Eight Kinds Of Lines; Use Them All For Image Impact
The one element that defines the success or failure of a composition is the lines that make up the image. The feminine lines of a model, the circular lines of a staircase, and the bold graphic lines of the support structure for a glass ceiling in a museum or airport are very different, yet they all have one thing in common: If they are striking, compelling, and beautiful, the photograph will be the same. If they are not, the picture probably won’t be very good.
There are basically eight kinds of lines: horizontal, vertical, diagonal, C-curves, S-curves, arches, circles, and spirals. Each one of these types of lines can produce outstanding images, but my personal favorites are S-curves and spirals. I think these in particular are intriguing, although they are harder to find than other lines.
All Photos © 2009, Jim Zuckerman, All Rights Reserved
This photo of a sand dune in Namibia (#1) illustrates a classic S-curve. One of the reasons photographers are drawn to shooting dunes is specifically because of the incredible curves in the contours of the sand. This kind of line is very pronounced at sunrise and sunset, and it makes such a strong artistic statement that it’s worth traveling halfway around the world to photograph.
Nature photographers also love capturing egrets in various poses for the same reason. Their head and neck form an S-curve in almost every position they assume (#2).
The C-curve also has a strong visual appeal, and in a shot along Lake Superior in Wisconsin (#3), I captured a frozen shoreline with a sweeping curve. The wide angle lens I used, a Canon 16-35mm, elongated the curvature which, in this instance, made the C-curve look even better than it did to my eyes.
The spiral staircase (#4) is another outstanding example of how lines make an image compelling. The spiral staircase in the Vatican Museum is one of the best architectural spirals I’ve ever seen. I shot straight up with a 16mm lens, and although the lens exaggerated the perspective to a certain degree, the spiral design is incredible.
Circular lines can also make a powerful compositional statement. For example, the dome (#5) in the Cathedral of Egar, Hungary, is beautiful not only because of the artwork on the ceiling but because of the graphic shapes, particularly the central dome. Similar, a richly colored fabric (#6) that was also photographed in Hungary has a circular theme.