The Figure: Uncovering the Second Element of Art

Example of the use of a figure in photography. It is a landscape of the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
Example of the use of a figure in photography. It is a landscape of the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

The Characteristics of a Line

After exploring and describing the different types of lines you can use in photography, I propose to give you the characteristics of the lines.

This is very important, because the characterization of a line will change its impact on a photo. The characteristics of the lines are valid for all types.

The Width

This is also called thickness. A thick line gives presence, strength.

A thin line suggests fragility. It seems easier to break.

If you add a line that goes into the background and narrows in width, you create a visual illusion of depth. An example of this is a road that starts in the foreground and stretches out into the background. Although the line itself does not last long, it appears to wind for ages into the distance.

This road which goes down towards Castle Valley, gives depth to the photo.
This road which goes down towards Castle Valley, gives depth to the photo.

The length

A short line suggests action, speed, short term, immediacy.

A long line suggests continuity, duration in time.

A continuous line suggests stability, relaxation.

A broken line suggests a sense of movement.

If you were to capture animal tracks in the snow or footprints in the sand, this would be a perfect example of a broken line found naturally in the wild. A long line might be depicted in nature as an unwavering cliff face, or the long and narrow bones of the face of a deer in a close up photo.

Visual tactility

Visual tactility is the way a viewer feels when looking at a photo. This is a very important concept in photography. It expresses the fact that we mentally associate sensations that we have actually felt in our past, while contemplating images. For example, if you have ever felt dizzy when looking at a void from a great height, you will experience and feel the same sensations when looking at a photo showing a precipice.

This visual tactility is a characteristic of lines. You can suggest visual tactility by choosing and correctly placing a line or lines in a photo.

By exploiting the visual tactility of the lines, you can engage a viewer physically and visually.


The direction of a line completely changes the nature of a photo. A horizontal line suggests stability, security, and relaxation. A diagonal line suggests energy. A vertical line suggests elevation.

When you take a picture, you need to have the direction of the lines in mind to deliver your message correctly.


The sharper that a line is in a photo, the more it suggests a sharp contrast. It attracts the attention of the viewer.

A sharp line should be used to mark abrupt changes in a photo. It behaves like a border. A slightly blurred or completely blurred line suggests a subtle change. It is a smooth transition between different planes. You must consider the sharpness of the lines in your photos to properly suggest your messages.


As you have already seen with your photos, colors have a very strong emotional impact on the viewers.

Color is an essential asset in providing an interesting visual experience to a viewer.

The color of a line is no exception to the rule. A blue line suggests calm, relaxation. A red color suggests energy or anger.

I will not detail in this paragraph the meaning of colors in photography. I have already described this in another article. I will come back to it a little further in this article.

Managing Lines in Photography

The parallelism of horizontal and vertical lines

When you include several horizontal lines in a photo, you must make sure that they are parallel. If you don't, it will be difficult for a viewer to read your photos.

The Perspective Management

When you use vertical lines in your photos, you have to straighten them if you use a wide-angle lens.

Your lines will tend to lean towards the center of your photo.

You must use software to straighten them. If you don't, you will distort the natural perspective. The viewer will not get into your story. You must correct the distortions and distortions induced by your photographic lens.

Using Lines in Photography is Essential

The line is the first element of art that you must use to create and make your rains interesting. They will have impact. Viewers will more easily understand their meaning.

Each line has a role. Each line has a meaning.

Your goal as a photographer is to know how to use them wisely to create and give a real visual experience to your viewers.

You must learn to master these codes. The lines simply express the true meaning of the world. They will help you to improve your compositions which will become both conscious and unconscious suggestions for your viewers.

Element #2 of Art: the Figure

A figure is obtained by closing lines. You can easily imagine a square or a circle.

Geometric figures such as circles or squares are governed by precise mathematical rules.

The organic figures are random. They are found in nature. They are curved and abstract.

Example of an imaginary figure: swordfish chasing a school of sardines.
Example of an imaginary figure: swordfish chasing a school of sardines.

Figures can be real or imaginary. When imaginary lines come together in a picture, you receive an imaginary figure.

The triangular shape of a sailfish's fins are an example of triangles found in nature. And not just any sort of triangle. The sailfish knows he looks sharp and snappy. The viewer takes one look and is immediately drawn to his brightly colored, giant orange and red fins.

But whether real or imagined, figures have a purpose in photography: to control how a viewer will perceive a composition.

For example, a triangle can help draw the eye to a particular area of a photo.

Figures created with lines are different from figures of speech.

In nature, figures are rare. They are often found on sand, rocks, and on flat planes in general.

When you encounter a golden leaf, or the paw of an animal, or a patch of sunlight among the plants, you are witnessing naturally occurring figures.

A figure delimits just a part of the space. It is in two dimensions.

Element #3 of Art to Use in Photography: the Shape

After line and figure, I'm going to reveal the third element of art you need to use in photography. It is the shape.

A shape is a figure that has depth. It has three dimensions. One may think of a basic example as a cube or a ball. In nature,the organic forms are more numerous.

Man-made geometric shapes are governed by mathematical formulas. This is the case of architecture, for example.

But nature also sometimes offers geometric shapes. This is the case of crystals.

If I mention this notion of form, you will think of sculpture or architecture. You are right. It is in elements of the utmost importance for these two art forms. However, it is possible to use form in photography, even if the medium is two-dimensional.

The secret is the use of shading. When you capture the shadow of a shape in a photo, you create modeling which in turn creates volumes.

Contour lines are also a technique for creating shapes.

In photography, shapes are generated by lines, movement and value (which I will explain in one of the following paragraphs).

The most important way to emphasize a shape is to incorporate the use of light. Depending on the angle of the light source to your subject, the light can add volume or flatten a subject.

To dramatize a scene and give volume to a shape, you must create shadows. Preferably low-angled or slanted lighting, as those are often best.

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The change of perspective can also alter the enhancement of a photo.

For example, if you shoot your subject from the front, you will flatten its shape. Approaching your subject from an angle will give it relief and volume.

You've got it: the choice of the angle of the light and the choice of the angle of loss of sight will flatten or accentuate the shape of your subject.

Another technique for giving shape to a subject is to play with the depth of field. If you use a shallow depth of field, you will have your subject separate from your background. This will give you a well-defined shape.

Personally, in order to emphasize the shapes in my photos, I use black and white. Black and white has a very wide range of tones (this is called tonal sensitivity). The differences in tone give depth to the photos. The shapes are very accentuated. If you prefer color, be aware that in this case the photos are flatter, because the range of tones is often less extensive.

I recommend using very bright colors to give your photos a three-dimensional look.

Movement in a photo is also a great way to emphasize shapes. For example, if you move your camera while shooting, you will create a panning effect. Your shape will have a blurred outline. This will accentuate its visibility and readability.

Finally, to accentuate the shapes in your photos, I recommend that you pay close attention to the light and its angle. Choose black and white or bright colors and be sure to play with the depth of field until you feel comfortable experimenting. Now it is time to explore the 4th element.

Element #4 of Art: Wielding Color

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