Leading Lines and Framing
On occasion, your subject may be hard to define within a scene and you might have to help your viewer clearly identify that main subject. That does not mean you could eliminate the rest of the scene to highlight the main subject, because then you might lose all context necessary for fully defining the subject. Such is the case with the photo I have included in this column. In this photo I wanted you to see the graffiti and peeling paint of the walls on the equipment room at the top of this elevator shaft.
If we analyze the composition of this photo it may help you understand how to use leading lines and framing in your photos to help your viewers appreciate the main subject. In this case I composed the image to use the rails of the ladder to create leading lines and framing for the elevator shaft. The arches over the top of the equipment room provide frames for the subject while at the same time being leading lines that lock your view on the main subject. The larger arch in the foreground followed by the second smaller arch draws your attention across the photo to the right side where the main subject is placed. At the same time the angles at the base of the arches pull you across from the right side of the photo to be lead by the arches towards the main subject.
Spend time thinking about this composition and you are likely to wonder how I managed to get such a shooting angle and why I was after that angle. First, I got the angle by shooting from the top of a hydraulic lift. Yes, I realize this is not a likely shooting location for most of my readers, but it is where I wanted to be for the shot. Second, I wanted this angle so I could use the top of the ladder as a composition element that would “take” my viewers up to the roof where this scene exist. How often will you be at such a location? Maybe never, and that is why it is so important for me to make the shot as interesting as possible for the average viewer. This particular shot is part of a collection I am working on for a Final Friday show in April, and on display throughout the month of May. The show is a historical documentary look at the Coleman Factory A complex at 2nd Street and St Francis in Wichita, KS before, during and after demolition.
What else is going on in this photo that I wanted to “frame” and highlight for the viewer? The first arch highlights snow accumulation on the deteriorating roof of this vintage building along with a big chunk of gray sky that gives us a “cold” feel in the overall scene. The relevance in this case is to communicate the cold feeling inside the building after it has sat unused and unheated for so many years. The second arch not only highlights the equipment room, but also illustrates its poor state of repair with the peeling paint and the missing windowpane above the graffiti. Otherwise, the image does not show or include much of anything else to create interest in the surroundings. Sure there is the city spreading out in the background, but there is nothing in the immediate area with any clear definition and the only well-defined subject in the background is the parking garage at the Eaton. This element ties back to the fact that the building in this photo will soon become part of a parking area in downtown Wichita. All of this being my attempt to accurately communicate the present condition of this building and hint at its future.
The bottom line is that you sometimes need to use various elements within a scene to help highlight the most important subjects. Whether you use leading lines to point the viewer to the main subject, or use framing to highlight that subject, it should be your objective to ensure your viewer “sees” your main subject clearly. If there are other elements in the scene that can contribute to telling the story about your subject, use them to your advantage by allowing the viewer to see them and understand the contribution they make to the overall context of the photo. If you show a waterfall with the pool at the bottom or the river feeding it, you have created a much more interesting shot than you would have by simply showing the waterfall. If you photograph a power generation facility at a dam; show the power lines leading away from the dam to help the viewer understand what the water coming through that dam is doing.
©2011 Jeff Cowell, jrcowell.com