How to use triangles in photography composition
Triangles are versatile and expressive shapes, so it is hardly surprising that they are a bedrock of composition. They are used by painters as well as photographers as a key composition technique. You can use them to organize your frame, to introduce tension into your scene, as an alternative to the rule of thirds, and so much more. This meant we thought it was worth taking a deeper look at triangles in photography.
Table of contents
The Golden Triangle
Let’s start with the golden triangle. Much like the rule of thirds or the golden ratio, it’s an easy way to divide and organize your frame. But instead of using horizontal and vertical lines to section your scene, you use diagonal lines.
Divide your scene with a diagonal line going from one corner to the opposite corner. Now draw another line from an empty corner that meets the main dividing line at a right angle. Do the same from the other empty corner. There should be four triangles inside your frame.
You now have three choices as to how to use the golden triangle:
- For its intersection points
- Along its diagonal lines
- Within its triangles
Points of intersection
Use the intersection points to position your subject or subjects in the frame. Does that sound similar to placing your subjects on points of interest with the rule of thirds? It is!
If there is a strong diagonal line in your scene, try aligning it with the diagonal line running across your frame.
Are there strong blocks of color or architectural features in your photograph? If so, try placing these within the triangles themselves. You can do the same with your main subject, too. By leaving some triangles ’empty,’ you automatically introduce negative space into your composition, too.
Why does the golden triangle work?
When you use the golden triangle to compose your scenes, you do two things. First, you introduce a sense of balance into your scene. Second, it creates dynamism in the image. By using triangles in a shot, you suggest a sense of movement. Movement is exciting and keeps your viewers’ attention in the scene.
Sometimes, it isn’t so much that you have to create a triangle for your scene, but it is right there in front of you. You will often find that they are obvious in urban spaces and throughout nature. Human faces have a clear triangular format with two eyes and the mouth. Take a look a dog’s or a horse’s head. They are triangular in shape.
A triangle in a scene that rises upwards can feel very positive. The wide base at the bottom of the frame gives a feeling of stability and strength, too. If the triangle creates symmetry in the scene, it can feel very calming.
When you want to create a feeling of instability or uneasiness in a photo, you can use an inverted triangle. By having the tip of it pointing downwards, you can make a scene feel wobbly.
You do not always need obvious or perfect triangles in a scene; sometimes, a grouping that makes a rough three-pointed shape is perfect. An implied triangle could be three especially bright lights on a Christmas tree. Or you might notice three yellow flowers among a bed of pink ones. Implied triangles work very well in food photography.
Leading lines are a key composition technique. You will usually find them in landscape photography, but they can appear in many other types of composition, too. Very often, they will involve a triangle composition that draws your viewers’ eyes through the image to the subject of your photo. You can use them to add perspective and a sense of depth to a photo.
Posing and group portraits
When you are posing a group of people, try not to place them in a straight line. Instead, think about arranging them into a triangle. There can be more than three people for this to work. A triangle composition is more flattering than a “random” one.
Don’t forget that you can use peoples’ arms and legs to create triangles that will direct attention to their faces.
When you start to look for triangles, you will notice them everywhere. They do not need to be perfect, and you will find that they are easy to use.
They are strong shapes. You can arrange them easily. They can be used to show harmony and instability.
The golden triangle is a composition technique that divides a scene into four triangles. You put your subject on one of the intersection points for a strong photo.
The rule of odds and triangles come from the same family but are not the same thing.
Daniela Bowker is a writer and editor based in the UK. Since 2010 she has focused on the photography sector. In this time, she has written three books and contributed to many more, served as the editor for two websites, written thousands of articles for numerous publications, both in print and online, and runs the Photocritic Photography School.