One of the first composition tips my husband gave me was to be aware of lines in the foreground and background of the frame. In a sense, he was telling me that my photos were crooked. It was true. When I first started taking photos, I was more concerned about the subject and didn’t put too much thought into the background. Horizons were slanted, walls were leaning and sometimes it looked like objects would topple right out of the picture!

Below is a good example of my ignorance:
Lines - Pre
The fireplace is completely slanted and the objects in the background look like they’re sliding down. Note also that the subject is not placed using the Rule of Thirds.

Now here is the photo after some cropping and straightening (using the Free Transform tool in Photoshop):
Lines - Cropped and Straightened
Ah, much better! When I first took this shot, I was trying to get my model, Miss Malia, to appear vertical. Now that I adjusted the image so the ground is level, the result is a much more natural looking portrait of a 7-month old. She looks more endearing with her head slightly tilted compared to the “mug shot” pose of the original.

It took time and discipline for me to become more aware of the lines in the background and foreground and I eventually trained myself to change my positioning quickly to avoid “fix-ups” in post processing.

This rule doesn’t apply when lines are tilted purposefully for artistic reasons or when you want to use lines to lead the eye to a point of interest. However, generally speaking, crooked lines may be distracting and unnatural-looking. So, try to keep the lines level, both vertically and horizontally, and you may see an improvement in your photos.

Laura is a Vancouver wedding and portrait photographer. Visit laurahana.com.