Lines are integral components of a composition. Their strategic inclusion can determine the success of an image. This is substantiated by the fact that specific classifications of lines are standardized in the art world. Each type has a unique quality and purpose. Vertical lines imply strength, dominance and stature. Horizontal lines imply rest, leisure and sleep. Diagonal lines imply movement and speed. Receding lines lead the viewer to the point where lines converge or exit the composition.
It’s up to the photographer to create a line “eye flow” in a photo. Eye flow is the path the viewer’s eyes take as he or she enters the image, studies it and exits at the point where the lines end. The lines should be kept simple and clean to prevent confusion in the composition. The longer the photographer can keep the viewer studying the image, the chances are the photographer’s use of lines in the arrangement of elements was handled well.
A favorite line I like to include in my photographs is the S curve. It’s a graceful and gentle line that leads the viewer through the image in a peaceful and quiet way. It implies serenity, grace and rhythm. Meandering country roads, rivers, streams, foot trails through a forest and the back alleyways of old European towns are classic examples. The natural flow of the line as it ambles its way through the image brings the viewer on a soft journey. It’s very natural for the viewer to follow the line as it wanders throughout the composition. With this in mind, the entry and exit point or the placement of the S curve is very important. Having it end where an important element resides is good as the viewer follows the curving line to a specific focal point.
The S curve needn’t encompass full-image real estate. When used in just a portion of the photo, it’s imperative it targets a key part of the primary subject. This allows it to stand out and be more readily noticed. When hidden in and amongst chaos, its beauty and fluidity go unnoticed. Compare the images that accompany this week’s tip. In the two scenics, the S curve dominates each image as the lines course the viewer’s eye throughout the entire composition. In the photo of the wildebeests crossing the Mara River, individual animals form an entirety and become a single subject. It’s the mass of animals in the water that creates the shape.
I purposely included the images of the ostrich and elephant to prove the line can also be subtle. The backlit neck of the bird against the sunset is the only part of the photo that shows grace—in the form of an S curve! The elephant’s trunk provides the same grace. Although the “S” isn’t quite as defined as in the ostrich, the shape still reveals rhythm and elegance.
I’ve written a number of other Tip of the Week articles where the topics reference the importance of lines. Have a look at them in the archives to see other ways you can influence how a viewer’s eyes travel throughout your photos.
To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit www.russburdenphotography.com to get more information.