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[Part 4] Composition Basics! “Diagonal Composition” and “Rule of Thirds Composition”

Let's take a look at the "Diagonal Composition" and the "Rule of Thirds Composition" in [Part 4] of the composition workshop series. These two composition Rule have been studied for ages, even before the birth of photography. They were widely used from the era of paintings but are very effective in photography also. The composition Rule introduced in this series article are ideal for those who have never paid attention to the composition when taking a photo. Let's learn the basics with the use of illustrations and photo examples. (Reported by: Tatsuya Tanaka)

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"Diagonal Composition" Brings out Movement and Depth

Placing the subject on the diagonal line

Creating a diagonal composition with the plant in the foreground as an accent.

Red line: Diagonal Line

In this example, I captured a fern growing on a slope with a waterfall as the background. While the line of the slope is used here to create a diagonal composition, the key point is to place the fern below the diagonal line.

"Diagonal Composition" emphasizes perspective

A diagonal composition is employed to arrange elements in an image based on a diagonal line. For example, you can make use of diagonal lines formed by a mountain slope, river flow, or a road to emphasize the perspective, thereby bringing out movement as well as depth in the image. An easy way to create a diagonal composition is to capture a waterfall or stairs from the side so that the inclination becomes more obvious. Yet another technique is to make use of two intersecting diagonal lines forming an "X" shape to gather the viewer's attention on the point of intersection. However, note that including a diagonal line too deliberately may result in a monotonous composition that merely divides the image into two halves.

Using the lines on a mountain surface.

Red line: Diagonal Line

I chanced upon a steep mountain slope in the late autumn, and used a telephoto lens to draw the scenery closer. Here, I aligned the diagonal line with the several lines on the mountain surface, and adjusted the composition so that the mountain surface occupies a larger area than the background.

Gathering attention by intersecting diagonal lines.

Red line: Diagonal Line

Intersecting two diagonal lines helps to gather the attention of the viewer. At the same time, you can create an accent by moving the subject you want to place on the diagonal line upward, downward, or to the left or right. In this example, the "X" shape formed by the body and wings of the airplane is located at the upper end of the image.

Tip: Pay attention to the placement of diagonal line

To avoid resulting in a composition that merely divides the image into two halves, you simply need to displace the diagonal line from the center. Also, a more stable composition can be obtained by creating more space in the area below the diagonal line.

"Rule of Thirds Composition" is the Most Well Balanced

Place the subject on an intersecting point

Placing two flowers on two intersecting points.

Red circle: Intersecting points

Here, I placed two hibiscus flowers grown side by side on the two intersecting points at the lower half of the image in a Rule of Thirds composition. At the same time, I included a third flower at the back in the shade of the leaves to bring out depth. As illustrated, the Rule of Thirds composition comes in handy in a wide range of scenes.

The Rule of Thirds composition effectively underplayed.

Red circle: Intersecting points

Cows scattered on a pasture were feeding leisurely on the grass. I chose three most prominent ones, and placed them on the intersecting points of the Rule of Thirds composition to obtain this well-balanced shot.

Divide the screen into 9 segments or use the intersecting points for "Rule of Thirds Composition"

The Rule of Thirds composition is one of the most frequently-used techniques. Divide the screen into nine even segments with two horizontal and vertical lines, and position the main theme near one of the intersecting points between the lines. You can obtain a stable composition by placing the subject as illustrated in the photo of the showcase below to divide the composition into a 6:3 ratio.
Also commonly employed together with the Rule of Thirds is the split composition. This technique divides the screen vertically or horizontally into two even parts, and is often used in genres such as landscape photography. Dividing the screen vertically or horizontally makes it easier to create a sense of stability. However, take note of subjects that may result in monotonous images.

Applying the "Rule of Thirds"

Dividing an image into different areas using the Rule of Thirds composition.

Place the wall in the foreground here (area marked in red)

In this photo of a window display, the image is divided vertically into three sections, with the wall in the foreground included in the rightmost section. There is no need to pay attention to the intersecting points at all times.

Capturing a charming nightscape with the split composition.

A shot depicting the gradation of the sky and the illumination. Here, I employed the split composition to bring out the contrast effectively.

Tip: Consider where to place your main and sub-theme

For both the Rule of Thirds and split composition techniques, you can enhance the perfection of your photographic work by considering where to place the main theme and what to do with the sub-theme, instead of merely placing the subject on a line or an intersecting point.

Tatsuya Tanaka

Born in 1956, Tanaka is one of the rare photographers who produce works across a wide variety of genres from an original perspective. These genres range from objects in our daily lives, such as insects and flowers, to landscapes, skyscapes, and celestial bodies. Besides photography, Tanaka has also developed his own approach in post processes including retouch and printing.