The Graceful S Curve

The strategic use of lines can greatly enhance a composition
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The strategic use of lines can greatly enhance a composition. Proving their importance, many classifications of lines have been established in the art world with each type having unique qualities and strategic uses. Vertical lines imply strength, dominance and stature. Images of tall buildings, cityscapes and full- length portraits are a few examples. Horizontal lines imply rest, leisure and sleep. When a person lays down to take a nap, it's done in a horizontal position. Diagonal lines imply movement and speed. When diagonal lines are presented in a picture, the action seems to whiz through from one corner of the photo to the other. Receding lines lead the viewer to the point where the lines converge or leave the composition. Converging railroad tracks is the quintessential example.

It's up to the photographer to create what's known as "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 chaos and confusion in the composition. The longer the photographer gets the viewer to study the image, the more it proves the photographer's use of lines was handled well. But, using lines in these ways to create composition isn't enough. Along with them, incorporate the rule of thirds, balance, shape and texture.

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. Meandering country roads, rivers, streams, foot trails through a forest, and the back alleyways of old European towns are classic examples. The flow of the line brings the viewer on a soft journey through the picture. It's very natural for the viewer to follow the line as it wanders through the composition. With this in mind, the entry and exit point of the S curve is very important. Have it end where an important element resides, so the viewer follows the curving line to a specific subject.

The S curve and the use of perspective can be used to create a very dynamic image. As the line continues throughout the photo, have it recede into the distance, so it has a natural exit point. This can be accomplished if you position yourself at an angle somewhere along the curve where this can occur. Another way to accomplish this is through the strategic use of a wide-angle lens. Get down low at the point you want the curve to begin. The foreground will be larger and quickly recede into the distance. The obvious entry point will be the dominant foreground and the eye will naturally follow it to its end.


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