Saturday, November 8, 2014

Shape: elements of visual design, part 2

This month's Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge is focusing in on the basic elements of composition: line, shape, form or volume, texture, and color. This week your challenge is to pay attention to shape. See how thinking about shapes can help you grow in your photography. (Click here to read part 1, The Line.)


Photography, by its very nature, takes a three-dimensional world and renders it in two dimensions. A study of shape moves us from the one-dimensional focus of the line and the curve to the two-dimensional focus of the shape of an object or subject. With shape, think outline, think silhouette. (A further study of light and shadow will add the third dimension: form or volume, which we will study next week.)

There are three basics shapes in visual design: the circle, the square, and the triangle. The trick to seeing and working with shapes in your photography relies on your ability to concentrate on the shape of your subject, as divorced from the reality of what your subject is. Let us take a look at each of these three basic shapes and how to recognize and use them in your photography.

The Circle

A true circle is a rare shape, one that is found far more often in constructed, man-made environments than in natural ones. A circle symbolizes balance, symmetry. A mathematical circle is perfectly round and flawlessly even. Many natural objects that we think of as circles are not. Children may draw apples, pumpkins, and the moon as circles but in reality these objects are more-often imitations of true circles.

Finding and photographing circles often takes on a level of abstraction. Only the right angle, the right position, or the right perspective will allow your viewer to register "circle" when looking at a certain subject. Spend some time with your subject, moving around, looking high, and looking low, and see how the shape or shapes you see changes as you move. Only when you find the shape that you want, should you take the photograph.

The Square

The square is another shape that is common in the constructed world. Most buildings and structures contain squares or rectangles. Squares can convey a feeling of balance and symmetry, like circles, but they are anchored to their straight sides. Squares are blocky and hold more visual weight as well. Differing sizes of squares in a photograph can give a sense of distance or perspective.

The Triangle

The triangle as a shape is the least pleasing of the three. Triangles are pointy and often unbalanced, signaling danger or fear. Mountains can often be glossed as triangles. You can also use perspective and vanishing points to create triangles in your image. Roads leading off into the distance or buildings looked at from below, can seem to converge into triangular shapes.

How Will You Use Shape?

Practice trying to see your composition as shapes and not as subjects. Do not see pebbles on the beach; see circles. Do not see buildings; see squares and rectangles. Do not see mountains; see triangles. Abstract yourself from the definitions of what you are photographing and try to see the underlying shape or shapes.

Then, share what you have discovered! You can share a link or a photograph in the comments below, or consider joining the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community to share your weekly photograph and see what others are capturing.

Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is available from Amazon. Get the most out of your camera with practical advice about the technical and creative aspects of DSLR photography that will have you taking beautiful pictures right away.
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