Working with Compositional Lines
Composition can make or break a great photograph, which is why it’s important to understand compositional elements and know how to effectively and creatively use it. In essence, composition describes the position of relative elements in a photograph. A strong composition will tend to have leading lines that draw the viewer’s attention towards your subject; these can be horizontal, vertical or diagonal lines depending on the placement of your subject in the frame.
How can you improve your photography and start composing stronger images? Simple, it just takes time to train your vision to see lines, shapes and other repetitions to draw your viewer’s focus towards or away from certain elements within the frame. After all composition is the foundation of every solid photograph. I want to focus on compositional lines and talk about the different types of lines commonly found in compositions. These are my personal tips for envisioning an image through the use of thoughtful construction behind the lens. I’ve included simple to follow diagrams to help illustrate the vision behind the ways different lines can impact the final image. I find it is much easier to grasp a concept or technique through visuals that allow you visualise and understand the importance of composition and how to effectively strengthen your photography out in the field.
Look For Lines
Lines are all around us in our daily lives and we probably don’t recognise this as much as we do once we start thinking about photographs and composition. Once we start thinking about compositional lines the more we realise how useful it becomes as a tool that can drastically improve the way you see and compose your images. Mindful use of lines can add depth or dynamism to your composition and is quite simple to implement once you train your eyes. Simplicity is the key when envisioning composition. The best method of composing solid images is by removing any unwanted distractions and drawing focus to the elements that build the foundation to your photograph.
Leading lines are great way to add depth to your images as our eyes are naturally drawn along these lines, which is a great way to guide the eye to the main subject or a particular element inside the field of view. Another way to achieve depth and dynamism in your photography is the use of abstract lines. Working with abstract lines is a fantastic way to create a sense of tension or confusion within a scene that can give your pictures a more compelling presence. It takes practice, however, once you start seeing these patterns you will be able to work freely, it’s just a matter of becoming conscious of what elements you have around you.
Symmetry is everywhere around us, and has always been associated with magnificence, which is why it can dynamically enhance your compositions when used effectively. Symmetry can also work well when broken by placing an object between the symmetrical composition to add tension and a strong focal point to grab the viewer’s attention. Symmetry basically refers to a line that is dividing an object in half to create an exact mirror effect. Symmetrical objects make for extremely eye-catching compositions due to their unusual and often unique prominence. Depending on your position, relative distance to your subject, as well as your choice of framing and the amount of the scene that you frame will aid in strengthening or weakening the symmetric properties of your scene. Reflections in windows and mirrors are probably the most common places you can find symmetric lines, it’s just a matter of deciding the right vantage point to showcase the mirrored effect. Archways, doorways and other architecture are all places you will find these lines. Repetition is a great way to bring a sense of visual rhythm to an image. They do this by creating a more surreal harmony and when combined with other types of lines, shapes and forms they will definitely give your compositions that ‘pop’ to hold your viewer’s attention in the frame.
Vertical lines are great way to add a sense of stability to your compositions. These lines run up and down, which stimulate height, grandness and power. Common places you will find vertical lines is in architecture, trees, fences etc. You can also use horizontal lines and transform them into verticals by adjusting your camera angle to change the direction that the lines run through your frame. Once you start projecting a sense of permanency in your compositions the other elements of your frame will fall into place to complement one another. This type of line is very simple to work with and offers endless possibilities in terms of composition.
A horizontal line will tend to indicate a sense of homeostasis (lack of change) and also give your images a greater contrast by separating other more forceful areas of an image. For example, the horizon of a landscape is horizontal, typically separating the sky from the foreground. By composing the horizon in the upper portion of the frame you allow the foreground to appear more dominant. If you were to tilt your camera upwards to reposition the horizon line to the bottom half of the frame, your sky will become more prevailing – it’s as simple as that. This is a very basic sample of how easy it is to effectively and dramatically alter the mood of an image by simply utilising a horizontal line.
These lines often create a strong impression of movement and depth by creating points of interest as they intersect with other types of lines, shapes and elements. Diagonal lines would have to be the strongest and most fundamental compositional elements when we start seeing lines. These are less stable than both horizontal and vertical lines, which is why they can dramatically improve your compositions. Once you start seeing diagonals you will start trying different perspectives, allowing your compositions to flow more freely rather than feeling forced or unplanned. Their power resides in their ascendency to draw the focus to specific areas within an image. Intersecting lines that meet at your subject is one of the most commonly used effects of diagonals. The area where the two lines intersect is where your main focal point will be – this will allow your viewer to focus on the important part of the photograph. Working with these intersecting lines is a fantastic when composing an image where there is a lot of clutter or unwanted distractions obscuring the view. Using two diagonals to direct your viewer’s eyes straight to the main element of your picture is a very effective way to eliminate the disorder to make a more compelling photograph.
These types of lines are not actual lines that you can see; rather they are implied within the field of view of the camera. They are made by the way certain elements and objects are positioned within your viewfinder/fame. Once you start experimenting with different objects and various angles you will start recognising these implied lines. Common subject matter you will notice these are things such as trees, train tracks, titled floors and many other objects. Implied lines can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal or even abstract depending on how you compose your shot. It’s fun to search out these lines when building your compositions because they offer an abundance of compositional value.
Just as the name suggestions, leading lines are used to draw the viewer’s eyes to lines that lead to the main elements of an image by creating a direct path for the eyes to naturally follow. Most leading lines start in the bottom of an image and guide the viewer inwards to reach a vanishing point or the main focal point of an image. This is very much a theoretical process, which is why having a good understanding of compositional value is important. A basic example of a common leading line is a road that fills the foreground of an image and vanishes off into the background. Our eyes are naturally drawn inwards to follow along the roadside. When composing your leading lines, take note of the scene and where you wish to take your viewer. It’s all about pre-visualising the shot and recognising what the prominent lines are in order of using those to create a visual path. Once you’ve determined what the strongest lines are you will be able to utilise them proficiently to accomplish compositional direction.