“No matter how much shape, or form, or texture, or tone, or line, or any of the visual elements are present, if they aren’t put to some purpose all you have is a picture about a visual element.”— Peter Glendinning
Lines give the viewer a sense of direction to move their gaze along a certain path. It also creates certain mood (and emotions) depending on the nature of lines used in the composition.
Implied lines are created by mind’s eye to draw connections between similar visual elements. Whether visible or implied, lines can be found in many forms like, vertical, horizontal, diagonal, curved, zigzag, radiant, or irregular.
Artists: Wassily Kandinsky, Picasso, Piet Mondrian, Agnes Martin, Christian Rosa. Read more about lines in art forms here
Pattern can be described as successive repetition of similar visual elements. However, it is more than simply grouping of similar visual elements and should have an element of direction or organisation.
Pattern exists when the number of repetition is at least more than two. However, it need not always be regular or geometric. It can be found in irregular or broken form as well.
Artists: Gustav Klimt, M.C. Escher (Day and Night), Jackson Pollack, Andy Warhol, William Morris, Piet Mondrian, Andrew Goldsworthy, Bridget Riley. Read more about pattern in art forms here
Tone relates to gradation of darkness and lightness in the scene and conveys a mood (or message) to the viewer. Tonal range is all that comes between the brightest and darkest parts of the scene.
Tonality is basically visual appearance of the scene in terms of the distribution of tones and levels of gradation between them. Tonal contrast can create visual interest in the subject. Tone/ value can also create an illusion of depth.
Artists: James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Juan Sanchez Cotan, Albrecht Dürer, Georges Seurat. Read more about tones/values here
Lines, Patterns & Tones in Photography
Vertical Lines usually convey a certain sense of solidity, power and firmness. It can also be used to restrict viewer’s gaze from moving beyond the right/left edge of the photograph and return to the image. Using thin vertical lines can give a feel of elegance.
Horizontal Lines can be used to create separations between spaces in the photograph and convey a sense of rest, stability, relaxation or lack of movement. Horizontal lines, when continuous can create a barrier for the viewer’s eyes to continue and look at what is above.
Diagonal Lines can create a dynamic sense of movement leading viewer’s gaze from one corner of the photograph to the other.
S-curved Lines direct viewer’s gaze through the photograph gracefully and creates a sense of harmony and relaxedness.
Irregular Lines create a sense of uneasiness, discomfort, tension, confusion or fear.
L I N E S
- Including lines in your composition (whether visible or implied) can help you get the viewer’s eye moving to the key point of interest (focal or resting point) in your photograph (a function of leading lines), or lead the viewer to a vanishing point (a function of path);
- Avoid compositions in which the lines direct the viewer’s eyes out of the image, shortening the attention span on the image itself;
- Lines, if not used thoughtfully and with a purpose, can also cause confusion and result in weak composition;
- You can use lines to emphasize perspective;
- Try to include multiple types of lines without making the image busy, if you can.
– Lines formed a major part of Wassily Kandinsky’s paintings.
– Leading lines have appeared in many paintings such as the Oath of the Horatii by Jacques-Louis David (1784).
– Reduction of an image into flattened lines was key element of Cubism.
P A T T E R N S
- Practice looking for patterns in your composition that can add value to your image;
- Finding the right vantage point, perspective, or angle (so as to include directional element) is the key to use pattern as a successful composition;
- Pattern may not always work in isolation and should be complemented with other visual elements in the frame;
- Looking for patterns and then looking for differences in those patterns (or contrasting patterns) can be an interesting way to compose images;
- In order to get the viewer’s eye right on the pattern, try to remove distracting elements from your composition by filling most of the frame, zooming-in or cropping;
- You may also sometimes break the pattern to create interest in a visual element in your photograph.
The photograph in the left can be considered as bad example of lines and pattern used for composition, for three reasons. Firstly, as there is no focal point in the image, lines have nothing to point towards. Secondly, most of the lines are taking the viewer’s eye out of the frame. Thirdly, the pattern created by these lines are not adding any value or purpose to the image.
“Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern.”— Alfred North Whitehead
The actual effect of tones i.e., how light or dark they appear, also depends on the surrounding areas where they are concentrated, as you can see in the above image. A tone that is usually light in one situation may seem darker in another if the neighbouring tones are even lighter.
The range of tones that can be produced by a particular colour may also vary. For example, while lighter hues may give you a smaller range of tones to play with, darker hues may just do the opposite.
- Cool tones like green, blue and violet, can be used to convey isolation, calmness, tranquillity, freshness or even sadness.
- Warm tones like reds, yellows, oranges and browns can be used to convey a sense of warmth, happiness, upliftment or nostalgia.
- Dark tones convey mysterious, sombre, oppressive, heavy, sad, or depressing feelings.
- Bright tones convey feelings of joy or happiness.
What I am talking about in the list right above is the ‘global tones’, which is the overall look and feel of colours that you get when you see a photograph as a whole (or with squinted eyes). Local tones, on the contrary, refers to the lightness or darkness of individual objects or areas in your photograph. If processed effectively, local tones can be utilized to bring attention to a particular area in the frame or to contrast such area with the rest of the photograph.
T O N E S / V A L U E S
- Just like other visual elements, you must use your judgment to decide how much (or how little) of tones to use in the composition to communicate your message;
- You can also use tonal values opposite to the usual norm (that most people use) to present your work in a different or new manner;
- Familiarize yourself with the zone system and works of Ansel Adams to effectively use tones for great composition here;
- In nutshell, the idea here is to include more tonal range in your composition to make the image look more dynamic instead of flat. However, a limited range of tones can also sometimes produce great results, if you use the relative tones effectively;
- Try to convey a mood (sombre, dark, gloomy, lively, bright etc.) through the choice of your tones;
- Do not instinctively go for an extreme light or extreme dark (i.e., high contrast) as it compromises the overall tonal balance of the photograph;
- Shoot in RAW format using Manual Mode;
- Experiment with light meter and spot metering in your camera to get a varied tonal range;
- Make use of histogram information displayed by your camera to avoid overexposure and underexposure which can lead to loss of tonal range;
- Make post-processing adjustments (like, highlights, shadows, whites, blacks) and use ‘dodge’ and ‘burn’ tools to enhance the tonal range in your image.
- Consider using ‘graduated tint’ for greater tonal range, instead of regular vignette.
Highlights are the areas in your photograph with high luminance values and some discernible details.
Shadows are the areas in your photograph with low luminance values and some discernible details.
Whites are the areas in your photograph where the highlights are so ‘blown out’ that no details are visible.
Blacks are the areas in your photograph with zero luminance and shadows so dark that no details are visible.
Midtones refer to all luminance values that are neither dark nor light.
The below value scale was introduced by Denman Ross in 1907 and still holds as a standard to identify light, mid-tones and darks.
Tones in Colour
- Value is independent of hue. Pay attention to the tone or value of a colour, rather than the hue. A good photograph should ideally have wide range of tonal contrast or values in it.