How to Use Imaginary Lines to Compose Photos

Do you know what photo composition is?

Photo composition is the organization of the visual elements in the camera frame (or the photo “area”). Composing a photo is working on the focus elements of a photo and on all the other peripheral elements that will be included in a photo. In addition to all the knowledge you have of the art of photography, the composition will depend on your creativity and sensibility when taking photos. Creating a photo style is associated with how you compose the scene of your photo.

Knowing how to identify the imaginary lines that define the focus of the main element of a photo scene as well as the colors of the photo scene and everything else that your camera lens is capturing is a great way to sharpen your look regarding the aesthetics of your photo compositions.

The balance between all the elements that compose a photograph is what defines great photo compositions.

In this post you will discover how to use imaginary lines to compose photos.

Let’s get started!

What Are Imaginary Lines in Photo Composition

Everything that composes urban places and natural environments has a shape that is defined by imaginary horizontal lines, vertical lines and diagonal lines. When we look at any physical environment, we notice that everything has a geometric organization.

How to Use Diagonal Lines for Composing Photos
Photo With Diagonal Imaginary Lines

Framing a photo is choosing what to photograph and what to not photograph in the photo scene, it’s deciding the area that the camera lens will “see” to take a picture. And composing a photo is deciding how to organize the photo scene to frame a photo the best way possible to result in aesthetically interesting shots.

You minimize the place of the photo scene when you frame a photo, and the elements that compose the image will direct the focus to the main subject of the photo (an object, a person or anything else).

All secondary elements of the photo act as arrows that organize the look of who looks at a photo. When you get used to composing photos, you can visualize the lines that compose a photo scene with your mind’s eye.

After you decide what’s the main subject of the photo scene, searching for symmetry is the key to organizing the photo the best way possible. Symmetry brings harmony and organization to any image. Aligning the image within a photo composition defines the beauty of the photo, highlighting the point where the viewer’s attention will stop when looking at a photo

Now let’s understand which are the different types of lines in photo composition.

Leading Lines

This set of imaginary lines is used to draw the viewer’s attention towards a specific point of interest in a photo. Leading lines are used to define the framing of a photo. These lines appear on everything around the main subject of a photo. You can use the physical elements of the photo scene that are unconsciously defining the leading lines of the photo scene to help you frame your photos.

How to Use Curved Lines to Compose Photos
Photo With Curved Imaginary Lines

If your camera is a DSLR Camera or a Mirrorless Camera, you can use the viewfinder to locate the center points. Remember to use the Rule of Thirds Grid of your camera (even if it’s your smartphone), this grid will divide the photo scene into 2 horizontal lines and 2 vertical lines, where the 4 points of intersection of those 4 lines are the points where our eyes look at first, so it will be the points that will catch the most attention in the photo.

Horizontal Lines

This set of imaginary lines divides a photo in half and makes all elements be directed towards the same point in the photo. Before you take a photo, do the horizontal division mentally (try to visualize the horizontal lines) and check if the photo scene has horizontal lines.

How to Use Horizontal Lines to Compose Photos
Photo With Horizontal Imaginary Lines

Finding those lines will help frame photos the best symmetrical way possible. You can frame a photo intuitively according to your mind’s eye and search for the horizontal lines that will split the photo in two horizontal planes. That’s great for taking photos of Natural Landscapes, Urban Landscapes and wide areas.

Vertical Lines

This set of imaginary lines is often used to align objects and people in a photo. They are designed to direct the elements of a photo in a symmetric way. These lines divide the scene so that the image becomes more comprehensive for the viewers.

How to Use Vertical Lines to Compose Photos
Photo With Vertical Imaginary Lines

You can visualize vertical lines with your mind’s eye when you’re composing photos to give symmetry to the final shots. That’s great for composing Artistic Photos. Vertical lines can also help you frame photos in a way that makes an impact through the dimensions of its elements.

Diagonal Lines

This set of imaginary lines forms a diagonal alignment of all elements of the photo. These effects can be created by the camera angle. This style of photo has greater visual impact. Even though horizontal lines and vertical lines are used more often for framing photos, the diagonal lines photo style has a nice effect. Looking for a diagonal alignment of the photo elements can result in very interesting shots.

How to Use Diagonal Lines to Compose Photos
Photo With Diagonal Imaginary Lines

How to Use Imaginary Lines for Composing Photos

  • All objects matter in the photo composition. The distribution of elements will define each part of your photo when you’re framing it. So here it goes some tips on how you can compose better photos with the help of lines:

  • One way to balance the elements of your photo is to search for harmony where objects have the same dynamics in the eyes of the observer. Unbalance is also interesting, so use your intuition in each photo to shoot both balanced and unbalanced photos (in terms of leading lines, horizontal lines, vertical lines and diagonal lines).

  • Note where the 4 lines of the Rule of Thirds Grid intersect and focus the main element of your photo on the intersections, a great way of finding horizontal and vertical alignment.

How to Use Vertical Lines for Composing Photos
Photo With Vertical Imaginary Lines
  • For landscape photos, try to place the horizon line in the center of the photo framing so that there is a good division of the elements.

  • If you’re not photographing a landscape, place the horizontal line at the bottom or top of the main photo element for dividing the two planes, photos with a centralized framing aren’t very interesting.

  • Search for the leading lines on roads, in urban constructions and in the sequence of elements to compose your image and to direct the viewer’s attention towards the subject of the photo.

  • Curved lines also create interesting photos. Taking photos looking for curved lines catches the viewer’s attention and creates unique photos with an Artistic look.

  • Good scene lighting is essential for taking better photos that aren’t too dark and that aren’t too bright.

  • Patterns are aesthetically interesting, but don’t miss the change when you’ll find opportunities to break the Rule of Thirds and shoot photos with repeating elements or multiple elements together that aren’t centralized in the Rule of Thirds Grid.

  • Look for doors, windows, natural stone portals and other elements (urban or natural) that can work as frames for your photos.
Imaginary Lines for Photo Composition
Photo With Imaginary Horizontal Lines and Stone Portal Framing the Sunlight

Conclusion

Great! Now you know what are lines in photo composition, what are leading lines, horizontal lines, vertical lines and diagonal lines and how to use lines for composing photos. Over time, you get used to the composition rules and everything gets easier because it becomes automatic. So don’t hesitate to put what you’ve learned into practice!

You can also share your thoughts in the comments below!

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