Understanding lines in your photo compositions

There are a few things landscape photographers need to understand about lines as we compose our images.

#1 Lines comes in different “flavors”. The most common have to be those of the horizontal and vertical variety. Close to these two has to be the diagonal line. Of course there is also the irregular line and let’s not forget the implied line.

We not only find lines in the grand landscape we can find them in simple extracts as well. You’ll want to look for lines in photos of flowers, images of reflections, people and objects in our compositions that may be moving, and much more. Of course knowing these different kinds of lines exist is one thing. Knowing how they impact your composition and what to do with lines in your image is even more important.

Horizontal cloud formations along with the horizon lend this scene a very calm feel.

#2 HORIZONTAL lines are often considered to be calm, maybe even static. Often the horizontal line is used when what we want our image to communicate is a certain relaxation or timelessness. Often we’ll employ a horizontal line in contrast to vertical lines. You often find them in the horizon, plowed farm fields, cloud formations and more.

#3 VERTICAL lines may be considered similar to horizontal lines in that they, too, are stable, Often vertical lines are considered peaceful. Like a sentry standing erect they are often stoppers indicating a level of permanence. Obviously towering trees, fence posts, rock/stone walls, tall fences and other structures fit this description.

The diagonal line of this boardwalk leads your eye deep into the scene.

#4 DIAGONAL lines are all about action. If you are looking for a dynamic feel to your image put the vertical lines in your composition to work. They are dynamic because of their ability to draw the attention of the viewer’s eye and create some back and forth exercise. There are many things in our landscapes that will give us the opportunity to employ diagonal lines: rivers and streams, roads, trails, fence lines, even waterfalls and cascades come to mind.

The almost vertical line created by this dirt road gives this image a very a very steady feel.

#5 IRREGULAR lines can be full of emotion. They often are all about tension, sometimes even fear. If we have an irregular or jagged line in our view we may want to employ it to create an uneasy feeling for the viewer.

#6 IMPLIED lines aren’t really there at all. They may be caused/manifested by someone pointing at a distant object or indeed by simply looking intently at the object or in a certain direction. Find an implied line and  you’ve likely also found one of the others listed here.

Diagonal lines, the maple leaf and those of the fern are both energizing and in combination steadying.

This is a lot to remember so don’t expect it to all become second nature to quickly. It takes patience and practice. Toward that end I have a special workshop scheduled at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, NY, Saturday, February 16. The I.M. Pie award winning design of this museum gives us lines galore to practice with. The whole day will help us drill down on the use of lines in our images. You may get more information about this day-long workshop here:

All the Angles and More – 2019.


PS: The image of the tulips in my backyard (at the top of this post) employs both vertical and diagonal lines. The vertical trees lend a feeling of stability while the diagonal tree line/grasses lead our eye from the lower right corner as we enjoy the red tulips.