How to use Diagonal Lines for Photo Composition

Michael • updated January 2, 2023 • 6 min read

How to use Diagonal Lines for Photo Composition

If you’re just starting out in photography, you might be wondering what techniques you can use to improve your compositions. One technique that can make a big difference is the use of diagonal lines.

Diagonal lines are lines that slope or lean rather than being straight up and down or side to side. They can be found in all sorts of subjects, from the branches of a tree to the lines of a building. In this article, we’ll go over the basics of diagonal lines in photography and how you can use them to improve your compositions.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced photographer, you’ll find some helpful tips in this article. So, let’s get started and learn more about diagonal lines in photography!


The diagonal method

The Diagonal Method (DM) is a method of composition that Dutch photographer and photography teacher Edwin Westhoff found by accident in May 2006 while he was doing research on the “Rule of Thirds,” which is a well-known theory of composition in photography.

The Diagonal Method is not a theory, but something that was found. It doesn’t come from the Golden Ratio or the Rule of Thirds.

Let’s learn a bit more about how this method works. Set the point of view on one or more diagonal lines that are 45 degrees from each corner of the picture. This picture of Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is a great example.

Painting Vermeer, Girl with pearl earring using diagonal line
Painting Vermeer, “Girl with pearl earring” using diagonal line

At two interesting points, the yellow diagonal line meets. The girl’s left eye and the pearl in her ear. It should be noted that this is a painting and not a real photo, but the same theory applies.

The diagonal method is used to draw attention to certain parts of a picture. By drawing attention to certain parts of an image, you can tell a story or make a statement and draw the viewer’s attention.

What are diagonal lines?

If you’re into photography, you might have heard the term “diagonal lines” before. But did you know that the word “diagonal” actually comes from the Greek word “diagonios,” which means “from angle to angle”?

It was used by Euclid and Strabo to describe a line connecting two corners of a shape like a cube or a rhombus. Later on, it was recognized in Latin as “diagonus,” which means “slanting line.”

So what does all this have to do with photography? Well, diagonal lines in photography are lines that slant across the frame of a photo. They can be found in all sorts of subjects, like the branches of a tree or the lines of a building.

Diagonal lines are used to guide the viewer’s eye through the photo, leading them through the frame and taking in all the details.

diagonal lines in your photos, example bridge

Diagonal lines in photos, example bridge, @rosiefoto13

Using diagonal lines in your photos

Just look around, there are diagonal lines everywhere. Take a tree that has fallen. At first glance, the downed tree looks like a horizontal line that changes the way you look at the scene.

You can add diagonal lines to a picture in three ways:

1. True diagonal lines

If you want to add diagonal lines to a scene, look for real ones. These diagonal lines are easy to use because all you have to do to see them is look around. I bet if you look up from the screen now, you can see some. Examples are:

  • Power cables or phone wires
  • Tracks
  • Stairs
  • Arches
  • Landscape formations
Illustration, True diagonal lines
@corneschi

2. Diagonally placed objects

You don’t have to place the objects yourself for them to make diagonal lines. They can be anything, like natural diagonal lines of objects or lines that were made by people.

  • Several kinds of fruit
  • The way a person puts their arms and legs
  • Putting people in groups
Illustration, Diagonally placed objects, blueberries
@bildflickan

3. Diagonal lines are created by the angle of view

When you look at a horizontal line from the side, it changes into a diagonal line and becomes more interesting right away. When seen from above or below, vertical lines look the same.

You can look at a vertical line from a low angle and a wide-angle to increase the distortion and make the line even more diagonal.

So, the type of line in a photo can change depending on where the camera is in relation to the element.

  • Road (the lower you go, the more the sides of the street converge into diagonal lines).
  • Building (stand on the ground and look up)
  • A wall (look down the length of it instead of looking at it)
Illustration, Diagonal lines are created by the angle of view, road
@themcny

Create diagonal lines from nothing

Dutch angle (tilt the camera, subject’s line of sight (an invisible line leading from the subject to where the subject is looking).

Now that we know where to find diagonal lines, the trick is to learn how to place them in a photo to strengthen the composition.

How to make good use of diagonal lines?

Where you put diagonal lines in a photo can be really important. For example, a diagonal line that goes from the corner of the frame into the center of the photo can be really interesting because it guides the viewer’s eye through the frame.

But you don’t have to put the diagonal line in the exact corner. You can play around with where you place it to create different effects.

How you use diagonal lines in a photo also depends on what you want them to do. Do you want to create a sense of movement?

Do you want to add visual interest? Do you want to create depth? The way you use diagonal lines will depend on what you’re trying to achieve in your photo.

Another thing to keep in mind is that diagonal lines are often used with other types of composition. For example, you might use diagonal lines with horizontal lines or vertical lines to create a more balanced and interesting photo.

So when you’re thinking about how to use diagonal lines in your photos, be sure to consider how they’ll work with other compositional elements as well.

