Better Photo Tips – Lines In Your Photos

tips for better photos with lines

Photo by William Warby; ISO 125, f/14.0, 1/80-second exposure.

Place a pencil tip to the paper and lift it up. What do you have? You have a dot, a circle, or a starting point. Now place that pencil down and move an inch in any direction. What have you created? You have created a line.

You have moved beyond the starting point, and created the basic building block of everything visual in the world. Think about it; squares, triangles, stars, rectangles all start by creating a line. A photo tip worth remembering is: lines can be positive or negative. If you have a photo that shows a road diagonally going from the lower left corner to the upper right corner, and there it blends into a beautiful sunset . . . that’s a positive line.

On the other hand, if you shoot the same sunset and the road runs horizontally from left to right; that would be a negative line. Why? Because it is going side to side and NOT interacting with the main subject, therefore it distracts. It may only be briefly, but most viewers will jump back and forth between the sunset and the road, and wonder where the road is going.

Many young couples like to hold hands while taking their picture. That’s fine, but if they hold hands and their hands are down at their side, it literately points away from the couple and makes people stare at their feet. On the other hand; if you have them holding hands and they bend at the elbow so their hands are closer to their face . . . that visual line actually points back to the couple. The second photo tip is: lines can reinforce your subject or distract.

One of the reasons most portrait photographers avoid hands, is because it is so easy to accidentally shoot them uncomplimentary. Imagine a young couple where the man in a friendly loving manner puts his arm around the young ladies’ waist. If the fingers show up in the shot what does that do? They usually end up pointing either to the waist or the stomach. Most women really don’t want you looking at their stomach or waist. It’s not the viewers fault, but if you have five little lines pointing back to the belly it’s very hard NOT to look in that direction.

better photos with lines

Photo by Giuseppe Milo; ISO 100, 1/200-second exposure.

As we have demonstrated when two lines meet they form a point. When two lines actually cross it does something different that is also hard to control. Have you ever heard the phrase X marks the spot?? If a tree branch crosses a fence or a fence crosses a road, its’ almost like posting a sigh that says, “Look HERE!” If your subject is in the upper right corner and you have a visual X in the lower left corner, your mind will go back and forth. It will be extremely difficult to just concentrate on the subject. Photo tip number three: avoid the visual X at all cost, unless your subject is directly in the middle of that X.

Photo tip number four: lines convey thoughts and feelings. Horizontal lines represent rest or relaxation. Vertical lines often give a mental image of strength. Diagonal lines tend to give a feeling of movement. Curved lines are loose and flexible (usually considered sexier.) Jagged lines suggest energy or conflict. If you are trying to create a calm, peaceful scenic photograph and you have several sharp jagged lines in the image, your photo is already in conflict with itself.

To summarize these are important photo tips to remember about lines:

A) Lines can be positive or negative.
B) Lines can reinforce your subject or distract.
C) Avoid the Visual X.
D) Lines convey thoughts and feelings.

line tips better photography

Photo by Nicolas Raymond; ISO 100, f/16.0, 1-second exposure.

Since all shapes are formed with lines, it stands to reason that all subjects are affected by lines. It does not matter if you are taking pictures of people, trees, or cars all subjects have their own natural lines. Be aware of the lines of your subject, around your subject, and those caused by your subject. Lines can be your best friend, or your worst nightmare. Use these photo tips to your advantage and take your photographs to the next level.

About the Author:
Award winning writer / photographer Tedric Garrison has 30 years experience in photography ( As a Graphic Art Major, he has a unique perspective. His photo eBook “Your Creative Edge” proves creativity can be taught. Today, he shares his wealth of knowledge with the world through his website.

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