Image Composition: Converging Lines
Bringing it all Together with Converging Lines
By K David in Articles and Tips on May 10, 2017
In this ongoing series, we examine different photographic techniques, their use, and how to achieve them. This article looks at converging lines and discusses how to use them well, poorly, and to achieve different goals with your photography.
Clayton Valley Presbyterian Church | K David | Pentax K-3 and Samyang 10mm
Converging lines, as an image element, can make or break an image. Used well, converging lines emphasize depth, draw attention to an image's subject, or guide the viewer's eyes through an image. Used poorly, converging lines look cliché, distract viewers from the subject, or create competing image elements that impair an image. Used creatively, converging lines surprise viewers without being recognized. Comparing the above and below images, one uses converging lines in an unimaginative and cliché manner; the other relies on converging lines to be an element of the image that adds character and substance. We'll examine the better of these two photos later in the article.
Chapel | K David | Pentax K-3 and Samyang 10mm
Adding Image Depth
Photographs, regardless of format or technology, are two-dimensional. Image depth comes about through a number of means, one of which is converging lines. Lines create depth as a result of converting our three-dimensional world into a two-dimensional place. Parallel lines that stretch away from the camera will appear, instead, to be converging lines that, drawn by themselves, are just two sides of a triangle.
Santa Monica | K David | Minolta X-700 and Vivitar 24mm f/2
In the above photo of the Santa Monica sidewalk that leads to the waterfront, we see multiple sets of converging lines, all of which work together to create image depth. The inclusion of pedestrians on the sidewalk also creates depth by adding scale.
Water Tank | K David | Pentax K-3 and Samyang 10mm
Take a look at this image and identify the converging lines. Your eyes should be drawn to the clouds as the image element that includes converging lines. In the previous examples, the entire image relied on a heavy-handed use of converging lines. Here, the lines, an image element and not the entire image, work to show the background depth in the image. Let's compare two images similar to the previous examples:
Union Station, Los Angeles | K David | Minolta X-700 and Vivitar 24mm f/2
Big Dipper and Water Wheel | K David | Pentax K-3 and Samyang 10mm f/2.8
Both images show converging lines adding depth to an image. In the first, the use is overbearing and dominates the image heavily. In the latter, the converging lines are an image element that shows background depth without dominating the image.
Tip: When adding depth to images with converging lines, try to use the lines as an image element, not as the complete image.
Drawing Attention to an Image Element or the Subject
Hillside Bush | K David | Minolta X-700 and Rokkor 35mm f/2.8
Converging lines can be used well to guide a viewer's eyes to an image's subject. In the above photo, your eyes were likely, ultimately, drawn to the small bush in the lower left. In this image, converging lines combine with the rule of thirds and tonality to ensure that the bush is the subject. Let's see how the image's converging lines facilitate this.
Hillside Bush with Converging Lines Marked
The converging lines created by the clouds direct the viewer's eyes to the dark hillside in the background. That darkness, next to the lower left's lighter tonality, results in the viewer's eyes resting on the bush because it is an adjacent, lighter area. The bush also rests on a rule of thirds intersection. However, without the cloud's converging lines, the viewer's eyes would not be succinctly guided toward the photo's intended subject.
Honolulu | K David | Pentax K-7 and 31mm FA Limited
What part of the image attracts your eye? If it's the pale-red hotel in the lower left, that's normal and intended. The converging lines of the horizon (on the right) and harbor wall (the gray line on the left), converge as the hotel. In this example you can see that the horizon line does not even have to be complete to be an effective converging line.
Thirty Minutes of Sunset at Point Arena | K David | Pentax K-3 and SMC-M 50mm f/1.4
This image has converging lines that are a bit better hidden in the sky; however, you're likely to have an idea of them at this point. The blue line of sky and the alignment of the clouds lead the viewer's eye to the lighthouse.
Pen F Logo | K David | Olympus Pen F and Zuiko 38mm f/1.8
Here the converging lines are the pencil and the vertical line on the paper. Their convergence indicates the location the viewers should focus on, the Olympus Pen F logo.
Tip: Converging lines don't need to be an inherent part of a scene. If you stage the shots, or take a still life, you can control the image elements.
Keeping a Viewer's Eyes in the Photograph
Abstract | K-David | Pentax K-7 and Sigma 50mm f/2.8 1:1 Macro Lens
In the above image, the right angle's lines converge at a rounded line. The convergence provides a point of interest. The lines converge on a boundary, the curved line that helps keep the viewer's eyes in the photo.
Utah State Capitol Chandelier | K David | Minolta Alpha 9 and Sony 135mm f/2.8 T/4.5 STF
Here the photo is only converging lines. They direct the viewer's eyes to the center of the chandelier and work to keep the viewer focused there.
Tip: Converging lines don't need to add to or result from image depth. Converging lines can be used when an image is of a generally flat subject.
