Essence of Photography: Triangles

Why are triangles so prevalent in photography and how can you use them to create better images?

August 12, 2021

When was the last time a photo made you smile? Or laugh? Or maybe even angry?

It's no secret that when we see different kinds of images, they make us feel a certain way. Usually that has a lot to do with the subject of the photo. See a cute puppy and we smile. A person hanging from the face of a sheer cliff and we might get a tinge of vertigo.

But as photographers, we can use other techniques in our photos to make our viewers feel a certain way, even if they don't fully realize it.

One of those ways is through the use of triangle shapes in your images.

Triangles are a versatile shape. They can be a little dangerous when one side leans out over another. Triangles can also give us a sense of balance and symmetry. A perfect triangle with equal sides or proportions creates a sense stability.

We can use all of those fuzzy feelings in our compositions to convey those feelings in our images.



Seeing Them Everywhere

The fun thing about triangles in photography is that once you start to look for them, you start to find them everywhere, both in the photos that you look at, and the photos not yet taken.

Sometimes they are an actual triangle shape in the image, and sometimes it is more subtle, like the shape of your subject or the relation of multiple subjects in the image form a triangle shape.



The Art of the Triangle

In the art world, painters were well aware of the power of the triangle. Without the triangle, it would be difficult to render the perspective of our three-dimensional world to a two-dimensional image.

While the ancients were aware of how to draw perspective, it was not formally described until the 15th century when architect Filippo Brunelleschi described a system of "Linear Perspective" which was quickly adopted by famous Renaissance painters like Leonardo da Vinci who expanded on his work.

You can observe this effect in photos by taking a picture of a road or railroad tracks going off into the horizon. Notice the triangle shape at the "Vanishing Point" as the road appears to get more narrow as it gets closer to the horizon.



The Golden Triangle

The triangle shape can be subtly integrated into your photography composition by aligning your subjects along a special kind of diagonal. For photographers who want to break out of the Rule of Thirds to try a different way of arranging their subjects, the Golden Triangle might be a worthy alternative.

Many image editing apps allow you to crop or overlay these guidelines over your image so you can practice cropping photos along the lines. You can also do it yourself by drawing one line from left corner to right, and then draw lines from the other two corners to the first line.

Look at these two photos below. Which one do you prefer?

Compared to the photo on the left, the one on the right was rotated slightly to align with the golden triangle. Notice how it appears a little more alive and dynamic than the other image, as if it might jump up into the air.



Meaning in Triangles

Human beings seem hard wired for triangulation. From a religious perspective, the triangle forms the foundation for the Christian notion of the trinity or, "Father", "Son", and "Holy Spirit." It can also represent other triads like mind, body, and spirit.

Triangles also provide direction. By their nature they point somewhere and as the photographer you can decide where your triangles will go. Will they point upwards to the heavens? You might even use a triangle shape to point to something within your photo which draws the viewers eye to that thing.



Bonus: There were more than 561 triangles featured in these images. Did you count them all?




Essence of Photography is a series of tips, tutorials, and visual inspiration on a variety of photography skills and techniques.

You can practice these skills and more by purchasing a deck of Photo Cards from Zoom In Reach Out, a non-profit with a mission of teaching to see the world from a different perspective.

All photos in this article were posted to the Aminus3 Photography Community and are copyrighted by their respective photographers.

Click on any photo to see a larger version or to leave a comment for the photographer.

Want to share your own photography experiments with triangles in your compositions?

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TOPICS: essence of photography

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