We've been on the topic of visual focal points and how they draw attention to your subject for the past few weeks. Now I want to introduce you to something that's in the back of your mind. You probably don't know why sharp lines and powerful shapes can create such an impact, but you're about to take your natural visual sense to another level. I’ll show you how.
We’ve spoken about the rule of thirds in composition before. Whenever you frame (at least most of the time), you usually want to place your subject in one of the 4 thirds of the frame. That’s either top left, top right, lower left, or lower right third. There’s a reason this works so well. It creates extra space and allows the eye to move through the frame.
Lines And Shapes Determine How Your Eyes Move Across The Image
It all happens too fast for you to pay attention. Your eyes pass over images in an instant, moving from one shape to the next. It’s really the shapes that define how your eyes move. To break everything down, we’re going to look at some abstract photography.
The image to the right couldn’t be more basic. The concentric rings naturally force your eyes to move in one uniform direction across the photo. They are thicker on the left, drawing your attention to that side first. As you follow the lines, they get thinner until you reach the end of the photo and exit on the right. This image has a natural direction because of the concentric lines. Let’s look at another.
Can you feel the tension? I certainly can. The big thick rods in the front stop the natural left-to-right motion you get from the horizontal rods. When I look at this image, I actually feel like I’ve stopped in my tracks. Yes, you can move from the bottom left to the upper right, but it doesn’t feel as natural. You’re more inclined to enter from the left side and feel stuck once you’ve hit the vertical rods.
And here’s one more. I like this one because it mixes in rhythm. Your eye is magnetically attracted end of the tunnel, but you also feel a natural attraction to swirl around the light circles.
A Quick Recap And Some Non-Abstract Examples
We chose to look at abstract photography because it gets rid of the details that can make us lose focus on the bigger point. Shapes and lines are everywhere, and as soon as you start to look for them in every photograph you view, you’ll become a better photographer. So let’s abandon the pretension of abstract photography. Let’s look at some more “real world” examples.
This one is a nice in-between photo. It’s not quite abstract, and it’s not quite traditional. The waves are unique because they take your eye from left to right and also up and down. This draws attention to the sand deposited in the left third of the photo (nicely following the rule of thirds). Let’s look at one more.
Whoever guessed “Wanaka” on the “How To Tell A Story With Your Photography” article was absolutely correct. Here’s another image I got while I was down there. This one’s a little more tricky. The shapes and lines aren’t totally evident at first.
When it isn’t obvious, trust your gut. I immediately feel some degree of annoyance at the tree when I see this image. That tree is standing in the way, and it’s downright bothersome. That’s because my eye follows the lake from the right and hits the vertical line that is the tree. It’s blocking me from taking in the rest of the image.
Is “annoyance” what I really want my viewers to feel when they see this image? Not really. In fact, now that I think about it a little more, I don’t really like this image that much. It goes on my C-list. I was trying to convey tranquility, but that tree is too much in the way for me to get my point across. Oh well. That’s how we learn as photographers.
So, we’ve gone from abstract to real, and in the process we’ve learned something about shapes and lines. It’s all about creating a feeling and using shapes to draw attention to the most important elements of a scene. Keep on the lookout for shapes and lines. They’re just as important as basic composition and the rule of thirds.
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