Category Archives: 10. Lines



Like straight lines, curved lines also hold graphic qualities, however, their characteristics differ quite significantly. The unique feature of a curve, as discussed by Freeman (2007), is that is contains a progressive change of direction, avoiding any direct comparison to the straight edges of the frame. The progressive quality that a curve holds gives it rhythm, and a sense of movement and speed.

Curved movement is seen to be smooth and flowing, and expressively conveys a sense of elegance, gracefulness and gentleness.

Look  for and take four photographs using curves to emphasis movement and direction.

Metro rail line

Metro rail line

This photograph shows the metro line as it stretches away from the station, curving around the bend, and then disappearing from view. While there is no visible activity in the image, there is a sense of movement as the eye follows the rails and fencing along its length.

Path in Safa Park

Path in Safa Park

The hard edges on this path formed two definite curved lines. They curve to the left, leading the eye in this direction. I also noted several gentle curves, created by the top of the treetops and the suggestion of curves formed by the overhanging tree boughs.

Stacked sun loungers

Stacked sun loungers

This photograph shows a tower of stacked sun-loungers side-on. The viewpoint emphasises the curved lines of their design. Freeman (2007) describes a curve as to be thought of as a series of straight lines at progressively changing angles, which I think can be seen here. The eye is encouraged to follow the smooth rhythm of the curves as they rise and fall.

metro ceiling_edited-bw

Curved ceiling, metro station.

Here, the curved lines of the metro station’s design can be seen. While this shot also shows some strong diagonal lines, I have included it here to compare these with the curved lines.

Both diagonals and curves have a quality of movement. The diagonals here appear to connect to create zigzags, which are active and encourage the eye to move along them. However, the curves here are gentle, and the uninterrupted, smooth flow contributes to sense of movement and speed. The movement the diagonals convey is dynamic and active while the curves express elegance and grace.

The eye finds it pleasing to look at and follow the line of a curve; this makes curved lines an extremely valuable element of design. All of the examples I have shown for curves have been ‘real’ curves. Freeman (2007) explains that curves are harder to introduce into a photograph than diagonals, but it can sometimes be achieved by implication. While I have not come across the opportunity to capture this with my camera yet, I am aware of it now and will keep my eyes open for appropriate opportunities to experiment.

Freeman, M. (2007) The Photographer’s Eye Lewes: ILEX


Diagonal lines

While many scenes can be found that contain true horizontal and vertical lines, there are few real diagonals. Camera angle and perspective can be used to create diagonals in photographs. I noted an example of this in the previous exercise, horizontal and vertical lines, where shooting from a low angle, along the length of the vertical column, it appeared diagonal.

Freeman (2007) and Präkel (2006) both agree that of all lines, diagonals are considered to be the most dynamic. Compared with the relative solidity of horizontal and vertical lines, diagonals appear unstable. This instability creates unresolved tension which, in turn, brings movement, direction, speed and, overall, life to a photograph. The photographer is also offered more freedom when working with diagonals, as there is no need to align the line with the frame edges as one would with horizontal or vertical lines.

Take four photographs which show diagonals strongly.

Diagonal - emergency stairway

Diagonal 1- Emergency stairway

I took this photograph while walking on a pathway underneath a high-rise building. While the stairway viewed side-on is a true diagonal, the oblique angle the shot was taken gives the illusion that the horizontal elements are also diagonal. The shadows caused by the late afternoon sun extend the diagonal beyond the frame edge. The overall effect is a zigzag, which Präkel (2006) describes as being representative of concentrated energy.

Diagonal 2- Arrangement of trees

Diagonal 2- Arrangement of trees

I noticed this cluster of trees in a local park. Had I taken the shot from a point a few metres you would see a row of trees planted in a linear fashion. However, from this angle, a diagonal arrangement can be noted. The wide-angle lens has created a diminishing perspective, which adds a sense of depth and distance.

Diagonal 3- Waterfall

Diagonal 3- Waterfall

Again, I took this photograph while walking in a local park. The water cascading could have been photographed as a vertical from a face-on position, but from this angle a diagonal was created. A slow shutter speed of 1/20s helped to blur the moving water, the whiteness of the diagonal contrasting well with the dark rocks, behind and on each side.

