Photo Composition: Line and Space

Photo Composition – Line and Space

Learning to See With Your Camera

Photographs of Asia: Using Line & Space

This is a short lesson on a few elements of composition to help improve your photography. This article is about: Photo Composition – Line and Space. It’s part of a series of lessons I am offering that eventually will be put together into an online course. Currently I travel in Asia as a travel photographer creating images that I sell as well as to use to illustrate for teaching purposes, and for Coffee Table Books and stock photography sales.

Thomas Levine has been a professional photographer for over 27 years and loves to share his knowledge of photography. Join Thomas’s To Follow my travels in Asia – FaceBook:  Travels Posts or Photography Posts. LinkedIn

Street Photography – © Thomas Levine Photography All Rights Reserved

Everyone loves to see what it’s like in other parts of the world. With the advent of digital and smart cameras,  Street Photography has become very popular. It can tell a story to your viewers. I define Street Photography as anything on the street or next to it.

photo composition: line and space, Cambodia Countryside,

Chinese tourists are getting a tour with water buffalos pulling carts in Cambodia.

I’d like to share a few ideas for those that want to create photographs of their trip to share with friends and family on social media, or just to improve their photography skills. No matter what your goal is in photography, Composition, Design and Lighting are always part of the equation

The principals of composition apply whether you’re using a smart phone camera, DSLR, or a mirrorless camera. Creating a photograph is not the same as taking a picture.  This is true with travel photography or at that matter, any kind of photography. There’s luck, and then there’s skill. Learning about what elements are involved in gaining constant and repeated successes is not only rewarding but fun. Using photo composition is a skill that can improve with practice, whether its traveling, at home in your back yard, taking a photograph of a friend or relative, or a plate of food. If you follow the composition rules,  you can create great street photographs, and it’s a lot of fun.

Creating Well Composed Photographs

Create Great Street Photographs will illustrate a few simple composition elements, and how using them will help grab the viewer’s attention. First, define your subject. What are you trying to tell the viewer? It’s also important to direct the viewer’s eye by using composition elements such as color, separation, and space.  Using these elements will go a long ways to helping you define your subject. With street photography, its important to take lot of pictures until the elements fall into place. The use of color not only adds emotions, but it helps to separate some of the elements in the photograph. (More about that further below.)

This image below has space, separation and provides a well defined subject, the wares on this wagon. I left space in front of the vehicle and the green trees separate the subject by contrasting colors.

photo composition: line and space, Cambodia Countryside,

This reminds me of Mr. Haney from Petticoat Junction, a tv programs from years ago. The subject is very clear, its the wagon and what’s on it. (Countryside road in Cambodia.)

LINE: Photographic and Art Element

The photograph below uses Line and Space. Moving the camera in close helps show more detail, and in this case established the subject. The foreground contains the subject, creating the largest idol in the group. It’s the first one that grabs attention, then the viewers eye looks down the line as the idols get smaller and smaller. This adds depth and also creates the line that grabs the viewer’s attention. It also establishes a relationship between the foreground statues, and the background statues. Line is a very strong art element.

photo composition: line and space, bali idols,

These statues are part of a Hindu temple, photographed outside of Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

Space and Separation are both important, but both are very different from each other, yet related. Understanding how to use these elements will go a long ways toward improving your photographs.


The two images below help define Separation (by example). The first image has separation from others behind him. The man is separated from the lady behind him on his left side. If she was closer and more directly behind, she would destroy the separation between the two. There’s separation between him and what’s behind him in the way of line. Compare this to the image below this one. Too busy, no separation between the subject and the background (in this case the motorcycle. When photographing street scenes the photographer has very little control. Where you are (perspective) and the technical aspects of using your camera is about all the control there is.

photo composition: line and space,

Notice in the background on the right side, the lady on her bicycle. There’s separation between her and the man selling hats. If the lady with her bike on the right side was closer, the image of this man would lose some of its composition, he would become too crowed and it confuses the scene. I know this because I have shots of both, this is the only one that worked.

The photograph below illustrates a photograph what doesn’t work as well. With street photography, timing is very important. What also is important is knowing which ones you would like to show and which ones you don’t. This is a don’t, but I am using it for purposes of a teaching aid.

Don’t be afraid to take these because sometimes you may not know whether it works or not until later, when you are editing.  Street photography is fluid, often moving all the time. If it was staged, you have control, but it often looks staged too unless you’re working with experienced models.

Create Great Street Photographs, photo composition: line and space

There is no separation between the Vietnamese fruit vendor, and the motorbike in the background on the left. Two ways to deal with this situation. One is to blur out the background with a wider aperture (camera setting and telephoto lens), or photograph her a little earlier, depending on the background.

Create Great Streets Photographs

Every foreign country will create some differences for a photographer to illustrate the culture. What are some of these cultural differences?  Clothing, the mode of transportation and the architecture.  Some areas are more conducive for street photography then others. But like all photography, getting creative and using perspective makes it so almost anywhere has great possibilities.

Because much of  SE Asia is warm, and there’s a lot going on in the open. People are out on the streets and sidewalks and in open air cafes. As a photographer, you have to search out what works. Is it interesting?  Is there too much space or too little space, how’s the light, etc. etc.

photo composition: line and space,

Open Air Cafe in Hoi An, Vietnam. I photographed this from the street in the morning when the light was bright yet indirect. There’s separation from the color contrasts and the space between the people.

Tourism is big in Vietnam and photographers often find interesting subjects that make great human interest travel photographs. It’s about finding the right mix of people, with locations that are not too busy while at the same time defining your subject. I find that the culture dictates what you want as your subject. You will see things in Asia you don’t ordinarily see in other parts of the world. Define your subject or the viewer will lose interest, and any story you want to relay, is lost because the photograph loses its impact.

Define Your Subject

A good photograph must have a subject, and the viewer needs to understand what the subject is. Your photograph should lead the viewers eye to that subject. It’s kind of like a movie. There’s the star (your subject) and then there’s supporting cast (everything around your subject. The main subject (star) is in the center, and the supporting cast would be the motorcycle on the left, and the man walking while the tourist getting a ride on the right.

Create Great Street Photographs, photo composition: line and space

There is quite a bit going on in this photograph but the lady with the conical hat is clearly the subject. If the scene is too busy, the photograph wouldn’t work, but there’s separation between the people. The most interesting part of the photo is the lady with the bicycle. She is not only the most colorful and the closest to the camera  but the largest too.  Centering the subject works in this photograph, but good composition isn’t about centering, it’s about balance. Space is very important! Hanoi, Vietnam


Secrets to Great Street Photographs, photo composition: line and space

Contrasts in color can help separation.  The lavender shirt the lady on the left has on helps define her as the subject. Not only can color help separation, but the amount of the frame she occupies compared to the others in the frame helps too. Behind this lady is a red tricycle taxi, the red is almost an opposite color and defines the subject in front. This is what I call color separation.

Let Your Subject Tell a Story

Street Photography with people, action can help with your subject tell a story. It informs the viewer about the culture and makes the photograph more interesting. What is your subject doing? Let the viewer think about this. Use a higher shutter speed if you need to freeze the action. Have your camera ready and if you think there’s motion, decide on the best shutter speed. Do you want to freeze the action with a faster shutter speed or show some blur. After you take a few photographs, make adjustments such as your perspective or your aperture or shutter speed. Often there are two or more types of photographs that can be obtained in the same scene. Try thinking ahead when you start out for the day, make adjustments as you go.

Create Great Street Photographs, photo composition: line and space

Create Great Street Photographs by showing something that is new to the viewer. It’s great when the viewer begins to ask questions about a scene, especially when there is a difference in cultures for the viewer. In the photograph (above) this lady is involved in burning trash in front of her store in Hanoi, Vietnam. This is not unusual in Vietnam, but in many western cultures this practice is not permitted in the city. The more one travels, the more you notice the differences in cultures. Travel Photography is fun and it’s fun to show others too what you see around you.

People, Places or Things Can be Your Subject

My definition of Street Photography  can be anything that is close to street, shows the culture of the area, and is interesting or artistic. This includes not only what’s on the street, but the sidewalks, and  areas adjacent to the street.

photo composition: line and space,

There are unlimited subjects when it comes to street photography.


Space is Important

Practice using your patience, because not everything will fall into place unless you work at it. Patience is a virtue, especially with photography. If the scene is too busy, or if there isn’t enough space between people or vehicles, the photograph can lose its impact. People were walking in front of the store (photograph below), and I had to wait until they were all out-of-the-way, it was a busy street. Magically all the people, bicycles and motorcycles that were in the scene disappeared just as the man gives a warm embrace to the little boy. Looking for human interaction will improve your travel photography.  Hoi An Ancient City, Vietnam.

Create Great Street Photographs, photo composition: line and space

This is an unusual image in that the subject is on the far right, and the viewer has to search for the subject. Centering the subject is not necessary, it depends on balance and composition. By having the man and little boy in this image, it adds emotion and this is what defines this image.

My tour guide has some fun on a bamboo swing at Mau Cave entrance, Ninh Binh Vietnam. The length of the swing is emphasized by showing a lot of space on top.

© Thomas Levine Photography

The images used in this article are for sale as stock photography at a very low price. They can purchase on  and downloads are sent to your email. They can be used for one time use on your website, or on social media’s outlets like Pinerest or Facebook etc. Prices start as low as .95 cents with no minimum purchase. 

Thomas Levine is a fine arts and travel photographer as well as an educator. His background is varied and he’s spent years photographing advertising products for national publications including: architecture, products, people, food, fine art, nature, now travel. He is currently traveling in SE Asia and sells his photographs for wall prints as well as stock photography.

Thomas is currently working on several travel-coffee table books, and a children’s book. In addition, he’s working to publish his travel stories and photographs in national magazines and travel sites. To see more of his work and bio

Author: TL

Editor & Chief, professional photographer who's passionate about fine arts, travel and food, and alternative health. Travel Food & Health will preview tour packages for travelers in Vietnam. Future tours will include other countries. Tom's been traveling in Asia as a travel photographer for over 4 years and knows the area's attractions, foods, and health opportunities.

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