How to see and use triangles in photography composition
Before I begin talking about triangles in composition, I want to be clear that we are discussing how to incorporate the triangle shape when composing photographs. Not the composition theory of golden triangles – we’ll do that another time.
There are so many ways to incorporate triangles in photography composition. We’re going to look at 5 of them:
- Triangles around us
- Posing groups in triangles
- Implying triangles
- Creating triangles with limbs
- Triangles in the landscape
Triangles introduce stability into an image, because it is a stable shape. At the base it is wide and narrows to a point at the top.
By the same token, when used for emphasis, upside down triangles or triangles titled to the side introduce tension. The tension is created because we are used to seeing vertical and horizontal lines, not diagonal lines. It gives an unbalanced, unstable feel to the image, which immediately makes it more interesting.
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1. Triangles around us
The good news is that triangles are everywhere around us and when you start looking, you’ll notice how easy it is to see them. The shape doesn’t even have to be an actual triangle, because even a square or rectangular shape when cropped makes a triangle.
Here the red painted wall highlights the shapes, so it is easy to see the triangles in the image. The diagonal line running through the image dissects it into roughly two halves, creating two large triangles. The cut off panes of glass create further triangles. Because the model has bent one leg she has created another triangle shape. This was in the stands at a sports field.
The criss cross of diagonal, vertical and horizontal lines catch the eye. Do you see the triangle to camera left pointing straight at the model. This leads the eye to her. The background is a fairground ride.
A farm gate is irresistible to a young child eager to climb, so it was just a matter of getting into position and waiting for him to start climbing. The triangle created by the wood leads our eye to his face and his upward gaze. This gives a sense of movement to the image and makes it more dynamic.
2. Posing groups in triangles
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you have to run around looking for triangular shaped objects to photograph to make your image interesting. Triangles can also be implied.
One such method is with the arrangement of subjects in an image.
With both informal and formal family photography poses used to group the family often form triangles, which are more interesting than a solid square or rectangle of people. The triangle shape is pleasing to look at, because it allows the eye to travel around the group.
Here is a relaxed, but carefully posed, family group arranged in a triangle.
Here is the same family, but in a more formal pose, again set up with a triangle shape in mind.
Another carefully posed shot using a triangle in composition. This time with two people. Well, one and a brand new little newborn.
These examples are portraits, but the same could be done with still life. It’s just a matter of positioning whatever you’re photographing for good composition.
3. Implying a triangle
You can even imply a triangle when composing portraits with the direction of a subject’s gaze towards other subjects in the image.
Mom is looking back at her child on her husband’s shoulders and both husband and child are looking at mom. This completes the triangle. Our eyes travel between their gazes, holding our attention. Did you notice the black dog in the long grass?
4. Creating triangles with limbs
What if you’re not photographing a group of people, but just one person instead?
When a model bends an arm and places her hand on her hip, she creates a triangle. As a result her pose becomes more interesting, leading the viewer’s eye around the image. If she were simply standing up straight with her arms by her side, the viewer’s eye would not have anywhere to go, so it would be less interesting.
We carefully posed this shot using her limbs to create triangles, to contrast with and break up all the solid blocks in the image. Your eyes are drawn to the dancer’s face through a series of triangles.
When the model brushed her hair back from her face she created a triangle with her arm, which helped to direct the viewer to her face and connect with her gaze.
5. Triangles in the landscape
What if you’re photographing a landscape? Look for straight, parallel leading lines. When lines converge in an image they form a triangle.
Not only does the road form a triangle, split into two triangles by the middle line, but the land that has been split in two by the road also forms a triangle either side of the road. AND the arms and legs of the man form another three triangles, which add further interest to the composition. Imagine how different it would have been if he’d had his feet together and his arms by his sides. Definitely not as interesting. (PS the man is my slightly nutty other half and we’d been driving for over an hour without seeing another vehicle on an incredibly long, straight road. He couldn’t resist the urge, but I wouldn’t try this anywhere else.)
Sometimes we plan and go looking for triangles in composition. Sometimes they are there by pure luck!
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