Shapes and lines are important
elements in photographic composition. When properly used, shapes and lines can create a
desired effect. As a photographer, you usually have control over the way shapes and lines
are used in your pictures.
Shape is a two-dimensional element basic to picture composition and is usually
the first means by which a viewer identifies an object within the picture. Form is
the three-dimensional equivalent of shape. Even though shape is only two-dimensional, with
the proper application of lighting and tonal range, you can bring out form and give your
subjects a three-dimensional quality. Lighting can also subdue or even destroy form by
causing dark shadows that may cause several shapes to merge into one.
Shapes can be made more dominant by placing them against plain contrasting backgrounds;
for example, consider again the white sail against the dark water background. The greatest
emphasis of shape is achieved when the shape is silhouetted (fig. 5-11), thus eliminating
other qualities of the shape, such as texture and roundness, or the illusion of the third
Lines can be effective elements of composition, because they give structure to your
photographs. Lines can unify composition by directing the viewer's eyes and attention to
the main point of the picture or lead the eyes from one part of the picture to another.
They can lead the eyes to infinity, divide the picture, and create patterns. Through
linear perspective, lines can lend a sense of depth to a photograph. (Linear perspective
causes receding parallel lines to appear to converge in the picture. This allows you to
create an illusion of depth in your pictures.)
The viewer's eyes tend to follow lines into the picture (or out of the picture)
regardless of whether they are simple linear elements such as fences, roads, and a row of
phone poles, or more complex line elements, such as curves, shapes, tones, and colors.
Lines that lead the eye or direct attention are referred to as leading lines. A
good leading line is one that starts near the bottom corner of the scene and continues
unbroken until it reaches the point of interest (fig. 5-12). It should end at this point; otherwise, attention is carried beyond the primary
subject of the photograph. The apparent direction of lines can often be changed by simply
changing viewpoint or camera angle.
Vertical, diagonal, horizontal, and curved lines create different moods. Vertical lines
communicate a sense of strength, rigidity, power, and solidarity to the viewer. On the
other hand, horizontal lines represent peace, tranquillity, and quietness. A generally
accepted practice is to use a vertical format for pictures having predominantly vertical
lines and horizontal format for pictures having predominantly horizontal lines. Again,
this is a generally accepted practice, NOT a rule.
Diagonal lines represent movement, action, and speed. A picture with diagonal lines
conveys a feeling of dynamic action even when the subject is static (fig. 5-13). Curved
lines present a sense of grace, smoothness, and dignity to a photograph (fig. 5-14).
The most common curved line is the S curve.
here to see Figure 5-14]
Lines are not only present in the shape of things but can be created by
arranging several elements within the picture area so they form lines by their
relationship with one another.