Seeing Creatively: The Dynamic Use of Diagonal Lines

by Bryan F. Peterson

Red Peppers at a Fruitstand
Red Peppers at a Fruitstand
© Bryan F. Peterson
All Rights Reserved
Of the six elements of design - line, shape, form, texture, pattern, and color - which is strongest? Line!

A line can be long, and a line can be short. A line can be thick and a line can be thin. A line can lead you away move you forward. A line can be felt as restful, rigid, active, soothing, threatening or safe. The emotional meanings of line cannot be overlooked. Some of us experience a thin line as sickly or unstable and yet others see it as sexy, cute and vulnerable. A thick line for some may feel stable and reliable but by others as unhealthy and stern.

In particular, the diagonal line evokes feelings of movement, activity and speed. It is "solid"; it is decisive. The bicyclist knows the diagonal line presents a challenge when going up, and welcomes the exhilaration of speed when going down. The diagonal line will always breathe life into an otherwise static composition.

Orange Conveyor
Orange Conveyor
© Bryan F. Peterson
All Rights Reserved
Diagonal Line Example: Orange Conveyor
No where can one find more natural diagonal lines then in the industry world. While on assignment in Nevada for a gold mining company, I asked one of the workers to ascend a nearby conveyor so I could shoot an environmental portrait of him. There is a lot going in this image, compositionally speaking, and much of it due to line.

Note the anchoring effect of the horizontal line at the bottom of the frame - the many diagonal lines that are anchored to it are free to move without fear of collapse. Additionally note the use of the triangle which frames the background haul truck. It's clear that the haul truck is in an active state as indicated by the diagonal line of its bucket.


Warnemunde Beach, Germany
Warnemunde Beach, Germany
© Bryan F. Peterson
All Rights Reserved
Diagonal Line Example: Warnemunde Beach, Germany
From atop a nearby hotel on the Baltic Sea in former East Germany, I was able to fill my frame with the patterned composition of rental beach houses. These houses can seat two adults and have a jump seat in the back for the two kids. They close up, similar to a clam shell.

With my camera and 75-300mm Nikkor lens mounted securely on a tripod, I zoomed out towards the 300mm range. With my aperture set to f/32 to maximize the depth of field, I simply adjusted the shutter speed until 1/30th of a second indicated a correct exposure. Note the diagonal lines and how they impart a sense of movement and activity in this scene. This use of the diagonal line is one of my personal favorites.


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Article by Bryan F. Peterson. To learn more about photography, explore the many online photography and Photoshop classes offered here at BetterPhoto.com.