Tips for Using Vertical Lines in Your Composition

September 10

11 min. to read

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Using Vertical Lines in Your Composition – Take Your Photography to the Next Level


Composition is hugely important in photography. You should understand how to properly compose your photos. Moreover, you should have a basic grasp of composition techniques.

What is the subliminal meaning of vertical lines in your composition?

First you must understand what vertical lines actually mean. Different photographic techniques create different subliminal meanings. Subliminal meanings are triggered in the back of your mind; they’re meanings that are evoked subconsciously when we see certain things. If you understand what vertical lines mean, you can use them wisely in your compositions to create emotive images.

Strength and dignity

When we look at vertical lines, we think of strength. If you look at a series of stone pillars, for example, your brain will automatically feel a sense of strength. Moreover, vertical lines represent dignity. We associate dignity with people standing tall and proud, in the same way that vertical lines do.

Imposing height and infinite reach

Vertical lines create the illusion of height. If you see a series of trees bunched together, reaching to the sky, you think of great height. Certain vertical lines can also create an illusion of infinity, as if the subject continues into the distance for an indeterminable length.

Stability/instability

Thick vertical lines represent stability. We see thick lines in a building and automatically think that it’s secure and will stand the test of time. Thin vertical lines, on the other hand, can represent weakness and instability.

How to correctly use vertical lines in your compositions

Now that you understand what vertical lines mean, we can look at how to use them. You can’t simply find a natural vertical line and then photograph it. There are certain composition techniques you should follow. Moreover, there are different ways that you can shoot vertical lines. The following are some important compositional tips to consider.

Shoot in portrait orientation

Photos can be shot in portrait or landscape orientation. They can even be shot at a tilt (but don’t do this!). Ninety-nine percent of the time, vertical lines in photography should be shot using a vertical orientation. Why? To emphasize the verticality. One of the main aims of vertical lines is to show height – you’re trying to give the impression of infinity.

Shooting a photo in landscape mode reduces this effect. Landscape photos give the impression of great width – they work well with horizontal lines. By shooting in portrait mode, you increase the perception of height, framing the vertical lines perfectly.

There are exceptions to the rule. You may want to convey both width and height, for example in a forest where you want to show the enormity of the forest and the height of the trees. Shooting in landscape orientation could be preferable for this composition. The photo below has been shot in landscape orientation; the vertical lines simply wouldn’t look right in portrait orientation.

Tips for Using Vertical Lines in Your Composition Image1

Use convergence to your advantage

Convergence is a technique where vertical lines converge toward a central point. Let’s say you’re looking up at a tree. At the bottom, the trunk is wide. As you look up, the trunk appears to become narrower. This is convergence. This technique can help enhance the effect of vertical lines. In the example below, you can see how convergence has been used on the vertical running track lines.

Tips for Using Vertical Lines in Your Composition Image2

Use grid mode on your camera to align vertical lines uniformly

Most DSLR cameras have a grid mode. When using this mode, a grid is placed on the display screen/viewfinder. This grid can work wonders. First, it can help you position your lines using the rule of thirds.

Second, it can help you align your vertical lines properly by positioning your camera so that the vertical lines run parallel to the grid lines. By doing so, you know that your vertical lines are positioned correctly. Most cameras actually have several different grid sizes. This gives you flexibility as you can change the grid size to suit the vertical lines you’re shooting.

Experiment with different lens types to create different effects

When taking photos, you can use myriad lenses for your DSLR camera. The right lenses can create some cool effects, especially when using vertical lines. For example, a wide angle lens when used in portrait mode can create super stretched photos. This can help maintain the illusion of height. Alternatively, a lens with a zoom of 200 mm or higher can create a tighter crop, which can create a narrow and imposing vertical line composition.

Use the rule of thirds when composing your vertical lines

Many photographers make the mistake of placing the main vertical lines in the center of their compositions. This creates almost a symmetrical effect. If the vertical lines aren’t evenly placed, the balance of the composition can look strange.

Use the rule of thirds, splitting your photo into a 3x3 grid. The idea is that you should place the main subject in a corner of the photo, not in the center. Place your subject either in the top left, top right, bottom left, or bottom right along the gridlines. Placing the prominent vertical lines in your composition using the rule of thirds will give a much more desirable result.

Look for complementary objects to break up the lines

Sometimes, a plain photo with vertical lines can work wonders, as seen below. Inserting an object to break up those lines can also work well. Look for interesting combinations of vertical lines within other settings. This can add an extra dynamic to your photos. In the photo below, the crayon lines on the paper are broken by the crayons themselves:

Tips for Using Vertical Lines in Your Composition Image3

Use post-processing software to improve your composition

No matter how carefully you set up your shot, there’s always room for improvement. This is the magic of digital photography. If you don’t quite get the composition right, you can edit the photograph afterward. Ensure that you save your photos as RAW files for maximum editing potential.

Using a program such as Luminar with built-in raw converter, you can correct your image. If you didn’t quite get the vertical lines right, you can alter the crop and framing. Alternatively, if you had lens flare or distortion, you can use the lens correction tool. Luminar has a plethora of handy features. You can transform your vertical line photos into masterpieces with this software. Below, you can see the crop tool being used in Luminar.

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Tips for Using Vertical Lines in Your Composition Image4

Where can you find vertical lines for your photography?

So we know what vertical lines mean. We also know how to use them in a composition. But where can you find vertical lines? What natural objects have vertical lines? What human-made structures have prominent vertical lines? If you look around and explore, you can actually find vertical lines practically anywhere! Here are some examples of common vertical lines and leading lines:

  • Sheet metal (storage containers, etc.)
  • Stone columns of historical buildings
  • Clumps of trees within forests
  • Groups of animal legs
  • Glass-paneled skyscrapers
  • People
  • Monuments
  • Railway lines
  • Roads
  • Streets with buildings

These are just a few examples. You can literally find vertical lines in everyday life. Vertical lines don’t have to be obvious, either. Look for subtle uses of vertical lines. For example, a person standing against the leading line of a field is a great use of vertical lines. Be creative and simply use your eyes to spy vertical lines in your immediate surroundings!

As you can see, photo composition is important. Moreover, both vertical and horizontal lines can create stunning effects. When creating photographs with vertical lines, Luminar can really help during post-processing. You can use Luminar to fine-tune your images. Moreover, you can use the cropping tool and lens correction features to improve the composition. Download a free trial of Luminar today and see the difference it can make in your vertical line photography!

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