Thursday, June 1, 2006

Using diagonal composition to give a photo impact


By David Gewirtz

While technical camera skills are important to create great photographs, perhaps the single most important skill you can develop is composition. Composition is a big word that basically means how you compose your image.

Even if you have mad skills, if you're using a camera phone, there are really no technical skills you can put to use. All you can do is aim and shoot. Therefore, the only thing that really determines whether you've got a good picture is what you aim at.

There are many great tricks for composing better pictures. In this article, we'll talk briefly about one of my favorite: diagonal composition. How the eye tracks an image often helps determine how the image feels. Remember, all photos are static, but not all photos need to feel static.

Take a look at the three chair pictures from our clipart collection, shown in Figure A.


Diagonals makes chairs look good. (click for larger image)

Each of the photos seems interesting because the chairs are shown at an angle. Had the photos been taken from the front of the room, the photos would look just as boring as chairs normally look.

Now, take a look at the two boat pictures in Figure B.


What's the emphasis for each picture? (click for larger image)

What's the photographer trying to showcase in each photo? On the left, the photographer's obviously showcasing the boat, and in this photo it looks interesting and compelling. In the photo to the right, the photographer is likely trying to showcase the coastline and merely included the boat to create an object of interest. But it doesn't work nearly as well.

The picture on the left is compelling and interesting. The one on the right is a snapshot.

Finally, let's look at two more boat photos, both featuring diagonal composition. Both are of the same subject, both look good, and both have completely different feelings, just because of their composition. Figure C shows the boat in the foreground.


The boat's in the foreground. (click for larger image)

In this picture, the boat is the real message. It's up on the beach and all is well. Now, look at Figure D.


This is the same boat. (click for larger image)

The above photo is virtually identical, except in this variation, the photographer chose to make the horizon and the large sky integral elements to the picture. Exactly the same items in the picture, but two totally different feelings.

All the photos in this article thusfar have been from our trusty clipart collection. But one of my own photos takes advantage of three key composition themes: angles, texture, close-ups. You can see it in Figure E.


This roof was of a cafe in Hope, Alaska. (click for larger image)

For some reason, this building captivated me when I was there back in the 1980s. I've got a whole collection of shots of the building, but so far, I've only managed to turn this one into a work worthy of framing.

The next time you're taking a picture, consider using diagonal composition. As Adrian Monk would say, "You'll thank me later."