Here is another thoughtful discussion from Steve Gustafson about how lines can influence emotion in a photo. 

Last time we discussed how your eye responds to lines. Since we know that your eye would rather follow a line then cross it, a photographer has some control on where a viewer looks in a photograph. Lines can guide a viewer to a specific subject or act as a divider in the frame of a photograph.

Knowing someone’s eye will follow the path of a line gives insight into why the shape of a line has an emotional impact on a person. The eye moves in a rhythm as it travels along the line and this rhythm is what stimulates the emotion. Just like rhythm in music, eye movement has the ability to  produce an emotional response. Long notes that are held for several beats gently transitioning  into the next, will have the same soothing effect of a slow curving line. Notes that are sharp and quickly change in rapid succession will cause tension and excitement in the same way as jagged or crossing lines.

Dirty grunge damaged vintage paper texture with stains and dark borders

Notice the different emotional value of the lines… I probably should have made the top one bend the other way to make a smile. 😀

Notice in the lines below that the frequency and amplitude of the wave changes the feeling.

The style of line and the amount can have an impact.

This feeling change is due to the eye movement along the path of the line. The less frequent and shorter the amplitude the more calm the line feels.

In the image below the eye tries to follow the line but must then drop down at each sharp angle. It picks up the line again only to be interrupted again. This constant interruption cause a feeling of tension in the mind of the viewer.

interruptions create stress… just like the missing r in the word interruptions. 😀

Once we understand the feeling derived from lines, we are able to create or enhance meaning in the frame of a photograph. The image below was rendered B&W placing more emphasis on the lines created by the flower petals. These lines communicate a gentle or calm emotion in the mind due to their long curves and intersections that flow into each other. The lines reinforce the gentleness of a flower.


In this image the angular lines reinforce the tension in the rowing team. The angles are sharp and the lines are constantly interrupted by the men in the boat. Darkening the background in post processing cause the white lines to stand out which added meaning to the image.  


There are lines of some kind in almost every photograph. Some are obvious while others are subtle like the line created by a horizon. A good understanding of the emotional impact of lines  will enable you to create or enhance meaning in a photograph. Adding meaning to a photograph provides perception in the mind of a viewer and “perception is like water to a parched throat”.

(George Santayana)