Learning to See, Part X - Digital Photography School
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Learning to See, Part X

The limitations in your photography are in yourself.  –Ernst Haas

 Diagonal lines, as we learned in our entry, are the subliminal connectors that keep the viewers eye within and moving around the picture. As you looked at the busy example by Rembrandt we saw how he cleverly positioned his supporting elements to facilitate the movement and study of each subject. Similarly, Karsh utilized exquisite posing and darkroom technique to force the viewer to study Churchill’s piercing eyes, and in so doing we can just imagine his character and wisdom. Both artists used the diagonal line to cleverly create geometric triangulation, and by consequence keep the viewer engaged as the artist intended.

This image has been cropped to show how diagonals create the element of movement. Casual observation should provide for your eyes to be drawn to the upper right hand corner of the image due to the lighter colour of the diagonal drawing your eyes there.  Incidentally the image is from my front yard and there was a snowman at the convergence of the lines.

This image has been cropped to show how diagonals create the element of movement. Casual observation should provide for your eyes to be drawn to the upper right hand corner of the image due to the lighter colour of the diagonal drawing your eyes there. Incidentally the image is from my front yard and there was a snowman at the convergence of the lines.

Should you study classical rules of composition in photography you will inevitably come across tutelage advocating the use of C-curves and S-curves as leading lines — lines to lead the viewer into the picture.  Well, let’s simplify this prospect even further: C-curves and S-curves are little more than a diagonal line that has consumed too much wine! Regardless if the line is a straight or curved diagonal its sole purpose in making a picture to draw the eye to an intended point or place of interest.

This image of a country road shows a good example of an S-curve. Just like the C-curve our eye will follow the path to its smallest point, leaving us curious what lies beyond. Diagonals, whether they have been drinking wine or not, provide the direction of travel in an image by moving the eyes around the scene.

This image of a country road shows a good example of an S-curve. Just like the C-curve our eye will follow the path to its smallest point, leaving us curious what lies beyond. Diagonals, whether they have been drinking wine or not, provide the direction of travel in an image by moving the eyes around the scene.

 

I would wager that as you learn to find supporting elements to enhance the impact of your image you will more than likely be able to locate some natural element that could be used as a diagonal traffic director.  Curves are child’s play to the composition; they are easy to find and natural supporting components – we need only look for them.  Finding the straight diagonal is the fun and a challenge in making pictures.

It has been my experience that diagonals most often work best with wide-angle lenses. The wide-angle lens will allow us to get closer to the diagonal element, such as a low angle camera on a roadway. Consequently the diagonal will oftentimes become the primary element in the picture so care must be taken not to allow the supporting diagonal overpower the intended subject.   With judicious care and placement of the supporting diagonal or curve, we will inevitably  be drawn to the subject that captured our attention and is the intended subject.

Go to your park, your backyard, or anywhere else the muses may take you. Find a comfortable location to settle in, and leave your camera gear untouched.  Why did you stop here? Of all the possible locations, why did you select this area to sit and ponder? There is a very real possibility that something caught your eye, and you are already composing the picture in your mind. What is it?

Now that you have located the unique tree, the colourful flower, the man-made structure that made you stop in the first place, start searching for the supporting element. What is nearby that you can use that will draw a line from the front of your picture right back to the attraction that will be your subject?

Don’t be afraid to move around looking for a fence, a line of rocks, or perhaps cirrus-whip clouds pointing downward, or anything else that will draw the viewers attention into the picture, and eventually to the subject. That diagonal component is here – be it a curved or straight line; you just have to find it.

Now the practise of photography begins, and with it the ensuing fun. And remember, if you are having fun, you are doing it right.

See the Full Learning to See Series

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Dale Wilson is a freelance photographer based out of Halifax, Canada. He has been a regular staff writer for a variety of Canadian photo magazines for 18 years. Wilson has also published or co-published four books and was the photo-editor on the Canadian best selling Canada’s National Parks – A Celebration. His practice concentrates on commercial work and shooting natural history images for four stock agencies. After a 10 year hiatus Wilson will once again be offering eastern Canadian workshops with his teaching partner Garry Black.'

  • John

    I guess these principals are sound, but do I have to be the one to point out that these images are horrible? The first has no obvious subject and some distracting verticals in the upper left (that contradict the image’s raison d’être), while the second is saturated to eye-bleeding levels (and would be an obvious shot to anyone in that postion).

  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ mridula

    Loved the pictures and the idea, I knew about roads but not the C and S curves!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2013/04/the-road-less-traveled.html

  • Scottc

    Curves are easily overlooked……

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5866535116/

  • http://www.dalewilson.ca Dale Wilson

    John, With all due respect this entire series is about teaching beginners the basic principles. This notion is found in the tags “Photography for Beginners” and “Learning to See.”

    What may seem obvious to you, is not necessarily to all as you allude. As a case in example, just read mridula’s comment in this thread.

