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.

Photographers use them to create striking visual effects in their work. Diagonal lines help to emphasize details that the photographer wants to showcase. Lines build artistic flow through an image, almost like creating a path to what is most important to see. 

diagonal lines

Diagonal lines come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. Thick, thin, horizontal, vertical, diagonal, zigzag, curly, curved, and spiral. Who knew that diagonal lines play such a role in a photograph. They bring meaning to the forefront and captivate viewers. 

Diagonal lines are useful to highlight certain elements of a photograph. These lines direct the eye of the viewer to see the detail that the naked eye might miss or overlook. Every photographer wants to create an image that is one of kind and eye-catching. Dynamic effect and visual symbolism are two key factors in every photography.

Mastering compositional techniques take time, effort, and patience. Being a photographer, you are also an artist. Being an artist means you see depth in your subject. Not only depth, but also meaning that is in an object, landscape, or human that others don’t recognize. 

In this article, I will explain the various ways that diagonal lines can be useful in photography. We will review a little bit of history that will provide a better understanding of the importance of use. 

Diagonal Method

Dutch Photographer Edwin Westhoff discovered the diagonal method. He conducted experiments to further his understanding of why the rule of thirds. This rule is complex in meaning. It suggests placing the points of interest near the intersection of lines. If the points of interest are right on the intersection of lines, it confuses what the focus is. What do you want your viewer to see? Think about this when you get ready to snap that photo.

Let’s dive a little deeper into the details of this method. Placing the point of interest on one or more diagonal lines of 45 degrees from the four corners of the image. A perfect example is the image below of Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” 

Diagonal Line on Girl with Pearl Earring

The yellow diagonal line intersects two points of interest. The girl’s left eye, and the pearl earring. Let’s point out that this is a painting rather than an actual photograph, but the same theory applies. The Diagonal Method applies to images in which certain details are needed for emphasis. Highlighting certain aspects in an image tells a story or makes a statement and they draw the viewer in. 

What Are Diagonal Lines?

Diagonal lines show as tilted or slanted lines in images. They have the freedom to move around and lead the viewer to the focal point of an image. They convey depth and perspective in the image. Like reading from left to right, in photography, diagonal lines use the same method.

When viewing diagonal lines in an image, there are two terms to consider. Sinister and Baroque. Sinister diagonal lines cross from left to right. Baroque diagonals are from right to left.

Using the slanted technique, when adding diagonal lines, provides a more distinct image. There isn’t a rule stating that a slanted subject is a must. They are more captivating and draw in the viewer for longer. 

Using Diagonal Lines in Your Photos

There are three different types of Diagonal lines. Actual diagonal lines. An object’s placed at an angle in the scene, and a diagonal line is created by the viewpoint. Creating a diagonal line in an image will be the technique most used.

Look around you, Diagonal lines are all around. Take a fallen tree, for instance. At face value, the fallen tree is a horizontal line that changes your angle. The tree then stretches from the bottom corner of the frame to the opposite giving the photo depth.

Leading Lines

Using horizontal and vertical lines is completely fine. They create a sense of strength, balance, and harmony. Depending on the emotion or feeling you are trying to convey in what you’re photographing. You can get creative with these lines, though. Tilt the camera! 

Diagonal leading lines

You don’t have to incorporate diagonal lines in every photo. This is another amazing technique to change the dynamic of your image. The great part about diagonal lines is you can’t make a mistake. If the angle doesn’t look right, shoot from a different angle. Be creative and have fun! 

S-Curves

There are several variations of different diagonal lines that you can use. An S-curve is more playful within an image. An S-curve line and diagonal lines, when combined, guide the viewer through the image. This enhances what they see. 

Visual Tension

Using distorted diagonal lines creates tension. This manifests a dynamic feel in the image and provides contrast. The more diagonal lines there are, the greater the tension. This also builds a sense of direction in the image. Is this considered the focal point? Of course! The photographer is leading you down a path. This centers the viewer to the main viewpoint and draws you further into the image.

Diagonal lines can run from left to right or top to bottom in an image. Using different angles to form the diagonal line, in turn, build tension. Something as simple as a fence or staircase. When photographed at an angle, it can look inauspicious and behold, create tension. 

photo of woman reading book

Creating Depth

By decreasing the image viewpoint you increase depth. Sense of depth occurs when you increase or decrease the number of diagonal lines you have. Another way to add depth to your image is to add a path. Remember we talked about this?

In the image below, the photographer shot this bridge from a right to left angle. It draws your focus to the couple as the main focal point but also personifies depth based on the angle. It draws in the viewer and adds interest and measure to the photo. 

creating depth with leading diagonal lines

Additionally, photographers use diagonal lines to generate the impression of depth. When shooting in a shallow depth field your focal point stands out, but a blurry background shows. You can create this in an image by drawing an imaginary diagonal line from one corner to the next. Then place your focal point in one corner or the other and adjust the aperture size. This adds an extra layer of intrigue and design to the flow of the image. 

