What is Shape in Photography?

Uncovering the Basics of Photographic 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. Photography composition is an art and a science that can take time to master.

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. The composition technique is improved with the awareness and application of the six essential factors, of which form and shape are quite important.

Now let’s get a bit into the elements of photography and the elements of art alike in the following segments.

What is a Shape 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 good composition. The shape is comprised of the actual shapes identified within the composition, including objects that are captured, and can provide a 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.

While shape photography focuses on the use and subject regarding shapes, shape as an element can lead to pure shapes being used or unique combinations of shapes to form what may look like a new shape. Abstract shapes and abstract photography can provide a very creative way for shapes to be the focal point of composition instead of an element alone.

It can be said that the first step to using shapes in photography stems from the understanding that compositions have different meanings, portray a sense of movement captured in a moment, and either a sense of stability or instability.

Why is Shape Important in Photography?

Shape in photography is important because it creates a visual impact and helps to draw the viewer’s attention. Shapes can be used to create patterns, balance, and contrast in a photograph. Photographic shapes also help to convey meaning in photos, such as conveying energy or movement or creating an emotional response. A point of view can certainly be shaped, pun intended.

Shapes are an essential element of structure that can help to tell a story within a photo. Through the use of lines, curves, and geometric shapes, photographers can create compositions that lead the eye through an image while still maintaining a cohesive composition. By carefully considering shape when taking a photograph, you can add depth and interest to their images, helping them stand out from the crowd.

Enriching compositions through the use of diagonal lines, organic shapes, different shapes or patterns, or focusing the eye on the horizontal lines or plane can catch a viewer’s eye. Even concepts that include different elements using positive shapes, irregular shapes, vertical lines, and straight lines in a properly balanced composition can be impactful.

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 photo.

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 photo are arranged. To use form in photography means that there is a clear organization and balance in the image. Rules in photography help a photographer maintain interest and to take various elements to produce a strong outcome for next-level visuals.

Form is a powerful way to improve your photos by following well-defined rules of composition for a good overall structure 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 with 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 to 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 Shape in Composition

Geometric shapes are all around us, especially in man-made objects and scenes. As an operator behind the camera, 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. Architectural photography, for example, commonly relies on a point of interest with the use of shapes.

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

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 the 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 to Use Form in Photographic Composition for Optimal and Impactful Results

There are a few key things to keep in mind when using the 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 structure. 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, which 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 professionals consider is the depth of field. This is the distance between the nearest and furthest objects that maintain the 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 photos 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 the spacing of objects and main subjects of the image
  11. Use contrast and color to produce a powerful result
  12. Draw the eye with interesting or experimental perspectives, angles, or objects
  13. Try taking different angles and moving around to determine potentially interesting or new image results
  14. Experiment with or refine the image

Set a Perspective for your Composition

A perspective is an important tool for creating a composition, as it can be used to create a sense of depth and movement. Perspective can be achieved through the use of photo perspective, which is the use of specific angles to create an illusion of distance. Additionally, compositional perspective is used to lead the viewer’s eye in a particular direction and provide focus.

In both cases, perspective plays an important role in helping to bring life to a composition, giving the viewer the feeling that they are actually standing in the scene. It also allows for more artistic expression by allowing artists to choose how they want to present their work.

By setting a perspective for your compositions, you can add visual interest and convey the emotion that will help make your work stand out from the crowd. The way shapes are used, the angles in which the image is captured, and the other elements of the composition – all tell a story and either clarify a focus or stay more abstract to create interesting images.

Keep a Focus on Lighting

Lighting in photography is a crucial element that can be taken and used in different ways. It can be used to create different aesthetic looks and moods or to enhance the composition of a photo. With the right use of light, it’s possible to bring out the best elements of an image or scene, including the highlight of three-dimensional forms. The natural world contains a myriad of perfectly interesting light modes during the day, but at night, we likely need artificial light sources to depict what we want to show.

Lighting in photography can be natural or artificial and should be used strategically to bring out certain elements within a photo. It can also be used as a tool for creating interesting effects, such as contrasting light and dark areas, or adding drama and atmosphere. When shooting with natural light, it’s important to pay attention to how the sun is hitting your subject so that you can capture the most striking images possible.

Lighting focus shown in an event venue with beaming spot lights in a multitude of directions and colors
Credit: David Von Diemar

Similarly, when using artificial lighting such as flash or studio lights, you must take into consideration how these are going to affect your image before you press the shutter button. Keeping a focus on lighting when taking photographs will go a long way in helping you achieve the desired results for any given photo project.

Direction of Light

Lighting direction is a key element of photography. It can be used to create dramatic images with high impact. The direction of the light affects the intensity and focus of light, making it an important factor in creating effective photographs. When determining the direction of light, you have the choice between front lighting, backlighting, side lighting, and fill lighting.

