a winding “S” like a paved road, much like the image below.
Depending on the angle, curved lines can also act as a frame itself. You can use them to intersect with a subject, or hug it so that it is the focal point of the image. Like the image below, the lines are curving and intersecting just as the building comes into view, placing emphasis on the structure in a very clean manner.
Intersecting lines are a great way to add energy and tension to your image. Depending on where they intersect, you can change the angle you’re shooting at to align it with your subject matter, or to just shoot the lines themselves. They are used to lead the eye to a point in the image. We most often see this technique used when documenting power lines in a landscape shot, or in architecture photography.
Many photographers aim to find intersecting lines when photographing buildings or focal points of architecture, like flat-iron buildings. Depending on the subject matter, these can be used to create aggressive, pointy photographs of structures, or gentle and lightweight imagery of landscapes.