A wholesome threesome.

Quite often when we go out photographing we are looking for interesting motifs to photograph, and if we are lucky we find something, a good subject here, an interesting background there, and if we’re very lucky we can capture them both in the same photo at the same time, but we’re never really concentrating on the narrative, so we often come home with a collection of interesting, but wholly unrelated images, whereas good photography is often about far more than just taking a series of diverse snaps.

And this is the reason why reaching back in time and using one of the oldest of visual tools, the triptych, is so useful, because it can be a fun way of developing visual storytelling skills, but without all the hard work.

The triptych is a very old format as seen in much early christian art, and it’s generally now defined as:

“A set of three associated artistic, literary, or musical works intended to be appreciated together”.

Why three?

Because objects in groups of odd numbers are generally more pleasing to the human mind, in particular groups of three, it’s one of those magical numbers.

This rule of three can be observed in many forms, in literature: the three little pigs, the three Musketeers etc. – in humour comic triplet jokes are often funnier, more satisfying: An Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsman all went into a bar . . . – theatre: the three act play.

It also appears in rhetoric and the law: tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – not forgetting religion: the holy trinity – and in art the use of three is a standard compositional tool: the rule of thirds, triptychs etc.

The triptych is a great device for combining different viewpoints of the same situation, and is therefore a very useful format to practice, particularly with regard to storytelling, because at its very simplest every story has a beginning, a middle and an end.

Equipment – For the beginner:

If you own an iPhone, head off over to the App store and download:


App: Tricamera – Triptych camera

the basic version is free, but if you can bear to part with the 99 cents, you may get more out of it with the added features.

Or if you own an Android phone download:


App: Diptic

and pay the 99 cents for the full version if you think you’ll get more out of it.

Equipment – For the more experienced:

Using a DSLR, or the camera of choice, take photos in groups of 3, develop and adjust them as usual and then either put them together yourself in PhotoShop, or use an online service such as:


Some examples illustrating the technique

Tips for when on location

Use a triptych to tell a visual story, give the viewer something to think about, for example:

  • Use variations on a theme: different colours, shapes, textures, subjects etc.
  • Show the development of a situation.
  • Give a situation more context by the use of different viewpoints: Far, near, closeup.
  • Juxtaposition completely unrelated subjects or situations.
  • If you get stuck, just take 3 photos of the cracks in the pavement, or take one photo straight down at your feet, the next at 45° and the last at 90° straight ahead, and just see what happens.

And don’t be limited by the triptych itself, it can be:

  • Three equally sized images.
  • One large image flanked by two smaller images.
  • Three images of different sizes.
  • Images arranged vertically, horizontally, or mixed.

Do whatever suits you best, the author, because it’s your story.

See also:

Working the subject

POV – Point of view

The rule of odds 

© Andrew James Kirkwood – 2018

Leave a Reply