Rules of Lines in Digital Photography
By Amy Renfrey
Although photography is one of the most creative of all enterprises it will still come with a few essential “rules”. One that you might already know is the famous “rule of thirds”. This is a compositional rule that helps the digital photographer to mentally visualize the scene before them in the form of a three by three square grid. Within this grid the nine blocks will have a variety of places where lines meet, and naturally this grid is divided into thirds. Photography rules say that the digital photographer should try to use the lines and columns or rows of the grid to layout the ideal photograph.
Interestingly enough, when lines appear in the scene, they can also be put to use in formatting the photograph, but serious caution must be used in order to avoid throwing the entire composition off balance.
For example, let’s say that you are miles away from the city and you want to use the arrow-straight lines of the road leading into the horizon as the subject of the photograph to make your photography more dramatic. That will definitely make a very spectacular scene, but only if the lines are balanced and reasonably straight. For this photograph you would have to be completely convinced that the lines running in the middle of the road were actually aligned with the very center of the photograph.
Can lines run in directions other than horizontally or vertically? Absolutely! Consider a photograph of a series of hopscotch lines…the digital photographer could photograph this symmetry “head on” and record a very grid-like photo, but they might also stand off-center and turn their camera at an angle in order to make the grid head angled across the screen. This could create a really exciting dynamic, particularly if the squares were all different sizes.
Adding to this, the “lines” can be more representative than definite. Consider the front steps of many grand buildings and man-made structures. Many are fronted with massive stone columns similar to ancient temples. A clever digital photographer could position themselves nearest the base of the first column and create a leading line to the main focal point of the photo; the very top of the structure. This photograph would have a series of vertical leading lines that were created by the direction of the structure, but it would also have a diminishing horizontal line due to the perspective created by the digital photographer’s stance.
The key to using lines is clearly to ensure that they are balanced and that they “line up” correctly in the photograph. A great example of the negative impact of a poorly aligned scene is found in millions of beach photographs in which the horizon is not perfectly straight across the photograph. Such a failure on the part of the digital photographer tends to be impossible to correct and will ruin the shot.