Guiding a Viewer's Eyes through a Photograph
Guiding the viewer's eyes though an image with converging lines can be a challenge, and may be the most difficult use of them. Here are two samples that show how converging lines work to help a viewer see all of the image.
Forest Path | K David | Olympus Pen F and Zuiko 38mm f/1.8
Follow the image and let your eyes explore it naturally. In all likelihood, your eyes followed the path through the trees. Here's how most people follow the image.
Forest Path with Converging Lines Indicated
The lines of the path converge as they recede from the camera. They also wind through the image to help viewers take in the entire image.
Clayton Valley Presbyterian Church | K David
Let's return to the image that opened this article. This image is filled with converging lines. They help to ensure that the viewer sees each image component. The lines also help to keep the viewer's eyes in the photo by converging in an area in the image's center. In this photo, converging lines are doing a lot of work.
Clayton Valley Presbyterian Church with Converging Lines Indicated
If this article leaves you with one key concept, it is that converging lines can be much more than just an exercise in image perspective.
Adding Meaning to an Image
Jasmine | K David | Pentax K-3 and SMC-M 50mm f/1.4
Here the converging lines stretch from the bowling ball to the pins. The lines draw the viewer's eyes toward the waiting pins adding meaning and drama to the image.
Tip: Converging lines in the background can help separate the foreground subject from the rest of the image and add image depth without being overbearing.
Sample Photos that use Converging Lines Well
Now that we've seen a series of example photos and different ways to use converging lines, here are two photos that use converging lines in unexpected ways. In each image, try to identify the converging lines. Afterward, click on the image to see what it looks like with the converging lines drawn onto the photograph. In each photo, the converging lines elements may not be overtly apparent, and exist to help guide viewers' eyes to the subject or keep the viewers' attention at the focal point.
Note that the horizon line and the Milky Way form converging lines that keep the viewers' eyes in the upper right quadrant. The meteor line then points at the desert hut.
This photo is significantly more difficult. Note that the shape of the dog's body and its physical features converge on the snout and face.
Tip: Find ways to have subtle converging lines; work on your viewers' subconscious.
Sample Photos that use Converging Lines Poorly
Not all uses of converging lines work. This section will share a number of samples with error that have caused the converging line element of the images to work poorly.
Lobby | K David | Pentax 645 NII and SMC-A 80mm f/2.8
In this image, the only visible converging lines are in the windows above the parking garage in the background. For many reasons in addition to converging lines, this becomes one of the focal points in the image, and it is a fairly uninspiring focal point.
Acura NSX | K David | Minolta X-700 and Rokkor 35mm f/2.8
What part of the image were your eyes drawn to? If you said the people standing at the front of the car, that's normal. The car is a converging line element and directs the viewers' eyes toward the crowd.
High Tension | K David | Rolleicord II
All that this image has are converging lines. The end result is that the image is fairly uninspiring.
Unleaded | K David | Pentax LX and Vivitar 28mm f/2.8 RL Edition
Follow the converging lines leftward off the side of the image. This photo directs the viewer, through converging lines, to look at something other than this photo.
Full Sail | Minolta X-700 | Rokkor 35mm f/2.8
This image is little more than a white triangle on a blue background. Ultimately, the converging lines of this image do nothing to make it a suitable photograph.
Streets of L.A. | K David | Minolta X-700 and Rokkor 35mm f/2.8
As with the Unleaded image above, this photo's converging lines direct the viewers' eyes right off the photo and on to something else.
Tip: Be sure that your images' use of converging lines is not counterproductive to your intent.
Additional Successful Converging Lines Photos
For some additional inspiration, here are three images that use converging lines in different, effective ways. You'll notice that none of these are typical converging lines images.
White Flower | K David | Pentax K-S2 and Sigma 50mm f/2.8 1:1 Macro Lens
This flower uses converging lines, three concentric rings of them, to draw the viewers' eyes to the center of the photo.
Fuel Storage Tank | K David | Pentax K-7 and Samyang 18-28mm
This photo of the inside of a fuel storage tank relies on converging lines to highlight the tank's mid-point. From the convergence, viewers' eyes are guided through the tank by the scaffolding.
Purple Flower | K David | Pentax K-S2 and kit 18-50mm Lens
This flower uses converging lines to draw the viewer in to the flower's center and uses the geometry of the lines to add shape and depth.
Tip: Be creative with your use of converging lines. Surprise yourself with how they appear in your photos.
Gear and Guidance
You'll likely have noticed that, in most of this article's images, wide-angle lenses were used. Many of the images relied on the Samyang 10mm or Vivitar 24mm. In general, wide-angle lenses exaggerate lines and will help capture converging lines, especially where the subject itself (such as in the water tank photo), lacks converging lines.
That said, you can use any lens to take a converging lines photo, as the 50mm lens photos above show. One way to learn how to best use converging lines in your photos is to find a subject with converging lines and take a series of photos of it from different angles and with different composition. Critically evaluating your photos will let you see what converging lines uses worked best for you.