What is Shape and Form in Photography Composition?

Uncovering the Basics of Photography Composition with Shape and Form

Representation of form and shape in photography composition

Shape and form are two important elements of composition in the art of photography. Shape refers to the overall shape of an object, while form refers to the three-dimensional structure of an object. Together, shape and form can create a strong visual impact in a photograph. Form and shape make up two of the six essential elements of composition in photography. The other four elements in the visual art of photography include: line, texture, color, and pattern. Composition technique, is improved with the awareness and application of the six essential factors, of which form and shape are quite important.

 What Does Shape Mean in Photography?

Shape is one of the most basic compositional elements in photography. It is the outline of an object, and can be used to create contrast, rhythm, balance, and unity in a composition. Shape is comprised of the actual shapes identified within the composition, including objects that are captured, and can provide symmetrical or asymmetrical perspective.

The shape of an object is its external boundary, which defines the object’s overall form. The shapes of objects can then be described in terms of their outlines, which are the lines that enclose the object’s external boundary, and produce a specific symmetry or asymmetry from the specific composition within the image.

Examples of Shape in Composition

Geometric shapes are all around us, especially in man-made objects and scenes. As a photographer you can make these shapes stand out in your photos by composing your shots around them. One way to do this is to keep the design of the photo simple, so the shapes are more prominent. The geometric shapes within a composition in photography, should be fairly easy to see, and can sometimes also appear alongside leading lines to show directionality in the image.

Image comparisons showing a woman wearing a red dress against a rock wall and boulder backdrop, with shape compositions highlighted
Credit: https://www.digitalphotomentor.com/how-to-build-stronger-compositions-using-shape/
Notice the shapes represented virtually, as part of the composition on the right image.
Child laying and looking at a tablet on the ground of a home, illustrating the resemblance of a triangle shape formation within the composition's focus
Credit: https://www.audreyannphoto.com/blog/2015/7/9/composition-tip-triangles
The image of the boy above, is another way to visualize shapes in the composition

 What Does Form Mean in Photography?

Form used in photography refers to the shape, structure, or appearance of an object. It can also refer to the way something is arranged or organized. Form can be used to create visual interest, contrast, and balance in a photograph. Form in compositional photography refers to the three-dimensional appearance of shapes or objects in a photograph. It is the result of the relationships between the subject matter, the camera, and the photographer. The term can also refer to the way in which the elements in a photograph are arranged.

Form is a powerful way to improve your photos through following well defined rules of composition for a good composition that works for your situation. The photo composition you’re going for, will largely be defined by the form represented, making the composed image lifelike, powerful, and an intense depth that makes one imagine they can touch the person or object. The beauty of using form in your image composition, is that whether you’re going for a subdued look with black and white photography, or seeking the most vivid full-color visual, form works to properly capture the intensity and tell the story.

 Why Is Form Important in Photography?

Form is important in photography because it helps create a visual balance within the frame and can lead the eye through the image. It can also help to create a sense of depth and perspective. In addition, form can add interest and drama to an image, and can convey a mood or feeling. Filling the frame isn’t always important, In fact, sometimes you may want to leave room in front or behind your main subject for other elements such as leading lines or foreground objects.

If you’re photographing a landscape and the horizontal line is in the middle of your frame, you may want to consider tilting your camera up or down slightly so that the horizontal line isn’t divided evenly between the top and bottom of your frame. The same goes for when you’re photographing a person. If they’re standing in front of a wall, you may want to tilt your camera up so that their head doesn’t touch the top edge of your frame. This will give them some breathing room within the picture, and provide a more natural feel in the environment photographed.

Leading lines are also a great compositional technique, because they can really help draw the viewer’s attention into a photo and lead them through the scene. They can be anything from roads and sidewalks to fences and riverbanks. Basically, anything that leads from one side of the frame to another can be used as a leading line.

 Examples of Form in Compositions

There are many ways to create form in photos and imagery. One way is to use light and shadow to create contrast and shape. Another way is to use texture to add dimensionality. You can also use color, line, and pattern to create form. Use form in photography by using the rule of thirds. This means you should have 2/3 of your subject to the left or right, with 1/3 coming up from the bottom of your frame. This will give your photo more tension, which forces your viewer to engage with the subject more.

