If you want to create stunning compositions, you must be familiar with lines in photography.
You see, lines are a fundamental element of composition–and they’re one of the easiest ways to draw the viewer into your photos, add depth, guide the viewer around, and much more.
Without lines, most photos would be boring.
But by learning to master lines, you can take your photos to the next level.
Do you want to know how lines work in photography?
Then keep reading.
What Is a Line in Photographic Composition?
A line refers to anything that stretches between two points in your photo.
So a line can be a fallen tree, a moving river, or even a slew of rocks leading off into the distance.
Note that lines are a fundamental part of photography (for more on lines and other concepts as fundamental parts of photography, please see my article on the elements and principles of photography).
Why are lines so fundamental?
Because pretty much everything is made up of lines, from houses to trees to people and more. In fact, it’s not only photographers who love lines; painters love lines, too, as do graphic designers and more. Lines are great–and by carefully learning how to use them, you can get consistently great results.
Now, it’s pretty tough to take a photo without any lines at all.
However, it’s easy to take a photo that ignores the types and configurations of lines you have in your scene.
Ultimately, ignoring lines will lead to a bad image.
So identify your lines and use them deliberately!
Why Are Lines Important in Photography?
Lines are essential parts of photography for a few reasons.
First, lines lead the eye. In other words, they guide the viewer through the frame, taking them from area to area to area. This occupies the viewer (always a good thing!), plus it’s helpful for creating tension and flow (which is always a strong idea in serious photography.
Second, lines create depth. If you have a special type of line–called leading lines–you can draw the viewer in at the foreground, then force them up and into the middleground and ultimately the background. Leading lines only work because they’re positioned carefully in the foreground; that way, they can catch the viewer’s attention, pull them in, and take the viewer on a journey around the shot.
Third, lines can convey different messages. Thick, strong lines make the image feel powerful, whereas weedy, wispy lines make the image feel fragile.
What Are the Types of Lines in Photography?
Generally speaking, there are seven types of lines in photography you need to become familiar with, especially if you’re eager to create stunning compositions.
I’m going to take you through each one, starting with:
1. Horizontal Lines
Horizontal lines are the most common type of line you’ll encounter in most genres of photography, including landscape photography.
For instance, horizon lines are generally horizontal, as are mountains, when viewed from a decent vantage point, and fallen trees.
Horizontal lines feel strong and stable, so it pays to incorporate them into your photos!
How to Use Horizontal Lines in Photography
When it comes to horizontal lines, I’d recommend starting with the horizon, which should be placed horizontally in the frame.
You’ll want to carefully position the horizon line in your composition; if you have a dramatic sky, try placing the horizon on the lower-third gridline, and if your sky is pretty bland, then place the horizon on the upper-third gridline.
2. Vertical Lines
Vertical lines go straight up and down.
You’ll often find vertical lines in architectural photography, thanks to tall skyscrapers and standard buildings stretching directly upward.
Vertical lines can act as leading lines (see below), but too-straight vertical lines can also become static and boring.
How to Use Vertical Lines in Photography
While vertical lines aren’t as common as horizontal lines in landscape photography, you’ll still be given the opportunity to include a vertical line or two in your compositions.
For instance, trees offer very straight verticals, and you can use these to point the viewer up through the frame or to give the composition some extra stability.
If the vertical line is part of a foreground object, one thing to bear in mind is that you can often reposition it within your composition to become diagonal or some other line type. So don’t feel like you’re stuck with the line you initially noticed!
3. Diagonal Lines
Diagonal lines stretch diagonally across the composition like this:
Personally, I love diagonal lines. They’re tense, they’re full of energy, and they’re an easy way to keep the viewer engaged without getting bored.
You’ll often find that leading lines are diagonal, partly because the diagonal orientation keeps the viewer’s eye flowing through the shot. Compared to vertical and horizontal lines, for instance, diagonal lines do a great job and give you a more natural-looking composition without sacrificing interest.
How to Use Diagonal Lines in Photography
Diagonals are very popular in landscape photography, from rivers to fallen trees to waves spilling across a beach and more.
