In the "old days" I sometimes composed my photos diagonally, but I've not had success doing that in the "modern" era, because there's not really any nice way to present it digitally.

Is there a reason to take diagonal photos? Does the composition have particular strengths?

  • 3
    Great question -- I love when I come here and see something that gets me thinking.
    – D. Lambert
    Dec 21, 2010 at 14:19
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    It's too bad that cameras don't have a circular sensor; so much of the image circle (42 percent) is wasted with our strange, rectangular format.
    – Evan Krall
    Dec 21, 2010 at 21:42
  • I agree, this is something I've actually wanted to discuss for a while as some friends do it though I don't believe they realise it makes the photo "disorienting" to look at (my opinion of course). Dec 21, 2010 at 22:22
  • Also see Are there guidelines for using “Dutch angles”?
    – mattdm
    Aug 19, 2013 at 19:34
  • This is why I prefer the square format of the Hasselblad.
    – Stan
    Aug 31, 2013 at 7:53

6 Answers 6


I still compose diagonally on a regular basis when shooting bands, I find this maximises what I can get into the frame, and the resulting images work both mounted diagonally and in a regular upright orientation:

I agree that presenting other images like this wouldn't work, for example if you do a diagonal composition of a shot with a horizon it will just look wrong. However a lot of digital photographers still regularly print their photos, maybe not as often as they should. Perhaps if more people adopted this form of composition people would be more inclined to print.

  • I never thought of the 'encourage people to print', that would be quite sly :)
    – Benjol
    Dec 21, 2010 at 11:59
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    Nice photos, too.
    – Benjol
    Dec 21, 2010 at 11:59
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    I personally dislike the diagonal shots. All they serve to do is make me have to turn my head. Not saying those shots aren't good, I just would never do a tilt that extreme in my own band photography. Dec 21, 2010 at 12:37
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    Obviously I don't do all my shots like that, that would be just as boring as if every shot was dead level, I just find people with guitars fit really nicely into the frame this way. You are entitled to your opinion, I just don't find myself tilting my head at all looking at these (or other shots with an extreme tilt)
    – Matt Grum
    Dec 21, 2010 at 16:59
  • I agree with the motor sport kind of shot, but I will say that it works also because it's not an extreme angle. I can't help but need to tilt my head when trying to view those photos above. The photos themselves are great, I personally get really put off by the big angle. A friend of mine also puts these crazy angles in her band photography and it's never sat well with me. Dec 21, 2010 at 22:19

I have experimented in adding a frame within a couple of my photos to achieve just such a thing:

enter image description here

enter image description here

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    Interesting effect :)
    – Ignacio
    Mar 15, 2011 at 2:57
  • This is a really unusual and striking way of presenting a shot! Mar 15, 2011 at 7:45
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    Nice, I think the orange picture works better than the blue one.
    – Ria
    Jul 26, 2012 at 6:57
  • black or white (or even mid-grey) backgrounds would be some other interesting options. I like that you picked a color that runs through the images like that Aug 14, 2017 at 21:08

Maybe this is not entirely related, but abstract shots fit quite well with diagonals... :o)

Diagonal 2


I recently took a picture where I instinctively tilted the frame slightly while composing:

Anya in the garden

Just to see, I straightened it out in an editing program, like so:

Anya straightened out

In looking at them both for a while, I prefer the first one. There's a greater dynamic sense, and it has a more casual aesthetic — but the parallel line of her arm and the right edge of the image provide a stop and bit of static balance. The leveled image is too much "okay, I'm standing here".

This isn't a 45° angle that would make the image a composition about diagonals, but I think it illustrates the value of non-squared lines as a element in an overall composition.

Other than the issue of presentation, there's another thing to consider in the digital age. If you want to print a slanted film photograph turned to be straight (or vice versa), the only loss is the cropped corners/edges. If you rotate a digital file by an arbitrary angle, pixels have to be re-interpolated, which is inherently a very lossy operation. It's like running a blur filter over the whole thing.

In my example above, notice how the sparkle has gone out of Anya's eye. I didn't treat these two images differently in any way except for the rotation. After that, they're both scaled down with an identical filter. I did the work really quickly and from a JPEG; I'm sure more careful work could avoid that particular damage, but there is a very concrete example of the loss I'm talking about.

