Photography tips: alternative angles

They draw the eye, link subjects and add drama – shooting diagonals can properly pep up your photography, reckons Steve Davey

6 mins

A photo should be more than just a simple rendering of reality. It should convey some meaning to the viewer; it should elicit a response or be visually stimulating. The key to making your pictures work on a deeper level is through composition: rather than just snapping away, pause and try to create something a little more thoughtful.

A useful compositional device is including a strong diagonal. These can be used to lead the onlooker’s eye into a detail, to link objects together or just to create a more graphic image.

At its simplest, a diagonal provides an alternative way to view the world. When capturing something such as the facade of a building, instead of shooting it square-on from the front, try moving to one side and photographing it from an angle. This will cause the straight lines to appear to recede and converge, forming a strong diagonal.

I’m a great believer in exploiting photographic characteristics to produce an image that could only be created with a camera – one that couldn’t be seen with the human eye. Bending perspective to create diagonals is a perfect example of this.

The intensity of any diagonal will vary depending on the angle you shoot from and the focal length of your lens. A wide-angle lens will create a more extreme, converging diagonal; a telephoto lens will give a less pronounced effect, with a flattened perspective. A telephoto lens will also give a shallower depth of field, allowing you to isolate a part of the subject.

Sometimes a strong diagonal is actually present in the subject – all you have to do is alter your crop or your position in order to bring it out. Whether it is the strong slope of a hill or a road leading off into the distance, the resulting diagonals can be used to lead the eye or create a strong graphic effect.

Happy chopper

Shooting all of these Sadhus (above; during the Juna Akhara) from the side has given to a strong diagonal that leads the eye to the point of focus and the grinning holy man with the sword. It has also created an image that shows a mass of people filling the frame – and in this instance avoiding some of the problems of a full frontal approach!

Steve's handy hints

1. Making a point

A diagonal can lead the eye towards the picture’s main subject (as with the image above and the happy man wielding a sword). This style of composition can also bring extra meaning to an image, as it highlights the contrast.

2. Stay observant

Introducing a diagonal is often a case of noticing an existing shape, then adjusting your focal length and crop to make it prominent in your image. Some subjects can form a strong diagonal that it's easy to accentuate by cropping out as many extraneous subjects as possible.

3. Curvy is sexy

“When is a diagonal not a diagonal?" When it’s a curve!

A curve can be just as effective at leading the viewer’s eye into the picture. The shape can create a dynamic composition and tie the various elements in an image together.

4. It’s all in the details

If you shoot from the side, you can also use a wide aperture to give a shallow depth of field to your image. This isolates a part of the image’s detail, makes it clearer what it is, and also gives a suggestion of how the detail is repeated. This makes the image less confusing.

3 key rules of shooting better snapshots

1. If you only remember one thing…

It’s not too complicated: you can often create a strong diagonal simply by walking to one side of something and shooting at an angle – don’t always opt for the obvious position.

2. Technical tip…

If you are shooting a diagonal with a shallow depth of field you will have to control which part of the image is in focus; do this by moving the camera’s focus point over the part of the scene you want to be sharp.

3. One for the kitbag…

The nature of diagonals will vary depending on whether you are using a wide or a telephoto lens. An 18-200mm lens is a perfect travel lens, as you always have the right lens on your camera and never have to change it.

Steve leads a range of travel photography tours to such exotic destinations as India and Laos. For details see:

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