Week 3: Points

Week 3 was a bit of a throwback to Week 1’s adventures with photographic composition.  This time I was specifically looking for points and lines in compositions.  If you’ve taken Design Principles, I’m guessing these basics won’t be new to you (I’ve never taken the class) because apparently points and lines are fundamental to design in general.  So, art majors out there, I’ll try my best, but I’m no expert!  I’ve also decided to break points and lines up into two posts because they’re  surprisingly complicated (esp. lines), so I don’t want to rush through the basics if I can help it.  That being said, I primarily looked to Harald Mante’s book, The Photograph: Composition and Color Design, to research points and lines in composition.  Also, please check out my Week 3 set; I tried to do a more thorough job with the captions this week and hopefully they’re helpful!


I thought this quote from Mante was an appropriate introduction to the concept of “the point”:

“Usually a picture’s effect is determined by the interaction of several design elements and/or color contrasts. But sometimes certain elements and contrasts dominate to the extent of disturbing the viewer’s experience. One of these design elements with the capability to dominate or disturb is the point” (p.20)

As you’ll find in this week’s entry, a point might be more than a simple spot in a frame.  Irregular shapes can represent a point and multiple points can act together to shape something else (e.g. a line).  Points can be imaginary, competing, or just plain dominating.

One point dominates the viewing experience in this photo.  The emphasis on the point was created by natural side light filtering through the petals.  There’s a second similar photo of a different flower in my latest set.

A simple way to emphasize a point (or points) in an image is to look for something that breaks up a repetitive texture, shape, colour, or lighting scheme. This is exactly what I had in mind when I took the sun picture.  Because of the background contrast, this individual point dominates similarly to the flower from the first picture.

Points can also be subtle. According to Mante, “Straight lines on an image plane can form shapes, but can also form imaginary points at their visible beginnings and ends and where they touch or cross each other” (p. 21).  In the last photo, the horizontal lines intersect those extending from the image plane to create an imaginary point.  (I could not find an example photo for this concept, so I’m taking my best guess at imaginary points here!)

This image clearly has multiple points in multiple forms . When a second point enters a composition, the first point’s “absolute visual weight transforms into a relative weighting–each successive point on the surface is in optical competition with all the other points” (Mante p. 22).  I think the two blue points dominate in this image, but the dashed and dotted points, as well as the central green point, present some decent visual competition, in my opinion.

Here, I don’t think the points so much compete as they cooperate to form a new line.  These points in turn intersect at a vanishing point across the James River.  (While I didn’t take this picture this week, I decided it was worth putting up an old photo since it ties in well with this week’s topic.)

~~~~~ Lines ~~~~~

By now you’ve probably noticed there’s some major overlap between points and lines.  While I was generally going for one element or the other in when composing my photos, the two are often inseparably linked.  I think I’ll take a step back and wait on the line pictures because I want to make sure I really understand what I’m talking about before I continue!


  1. Again, I love the embroidery, but that James River picture is absolutely stunning! *yeah* it’s worth putting in!! You do a fabulous job of tying in the lesson with your own experience in a compact, engaging way– great stuff!

  2. That James River photo is something special, and I really like the way you are using the photos you take over time to actually frame your own lessons and examples. It is interesting to see how this project is evolving into both an exposition as well as a tracing of what it means to think through the practice alongside the theory of photography. What’s all the better is that the illustrations are all your own, it brings a very different sense of ownership to the whole learning and sharing experience, now doesn’t it?

  3. I agree with gretchen, when I have time I also want to re-read all you posts and use it to improve my own photography… (i really don’t know that much) The fact that you are posting what you learn and the process is really helpful, along with the examples you provide 🙂

  4. I can’t help but to comment on all of your work because I’m so intrigued. When I have more time (probably over Winter breakd) I’m going to sit down and reread all of your blogs and try to mimic your work with some of my own. So glad you chose this project!

  5. I just absolutely love your photography here – especially the first flower picture. I like the part about imaginary points – I think it makes a lot of sense that photographers can use elements already seen to make new ones, since photography is all about point of view anyway, right?

    Also, I liked how you quoted Mante, but also explained things in your terms too. Usually I understood that better, especially in conjunction with your pictures – they are just great!

  6. At first I was using iPhoto to crop here and there, but I’ve been turned off by the program’s file duplication system–it’s so annoying! (I want photos duplicated on my terms, not Apple’s!) I used Picnik (a recent discovery for me, too) to add the text and arrow into the imaginary point photo and to sharpen (I think?) the embroidery shot. In general, I don’t use any fancy editing program because a) I don’t have one and b) I want to see what where I can get without one (i.e. something everyone can replicate if they want to.) I was going to blog about some basic gamma adjustments I did with the basic image previewer but ran out of time yesterday. Hopefully I’ll get to that in my next entry. I used Corel in Week 2 because I have access to it for another class, but not on my personal computer.

  7. I took Design Principles my sophomore year at UMW and I learned more here in this post about points and lines than I ever did in that class!
    I love the photo of the James River. That is certainly a post-card worthy shot. I also really like how the light filters through the petals in the flower shot.
    Just wondering, what type of software (if any) are you using to edit your photos? I just discovered Picnik and it’s an amazing tool!