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What is the Line?

The use of strong lines in any photograph can help draw attention to certain subjects or features and this could improve the composition. They also have an effect on the atmosphere of a picture.


Lines need not be complete outlines but a whole chain of spaced or overlapping shapes – clouds, hedges, a blurred movement, a background shadow – which your camera’s single viewpoint sees as attached or linked together.


In fact lines occur wherever a clear boundary occurs between tones or colours, with strongest lines where contrast is greatest. Subject lighting is therefore influential. Lines can help to hold things together or push them apart; they can affect the sense of movement or stillness in a landscape; connect a group of disparate still life objects; or relate/separate things in different parts of the frame.


The general pattern of lines in a picture has an interesting influence. Well-spaced parallel lines and L shapes have the most tranquil, stable effect. Triangles, broad ovals or S shapes seem

to offer more ‘flow’, encouraging you to view the picture more actively.


Pictures with long, angled converging lines (formed by steep perspectives, for example) rapidly attract your eye to their point of convergence. A mass of short lines angled in all directions helps to suggest excitement, confusion and even chaos.


Why we experience these reactions probably has a scientific explanation. Use them constructively. If you want a dramatic, powerful image, shoot it from a high or low angle, with steep perspective and bold contrasts. If your intention is to create a soft, gentle picture the same approach would be destructive; instead, flowing open shapes and graduated tones will be more effective.

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