ERIC KIM

Composition Lesson: Triangles

One of the best compositions you can apply to your compositions: triangles.


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1. Triangle portrait and reflections

In this composition by Henri Cartier-Bresson, you can see the triangle composition between the man, statue, and his reflection:

2. Triangle composition of monks, by Henri Cartier-Bresson

3. Vertical triangle composition by Henri Cartier-Bresson

This is interesting, to see how we can create triangle compositions from pictures in frames — because the human eye is always drawn to faces.

Also note in this vertical (portrait) orientation, you can also see how your eyes are led throughout the frame, in a zig-zag path, starting from the bottle of wine in the foreground, to the middle of the frame, then the very top:

4. Chiaroscuro (shadow play) in museum by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Note the triangle composition here:

What I like most about this composition is the dynamic directions that all the eyes of the subjects and statues are looking at.

Lesson: Our eyes follow and track the direction of the subjects in pictures.

5. Sergio Larrain and movement of subjects

In this photo by Sergio Larrain, you can see the triangle composition between the three subjects.

The best part — they are all walking different directions, which creates dynamic tension in the frame:

Also note the framing — the depth Sergio Larrain adds by having the wall in the far right of the frame (red), and the background and foreground:

See more compositions by Sergio Larrain // Learn about his life and philosophy >


6. Matisse triangle composition with three subjects

Also study composition from masters of painting and art, like Matisse, with his elegant triangle composition and depth:

Three subjects abstracted by Matisse.
Triangle composition. Three subjects abstracted by Matisse.
Triangle composition. Three subjects abstracted by Matisse, into red, blue, yellow.
Triangle composition. Three subjects abstracted by Matisse, into red, blue, yellow.
Triangle composition in white. Three subjects abstracted by Matisse, into red, blue, yellow.

7. Triangle composition with elbows and arm gestures

Drawing by Matisse, woman with folded arms.

Another triangle composition from Matisse, this time focusing on the shapes and forms of the elbows and arms of a person.

Triangle composition by Matisse outlined in red.

Here is the drawing abstracted into blue:

Blue abstract by ERIC KIM. Drawing by Matisse, woman with folded arms

Imagining if the whole shape was just a red triangle:

Red triangle abstract by eric kim

Or a blue triangle, with sharper edges:

Blue triangle abstract by ERIC KIM

With the blue triangle overlaid:

Learn more about Matisse >


Conclusion

Tilted street photograph in Tokyo, of a triangle composition (man in bottom left, man on top right, and advertisement in top left)

When shooting triangles, some tips:

  1. Create triangle composition by spacing out three subjects in different parts of the frame.
  2. Create triangle composition with hand gestures, and arm/elbow gestures
  3. Discover the triangles after you’ve made the photo, as a way to choose (edit) your best work.
Triangles: Hollywood, 2011
Triangle with Cindy elbow.

Learn more about composition

For a primer, see COMPOSITION 101, or these new articles:

Also, access the free street photography beginners guide >


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