I’d recommend you start by locating some interesting foreground lines. Then see if you can fit them diagonally into the composition. I like to position diagonals, so the line begins just around one corner and ends just opposite the other corner.
By carefully positioning the diagonals within the frame, you can ensure that the viewer moves in the right direction. I’d recommend keeping the diagonals in service to the main subject; it’s a bad idea to create interesting diagonals if those diagonals take you off into a boring distance with no other compelling elements to highlight.
4. Converging Lines
Converging lines stretch through the frame until they converge on a single point.
Generally, converging lines reach one another at infinity, so you won’t actually see them touch in your photo (you’ll just have to imagine it).
Though there are some instances where converging lines do touch within the frame, so be aware of good opportunities there.
Converging lines provide depth and movement because you have two (or more) lines pulling the viewer toward the point of convergence.
Ideally, converging lines come together at or near the main subject. If the pathway of convergence strays too far from the subject, then the lines will just be a distraction–which is exactly what you don’t want.
How to Use Converging Lines in Photography
You can find converging lines everywhere in landscape photography, especially if you’re using an ultra-wide lens.
For instance, cavern walls seem to converge inward. Foreground elements lead the eye in and converge on the background. Mountain peaks converge on one another.
As soon as you identify possible converging lines, I’d recommend you try to figure out the subject you want to use. Then, once everything has come together, both compositionally and technically, take the shot.
5. Curved Lines
Curved lines tend to be more peaceful and harmonious because they’re slow and steady and leisurely.
For instance, rivers often curve as they move off into the distance. Lakes curve when viewed from above.
Curves also provide a lot of movement because they take the viewer around the scene, getting them familiar with the entire composition.
Now, too many curves can be off-putting, especially if the curve doesn’t seem to go anywhere. But if you have a reasonably curvy foreground element, you can still use it as a leading line for a background subject, guiding the viewer from foreground to background.
One helpful trick for working with curves is to use the golden spiral, which draws on the golden ratio to create beautiful compositions.
If you can position your curve along the golden spiral, your shots will look even better, at least from a compositional perspective.
How to Use Curved Lines in Photography
Curved lines aren’t especially different from horizontal or vertical lines; you should treat them like they always guide the viewer, and you’ll do just fine.
For instance, you can use a river in the shape of an S-curve to guide the viewer along a meandering path, from foreground to middleground to background. In fact, you may have heard of the S-curve, because it’s just that popular! You can also use the edge of a pond to create a beautiful curved shot, or the curvaceous edge of mountain peaks to create a set of curved layers.
6. Leading Lines
Leading lines are a special type of line that landscape photographers love (and you’ll find them in other genres, too).
Leading lines are generally diagonal or vertical lines that lead the eye into the frame, from the foreground to the middleground to the background.
So a good leading line takes the viewer on a journey while at the same time adding depth.
Not all leading lines need to go from the foreground to the background–in fact, some leading lines just go from the edge of the frame to the center or from the near foreground to the slightly farther foreground–but the general rule is to push the eye from foreground to background.
How to Use Leading Lines in Photography
First, identify your leading lines. You might use a river (these are very popular), a path (also popular!), or a fallen log.
Then position the leading line in the foreground, guiding the viewer toward the middleground and the background.
Your leading line doesn’t need to be completely straight, nor should it be vertical; instead, the line should have some character and move diagonally across the composition.
7. Implied Lines
Implied lines are lines that aren’t really present but are implied by the shape of various objects.
For instance, every constellation includes some implied lines; they’re not actually there, but you think about them nonetheless.
How to Use Implied Lines in Photography
Implied lines can be kind of tricky to use because you have to estimate their impact and carefully place them within your composition.
I recommend letting your implied lines work as any of the options described above, including leading, horizontal, or diagonal lines. After all, a line can be both implied and leading or implied and horizontal.
One thing to remember, though, is that an implied line is rarely stronger than an actual, physical line. So it’s easy to destroy your compositions by including a weak implied line and expecting it to be strong.
Lines in Photography | Conclusion
Mastering lines in photography may seem difficult, especially considering the sheer volume of lines to choose from.
That said if you remember the advice from this article…
And you practice regularly…
…you’ll be doing great in no time at all!