The Geometry of Photography

Level Your Camera

geometry of photography - camera level

A built-in level on the Nikon D850 shows you if you're level from side to side as well as if you're tilting the camera forward or backwards. In this examples you can see the camera is tilted forward and the right side is much higher than the left.

If your photos are not level it will throw your viewers off and make your photos look less professional. What do I mean when I say to level your camera? Perspective in our images can often be distorted by the angle we’re aiming at our subject from. For example if our subject is sitting on a wall and we’re not facing the wall straight on it will naturally slope down as it gets farther from the camera and the ground will seemingly to rise to meet it.

That sort of perspective doesn’t tend to disturb our viewer but if we are facing the wall straight on and the line at the top of the wall slopes from one side of our frame to the other viewers will be bothered by that lack of balance. You can use that to your advantage but if you’re not intending to do it then it’s most likely going to just look sloppy.

Built-in Levels

Many advanced cameras and even some third-party-app for our phones offer built-in levels. These built-in levels help us to ensure that our camera is level.

Depending on your camera and how the level works you might be able to see it with your image or just independently. On more advanced DSLRs you can see it on the screen but not during live-view. This makes it great for setting your camera up on stable support, like a tripod, but is fairly useless for handholding your camera.

If your camera has a built-in level that allows you to see your framing and the level all at once you can use it when hand-holding your camera which is a huge advantage.

Some built-in levels only help you level your camera from side to side where others allow you to see if you're tilting the camera forward or back like in the photo above.

Spirit Levels

Spirit levels are tools used by those in trades going back millennia. Modern spirit levels have some liquid in them and an air bubble that you can line up between a set of lines or in a circle. Many tripods come with built-in spirit levels but you can also buy levels that attach to your camera.

Seeing Shapes and Lines

Seeing shapes and lines in your composition helps you to break down your composition and to understand the light. Sometimes squinting can help you see shapes and lines especially if they're implied and not explicit (like lines on a road).

Why is seeing shapes and lines important? Shapes and lines help viewers move in and around or through a photo. Lines and shapes that take viewers eyes out of the photo mean they're going to spend less time looking at the image. We don't want that.

Certain shapes keep viewers more engaged than others. Lines that disappear around a corner make a viewer want to know what is going on around that corner. Circles, keep viewers eyes moving around because they lack any corners. Triangles can help a viewer to bounce between three different areas of our composition.

Shapes and lines do not need to be explicit. We can imply them by using different methods such as contrast or focus. We can also use both positive or negative space to suggest shapes.

Learn to see shapes in your compositions and your to level your shots and the look of your photos will improve. For more tips about improving your photos check out my upcoming classes and sign up for my mailing list where I send out lots of great information like this on a (somewhat) regular basis.