That doesn't break shooting in this way, but makes it a bigger decision. Of course, one can always keep the digital file as-is and turn and crop after printing, but that different from the workflow many people who shoot digitally are accustomed to.

In response to Matt Grum's comment below: the test of rotating and then rotating back by the exact same amount doesn't show the whole problem, in that the operation causes blur, but that blur is largely reversible if you do the exact same thing in reverse. If you just leave the image rotated and continue to do other things (like, say, print), the loss is made permanent.

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    I would say image rotation is a slightly lossy operation not "very lossy" - especially if you do it on a full resolution image as you rarely get anything like per pixel sharpness out of a DSLR. I did a test with a 5D image (which has v.good sharpness), I rotated the image by 60 degrees one way and back again, after two rotations the effect is barely noticeable at 100%: mattgrum.com/photo_se/before_and_after_rotation.jpg any effect which you can only just make out when looking for it at 100% magnification is not something I would worry about!
    – Matt Grum
    Dec 21, 2010 at 17:25
  • @MattGrum, that is good to know, it was something else that I was wondering when asking my question. Maybe you should add that info into your answer so that it gets more eyes on it?
    – Benjol
    Dec 22, 2010 at 5:56
  • I suspect that up-sampling the image to something like 2 or 4 times the original size before applying the rotation would help preserve any detail that might otherwise be lost.
    – Sean
    Dec 22, 2010 at 6:23
  • @Sean, I think that'll just make things worse by interpolating more.
    – mattdm
    Dec 22, 2010 at 15:03
  • @MattGrum, it occurs to me that the test you're doing doesn't show the whole problem, in that the operation causes blur, but that blur is largely reversible if you do the exact same thing in reverse. If you just leave it rotated and then continue to do other things, the loss is made permanent.
    – mattdm
    Dec 22, 2010 at 15:04

I tend to find that I'd rather shoot a picture 'straight' most of the time and introduce a rotation after the fact in post production, because that way I give myself the option. Of course I love spending time in post-production, so I do understand that my answer isn't optimal for a photographer that wants to do everything in camera in order to minimize time spent in post.

I think there are certain types of shots that lend themselves well to rotation... shots that are dynamic in nature and/or are intended to convey a sense of movement. I also see a lot of '"rotation for rotation's sake" out of some photographers who don't necessarily have a great eye for composition, but think that it makes their shots 'better,' because photographs with severely dutched horizons has been a bit of a 'fad' in the advertising industry over the past few years...

Personally I think that dutched composition is a tool in the toolbox to be used sparingly... Like a fisheye lens. The occasional picture shot with a 'specialty tool' can add life to a set, but if every picture is rotated it gets cliche real quick.


As I said in a comment, I don't think it has ever worked for me (viewing these types of photos).

All it has ever done has made the viewer tilt there head to see what's really happening in the scene.

Portraits in particular may be taken at a moderate angle as it may serve to balance the height of two different subjects or to capture the off angle of the subject (they may be leaning or something).

In my own band photography as an example, I rarely put a "roll" on my photos as it puts me off whenever I've seen it elsewhere.

Take the example above and compare it to a shot where no tilt is (photo quality aside):

Marty from Finabah

Now as an example (of course, my opinion), here is a portrait I've taken where a moderate tilt has helped to frame the subjects where the environment is only a secondary part of the photograph.


I think it really has to do with the subject, not just throwing a 45 degree tilt in for the hell of it. Take this shot as example. I think this personally works great as the subject (guitarist) is framed vertically even though he is in fact leaning backward.


So in my opinion, large tilts never work unless they are done to keep the subject framed properly.

More: I think it actually also goes against the natural tendency for humans to remain upright for the most part of our lives. Do I go to a concert (keeping with the band photography) and look at the band with my head tilted?

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    Personally I find shots rotated slightly to be more off putting than ones with an extreme tilt which is clearly intentional but that's just my opinion. Obviously I would never compose an image with an extreme tilt "for the hell of it", however I like variety, I would never say a particular composition "never works"!
    – Matt Grum
    Dec 21, 2010 at 17:19
  • In general I agree with Matt Grum about "slightly rotated" shots--but this one works (for me). Dec 21, 2010 at 18:45

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