Diagonal Lines

How to Use Diagonal Lines in Photography

In Rules of Composition by Stefano Caioni Leave a Comment

Diagonal lines are a very interesting feature of photography composition.

Expert photographers use them to create striking visual effects in their work. They’re also used to add dynamism and tension to images. Diagonal lines have subliminal meaning and will always “alter” how an image feels to the eye of the viewer.

diagonal lines

There are various types of lines that you can use. Doing so will instill your images with life and make them captivating to viewers. These also include horizontal and vertical lines.

Diagonal lines can be used in different ways by the photographer to draw the viewer’s eye to the desired direction and create dynamic effects. To improve your photographic skills you have to learn as many compositional techniques as possible. You have to train your eye to spot compositional elements. You will be able to use them to better convey a message or an emotion through your photos.

In this post, I’m going to discuss the various ways in which they are used in photography. So that you can master this composition technique.

So, let’s get started.

What Are Diagonal Lines?

Diagonal lines typically run either from top to bottom or left to right of the frame. They convey emotions and direct the viewer’s attention to a certain point creating points of interest in a photograph.

You can employ this technique to highlight a significant element in a composition. Think of a person, walking on a street, a car, or a group of objects.

It is worth noting that the use of this compositional element, just like other techniques in photography, has developed out of older forms of art such as painting. You don’t need to be an expert of visual arts to understand and master the use of this technique.

By introducing diagonal lines to your composition you’ll convey a sense of movement and energy. Depending on how you use diagonal lines you can as well add uncertainty in your pictures.

Compose Your Photos Using Diagonal Lines

As mentioned you there are different ways to use diagonal lines in photography composition. These include:

Leading Lines

Horizontal and vertical lines often create a sense of balance or harmony. Whereas diagonal lines usually create an impression of movement.

Diagonal leading lines

When shooting landscapes, for instance, they can be used as leading lines. This helps the viewer track the main subject of the image. These lines can take the form of roads and building edges.

Introduce Tension

You can also use them to add the effect of tension in an image. While horizontal lines typically evoke a calmness, diagonal lines introduce an element of tension and action.

photo of woman reading book

Some photographers have even developed such mastery of the use of lines that they are able to juxtapose the sense of balance in an image using horizontal lines while permeating the image with tension using this technique. 

Create Depth

With the right camera settings and an eye for detail, you can create a very vivid sense of depth in your photos.

creating depth with leading diagonal lines

As a matter of fact, expert photographers often use diagonal lines in this way to create an impression of depth when shooting in a shallow depth of field. This adds an extra layer of intrigue to images and creates very attractive impressions on viewers. 


Diagonal lines are perfect to create an impression of a lack of stability in an image. Different studies have demonstrated how a lack of stability in an image makes the viewer stares at it for longer. It’s as if the image had a mesmerizing effect.

unbalance diagonal lines

For instance, with a tilted camera angle when shooting a building, you create the impression of unbalance. This instantly challenges the perception that viewers may have about the subject of your photograph. 

Tips on Using Diagonal Lines in Your Composition  

Now that we have discussed what they are and the various applications of diagonal lines in photography, here are some of the ways in which you can take advantage of it in your own composition.

  • Tilt Your Camera

In many situations, this can be considered a photography cliché.
But one of the best ways of incorporating diagonal lines in your composition is to practice shooting with your camera tilted at an angle.

photo with tilted camera

This will allow you to create a dramatic effect in your images, and add more dynamism to your compositions. 

  • Look for Leading Lines

It is also essential to look for leading lines in your frame whenever you are shooting.

photo of lands using leading diagonal lines

If you are capturing images of moving subjects, find a diagonal leading line in your frame and then wait for the subject to enter the frame before shooting. 

Also, remember that an image like the one above, with diagonal lines converging into each other and running in different directions is going to enhance the sense of movement and action even if the image is of a quiet landscape.

  • Practice with Vertical Objects Such as Trees and Buildings

Masterful use of this photography composition technique is a skill that requires regular practice. You should, therefore, start experimenting with everyday subjects that you come across, such as buildings and trees.

using trees and shadows to create diagonal lines

You can even use objects indirectly by taking advantage of the position of the sun and creating diagonal lines with shadows. With frequent practice and thoughtful study, you will soon perfect the art of composing a photograph. 

  • Look for Triangles

Triangular objects typically have at least one diagonal line.

building composition creating triangle shape

Therefore, you can easily learn how to incorporate the use of diagonal lines in your composition by looking for triangles in the subjects you shoot. 

How Many Types of Diagonal Lines Can You Have?

As much as we call them “rules of composition” we’re not talking about mathematics. The types of lines we see and recognize in nature or in an object is very subjective and change depending on how we look at things.

In my experience, I’ve established a convention for myself to classify different types of diagonal lines.

I am used to either keep my camera vertically or horizontally, but there are photographers that tilt their cameras to obtain diagonal lines.

For me, there can only be lines that are diagonal with respect to the horizontal and vertical axis of my camera. You can really decide for yourself what you like.

In Summary

The use of diagonal lines in photo composition is a practice that has been around since the invention of photography, having been borrowed from painting.

However, with every new generation, photographers are finding fresh and innovative ways of using diagonal lines in their work.

By practicing how to use diagonal lines in your composition, therefore, you can permeate your images with a sense of drama that your viewers will find absolutely captivating.

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