Diagonal Leading Lines in Photography Composition

Of all the lines used in photography, diagonals are the most dynamic. You can use them to create a strong impression of movement or you can use them to create a tremendous sense of depth. All images are created with lines—some vertical, horizontal and others converging—but knowing how to place them affects the mood and composition of the final image.

diagonal leading lines

“Prinsenmolen Sunset” captured by Vincent van der Pas

A sense of order is created with vertical and horizontal lines, implying stability and strength. Diagonals are unbalanced and appear to be unstable. What they communicate is dynamic, yet precarious. They always appear to be falling over or not quite secure. This is what lends itself to a dramatic image.

The easiest way to create diagonals is simply by tilting your camera. Slanted views of horizontals and verticals and can easily be created by the photographer. I find that a bit of tilt to my camera adds a little slant to the image and creates a perfect diagonal line.

skyscraper angle photo

“Rights angles” captured by Shemsu.Hor

Try capturing a simple image like a car or skyscraper by tilting the camera forty five degrees and see the effect you create. What happens to the image? The car looks as if it is going fast while skyscraper appears to be reaching for the sky. This effect is created simply by simply turning your camera

When shooting from high up from a bird’s eye view, you can really create some stunning images. Look for lines then tilt the camera. The bird’s eye vantage allows you great leeway, as there is no right way, no up or down; everything is two dimensional. Experiment with patterns and color and you will arrive at some dramatic compositions.

Don’t be afraid to use crazy angles and change your viewpoint when shooting with diagonals. They will help give you a sense of depth and perspective. They tend to lead the eye to whatever focal point you decide, to a place where they end or disappear into nothing. Diagonals encourage the eye of the viewer to follow, almost like the Judas goat at the abattoir that leads the livestock to the slaughter. A set of footprints, a curved hedge, or river can be used to guide the viewers to the point of focus. But you must lead them to something that has a strong interest otherwise the viewer is left feeling that the image is incomplete.

Then there is the zigzag effect when using diagonals in patterns. The repeated pattern can also be used to drag the eye into the image over a larger area of the frame. These patterns are dynamic and when used with horizontals and verticals become even more dramatic.

leading lines composition

“Selfportrait” captured by M. Lorenzo

I have always chosen diagonals as my favorite lines because they are so dynamic and add something to my images. Bottom line though, as you learn digital photography, is that you need to experiment and above all practice what you learn in order to master it. Happy shooting!

About the Author:
Wayne Turner has been teaching photography for 25 years and has written three books on photography. He has produced 21 Steps to Perfect Photos, a program of learner-based training using outcome-based education.

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