Photography Cheat Sheet: Using Lines to Evoke Emotions

Whether you’re drawn to abstracts and patterns or simply want to use leading lines to make your compositions dynamic, this photography cheat sheet brings some ideas to try.

Experimental approaches to photography often borrow from other creative disciplines like cinema, illustration, and painting. With this in mind, we thought it would be interesting to glean from the pages of Creative Illustration by American illustrator, author, and art instructor Andrew Loomis. Today, we invite you to look at his concepts on lines to supplement what we already know about using leading lines and shapes for photography composition.

Previously, we shared a photography cheat sheet with 19 tips for achieving better compositions, and another one for composing using the rule of thirds. In this “cheat sheet” from Loomis’ Creative Illustration book, we study his suggestions on using lines to evoke an emotional response in the viewer.

Here are the captions from left to right, beginning from the top row:

  • Angles for agitation, confusion, clash, insecurity, action, strife
  • Verticals for dignity, strength, permanence, stability, awe
  • Horizontals for repose, calm, quietude, peace, tranquility
  • Radii for glory, devotion, duty, patriotism, unity, ambition, freedom
  • Radiation for shock, attention
  • Spirals for motion, power, excitement
  • Triangles for permanence, security
  • Rhythm for grace, charm, movement
  • Light for hope, love, ambition
  • Broken shapes for instability, uncertainty
  • Obliques for combat, confusion, clash
  • Rectangles for stability, strength, unity
  • Circles for immensity, vastness, eternity, motion, equality, deliverance
  • Ovals for femininity, creativeness, sensuosity, grace, perpetuation
  • Informal subdivision for activity, excitement, elasticity, progress
  • Formal division for dignity, unity, balance, formality, strength

A careful study tells us that the use of lines and shapes in this guide is especially applicable for photography projects that use a lot of leading lines and patterns. Architectural photography, for example, uses a lot of verticals, triangles, rectangles, and divisions to focus on geometry. Perhaps this goes unnoticed at first glance, but they do create impressions of strength, permanence, and stability. But we also see other lines and shapes in beautiful landscape photography. The rhythm in curves, the horizontal compositions for a variety of scenery, and the radiating light of sunrise and sunset — all of these evoke emotions and concepts like calmness quietude, tranquility, hope, movement, and grace.

Looking for more quick photography tips and tricks like this? Don’t forget to check out the rest of our photography cheat sheets so far!