To many landscape photographers, one of the most important visual elements in their composition is that of natural or man-made lines. These lines serve as a potent compositional tool that can provide natural routes guiding the viewer’s eye into and through their landscape imagery. Not only do they provide visual guidance, but they can also be used quite effectively in dividing a composition into different or distinct areas. Furthermore, when used correctly these lines can add a strong graphical element to a scene.
Real Or Not
Lines in the scene may be observed as the visual edges of tangible objects or as implied lines conveyed by many objects ordered in a row, column, or diagonal series.
While the most obvious lines are those created by man-made objects, don’t forget to look for lines that naturally occur within the scene around you. While features such as hiking paths, roadways, and bridges provide the obvious lines in your scenes, don’t forget to be on the lookout for the subtler lines offered by riverbanks, shorelines, and stands of trees for example. Even shadows that are thrown by early-morning or late day sun can create strong visual lines as they reach out across the landscape. It is not essential that your lines be straight or uniform, in fact, a line that takes a meandering, wandering path through your scene can provide a delightful visual journey for the eye.
Direction Is Key
As we begin to consider lines in earnest it is beneficial to evaluate the direction that these lines are traveling relative to the horizon in the scene that we are capturing. Classically trained artists learn that lines can convey emotions, as a photographer you should be prepared to observe the same attributes.
Generally speaking, a preponderance of horizontal lines, which tend echo the horizon, are considered to convey a sense of gravity, order, and calmness. When surveyed, most viewers note that they feel horizontal lines are easier to follow and view.
You may also observe scenes where there is a majority of vertical lines present. These vertical lines are thought to be more active and dynamic than their horizontal counterparts. Again, when surveyed, most viewers note that they feel vertical lines denote strength and rigidity in scenes.
In addition to those horizontal and vertical lines mentioned above, many landscape scenes will contain a variety of diagonal lines as well. Diagonal lines in a scene can be very beneficial, as they provide extended viewing paths for your viewers to follow throughout the scene.
Which Way To Go
As you are considering the predominant line direction in a landscape scene, keep in mind that you are not necessarily constrained to shooting in the landscape orientation just because you are shooting landscape images. In a scene, for example, where there is a predominant number of vertical lines, it might be highly advantageous to shoot that scene in the portrait orientation. While this alternate camera orientation may seem counterintuitive, playing to the strengths of the lines that are visible in the scene often works better.
Work The Angles
Here are some additional things to keep in mind when composing your landscape imagery. While not everyone reads from left to right, those that do find that diagonal lines running from the lower left corner of the frame to the upper right corner of the frame are the easiest to follow. Diagonal lines that follow this path are considered to aid the viewer’s journey from the foreground to the background.
Another powerful set of lines to observe in landscape composition is that of converging lines. Landscape scenes that contain converging lines are typically stronger compositions. Converging lines get continually closer together as they travel through the scene, aiding the viewer’s notion of depth and distance. Converging lines are best emphasized when using a wide-angle lens, as this makes them appear wider at the near end and closer together at the far end.
Once you have begun to identify lines in your landscape compositions, you can start to experiment with point of view. If your point of view is lower in the composition and you are using a wide-angle lens, you should expect to see some distortion introduced into the frame, with those features closest to lens dominating the composition, and any vertical lines leaning inwards. Any opportunity you get to look for vantage points that put you above the scene or consider the new perspectives offered by drone photography, as such positions reveal unique and beautiful patterns of landscape scenes.