Photographing Parallel Lines
So often when I’m out with my camera, there are certain things I see with my eyes that I expect to look good though my camera’s viewfinder. Parallel lines are most definitely up there with the best.
They are everywhere, and when combined with the right light and the right angle, right lens and right environment… they are a rich source of imagery that is eye-catching and immensely rewarding.
I ran a parallel lines photo-assignment in the HSP online Academy earlier this year and many of the members taking part posted shots that were wonderfully creative. It’s one of those subjects which lends itself to an abstract eye, particularly (but not exclusively) when shot in black and white.
Looking through Lightroom, it didn’t take me long to find examples of suitable photos. Amongst the few posted here are shots taken in London, New York, Marrakesh and Cyprus. Parallel lines are of course, universal. They appear everywhere on the planet, which is one reason why most photographers across the globe will have parallel line images in their collection somewhere.
The symmetry we’re looking for appears in railway lines, telephone lines and washing lines. It’s in office blocks, building sites, motorways and loads and loads more.
For your shot to stand out
Sometimes all we want as photographers is just an idea, a spark of an idea, a subject – and we are instantly off out with our cameras, fingers ready on the trigger.
Ask a photographer to go and shoot some parallel lines and he’s gone before you can blink. Before you dash out with your camera, here’s a few tips to help you.
Work the Scene
Take time to work the scene. By all means take the first shot you see, but please don’t stop there.
Change your angle, change your lens (if you’re shooting with a wide angle, try swapping to telephoto, or visa versa) or change the perspective. Perspective can be changed by taking the shot closer to the subject or from further away.
Above all (seriously above all) see if you can fully make use of the light.
This is easier on a sunny day when the light is more directional and shadows are more intense. Light can be the killer element that lifts your shot from the ordinary to the spectacular.
I would say that ‘not’ taking advantage of the light, is one of the key mortal sins practised by many a newbie photographers (and not just newbies). I’m talking about shooting in general now, not just in relation to photographing parallel lines.
In the same way that most serious landscape photographers only ever take their photos during those times of the day when the light is most striking (i.e. sunrise & sunset), I try to use light to my advantage wherever and whenever I can. It’s less easy to do on a dull, overcast day of course, but when the sun is shining, it is criminal to shoot anything without first considering where the light is coming from… and then taking your shot to best make use of it.
Some of the shots taken in this post were not taken on bright sunny days and it’s on accasions like this when I often turn to the editing for help.
Crushing the blacks and super-charging the whites can often lift a dull, low-contrast image… and don’t forget everybody’s favourite slider, clarity.
Clarity (which is basically cranking up your mid-tone contrast) is brilliant on parallel lines.
Be careful, Clarity is the most over-used slider in Lightroom and as such, many photographers over do it. Pushing it too far can result in a very grundgy-looking image. Now that may be what you’re looking for in some instances but be careful you don’t max that slider out all the time.
Many’s a photo I’ve seen decimated by exessive Clarity use. It’s a fun tool but it can be death too.
So If you’re going to work in black & white, remember to crush those blacks for drama (see shot above). And if you do crush those blacks, don’t forget to crank up the highlights in your shot if possible, to give contrast.
Contrast between blacks (shadows) and your highlights can really transform an image.
Our eyes like to see strong contrast and one of the advantages I have from shooting black and white film for decades, is that my eyes very easily detect scene that will look good in B&W. It’s almost like being able to see a black and white photo before I press the button.
In today’s mirrorless cameras, it’s very easy to shoot with a B&W viewfinder. This is tremendously helpful, as you will adsolutely be able to see what the shot will look like in monochrome before pressing the shutter. If your chose to shoot in RAW (as opposed to JPG), you will still see a B&W preview, even though when you load the photo onto your computer it will be in colour!
Converting the RAW file into a B&W images is a breese.
Remember, parallel lines are lines that move in parallel with each other, regardless of direction.
So they don’t even have to be straight. It’s quite possible that you might come across parallel lines that are curved – keep your eyes peeled.
I bet if you were to pick up your camera right now, you could find parallel lines within minutes – wherever you are. And if you do, see if you can bring some light to bear. Why not give yourself a personal project of shooting parallel lines for a week or even a month? I kid you not, you will be surprised how many creative opportunities you’ll find. They won’t disappoint.