Bridge over the river Aa with fire escape on the right, 1968, Farla & Van Mackelenbergh, Stadsarchief 's-Hertogenbosch, CC BY-SA

As well as using pattern and repetition, photographers often create visual impact through clever use of line. Leading lines are very useful in photography: they pull the viewer into the scene, create depth and direct the eye.

The depicted objects themselves are often linear - roads, ridges, tracks or wires. In this shot of workers paving an underpass, photographer Heinz Pollmann has our eyes following the upward motion of the slope by using a plethora of lines: from the kerbstones and the tiled walls, to the capstone and the double rail on top.

Apart from utilising lines already present, a photographer can also suggest a line without it really being there. When looking at such ‘implied lines’, our mind’s eye unconsciously fills in the gaps. In this picture of a morning market in Kimberley, Robert Harris brilliantly uses the lines suggested by the rows of cattle to make our gaze zigzag through the panorama.

The placement of the horizon shows Harris employing another well-known practice involving the use of imaginary lines: the rule of thirds. When an image is divided into thirds (horizontally and vertically), the 4 inner lines and intersections of the resulting grid point to the most important parts of the image. A photographer can use this grid to strategically place points of interest. The rule of thirds helps images to gain balance and facilitates a natural interaction with the viewer.

This evocative and poetic image by Peter Henry Emerson demonstrates how the rule of thirds can steer image composition: the flash of light above the horizon is positioned on the upper, horizontal line. The body of the female figure is following the right vertical line, with her head positioned at the upper right intersection as the focal point of the picture.

Haymaking in Norfolk Broads, 1885/86, Peter Henry Emerson, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain Mark
Haymaking in Norfolk Broads, 1885/86, Peter Henry Emerson, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain Mark
The Leviathan in dry dock, 1930, anonymous, Topfoto.co.uk, In Copyright
The Leviathan in dry dock, 1930, anonymous, Topfoto.co.uk, In Copyright

Perspective too is connected with position, angle and line. Photographers often experiment with perspective, either by picking a position diverging from a normal viewpoint (bird’s or worm’s eye view), either by using multiple vanishing points and perspective lines. This striking photograph of the Atlantic liner SS Leviathan is carefully aimed at the front of the ship, in an almost straight-upward line. This helps to emphasise the monumentality of the structure, and lends an almost abstract and artistic quality to Leviathan’s bow.

Perspective can alter the appearance of reality, as lines appear to converge in the distance. In this imaginative shot, the leading lines of the fence, the tree-trunks and the bridge work together with the lines suggested by the river bank, the benches and the foliage of the trees. Because of these diagonals, the landscape in the background seems to be bending toward us.

Villa interior, 1963, anonymous, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain Mark
Villa interior, 1963, anonymous, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain Mark

If you’d like to discover more photographs with a great sense of composition, explore Karl Heinrich Lämmel’s work in Europeana or explore Europeana Photography to retrieve gems such as this anonymous picture. Despite its simple subject - an empty hallway - this photograph is incredibly clever, with its slightly tilted viewpoint, multiple incidences of light, repeated motifs – (the curls of the wrought ironwork, the arch, the curved shadow on the wall – and commanding lines – the dark painted part of the wall fading into the handrail.

Bridge over the river Aa with fire escape on the right, 1968, Farla & Van Mackelenbergh, Stadsarchief 's-Hertogenbosch, Public Domain Mark
Bridge over the river Aa with fire escape on the right, 1968, Farla & Van Mackelenbergh, Stadsarchief 's-Hertogenbosch, Public Domain Mark