The Magic 7 in Photographic Composition

6Share

To the best of my knowledge, there aren’t any cameras you can program to display “Magic 7” grid lines onto their viewfinders and LCDs. You can program your camera to display Rule of Thirds, Square, and Square Grid + Diagonal-based grid line patterns, but nobody does the Magic 7 grid.

The slats woven through the fence links form repeat patterns of 7s.

You also won’t find grids for Vanishing Points or Converging Lines, despite the fact they are compositional aids that evoke movement, direction, and visual tension—the very shapes and forms that suck you into the picture’s story line.


The man’s legs form a 7, as do the lines in the concrete, the light reflections, and the building details.

It’s not that they aren’t considered important; if anything, they’re the building blocks of visually dynamic image composition. The problem is that—unlike linear grid patterns made up of orderly horizontal and vertical lines—vanishing points, intersecting lines, and the Magic 7 are random and unpredictable, which makes them difficult, if not impossible, to plot and display in your camera’s viewfinder.

Regardless, intersecting lines are important visual tools when it comes to composing photographs.

What is the Magic 7?

Compositionally speaking, the Magic 7 is essentially a set of converging leading lines. The difference between converging lines that form a number 7 and converging lines in general is that the lines forming a 7 must intersect at an angle of less than 90°. Leading lines that converge at angles greater than 90° are no longer identifiable as the number seven.

 The Magic 7 abounds in this picture, throughout the building façade and the lines in the roadway.

Unless you make yourself consciously aware of them, you don’t always see number 7s hidden in the details, even though they are often basking in plain sight. One reason 7s often go unnoticed is because they’re often upside-down, backward, or running diagonally across your field of vision. If you’ve been shooting for a while, there’s a good chance you’re already incorporating these principals into your visual workflow.

Unlike converging lines, which play off our sense of gravity and directional sensibilities by leading our eyes to distant vanishing points, 7s can appear randomly and on a subliminal level. Your mind’s-eye sees them, even though you may not be consciously aware of it.


The letter “L” in the foreground is an example of the Magic 7. The letter “Y” to the right of it (and closest to the lens) also contains 7s in its form. Lastly, the words reading diagonally across the frame form 7s, with the letters lining up from the lower left to the upper right corner of the frame.

An interesting quality of the number 7 is that it invariably introduces diagonal lines and triangular forms into the picture, which automatically grab your eye and lead it through the image field.

In addition to a selection of original photographs I captured to accompany this text, I also rummaged through folders of pictures I captured randomly over the past few months, and I was astonished at how frequently 7s appeared in one form or another. Sometimes they were front and center, while in other photographs they were almost stealth-like in the way they guided my eyes across the image area.

The diagonal rows and columns of raised crosswalk dots here form multiple 7 patterns.

A box of donuts says your own photographs are chock-full of 7s. If you don’t notice any at first glance, try turning the picture upside-down and sideways, and I’d bet you’ll hit the jackpot.

6 Comments

its called LINEAR PERSPECTIVE !!!! any person with a basic art education understands it as such - one-point perspective, two-point perspective, etc.

then there is ATMOSPHERIC PERSEPCTIVE. Thats like Bokeh...

then COLOR PERSPECTIVE. Colors more saturated as they are closer to you

Then there is PLANAR PERSEPCTIVE. Basically, its foreground, the midground, and the background. Used with color perspective techniques quite often.

Funny to call it the "magic 7".... common people!

Hi Dave,

I believe the Magic 7 is different than linear perspective, although there can certainly be “7s” in linear perspective. See my colleague’s article on Viewpoint and Perspective to see an explanation of linear perspective and some of the other types of perspective you mentioned.

Thanks for reading!

Allan

Brilliant - was off my radar. Just what I need to take another step.

Merle - between you and me I wasn't aware I was 'shooting sevens' for quite some time, but once you take note of it - BAM!

Thanks for the feedback!

Allan

Good point, I'll start looking for the 7s today

Bet you won't have to look hard!

And don't forget the spare battery you left charging in the bedroom!

Allan

Close

Close

Close