[tweetmeme]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.

Entering Hyperspace
Creative Commons License 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.

Argento Spiralis
Creative Commons License 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.

Green curves
Creative Commons License 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.

Curves
Creative Commons License 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.

Working Late
Creative Commons License 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.

snow curve
Creative Commons License 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.

Fading Flower
Creative Commons License 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.

swerve
Creative Commons License 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.

Rocking the Curve
Creative Commons License 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.

Curves & Curves
Creative Commons License 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.

Diminishing Lines
Creative Commons License 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.

benched
Creative Commons License 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!

13 responses


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I also like curves that intersect straight lines, such as this pic I took of a curved bench: http://iphonotos.com/the-divide The two types of lines work together to create an interesting mix of shapes.

February 18, 2010 11:21 pm


Nice instructional and great info!

February 19, 2010 7:03 am

great concepts and examples. thanks for putting it together!

February 19, 2010 7:09 am

What a wonderful collection you put together Brian from some talented photographers.

I do agree that curves are probably the most useful art form to convey motion and movement within an image. Straight lines are great but somehow a curve seems to evoke more of an emotional response.

Niels Henriksen

February 19, 2010 7:51 am

ROTFLOL! When I read the title, I thought you were going to write about using Curves in Photoshop to enhance compositions – and I really wondered about your sanity!

But I did enjoy your article very much – about the other kind of curves!

February 19, 2010 9:45 am

Caught me as well – was expecting some teckie talk…

But you got me with this collection of fab images. The first one is a creamy delight WOW!!!!

February 20, 2010 12:58 pm


Great post.. Here’s one of my pict using curves http://bit.ly/seasand

March 13, 2010 10:16 am

Great tips. I came here expecting a discussion about the ‘curves’ post-processing tool, though. Silly me. Nonetheless, this is a great article, so it’s all good. Thanks.

March 13, 2010 10:45 am

I love curves and in particular ones that lead to something. I’m very new at this and have never posted a photo on here but I’m going to try.
This is a hallway in a university and I thought it was a good place to try getting a long empty space.
Any suggestions would be appreciated.Thanks, Kitty

March 13, 2010 11:22 am


thanks for sharing all these great images. not what I was expecting from the title.

March 14, 2010 9:18 pm

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