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The Shape of Things - What to Leave In, What to Take Out


Shapes define your photograph. Similar shapes form patterns. Dissimilar shapes draw attention. Imagine if you will a long row of small rubber balls, placed together in a semi circle. The roundness of the ball reinforces the curve of the semi circle. Seeing the roundness causes a familiarity in the image, in other words, it creates a pattern that your eye wants to follow. On the other hand, picture that same long row of balls with a small square block in line about two thirds of the way back. Your eye may still follow the row of balls, but it will stop and look longer at the square. That's not because the square is more interesting, but because it's a different shape.

This process of forcing a viewer to stop and look again is commonly known as creating a “Spot”. A “Spot” does not have to be formed by a different shape. It could be a different color, texture, or size. Most often it's something that is totally different, like a rose in a field full of daises. Being aware of shapes is similar to being aware of lines that can lead your eyes either into or out of a photograph. Shapes can be obvious or not so obvious. They can be real, or they can be implied.

When my wife and I were engaged we had a friend take some photos of us for the wedding announcement. We went to a local park and found a nice interesting big rock to sit on. When our friend took the shots, she was not aware of the shapes in the background. In the distance there was a street lamp. The way the shot was taken the lamp pole was not in the shot, but the lamp part itself was. To this day, we still have friends that say: "Remember that UFO in the background of your announcement pictures?"

Shape adds feeling to the unemotional canvas of a photograph. Edward Weston understood this concept better than most. His study of bell peppers and sea shells lead to some of the most artistic nudes in history. If you want to comprehend shape, study shape, and observe shape in its truest form, look at the pictures of Edward Weston. (1886-1958)

When some photographers seem to take forever to arrange a group of people, what is it they're looking for? More than likely, it has to do with shapes. Three people standing in a straight line is boring. Move one of them up or down and suddenly you've formed a triangle. Take a shot with two couples directly behind each other and visually you have a square. Take a moment to have one person go high and one go low and now the two couple form a diamond. Which one do you think would be more interesting? Take a look at any portrait studio shots and rarely, if ever, will you see people arranged in just a straight line.

Obviously not all shapes have the same impact. Circles and Triangles tend to grab attention. Squares and Rectangles on the other hand tend to blend in. Combining shapes is often what makes the difference between a great shot and a boring one. Shape often goes hand in hand with texture. The roundness of the female form is usually more pleasing to look at than say the coldness of a long rectangular steel beam. If you are really into construction, feel free to disagree with me.

Sometimes shapes are formed by the lack of something; this is often referred to as: “Negative Space”. Positive space is simple. That’s your subject, usually in the foreground. But negative space on the other hand, is what most people are not aware of. Remember the shape of a UFO in the background? Sometimes colors or shapes that are totally opposite of everything in the Positive space, leaves the viewer confused. You might even be saying to yourself, “Something is just not right.” When in doubt, start looking at your negative space. The bright round shape between subjects may actually be pulling your eyes away from the main subject itself. This is a classic example of: Negative Space.

Lastly, don’t forget that where you place the shape also matters. If you are taking a family portrait for example and the father is huge (round or tall) you don’t want to put him right in the middle up front. Why? People will have a hard time looking at anyone else in the shot, if his shape dominates the picture. Place him behind someone else, or have him kneeling so he doesn’t tower over everyone else. Like many elements of design, Shapes can help the images or hurt them. Being aware of shapes can make all the difference in the world.


Submitted by:

Tedric Garrison

Award winning writer / photographer Tedric Garrison, has 30 years experience in photography. As a Graphic Art Major, he has a unique perspective. His photo eBook “Your Creative Edge” proves creativity can be taught. Today, he shares his wealth of knowledge with the world, at: http://www.betterphototips.com





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