Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Composition 101: Strong Diagonals

Still swamped with work and neglecting the blog (even my fortune cookie is two months past expiration date), but here's a quick tip for composing and/or cropping photos:

Look for strong diagonal lines.

I'm the first to want to ignore all rules (just ask my colleagues), so let's not call this a rule. It's more of a helpful tip that will make you aware of what you already know on an instinctive level: our eyes like diagonal lines. You may or may not have noticed that fact before, but once you start paying attention, you will notice diagonal lines everywhere. Let's just look at, say, some album covers:
Notice how Sheryl Crow's album cover portrait basically creates a triangle? The ground is the base of the triangle, the tilted guitar is the right side, and her tilted body is the left side. The dark background is simple so as not to compete with that main shape.

Less obvious at first glance, the Jamie Cullum album cover also forms a triangle. Jamie's head is the tip, and each arm points toward invisible lines that extend to the base made up of piano and horizon.

The Red Hot Chili Pepper's cover art has very strong diagonal lines. The negative space in between the heads creates a giant "X" (an appropriate letter, I suppose, given the "parental advisory" label) right through the middle of the album.

We may as well look at an MJ cover. Notice the strong diagonal line that sweeps from bottom left to top right?

Not a photo, but Coldplay owes the strong diagonals on their album cover to Delacroix (and they owe their music to any number of litigants, if you believe in frivolous law suits).

Another "X marks the spot" composition demands attention on this Horehound album cover.

This portrait of Crosby Loggins wouldn't be half as compelling without those strong diagonals.

I could go on and on and on....

If you happen to have iTunes open, try flipping through your album cover art for diagonals and see what you find.

But wait, you say, wasn't Music and Photography last month's theme???
Uh, yeah, but the point here is that when doing this month's specialfragmentary portraiture—you need to pay attention to composition more than ever.

Look at the photos in my last two posts and you'll see what I mean.

If it's seeming clear, give it a try by taking a photo and cropping it to achieve different strong diagonals.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize that this is by no means a rule. Plenty of great photography can be found with very straight lines. We also tend to like grids. And circles. But the more attention you pay to the shapes in your images, the more you will be able to get photos that appeal to your eye's love of geometry.


michelle said...

Good examples. I know my eyes love geometry!