How to find the S-Curve — Daniel Long Photography
This compositional technique is relatively new to me, to be honest. I have used it in the past but I didn’t realise I was doing so.
It was one of this techniques that sits in your subconscious and when you see it naturally you immediately are intrigued and want to capture it.
I had used this idea and I had seen it in practice by some amazing photographers but I didn’t know the name of it.
Now you must be wondering: ‘ How did you find out about it, then? ‘
Well, I recently discovered an amazing Landscape Photographer who is on YouTube ( Thomas Heaton) and while watching one of his videos he mentions keeping an eye out for an S shape in the environment.
It was like a lightbulb went off in my head!
I now had the name of a technique and could look out for it. So this is a quick guide to this really useful technique that you need to be keeping an eye out for!
This diagram is meant to be a simple example of how the S-Curve brings you into the image. You follow the line to the main subject of the photo or to a detail, and by doing so you examine the picture more.
It creates a connection between you and the image in milliseconds. You are not always conscious that your eye is examining a picture in this way.
But I bet that you have a few images in mind that have used this technique.
The key, then, is to be a able to identify the S in a landscape before you take the picture. There are many things in the environment that can form an S shape, such as rivers, fences, paths, roads, coast line, etc.
So, once you’ve identified the S then you need to figure out your position to make the most of it. This means that you need to identify the true subject of the image and orientate yourself so that the S leads to the general vicinity of the subject.
This first example comes from near to my childhood home, it’s the path on the White Cliffs of Dover, Kent. This picture was taken in the summer, as you might be able to tell from the deep blue sky, golden fields of wheat, and the green grass.
Walking along the chalk cliffs you eventually come to a lighthouse that has a small tea room, a great reward for the couple of miles walking.
Definitely worth the visit!
As you may have noticed from the bright red lines I’ve drawn, both the path and the fence line help to form an S shape that draws you the viewer to the lighthouse in the distance on the horizon.
Without those features this image would not have been anywhere near as impactful as it is.
Wandering the streets of Venice, there are many opportunities for S shapes. I always visit Venice in November or December, that way the crowds of the summer have dissipated and you can walk the streets easily all day long. Also, the low winter sun casts an amazing golden hue on the Mediterranean coloured walls and terracotta tiles.
Truly an amazing city and one of my favourites.
The path and canal bends in just the right way to form an S shape that leads you to the horizon. There wasn’t a subject for the S shape to lead you to other than the distance.
This image is meant to make you feel as if you are on those streets, wandering, exploring, discovering the city. Always wondering what lies around the next corner.
The S curve also brings you to the brighter area of the picture as well, as if you are leaving the shadows and at the end of the path is something amazing.
The last example comes from Dunnottar Castle, Scotland. Like the first example its the path that creates the S shape that leads not only to the castle, but to the sun emerging through the clouds.
The S draws you in to examine the ruins sticking out into the sea. The sun also gives you a focal point, as the eye naturally moves to the brightest spot in a photo.
The beginning of the S shape is in the left corner and the end is on the right side of the picture, this makes the viewer examine the whole picture.
This technique is all about the environment in which you are taking the photo and your relationship with it. To master it, you need to be able to see it.
Once you begin to see it in the environment you will be able to create relationships between the image and the viewer, leading them into your picture.
Creating relationships with the viewer is the goal of all photography. You want the viewer to feel as if they were there.
And the S curve compositional technique is a valuable resource for the Landscape Photographer to create relationships with the viewer.
Written by Daniel Long
Daniel Long created DRL Photography as a place to showcase his work as a photographer. Daniel has learnt a lot about photography and wishes to impart this knowledge with you, although the world is an ever changing place and he always says “you can never learn everything.” So as he makes his way, he continues to learn knew techniques, skills and information about photography. He focuses on Landscape and Wildlife photography and Daniel has a special focus on Scotland, his home away from home. As well as writing about photography and taking pictures out in the field, Daniel offers guided photography days so he can share his knowledge and locations in an effort to give his clients the best opportunities possible. Have a browse around this website to see his images, guided experiences and articles about photography. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to get in contact.
Originally published at https://www.drlphotography.co.uk on February 6, 2019.