Diagonals, the strongest and most fundamental compositional element

In my last few posts I have been walking in some big shoes, I do feel that photography has turned into a gadget show where megapixels, sensor sizes, lenses drives the show, where the hand craft is getting more and more neglected. There seems to be a shift to what your camera can do for you, rather than what you can do with your camera.

I am sure professional educated photographs know the strengths of Diagonals. But to us amateurs I believe it needs to be repeated. Diagonals are one of the strongest and most fundamental compositional elements!

Surprisingly there are more than the 3 types of lines: the Horizontal, Vertical, and Diagonal line, there is also Organic Lines, Implied Lines. Their strength varies in intensity; the horizontal line being the least dynamic, the vertical line is less secure than the horizontal line and the diagonal line as the most dynamic. I like to make my own memory pictures to remember this

  • Horizontal line. I imagine a sleeping man on the ground, fairly solid, and he isn’t falling anywhere.
  • Vertical line. This line is like a house; it feels sturdy yet can be trembled by an earthquake.
  • The Organic lines. The feeling of chaos, complexity and beauty like patterns of grass.
  • Implied lines. This line is perhaps the most interesting of lines, as implied lines in composition don’t exist at all and are not even shown visually. I like to think of these lines as a movement, a gesture.
  • Diagonal line. As if you are driving your bike, no hands, no breaks and about to crash and fall any minute.

Perhaps these lines become even more important in black and white photography. Where color is not able to seduce the eye, lines has to lead your perception. I was out shooting a small isle, it was rainy and light wasn’t going to give us any pleasing colors, we decided to shoot high contrast black and white. As we were crossing the connection road from the main land, there were a lot of beams rammed down into the mud in the seabed to secure the road against the tides. The water was dark and shady, loads of contrast, a really strong impression.


Analyzing what the lines tells us

The lines in this picture tell its own story, a story about depth
perception, leading the eye giving a 3 dimensional feeling. The floating pole tells completely other story, it has fallen and now floating away, maybe it will be gone soon. Finally there is an element of fragility, the poles are upright but not quite, they convey the impression that they can turn over at any time, yet they are still firmly there. The rule of odds also comes into play in this photo, due to the many poles in the picture is it hard for the eye to delineate how “many” there is. Harmony is restored by grouping the poles into 3 main blocks making your eye end up in the middle of the photo.

And take another look at the shot I took, I have outlined some of the triangles that I see. I am not going to claim that I consciously considered these while shooting. Subconsciously did “the balance of the triangles in the shot, and the strong diagonal” lead me to this shot and therefor was deceiving factors choosing the composition that I did. It is fair to claim that all triangles of interest touch base with the line of attention (the diagonal line) which already is seducing the eye. The most dominant triangle is where the rope hangs, giving reflections in the water, we can’t help it… we will be forced to see it; I like to call it the point of interest.

Reading more about composition

I can recommend ERIC KIM STREET PHOTOGRAPHY BLOG which features a wonderful and easy understandable walkthrough


Should you want more in-depth introduction of the concept then visit Adam Marelli. This guy is simply brilliant! Nothing more to add.


Finally I can recommend WetCanvas forums.





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