Definition: Triptych

Definition: Triptych | Glossary entry


Three moments in a ducks life

Three moments in a ducks life

Defining a Triptych

A triptych (pronounced Trip’tik), when applied to photography, is a group of three pictures. It could be three photographs mounted in a frame, closely associated pictures displayed near each other or three pictures in one image.

The subject of a triptych is an important defining characteristic. The pictures should have a common theme. This could be a story, similar compositional elements, colours, similar subject matter – anything that draws the pictures together as a group.

The image shown above is a triptych of pictures in one image. The origin of the term applied to three paintings on hinged wooden panels. They could fold into each other making a flat carrying pack. Originally the triptych was used for religious paintings. However, in modern times the format has been used in a wide variety of different situations and presentations.

Competition photographers often make an effort to ensure that the pictures are not only related but have a definite order. In the triptych above the duck is shaking its tail in the first image, then the other two show succeeding stages of the drying-out process. An order may be applied to a triptych in other ways too. For example the first picture may be a portrait of someone facing to thier left. In the second portrait the same person faces the camera. And, in the third they face to their right. The order shows all aspects of the subjects face, but the inward-facing heads on each side also create a compositional frame by implying a boxed-in middle shot. It is common for photographers to use compositional elements in this way to create an overall effect across a triptych.

Creating a Triptych

If you simply hang three photographs with a common theme on the same wall, you have a triptych. However, mounting them in a frame creates a well defined ‘holding’. Presenting them as a single image is often what is required for competition photography or for framing the image to put on a website. Here is how you can create your first triptych in your favourite image editor…

  1. Assemble your story or grouping of three images.
  2. Crop the three images to the same scale, size and shape.
  3. Create a new blank canvas wider than the three images.
  4. Allow for a border between them and all around if you want.
  5. Colour the blank canvas to the colour you want the borders.
  6. Paste the three pictures onto the new canvas.
  7. Arrange as appropriate leaving equal borders as necessary.
  8. Crop the final image to suit your border or to tidy the shape/size.
  9. Save the new canvas with an appropriate file name.

It is not essential that the pictures are the same scale, size and shape. However, it helps to do it that way until you understand the process and get a feel for the format. When you have done a few you can try all sorts of creative ways to lay them out. Have a look at these links and see if there are some triptych layouts that catch your eye!

Triptych Group on Flickr
A search on Flickr for the term “triptych…
Diptych & Triptych Gallery

Triptychs are compelling once you get into them. You can spend hours arranging your shots in different ways. Have fun!
See also:
Composite image or picture
Google search: photomozaic  External link - opens new tab/page
Google search: photomontage  External link - opens new tab/page


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