Exercise – Curves

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.

Curve

Curve

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.

Stone Curve

Stone Curve

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.

Post Curve

Post Curve

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.

Most Grundwaldski

Most Grundwaldski

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.

Tram Curves

Tram Curves

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.

Bishop Curve

Bishop Curve

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.

Alley Curves

Alley Curves

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.

Light Curve

Light Curve

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.

References

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

Exercise – Diagonals

One of the most famous photographs in history features a strong diagonal line and shows the importance of diagonal lines as a compositional device. The flag being raised by American troops over Iwo Jima would not have worked if the flag had been horizontal or vertical. The diagonal line implies action, movement and dynamism. I’m not for a second comparing my pictures to this classic, but below are those I shot as part of this exercise to explore this important design element.


All of the lines contained in the pictures above are actually horizontal (indeed the decking was also included in that exercise) or vertical. What makes them diagonal in these images is the perspective from which they are taken. Looking along these lines makes them diagonal. The combination of distance and lens choice exaggerates or reduces this effect. It is a very useful tool to communicate this distance to the viewer.

True diagonals, like those in this second set are less common, but they are around. As with most things, nature tends to do them best.


The eye moves across images containing diagonals more easily than verticals and particularly horizontals. Diagonals are used in composition for exactly that reason – to draw the eye in and to suggest movement and/or depth.
Having said that, I find it very difficult to ‘record’ the way my eye moves across an image at the moment. If I think about it, I’m sure I begin to control and so change its behaviour. That’s another subtlety of the discipline that I need to learn…

References.

Freeman, M (2007) The photographer’s eye – Composition for Better Digital Photos. Lewes; The Ilex Press

Forbes, T. (2012) Episode 114: The use of line in composition (Online). YouTube. Available from  http://compositionstudy.com/#/line/ [24 December 2013]

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima (Online). Wikipedia. Available from  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raising_the_Flag_on_Iwo_Jima [24 December 2013]

Exercise – Horizontal and vertical lines (part 2)

The course notes tell us not to read further until we have completed the previous exercise. What they don’t explain at that stage is that we will be asked to write further about the photographs produced for it. As I’m currently in Poland for Christmas, I’m writing up these notes on an iPad (mini) with only occasional internet connection. So, rather than attempt to re-write the previous entry, I’ll add this second part.
The next stage of the notes, and the companion section in Michael Freeman’s book, discuss further the horizontal and vertical line in composition. Having read it, I may have looked for simpler images with single lines rather than the patterns of lines that I used. The notes also give examples of types of lines that we may have used in the exercise – I did pretty well, but missed a couple of obvious ones, namely the horizon and the upright human figure.

Looking back at my pictures with these notes in mind, I offer the following observations on them:
Horizontal.

Sticks – those logs aren’t moving. Not now or ever. The horizontal lines give the picture stability, both graphically and expressively.
Crossing – again, horizontal elements provide a strong base. The diminishing width and depth of the lines forms diagonals and introduces dynamism leading the eye to the cyclist.
Decking – the most static image of the set. Our eye does not need to wander over the entire image because of the lack of interest in the right half, reinforced by the regular horizontal pattern.
Drain – the most dynamic of the horizontal set because of the pattern. The eyes this time are looking for an exception to the pattern and eventually find it in the bottom left.

Vertical.

Gate – I read that vertical lines can ‘confront’ the viewer and they do in this image – literally because it is a heavy, metal gate and expressively by blocking our view of the tree and entry beyond. They are bold and solid.
Flags – a dynamic image caused by the vertical lines (and framing) encouraging the eye to move up and down the vertical axis.
Windows – could have been used as horizontal example, but felt vertical due to the arrangement of frames to be stood on their narrow edge, presumably to maximise storage space (although quite why they needed storing in the first place I’m not sure). A horizontal structure is formed by the arrangement of repeating, vertical shapes, adding stability.
Trees – another horizontal structure formed by vertical elements and horizontal framing. They eye compares the vertical lines to the edges of the frame, looking of for the reassurance of that alignment.

Horizontal/Vertical

Horizontal/Vertical

The final picture, my favourite of the set, is pleasing because it provides equilibrium by containing both horizontal and vertical elements. Our brains (mine at least) enjoy the idea of the upright structures ‘standing’ on a solid, horizontal base, here provided by the sign and road surface. This equilibrium as added to by the symmetry of the image.

Reflection.
I’ve written a couple of time previously about the challenge I face discussing my photographs using a ‘visual language’, and that continues. I hope to speak with my fellow students about their feelings on this. I guess it’s something that almost all ‘non-artists’ will struggle with, but it is exactly what this stage of the course is all about.

Also, having completed this exercise, I then had a little time to more reseach on the topic and discovered a number of websites discussing it. I need to find time to immerse myself further in my studies and do this research BEFORE taking the pictures!

References.

Freeman, M (2007) The photographer’s eye – Composition for Better Digital Photos. Lewes; The Ilex Press

Forbes, T. (2012) Episode 114: The use of line in composition (Online). YouTube. Available from  http://compositionstudy.com/#/line/ [24 December 2013]

Exercise – Horizontal and Vertical Lines

Having read the brief for this exercise, I decided I would try to shoot as many pictures for this exercise in the 15-20 minutes I had while my wife was at the dentist’s. We were in her home town of Kępno in Poland, a town that I know fairly well, but not well enough to know where to look for horizontal and vertical lines.
For the most part, I used my fixed lens, Fuji x100 to shoot the pictures, allowing me to concentrate on the brief rather than lens choice or settings. I soon tuned in to the lines around me. What was more difficult was the not shooting the same thing twice – fences and railings are the most obvious and useable for both horizontal and vertical.
Part of the exercise brief has us consider how easy it is to find these lines. I found both were prevalent, but in many cases, long horizontals or tall verticals actually became diagonals because of the perspective. I’ve included a couple of examples at the end of the exercise. We were also told to ‘subordinate the content of the picture to the line’. I did this in a couple cases but, as with most of the exercises in the course, have tried where possible to include interesting pictures, not just ones that fulfil the brief.
Finally, during the elements of design section of the course, it is explained that colour can be a distraction from the graphic element we are exploring. Where possible, I’ve left the images in couple, unless I’ve needed to convert to bring out that element…

Horizontal


As with a couple of pictures I took for this exercise, this last view of a drain grate could have been used for horizontal or vertical, depending on the viewer’s perception. To me, and I’m not entirely sure why, this is horizontal, rather than vertical. No doubt helped by the framing, I believe it is the number of items on an axis that makes the difference.

Vertical

The aim of the exercise was to show different ways in which horizontal and vertical lines can be shown in a photograph, and I believe I’ve done that. Horizontals and verticals are all around us. Performing this exercise made me tune in to these design elements. It also taught me that taller verticals, and longer horizontals become diagonals. They needed to be avoided for this exercise, but may come in handy in future exercises.

I also managed a couple of pictures that included both. I would have used this as horizontal. How about you?

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