Geometry: Pro Photographer’s Composition Secret No. 15

line in composition

Lines & the Triangle in Composition

The very first article in this series on composition showed how to use straight and curved lines to direct the viewer’s eye to the subject. The photo of the train is an example of the technique in which a leading line (the track) directs the eye to the subject (train). In the next image the path is actually the subject, but it also serves to carry the eye from the foreground into the middle distance.
line as subject in composition
line as subject in compositionLines can be more complex as in the photo of the pasture where the eye first sees the foreground fence and then follows it throughout the image. We might not grasp the picture in its entirety untel we rich the point where the line of the fence moving from the left upward to the right changes direction and starts to pass behind the trees. Again, the lines (fence) actually form the subject. The opposite is true of the birds. They are the subject and the eye stops when it meets them and then moves back and forth, and our view centers on the bird with a raised leg and open bill.
line as subject in composition


Curved Lines in Composition

line as subject in compositionThe black and white photograph is about the tree and the complex of lines that form its structure. I’ve never decided if the harsh angles are softened or emphasized by the arch that I stood behind when making the picture, but I know that the curve of the arch adds interest to the composition. The organ photo uses both curved and straight lines, some converging, and some parallel, and the lines of the pipes are at a slight angle to add energy and excitement. Straight or nearly straight lines making an angle to the edge of an image generally provide dynamism. Horizontal ones add stability and calm to a composition, and vertical ones are approximately neutral in the emotional sense.
line as subject in compositionA January thaw caused water from melted snow to accumulate in a low spot and reflect an oval patch of sky and part of the cat tails. The water’s oragnic elliptical shape is in sharp contrast with the horizontal line of the horizon and vertical lines of the vegetation, and gives a feeling of calm to the scene. line as subject in composition
Rounded shapes, and especially regular ones — circles, arches, ellipses, and spheres — provide a sense of stability and peace.

line as subject in composition

The Triangle in Composition

In the world of real objects the triangle’s wide use is because of its strength that comes from its simplicity. It is the simplest possible way to enclose a space with linear forms and therefore has the least possible number of weak spots – the places where the sides meet. The structure in the photograph is a bridge framework, shot upward from the water through the assembly of beams that will support the bridge deck. Notice the large number of triangles used in its design.

Painters have long recognized the visual strength and stability that a triangle can bring to a composition. One of the more famous compositions using the triangle is Raphael’s Madonna, seen at left, below. One very famous photographic composition using the device is that of U.S. Marines raising their flag over Iwo Jima during World War II and it uses the triangle twice. The sense of visual strength in both images comes from the bases of their triangles being close to and running nearly parallel to the bottom edge of the compositions.

line as subject in compositionline as subject in composition

The windmill composition uses a large triangle to encompass the windmills, and the windmills themselves show once again how often the triangle is used to strengthen physical structures. In the second composition the triangular block also adds weight, and its shape creates an imaginary leading line pointing to the bridge (subject).

Your photography will improve if you practice finding and using triangles when composing. Whether they come from groupings of people, triangular shaped objects, or even areas noticeably different in brightness from their surroundings, finding and using the triangle will strengthen your compositions.


Check out all the Pro Photographers Composition Secrets:

1. Leading Lines
 2. The Rule of Thirds
 3. Beaking the Rule of Thirds
 4. Self Assignment: Leading Lines and The Rule of Thirds
 5. Framing the Subject
 6. Negative Space
 7. Graphic Design
 8. Backgrounds
 9. Foregrounds
10. Patterns & Repetition
11. 9 Composition Self Assignments
12. Use Color as a Focal Point
13. Balance and Symmetry
14. Unique Perspectives
15. Geometry and the Triangle

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