Exercise 16 Horizontal Lines


Exercise 16 has two parts, horizontal lines and vertical lines. I will post my thoughts and results in separate posts.

Horizontal lines are a strong design element with the capability of communicating diverse and sometimes opposing qualities. Because an image frame is usually comprised of two horizontal lines and two vertical lines any use of a horizontal line will automatically and directly relate to the top and bottom of the frame. The most obvious example being the horizon. However, there are a number of both obvious and subtle horizontals in the landscape and in potential images in general.

As a simple exercise I cut and pasted the words used in a number of web articles about horizontal lines into a word cloud generator and came up with the diagram shown above. It is a crude analysis of the characteristics of this element but it is still interesting to see the word groups that writers have used when describing the effect of horizontals in an image.

There are a significant number of words that are associated with stability. Base, static, stable, stability, anchor, permanency, solid and stand. This group all help describe the use of a horizontal as a stable division of the frame creating something solid, reliable and potentially calming, if I take this idea a little further we can also include the natural elements that might create this effect such as the horizon itself, a shoreline, a road, a fallen tree or someone lying down. Our eyes follow lines in an image and as photographers we use this to create a sense of movement, however, compared with a vertical or a diagonal lines, a horizontal creates the weakest sense of movement and this plays to the calming and stable effect it creates.

Fig.1 Southsea Pier - 1/160 at f/10, ISO100, 70-300mm lens at 116mm

Fig.1 Southsea Pier – 1/160 at f/10, ISO100, 70-300mm lens at 116mm

With fig.1 I was trying to capture this sense of stability and calm by composing the structure of the pier in the vertical centre of the photograph and running for nearly the full width. I have cropped in a panoramic style to increase this effect. I wanted to experiment with this form of composition having seen Michael Freeman’s photograph of the Bayuda desert (pg 106 of The Photographer’s Mind*) where he explains how he positioned the horizon at the centre of the image to “deaden the image rather than inject graphic energy”. I wanted to create a completely  peaceful scene, with the small group of friends enjoying the winter’s sun on a still day on an empty beach.

The exercise asks that we make the graphic element the dominant feature of the image. I made the decision to endeavour to create images dominated by a horizontal line or lines  rather than to photograph a line in isolation. I quickly realised that this was easier said than done. In fig. 1 the pier is sharply in focus and dominant but is it the horizontal that is the dominant feature ? I believe it is partly because I have let it fall short of the frame on the right and therefore the viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to it and follows it from left to right and thereby starts with a complex structure and ends with a simple horizontal.

Fig. 3 Men on Beach - 1/400 at f/5, ISO 100, 70-300mm lens at 175mm

Fig. 2 Men on Beach – 1/400 at f/5, ISO 100, 70-300mm lens at 175mm

Fig. 2 is an alternative image of the same scene (not a crop of fig.1). It still has the pier at the vertical centre but by being out of focus and, perhaps because the sea creates a strong triangle, it is less dominant. I think it continues to provide stability to the image and there is still a sense of calmness in the overall scene.

Fig. 3 - Winchester Cathedral - 1/100 at f/6.3, ISO 25,600, 50mm prime lens

Fig. 3 – Winchester Cathedral – 1/100 at f/6.3, ISO 25,600, 50mm prime lens

For my second image using horizontals I want to look at multiple lines as a graphic element. In fig. 3, which was taken inside Winchester Cathedral, I was attracted to the rows of empty pews and the depth that is created by choosing such a low angle. I captured this image as an example of horizontals and am keeping it in this section but in reality it underlines the point that the horizontal line is weaker than a diagonal because I feel quickly drawn into the background of the photograph by the converging verticals of the chair backs. This effect is more dominant than the stability of all the horizontals.

Fig. 4 Rusty Steps - 1/100 at f/22, ISO 560, 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 4 Rusty Steps – 1/100 at f/22, ISO 560, 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 4 is another example of multiple horizontals but where more impact is achieved by far fewer converging verticals . These old steps just outside Southsea are on the wall of a short pier and probably date back to a time when there were more small fishing boats operating from the town. I was attracted to the decay and the bright colours of the rust but the horizontals created by the rungs and the wall are an important compositional feature.

Fig. 5 Ship at Portsmouth - 1/250 at f/10, ISO 100, 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 5 Ship at Portsmouth – 1/250 at f/10, ISO 100, 24-70mm lens at 24mm

My penultimate horizontal is perhaps too complex a composition to meet the requirements of the exercise with the small boat on a diagonal to the large naval vessel. I took a number of shots of ships in Portsmouth harbour and although some were simpler they were also rather dull. I feel that the dominant feature here is the relationship between the sky and the sea and therefore the horizontal created by the horizon which is hardly broken by the ship and the port buildings.  The yacht adds some foreground interest and balance.

Fig. 6 Dawn Sky - 1/1250 at f/5.6, ISO 100, 70-300mm at 200mm

Fig. 6 Dawn Sky – 1/1250 at f/5.6, ISO 100, 70-300mm at 200mm

The interesting part of this exercise was to actively look at the landscape for lines and to recognise them as design elements. I saw the image in fig. 6 on a Tuesday morning whilst driving to work but had no time to stop. Luckily the banded clouds were repeated on the following saturday morning and I captured the shot. As with most, if not all, of my images for this exercise there are more than just horizontal lines in this picture but I see the horizontals before the verticals and the soft diagonal. There is a strong base in the horizon which is low in the frame. I am wondering whether this position makes it more solid and more of a foundation for the image. Then there are two bands of cloud creating two horizontals and a shallow diagonal and the top of the trees which is another near horizontal. I think the distance from the camera and the dark cloud leaves the impression of horizontal lines even when they are slightly diagonal. I have processed the image to keep everything in silhouette to create a strong graphic design and added a warm filter to bring a hint of sepia to the scene.

A small landmark for me is resisting the temptation to clone away the telegraph pole on the right. Leaving it creates a sense of scale which is probably a little exaggerated as part of the pole is below the horizon. Anyway I think it should be there.

Having set myself the challenge of not just photographing straight things but to find horizontals in the landscape and for each image to have some value I found this exercise quite difficult. However that difficulty led me to gain a better understanding of the relationship between graphic elements. The most significant horizontal was usually the horizon, whether that was the natural horizon or a horizon created by a dominant structure such as the pier but other elements were needed to create a satisfying image. The horizontal on its own was uninspiring.

I have selected black and white where I believe it helps to emphasise the graphic elements.


* Freeman, Michael. (2010) The Photographer’s Mind, Lewes, Ilex Press


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s