Category Archives: 10 Lines

Exercise 18 Curves

Exercise 18 continues the study of lines with curves. Like the diagonal line the curve can have a dynamic impact on an image but it can also impart grace, elegance and beauty. There is no shortage of curves in nature, including the human form, and many subjects that we find beautiful are simple or complex combinations of curves such as flowers, hills, trees, animals and beaches. The list is endless.

We have used curves and circles in our architecture since the earliest structures, surely this was not solely motivated by ease of engineering. Circles appear to be a reassuring shape for an enclosure, the shape may link to the circle of life or just look better but European prehistoric structures are often, if not mostly, circular and thereby curved. Curved shapes in architecture continue through history, notably with the interiors of medieval cathedrals and into modern times where elegance and beauty in design is often achieved through curves such as the Royal Crescent in Bath or the Sydney Opera House.

Fig. 1 Pigeons in Window - 1/640 at f/8, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 1 Pigeons in Window – 1/640 at f/8, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 1 is a a simple photo of an existing, tangible curve with silhouetted pigeons.

The curve is potentially more emotive than straight lines and in being so becomes a powerful graphic design tool for the photographer. An arrow in flight is direct and dynamic, we draw a stylised arrow as one straight and two diagonal lines, it is a loud statement telling us that something important is happening at the tip. A meandering river still communicates movement but suggests a smoother, more graceful and flowing feeling. If we draw something to express graceful we will use a curve. So, whist a curve will communicate movement it is a smoother and more graceful expression of speed.

Fig. 2 London Eye - 1/800 at f/2.8, ISO 360. 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 2 London Eye – 1/800 at f/2.8, ISO 360. 24-70mm lens at 24mm

In fig. 2 I have set out to express smooth movement with that curving path heading to the London Eye. The Eye itself is a huge curve that we recognise as a circle despite part of it being hidden and from this angle seems to lean out over the River. using a mask and the curves function in Photoshop, I have processed the image to increase the contrast between the path and its surroundings to make it a more prominent feature.

Fig. 3 Southsea Fort Lighthouse - 1/100 at f/9, ISO 140. 24-70mm at 24mm

Fig. 3 Southsea Fort Lighthouse – 1/100 at f/9, ISO 140. 24-70mm at 24mm

For fig. 3 the image is based on the curving stairs and its shadow on the wall. I run the risk of a curve leading the eye to nothing with the curve of the wall and the top railing leading to the same point. However, I think that the photo is really about the stairs and the wall and the flow of the image from right to left consolidates this. I have processed this photo to create plenty of form and detail in the shadows and to emphasise the brickwork which is bright in the winter sun.

Fig. 3 Southsea Fort Lighthouse - 1/100 at f/9, ISO 140. 24-70mm at 24mm

Fig. 4 Southsea Fort Lighthouse – 1/100 at f/9, ISO 140. 24-70mm at 24mm

Having seen fig. 3 as a study about the stairs and the courtyard I wanted to test the role of the lighthouse in this composition so fig. 4 is a square crop of the same image. It has a totally different feel to the image, much more peaceful, a quiet empty courtyard with stairs leading out of it. Fig 3 is more open with the inclusion of the sky and the lighthouse gives us a destination for the stairs.

Fig. 5 Southsea Lighthouse - 1/100 at f/9, ISO 110. 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 5 Southsea Lighthouse – 1/100 at f/9, ISO 110. 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 5 is an alternative composition of the same scene. This framing excludes the courtyard and focuses much more attention on the lighthouse as the subject. The curves continue to play an important role and help to create a sense of movement from ground level to the base of the lighthouse.

There is an interesting comparison to be made across the three photos. the curving stair plays the most important role in fig. 4 but I find it an empty composition. I like the peaceful courtyard and the strong shape of the lighthouse in fig. 3 which I think brings balance to the composition with the large empty space counter balancing the strong vertical shape of the lighthouse.  Fig.5. is a more complicated composition and the inclusion of the bell might be a mistake and fall foul of being unnecessary detail plus, in the context of an exercise about curves, the strongest lines are the vertical wall to the right and the implied vertical of the lighthouse.

Fig. 6 Roman Baths - 1/100 at f/9, ISO 1,250. 16-35mm lens at 16mm

Fig. 6 Roman Baths – 1/100 at f/9, ISO 1,250. 16-35mm lens at 16mm

For fig.6. there are tow very distinct curves creating a frame for the building behind the Roman Bath at Bath. I have included this photo because the framing is very distinctive creating an eye shaped view of the building but in trying to bring out the shadows at the top of the frame I have made the image too flat and uninteresting.