With diagonal lines, you can:

  • guide the eye
  • divide an image
  • create depth
  • guide the eye with diagonal lines

Leading lines are used when diagonal lines lead straight to the main point of an image. The composition is more interesting because of the diagonal line instead of a horizontal or vertical line.

Illustration, Using diagonal lines to divide a picture
@martinadams

Using diagonal lines to divide a picture

So, what does it mean to divide a picture with diagonal lines? Essentially, it means using diagonal lines to create sections or areas within the frame of the photo.

This can be useful for a variety of reasons. For example, you might use diagonal lines to divide a photo into foreground, middle ground, and background sections. Or, you might use diagonal lines to create a sense of balance or symmetry within the photo.

Putting more than one diagonal line in a photo

There are two ways to use more than one diagonal line.

  • Different directions
    There is a fine line between using just enough diagonal lines going in different directions and using too many. If a few diagonal lines go in different directions, it gives the photo a sense of movement and makes it more dynamic. A photo with too many lines going in different directions looks like a mess.
  • One direction
    When several diagonal lines go in the same direction, they make a pattern, which is an interesting way to arrange lines in a photo.
Illustration, Putting more than one diagonal line in a photo, wooden construction
@rgaleriacom

Create depth with diagonal lines

By lowering the point of view, you can increase the depth. When you add or take away diagonal lines, it gives the picture a sense of depth. Adding a path is another way to give your picture depth.

Photographers can also give the impression of depth by using diagonal lines. When you take a picture with a shallow depth of field, the subject stands out, but the background is blurry.

Lack of stability

Using diagonal lines to show the instability of an image is inventive and imaginative. Imagine taking a photo of a building. You might take the photo head-on.

This shows the strength and rigid lines of a tall building. How about changing the angle of your camera? Take the photo with the camera facing up, as seen below.

This way, the viewer has to focus on the image because we are not used to seeing diagonals in buildings.

Using diagonal lines to show the instability of an image
@gabiontheroad

Infinite combination possibilities

Of course, you can combine the different line types into one photo. But be careful not to overload the image with too many different lines, otherwise, it will quickly look restless and confusing.

Different lines that come together to make a grid or pattern can be very pleasing to the eye, especially in black and white photography.

Even so, line work is especially important in black-and-white photography. Since there are no colors in your photo, the main focus is on how it is put together.

Diagonals and the reading direction

Top left to bottom right:

  • Descending
  • Quiet
  • Little tension
  • View is led out of the picture

Diagonals that run from top left to bottom right have a descending effect on us. They also have a calming effect and create less tension. The view is led out of the picture more quickly by the direction to the lower right.

Graphic, diagonal from Top left to bottom right
diagonal-line

Left down to right up:

  • Ascending
  • Exciting
  • Create tension
  • Eye stays in the picture

Diagonals that run from bottom right to top left have an ascending effect on us. They create more tension, the image appears more exciting; and the viewer’s attention remains fixed on the image.

Graphic, diagonal from Left down to right up

Frequently asked questions


Why are diagonals useful in photography?

Diagonals are useful in photography because they guide the viewer’s eye through the frame. This is useful for a few reasons.

First, movement is a positive compositional element because it encourages the viewer to interact with the photos.

Second, movement guides the eye to where you want it to go, such as from the foreground to the background or from the edges to the main subject.

Check out this detailed guide on Background Tips for better Photography to improve your photos.

How do diagonal lines work?

A diagonal line that goes down is less tense and more relaxing, but it can sometimes lead the eye away from the picture too quickly. Still, it gives the picture a lot more movement than horizontal or vertical lines can.

A diagonal line that goes up helps to keep the eye in the picture for longer and makes it more interesting. Nevertheless, it brings much more movement into the picture than horizontal or vertical lines can.

Should you use the rule of thirds or diagonals?

The rule of thirds and diagonals can help you figure out how to put things together. You can use either one to make beautiful compositions.

You can also use both diagonals and the rule of thirds together to make extremely powerful images by using diagonals to lead the eye into the frame toward a subject that is deliberately placed using the rule of thirds intersection points.

Can I create diagonal lines by tilting my camera?

Tilting the camera is a quick way to create strong diagonals. The camera is then tilted so that any flat lines become diagonals.

Conclusion

In conclusion, diagonal lines can be a really useful compositional element in photography. They can add movement, depth, and visual interest to a photo and can be used in a variety of ways to create different effects.

Whether you’re looking to add some movement to a photo, create the illusion of depth, or divide a picture into sections, diagonal lines can be a great tool to have in your toolkit.

So the next time you’re taking a photo, think about how you can use diagonal lines to enhance your compositions. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different subjects and see what works best for you. With a little practice and experimentation, you’ll be able to use diagonal lines to create stunning photos that are sure to impress.

 
 

 

What is your take on Diagonal Lines for Photo Composition? Let us know in the comments.

By Furoore team member Michael
Furoore Team is here to assist you in capturing the most significant moments in your life. To create exciting photographs, discover photography guides, find unique photo ideas, and limitless image inspiration.

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