This is Part 1, of a multi-part series of posts relative to composition in photography. In this first part I will introduce the concepts of leading lines and specifically we will look at the S-Curve. Future posts will present other types of lines and compositional elements. I hope that you will continue to join me in these explorations and discussions. (Note: for all of the images, you may click on them and view them larger in LightBox Mode)
Lines are one of the most basic elements we have in creating a photograph. Lines can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, S-shaped, and even implied. Obviously a photograph can be made up of more than one kind of line. And additionally there are other elements such as light and shadow, shapes, colors, contrast, texture, and tonal values that all contribute to the final image. All of these elements are part of the visual language we use when we aim a camera at a scene. Lines though, are simply fundamental and inescapable. One might argue that light and shadow are shapes, which they are of course, but they can also be construed as being made up of lines. The same is true for circular shapes, triangular shapes, square shapes, and irregular shapes. They are all just made up of lines. Lines help convey a sense of perspective and space within an image. The choice of lens focal length also plays a part especially since wide-angle lenses can accentuate, or exaggerate as the case may be, the sense of lines, as opposed to a telephoto which tends to compress an image. This is not to imply that an image shot with a telephoto does not have lines or a sense of lines. Of course it does but it is different. Though an image is ultimately a collection of lines and by such a definition can be made up of many different type of lines, I generally try to isolate one defining conceptual line that can anchor the image. Other lines within the image are also important and should be carefully considered but they are ultimately a supporting cast member to the main concept. So let's take a look at the S-Curve.
In the image above, Elakala No. 1, the sweeping S-Curve of the water is the defining line within the image. It is this line that leads the viewer into the image and ultimately to the waterfall at the back. The camera position and lens was chosen specifically to accentuate this line and create a sense of perspective and depth. The diagonal lines formed by the rocks also play a part in keeping the viewer focused into the image as does the line formed by the leaning tree. In fact the line of the water and the line of the leaning tree are important synchronous elements that work together. The water also contains many smaller lines that help convey a sense of motion.
In the image Morning at Bandon Beach (above), a very defined line that enters the image from the left breaks into a series of S-Curves as it leads the viewers eye past the Witches Hat sea stack. This line is also well defined by the meeting of light and shadow. Though other types of lines are present in the image, it is the strong S-Curve that defines the composition. This line also helps to accentuate the real sense of depth and perspective in the composition and there is clearly movement from the foreground to the background.
In the image Elakala No. 2 (above), the sense of the S-Curve is more subtle and it is actually framed and defined by a strong diagonal line. Other compositional elements such as the rocks and boulders as well as the background work to define the line and focus the viewers eye toward the waterfall. It is hopefully clear that the subject matter is the waterfall and the framing and camera position were carefully considered so that all the elements worked together. Camera position and choice of lens focal length must be considered when framing your composition and to take advantage of how you take a 3-dimensional reality and compress it into a two-dimensional "flattening" on the camera sensor. This is one of the reasons why employing lines in our compositions works to create the illusion of depth and space.
Panamint Dunes Twilight (above), is another image that is framed by different types of lines. But it is the strong S-Curve of the sand dune that leads the viewers eye into the composition. This is another line that is strongly defined by the merger of light and shadow. This line also leads you to the "light" and the eye is almost always drawn to the lighter areas of an image. So here, line and light, work together.
I will end this first part with a more obvious S-Curve. In the image Horseshoe Bend Sunrise (above), the S-Curve formed by the Colorado River is the most obvious line within the shot. It is clearly the defining line, and like some of the other images in this post, it is a line created by the merger of light and shadow and it is a line that leads the viewers eye towards the light.
I will encourage all of you to consider the power of lines the next time you are out with your camera. In particular look for ways to use lines to frame your images, lead the viewers eye into your composition, and as a method to define the subject. In future posts I will explore other types of lines that are powerful devices to employ in creating images. Thank you for stopping by and if you have not done so please subscribed so you may receive futures posts.