John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche

The Line

After the point, the line is the most basic visual element. It is fundamental to human experience.

The first thing you drew as a child was a line. The first thing any human drew was a line. It is the basis of all alphabets. Just think of all the expressions that indicate how important the line is to our everyday experience: “Get in line”…. “Toe the line”…. “Walk the line”… “Don’t cross the line.”

These expressions reveal the two basic functions of the line: to create a sense of direction and to create a border between two spaces on either side of it.

The eye in humans, and many animals as well, wants to follow a visible line. It is biologically programmed, probably for evolutionary survival reasons. Many creatures move along the edges of an environment, so take notice of it. That line over there indicates a boundary to another space, perhaps very different from this space, so beware.

Geometry tells us the line has no width but only length. That kind of line in photography might manifest itself as an edge that has no particular character of its own other than its length and orientation. It serves primarily to mark the division between two areas. Two or more lines interacting form a shape. The outline of the shape tends to be more important to the eye than the individual lines themselves.

Types of lines

When a line in photography attains substantial width, it starts to take on a character of its own: tone, color, texture. Even without a noticeable width, lines have different shapes and directions, which adds to the variety of their family. They fall into the following types:

slightly horizontal
slightly vertical

Each of these lines has its own unique perceptual and psychological characteristics, which we'll explore here in Photographic Psychology.

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Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche