Seductive Shapes

11.09.2017 |

Episode #2 of the course Master photographic composition by Tom Ang



When you looked for patterns of things, did you find that sometimes they organize themselves into distinct shapes or figures? Line themselves up neatly?

Then there are objects that are already in strong shapes, such as stairwells, coils of incense, and plant forms. The composition is readymade, but you still choose how exactly to depict them.

Today, we’ll look at working with objects and patterns arranged in distinctive shapes.


The Strength of Shapes

Our brains are hardwired to prefer certain shapes and lines. Our neurons fire most strongly with vertical and horizontal lines, for example. That’s why you already have the basic skills for composition. They’re actually baked into your brain!

We also respond very strongly to circles, squares, and triangles. Group shots are often most effective when people are arranged into a triangular group, as seen above.

You can try this:

• Look for strongly-shaped objects: wheels, boxes, packaging, etc. As you get better at identifying shapes, you’ll find more and more interesting shots. The coil of incense is naturally circular, so it forms a clear shape. An easy shot!

• Now look out for multiple, differently shaped objects that are forced into orderly arrangements, such as cars in a parking lot, people waiting in line, or boats at a marina. Notice how some views—e.g. those from high viewpoints—show up the shape, while others conceal it.

• Now try looking out for more abstract arrangements or shapes. The outline may not be obvious at first, or it may be nested inside other shapes. You’ll find that one of the commonest shapes is the triangle. Look for triangles in the road, outlined by telegraph wires, or created by converging lines in buildings. For example, this shot of a footbridge in Bhutan is packed with triangles that repeat and form into patterns of larger triangles. They all work together to give a sense of space and to locate each element in the picture.

Eye Exercise

If you think that I’m trying to get you to train your eyes and mind, you’re right! Creating strong photo compositions is about putting together what you see in a way that works within the picture frame.

Do you remember what it was like when you first started driving a car or riding a bicycle? Things seemed to move around you in a confusing blur. But you learned to read what was important and ignore what wasn’t. It all started to make sense and become less blurred. That’s how it will be with your skills in photographic composition.

Tomorrow, we go to another extreme. From filling the frame with patterns or shapes, we empty it … leaving all but one visual focus.

See you tomorrow!



Recommended resource

PURE color and shape: A Flickr group offering a lively range of images that exploit shape within the image. Check out the images, and study those you think work best.


Recommended book

The Visual Toolbox: 60 Lessons for Stronger Photographs by David duChemin


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