CCW01C – Elements of Design – Lines

by | Mar 10, 2016 | (MON) Completely Composed |


Our study of the Elements of Design is going to start off with an exploration of Lines within scenes and images. It’s hard to imagine photographic images, or scenes for that matter, that are the least bit compelling, without the effective use of lines within that image. The existence of these lines, their quantity, their arrangement, their weight and their paths, have the potential to provide a number of characteristics to the final composition. While individual lines do indeed have impact on a composition, multitudes of lines and their interactions with one another, when used properly, have potentially dramatic impact upon the viewer of an image and the viewer’s engagement with that image.

Of the multiple elements of design, lines are likely the strongest and most influential elements in your compositions. Without the existence of lines, there can exist no shapes. Without the existence of shapes, there can exist no form. Continuing further on, without form there is no texture and so on. Okay we are getting ahead of ourselves here, but I am sure you get the basic idea, lines matter and they serve as the primer for almost all of the other elements I just eluded to.


This image makes use of lines to impart interest in what otherwise might have been a boring scene.

Lines travel many different directions in a scene, from vertical, to horizontal, to diagonal and even curved. Lines can either be long or short, range from thin to thick, leading towards the viewer or leading away, even moving the viewer’s position within the image.

Line’s impart emotional effect in images and can engender feelings of rest, action, peace, chaos, structured, random and on and on. Line weight conveys strength or lack thereof, feelings of authority or signs of weakness. Lines have the ability to convey mood, structure, strength and varying degrees of order in an image, all based upon the arrangement of those lines within a scene and your point of view in relationship to those lines.

Lines in an image can exist as physical entities within a scene, or they can appear as the by-product of implied connections between points or elements within that scene. Lines, whether they are physically real entities or are virtually implied paths, can serve as the guidebook to viewing an image, with their direction and characteristics providing strong visual clues to the viewer.

Seeing the existence of various lines within a scene and knowing how to maximize their use and effect within your image, is a first critical step in understanding how to see and control composition in a photographic creation.

First Things First:

Before we start following all these lines around scenes, I would like you to think of lines in the following way:

A line is a but a point in motion and if we think of that point as only having one dimension, length, then the longer that length, the more visually important the line.

The longer that point is in motion, the longer that line becomes, the more pivotal it becomes in engaging the viewer’s eye and giving it someplace to go in the image.


Lines and their length convey distance and elevation.


Try to visualize the lines within the scene as distinct elements.

Lines Lead:

Likely, one of the most often used characteristics of lines is their innate ability to lead a viewer visually through a scene, taking that viewer directly to the intended subject of the image. This may seem manipulative, and it is, but this is exactly the goal we came here to achieve…making our viewer take note of what we deemed compelling in the image.


In this image, lines are used to provide a path for the viewer to follow through the image.

These leading lines can often be subtle, visual pathways that gently guide the viewer’s eyes where you want them to go. Often times these subtle lines can be implied lines or even lines of shadow, or light, whose direction conveniently aligns with subject placement in the scene. Just as frequently the lines in your scene are physical manifestations, whose alignment is again ideal for the subject at hand and naturally take your viewer where you want them to go.


This image makes use of both physical and implied lines in its composition.

When approaching a scene, these leading lines may not be immediately obvious and it is altogether likely that they will not be lined up ideally from your initial point of view. Alignment of leading lines, more often than not, requires scene inspection and movement on you part to get just the ideal alignment to be visible in the scene. As a fellow photographer, I will tell you one of the easiest traps to fall into, is that of thinking you have “the shot” immediately after happening upon a scene. Don’t fall victim to this false sense of visual security, work the scene by testing multiple points of view. While looking through your viewfinder, try different positions relative to the subject, all the time looking for leading lines that make themselves apparent as you are shifting point of view.

While I am flirting with the subject of point of view (more on this later), I want you to consider vertical positioning as you are evaluating scenes. I often think, if I gave cameras to ten (10) people, who are five foot, six inches tall (5’6″), I would likely get back at least nine (9) sets of images that have a vertical point of view of five foot, three inches (5’3″). Besides the emotional characteristics of point of view (which we will cover in a later section), changing elevation can totally alter your relationship to leading lines within a scene. It is not the least bit unusual to find me laying in the river, standing on a picnic table, climbing up some facade, or shooting down from a mezzanine just to get that point of view and line alignment that I am looking for in an image.


