Next up in our exploration of lines in composition, and following on from horizontals, verticals and diagonals, is the curve. We’ve studied these elements in order of dynamism and the sense of movement they bring to a picture; from the stability of the horizontal to the potential for drama in a curve.
There are many classic examples of curves in composition. One of the best known is Cartier-Bresson’s image of a cyclist passing a staircase from 1932. There are several curves in the image and all seem to point in the direction of the rider’s travel. It is one of the most famous pictures and it’s success is all down to these curves (I know only too well that catching a cyclist riding by doesn’t always make a great picture).
Another example is Richard Avedon’s ‘Dovima with elephants‘. Again several curves contribute to the sublime composition, but this time they pull in opposite directions to keep the eye busy and engaged.
I went back through a few of my pictures and found the following four that feature real and implied curves.
While the curves are pretty obvious in the first three examples, the final picture of a tree in Bradgate Park, features an implied curve. The eye is drawn along the broken branch laying on the ground, up the trunk, out along the branch and into the sky.
And so to the photographs I shot for this exercise. Other than the first picture, they were taken on a wander around the Polish city of Wroclaw.
I remembered this tool from my mother-in-law’s garage and was keen to phtograph it for the curves exercise. I received a softbox for Christmas and this was the first use of it. I wanted to show the true shape of the blade using the shadow rather than the metal itself, but the softbox softened the shadows too much. I removed the baffle and used the flash directly. Depth of field was increased just enough to give some detail in the wood and the concrete floor.
A classic curve, but as my wife wasn’t keen on providing the real thing, I had to settle for this stone figure. Another sits next to her and together they support a statue outside the stunning University of Wroclaw. I reduced the depth of field to blur the background detail and I waited until the people were walking by to give some interest in the right side of the frame.
The posts create an implied curve in that they are individual points in an arc, rather than a solid line. The curb and road surface provide a true curve.
One of the many (many) bridges in Wroclaw, the Most Grundwaldski is among the most impressive (and busy). There are a couple of curves here formed by the steel structure that supports the span and the stone arches at either end – I’m not sure either do much for the composition in this image though. As you can guess, I was using the bridge as support for the camera. I had been taking 12-15 second exposures, but when I saw the guy walking towards me, I reduced it to 1/5s to make sure he registered.
An old favourite perhaps, but the tram tracks in the city provide endless curves. Here the sun was setting and reflecting nicely off the rails. I angled the camera downwards to remove the distraction of the buildings and to fill the frame with the curves. This works well and draws the eye into the distance – unfortunately there is nothing to see at the top of the frame and I realise now that I should have waited until someone crossed the road.
Again, looking back on this photograph I realise my error. This image would have worked much better if we read right to left. The letters and curve would then have worked together to draw the eye into the image. As it is, they fight against each other. On this occasion, I did wait for people to walk up the steps to provide a focal point for the composition.
This curve was too good to miss. In an alleyway close to the University, this section of railing didn’t seem to serve any purpose, other than providing a subject for photography students studying curves! The shape wasn’t quite right in that I couldn’t position it to align with the open gate. If it had, it would have led the eye nicely to the figures framed there. I exposed for the darkness of the alleyway with the intention of catching the light on the top of the rail and sillhouetting the figures in the gateway.
I couldn’t not include a car light trail picture in a set of curves. This was taken on the new motorway that runs between Wroclaw and Warsaw that had opened the previous day. As I sat taking pictures, people were coming just to see that road that has been so long in construction. The arc of the slip road appealed to me and contrasted nicely with the straight, vertical lines of the trees.
I thoroughly enjoyed this exercise and feel that it has produced some reasonable pictures. I feel that they demonstrate the idea, that a curve in an image is dynamic and induces movement. The viewer’s eye will be drawn along the curve(s) and add to a sense of movement or draw attention to a subject places to compliment the curve.
Clark, D. [?] Dovima with elephants – Richard Avedon – Iconic photograph (Online). Amateur Photographer. Available from: http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/how-to/icons-of-photography/535317/dovima-with-elephants-richard-avedon-iconic-photograph