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How Using Horizontal Lines will Strengthen Your Composition

Related course: Simply Stunning Landscapes

Why You Should Know How to Use Horizontal Lines

Horizontal lines exist in everything we see and are the basis of every composition.
Even photos with no straight lines in them are bound by the horizontal or vertical frame containing them. It’s important to understand the effect that a horizontal line has on a photo to allow for a better understanding of how to use it effectively.

Horizontal Lines

Using horizontal lines is a great way to group together different elements in a photo as well as helping to establish detail within a photograph, such as direction and location.
When it comes to composing a photo, horizontal lines are quite bland and unexciting – after all, we already see them everywhere. To make these photos more interesting, you need to try to find a way of putting these lines to good use.

Horizons

Unbroken horizons are generally quite boring to look at.
Have a look at this first photo below; it’s dull and uninteresting. The second photo, on the other hand, takes the horizontal line of the water’s horizon and intersects it with the foreground, making a much more interesting image. Sea and mountains in the horizon covered in mistSea line with mountains in the background and a couple yachts

Stability

Horizontal lines give the impression of stability because of their relation to the horizon and the ground that we stand on. When you combine that with a material known for it’s strength, you can produce a photo that really stands out for it’s stability, such as the photo below. Two men on two floors of a parking lot looking through the railing

Perspective

If you take a photo of just one flower, you’ll struggle to see any horizontal lines in it but, when you take multiple objects and layer them in lines one after another, you’ll start to see an effect similar to that below.
The perspective is the most important part of this photo; if it weren’t for the height above the crops, you wouldn’t see the lines in the same way. The further away the flowers get from the camera, the straighter the lines seem to appear because the perspective is flattened.Photo of a field of yellow flowers with an old ruin of a building in the back
To understand how this works, I suggest you read my post on focal length but here’s a photo I used that best demonstrates my point.
Below that is another image of a group of buildings taken from very far away. You can see lines that would have gone off in different angles in reality which appear straight in the photo.
Perspective shown on 4 photos of canned food packages placed at a different distance to each otherPhoto of a sea coastline with houses and hotels on different levels

Viewpoint

Viewpoint is similar to perspective in that it is related to the angle of view. When I talk about viewpoint however, I’m talking about how we look at straight lines rather than taking something that isn’t in line and making it appear as though it is.
Height is very big factor in making this work as it shows you lines where you wouldn’t have otherwise seem them.
In a built up city like Washington DC (where the photo below was taken) you would struggle to find a straight line of a horizon but, when you get a height advantage, a very clear horizon appears. This also presents additional lines from the roads and paths within the photo.
Photos with horizons present a strong sense of location.Photo of a city from above

Contrast

Even the slightest bit of contrast in a photo will produce lines, as demonstrated by the photo below.
The ripples in the water moving away from the boat cast slight shadows on one side, producing multiple horizontal lines on the water.
Contrast (such as light and dark, big and small, bright and dull) has the greatest effect when placed in the foreground in the image as that’s where it will appear the largest. Photos with good contrast present a strong sense of direction and movement.Photo of the sea with a couple of yachts

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5 comments
  1. I was needing more understanding on how if the horizon line is near the top of an interior perspective would we see more space near the top of the composition.

Comments are closed.
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