How to Use Triangles to Improve Your Composition

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How to Use Triangles to Improve Your Composition
Streets of Bordeaux by Erik Söderström

Triangles in Composition

Photographic composition is the key that makes or breaks an image. It is imperative that you, the photographer, understand what works and what does not so that you can make clever use of the elements in a frame to define your composition.

Straight lines often are very useful in creating interesting perspectives in your images. Parallel lines, because of linear perspective, give the impression that they meet at infinity. This can be used as leading lines to highlight a subject at a distance. Again, basic geometric shapes are often used in photography to create interest as well.

In this article, we shall be looking at one such geometric shape – triangles.

The Use of Triangles in our Images

Triangles are often used to signify balance. Interestingly, they can as easily be used to give the illusion of instability and therefore introduce tension in an image. Triangles are seemingly everywhere. From our homes to automobiles, to shapes of buildings, staircases, they are omnipresent. Sometimes we capture them without even realizing that we are. Photographers who understand how to make use of it do so consciously.

Grand staircase by Minnesota Historical Society
Grand staircase by the Minnesota Historical Society.

Significance of using Triangles

Being a shape that is easy to spot triangles are used often. But why it is that they are so popular among photographers? For a start, triangles are ideal for creating a relation between the elements in an image.

Let’s say you are photographing a group of three people. You can ask them to stand at varying distances from the camera but not in a straight line across the plane. The resulting image will show three points of interest in the image. If you join those points a triangle is formed that highlights those points of interest.

Sometimes though you don’t need three separate points of interest to create a triangle. The shape of a triangle will be a lot more obvious in the image. I personally prefer subtlety over obvious and do look for implied shapes than more of the on-your-face obvious examples. E.g., if there are two people staring at a common object in the image and the line of view is not on the same straight line, you have an implied triangle following their lines of sight and then joining an imaginary line between the two faces.

gaze by Mario Mancuso
Gaze by Mario Mancuso.

The Hint of Balance and the Lack of It

Triangles are generally regarded as ‘stable’ shapes. A wide base and an apex that is high above the base generally instill confidence and make for a relaxing image. E.g., a courthouse with its broad staircases and a dome that rises high above is a classic example.

If you change the angle of the triangle and move it around things start to become less stable. E.g., an image that uses the Dutch tilt approach to angle high-rise buildings all of a sudden look less stable. The apex is no longer directly above the base and the center of gravity appears to fall outside. This is an example of an ‘unstable’ triangle. Photographers frequently employ this method when they need to introduce a bit of tension in their images.

Streets of Bordeaux by Erik Söderström
Streets of Bordeaux by Erik Söderström.

In the image above there are four triangles, but the one on top is definitely out of balance. It is an interesting image no doubt that uses the shapes of the buildings on both sides of the street as well as the parallel lines created by the top of the buildings as well as the curbs which seemingly meet at a point in infinity to create triangle shapes.

Triangles thus, are very useful in photographic composition if used consciously.

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