Fig. 7 Roman baths - 1/100 at f/9, ISO 1,000. 16 -35mm lens at 16mm

Fig. 7 Roman baths – 1/100 at f/9, ISO 1,000. 16 -35mm lens at 16mm

Another shot in the series, fig. 7, works better and the curve is a softening influence on the composition and balances the line of arches. It would be interesting to re-take this image on a bright sunny day as more distinct reflections of the arches in the bath would add life the image.

Fig. 8 RAMC Memorial - 1/100 at f/4.5, ISO 320. 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 8 RAMC Memorial – 1/100 at f/4.5, ISO 320. 24-70mm lens at 24mm

In fig. 8 the subject is the statue at the Royal Army Medical Corp Boer War memorial on the top of, the wonderfully named, Gun Hill in Aldershot. I have use the curving lines of the memorial to lead into the statue. In this image the lead lines are graceful which suits the subject.

 

Exercise 17 Diagonals

diagonals

Diagonals, unlike horizontal and vertical lines, are often created by the photographer as the angle of view or camera tilt can convert a line into a diagonal. This gives the photographer greater control over the impact of the horizontal line. All lines in an image will ask the viewer to follow them but a diagonal draws the eye to follow it more rapidly than a horizontal or vertical line and thereby creates a greater sense of movement and speed of movement. For the same reason it is also a stronger directional signpost. It is therefore a more dynamic and less stable line than a vertical or a horizontal.

In exercise 17 I looked for a variety of diagonals to test the way they worked in an image.

Fig. 1 Breakwater - 1/100 at f/13, ISO 110. 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 1 Breakwater – 1/100 at f/13, ISO 110. 24-70mm lens at 24mm

In fig. 1 the series of converging diagonals lead the eye quickly to the fort in the distance. This shows the power of the diagonal as a leading line but also shows how parallel diagonals photographed to create perspective converge and draw the eye deeper and faster into the photo and increase the dynamic effect.

We understand that the eye reads a photograph from left to right so the shoreline is well positioned just above the the lower left corner and pointing towards the upper right. Although the fort is not in itself an especially interesting subject  it provides a focal point. If there is no focal point the converging parallels potentially need to extend to infinity so that the distance and depth become the subject, otherwise I felt there needed to be something for the lines to lead me to.

Fig. 2 Eyes Right - 1/100 at f/10, ISO 2,000. 70-300mm lens at 75mm

Fig. 2 Eyes Right – 1/100 at f/10, ISO 2,000. 70-300mm lens at 75mm

Fig. 2 is less dynamic, the perspective is much shorter so convergence is less significant. The main diagonal is created by the matching items on the Gurhkas’ uniforms and all lead us in the direction of the march. Because we cannot see either end of the lines we are left to imagine the length of the column which I think adds some interest to the photo. It is a softer use of lines, our eyes move along the column and there is a strong sense of movement but not rapid movement. There are also a lot of verticals formed by the soldiers’ bodies so there is a sense of stability as well. I find this image interesting because the composition underlines what the viewer already knows, they are marching and moving, they are soldiers so we might already see stable, solid, reliable and organised how ever they were photographed.

Fig. 3 Southsea Fort Lighthouse - 1/400 at f/9, ISO 100. 24-70mm lens at 35mm

Fig. 3 Southsea Fort Lighthouse – 1/400 at f/9, ISO 100. 24-70mm lens at 35mm

In the photograph of the lighthouse on the Tudor fort at Southsea in fig. 3 there are three lines or groups of lines and each appears to influence the image differently. The strong silhouetted lines from left to right are very powerful and lead us quickly into the lighthouse. There is a weaker and less angled pair of diagonals running from right to left and meeting at the same point but they catch the eye because they are brighter. Finally the two sides of the lighthouse converge to give a sense of height. Because the convergence is not dramatic we know that the lighthouse is not especially tall so these lines have acted as a measure. The rule of thirds is also in play so everything draws us to the lighthouse as the subject and then up the lighthouse to the green top.

Fig. 4 Southsea Fort Lighthouse - 1/400 at f/9, ISO 100. 24-70mm lens at 35mm

Fig. 4 Southsea Fort Lighthouse – 1/400 at f/9, ISO 100. 24-70mm lens at 35mm

I processed the lighthouse in black and white as shown in fig. 4 to test whether I reacted any differently to the two versions. The monochrome version is more graphic in design and seems to be as much about different and strong shapes as it is about the lighthouse but I found it difficult to find a tonal balance that gave me the strong whites that are such a feature in the colour version. I had to use a mid-tone grey for the sky to allow the lighthouse to stand out. I find the colour version a more pleasing design.

