Exercise – Real and implied triangles

In this section of the course, it feels that we are heavily reliant on Michael Freeman and his book on composition and once again, I draw upon his explanation of why triangles work in composition, and how easy they are to find.

Triangles are the simplest shape, having the fewest number of sides. They are also very simple to construct, needing the fewest number of points (obviously, two points form a line rather than a shape). Triangles can contain both horizontal and vertical lines, but always diagonals. We’ve studied the effect that all three have in a composition in the course already and now can demonstrate the stability that horizontal lines can provide and dynamism of diagonals, combined in the same image.

Our study of diagonals also demonstrated that they are very easy to find as anything that is straight becomes diagonal with perspective. Lines that are actually parallel appear to converge as they get further from the viewer, again causing triangles. Triangles also exist in their own right as I hope that I’ve demonstrated below.

Finally, triangles can be implied in a couple of ways. The eye often closes a triangle if two sides are suggested. Our brain fills in the missing third line. Similarly, three strong points in a composition will be joined subconsciously to form a triangle.

In my opinion, the master of the triangle in composition is Magnum photographer Alex Webb. A search of Google or Pinterest returns many wonderful compositions, often featuring three points, few of which I’ve pinned here. Indeed, once you begin to see the triangles in his compositions, they’re everywhere!

Real Triangles

The first two examples feature real, triangular shapes. As usual, click on any of the pictures to view them full screen.

The first picture features many real triangles and a couple of implied ones too. The edge of the frame provides the third side to the triangle formed by the wires. The roof line in the lower right corner is even more interesting. There is one real line, one provided by the frame edge and the third is imagined by the viewer.

Another real triangle formed by the back end of this lifeboat (and importantly, the first appearance of a film photograph in my learning log).

Next up, a triangle formed by perspective. The building (Leicester’s tallest) has parallel sides and stands straight up of course, but perspective makes the lines travelling away from us converge. You don’t need the red lines for this one!

Triangle4 Finally, the slightly less common inverted triangle caused by perspective. These only really happen when we’re looking down on things or if we’re standing under something that converges through perspective, such as a bridge. Here, I stood on a bench to get high enough above my daughter to give her legs the appearance of converging at her feet.

Implied Triangles

We’re back to the National Cyclocross Championships for the next couple of pictures that show triangular forms, although not actually triangular shapes.

This first version is probably the one I’m most pleased with because as the guy was struggling past me through the mud, I saw a triangle, rather than a guy struggling in the mud.

To explore the concept that a series of points can imply a triangle, we’re back to creating still-life arrangements. I’ve still not fully recovered from the trauma caused by arranging peppers on a chopping board, so sorry folks but these two pictures are something of a token effort. The first has the triangle’s apex at the top of the frame, the second is inverted.

The next example (and another picture from my Nikon F) is an implied triangle made up of points. The two mooring posts provide the base of the triangle with the boat at the apex. The rope running towards the bottom of the frame implies another, but this time our brain adds the third side to the shape.

Finally, triangles are a useful compositional tool when taking pictures of people. In fact, whenever there are three faces in a picture, they act as three points and a triangle is formed between those points. Our eye follows the shape from point to point. In the example below, it is combined with an obvious eye-line.

triangle (2) Our eye is initially drawn to what we recognise as a human face; we then follow the eye-line of the subject to see what they’re looking at. When we arrive at the next point of the triangle, there’s another face and another eye-line to follow.


Freeman, M (2007) The photographer’s eye – Composition for Better Digital Photos. Lewes; The Ilex Press

Kim, E. (3 October 2013) Street Photography Composition Lesson #1: Triangles (Online). Erik Kim Street Photography. Available from http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2013/10/03/street-photography-composition-lesson-1-triangles/ [16 January 2014]