Direction of light demonstrated against architectural building facade
Credit: Meritt Thomas

Front lighting is when the source of light is behind you and shines directly on your subject. Backlighting illuminates the subject from behind, creating a silhouetted look. Side lighting creates shadows that add depth and texture to your images, while fill lighting helps reduce shadows caused by other sources of light.

The contrast between a light background and straight lines derived from lighting changes when the direction of the light source has been composed. By understanding how different directions of light, and the light source, interact with objects and subjects, professionals can create stunning images with high impact, and hone their photography skills.

Intensity of Light

Lighting intensity is a key factor in creating better photographs. The intensity of light has a huge impact on the quality of the photo and can make all the difference between a good and bad shot. By controlling the lighting intensity, you can create more vibrant, dynamic images with greater clarity and depth. You can also use it to your advantage to create moods and atmospheres in your photos.

For example, if you want to create a dark and mysterious atmosphere, you can reduce the lighting intensity or even add artificial lighting such as spotlights or flashlights. On the other hand, if you want to capture an outdoor scene with plenty of natural light, then increasing the lighting intensity will help bring out more details in your photos.

Example of the intensity of light used against a house adorned with lantern lights and hanging lights
Credit: Andy Holmes

No matter what kind of photo you’re taking, adjusting the intensity of light accordingly is essential for capturing better images.

Backlighting, Front Lighting & Fill Lights

Backlighting, Frontlighting, and Fill Lights are all lighting techniques used in photography. Backlighting is the process of placing a light source behind the subject, often resulting in a bright rim of light around the subject’s outline or silhouette. Front lighting is just the opposite, with the light placed directly in front of the subject and pointing toward them. This generally produces softer and more even lighting on the subject’s face and body.

Fill lights are placed on either side of the camera, usually at a lower intensity than either the backlight or front light. These lights fill in any shadows created by other lighting sources, adding depth and detail to an image. All three types of lights have their place in a photographer’s toolkit and can be combined to create beautiful, memorable images.

Select Your Depth of Field

Depth of field (dof) is an important factor in photography. It allows the photographer to control the depth in their photographs and create a more dynamic image. By using depth in photography, photographers can focus on a particular subject while blurring out the background or have everything in sharp focus.

Depending on the desired effect, photographers can use either a large depth of field or a shallow one. A large depth will give a wide area of focus with everything in crisp detail, while a shallow depth will draw attention to one particular part of the photograph and make it stand out by blurring out everything else.

Depiction of depth of field using a leaf on the ground with blurred background
Credit: Tommaso Pecchioli

Selecting and using depth of field effectively is essential for creating beautiful compositions in photography.

Provide an Extra Impact with Either Vibrant Color or Classic Black & White

Photography can be used to capture moments and tell stories. With the use of vibrant colors or classic black and white, photographers can give an extra impact to their images. Vibrant photography is a great way to convey emotion and make viewers feel something when looking at the photograph. Bright, bold colors can be used to draw attention and create a stunning visual effect.

On the other hand, B&W photography has its own unique charm; it creates a timeless look that is often associated with high-end photography. It also allows viewers to focus on the composition and shapes in the image rather than on color.

Both vibrant colors and classic black & white can be used to add an extra impact to photography and help bring out more of its beauty.

Use Movement to Create a Dynamic Feel

Movement in photos can help to create a dynamic feel. Movement in photography is often used to capture a moment or emotion, and it can also be used to add an extra layer of interest to a photo. By introducing movement into the frame, you draw attention to certain elements and create an energy that wouldn’t otherwise be present in a static image.

Capturing movement can give a sense of action and life to an image, adding depth and creating emotion. Whether it’s by panning with your camera as someone moves across the frame or using blur for effect, movement helps make photos more interesting and captivating. Adding motion in this way can really bring out the dynamics of an image, creating a dynamic feel that will draw viewers into the scene.

Movement can also be impacted by the type of lens used, like a telephoto lens versus fixed-width or wide-angle lenses.

Lastly, when all of these “rules” become quite natural – it’s time to…

Break the Rules

Breaking photography composition rules can be a great way to create unique and interesting images. However, it is important to remember that breaking the rules should be done with purpose and thought. Before taking a photograph, think about the elements you want to include in the frame and how they will interact with each other.

Consider how different angles or perspectives could help tell the story of your image better. While experimenting with different compositions can help you develop your style of photography, it is important to remember that sometimes traditional composition rules may be more suitable for certain scenes or subjects. Experimenting with different techniques can help you find what works best for you, but always try to keep in mind why you are breaking the rules and how it affects the final image.

Man holding a short glass of espresso up against blurred computer screens - in an effort to illustrate breaking the rules of photography
Credit: Altumcode


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 the 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 in 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 about types of shapes, and use of shapes and forms, provides a basic understanding of how to start making your photography better and provides you with ideas to try out in your work and experimentation to become a well-rounded and expert photographer.

Philip Santino
Latest posts by Philip Santino (see all)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *