The Diagonal And X Compositions

Jul 12, 2022 | Photography | 4 comments

Yesterday, I spent time practicing some of my photography skills in my studio – specifically composition. I listen to a podcast called “The Beginner Photography Podcast”, and the creator always encourages you to keep shooting. Even if the pictures don’t turn out well, he wants you to photograph anyway. It keeps your skills sharp!

So, I did just that – kept shooting.

I practiced a couple of techniques involving composition (the physical way things are laid out), aperture (how wide the opening is on your camera), depth of field (sharp or blurry background) and photographing glass (because #reflectionslikewhoa).

Let’s take a look at how things went!

Practicing Compositions – The Diagonal

One of the easiest compositions to use in product photography is “The Diagonal”. It’s exactly what it sounds like – you place all of your props in a diagonal on your surface, then shoot with a shallow depth of field. (I’ll explain that in a second.)

Here’s how my setup went…

I started with my surface and background. I really love using Replica Surfaces because they make setting up a simple scene so easy! For my practice session, I used a white marble base and a subway tile back. When you put them together, they make a L shape.

Next, I added my subject – a glass Ball jar. Not only did I want to practice my diagonal composition, but I also wanted to practice using glass as my subject. It tends to reflect your light sources, so it can be tricky sometimes.

I placed my Ball jar in the middle of my surface, and grounded it with a mini bread board underneath. To make sure it was in the exact middle of my photo, I used my 3 x 3 grid in the viewfinder.

Then, I placed a larger prop (a faux plant) in the back left corner.

3 x 3 grid in canon camera

Finally, I placed a smaller prop in the front right corner – a faux air plant. When viewed from above, it looked like this:

diagonal photography composition

Notice how this setup makes a diagonal?

You’ll need to experiment with the spacing of your props. For example, I placed my background prop almost right up against the subway tile background. My foreground prop is a bit closer to my subject. This spacing gave me this final photo:

blue ball jar with faux plant

Notice how each plant is blurry, but the Ball jar is in perfect focus? I was able to get that effect by shooting with a shallow depth of field and a wide open aperture.

Getting The Blurry Effect

To get this kind of blur, you need to create a shallow depth of field. This is basically the area that your camera sees as “in focus”. To create one, you need to use a large aperture. This is also called “the f stop”.

F stops are a bit different from one lens to the next, but generally, they range from 1.4 to 22. These numbers correspond to how large the opening is on your lens. The larger the number, the smaller the opening is. Conversely, the smaller the number is, the wider the opening is.

So for example, a f stop of 3.4 is much larger in size than f13. The larger your f stop, the wider your lens opening is, and the more shallow your depth of field becomes, which blurs your background and creates this creamy effect.

I know…it’s a little confusing, but the more you practice, the more you’ll get the concept.

stack of blue dishes with teapot

Replica Surfaces has a great tutorial on this concept that you can enjoy here.

As an opposite example, here’s a photo using a small aperture of F11. See how everything is in focus? That’s because I created a larger depth of field and the camera focuses on everything. No blurry background!

ink blue milk paint with nib pen and ink well

I usually use a smaller f stop/aperture when I’m doing flat lays like this one. Aesthetically, I like when everything is in focused when viewed from above.

Practicing Compositions – The X

Once you master the diagonal, the next progression is to create a X shape. (An X shape? A X shape? Which one is it?)

An/A X shape is when you essentially create two diagonals – one going back left to front right, and one going back right to front left.

X photography composition

Again, you can mess around with the spacing of your props until you like the look of the arrangement. Here’s how this image turned out:

faux plant with larger plant, stack of dishes, beads and paperclip

Because the paper clips and beads were closer to the main subject in the middle, they’re more in focus than the dishes and the other plant.

I swapped out the background plant for a different prop to see how it would change the composition:

faux plant with blue stack of dishes, beads and paperclips

I think I like this one better!

Experimenting With The Diagonal And The X Compositions

After a few practice shots, I started experimenting with my props and backgrounds. I tried large props like a teapot with a stack of dishes using a modified X:

stack of blue and white dishes with teapot and knives
ironstone teapot with stack of knives

Then I went for two pitchers using the traditional X:

blue and white dishes stacked

Next, I grabbed my 35mm lens and had some fun!

canon 35mm lens on board with plant

It’s also good to experiment with the cropping of your images. Above, I used a rectangle but in this photo, I switched to a square:

35 mm canon lens on wooden board

Which composition/subject is your favorite? Are you ready to go try one? Share your practice photos with me on social media @jenniferbakercreative. I’d love to see what you create!

Want to see other angles you can use in your photos? Check out this post!

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I'm Jenn Baker - Milk Paint lover, photographer, blogger, and QVC Guest Host. Click below to learn more about me and my creative business.  LEARN MORE ABOUT JENN

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