Three dimensionality represented with lighting on two juxtaposed objects, one square shape with a circular hole cut out, and the hole as a circle beside it diagonally placed
Credit: Shutterstock
Note the use of light to provide three-dimensionality to the shapes, along with a shift in perspective of the objects that juxtapose each other
A square shape showing the sky from the middle perspective of four metallic beams cut to 90 degree angles.
Credit: Shutterstock
Using the objects around you with the right angle for the perspective, can also yield great results in creating clear form representation in the photo’s composition

 How Do You Use Form in Photographic Composition for Optimal and Impactful Result?

There are a few key things to keep in mind when using form in photographic composition for optimal and impactful results. First, consider the overall shape of the main subject matter and how it can be used to create an interesting composition. Second, use light and shadow to create depth and dimension within the scene. Lastly, pay attention to the details within the frame and how they contribute to the overall image.

A great photography tip is to make sure your shots have depth in them. An easy way to achieve that, is to be sure that you have a background, middle ground, and foreground. Having all three of these will give your pictures a sense of atmospheric perspective.

Another solid tip, is to keep in mind that sometimes less is more. Simple designs are often the best for general photography. When it comes time to compose your shots make sure you don’t add too much into them as possible clutter or it could produce a distracting or “busy” picture.

If you plan on diving into landscape photography, you need to ensure that your pictures have the three key factors (midground, background, and foreground). Most artists and photographers use these three factors when producing quality and inspiring work. In addition, you need to think about where you want your camera in each picture, and always experiment with perspective.

Consider as well, negative space and positive space in compositions. Quickly stated, negative space refers to the area surrounding the focus subject, that itself helps define the positive space (primary focus or subject). In other words, the non-subject area surrounding the subject moves the eye to the subject, but can be the dominant factor in the image. Applying positive use of space, then relates very specifically to the actual subject or focus set on the main stage – composed to garner attention.

Example of negative space illustrated through a landscape image of a desert, with the focus of a man's silhouette in the center
Credit: https://steemit.com/photography/@jchauhan/negative-space
Example of negative space (above)

Another aspect that photographers consider is depth of field. This is the distance between the nearest and furthest objects that maintains sharpness or dulling of other objects to provide a sense of distance related to the focus on the main object or subject. By keeping these elements in mind, you can create stunning and impactful photographs that will leave a lasting impression.

Depth of field composition within an image depicting a dog in the forest, with both a deep and shallow depth of field focus example
Credit: Shotkit
Example of deep and shallow depth of field in direct comparison within the photo

Quick Composition Tips

  1. Visualize what you want to capture (your vision or goal)
  2. Structure the composition clearly (to your vision)
  3. Be intently aware regarding decisions in applying factors for the composition
  4. Keep the composition simple
  5. Observe and use light for perspective
  6. Use patterns when appropriate to add something intense or an accent
  7. Make sure you’re using a tripod/monopod or stand when stability and angle is important to the result
  8. Balance the composition out
  9. Pay attention to the edges and lines in the frame
  10. Be conscious about spacing of objects and main subjects of the image
  11. Use contrast and color to produce a powerful result
  12. Draw they eye with interesting or experimental perspectives, angles, or objects
  13. Try taking different angles and move around to determine potentially interesting or new image results
  14. Experiment with or refine the image

Conclusion

Many professional photographers use these concepts in their work, and at times break the composition rules if the situation warrants it. Creativity is still your guiding light, and these rules are important to understand to allow you to get the most mileage out of the images you capture or create. Fun fact: the most popular shape in composition is the triangle!

Another interesting take away – The golden spiral, a logarithmic spiral determined by a ratio that represents the ideal in all life forms and matter (developed by Leonardo Fibonacci), tends to also be used in composition in some of the most intensely satisfying and interesting pictures. Once you master these concepts, more advanced composition can be attained, and become second nature to you, so you can focus on taking amazing photos and less on contemplating the technical needs for an awesome image. Not everyone is interested in honing their craft and becoming a professional photographer, and for those cases you can seek to use royalty-free or copyright-free images.

The golden spiral and ratio added atop an image of a boardwalk with people in the distance by a red maple tree and bench
Credit: Apogeephoto
The golden spiral and ratio applied to an image to show the universal law of ideal form in life and matter

Hopefully the information provides the basic understanding of how to start making your photography better, and provide you with ideas to try out in your work and experimentation to become a well-rounded and expert photographer.

Philip Santino
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