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Draw on design elements to strengthen your photos: Lines

Added on Wednesday 2nd of May 2012 04:51 am EST

by Jim Whitcomb
Whether you’re new to digital photography or have been shooting for some time, you eventually get to the point where you ask yourself, How can I take better pictures? Your answer should have two parts—you can improve your technique and improve your design.

To take better photos with a focus on lines, we’ll:

  1. Provide a brief overview of design and the design process.
  2. Look at specific line design elements and the visual significance of each.
  3. Show you various examples that demonstrate each configuration.

No doubt you’re aware how important technique is. To be able to take a digital photo, you must know how your digital camera operates, how best to use light, and how to properly frame your shot, among other things. But what’s important about design? Just as design guides an artist as he creates a layout or drawing, design also guides a successful photographer. Although snapshots are fun, and every photographer takes them, when you’re ready to take the next step toward better digital photos, like our shot in Figure A, design becomes a vital part of your picture. We’ll begin our multi-part series about design elements with the line.  


Design 101
Design is a broad topic of study that encompasses many facets. However, simply put, a design is a plan that serves an artist, such as a photographer, as a guide to creation of a work, such as a photograph. The design process has two stages: development and application. First, the artist fashions a design, and then he applies it to his work.
Design development includes many elements. Some elements are tangible, such as size and medium. Others are intangible, such as color and form. All design elements are a function of one underlying factor—the message—and serve to advance what the artist (i.e., you, the photographer) intends to say with the work. Let’s now look at the first element in our discussion about design, the line.

Lines of demarcation
Define a line. Geometers describe a line as the shortest distance between two points. That’s great from a theoretical point of view. However, from a design standpoint, it’s a different matter. Think of a photo that clearly contains lines as a design element, such as the image in Figure B1. The paving lines are obvious because they’re drawn. Yet there can be many other lines in the photo that aren’t as apparent. The cracks and holes in the pavement, highlighted in blue in Figure B2, are lines as well. Simply put, you can think of a design element line as a visual boundary between two adjacent areas.


The power of lines
Lines in a photo serve the obvious function of articulating the subject, but also serve a not-so-obvious function as well. They communicate various expressive qualities about the subject. For example, think of a tranquil setting, such as a seascape, as shown in Figure C. Now, consider why it evokes a sense of tranquility. In part, the answer lies in the colors, the lighting, and the actual subject. But not...


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