How to Use Line and Shape in Photography

A classic view of Hohensalzburg Fortress from the beautiful Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg, Austria.

Line and shape are two of the most essential compositional elements photographers can employ to better construct their images. Look at this photo - it’s a classic view of the Hohensalzburg Fortress made from the iconic Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg, Austria.

How To Use Line And Shape In Your Photos

You’ll notice the proliferation of shapes throughout the frame. The slightly semi-circular bed of yellow flowers in the foreground and the rectangular, square and circular shapes within the buildings and trees are all cases in point.

But it’s the rectangular shape of the otherwise nondescript path and the line it creates that leads from the bed of flowers in the foreground to the fountain in the mid ground which, in turn, points the way to the distant fortress that’s, perhaps, the most important compositional element in the entire image. 

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Its function is to act as a pathway to lead the viewer through the frame and, in doing so, to create the illusion of three dimensional space within the bounds of the two dimensional photograph.

It’s amazing how such an otherwise banal feature can be so important to a successful composition. It’s not just a vacant space. The path has a critical role in moving people through the landscape and, in this case, the viewer through the frame.

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Next time you visit a formerly structured garden or a major city monument look to see how pathways are used to visually connect important features within that space and beyond. 

I remember making this very same connection while on a visit to the Australian capital, Canberra. Such places are special. They neither contain the chaotic beauty of nature, nor the more tamed beauty of a rambling English garden. It’s an ordered and constructed beauty, but it’s beauty all the same. And by paying special attention to composition, when making your photos, you can both celebrate and better appreciate the inherent structure that underpins such places.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru