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Keep Your Photos On The Right Lines

Posted by SiteAdmin , 23 November 2007 · 2204 views

Photography: Using Lines
Keep Your Photos On The Right Lines
Some basic thoughts on using lines in your images

I'm not just talking about obvious lines here, like the horizon or the edge of a building. Lines in your images can be vertical, horizontal or diagonal, curved or straight, visible or implied. The important thing to remember is that our eyes tend to follow lines. A line is defined as a path between two points, and our eyes find it easier to run down them rather than stray off into the undergrowth on either side. This attraction of lines can be a good thing, leading your viewer deeper into your picture so that they get more involved, but get it wrong and lines can distract from your main subject, confusing the viewer so he is unsure of where he's supposed to be looking, where the focal point of your picture really is. And people who get lost get bored, and look for something more interesting elsewhere.

Always look for the unseen lines
Don't forget, lines can be imaginary and still be influential. This is because our brain is always trying to create a coherent picture out of the impressions sent to it by our eyes. So we "see" a relationship between two objects as an imaginary line if they're placed in particular positions relative to each other. Try moving your camera around or altering your own position and notice how these unseen lines change.

An unseen line links the parents and child in this beach scene at Santa Cruz, California

Use lines to lead your viewer into your picture
Where you have a river or a road in your photo, make sure it leads your viewer into your image to a point of interest rather than out of the side or away from your focal point. A fence line, someone pointing or the edge of a table in a still life shot are other examples.

Anneçy in France is often called "Little Venice", and here the lines of the Thiou canal lead the eye into the picture; note the starting point in the corner.

Converging lines always convey a feeling of depth, and can be especially striking when arranged on a diagonal. Curving lines are softer and more sensuous in appeal. And don't forget that a line can be a spiral, too.

Looking upwards into a spiral staircase in Melk Monastery, Austria creates a stunning optical effect.

The converging lines of this jetty in Samoa lead us up to the boat's yellow sail which creates a "spot" by breaking the line of the horizon.

Use horizontal lines to imply calmness and tranquillity
Horizontal lines can be used effectively to give a feeling of rest and peacefulness, but they carry with them a real risk of a boring, static composition. An obviously suitable horizontal composition would be the classic beach idyll with golden sands, blue sea and horizon.

Use vertical lines to convey strength
Vertical lines can imply strength and solidity, but they also carry with them a lack of movement. If they converge upwards, as when you tilt your camera to get in the top of a building, they can give a soaring feeling, but this is nearly always improved by slanting the camera slightly to build in a diagonal.

The massiveness of the columns supporting the dome of the Aya Sofia Mosque in Istanbul is dramatised by the slight slant of the camera angle

Use diagonal lines to increase interest
Whereas horizontal and vertical lines tend to give a stable, static feel, diagonal lines are more dynamic, implying action and movement. Don't forget, you don't have to have an actual line between two points; it can be imaginary, created by the positioning of e.g. two people. If you find yourself with horizontal or vertical lines you don't want, change your camera angle to place them on a slant.

This gondola in Venice isn't moving, but the use of diagonal lines gives a more dynamic feel to the image.

Use lines into corners
If your lines are going to break the frame or come to an end, try to make it happen in a corner. Of course, that's not usually going to occur with the horizon, but a road will probably look better coming out of, say, the bottom left corner of your shot and moving into and across the image than starting in the middle and exiting halfway up the right side.

Don't cut your lines short
When you have a line that implies motion in your photo, don't cut it short. This really means you should watch out for the edges of your photo frame and give any moving object space to move. Seeing a runner or a speeding car about to hit the vertical edge of your photo is uncomfortable. Anything that moves needs a space in front of it to move into, to continue its action, so don't cut your imaginary line too short. The same goes for people or animals, don't have them looking straight into the brick wall of the side of your frame, give them some open space to continue their line of sight so things don't feel so cramped.

Look out for S-curves
Straight lines are all very well, but the alternating sweeps of S-curves seem to be more attractive to the human eye. The variation in line is more interesting – think of a straight road compared to a winding one or the arabesques of dancers as they move. Look out for S-curves and try to build one into your shot; sometimes this single line can form the main interest in your image.

This shot of Helen walking down a spiral staircase in the Louvre in Paris has very complicated lines, but although I've cropped off part of the S-curve of the staircase it still dominates the image, nicely contrasting with the arrow-like line of the balcony leading you into the picture.

Tony Page

Tony Page is a professional photographer, writer and web designer now living in Sydney, Australia. His commercial clients are currently distracting him from his latest venture, the "Travel Signposts" website (http://www.travelsignposts.com) which contains information, resource links and over 12,000 photos of European and Mediterranean tourist destinations to help plan a European tour or river cruise. And the shots of the Christmas trip.

From my article in Better Photography magazine, 2007.

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