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What’s shape and form in photography?

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by David Em
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Shape and form are two elements that you need to understand to take your photos to the next level. It’ll help you compose unique photos.

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View of the sky through a ceiling.
Photo courtesy of Canva.

In photography, shape and form are sometimes used interchangeably. However, there are several differences between the two.

By understanding the differences between shape and form, you can use the elements purposefully in your photos.

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Shape and form are two elements that are essential when it comes to composition.

Together, you can use them to capture compelling and aesthetic photos.

You may already be using shape and form because they’re everywhere. After learning what they are, how they differ, and ways to use them, you can be more aware and intentional.

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Shape in photography

Silhouette of an airplane in the sky.
Photo courtesy of Canva.

A shape is two-dimensional, which means it’s flat. It can consist of lines, curves, or colors.

However, a shape is limited to length and width. It can’t have depth. Otherwise, it would no longer be two-dimensional.

If you want to use shapes in your photos, an excellent way is to take a silhouette photo. You can’t see details regarding the texture or depth, which makes it a pure shape.

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It doesn’t have to be a silhouette of one thing. If you combine different shapes, the silhouette forms a new shape. There are many possibilities of shapes.

Aside from silhouettes, you can capture photos of shapes anywhere. For example, a skyscraper may have the shape of a rectangle. If you look closer, you can see geometric patterns on the building or windows.

By finding appealing shapes, you can make your photos more interesting and aesthetic.

Photographer with text overlay.

Types of shapes

There are two types of shapes, organic and geometric.

Organic shapes are those that you see in nature. It can be wildlife, a rock, flower petal, plants, and mountains.

Geometric shapes refer to circles, triangles, squares, and other shapes of that sort. In your photography, things such as buildings, monuments, and bridges consist of geometric shapes.

In general, things made by humans are geometric, while the natural world is organic.

Form in photography

Geometric toys.
Photo courtesy of Canva.

Form is three-dimensional. If you take a shape and add depth, you have form.

Light and shadows provide depth, which results in form. Like shapes, form can be geometric or organic.

Being three-dimensional, there are many possibilities, which can be simple or complex. As long as there’s length, width, and depth, there’s form.

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Form is important because it makes your subject pop. It makes the image look alive and realistic. Form is beneficial because it enhances your photos by adding depth and creating interest.

How to use both

In almost every photo you take, you’ll have shape and form. However, many factors impact the result.

Some of the most powerful are lighting, depth of field, color, and perspective.

Lighting makes a big difference because the direction and intensity impact the shadows.

Related: What’s texture in photography?

For example, side lighting casts a shadow on the other side of your subject, while front lighting can evenly spread the light in front of your subject without shadows.

So, try different angles to capture a photo that maximizes shape and form.

With the depth of field, you can use shallow or deep depths of field. Depending on which you choose, it’ll affect what’s in focus on if there’s separation from the background.

For example, focusing on a subject in the foreground with a shallow depth of field blurs the background. It creates form because it gives the scene more depth.

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Your perspective can also reduce or increase form. You can make things look smaller by shooting from above or larger by shooting from below.

Change your perspective to change the shapes and form.

Shape and form also work well with different compositional techniques. Framing is a technique where you frame a subject with a shape. If you add depth by showing shadows, you’re using shape and form to frame a subject.

As you practice, you’ll notice how seamlessly shape and form work with other techniques. When you combine them all, your photos will improve.

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Other elements

Shape and form aren’t the only elements. Other elements of a photo include lines, textures, colors, size, and depth.

All of the elements work together to construct a photo. Use the different elements to capture an eye-catching image.

Conclusion

Shape and form are two essential elements in photography.

By learning the differences between them, you can intentionally use each element to capture great photos.

Remember, a shape is two-dimensional and form is three-dimensional. Form is simply a shape with depth. You can alter the amount of depth by changing the lighting or perspective.

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Featured image courtesy of Canva.

David Em.

David Em is the founder of Portraits Refined. He’s a published portrait photographer dedicated to helping photographers develop skills, capture incredible photos, and build successful businesses.

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