The most interesting thing about photo composition, I think, is that there is no general rule.
Or, are there? Why does composition get talked about so often then?
A more meaningful thing to do, therefore, is to frame our discussion - what type of portraits? What’s the purpose of the portraits?
So in this series of blog posts in relation to composition, I will be sharing specifically on composing ARTISTIC PORTRAITS for the purpose of making INSTAGRAM POSTS. What I mean by this are portraits shot with the primary aim of depicting the model’s beauty and charm - it’s not about the garments, nor the makeup. It’s ultimately about the model.
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The theme for today is:
What are Implied Lines?
As its name suggests, these are lines that don’t actually exist in the picture, but only in the viewer’s perception.
In the context of portraits, this is usually created by the direction of the subject’s sight.
Sounds abstract, I know. So here are some classic examples and my interpretations of them.
Peach Picker by Dorothea Lange
Observe what your eyes are doing when you look at the photo. You probably can’t help but look towards the right of the woman.
This is your subconsciousness telling you to figure out what is she staring at.
Again, observe your eyeballs. You are probably laying eyes on the gentleman first, then onto the lady on the wall, and then to the top left corner.
This illustrates how the direction of sight of the subjects guide the reader’s attention.
Grandfather and Grandson, Dorothea Lange
By now you can probably tell, I like Dorothea’s work.
Anyway, the point here is that this doesn’t only apply to a sole subject; it works too for 2-persons images.
The arrows signify how the implied lines created by the subjects’ sights interact with the actual lines created by their hands draw the reader’s attention to their holding of hands.
Hoboken by Henri-Cartier-Bresson
This is probably one of the most frequently quoted examples, for very good reasons.
The perspectives of the lovers keep the reader’s focus inside the space between the couple.
Why do implied lines of vision create interest?
Brings the image closer to reality
In reality, people move.
If the subject in the frame appears to stay still and do not have a sense of direction, it looks fake to the human eye.
For instance, we suspect something is artificially keyed in if it doesn’t cast a shadow. Similarly, a subject would look more natural when it is doing something rather than being complete stationary.
In the photo below, for instance, you can see that there is a movement implied from her sight towards the right of the frame.
Opens up a creative gap
This is in a way an extension of the point made above - we like to see things in context.
Like it or not, our brains do quite a lot for us without us asking, such as filling in gaps where we aren’t given enough information.
The brain enjoys this exercise, and implied lines of vision provides more of that.
In the photo below, you might find yourself trying to figure out what was my model looking at. Her vision suggests that she is looking at something outside the frame, but the photo leaves this blank. Therefore, your brain tries to answer it for you.
How can you make use of implied lines in portraits?
Now that you understand why implied lines are helpful in composition, let’s look at how to put it to good use when shooting portraits.
Direct your model to look sideways (yeah always state the obvious)
Leave enough room for the implied line
This is where things can get tricky. As much as looking sideways can make your portrait look more natural, it can also make it look fake, depending on where you put your implied line. Generally, the implied line should span across a substantial area of the frame for it to look real.
Direct your model to look sideways at VARIOUS LEVELS - look up, look horizontally, and look down. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you are set for your life with just one angle - you won’t realise that there is a better angle until you find it.
In this article, we talked about:
What are implied lines and examples of its usage.
Why implied lines create interest - creates a sense of reality and invites visual imagination.
How you can utilise the concept in your portraits.
More sharing coming soon!
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