Fig. 5 Old House in Aldershot - 1/100 at f/8, ISO 110. 50mm prime lens.

Fig. 5 Old House in Aldershot – 1/100 at f/8, ISO 110. 50mm prime lens.

In fig. 5 I found a subject where there are opposing diagonals mixed with verticals and horizontals. The dynamics of multiple diagonals can become chaotic but clearly this does not happen when they point towards a single and central point. I wanted to bring out the sadly, dilapidated state of the building and have therefore intentionally left the image with quite a dark feel to it. I have used shadow and highlight adjustment to bring out the structure of the door. My interpretation of the role of the diagonals in this image is that they create a frame for the passerby, lead us to the door of the building and divide the frame between the man and the building.

Fig. 6 Old House in Aldershot - 1/100 at f/8, ISO 160. 50mm prime lens.

Fig. 6 Old House in Aldershot – 1/100 at f/8, ISO 160. 50mm prime lens.

In fig. 6 there is no passerby and I have used a portrait crop to bring in more of the building. the diagonals are less prominent and it seems a generally to be a much less dynamic image.

Fig. 7 Winchester Cathedral - 1/80 at f/14, ISO 25,600. 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 7 Winchester Cathedral – 1/80 at f/14, ISO 25,600. 24-70mm lens at 24mm

The columns in Winchester Cathedral provided an ideal subject to show the power of converging diagonals to create a sense of height and scale. The use of a wide angle lens and a deep DoF exaggerates the scale of the columns in both breadth and height. The small section of roof gives the viewer a point of reference for the height of the column and tells us that we are looking up.

Fig. 8 Boris Bikes - 1/125 at f8, ISO 560. 24-70mm lens at 58mm

Fig. 8 Boris Bikes – 1/125 at f8, ISO 560. 24-70mm lens at 58mm

I took this photo of Boris Bikes in London last year but wanted to include it as fig. 8 because I think it is a photo of a diagonal or of converging diagonals.  Rather than the lines leading us to another subject the line of bikes is the subject.

Exercise 16 Vertical Lines

vertical-lines-word-cloudIn terms of their graphic qualities vertical lines have certain characteristics in common with horizontal lines. Because they will be seen in the context of a frame it is critical that they are aligned in parallel to that frame and through this relationship they can also express stability.

Vertical lines can be used to create a sense of strength and power, they are associated with standing, perhaps with standing tall and potentially with standing over or dominance. If they extend far into the image they will also denote height although I suspect the opposite is equally true so perhaps it is more correct to suggest that a vertical line acts as a measure within the frame. Generally I saw more verticals than horizontals when capturing images for this exercise. This may be me or it may be that human beings provide obvious verticals and there are plenty of those about. Trees, posts, walls, buildings and many other aspects of the landscape offer dominant verticals. My challenge was to find four distinctly different examples whilst continuing to avoid just photographing one straight line.

Fig.1 Farnham Church - 1/500 at f5/6. ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Fig.1 Farnham Church – 1/500 at f5/6. ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Fig.1 is my safe choice that plays to tall, strong, dominant and powerful, a church tower. I wanted to dominant the image with the tower but to include soft shapes and other lines to create an interesting image. It would have been easy to select a viewpoint that isolated the tower but I wanted it to “tower over” something other than an empty churchyard. Churches were designed to stand out in the landscape, churches like this one, when built, would have dwarfed every other building in the town other than the lord’s castle. they might have been the only non-military building constructed in stone. I wanted to capture this dominance and to show the tower as being dramatically larger than its surroundings and filling the whole vertical perspective of the frame.

St. Andrews Church in Farnham is a favourite location in my home town. It brings back memories of my elder brother parading the scout’s colours for the annual remembrance day services, my first and certainly my last live performance as part of the school choir and the site of William Cobbett’s grave. Cobbett is my political hero, a man who championed the rural poor, battling  the urban centric politicians of his day.

Fig. 2 Statue in Winchester - 1/100 at f/7.1. ISO 180. 105mm prime lens

Fig. 2 Statue in Winchester – 1/100 at f/7.1. ISO 180. 105mm prime lens

In fig. 2 I wanted to balance the statue against the many verticals in the old house. I have used a moderately shallow depth of field and processed for high contrast to focus attention on the many tones of bricks and the strong lines of the chimneys.

