Using Lines and Light for Better Photo Composition

Believe it or not, the art of photography is firmly planted in mathematics. Since the dawn of civilization, people have been fascinated by quantifying and adding structure to the universe; innately, we have a desire to use logic and formulas to understand our surroundings. Just as human beings are attracted to symmetry in facial features and balance in structures, so too can are they naturally drawn to line in a photograph.

As one of the fundamental elements of basic geometry, our minds can easily process lines. For this reason, people often find images with strong lines combined with strong light sources to be visually appealing or beautiful. Travel photographer Jimmy McIntyre uses the following tutorial to point out ways in which we might improve our compositions with the help of elementary aspects of geometry:

Though there are plenty of conflicting philosophies among photographers, there’s one thing that nearly everyone can agree upon: light is the key to cultivating mood and emotion in a photograph. By using lines to lead viewers toward a light source, photographers can more easily convey the intentions of an image in an organized manner.

A leading line certainly does not have to be a literal straight line. Winding paths and crooked angles can work wonders at setting a track for the viewer to follow. Even elements such as the implied trajectory of an object in motion can effectively create a line in the mind’s eye.

abstract sun streaks

Indeed, in some situations a streak of the light source itself can serve as the line needed to strengthen a composition. Conversely, hard shadows and areas of darkness can guide eyes toward a brighter light source.

forest lines

Converging lines create complexity and depth. There’s no need to limit your images to one direction. Instead, intersecting lines can used to either bring attention to separate aspects of an image or fully highlight a central feature of the photograph.

A play between light and line is often essential in the making of a strong photo. Being able to identify the ways in which compositional elements work into patterns and shapes makes it easier than ever to manipulate and create something stimulating, evocative, and memorable in a single frame.

“Lines in general are really easy for our minds to process – especially when we look at a scene and it looks all chaotic…if we combine that with a strong light source, we combine that simplistic pattern to something that leads to a strong emotional response.”

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