How to use diagonal lines in photography

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by David Em
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Diagonal lines make images interesting and draw the viewer’s eyes throughout them. Learn how to use diagonal lines in your photos.

People crossing the street.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

In all types of photography, a stunning image requires great composition.

By arranging the elements within the frame in an eye-pleasing way, you’ll capture a compelling image.

There are many compositional techniques, and diagonal lines are excellent for creating a dynamic composition.

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With one or more diagonal lines, your image will be visually-interesting.

Learn everything you need to know about using diagonal lines to take your photography to the next level.

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What are diagonal lines in photography?

Diagonal lines in photography refer to all lines that aren’t horizontal or vertical but tilted or slanted.

Immediately, diagonal lines grab a viewer’s attention and guide their eyes throughout the frame, making it an exceptional technique to create a compelling and dynamic composition.

As diagonal lines intersect with other lines in an image, they create interest points. If they’re in layers, it adds depth.

Lines also create a sense of movement and flow. Depending on the rest of the frame, they can evoke different moods and feelings.

By using diagonal lines, you’ll capture striking and captivating photos.

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Diagonal lines create feelings of movement and tension

Diagonal lines are composition elements that evoke different feelings and moods.

Horizontal and vertical lines provide a sense of support, ease, and balance. Diagonal lines do the opposite, creating a sense of movement and tension.

When you place something on a diagonal surface, it’ll slide or roll. It’s unsteady and uncertain.

The dynamic tension engages a viewer and makes the image visually interesting.

Overall, diagonal lines are impactful because they create visual flow, depth, dynamism, and direction.

Types of diagonal lines in photography

Person sitting in a parking spot and laughing.
Diagonal lines are everywhere. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Diagonal lines are any lines that are tilted. However, they appear in different ways in an image.

The following are the different types of diagonal lines in photography that you should keep an eye out for:

  • Actual diagonal lines, such as railings or wires.
  • Diagonal lines created by perspective.
  • Elements and objects are placed diagonally.

Look around, and you’ll likely see a diagonal line. If you don’t, change your perspective to position a straight line diagonally, and you’ll have it.

Diagonal lines can enhance your image by keeping your viewer engaged and interested.

So, keep an eye out for them and use them as they fit in the frame.

Tips and examples using diagonal lines in photography

Now that you know what diagonal lines are in photography and the different types, you’re ready to begin using them.

Take the following steps, use the tips, and get inspired by examples of diagonal lines in photography.

It’s a superb way to create a dynamic and interesting composition.

Use natural diagonal lines

Fog above a body of water near a cliff.
Photo courtesy of Canva.

You don’t have to stage or create diagonal lines because they’re all around you.

In the city, buildings, railings, stairs, and roads, are all examples of diagonals. In nature, trees, rivers, and mountains form diagonal lines.

You’ll see that they appear in various shapes, sizes, and places. They can be thick, thin, straight, zigzag, or curved.

So, look around and find naturally-occurring diagonal lines to use in your photographs.

Change your perspective with the Dutch angle

Businessman reading a newspaper outdoors.
Photo courtesy of Pexels.

Take a horizontal line and turn it diagonally by tilting your camera. It’s known as the Dutch angle or tilt.

The Dutch angle is a popular technique in cinematography because it adds drama to a scene.

Additionally, it provides a tilted perspective, making a viewer feel uneasy and disoriented.

It enhances the tension. So, use the Dutch angle purposefully.

Keep the diagonal line off-centered

When implementing diagonal lines in your images, avoid making the line go from one corner to the other.

If you split the frame in half, it creates a distracting and strong effect. So, it’s best to keep the diagonals off-centered.

It’ll make the image more dynamic and interesting. Plus, diagonals work well for framing your main subject.

Diagonals as leading lines

Person walking on a bridge.
The railings are diagonal and lead your eyes to the person. Photo courtesy of Canva.

Leading lines are a compositional tool that guides a viewer’s eyes towards a point in the image, typically the main subject.

Diagonal lines are an effective way to use the leading lines technique.

You can use one or multiple diagonals, as long as they move towards the main point in the photo.

The leading lines can be in the background, foreground, or the same plane as your subject.

With leading lines, your image will look aesthetic and engaging.

Look for diagonal shadows

Hallway in a stone building.
Shadows from building pillars cast diagonal shadows. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

When looking for diagonal lines for your photos, pay attention to shadows because they are cast at an angle.

Buildings, trees, and other vertical objects are ideal for finding diagonal shadows.

The lower the light source, the longer the shadow. Keep that in mind as you’re searching for diagonal shadows to use.

Use diagonal lines to create depth

Poles forming a line on a beach.
Diagonal lines create a sense of depth by leading your eyes into the distance. Photo courtesy of Canva.

Depth is important in a photograph because it provides a three-dimensional feeling.

It’s how you take a flat-looking image and turn it into an interesting, engaging, realistic, and beautiful one.

Use a diagonal line, such as a road or path, to flow into the background. It creates a perception of depth as the path leads further away.

Additionally, it unites the background, middle ground, and foreground.

As a viewer, you’ll see how elements relate to each other and feel the distance between them.

Make the image feel unstable

Diagonals are associated with being unstable or disoriented. If you want a viewer to feel unstable, add one or more diagonals.

Also, make sure the other elements in the frame enhance the story.

For example, have your subject lean as if they’re falling in the direction of the diagonal sloping down.

It’s an excellent way to make the image feel unstable due to the visual tension.

Look for triangles

Person grabbing their hair and surrounded by plants.
The space between the person’s arm and face forms a triangle. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Triangles enhance the composition of a photograph by creating a harmonious feeling.

There are several ways to use triangles, connect three points in an image or look for the shape formed by lines.

Diagonal lines make it easy to create or find triangles. It’ll give the image a sense of balance and movement.

When you see diagonal lines, try to form a triangle with your imagination, and if you can, snap the photo.

Arrange objects and elements diagonally

Another way to find diagonal lines is to create them. Arrange objects or people diagonally throughout the frame.

Remember, the diagonal doesn’t need to split the frame in half.

Make sure it’s a bit off-centered and focus on guiding the flow in a direction. It’ll result in a visually interesting and dynamic image.

Conclusion

Start using diagonal lines in your photography to create a sense of movement and flow.

Remember, don’t split your photo in half from corner to corner. Instead, make sure the lines are off-centered and look natural.

Be intentional with diagonal lines, and your photography will be aesthetic and superior.

Featured image courtesy of Unsplash.

About David Em

David Em.

David Em is the founder of Portraits Refined. He’s a published portrait photographer dedicated to helping photographers develop skills, capture incredible photos, and build successful businesses.

About Portraits Refined

Portraits Refined (PR) is a media company that publishes the latest expert-backed portrait photography tips, in-depth camera gear reviews, and helpful advice to grow your photography business.

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