    In the same vein, I am not intending to show my best work in an instructional set, but images that support the topic at hand.

  • http://preciouss2photo.blogspot.com.au/ Sita

    I always have fun doing photography. I must be doing it right! :P haha I hope so.

    Photography: http://preciouss2photo.blogspot.com/
    Lifestyle/Mix: http://sprinkleorainbow.wordpress.com/

  • Doug

    How do I find Learning to See Part 1, to see the complete series?

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/fobonic/ R.Cooper

    Nicely put, the pictures are simple and right to the point. I have always enjoyed lines. Heh

  • Terry Smyth
  • http://www.dalewilson.ca Dale Wilson
  • http://Google.com Bobgood1

    I have used roads or trails to direct attention to the subject. I had forgotten about the ” Cs.” Thanks.

  • Paul Plak

    Well learning to see is a universal subject I’ll never tire of. I’ve no idea why it should be restricted to beginners, or require top notech photographs to be illustrated. Learning to see is a never ending story.

  • George

    Good topic again, Dale. It is too early in the training process to mention that straight diagonals tend to be hard, fast and tense while curves are comparatively soft, slow and harmonious; and both lend that feeling to the scene. By fast and slow I am referring to the way the eye travels along those lines; the same way a person walks along them. Your cold season, cool color, is consistent with the straight diagonals. Conversely, the warm, soft autumn scene is consistent with the harmony of the s-curve. I wouldn’t have worked so well the other way around. Good examples for that concept.

  • monstermum

    Thanks for these articles. They are very clear and informative. I think John was a little pedantic in his comments, the photos clearly show what you were talking about.

  • http://www.avalonimages.co.uk David

    An excellent and instructive article that I have all the way through twice and still learned something more.

    Thank you

Some older comments

  • David

    April 26, 2013 11:49 pm

    An excellent and instructive article that I have all the way through twice and still learned something more.

    Thank you

  • monstermum

    April 14, 2013 04:22 pm

    Thanks for these articles. They are very clear and informative. I think John was a little pedantic in his comments, the photos clearly show what you were talking about.

  • George

    April 14, 2013 10:38 am

    Good topic again, Dale. It is too early in the training process to mention that straight diagonals tend to be hard, fast and tense while curves are comparatively soft, slow and harmonious; and both lend that feeling to the scene. By fast and slow I am referring to the way the eye travels along those lines; the same way a person walks along them. Your cold season, cool color, is consistent with the straight diagonals. Conversely, the warm, soft autumn scene is consistent with the harmony of the s-curve. I wouldn't have worked so well the other way around. Good examples for that concept.

  • Paul Plak

    April 13, 2013 07:03 am

    Well learning to see is a universal subject I'll never tire of. I've no idea why it should be restricted to beginners, or require top notech photographs to be illustrated. Learning to see is a never ending story.

  • Bobgood1

    April 13, 2013 05:07 am

    I have used roads or trails to direct attention to the subject. I had forgotten about the " Cs." Thanks.

  • Dale Wilson

    April 12, 2013 11:46 pm

    Doug -- http://digital-photography-school.com/for-beginners-learning-to-see

  • Terry Smyth

    April 12, 2013 07:41 pm

    I agree - diagonals can be very powerful:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/9552678@N08/8351181108/in/photostream
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/9552678@N08/8331876024/in/photostream

  • R.Cooper

    April 12, 2013 05:14 am

    Nicely put, the pictures are simple and right to the point. I have always enjoyed lines. Heh

  • Doug

    April 11, 2013 04:40 pm

    How do I find Learning to See Part 1, to see the complete series?

  • Sita

    April 10, 2013 10:54 pm

    I always have fun doing photography. I must be doing it right! :P haha I hope so.

    Photography: http://preciouss2photo.blogspot.com/
    Lifestyle/Mix: http://sprinkleorainbow.wordpress.com/

  • Dale Wilson

    April 10, 2013 04:34 am

    John, With all due respect this entire series is about teaching beginners the basic principles. This notion is found in the tags "Photography for Beginners" and "Learning to See."

    What may seem obvious to you, is not necessarily to all as you allude. As a case in example, just read mridula's comment in this thread.

    In the same vein, I am not intending to show my best work in an instructional set, but images that support the topic at hand.

  • Scottc

    April 9, 2013 09:15 am

    Curves are easily overlooked......

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5866535116/

  • mridula

    April 9, 2013 03:04 am

    Loved the pictures and the idea, I knew about roads but not the C and S curves!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2013/04/the-road-less-traveled.html

  • John

    April 8, 2013 08:12 am

    I guess these principals are sound, but do I have to be the one to point out that these images are horrible? The first has no obvious subject and some distracting verticals in the upper left (that contradict the image's raison d'être), while the second is saturated to eye-bleeding levels (and would be an obvious shot to anyone in that postion).

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