Art of Photography

Rob Townsend


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Exercise – Horizontal and vertical lines [take 2]

I did this exercise earlier today but decided after posting that I wasn’t happy with it, as the subjects chosen were too obvious. So I’ve redone it. The original post is still there, in the interests of honesty!

Brief:

Find four examples of horizontal and four examples of vertical lines. The line should be prominent and ideally be the first thing the viewer would see. Make note of the different ways in which horizontal and vertical lines appear to the eye and the camera.

Equipment:

Canon EOS 650D with EF 18-200mm f/3.5 lens; Leica X1 24mm.

Results:

Horizontals first:

Horizon

Horizon

Yachts

Yachts

Skirting

Skirting

Canopies

Canopies

In redoing this exercise I made more of an effort to find horizontal lines that weren’t too literal. I looked for images where the horizontal line was clearly identifiable, but was at least in part brought out by the composition that I chose. Once my eyes were opened to this concept, I did manage to find four examples where the horizontal line is visible.

Now onto the verticals:

Palm tree

Palm tree

Pillars

Pillars

Kerbstones

Kerbstones

Tower

Tower

Second time around I was looking out for examples where the vertical aspect of the image was clearly evident, without it being simply a photo of a vertical line. I am happier with this second attempt, as these are all photos of something (rather than abstract lines) but the vertical element is clearly identifiable.

What I’ve learned:

The learnings are broadly the same as my first go at this exercise, so I will repeat them here.

I’ve learned that horizontal and vertical lines are everywhere, once you start seeking them out. They aren’t always easy to isolate and make the central element in an image, but when they are, the resultant images can have an appealing simplicity and solidity.

Horizontal line images seem ‘heavier’, more grounded, especially when the line is in the lower portion of the image. They exhibit a stillness that can be quite calming.

Vertical line images also have this static quality to them, but not in exactly the same way. The vertical lines that literally come up out of the ground (the tree, the tower) have an implied solidity to them. I found the vertical images to divide the frame more, as maybe I naturally read images from left to right; the line stops the natural flow of the eye from left to right and marks a transition point in the image.

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Exercise – Horizontal and vertical lines [take 1]

EDIT: After publishing this (and, to be honest, after looking at other students’ efforts) I decided that I really wasn’t happy with this exercise. Way too many really obvious examples; I should have been much more creative. So I’ve done it again.

Brief:

Find four examples of horizontal and four examples of vertical lines. The line should be prominent and ideally be the first thing the viewer would see. Make note of the different ways in which horizontal and vertical lines appear to the eye and the camera.

Equipment:

Canon EOS 650D with EF 18-200mm f/3.5 lens.

Results:

Horizontals first:

Road marking

Road marking

Doorstep

Doorstep

No entry sign

No entry sign

Handrail

Handrail

I found horizontal lines a little more difficult to find than verticals. The obvious option of the horizon itself led me to the handrail image, but I had to think a little more laterally for the others. I saw various horizontal lines in man-made constructions such as buildings and street furniture but many of these had multiple lines and rendered the final image a little too cluttered. This set of four represents the ‘purest’ horizontal images I could capture, where the content of the image didn’t overwhelm the graphic elements.

Now onto the verticals:

Palm tree

Palm tree

Building corner

Building corner

Illuminated street sign

Illuminated street sign

Slalom cones

Slalom cones

I saw lots of vertical lines – they’re everywhere once you start looking for them. However, many of them were basically similar in nature – lots of lampposts, drainpipes, poles etc. The set here starts with a fairly obvious one (the tree) but I tried to make the others a little more interesting. I was drawn to the building by the contrasting tone of the cornerstones, which made a strong, wide vertical line. The street sign shot from above stood out for me, a line of light protruding from the wall. For the final one I chose the intermittent line made by the small cones used by rollerbladers for slalom tricks.

What I’ve learned:

I’ve learned that horizontal and vertical lines are everywhere, once you start seeking them out. They aren’t always easy to isolate and make the central element in an image, but when they are, the resultant images can have an appealing simplicity and solidity.

Horizontal line images seem ‘heavier’, more grounded, especially when the line is in the lower portion of the image. They exhibit a stillness that is quite calming.

Vertical line images also have this static quality to them, but not in exactly the same way. The vertical lines that literally come up out of the ground (the tree, the building cornerstones) have an implied solidity to them. I found the vertical images to divide the frame more, as maybe I naturally read images from left to right; the line stops the natural flow of the eye from left to right and marks a transition point in the image.


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Exercise – Vertical and horizontal frames

Brief:

Take 20 shots in vertical format. Review them to look for any similarities in the types of subject chosen. Then take shots of the same 20 subjects in horizontal format. Observe which pictures work better in each format.

Equipment:

Canon PowerShot S100.

Method:

I shot all these images in the space of about an hour as I wanted to maintain the shooting conditions (e.g. lighting) for comparison purposes. As instructed, I selected and shot the 20 vertical shots first, and only after reviewing what I’d shot in vertical format did I retrace my route and take the same 20 subjects in horizontal format.

Results:

Click on any image to go into slideshow view.

Looking back at the first set (the verticals) before I shot the horizontals, it became apparent that I had mostly sought out subjects that suited the format, such as buildings, trees, statues, various items of street furniture etc. In a few instances I chose subjects that I would have normally defaulted to horizontal but made a conscious decision to shoot vertical first.

  • Some of these (1, 7, 8, 10, 12, 15) suit the vertical format better in my opinion
  • Others (4, 5, 6, 9, 13, 14, 18) seemed to suit horizontal better
  • The remainder (2, 3, 11, 16, 17, 19, 20) looked equally balanced – albeit with a different ‘feel’ – in either format

What I’ve learned:

In this exercise it’s become apparent that some subjects can be much better served by shooting in a vertical format rather than the default horizontal. In my experience on this exercise, this is not simply that the objects themselves are tall/thin as opposed to short/wide, as in some cases a tall/thin subject works well in horizontal format if it is balanced with some other point(s) in the image that provide some context (e.g. 9, 13, 14, 17).

Similarly, some subjects that might initially seem more suited to horizontal, such as a landscape, can benefit from a vertical frame treatment if it helps to accentuate the perceived depth in the image (e.g. in image 10 with the view down the length of a river).

So this is another aspect of composition that I will take into account when framing images in future.