Lack of Stability

One amazing concept within photography is knowing that things are always symmetrical. Producing breathtaking images requires so many different methods and tools. Early in my career, I had the idea that photos consisted of perfect lines and vibrant colors. This is true, but photography is so much more! Remember we talked about photographers are also artists? Coming up with different ways to tell your story is part of the artistic process.

unbalance diagonal lines

Showing instability in an image while using diagonal lines is inventive and imaginative. Let’s think about shooting a photo of a building. You might consider taking the photo head-on. This will show the strength and rigid lines of a tall building. What if you change the angle of your camera? Consider taking the photo pointing the camera up, as seen below. Doing so requires the viewer to focus on the image because we are not used to seeing diagonals in buildings.

This image does have a mesmerizing effect but it also shows the instability of the photo.

Compositional Flow and Diagonal Lines 

Think about everything we have talked about so far related to diagonal lines. The goal is to generate a flow through your image or images. What do you want the viewer to notice? Compositional flow determines how the viewer moves through an image. Where they look first, where they look next, where they pause, and how long they stay.

Do you want to tell a story with your image? The flow will do that. This is a guide for the viewer to move through your image in the right order.

How Many Types of Diagonal Lines Can You Have?

Adding several diagonal lines in a photo only adds to the dramatic effect of the image. How do you draw your viewers in and keep them captivated? You must draw an emotional response from them. Humans are emotional and reactionary beings. We connect with people or subjects that we can find a commonality with.

Mastering the niche of photography is complex. It is not as simple as picking up a camera and shooting. Generating an image that a viewer can connect which is so crucial. This hinges on if you can capture the subject in such a way that the viewer can make an emotional connection. If you can, this is a competency. Call it a win!

With that said, there are “rules of composition.” The basic understanding of these rules is somewhat simple. It is knowing what technique is useful to create the image you want. The difficult part is knowing the rules. The variety of lines we see and recognize in nature are subjective. An object or landscape can change depending on how we look at it.

Through my experience of being a landscape photographer, I have picked up a few tricks. I have formed my way to classify different types of diagonal lines. In my world of photography, the type of lines that I often work with can be primitive. 

Landscapes are full of vertical and horizontal lines. I often use these angles as well when I photograph, not only diagonal lines. One subject we spoke of is trees.

Manipulating them to create diagonal lines will bring the forest to life! Take the Red Wood forest in California for instance. These trees are already huge, but getting low to the ground and shooting at an angle will magnify the beauty. There are exceptions to the “rules.” You have to look for the opportunity to find those exceptions. Sometimes the exceptions make the most amazing photos!

Tips on Using Diagonal Lines

Becoming or being a visionary photographer requires mastery of different composition tools. It takes time and innovation. Once you master such skill, your images will be breathtaking. 

Here are some high-level tips for using and creating diagonal lines in your images: 

  • Tilt Your Camera. Try to connect lines at the edge of your frame.
  • In some situations, using your camera at an angle is a photography cliché. That’s okay! Every exceptional photographer has a few tricks up their sleeve. 
photo with tilted camera
  • Look for leading lines. These are in the background, and your subject is the focal point. Doing this will build depth, bringing your subject to the forefront.
photo of lands using leading diagonal lines
  • Use nature. Practice using trees. Place the trunk of a tree in the corner of your frame and generate the diagonal line.
  • Use people. Make a diagonal like by using someone’s arm!
  • Use triangles. The basis for a triangle is diagonal lines. Look for them around you and snap that image
using trees and shadows to create diagonal lines

Experimenting with diagonal lines as part of your photography composition technique is a skill. It requires regular practice. Practice makes perfect! The world around you is your canvas. Start shooting! Even the most skilled photographers learn new tactics and modes of taking images. Reading articles like this will also help. There are millions of texts out there that can also give guidance. Some give you a good step-by-step concept of how to learn a particular form of taking photos. Use every avenue you can to learn and keep learning. To stand out and keep your photos fresh requires vigilance. 

building composition creating triangle shape

In Summary

The use of diagonal lines in photo composition is a practice that has been around since the creation of photography. It started with the art of painting. Painters used some of the same techniques we have discussed in some of the most famous paintings.

Let’s not forget about the use of technology in photography. Photographers are finding new and groundbreaking techniques for using diagonal lines in photos. Some of these techniques might be simplified by using editing software. The image must be created first though. Only that can happen through the eye of the beholder.

Photography is a skill and an art. Keep practicing. Build and refine your skills as often as possible. Producing and designing beautiful photos will be your masterpiece! 

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