Vertical Lines, as well as diagonal lines, are used in photography composition to add dimension and convey different emotions.
While diagonal lines are useful to help drive the viewer’s attention to a point in the scene, with vertical lines you can express moods and alter the perception of a variety of aspects of your image, depending on the context. For example, trees will convey a feeling of strength and stability, vertical patterns can enhance the sense of height, and in general, they are a tool you can use to break horizontal lines and add a sense of depth.
In this article I’m going to show you examples of how to use vertical lines in your composition and what are the different meanings.
Related Guide: Forest Photography
The Meaning of Vertical Lines
In order to understand the subliminal meaning of vertical lines, it is important to understand the concept first. The concept of vertical lines is similar to any other photography composition technique.
The purpose of composition techniques in photography is to create meaning, emotion, tell a story, and help the viewer appreciate the photos guiding the attention through the scene.
Subliminal meanings are registered subconsciously when we are exposed to certain experiences. By learning this, you can use them effectively in your photos to communicate with your viewers.
Strength & Respect
Vertical lines promote feelings of strength and respect. For example, they can be seen on stone pillars.
When an individual is standing up straight and tall, we give them a level of respect and dignity. Subconsciously our brains identify vertical lines as strength, power, and respect.
Vertical Lines: Height & Infinite Capacity
They can be used to promote feelings of height and infinite capacity. When we think of fireworks shooting vertically or tall trees growing to the sky, we associate those occurrences with height and infinite reach.
For this reason, vertical lines subconsciously promote these same ideas. Depending upon the angle you are viewing, they can look limitless. This also enhances the idea that vertical lines symbolize infinite possibilities.
Stability & Instability
When vertical lines appear to be thick, we perceive them as stable. When they appear to be thin, we perceive them as unstable. When you see a skyscraper with thick steel reinforcement, you view it as a sturdy structure.
On the contrary, when you see thin branches on a young tree, you view them as unstable.
How to Use Vertical Lines in Your Compositions?
Thes types of lines are all around us, however, a few techniques should be learned in order to properly photograph them.
Shooting Vertical Lines in Portrait Orientation
There are two main options when shooting photos. The first is portrait. The second is landscape. These lines are best captured when using portrait. This helps to further emphasize the lines. One of the main goals when using vertical lines is to achieve the illusion of height and idea of infinity to your viewer. Portrait photos frame the vertical lines well.
It is important to note that there are always exceptions. For example, if you are trying to communicate both width and height to your viewer, landscape orientation could be the better option. For example, if you are photographing a forest with wide and tall trees, the landscape orientation can capture both characteristics. Landscape mode has the ability to capture the width and height of the trees without compromising one or the other.
Tips for Composing with Vertical Lines
Let’s explore some useful tips for composing with straight lines. First and foremost, try not to place them in the center of the photo. This can cause the photo to look awkward or unusual if the lines are not perfectly symmetrical.
This can disturb the balance of the photo and cause the viewer to be distracted. Instead, use the rule of thirds.
Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is extremely beneficial for enhancing straight lines. By splitting your photo into a 3×3 grid, you place your subject on either end of the photo. The end result will be much more aesthetically-pleasing.
Break up the Lines
Using objects to break up the lines can be helpful for adding contrast. Adding an object to break up the lines is perfect for creating a dynamic element.
There are so many unique options for breaking up the lines within your photo. Often times adding an object to break up the lines will allow the photo to look more polished and cohesive.
You can see like in the image above, a mix of horizontal and vertical lines creates a perfectly balanced composition.
There are various types of effects, cropping, and framing that can be accomplished with digital editing software.
Everything from lens correction to cropping and special effects can be achieved after your photo has been taken. This step is optional and depends on each photographer’s preferences.
If you want to add a spiritual mood, like in the image above, for example, add contrast when editing in Lightroom and make sure to obtain a good balance between highlights and shadows.
See more examples of vertical lines in photography here.
Learning photography composition techniques is important to grow as a photographer. No matter the photography style you prefer, vertical lines can be used in different contexts as a way to tell a story.
By now you should be able to recognize useful vertical patterns and lines in a scene. Combine the use of vertical and horizontal lines to break patterns, use it with diagonal lines to lead the viewer’s eye and tell a story.
Apply these technique and share your results in the comments below.
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Stefano Caioni is a photographer from Sydney, Australia. Founder and editor of Pixinfocus, his passion for photography helps him explore new places and live new adventures. Thanks to photography he reconnected with the outdoors and was able to travel the world and take photos of some of the most beautiful places on Earth.