Why and How: Using Lines in Nature Photography

Lines are essential elements in nature photography. They have multiple goals. In this article, I will give you keys to use the different types of line that are available to you.

Horizontal lines on the surface of the water with warm tones create a soft and soothing photograph.
Horizontal lines on the surface of the water with warm tones create a soft and soothing photograph.

Definition of a Line

There are many definitions of the word line. The one that interests me the most is the following.

A line is a real or imaginary spell that separates two contiguous elements; intersection of two surfaces. For instance: the line of the horizon.

Why Using Lines in Nature Photography?

In nature photography, the lines are intended to direct the eye of the viewer towards the centers of interest.

The line and its management can have u no impact on the composition of your photographs.

It represents a path that allows the eyes to move in the image. It captivates the viewer's attention from your photos.

On the other hand, a line can influence mood and emotional perception. A line can divide, unify, accentuate certain parts of a composition. There are different types of lines. Each has a different impact.

But how using the lines in a nature photograph?

That's what I'm going to explain to you now.

The Guideline

The guideline is based on optical effects created in a photo.

It is also called the suggested line.

It is obtained by isolating a detail of the subject (coral for example). Graphic design becomes the subject. It is more cerebral. Abstraction needs the sensuality of texture to gain emotion. This is especially true in close-up photography.

It is not formalized on the photograph by a real line. It is suggested by photographic elements that give a direction that the eye will follow. It is the eye of the viewer that completes the missing elements. It is for this reason that we call it guide: it does not really exist but yet it directs towards a specific point of the photo.

For example, in a wildlife photography if animals are running in one direction, it is creating a guideline. The eye will automatically go in that direction. A row of trees oriented in a certain direction will create a guideline.

In nature photography, it is a technique that is widely used because we often find suggestive lines.

A guideline makes it possible to point out an interesting subject because it leads the look of a part towards another one of the image.

It can also go from the foreground to the background.

A guideline is most effective when it establishes a relationship between the line and the main focus of the scene.

Several guidelines can coexist in a photograph. The impact will be all the stronger.

The direction in which the red deer stag looks in this black and white photo is a strong guideline.
The direction in which the red deer stag looks in this black and white photo is a strong guideline.

Anchor Points, Lines, Reading direction

A viewer often enters in an image through an anchor. This point was retained by the viewer according to his sensitivity.

Once the anchor is read, the viewer then walks along the indicators provided by the photographer: lines, shapes, masses. These indicators allow the overall understanding of the image.

Lines have a role in delaying playback of an image. As Westerners we read from left to right.

Lines and anchors allow you to delay this reading.

The Oblique Line

The oblique line is a line that can be material or not.

It can be oriented in any direction. It is used mainly to separate a photo into two equal parts or not.

It can also be used to direct the viewer's eye to a specific point. An oblique line is one that has the most value and impact.

The Diagonal Line

The diagonal line is the one that occupies the most space in a photo because it goes from one corner to another.

It creates the right balance between the vertical and horizontal lines. In nature photography, it is often suggested by a movement or an animal attitude.

In underwater photography for example, it is a line that is very easy to create because you just have to switch the box to get it.

The space in the underwater world can be modified at will.

This is not true in terrestrial photography: the photographer must use natural lines while keeping his camera horizontal or vertical.

The diagonal is a powerful line. It suggests action, strength.

When two diagonals intersect, they give a very strong impact to a photograph because they are directed in different directions.

It gives energy to a picture. A diagonal that goes up makes you want to climb, to go higher. The diagonal bottom left up high right (main diagonal) is the most powerful for photographers.

The secondary diagonal that goes from the bottom to the top is weaker and encourages more meditation.

When in a photograph there is a horizontal line, a vertical line and a diagonal line, it is always the latter which prevails.

A diagonal can be used in a photograph to bring dynamism, movement.

The Horizontal Line

The horizontal line is the most natural to human vision.

It gives us a landmark.

It brings a notion of depth, calm and rest. It must be used in photographs that evoke calm, serenity.

A horizontal line in a photograph implies stability and tranquility. It can be used to convey the feeling of eternity or a stopped moment of time which is the essence of photography. It transmits a static atmosphere.

It can also be used to balance against the dynamism of a diagonal line.

It expresses the solidity, the anchoring. A horizon line placed low enough in the image makes it possible to create two distinct planes.

It allows to create plans in a photo. Each plan has its own color, its own tones.

A horizontal line can be real as a horizon or a natural form like the back of a vertical drop. In this case, its function is to separate two different natural environments. It allows to divide a photo into different parts.

She can also be like a guideline. I mean suggested by a natural phenomenon. But be careful because in this case, it has less impact than the actual line.

The Vertical Line

The vertical line is more powerful than the horizontal line. It brings a dimension of action and strength. It can also be real or director.

It encourages the eye to go from bottom to top and up and down to explore a photo. It is well suited to portrait format.

A vertical line transmits power, size, or height.

It can be perceived as rigid because it sets limits. It contributes to the two-dimensional sensation of the image. This is the opposite effect of the diagonal.

Curves and Spirals

A curve such as a spiral allows the viewer to travel in the picture while the rows divided into parts each with its own property. This allows highlighting hidden items.

Straight lines directly guide the eye and are more directive, stronger. The curves allow to be more evasive, more evocative.

Converging Lines

Convergent lines convey depth, breadth and distance. They allow to show a world in three dimensions on a photo that is in two dimensions. Convergent lines well placed to direct the gaze towards a subject.

In nature photography, you can as example, two paths that converge towards a specific point of a photo. Clouds can also direct the gaze towards a point of convergence.

Framing and Lines

The vertical or horizontal framing will reinforce or oppose the direction of the lines. This phenomenon creates a tension in the image. A photographer must always think carefully about the types of lines that he introduces into a photo according to the framing, or it will give less impact to his construction.


I hope that this article will have convinced you that the lines have essential elements to invigorate your pictures to make them interesting.

They allow to divide, to separate but also to direct the gaze towards specific points of a photo.

Feel free to use them in your photographic creations.

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Article published on Friday, December 06, 2019 . Written by
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