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One of the obstacles you face when creating an abstract photograph is ensuring that your viewers have enough to keep them engaged. Good composition will help boost the visual interest of an abstract image, and one method that can be effective is the use of lines and curves.

This lesson examines why lines and curves are beneficial to abstract photos and explores several examples of the successful use of lines and curves.

Why Lines and Curves?

Our eyes tend to be drawn to the brightest or darkest areas of a photo. But without anything to redirect that attention, we can become “stuck,” only inspecting one portion of an image rather than developing a full appreciation for what the photograph portrays as a whole.

This is an issue with all genres of photography but is especially problematic in abstract photography because of the lack of a clear, identifiable subject. Therefore, photographers working in this genre often use lines and curves as a tool to lead viewers’ eyes around an image. Just like areas of brightness and darkness, lines and curves naturally lead our eyes, so incorporating them in an abstract composition may help you create a more engaging image.

Examples: Lines and Curves in Action

Lines and curves can be utilized in various ways to add interest to an abstract photograph. Let’s explore a few examples:

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Lines are used in this image to achieve two purposes. First, vertical lines on the wall break up the otherwise boring background and give more interest to the shot. In this case, the repeating nature of the vertical lines also creates a pattern, which gives the image stability.

Second, the horizontal line created by the electrical conduit leads our eyes from one side of the image to the other while the shadow cast by the conduit gives the image some depth. In this context, then, the lines are guiding the eye around within the frame. By leading us to different points in the scene, we’re much more able to see what could be a face arranged on the wall. Do you see it?

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In this image, lines perform a different function. Rather than leading us around within the frame, the purple lines of light guide us from the bottom left corner through the frame toward the top, then back down again toward the bottom and deeper into the background.

Imagine this image without these leading lines. The dominant tower just right of center would become a focal point and the image would lose its dynamic quality. With the lines, the image, while abstract, still has a strong sense of depth and movement.

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Lines and curves can also be used harmoniously to help you create an abstract image with a lot of visual punch.

In the example above, the linear lines in the foreground lead our eyes deeper into the shot, where they terminate on a curve. That curve also serves as the foundation for another set of straight lines, this time, the vertical columns. Those columns, in turn, lead our eye upward, where again, they terminate in a curve that leads our eyes to the left and toward the background. There, an array of horizontal and vertical lines adds yet more depth and interest.

So, like the preceding image with the purple lines, the lines and curves in this shot take us on a journey through the frame, from bottom to top and foreground to background.

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As we saw in the first example, lines can create a dynamic background. That’s also the case in the image above, in which the yellow and white lines create a vehicle by which our eyes flow easily from left to right through the frame. The addition of the curving crack adds another layer of interest because of its conflict with both the form and direction of the lines behind it. So, even though the lines and curves in this photo aren’t really taking our eyes on a journey to a specific point in the frame, they nonetheless make for a visually dynamic abstract image.

Final Thoughts

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There are many ways that you can enhance the look and feel of your abstract images with thoughtful composition, and making use of lines and curves is one of them. As we’ve seen in these examples, lines and curves can add interest to the background of a shot, lead viewers’ eyes around within the frame, or take viewers’ eyes on a journey through the shot to another point of interest in the background. However you decide to use lines and curves, the result is an image that gives the eyes much more to look at, and, in turn, makes the photograph much more engaging.

Lesson Summary

  • Prevent viewers’ eyes from getting “stuck” in one area of the photo by giving them lines or curves to follow around the frame.
  • Lines and curves can be used to enhance the background of an image, giving it added dimension and interest.
  • Help viewers explore the whole frame by using lines and curves to lead their eye within the scene.
  • Direct the attention of your viewers by giving them lines or curves that take them through a scene. Move them from foreground to background, left to right, or both.
  • Using lines and curves together can provide interesting results. The juxtaposition of straight lines with soft curves creates nice visual tension, and lines and curves that intersect at odd angles make for an attractive visual as well.

Assignment

The companion assignment for this lesson is quite simple. Search for a subject that contains lines, curves, or both, and, using the sample images in this lesson as inspiration, frame up an abstract shot in which you highlight those lines or curves. Strive to create something completely new rather than merely replicating the sample images in this lesson. Remember - find other ways to enhance the interest of the lines or curves you highlight. Look for interesting lighting, textures, colors and the like to punch up the drama in the scene.

Further Study