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The Elements of Visual Design – Line

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Of all the visual elements of design, line is the most fundamental and one that photographers probably use the most. Line, shape, texture and perspective are actually considered secondary visual elements because they are all created as a result of tone and colour.

A line is created by a contrast in tone or colour or by the colour of the line itself. Here is a simple example below that illustrates how differences in tone and colour create a whole host of lines.

japanese lanterns tokyo

Lines have a few important qualities we need to know in order to use them effectively when composing photographs. The first is their length.  Longer lines generally have greater visual impact because they will dominate an image. In the image above, notice how your eye is drawn to the two lines of lanterns and not so much to the shorter lines created by the roofline in the top right of the image. Lines can also be straight or curved. Straight lines move within an image with a sense of purpose and direct the eye in an authoritative manner while curving lines are more gentle and convey a more relaxed feeling. Photographers are often drawn to s-curves or multiple curves within a landscape scene because they meander through the frame and set the pace for the viewer to enjoy the image.

There are basically three orientations for a line: vertical, horizontal or oblique. Vertical and horizontal lines are more formal and therefore contribute to a sense of stability in an image.  Oblique or slanted lines (like those in the image above) have a greater sense of movement and diagonal lines in particular will also contribute to a feeling of balance in the photograph because of how they cut the frame.

We also need to consider the thickness of lines we include in our images. If a vertical or horizontal line has a consistent thickness from start to finish, it will make the photograph feel even more formal. In the example below notice how the lines are created by the colours and the contrast in colour.  Also the inclusion of the dark blue columns creates strong thick vertical lines that dominate the frame but they are balanced by multiple repeating vertical lines across the frame that also have a consistent thickness.

port townsend

What you may not realize at first is that there are a few horizontal lines within this image. Your brain sees these lines because of the relationship between some of the elements. I am referring to the square and rectangular decorative elements on the doors and the wall panels. Even though they are not connected, because of where they are placed, they create implied lines. These are often the most difficult lines to recognize when you are out photographing but I bet if you look back through the images you have already made, you will realize how much your brain processed the information to include them.

Your photographs will improve when you are able to consciously recognize all of these traits of lines and use them in a purposeful way to create stronger images. Join us for our next Beginners Class and learn more about creative compositions using all the visual elements of design.

Next week: The Elements of Visual Design – Shape