{Mentor Mondays} Reading Between the Lines

Last week we talked about using interesting perspectives to tell a story. But did you know you can actually READ a photo? It's true! The human eye instinctively searches an image from left-to-right, top-to-bottom, just like we read a book.

"If there are no words in a photograph, what are we 'reading'...?"

I'm glad you asked! When we look at a photograph, we instinctively read LINES. Ready to see some magic??

Special thanks to my sister in law for being such an awesome model!

Special thanks to my sister in law for being such an awesome model!

I wanted you to look at Catherine's beautiful eyes, so I took inventory of the lines around me. This building in Shockoe Bottom was an obvious choice, providing multiple layers of brick (ie: lines) to guide viewers' eyes to my target. BUT, just in case my use of lines wasn't obvious enough, I had Catherine lay her hand against a prominent architectural detail, the protruding layer of brick. What does this accomplish? Your eye hits that row of brick, travels down the wall to her hand, then up her arm and right back to that lovely face! Sneaky, right? Train your eye, see if you can spot the lines in these photos:


"I didn't even notice those lines before you pointed them out. How am I supposed to find them when I'm taking pictures?"

I can't stress enough how moving around will help you explore new, artful perspectives. Suddenly, you'll find that the rope on the swing your child is leaning her head against is a "leading line". The branch that rope is attached to? Leading line. If you can squat down and use the horizon to intersect the subject, JACKPOT!  Here are some common "lines" you should look for:

  • Horizon - this is ALWAYS an option. 
  • Trees - trunks, branches (hey, nobody said these lines have to be STRAIGHT)
  • Architecture - a city skyline, building materials like rows of bricks or wood planks, details like windows, columns and doors 

Lines exist everywhere, it's the photographer's job to use them effectively in their "story telling." Once you find the lines in your environment, remember to follow these rules:

  • Make sure the lines point to your subject. More specifically: a FLATTERING place on your subject. For instance: if you were to take a picture of me in these final weeks of my pregnancy, you better make darn sure those lines are hitting my BUMP and not my BUM. ;) 
  • If you are using more than one line, they should intersect AT your subject.
  • DON'T ignore lines. If they exist in your setting, and they're NOT contributing to telling your "story", MOVE until they're out of your frame. Failing to do so will leave an awkward distraction in your photo. 

I'll leave you with one last example - taken with Instagram on my cell phone. PROOF that these rules apply regardless the camera you're using! (Yup, that means you have no excuse but to step up those mobile uploads, friends!)

Any doubt who the "star" of this story is??

Any doubt who the "star" of this story is??

Now go forth and conquer! Get some practice in before we move onto the next composition tip next week!