Deciding how to frame any picture makes all the difference between taking a photo and creating an image. For some people, this comes instinctively; for others it is a more chancy affair. Hopefully, these eight images taken in five different countries will inspire you to seek your own diagonals.
Diagonal lines always convey a sense of direction to any composition and here are some examples. Taking a plantation of trees with simple, straight trunks by standing and holding the camera at eye level will never make a dynamic shot. Instead, stand close to a trunk and point the camera skywards. To convey the rapid growth of moso bamboos, I used a wide-angle lens and mounted the camera on a tripod looking up to the sky. Slackening the rotation locking screw on the ball and socket head, allows the camera to be spun around 360° to seek the best composition.
The image above shows multiple diagonals converging towards the centre of the frame, which draws the eye inwards.
Early and late in the day, when shadows are long, opportunities arise for seeking diagonal shadows to provide impact to any composition.
A river or canal that cuts through a landscape will appear more dynamic if it is composed in the frame so it runs diagonally instead of horizontally cutting the image into two equal halves. Look also for paths with an interesting colour contrast or texture that weave their way through woodlands or gardens.
Look skywards at a bird in flight with outstretched wings to frame it with one wing tip pointing towards a corner of the frame and the other towards the diagonally opposite one. Try to vary the composition by not opting always for a single bird in flight.
It took me two visits to Poland to get the shot I had envisaged from seeing mute swans swimming amongst flowering marsh marigolds in a travel magazine. I was after a panned shot of swans flying above the marsh. The first time, my guide met me at Warsaw airport and told me they had had a freak hot period when all the flowers bloomed followed by strong winds that blew off the petals! I clinched the shot on the last day of my second trip. Quite fortuitously, I gained an extended diagonal from the wing tip of one bird up the neck and wing of the bird.
Animals such as turtles, crocodiles and some fish often make a diagonal line in their underwater trajectory as they dive down from the surface if they are not in any great hurry to descend.
The only way to get dawn shots of reptiles racing over red sand dunes, was to race alongside them. Australia’s largest lizard – the perentie – turned out to be a lot more agile than me carrying my gear.
One of my favourite diagonal compositions was a chance find whilst walking over limestone pavement area in Yorkshire before the sun rose. My objective was to find ferns and other plants that survive grazing sheep by growing within the cracks or grykes. The moment I saw the image below, with the curvaceous diagonal from lower left to upper right, I knew this was the shot. However, I had to work fast, because the sun was about to appear. The exposure contrast between the sunlit pavement and the ferns in the depressed cracks would then have been too great for film to expose both correctly.
Wherever you travel outdoors, keep a lookout for dynamic diagonals that can make any image spring to life by leading the eye across the frame from a lower corner to a higher one or vice versa. Even better than a straight diagonal is a curvaceous one that can be found in streams and meandering rivers.
Thanks for reading!