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How Vertical Lines can Improve our Composition

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Related course: Simply Stunning Landscapes

Why you Should know About Vertical Lines

Vertical lines come after horizontal lines in terms of importance and that’s for one single reason: the way our eyes view an image.
Our eyes scan a photo from left to right horizontally, picking up horizontal lines first. Because of this, vertical lines are excellent at complimenting horizontal ones with their perpendicular, stopping nature as they intersect. This is a great technique for adding tension to a photo.
Vertical lines have a very important place in photography and art in the way that we perceive a photo, this perception encompasses a wide range of things, depending on what the photo is of.
A photo of a vertical tree may allow the perception of growth, uplifting and a sense of something spiritual as shown the photo below. A building would give a sense of dominance, power, performance and stability such as in the photo below the trees.
It’s all about what’s in the photo and how this interacts with whatever else is in the frame. Photo of green trees in sunlight, demonstrating the use of vertical lines in photography compositionPhoto of a building with a colonnade against the blue sky, demonstrating the use of vertical lines in photography composition

Portrait

The simplest way of presenting a photo with a strong sense of vertical lines is to shoot in portrait orientation.
The vertical edges being closer together than in landscape accentuate the vertical form and encourage the viewer to see the lines present within the photo. Keeping vertical lines close to the sides, as in the photo below, helps encourage the comparison of lines in the photo with the vertical frame. Photo of the sea coast taken from inside a cafe, demonstrating the use of vertical lines in photography composition

Depth

It’s easy to create a sense of depth in a photo with vertical lines by taking two or more objects that we know to be the same (or roughly so) height and placing one further away than the other.
As we know, this makes the vertical line appear smaller, providing a sense of depth. Have a look at the trees and bridge in the photos below demonstrating this.Photo of a city street with palm trees on the left and skyscrapers on the right, demonstrating the use of vertical lines in photography compositionPhoto of a bridge surrounded by green forest, demonstrating the use of vertical lines in photography composition

Perspective

Perspective has a very obvious effect on photos; using different focal lengths can have a huge effect on how lines are seen in a photo.
Up close, the effects are obvious, like the photo of the trees in the woods above; the further away the lines get, the closer together they appear to be.
If you’re much further away, using longer focal lengths, the objects appear closer together and therefore more straight by comparison. Have a look at my comparison below taken from my tutorial on focal length to fully understand this. Perspective shown on 4 photos of canned food packages placed at a different distance to each other

Positioning

A vertical line can appear to cut a frame in half when placed in the center of the photo, shown in the image below.
This can be a useful technique but, the majority of the time, it’s not how I want my photo to look as it adds tension and takes away interest. If you place the subject of a photo slightly to one side, as in the second photo below, the photo becomes more interesting.Photo of an obelisk against blue sky, demonstrating the use of vertical lines in photography compositionPhoto of an obelisk against blue sky, demonstrating the use of vertical lines in photography composition

Vertical Lines in Landscape Photos

Below is a great example of vertical lines within a horizontal frame changing the feeling from vertical lines continuing vertically out of the frame, to vertical lines continuing on a horizontal plane out of the frame.
Because you can’t see where the lines stop repeating, you get a sense of infinity and that the photo couldn’t contain it, along with a sense of stability from the intersecting horizontal line. Blurred photo of a person on a stage taken from behind bars, demonstrating the use of vertical lines in photography composition
When there are multiple vertical lines in a frame, it’s best to shoot in landscape to contain them, giving a sense of depth and repetition in the photo. Had this photo been shot in portrait, it would have lost its sense of repetition and drawn the eye up and down the photo rather then left to right. Portrait of a female model posing outdoors in front of a wooden structure, demonstrating the use of vertical lines in photography composition

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