Today, let's talk about one of the most fundamental compositional elements of all: LINES!
A quick refresher before we start: Compositional elements are the bits and pieces of visual information that make up your scene. They can influence things like mood, meaning, and the order in which parts of the scene are viewed.
What Counts As A Line?
Lines are all around you. Take a second now to look for some. (Yes, really. Give it a shot!) There are a lot, aren't there? Obvious ones may include the lines of your computer screen, or the lines of windows and doors.
But there are also a ton of lines that you may not have ever thought of as lines. Subtle lines. Imagined lines. See, this is a broad category, incorporating lines with a wide range of characteristics. A few that we’ll cover today are angle, path, continuity and physicality.
Why Lines Are So Darn Important...
At their most basic level, lines direct our eyes around a scene. We latch onto them, and follow them to whatever is at the end of their path.
Think about that for a second. Do you see how powerful that is? In photography, where the goal is to get your viewer to focus on particular things in your scene (and sometimes in a particular order), lines can be mega useful.
But not all lines are the same. Different types of lines have different powers.
So let’s go a little deeper now, and see how you can harness the power of lines to create amazing images!
The 9 Types of Lines You Need To Know:
1. HORIZONTAL LINES
Horizontal lines extend across the horizontal plane of your image, and lead your eyes across a scene. They also draw attention to the width of the image, or an element within the image. They can add a sense of solidity to your photo.
One of the most common horizontal lines is the horizon. Next time you’re out shooting, try including the horizon and see how it affects where you look, and the mood or feel of the image. Then recompose your shot to exclude the horizon. How does that change things?
|In this frame, the horizontal lines made by the horizon and the clouds help to emphasize how wide the scene is.|
Vertical lines extend across the vertical plane of the photo, and lead your eyes up and down the frame. They draw attention to the height of the image, or something within the image (think of trees, buildings, and people). Like horizontal lines, they can add a sense of stability to the photo.
3. DIAGONAL LINES
These are lines that do not run parallel to either the horizontal or vertical edges of the frame. They lead your eyes along a diagonal path. And here’s where things get fun...
Diagonal lines can create a greater feeling of movement or dynamism relative to horizontal and vertical lines. They really add some excitement to a photo!
They can also create a sense of depth, and draw your viewer into the image. They're a handy tool for engaging your audience in your photos!
4. CONVERGING LINES
These are like super duper diagonal lines. Converging lines are sets of diagonal lines that move towards a single point in the frame.
What’s so special about these guys is that they can create a very exaggerated sense of depth. They make your viewer feel like they could walk into your photo!
Converging lines are really effective at directing your eye towards the point where the lines converge. Want your viewers to look at something in particular? Put it where lines converge, and BAM! You have composition superpowers.
|The lines of the fence and the path converge towards the building, providing a strong sense of depth. You can tell that the building is far away from you, and almost feel like you could walk towards it.|
Curved and wavy lines follow rounded and bumpy paths, respectively. They lead your eyes along that path, and create a feeling of movement.
Compared to horizontal, vertical or diagonal lines, these guys lend a softer or gentler feel to the scene.
6. PARALLEL LINES
These are sets of lines that remain equidistant from one another in the frame. What’s particularly interesting about parallel lines is that they suggest that the space between the lines is distinct from the space outside.
For example, they make it seem like subjects placed between the parallel lines are more ‘together’ than subjects placed on either side of parallel lines.
How could you use this to strengthen the message of your photos? (Hint: It could be particularly useful for family and wedding photography!)
7. INTERRUPTED LINES
These are lines that seem to start and stop between their endpoints due to the placement of another object. Interrupted lines do a great job of drawing attention to whatever does the interrupting. Very handy when you're trying to direct your viewer's gaze to a particular thing!
|The strong horizontal lines of the wall are interrupted by the flower pot, which grabs our attention. It's like your eyes are saying "Who dares interrupt this line??".|
8. EDGE-TO-EDGE LINES
These are lines that reach all the way to the edge of your frame. They help to divide the space in your photo into distinct sections, which brings order to the image. And our brains sure do like order!
They also suggest that space continues beyond the edge of the frame. This can add a sense of tension, as your viewer knows that action is going on outside of the photo, but they can't see it. Ooh, mysterious!
9. IMPLIED LINES
With all this talk of lines, it’s important to note that lines can be created in many different ways. Implied lines are lines that don’t physically exist, but rather that are implied by other objects. For example, the direction a person is looking or pointing can create an implied line.
Implied lines take on the qualities of the lines they most resemble (horizontal, diagonal, etc.).
|The rows of chairs, and the path in between them, create implied diagonal lines, giving the scene a sense of depth. The path and chairs also extend to the edges of the frame, giving us a clue that the scene continues beyond the frame.|
Shooting Tips For Using Lines In Your Photos
Now that you’re up to speed on the different types of lines out there, it’s time to incorporate them into your photos!
#1. The first step is to start recognizing lines when you’re out shooting. Take a moment now, and look around again. Do you see more lines than the first time? I hope so! Diagonal, converging, wavy, interrupted, implied...there are so many types of lines!
#2. Next, consider how you can use different types of lines to your advantage. Are there lines that will help draw attention to your subject? How about ones that can strengthen your message? Do you want to add a sense of solidity? Bring in horizontals or verticals. Or maybe you want a sense of movement. Grab a diagonal or curved line!
#3. Now, when it comes to lines, you need to be very thoughtful about where you place those feet of yours! Where you stand will have a big impact on how your lines affect your composition.
For example, if you want to use a horizontal or vertical line, you need to square up to that line. Because if you’re not square, that line won’t look straight in your photo. Instead, it will be slightly angled, and that will change what type of line it is and how it influences the look and feel of your shot. One step to the side can change everything!
|Notice how the horizontal lines of the buildings become diagonal lines when the shooting angle is changed, and we're no longer squared up!|
Don’t be afraid to move around though. A horizontal line that doesn’t quite work for the feel of your frame can become a dynamic diagonal just by changing your shooting angle.
Now get out there and start getting creative with lines!
I put together today's exciting lesson on lines using our latest tutorial, Incredibly Important Composition Skills. It’s a 225-page eBook that is packed with information that will get you seeing the world in a new way, and improving your photos too! It contains over 300 example photos and illustrations to help you see these essential concepts in action, and learn fast.
Line is just one small part of composition – in the tutorial we'll go into further detail on lines, and also discuss other elements like light, colour, form, pattern, depth, texture and much much much more!
Head here to learn more about Incredibly Important Composition Skills. Then pick up your copy and prepare to transform your photos and the way you see the world!