Strong diagonals.

If you examine my photos, you’ll notice a dominant diagonal line running through many of them.  I’ve sort of learned to make images this way automatically, after years of photographing.

Why is a strong diagonal important? 

I don’t know the academic answer but I know the simple one:  in many cases, photos look better with it than without it.

A strong diagonal connects a photo from the top to the bottom and, in doing so, serves to visually point (much like an arrow) the viewer’s eye from one end to the other and, at the same time, ties the image together.  It also serves to “fill” the frame.  Finally, it acts as a balance or scale where you can divide the remaining visual elements equally between the two halves on either side of the line.  These last two points are, in actuality, addressing and solving problems related to composition.

But enough talk –  let’s look at some images.

The 3 images below feature simple structures that form an easily identifiable strong diagonal element:

(please click on any of the images below)

↑Leica M9 and Leica 75mm Summilux @ f/1.4.

↑Leica M9 and Voigtländer Nokton 35mm @ f/1.2.

↑Leica M9 and Leica 28mm Summicron @ f/2.

In this next image the subject is the beach and the strong diagonal is its shoreline:

(please click on the image below)

↑Leica M9 and Zeiss ZM 21mm @ f/2.8.

In each of the above photos, I could have composed differently, but the result would be less pleasing to the eye.  How strong is the effect?

Well, take a look at this shot:

(please click on the image below)

↑Leica M9 and Leica 75mm Summarit @ f/2.5.

I had originally taken this photo as a portrait with the subject placed a little off to the side (one of the “rules” of taking portraits is to not centre the person, but that’s another discussion).  However, the strong diagonal of the field line kept interfering with my original composition and crop, and the eye kept falling short of the corner of the frame – the look was simply inharmonious.  When I cropped the photo so that the white line was allowed to span the image from one corner to the other, the composition became more pleasing, even though I was now violating one of the rules of portraiture.

Such is the strength of the dominant diagonal that our brains are actually willing to give up reality in favour of a more pleasing composition .  Here’s an example:

(please click on the image below)

↑Leica MP and Leica 35mm Summicron @ f/4.

We all know that a tower doesn’t jut out of the earth sideways like the CN Tower appears to be doing above, but the photo is made more pleasing to the eye because of it.  On a side note, the chosen composition also emphasizes the sheer height of this structure because it somewhat disorients us, and gives us a sense of what it must feel like to stand at the base of the tower.

Here is another example:

(please click on the image below)

↑Leica M9 and Leica 35mm Summarit @ f/2.5.

Once again, the image elements (the buildings) have been tilted so that the window washer platform forms a strong diagonal.  The tilting here is also successful because of the sense of vertigo it adds to the image which, by the way, is named Vertigo.

Finally, here is what I would consider a very successful use of a diagonal:

(please click on the image below)

↑Nikon D3 and Nikon 24mm AF-D @ f/2.8.

In the image above, the diagonal is the barrier separating the (Niagara) Falls from the girl.  What’s more, this division has resulted in a harmonious composition in that the Falls and the face are equally prominent on either side, and the image is therefore “balanced”.  Finally, on an artistic note, the strands of the girl’s hair over her face mirror the linear strands of water behind her, which is immensely pleasing to the eye.  I cannot pretend to have planned it this way, but my choice of composition resulted in a happy accident.

I hope the above discussion on strong diagonals was helpful.

5 thoughts on “Strong diagonals.

  1. bwbears says:

    very inspiring post!

  2. [...] once again the composition: her arms are forming a Strong Diagonal (it’s a bent diagonal, but rules are meant to be bent and/or broken [...]

  3. rhybro says:

    If you are interested in reading more on diagonal composition Adam Marelli has a series on great compositions I highly recommend

    Great post, I just found your site and I love it, thank you

  4. [...] image contains no less than two compositional techniques I’ve previously discussed: a strong diagonal and [...]

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