Back to Basics: Lines in Composition

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of all the cool techniques, cool gear, cool places, and cool looks that we, as modern photographers, get to enjoy. So much to shoot, so little time! While I love to see photographers and artists pushing the limits, I also love to see them come back to basics and embrace simplicity. The more solid your foundation in composition and design, the more sound your more complicated work will be. Photography is like a good horse- no foundation, no performance. No feet, no horse.

Today I would like to touch on the importance of line as an element of design in photography. Lines are so important for creating an effective composition.


Lines can be straight or curved and they can be used to create tension, or tranquility. Diagonal lines are considered dynamic and can give a feeling of movement, or even tension. Lines that intersect can also create tension. Horizontal lines mimic the feeling of a horizon and when used properly can convey calm and tranquility. Vertical lines can give a feeling of perspective and/or volume or height.

Lines can also lead the viewer’s eye around the composition. A good composition draws the eye in, then leads it around infinitely, and lines are an excellent tool to help get this effect.

One can also use them to emphasize a particular element in the composition. Perhaps it’s your main subject. Or, some metaphor you want your viewer to pick up on. Whatever you want to jump out, pointing a line at it will get the job done.

Lines are excellent for creating depth and perspective. Linear perspective is reliant on lines to give the feeling of perspective. Think about the classic shot of railroad tracks or a prairie road leading off into the distance- that’s linear perspective thanks to lines, lines, lines!

They can even be used as the focal point of an image. A beautiful abstract photo grounded in linear composition can be a big seller!

Don’t be afraid to spend some quality time with your camera. Take it out on a day when you have no commitments and go slow. Force yourself to use your tripod if you have one. This can be a very ‘zen’ experience! The key to developing your photographic eye is to see. Not just  look. Sometimes you need to take a break from your high energy fashion test shoots, wedding marathon shoots, trekking through the woods in search of a particular bird shoots, tedious product shoots, and fussy baby shoots. Get back to basics every now and then, and your other work will benefit.

As an exercise, go out and photograph lines and challenge yourself to use them in the following ways:

1. To show linear perspective.
2. To draw attention to another element in your photo.
3. As the focal point of the image.
4. To create tension.
5. To create tranquility.

Create abstract or semi abstract compositions. If you really want to challenge yourself, shoot it on film!

Share your line exercise photos with us on our Facebook page! We would love to see what you come up with!


Caitlyn Chapman,

© 2015 by Caitlyn Chapman Photography All images and blog content are the property of the author. All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply