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The power of Lines

The power of Lines

In composition, lines play a great role and must not be underestimated. Lines will help you give a direction to your photo, for your eyes to follow and lead to the subject or point of interest. This makes the photo easier to look at and to understand, so more pleasant to the eyes.

Lines are also a very efficient way to give depth to the image, for example using a road or buildings, so it is great to combine lines with depth of field for a greater depth.



This is what we already know about lines. They are efficient and lead your photo, give a direction. But there is much more to that, when applying lines to people and portraiture photography.


woman and son on the railway in Myanmar

Using the railways as lines increase the depth

Lines will also help to give a feeling to your photo. Here we can start talking about shapes as well as lines: there are direct, straight, hard lines, and there are also round, soft and curved lines.


Straight and direct lines will tend to give a more dynamic feeling to your photo. There are used a lot in landscape photography as it will give the whole dynamism to the image. That is also why they are so efficient to give a direction to the photo. Triangles are said to be “hard” shapes for example.

Round and curved lines, on the contrary, will give a softer feeling to your photo, and will create on the level of consciousness a more relaxed atmosphere. Circles are shapes that we associate with a soft and calm feeling.


Mini monk running in a temple in Bagan

Very directional lines give dynamism and lead the eyes

Keeping this in mind, it would be interesting in portraiture photography to combine shapes and lines, with the power of colors.


Warmer tones could be associated with hard and straighter lines. Cooler tones could be associated with more round and curved lines.


A good example of harder and very directional lines is the triangle. While it gives a great dynamism to the photo, it may be more suitable to action images, something including movement. Combining triangles with warmer color tones (red, orange, yellow) will increase this dynamism and feeling excitement.


2 Vietnamese girls playing

the obvious triangle shape increases the dynamism of the image and frames the main subject

On the contrary, the portrait of a young child looking with soft / tired eyes would be more suitable to be matched with round and curved lines, as well as cooler color tones (blueish).

Of course, this is only theory, and does not have to be applied on each portrait (and definitely cannot be applied on each portrait). But it is interesting to keep it in mind while doing a photo critic for example. One will realize that colors and shapes give on the subconscious level a lot of indication on the subject’s mood.


Burmese boy

Round shapes are softer


Lines have been around for a while, and discussed in many articles. But most people tend to think about them and apply them in landscape or street photography. I do think that lines play a primordial role in portraiture photography, and it is quite innovative to apply them even on very close up portraits.


Using people’s facial traits and accessories (like glasses or hats) will help create a whole dynamic, a completely new direction and feeling associated to your photo. And this is why I love people photography: while getting close to your subject may feel, for the inexperienced ones, like breaking the dynamic of your subject being natural, it is then very challenging, as well as creative and rewarding, to create a whole new dynamic.


Having your subject smiling and tilting their heads, or moving their hats on a side can create a very dynamic diagonal line, a positive feeling of happiness. On the contrary, a sad and soft looking subject, combined with a rounded head shape and some curved lines on the background will give the whole photo a softer feeling. On top of that, adding cooler tones to the whole photo (either by picking up specific elements of the background / foreground or by adding them on post processing) will increase the soft feeling.


None with umbrella in Myanmar

Round shapes, cooler tones and soft focus play together in this image

A quick tip here: using a very shallow depth of field, you can transform many elements and lights present in your background into nice and round shapes thanks to the Bokeh your lens will achieve.

Also, as I have previously mentioned in my article about the blur, you can use a very shallow depth of field, or even having your subject out of focus, to create an even softer feel associated to your subject.


But this can only be created either by chance or by interacting with your subject, going and chat with them until you realize how you can apply the power of lines and colors to your portrait.


Burmese girl

Soft subjects with soft shapes


I love people photography, they allow you to be so much more creative. Thanks to all my subjects all over South East Asia!


I would like to thank Craig Tanner and The Mindful Eye, which is a daily great source of inspiration for me. I do recommend that you go and check out his amazing videos, one of the best source of inspiration I have found so far.


Most of the photos used in this article where taken in October 2013 during my photography tour in Myanmar


Founder of Pics of Asia, Etienne is a teacher with a photography habit.

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