There are seven basic elements of photographic art: line, shape, form, texture, color, size, and depth. As a photographic artist, your knowledge and awareness of these different elements can be vital to the success of your composition and help convey the meaning of your photograph.
When a line, or more than one line, closes or connects, a shape is formed. This is the topic of this next part of our Elements of a Photograph series.
Photographs © Todd Vorenkamp
The Merriam-Webster definition of “shape” that we are concerned with as photographic artists is:
1 a : the visible makeup characteristic of a particular item or kind of item
1 b (1) : spatial form or contour
1 b (2) : a standard or universally recognized spatial form
Characteristics of Shapes
Shapes are two-dimensional. They can be measured by overall height and width. Shapes can be the outline of an object—familiar or unfamiliar.
Sometimes a familiar shape can transform into an unfamiliar or unrecognizable shape based on the viewpoint of the photographer. While the shape of a standard lightbulb is recognizable and constant from the horizontal viewpoint, viewing it from directly overhead or below shows a nondescript circle.
Different shapes, when they intersect and overlap, can combine to create a new shape. Shapes can also surround an area to create another shape.
In a photograph, a silhouette is the purest essence of a shape—no form, texture, or color (some of the other elements of art we will discuss in companion articles). Due to its stark contrast with its surroundings, a silhouette is also the most visually obvious.
Shapes are often visually defined by the intersection and/or closing of lines. They can also be visually defined by their value—brighter or darker than their surroundings. Differences in color, texture, and pattern surrounding an area are additional distinguishing markers. Shapes can be defined by other shapes surrounding an area, such as the arrow in the logo of a popular shipping company. The area containing a shape is often referred to as positive space, and the outside area is called negative space—however, sometimes the negative space creates a shape of its own.
Types of Shapes
There are two basic types of shapes: geometric (or regular) and organic. We all know geometric shapes—circle, square, triangle, dodecahedron, and so on. We are also familiar with organic shapes—the outline of a bird, elephant, flower, tree, etc. Fluids can create organic shapes that cannot be permanently defined—the shape of a cloud or a rain puddle, for instance.
Shapes can be as simple as a triangle or infinitely complex. Shapes are two-dimensional.
Where Are Shapes in Photographs?
The physical photograph is a shape—usually a rectangle or square, but sometimes a circle, oval, or random shape.
Inside that photograph are shapes captured in the scene by the photographer and his or her camera.
The next topic we'll cover in this series is form.
Your thoughts on this article are welcome in the Comments section, below!