Introduction to Triangles
Triangles are in almost everything we see, in one way or another, it’s just a case of distinguishing them and knowing what to do with them. They make great compositional tools as they’re easy to make, manipulate, and are remarkably common.
Triangles are a great way of combining different compositional techniques such as lines and paths and using them to create a more interesting part of a photograph, but the best part about using a triangle is their ability to make a photo feel stable or unstable.
Why use Triangles
It’s not really a case of why you should be using triangles in your composition, because you’ll come to realise that the inclusion of triangles is inevitable, it’s more about why you should be using them properly.
Triangles are a great way of grouping together three points of a photograph and organising them so they portray a certain feeling such as stability, agression, instability, etc. When you understand this, you can use them as invisible features of a photo which evokes a strong feeling to the viewer.
How to Create a Triangle
So long as you have 3 points of vague interest in a photo that aren’t on the same line, then you can easily create a triangle. It’s not about having 3 clear lines that join up in a photo, that would be too obvious, it’s about grouping points of interest.
If you take a look back through some of your photos, you’ll probably realise that a lot of the photos you’ve taken contain triangles, but whether you’ve used them to their maximum potential is another thing.
One of the most common types of triangles that you’ll come across is the implied triangle. As you’ll rarely see physical triangles in photography, the shape is almost always implied, and it’s done so usually without the viewer even noticing it. The more you know about composition, the easier it is for you to start deconstructing what makes a photo good and using that to make your own photos better.
Having the base of the triangle at the bottom and apex at the top of the photo make the triangle appear very stable, much like a pyramid, and it’s often found in architecture photography. When you start to change the angles inside the triangle and change the rotation of the triangle, the photo starts to appear less stable, with the extreme having the apex at the bottom of the photo, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Have a look at the photo below as a less stable triangle – notice I used the submerged breakwater as one of the edges of the triangle.
Whether they’re straight or diagonal lines, when they go far enough into the distance, you start to see the lines converge and that is where you’ll start to see a lot of triangles. These triangles can appear in the frame or outside the frame, it’s just a matter of the distance you have to work with. The winder the angle of the lens, the more likely you’ll be to have the lines converge inside the frame.
Often photos converge outside the frame when you’re shooting photos of buildings and their height make the lines converge towards the top, but it wouldn’t make sense to include the space that the lines may have converged if they had carried on.
When the lines converge within the frame it’s much easier to see and often you’ll find that it happens more than once. Notice how we’re only really working with 2 actual lines in the photo? That’s because you can also use the frame of the photo as one of the sides of the triangle, like I’ve done below.
If you want to create an unstable feeling in a photograph then a quick and easy way to do this is to include an upside down triangle, or at least a triangle with a weird rotation. Not only have I used a triangle with its apex at the bottom of the photo, the ground of my photo isn’t level either, which adds to the feeling and also makes new triangles appear where they wouldn’t have been, had there been a square bottom half to the photo. Triangles like this are excellent at drawing the attention to something seemingly insignificant or bland and making the photo more interesting.
3 Figure Shots
You’ll commonly see triangles without even realising in in 3 figure shots where there’s multiple subjects. Take the photo below for example, there’s 3 subjects, each with the same visual weight which initially leads you to look at each subject for the same amount of time, before going back to whatever drew you in the most. This sort of shot works well, but be careful about trying to force this, or when you’ve got 3 subjects which are at the same height and heads appear in a line, it won’t work as well.
Triangles act in a similar way to arrows when the apex converges at a certain point as your eyes are drawn down their edges and onto the subject in question. This is arguably quite similar to what diagonal lines do, only this involves 2 or more physical lines and 1 implied line. Have a look a the photo below and notice that your attention is drawn to the subject’s sunglasses as that is where the apex of the triangle converges.
You can also use multiple triangles to create this effect, you just need to be careful where you’re pointing them. I used the triangular shape of the rock edges to direct the attention onto my models legs below, but I feel that that ultimately took away from her face.
I wanted to include this extra little section at the bottom to try and analyze what I like about the photo below. I took this a few weeks ago and it’s one of my favourite photos to date, but it’s hard to know exactly why unless you delve a little deeper. The lighting is good, the colour and grain is spectacular, but most importantly, I feel it was the inclusion of so many diagonal lines that created a large number of triangles in the frame (in the background in particular) that made it so good. I count at least seven triangles which kept my staring at the photo for ages. Subtle differences in angle and viewpoint can make a huge difference to your photos.