Three is Better Than Two

No, I’m not turning this into an erotica blog to boost readership.  Reviewing some rehearsal images from the Elite Theatre Company’s production of Funny Money, I noticed that images with three distinct subject elements were more compelling than those with two.

I’ve read that odd numbers of elements work better than even numbers, but the truth of this jumped out from these otherwise similar images.  With two or four elements in the image, the elements pair up and create a sense of stasis, whereas three or five elements create a different visual dynamic, urging our eye to explore the relationships. More and more, I’m looking for triangles. (And yes, if I called the triangles “threesomes,” I’d generate a lot more web traffic)

A lot of my theater photos used to look like this, because I feel it is important to capture some sort of interaction. It is, but in this case we follow the actors' eyes to the blank space between them, and we're done looking at the picture. If Frank was holding the champagne bottle up higher, it might serve as a third visual element that causes a viewer's eye to linger.

Here, the briefcase provides a different point of interest for both the woman in the picture and the viewer of the photo. What does she see? Why does he want her to see it? There's a sense of triangulation in the more compelling photos from this shoot. What is the relationship of each element to the other elements?


A woman lunging at a surprised man, tells one story. Is the second woman trying to stop her or assisting her? I'm not sure it matters. In this case, I think the bottle is the third element, and tells much of the story. The second woman is part of a linear composition, but the bottle creates an interesting triangle.


This image fails for a number of reasons. We don't know what the two men are looking at, but the linear nature of the composition is what really holds it back. If the gun were thrust forward to triangulate the composition, it would help a lot.

Here, we still don't know what what they are looking at, but the dynamic changes as the woman directs our attention to the apparent hostage situation. Note the multiple triangles: the three faces; Man, woman, briefcase; Man, woman, gun; Man, man, gun. Etc.

Photo editors gravitate toward this image partially because of the big and little triangles: Man, woman, briefcase; man, woman, cash-in-hand. This could be cropped at her waist and still work, but it works better with both triangles.

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Filed under Composition, Dance and Theater

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