My Photo Philosophy

Power of the Triangle

Improve your photography

with a simple triangle

Using Triangles in Composition & Posing

This trick is no secret.  In fact it’s not even a trick.  This simple compositional principle is deep rooted in our subconsciousness’ desire for simplicity and completeness.  If something is too simple it’s not complete, if it’s too complex it’s not simple… the triangle has the envied position of being the simplest of all the polygons, after all it has the minimum number of lines required to ‘close’ the shape and promote it from a simple line to a polygon.  Simple and complete, all rolled into a single entity.

The triangle has hypnotized artists for thousands of years. But you already know all that crap.

In fact, if you have read just a tiny bit about art or paid a little attention as you look at paintings by the masters (you do go to museums right?) then you know what I’m talking about.

So why read it again?  Because I’m more entertaining than your stupid art class, that’s why.

It’s hard to believe that Leonardo Davinci painted the Mona Lisa over five HUNDRED years ago.  What better example of the brilliant use of a single, prominent triangle to create a stunning and simple composition.  But wait you say, “That’s not a triangle, all the corners are cropped out.”  Well, guess what, an implied triangle is just as strong as an actual triangle… and if that doesn’t satisfy your naysaying read the evidence which suggests (and I believe) Leonardo’s masterpiece was originally larger, and probably included the entire shape.

So there.

What does this have to do with photography?

As the photographer you have ultimate control of what you show between the four edges of your frame, that is your kingdom to create whatever it is you want.  Do you need manipulate your whole photo-taking existence around worshiping the triangle and putting one into  every image?  Absolutely not, but if you spot the opportunity to invite the serendipitous triangle into your images when the opportunity presents itself then I think it will give your work that extra, subtle blend of simplicity and completeness.

Some Examples by Jake Garn

I’m not really sure why these triangles exist, I didn’t really plan them.  I think they are just part of a sub-conscious preference towards arranging subjects into triangles, or maybe it’s a sub-conscious attraction I have towards selecting these types of ‘happy accidents’ in the editing process.  Whatever it is you’ve probably noticed that a lot of my images tend to feature prominent triangles, here are just a handful.  All shot within the last 10 months.

I’d love to read your comments and thoughts about why YOU think triangles improve composition, or if you disagree completely.  Comment away!


Equipment Links

I used different equipment to achieve each of these images but here is a list of some of the items I used most. Links will take you directly to the B&H Photo Video product page for the individual item (the more you buy from them using my links the more encouraged they are to send me product to review for this blog, keep that in mind!) 🙂

18 Comments

  • Steven Rose

    1

    I have read that equilateral triangles the most compositionally noticeable to the subconscious, and when presented base down they give an impression of stability (and, conversely, when point down, give an impression of instability). I've also read that different kinds of triangles can be used to accentuate different aspects of the image, and in parentheses are images that act as memory aids (and examples). Very acute triangles, base down: majesty (a skyscraper flying up to the clouds); point down: speed & dynamism (a meteor falling to earth). Very obtuse triangles, base down: vastness, expansiveness (shooting from the middle of a road that goes off to the horizon); point down: security, safety (arms cradling a child). I've also read that generally people associate different feelings with color that can be used to power up a compositional element like a triangle. Some of the connotations we have about color seem to be innate: red -> blood, danger; blue -> possibility, coolness; green -> peace, serenity. Some of these connotations seem to be cultural: red in Eastern culture -> luck; purple & yellow in Western & Eastern cultures, respectively -> majesty, power. Interesting stuff, I really like your compositional posts, can't wait to see the next one!

  • Brent Deitrich

    2

    Nice post .. great things to keep in mind!

  • dustontoddblog -

    3

    [...] suggest you read his blog (for me to do so would be redundant). read about his theory of triangles here. Posted: September 27th, 2010 Categories: fine art, ramblings Tags: Comments: No Comments. [...]

  • Jake Garn

    4

    GREAT points Steven, thanks for sharing!

  • lampy domowe

    5

    Amazing post. Keep writing.

  • Karma sucha

    6

    That’s very interesting post.

  • pozycjonowanie stron kraków

    7

    Convincing post. Thanks for it.

  • Wholesale Picture Frames

    8

    Really like your site layout, well written blog - will bookmark this!

  • anabelle hamilton

    9

    Hi, The Mona Lisa is an example of Da Vinci using the Golden Rectangle rather than a triangle to place emphasis and balance. He was a mathematician and used rectangular shapes frequently in his Art.

    • Jake Garn

      10

      Anabelle, Leonardo was an incredible proponent of using what he called the "divine ratio" in his work, but that's not what this post is about. This post is about triangles. If you want to read a post where I talk about the golden ratio you can view it here http://new.jakegarn.com/the-rule-of-thirds To presume that Leonardo could only use one shape at a time (triangle or golden rectangle) in any of his work requires taking a much more simplistic view than he deserves. Shapes are rarely mutually exclusive, in fact, that is a principle Leonardo explored brilliantly with "Vitruvian Man."

  • Use triangles to improve photography « GDAWG5130 – my life

    11

    [...] idea taken from jakegarn.com [...]

  • Bloc notes | bloc operator 3 - Blog

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    [...] your photography with a simple triangle http://new.jakegarn.com/power-of-the-triangle/ [...]

  • Gear Knobs

    13

    ,:* I am very thankful to this topic because it really gives useful information "';

  • Reflection on Part Two « The Art of Photography

    14

    [...] of trinagles in photography. Here are a couple and a simple Google search will reveal more. (http://jakegarn.com/power-of-the-triangle/  and [...]

  • Figure drawing: Final class | annImpression

    15

    [...] paintings where the composition and the feeling of the picture overcame dimensional shortcomings. Classical triangle composition was something that I had never heard about before, but once she mentioned it, I saw it all over [...]

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    16

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  • How to Improve Photography Composition using Triangles

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    [...] 1. Photography composition tip: Enforce order through triangles 2. Improve your photography with a simple triangle [...]

  • Freddie

    18

    Thanks for your article, it was an interesting read. One thing that I wonder is whether we convince ourselves of the importance of triangles? Because of the fact that triangles can be irregular in shape, we can create them out of almost any part of our image, as long as there is something on which to base the corner; often this is a very subtle something. I wonder then if triangles are as important as we often give them credit, but are instead just something we have decided to see? A superstition almost: "oh, that is a nice image, look, there are triangles in it - triangles must make a nice image". I don't know whether it is the case, but chicken and egg comes to mind. It is very difficult to say because triangles are there. However, I wonder if they actually hold relevance; are there other compositional processes going on that create a pleasing image, that we accredit to triangles, because they are easy for us to make. Freddie.

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