In this image, an alternate point of view is required to make use of the dominant lines in this scene.

An additional characteristic of lines, often used in composition, is the notion of entrance points and exit points in an image, with an image ideally composed to provide both, in an effort to guide the viewer’s visual navigation through the composition. Images that provide both points, help the viewer to locate a starting point in viewing the image, a visual path to follow while exploring the image and a natural exit point to let the viewer know when they have reached the end of the image’s viewing path. Visualizing paths, road, fence-lines, etc. that start at the beginning of the scene (or close to it) and transit the image to a natural termination outside the frame or at a perceived horizon, should give you an idea of what to look for when inspecting a scene.


Not only do the lines lead in this image, they also provide strong entry and exit points for the viewer.

Lines Disappear:

As you begin to work more with lines, in your compositions, you will begin to notice additional attributes and characteristics of those lines. In addition to line length, which can have a dramatic impact on defining and conveying scale, you will notice that the convergence of lines can enhance this effect even more. Converging lines are lines that get progressively closer together as they continue on in the “space” of an image. This convergence can have the natural effect of defining a horizon line within your scene, or providing a point where visual acuity within the image diminishes to the point of where details can no longer be discerned by the viewer.


This images uses converging lines to convey both the distance and the end of the viewing space.

Lines that converge have the natural characteristic of imparting scale. The longer it takes a pair of lines to converge, the greater the distance, or potentially size change, that is inferred within the scene. Like sized objects, aligned in a straight path, will naturally converge in a scene, at the same careful alignment of progressively smaller objects can make that shift even more pronounced. Attention must be paid to the viewing angle of the convergence in the scene, as too wide a viewing angle can have the potential of negating the change in object size along the convergence path and being to close to the aligned objects can shorten the perceptual distance in the scene.

Lines Bend:

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This image takes a relatively pedestrian subject (a stack of dishes) and turns them into a study of curved lines.

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This image used both physical and implied lines as well as curves to convey an orderly yet organic image.

Lines Build:

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This image use the order and frequency of the lines in the scene to convey structure and strength.

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In this image a combination of organized lines, point of view and converging lines are being used to convey structure and strength.


For this, your first field assignment, I would like you to purposely inspect your potential scenes for lines that will reinforce the image, BEFORE YOU PRESS THE SHUTTER RELEASE. Spend time considering the lines that exist within the scene and the relationship they might have to your intended subject. Determine if there are ways that you can work those lines into reinforcing elements of the subject at hand.

In reviewing potential scenes, reflect upon the sample images provided with this week’s lesson and determine if one of those samples can guide you to a composition that feels stronger because of the inclusion of additional lines in that composition. Challenge yourself to alternate points of view and working available lines in a scene in more than one way as your shooting.

After a week of shooting, select one image to be submitted for review. Consider all of the images that you shot during the week and select the one that you think demonstrates a strong use of lines within the frame and represents a composition that you might not have thought of before going through the week’s lesson.

Preliminary Submission Instructions:

  • File Type: JPG only, all other types will be rejected
  • File Size: Sized as follows…
    • Min 1920 pixels, LONG edge
    • Max 2048 pixels, LONG edge
    • Allow SHORT edge to dynamically adjust to maintain aspect ratio of image.
  • File Color Space: sRGB, all other spaces will be rejected
  • File Name: Use the following specifications…
    • Six (6) characters from last name (substitue X’s for short names) +
    • _ (underscore) +
    • Four (4) character from first name (substitue X’s for short names) +
    • _ (underscore) +
    • Four (4) digits from street address (substitue #’s for short addresses) +
    • _ (underscore) +
    • Lesson code value (Week 01 is: ccw01c), found in schedule table +
    • .jpg
    • Here are a couple of examples to follow for file name:
      • neuman_timo_6427_ccw01c.jpg
      • smithxx_suex_12##_ccw01c.jpg

The upload link (which is not available today) will be here: UPLOAD ASSIGNMENT

Note: I have, to date, expended well over one hundred hours in putting this series together, I fully expect that you can invest some time in figuring out exporting, naming and uploading your files.


