How will you achieve outstanding compositions using groups and lines?

Your mind plays clever games, helping you understand the world. It creates imaginary groups and lines. So understanding how it works will help you take more compelling photos.

Our minds crave order and simplicity. One of the methods by which our minds achieve that order is by subconsciously grouping things into groups. If we don’t find a way to group objects, we will be overwhelmed with too much data from our senses. For example, when we walk along the coast, we see a beach and not all the individual pebbles.

If you successfully create order in your photos, they will become more attractive. Fortunately, there are many different ways that you and the viewer’s mind group objects to get there. Applying these techniques will increase the viewer’s fascination with your photos.

The most obvious way to group objects is to have them close together. The closer things are to each other, the more the human eye perceives them to be related.

But proximity is not the only way to create order.

In order for your mind to be able to group objects, there must be similarities between them. That doesn’t mean they have to be exactly the same, but if they have something in common in terms of shape, size, form, tone, texture, or color, the human brain can group them together to form one. separate order. So even though we don’t have the ability to group a duck, a car, and a mountain, we can see the order in a flock that includes mallards, pigeons, and goldeneyes. Likewise, we can consider a car stuck in a traffic jam as a single entity, despite all the differences between the individual vehicles.

A group becomes stronger as its parts become more homogeneous. Imagine that traffic jams include only taxis; group of cars becomes more and more tight.

From a photography perspective, this can be both good and bad. Why bad? Particularly in the frame, that uniformity can sometimes become monotonous with no single focus point. However, take a step back, and we see that the group is part of a larger scene, then the group becomes a subject.

Also, if we interrupt the group with something contrary to it, that interruption becomes the subject. Therefore, the group has less visual weight and lags behind.

Another thing that binds objects together in a group is what is known as “Common Destiny”. That’s when the individual elements are considered to move together as a group. Typical examples include a flock of geese, cyclists on the road, etc. Consistent movement of a set of objects seems impossible in still photographs, but our minds will use it. take our existing knowledge and assume that motion exists.

When we consider a flock of birds, we already know that they are similar, close together, and go in the same direction. There is another important factor: the birds are enclosed in a structure. For example, while a flock of geese typically fly in a V-shape, a flock of starlings has a fluid, oddly shaped appearance. We see the form of flocks more than we see individual birds.

In photography, we can use this to our advantage. Perhaps the shape of the group can create balance or guide the eye.

Similarly, we need to be aware of groups that create unwanted shapes in our photos. For example, in landscape photography, a group of three rocks can form a triangle whose apex points into the photograph, thus guiding the eye. However, try inverting the triangle so that the top is at the bottom of the frame. The opposite line then goes above the images, acting as an obstruction, preventing your eyes from entering the image.

If you arrange a group of five objects on a table top, they will form a straight line, right? No, that line doesn’t exist; Your mind created it to simplify the picture. Nothing connects them but the idea in your head. Furthermore, the imaginary line extends beyond the furthest object, leading the eye to whatever lies beyond. That imaginary line happens because of something called “Continuing Good”.

In other words, we extrapolate from the information we have that the lines don’t just stop. Our mind expands the idea of ​​a line beyond its visible head. We can use this phenomenon to direct the viewer towards a distant object or horizon without a real continuous line leading to all of them. Also, when the lines reach the edge of the frame, we believe they continue beyond the boundaries of the picture. Thus, we can add objects to a group that we cannot see in the figure.

Real and imaginary lines can also intersect other lines and meet other obstacles. This is where visual weight comes into play. The eye follows the route of least resistance. If the obstacle has more weight than the line, the eye will stop there. However, if the line is stronger than the obstacle, the eye will continue along that line and not stop.

In the following image, where I have moved near the rocks in the scene, the version on the left forms a triangle facing the scene. The eye follows an imaginary line shown by red dots. Even though that line is cut by a line of seaweed and a line of rocks (blue dot), the eyes continue to be directed towards the person because we give people more visual weight. In the right hand version, I have cloned the rocks to different positions. Now, the top of the triangle is at the base on the opposite side making the eye not move towards the figure. However, because of the strong visual weight we assign to others, our eyes still find the person eventually.

There is a degree of subjectivity here, as your interest in the subject of the interrupt may differ from mine. An ornithologist will love birds more than an automobile enthusiast. So their gaze might rest on a bird perched on a fence, while car fans will turn their eyes to the Chevrolet in the background.

If a road crosses another road, the idea of ​​taking the path of least resistance still applies. Take for example the letter X. We consider it to be two lines that intersect in the middle. That’s because our mind craves simplicity. Crossing a / is the straightest path for our eyes to move. So we omit the adjacent > to create X.

The woodblock print, South Wind, Clear Morning by Katsushika Hokusai is a prime example of all these elements. The visual weight of Mount Fuji draws the eye directly to the mountain. We then follow the path of the mountain’s edge as it sweeps left towards the denser cloud and darker green of the forest. Brighter clouds framing the background don’t block the eye’s path because the edge of the mountain has more visual weight.

I hope you found this article an interesting introduction to this aspect of composition that ties together some of the topics I’ve discussed before. It would be great to see some of your pictures illustrating how groups and lines work.

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