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Design & Style

What Are Implied Lines In Photography? Learn About the 5 Types of Implied Lines in Photography and Why They’re Important

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 3 min read

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Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography

What separates great photographic artists from amateur hobbyists? Perhaps you’d assume that the difference mostly comes down to equipment and having the means to photograph major events, famous models, and far-flung vistas. In truth, photography is a craft and the best photographers approach each shot as a visual composition. One of the tools they use to this end is the notion of implied lines.

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What Are Implied Lines?

Implied lines are visual guideposts that photographers use to compose their photographic work. As the phrase suggests, these lines are not actual lines projected onto a photograph. However, if one looks at the spatial composition of a photo, one might observe a vertical, horizontal, diagonal, circular, or S-curved contour line that serves to arrange the subject matter.

5 Types of Implied Lines

Photographers use many varieties of implied lines to steer a viewer’s eye, establish a focal point, convey perspective, and otherwise orient a viewer’s perspective. Here are the main types of implied lines used by professional photographers.

  1. Vertical lines. Vertical lines are a type of line used in nature photography, where the main subject is a tree or a geographic edifice like a rock wall or a waterfall. Building photography also emphasizes strong vertical lines via its visual subjects. Objects that stand vertically naturally “want” to be photographed with vertical orientation. (Imagine how aggravating it would be to look at a photo of a giant sequoia tree that is tilted diagonally at a ten-degree angle.) Implied vertical lines help photographers maintain the photographic “rule of thirds” to divide their composition.
  2. Horizontal lines. Horizontal lines are implied in many photographic images. Think of an Olympic swimmer traversing a lane the pool or a long vista in Arizona’s Monument Valley. Implied horizontal lines can suggest order and harmony—a sense that everything is proceeding as it should. Like implied vertical lines, implied horizontal lines can also help a photographer divide their composition using the “rule of thirds.” Learn more about the rule of thirds in our guide here.
  3. Diagonal lines. Implied diagonal lines suggest motion and momentum. Think of a bird taking flight, a baseball leaving the bat, or an airplane pitching toward the sky. These photographs are often oriented along implied diagonal lines, which create a sense of action and progress.
  4. Curved lines. Implied curves convey a sense of beauty, elegance, and grace. Models are often asked to assume curved poses for fashion photographs. Jewelry and other manmade treasures are often aligned in a curved orientation when they are photographed.
  5. S-curves. S-curves can be integrated with other implied lines to form a complete visual portrait. Think of a landscape photograph that includes a riverbend or the saddle of a two-peaked mountain. A human model may be standing or laying in an S-curved pose alongside other objects that are arranged vertically or horizontally. The mixture of implied lines creates a complexity that may not be present in more rudimentary photography.
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What Are Leading Lines?

Leading lines will steer a viewer’s attention toward an area of focus within a photograph. Imagine a photo of a train on the railroad tracks. If a photograph features the tracks with the actual train somewhere off in the distance, then the straight tracks provide a leading line guiding the viewer’s gaze up to that focal object, the train. The tracks might be oriented horizontally, but more than likely they’ll follow a diagonal trajectory, which subconsciously reminds us of the motion of the train.

From portraits to composed scenes to landscape photography, implied lines can provide a sense of balance, focus, and spatial arrangement. They are an excellent tool for photographers of all interests and abilities.

Want to Become a Better Photographer?

Whether you’re just starting out or have dreams of going professional, photography requires plenty of practice and a healthy dose of creativity. No one knows this better than legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz, who has spent decades mastering her craft. In Annie Leibovitz’s MasterClass on photography, she reveals tips on working with subjects, crafting concepts, and shooting with natural light.

Want to become a better photographer? The MasterClass Annual Membership provides exclusive video lessons from master photographers, including Annie Leibovitz, Jimmy Chin, and more.

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