Diagonal 4- Sun canopies

Diagonal 4- Sun canopies

I took this photograph with my Panasonic Lumix camera, which has a long telephoto range. This image was captured at a 207mm efl, capturing a series of parallel diagonals at reducing distances apart. Freeman (2007) notes the power of wide-angle lens in making diagonals appear stronger but also advises that telephoto lens can also be useful when photographing diagonals. A long focal length can help stress a specific part of a diagonal by giving a selective view, as can be seen in the photograph above, ‘Sun canopies’.

Diagonals, whether true or created by camera angles or lenses, insert a sense of direction and movement into a photograph. As a graphic device they add a sense of activity and catch and carry the viewer’s eye along their length.

The following are a few examples of diagonal lines I came across whilst looking at photographs in some of the recommended TAoP course books. For ease, I took a quick shot of each with my mobile phone camera.

From Stephen Shore’s book, The Nature of Photographs (2007),

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 2.01.04 PM

Thomas Annan, ‘Close, No.61 Saltmarket’ (1868-77)

In this photograph the diagonals run along the length of the narrow passageway where the wall meets the ground and are repeated in the brickwork on the wall. The eye follows these lines towards the black void at the end of the alley.

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Robert Frank ‘View from Hotel Window-Butte, Montana’ (1954-56)

The diminishing perspective of the buildings and the length of the road create the diagonals here. The eye follows the length of the road seeking out details in the distance.

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Garry Winogrand ‘World’s Fair, New York City’ (1964)

There are multiple diagonal elements in this photograph, the kerb, the bench, the row of people, the bushes, and the pathway in the background. The mannerisms of the people on the bench and the people walking on the rear pathway all contribute to a sense of perceived movement and activity.

From Charlotte Cotton’s book, The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2009)

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Katy Grannan ‘Joshi, Mystic Lake, Medford, MA’ (2004)

The tree trunks create the strong diagonals in this photograph. They divide the frame into three sections, establishing a ‘frame’ within the frame in which the model is posing. Unresolved tension is created by the precarious angle the tree sits at.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 2.10.16 PM

Yang Yong, ‘Fancy in Tunnel’ (2003)

The diagonals here, created by the numerous tiles, contribute to a sense of depth and distance. They draw the viewers away from the woman to the darkness at the rear of the tunnel and the dark figure standing there.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 2.11.53 PM

Jeff Wall ‘Passerby’ (1996)

The horizontal lines of the kerb and path running away from the eye create the diagonals. This creates a sense of depth and distance, which is strengthened by the darkness at the far end of the street.

Freeman, M. (2007) The Photographer’s Eye. Lewes: ILEX

Präkel, D. (2006) Composition. Lausanne: AVA

Thomas Annan (2007) Close, No.61 Saltmarket, 1868-77. [photograph] In The Nature of Photographs by Stephen Shore. London: Phaidon Press Limited, p99

Robert Frank (2007) View from Hotel Window-Butte, Montana, 1954-56. [photograph] In The Nature of Photographs by Stephen Shore. London: Phaidon Press Limited, p6

Katy Grannan (2009) Joshi, Mystic Lake, Medford, MA, 2009. [photograph] In The Photograph as Contemporary Art by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson, p216

Garry Winogrand (2007) World’s Fair, New York City, 1964. [photograph] In The Nature of Photographs by Stephen Shore. London: Phaidon Press Limited, p111

Jeff Wall (2009) Passerby, 1996. [photograph] In The Photograph as Contemporary Art by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson, p49

Yang Yong (2009) Fancy in Tunnel, 2003. [photograph] In The Photograph as Contemporary Art by Charlotte Cotton. London: Thames and Hudson, p155




Horizontal and vertical lines

Horizontal and vertical lines

As discussed in the Multiple points blog entry, several points within the frame are viewed as being joined together to suggest lines and shapes. This exercise looks specifically at lines, horizontal and vertical.

Freeman (2007) notes that, like points, lines establish location within the frame. However, lines are considered to have stronger graphic qualities than points as lines can convey the dynamic features of direction and movement.

Take four photographs that illustrate horizontal lines and four photographs to depict vertical lines. Try to avoid repeating the context in which the line appears. The aim of this exercise is to find some of the different ways in which horizontal and vertical lines appear to the eye and camera.

 Horizontal Lines

Freeman (2007) believes that the horizontal line is often considered to be the baseline in composition. Reasons for this include-

  • our frame of vision is horizontal, horizontal lines are easily the most comfortable for our eyes to scan.
  • the horizon line is a fundamental reference point, considered to be a base that supports.

