Visual Design – Lines? How to use them?

Summary – Images can be made better through proper use of lines. Knowing how to incorporate lines in an image depends heavily on understanding how they are seen and interpreted by a viewer.

Understanding lines and their proper use

Will greatly improve your images

It starts with understanding the language of lines


Roll mouse over image

001_DSC0606_orig_lr5acrblog9-26-2013 8-42-15 AM

Sunrise at the Beach

Ultra-simple use of lines

Chose location of #1 (horizon) to show “not too much” sky

Everything above this point was uninteresting

Got down low for #2 (12 inches) to emphasize the beach

We don’t need any more water showing for this “story”

The “S-curve”, well that goes without saying

Runs obliquely (more dynamic) to the water & sunrise


A single exposure with a grad-neutral-density filter

Don’t need no stinkin’ HDR

What? Too dark? Ever been up at sunrise? 😉


There are many types of lines

Each communicates something to a viewer

Lines have a psychological impact

Knowing what they say is important when making images


The direction & character of lines convey different feelings

Vertical : strength, power

Horizontal: tranquility, rest

Diagonal: dynamic, action, tension

Straight | Curved: direct & quick | meandering & unhurried

Thin | Thick: Weak | Strong

Converging: depth & distance

Uses of lines

Define shapes (including within the design space aka frame)

See lines 1 & 2 in the above image

Lead the eye

Line 3 above

Create perspective

Create texture (dependent on lighting)


Learning to see lines (both actual & potential) and

Knowing how to place them in the design space

Is at the heart of visual design

Every time you look through your viewfinder

Seeing & Placing lines should be your first thought

Else – it’s not visual design, it’s random helter-skelter

What are you trying to say?

What do you want the viewer to see?

How can lines (& the objects they form) help?


In the above image,

Combining restful suggestions in the form of

Landscape orientation with long horizontal lines & shapes

with the path’s oblique form (dynamic, action)

is an attention grabber because of the

mixed messages (a good thing if done carefully)


Here’s the image from the previous post on lines

9-21-2013 1-08-25 PM

Let’s consider just one change

What would it look like (more or less) IF

I moved to my right & stood on the green path

(or cut & pasted in PS as I did here)

To change the main line from

Diagonal to vertical

9-25-2013 12-46-29 PM01

The switch from diagonal

Plus the loss of both the foreground seed head line and

the golden triangle pointing in from the right edge

changes the image for the worse

When I arrived here (via the green pathway)

This is essentially what I started with

Before eventually seeing & placing the lines

That told the story I wanted


Continuing with the above example,

Seeing my primary line was easy; I was standing on it

BUT – how about placing it?

Placing it on a diagonal?

Running up from the lower right corner specifically?

(this direction removes clutter to left of house)

(NOTE: to be precise, diagonals run between corners;

There are only two diagonals per image

Otherwise the lines are obliques)




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