Before moving on to the next lesson, I want you to keep the following in mind:

This is not the only time you should be considering lines, they should be at the forefront of the recognition process almost every time that you are considering a composition. They are that important!

As you continue to learn about the Elements of Design, keep these initial foundation elements in mind, these really do work as building blocks and constant reflection on how new elements, along the way, will interact with these that you have learned first, will serve you well.

Okay, go get things LINED up!

Series Schedule…

Quarter:Quarter Title:Week:Topic:Code
Quarter:Quarter Title:Week:Topic:Code
PreCompletely Composed - IntroductionWeek 00Completely Composed - IntroductionCCS00I
OneElements Of Design (EOD)Week 01EOD - IntroductionCCS01I
Week 01EOD - LinesCCW01C
Week 01EOD - Lines (More)CCW01M
Week 02EOD - ShapesCCW02C
Week 03EOD - DirectionCCW03C
Week 04EOD - SizeCCW04C
Week 05EOD - TextureCCW05C
Week 06EOD - ColorCCW06C
Week 07EOD - ValueCCW07C
Week 08EOD - BalanceCCW08C
Week 09EOD - GradationCCW09C
Week 10EOD - RepetitionCCW10C
Week 11EOD - ContrastCCW11C
Week 12EOD - HarmonyCCW12C
Week 13EOD - Unity / DominanceCCW13C
Week 13Quarterly ReviewCCW13R
TwoRules Of CompositionWeek 14ROC - IntroductionCCS02I
Week 14ROC - SimplificationCCW14C
Week 15ROC - Use Of SpaceCCW15C
Week 16ROC - Rule Of ThirdsCCW16C
Week 17ROC - Proportional RulesCCW17C
Week 18ROC - Balancing ElementsCCW18C
Week 19ROC - Leading Lines CCW19C
Week 20ROC - SymmetryCCW20C
Week 21ROC - PatternsCCW21C
Week 22ROC - Point Of ViewCCW22C
Week 23ROC - Foreground And BackgroundCCW23C
Week 24ROC - Depth Of FieldCCW24C
Week 25ROC - FramingCCW25C
Week 26ROC - CroppingCCW26C
Week 26Quarterly ReviewCCW26R
ThreeRefinements And TechniquesWeek 27RAT - IntroductionCCS03I
Week 27RAT - Working The Shape (Rectangles)CCW27C
Week 28RAT - Working The Shape (Circles)CCW28C
Week 29RAT - Working The Shape (Triangles)CCW29C
Week 30RAT - Working The Shape (Others)CCW30C
Week 31RAT - Left To RightCCW31C
Week 32RAT - Juxtaposition CCW32C
Week 33RAT - Shooting When You Are Not ThereCCW33C
Week 34RAT - Reflections, Angles And EffectsCCW34C
Week 35RAT - Illusions In TimeCCW35C
Week 36RAT - Time To GraduateCCW36C
Week 37RAT - Colors, Stars And FlareCCW37C
Week 38RAT - Cooking With GlassCCW38C
Week 39RAT - Optical ManipulationCCW39C
Week 39Quarterly ReviewCCW39R
FourBreaking The RulesWeek 40BTR - IntroductionCCS04I
Week 40
BTR - Ignore The ThirdsCCW40C
Week 41BTR - Defying BalanceCCW41C
Week 42BTR - Optical IllusionsCCW42C
Week 43BTR - Positive Versus NegativeCCW43C
Week 44BTR - The Non-Conventional FrameCCW44C
Week 45BTR - IsolationCCW45C
Week 46BTR - Chaos From OrderCCW46C
Week 47BTR - Working The Focus ZoneCCW47C
Week 48BTR - Shifting SymmetriesCCW48C
Week 49BTR - Breaking PatternsCCW49C
Week 50BTR - Feeling IsolatedCCW50C
Week 51BTR - Light, Bring Your OwnCCW51C
Week 52BTR - Plant And ShootCCW52C
Week 52Quarterly / Final ReviewCCW52R