This week I’d like to take a look at the subject of composition. We always are striving to enhance our composition, either by understanding the rules of composition better, or by pushing the envelope in new directions. With the explosion of digital photography, the decreased price of entry, and the abundance of opinions, now more than ever, if you really want to succeed in photography, it helps to get a jump on the learning curve by a better understanding of what works consistently over time. There’s a reason why we often refer to the Rule of Thirds, or the Golden Mean when talking about classic composition: because they work. Time and time again, when photos are composed along these rough guidelines, the results are more pleasing than the same subject without the rules of composition applied.
One of the interesting things though about these rules is how they all use some form of linear movement through pictures. Whether the lines are vertical and horizontal, diagonal or even curved, the way you compose your pictures along these imaginary lines will have an impact on the final result of your image. So, rather than looking at the rules of photography, let’s break it down into a more elemental context: usage of lines.
As I mentioned above, there are four ways in which lines can take you through an image, vertically, horizontally, diagonally, and curved. Knowing the impact each of these types of lines will have on your pictures can really help as you look for scenes to capture and share with the world. And, as the old saying goes, “knowing is half the battle”!
- Vertical lines – What creates vertical lines in images? In nature, things like trees are great examples of vertical lines. Architecture also provides excellent material for including vertical lines in your images. Are you a people person? Try taking pictures near someoneâ€™s feet, looking up. The vertical lines of their legs will have a tremendous impact on your pictures. So, what does this mean? Usually, vertical lines are connoted with stability and power. These lines will anchor your images at the base (or top) of where the lines start (or end.)
- Horizontal lines – What creates horizontal lines? Horizons are great examples, and architecture also can provide horizontals. Looking for portrait examples? Try imagining a horizontal line across the bottom or top of someoneâ€™s eyes or teeth. We all love shots of sleeping babies too. Their bodies are usually horizontally composed. Horizontals usually are associated with peacefulness and tranquility.
- Diagonal lines – What creates diagonal lines? This is a little trickier, because linear progression usually occurs (both in nature and in man-made objects) horizontally or vertically. This requires actually re-positioning your camera from its traditional position to find diagonals. Some examples that are easier to see include bridges, piers, and docks. Also, try looking at things at a different angle, or just looking in new directions. The sail lines of a boat are good examples of diagonals. Pitched rooflines work for architecture too. In people photography, the nose provides angles as do some jaw lines. You can also position people’s arms and legs to give an angular line in the picture. Diagonal lines are lots of fun because they make things more active and dynamic. I’ve even read about diagonals creating tension and suggesting motion.
- Curved lines – What about curved lines? Curves are great at leading the eye through a picture. Imagine winding roads and curvy paths or ripples in waves ax examples in nature. For portrait work, the curvature of some cheekbones is a great perspective to base an anchor point of an image. Eyes also work here, as do smiles and facial expressions. Overall curves suggest motion because the eyes are always following the path the curve takes them on, but this motion is usually a smooth one, so there is also an association with grace.
Lines are fun to find, especially if you mentally take note to look for particular instances. Take a day and say to yourself “Today I am going to find curved lines” and see how many you find! Take notes and return with your camera (or take the shot if you have it with you!). With time you’ll find which types of lines speak to your preferences as well as where to position them in camera to yield the best composition.
What kinds of lines do you prefer to use in your composition? Vertical, horizontal, curved, diagonal? Sound off in the comments with your favorite methods for composing images!