We’ve been on a roll lately talking about post-processing curves: video tutorials, linear adjustments, and nonlinear adjustments. I have one more in the works, but I wanted to take a little break from all that technical software stuff.
I also wanted to stay on topic with the theme of “curves”, so here’s a slightly different take on it. Curves are also a key component of composition. In this article, you’ll find eleven tips for using curves in composition along with sample photos.
1. LEAD TO A COMMON FOCAL POINT
Leading lines are a basic compositional technique, and curves can be used in place of straight lines. Try using natural curves to force the eye of the viewer to a common focal point. In the image below, the main draw is toward the intersection of the curves.
photo credit: Éole
2. RADIAL CURVES AND SPIRALS
Curves can take on many shapes and forms, including circles and spirals. These forms also force a natural point of focus to their center. This particular photo also uses straight lines aimed directly at the center for a stronger effect.
photo credit: ramyo
3. CURVE REPETITION
Repeating curves tend to make a stronger compositional impact than a single curve. Bonus points if you can get an odd number of them like 3 or 5 — odds tend to be more attractive than evens. This photo shows triple repeating curves with nearly identical shape. The simple color scheme also helps to not distract from the composition.
photo credit: tanakawho
4. HUMAN FORM CURVES
We’re basically nothing but curves. If you have the opportunity to photograph people in a revealing manner, be sure to look for the natural flowing curves. In this photo, the soft curve is accentuated by the lighting, and the placement of the hand interrupts it to provide some amount of tension in an otherwise relaxing shape.
photo credit: Ozyman
5. CURVES AND LINES
I mentioned this in tip #2, but I’ll mention it again. Combining curves and lines can be a powerful compositional technique. The intersections can create compelling patterns, while the lines and curves provide pathways for the eye to travel. In this photo, there are far more straight lines than curves, but the curved sections draw the eye because they stand out from the rest of the pattern.
photo credit: Thomas Hawk
6. SEPARATION OF FOREGROUND
A plain foreground or background can be good in some instances, but other instances will benefit from a subtle break. Curves can provide that soft break in an otherwise flat foreground or background. In this photo, you can see that the foreground curves provide areas of higher contrast to break up the low contrast midtones of the snow.
photo credit: extranoise
7. CONVERTING 3D TO 2D
Obviously, the typical camera will capture any scene in 2D. But 3D curves and spirals can change their shape and appearance when flattened. This photo shows spirals and loops of smoke being converted into repeating sinusoidal curves on a 2D plane.
photo credit: Dude Crush
8. INTERSECTING CURVES
Intersecting curves can create a sense of depth and give some extra notion of the 3D layout of the scene. Notice that this image exhibits several levels of intersections — roof structure, shadows, and straight lines. Also notice that the radial curves draw your attention to their center while the sweeping curves and band of sunlight draw your attention to the same location.
photo credit: Jasmic
9. HUMOR BREAK
This one popped up when I was searching for “curve” photos… I couldn’t resist putting it in here. Rock on.
photo credit: Marvin Kuo
10. CURVES AND CONTRAST
When you have multiple curves or repeating curves, play on the contrast between them to create a pattern of stripes. This high contrast helps to define the curves as a strong point in the composition. In this photo, you can see the very strong contrast between the steps as they sweep along the buildings.
photo credit: Pieter Musterd
11. MULTI-LEVEL CURVES
Curves can be presented within the composition at may levels. Small curves, big curves, lazy curves, tight curves, loopy curves, etc. Finding a scene with more than one type of curve can present your viewer with an interesting piece to digest. In this photo, you can see the big curves separating sand from sky, curves separating the foreground, and lots of little curves providing texture.
photo credit: Appy29 (very busy away)
12. FRAMING WITH CURVES
Natural frames are also a good way to help your composition, so look for any curves that can provide a stronger focus for your subject. Here, you can see that the curve of the bench draws your attention toward the may laying on it and away from the lower left corner.
photo credit: paul goyette
How else can you use curves to enhance your composition? And be sure to share your own example photos in the comments below!