Compositional Triangles


There are a hand full of compositional elements I hate the way its been written about online. One of those elements are triangles in photography. Most of the time authors end up drawing way too many triangles, or put them in random spots or make them up. I have seem some good ones, but rarely do I see them written well when it comes to landscape photography, so today we are going to talk about two of my images and then I can let you do some homework on the rest of my galleries and see how many compositional triangles you can find.

The Compositional Triangle

First of all I am not talking about literal triangles like things you would see in architecture. Nor am I talking about obvious triangles like mountain peaks. They naturally make triangles which are overall strong compositional elements. Mountains cheat.

I am talking about subtle compositional triangles, where there are three elements within your image that act like stepping stones to allow your eye to wander through out but not get lost. Sometimes these three elements are physical objects, but they can also be bright patches in the photo. Now lets bring in the first example. Below is an example of an image with three compositional elements that make a visual triangle. Can you identify them?

A cholla cactus and a joshua tree reside in a desert landscape while a storm rages behind them. A rainbow can be seen above the landscape.

An image that has it all, flash floods, rainbows, and all the iconic plants of the Mojave desert. I took this while out running around chasing thunderstorms in the Mojave desert in 2022. This image was featured in my 2023 Calendar.

Now here is the same image but with the three compositional points of the triangle highlighted.

My foreground element highlighted is my cholla species. This is the bottom point of the triangle. The Joshua tree over to the right side of the image is my right point while the rainbow to the top left is also apart of my compositional triangle. Three elements. Three points to a visual compositional triangle.

If you are wondering, yes I did purposefully compose my image like that.

Another Example

A cactus blooming in the desert with large red rock cliffs lit up at sunset at a passing rainbow.

This next one is a bit more tricky because one of the triangle points is not obvious. Take a minute to look at the above image and determine what you think the visual triangle is.

Hopefully you spent a minute trying to figure out what my visual triangle is, but if not look at the above image and see what I have highlighted as my visual triangles. The bottom point of my triangle is the obvious bloom. The upper left visual point is the obvious point of the triangle, the rainbow, but the thing that actually balances the image is the bright spot in the sky on at the top third of the image. This compositionally bright area balances the visual weight of the image and keeps the image from being too left heavy. Thus the final point of my compositional triangle.

Quick Conclusion

Here are your two examples. They are good examples of visual triangles I use within my images. I use them quite frequently and I suggest you spend some time wandering around my galleries and see how many you can find. Not ever image uses these, but once you know what you are looking for you should actually see a fair few across my galleries.


Now go out and give this visual triangle a try. It is not too hard but can have dramatic results.

The colorado river cuts through the grand canyon. Large cliffs are on either side of the river. Storm clouds are above and the sun peaks through on the side.

The wind was howling when I took this image, but the conditions were amazing at Toroweap in the Grand Canyon in Northern Arizona. I snuck in a large crack in the ground to keep out of the wind, and was rewarded with an epic sun star that graced the skyline for just a moment before dipping behind the hills.

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