Fig. 3 Old Wall - 1/100 at f/5.6. ISO 100. 24-70mm lens at 32mm

Fig. 3 Old Wall – 1/100 at f/5.6. ISO 100. 24-70mm lens at 32mm

Still in Winchester I took a series of photographs of the old wooden framed buildings around the cathedral. The wooden frames are quite constant and repetitive but the way the bricks have been placed inside them varies. Where the bricks were neat and horizontal the vertical beams did not dominate the image. However, in this one section, in fig. 3, where the bricks were laid at many angles the vertical beams became much more important as dividers of the frame and as frames within the frame.

Fig. 4 Cathedral Crypt - 1/50 at f/8. ISO 25,600. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 4 Cathedral Crypt – 1/50 at f/8. ISO 25,600. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 4 is one of a series of photographs of Antony Gormley’s self portrait statue in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral. I had gone to Winchester to specifically photograph this statue thinking it would be an interesting take on a person being a vertical line. I had hoped that the crypt would be flooded as the statues often stands with its feet in the water but it was not. I hadn’t realised that the crypt had railings across it but this gave me an image of many verticals. In this version I have used a mid-range DoF on a 50mm lens to have the railings just out of focus but strong in the image. This seems to have him imprisoned.

Fig. 5 Crypt Statue - 1/125 at f/3.2. ISO 9051. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 5 Crypt Statue – 1/125 at f/3.2. ISO 9051. 50mm prime lens

In fig. 5 I tried a shallow DoF but cropped a little wider. The statue is smaller in the frame and the railings less significant. He seems less imprisoned because the iron bars are less dominant and he might be a man taken through park railings, a more comfortable and gentle composition.

Fig. 7 - Crypt Statue - 1/125 at f/4.5. ISO 20,000. 105mm prime lens

Fig. 6 – Crypt Statue – 1/125 at f/4.5. ISO 20,000. 105mm prime lens

My third interpretation of the statue in fig. 6 is taken with a 105mm lens through the railings so that they are excluded and we see the statue as a strong vertical framed by another vertical and the arch. It is interesting how different framings in exactly the same light impart different moods. Imprisoned in fig. 4, distant, isolated and remote in fig. 5 and strong in fig. 6.

Fig. 7 Portsmouth Landmarks - 1.200 at f/9. ISO 100. 70-300mm lens at 120mm

Fig. 7 Portsmouth Landmarks – 1.200 at f/9. ISO 100. 70-300mm lens at 120mm

I wanted something quite different for my third study. Fig.7 is an exercise in how strongly multiple verticals can dominate the composition. The bandstand at Southsea stands between the naval war memorial in the same town and the Millennium Tower representing a curved sail on the edge of the naval dockyard in Portsmouth. I believe the distinct vertical lines are the main element. The Millennium Tower is a strong vertical and looks powerful in the landscape despite having a clear curve on its left edge. Perhaps, because it is deep into the image we ignore the curve or the message of strong, high reaching, straight-up and vertical outweighs any other impression.

I see the curves on the roof of the bandstand long after seeing the vertical frame and the two towers but this is probably partly because I wanted the white towers and the frame to be prominent and have processed to have crisp whites against the grass and the sky.

Fig. 8 - Girl on Phone - 1/100 at f/8. ISO 180. 50mm prime lens.

Fig. 8 – Girl on Phone – 1/100 at f/8. ISO 180. 50mm prime lens.

I wanted a real person as my last vertical. In fig. 8 I was lucky to find a women standing between a black post and the verticals of the door frame with her back to more straight lines and even a near vertical row of books in the window. A composition containing lots of verticals. I seem to have a large collection of doorway images, some were taken because the fabric of the door was interesting, rusty metal or cracked timbers, some are because the door is impressive in some way but now I am taking more that are only interesting because someone is standing by them. The portrait shape of a door appears to be a strong compositional feature that I keep including in my photos.

I am beginning to think that a series of open, ajar and closed doors with glimpses of their occupants or hints of the occupants would be interesting. In the famous “Open Door” by William Henry Fox Talbot (1844)* we see a broom leaning by the partly open door but no sign of the broom’s owner or the building’s occupant. We are told that people were here, probably quite recently, we are shown what they were probably doing before they left but we know nothing more about them. I like this sense of a partly solved mystery.

Does the women in fig. 8 live behind the white door or is she just standing there to take her phone call?

Sources

*McCabe, Eamonn. (2008) The Making of Great Photographs, Approaches and Techniques of the Masters. Newton Abbot, David & Charles

Exercise 16 Horizontal Lines

horizontal-lines-word-cloud

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.

Sources:

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