In this unbelievable universe in which we live, there are no absolutes. Even parallel lines, reaching into infinity, meet somewhere yonder.Pearl S. Buck
The number one rule of perspective is that lines that are parallel to each other appear to converge to the same point in the distance. This point is known as the vanishing point.
When we look at these lines our brain tends to adjust what we see; we don’t really think of the lines as anything other than parallel. But in a photograph the convergence is more noticeable and can be used to our advantage. These converging lines add a sense of depth to our images and draw the viewer in. They can also ‘point’ to another element in the image, focusing the viewer’s attention on it.
For Cee’s CFFC theme of straight lines I’ve trawled my archives for some examples of this effect. The following shots were almost all taken on my travels in different parts of the world.
Straight roads are the most obvious example of this effect perhaps. This one runs through the Atacama Desert in Chile, leading us to the distant mountains.
And here’s a city road for contrast, leading us to the Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria
On a rainy day in Lucca, Italy, the streets shine with puddles. The lines of this one draw our attention to the couple sharing an umbrella at the far end of the street.
This rather narrower street in the old part of Tallinn, Estonia, creates the same effect, focusing our eyes on the distant tower and lone pedestrian.
A path works just as well. This one is leading the way, and the eye, between the hedges to the Rundale Palace in Latvia.
I photographed this path from our hotel room in Salalah, Oman. We have the same parallel lines but they don’t appear to be leading us anywhere; that is, there is no obvious subject at the vanishing point apart from one tiny tree. However, the figures on the path help to create the sense of direction instead.
Here our eyes are led to the unmistakable building of the Taj Mahal in India, by the lines of trees, paths, pool and (not working) fountains.
More hedges, this time at the Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang, North Korea, where the bodies of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il lie in state. The bucket is only a slight distraction from the lines because its colour matches that of the flowers so well. You might just be able to make out the figures of gardeners at the far end of the lines.
Crops are usually planted in straight lines so can be used in a similar way. This is tobacco growing near Viñales in Cuba.
Or how about train tracks? This was taken from the train between Puno and Cusco in Peru, which had a handy little viewing platform at the back.
Talking of train tracks, even these young people taking fun holiday photos in Train Street in Hanoi, Vietnam, can’t really distract from the impact of the parallel lines disappearing into the distance.
Sometimes however we need to use our imagination a little. The sides of this old jetty at Dunns River Falls, Jamaica, were once parallel, I am sure.
And sometimes the lines are even more transient. The wake of this boat on the Lago Todos los Santos in Chile will quickly disappear, but while they last they lead the eye nicely to the distant small island.
I’ll finish with an example from a bit closer to home. This drainage canal on the Somerset Levels provides a classic example of parallel lines and their vanishing point in an image.
These photos were taken between 2005 (Cuba and Peru) and 2020 (Hanoi and Somerset)