In turn, horizontal lines are generally thought to express stability, weight, calm and restfulness. Präkel (2006) agrees, stating that of all lines, horizontal lines are the most stable. He notes that horizontal lines respond to gravity, they appear to be at rest and motionless.

Horizontal bridge-1_edited-1

Horizontal 1- Bridge, Safa Park

Horizontal 1-While there are a few vertical elements to this image (the trees, lamppost, bridge supports), it is the horizontal lines of the bridge that are strongest, due to the clear contrast with the lighter background.

horizontal railings at marina_edited-1

Horizontal 2- View through railings to Marina

In this scene I used a shallow depth of field, f3.5, to help place the focus on the foreground detail, the horizontal railings. The light colour of the railings, contrasted with the darker water and sky in the background helps emphasis the horizontal lines. I decided upon a vertical format to include more rails,  and therefore more horizontal lines into the frame.
wires BW_edited-1

Horizontal 2- Power lines in the desert.

Pylons and power lines are a frequent sight in the desert area just outside of Dubai city. I took this photograph out of the window of a moving car. The movement added motion blur to the shot, which, I think, has made the power lines look very fine, delicate and wispy. Again, the light shade of the horizontal lines enables them to stand out well against the darker sky.

vapour trail BW-1

Horizontal 4- Vapour trail across sky

 I took this shot from the balcony of my apartment. The higher-up perspective this allowed helped me to make to place the buildings in front quite low in the frame.  This helps place focus on the horizontal line of the vapour trail.

Vertical lines

Freeman (2007) believes that the vertical line is the second primary component of the frame. Reasons for this include-

  •  it is naturally seen as being in alignment with the edges of the frame. A vertical form sits more comfortably in a vertical format, while a series of verticals becomes a horizontal construct.
  • a vertical line is the main element in an image of a human figure or a tree. Its direction is the force of gravity, or something escaping it.

Without the supporting base of a horizontal line, vertical lines usually contain a sense of speed and movement, in either up or down directions. A series of verticals can be viewed as a barrier or post, and could be viewed as expressing power or strength.

Vertical 1- The Address Hotel, Dubai Marina

This image contains many vertical lines. Areas of shade and tinted windows create strong vertical lines, while the bold white vertical feature at the front of the building draws the eye up and down it’s height. The vertical format of the frame also helps to emphasis these features.

Vertical 2- Flag poles

I attempted this shot several times but couldn’t quite get the perspective I was looking for with my wide-angle lens. I changed lens and took this shot at 95mm. I decided to use a shallow depth of field to keep the focus on the initial vertical, a flagpole, with the other verticals gradually blurring into the background.

dhow vertical

Vertical 3- Dhow vessel

This tourist vessel, a traditional styled dhow, contains many vertical lines. I framed this shot tightly to try to emphasis the vertical features of the door, windows and rails. On close inspection you will see that many of the vertical lines are not in align with each other. For me, this does not make the verticals a weaker element; it adds interest to the image and raises questions about the boat traditions and design.

Vertical 4- Decorative columns

These columns are a decorative feature in a park area close to where I live. I took the photograph from a low perspective to emphasis the columns height and to persuade the eye to follow the vertical lines they contain, upwards towards the decorative detail and beyond. I included a section of the sky in the upper right hand corner to encourage the sense of travelling upwards too.

The angle of this shot and the use of a wide-range lens means that the verticals in this image could also be considered to be diagonals.


While undertaking Assignment One- Contrast, I found it difficult to choose, what I would consider to be, an interesting subject for straight, However, by breaking straight down further into horizontal and vertical lines during this exercise has helped me to see photographic opportunities in many places.

This exercise has also helped me appreciate the importance of exact alignment with the frame edge when working with horizontal and vertical lines. When I reviewed my photographs at home I found that several of the lines were slightly off and required straightening during editing.

It is interesting to note that several of the photographs I had taken contained both horizontal and vertical lines, although I did try to emphasis one over the other. Freeman (2007) states that together, horizontal and vertical lines are complementary. He quotes the painter and teacher, Maurice de Sausmarez, describing a vertical above a horizontal as ‘producing a satisfying resolved feeling, perhaps because they symbolise the human experience of absolute balance, of standing erect on level ground’. I consider the photographs, ‘Vertical 1- The Address Hotel, Dubai Marina’ and ‘Vertical 3- Dhow vessel’ to be good examples of verticals supported by a level surface.

Freeman, M. (2007) The Photographer’s Eye. Lewes: ILEX

Präkel, D. (2006) Composition. Lausanne: AVA