Rules of Composition: Leading Lines

Photography for Dummies was the first photography book I read. The chapter on composition was brief, providing an overview of basic techniques. There were a few images offered as examples, but, in all, the chapter was not very helpful. 

The Rule of Thirds was the first rule I learned. It is a simple concept and easy to grasp. But, others— fill the frame, add foreground for interest, for example—were too conceptual or abstract to understand from just reading. After all, to me, it seemed difficult not to include a foreground in images for anything but posed portraits. Composition practices became clearer after reading the 20 composition rules post written by Barry Carroll. I have many more books now, but the post by Carroll beats all those books combined. It is simple, clear, and has at least two or three images to illustrate every principle. 

The Rule of Thirds was easy to use, so I didn’t need to experiment. Other rules required more thought because applying them required a proper setting. However, my goal wasn’t (isn’t) to merely mechanically follow the precept. I wanted to see if my reaction to the developed image evoked what I intended when making the shot. By that, I mean I wanted to find out if, on looking at the shots, I would have an emotive response.  I did want this to be a rote exercise where I  just checked off an item on my list of things to learn. 

Looking west, Portra 800, Maxxum 600si

My first experiment was with the principle of “leading lines.” Not far from me is a railroad crossing that I pass a few times each month. The sunsets over those tracks, and seeing them in the fading light, always instilled a sense of melancholy. I decided to try capturing that late afternoon feel of fading sun and a path that leads to who-knows-where. 

I took the shots in this post at different times. The image at the start of the post is XP2 shot in the late afternoon looking east. The color image is Portra 800 shot just before sunset looking westward. I tried to capture the sunlight glinting off the rails to add to the visual impact. Unfortunately, the image is grainier than expected. Oddly, few other shots on the roll showed the same level of grain.  

I’m not sure how others feel when looking at these images, but I get a sense of time passed and opportunities lost with the setting sun. The B&W image evokes an entirely different response. Here, curiosity is dominant. A line from Here’s to Life (listen) by Shirley Horn, comes to mind — “I want to see what’s down the road, around the bend.” The framing could be better for both, but overall I’m pleased. The images were on, I think, my fourth and fifth rolls of film. When I look at them, I feel the same as I did when standing there in the quiet, looking down those tracks. 

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