Shapes And Lines

Shapes and lines are important elements in photographic composition. When properly used, shapes and lines can create a desired effect. As a photographer, you usually have control over the way shapes and lines are used in your pictures. Let’s go deeper into the topic.


Whether you're a professional photographer or simply enjoy taking pictures as a hobby, understanding the various shapes in photography can help you create more interesting and eye-catching compositions. The three main shapes in photography are squares, rectangles, and circles. Each shape has its own unique set of characteristics that can be used to create different effects. Squares are perhaps the most versatile of all the shapes in photography. They can be used to frame a subject, emphasize symmetry, or create a sense of stability. Rectangles, on the other hand, tend to be more dynamic, making them ideal for showing movement or creating a sense of depth. Circles are often used to add intrigue or give an image a dreamlike quality.

Experiment with all three shapes to see which ones work best for the type of photos you want to take. You may be surprised at how such simple shapes can have such a big impact on your images. Shape is a two-dimensional element basic to picture composition and is usually the first means by which a viewer identifies an object within the picture. Form is the three-dimensional equivalent of shape. Even though the shape is only two-dimensional, with the proper application of lighting and tonal range, you can bring out form and give your subjects a three-dimensional quality. Lighting can also subdue or even destroy form by causing dark shadows that may cause several shapes to merge into one.

Shapes can be made more dominant by placing them against plain contrasting backgrounds; for example, consider again the white sail against the dark water background. The greatest emphasis of shape is achieved when the shape is silhouetted (fig. 5-11), thus eliminating other qualities of the shape, such as texture and roundness, or the illusion of the third dimension.

However, shadows can also be problematic, resulting in underexposed areas or unwanted glare. When taking photographs in bright sunlight, it is important to be aware of the direction of the light and the position of the sun relative to your subject. This will help you to avoid creating shadows that obscure important details. If possible, try to take advantage of natural shade by positioning your subject in a way that minimizes the number of shadows cast. If you must use artificial light, be sure to position the light source in such a way that it does not create strong, harsh shadows. By careful planning and experimentation, you can learn to use shadows to your advantage, creating photos that are both striking and well-exposed.

fig0511.gif (53738 bytes)


Lines can be effective elements of composition, because they give structure to your photographs. Lines can unify composition by directing the viewer's eyes and attention to the main point of the picture or lead the eyes from one part of the picture to another. They can lead the eyes to infinity, divide the picture, and create patterns. Through linear perspective, lines can lend a sense of depth to a photograph. (Linear perspective causes receding parallel lines to appear to converge in the picture. This allows you to create an illusion of depth in your pictures.)

The viewer's eyes tend to follow lines into the picture (or out of the picture) regardless of whether they are simple linear elements such as fences, roads, and a row of phone poles, or more complex line elements, such as curves, shapes, tones, and colors. Lines that lead the eye or direct attention are referred to as leading lines. A good leading line is one that starts near the bottom corner of the scene and continues unbroken until it reaches the point of interest (fig. 5-12). It should end at this point; otherwise, attention is carried beyond the primary subject of the photograph. The apparent direction of lines can often be changed by simply changing viewpoint or camera angle.

Vertical, diagonal, horizontal, and curved lines create different moods. Vertical lines communicate a sense of strength, rigidity, power, and solidarity to the viewer. On the other hand, horizontal lines represent peace, tranquility, and quietness. A generally accepted practice is to use a vertical format for pictures having predominantly vertical lines and horizontal format for pictures having predominantly horizontal lines. Again, this is a generally accepted practice, NOT a rule.

fig0512.gif (54026 bytes)

Diagonal lines represent movement, action, and speed. A picture with diagonal lines conveys a feeling of dynamic action even when the subject is static (fig. 5-13). Curved lines present a sense of grace, smoothness, and dignity to a photograph (fig. 5-14). The most common curved line is the S curve. As with any compositional tool, it is important to use lines thoughtfully and sparingly in order to create photos that are pleasing to the eye.

Lines are not only present in the shape of things but can be created by arranging several elements within the picture area so they form lines by their relationship with one another.

fig0513.gif (57823 bytes)

Lines are a fundamental element of photography, providing shape and structure to an image to create a sense of depth and perspective. Lines can also be used to create a feeling of movement, or to convey a sense of stillness and calm, and help to define boundaries and space within an image. By carefully considering the placement of lines in an image, photographers can create powerful and evocative compositions. However, be aware, if not used carefully, they can appear harsh and abrupt, leading the eye out of the frame. In addition, using too many lines in an image can be visually confusing and even dizzying. When composing an image with lines, pay attention to the direction of the lines and how they interact with other elements in the scene. By doing so, you can create images with a sense of harmony and balance.