Shapes in Photography

How to make effective use of shapes in photography compositions.

In general, shapes convey a lot of information to the viewer. They suggest size and weight, and the way they interact with the other objects in the image tells the viewer something about the object’s proportion, how it compares to other objects and how important or dominant it is.

Like lines, different types of shapes convey different messages. Regular shapes such as circles, squares, and triangles with even sides convey a sense of order and stability. Irregular shapes such as rectangles, skewed triangles, parallelograms, and ovals can give a photograph the illusion of motion or simply make it seem more dynamic. Curved, organic shapes suggest relaxation and lazy motion.

So how do you use shapes effectively in photography?

Shape can be found in a single object or in a collection of objects. To avoid overwhelming your viewer, try to find collections of objects that have a similar shape, such as a stack of boxes or a bunch of grapes. Adding multiple types of shapes – such as a combination of circles, triangles, and squares – can be confusing and create chaos.
Find the most interesting angle to photograph your shape and remember to place your shape on one of the lines of the rule of thirds grid.

Find the shape in the following photographs. Look for one shape that dominates the composition.

Did you find the dominant shape in each image? Here are the answers.

Bonus tips for using shapes in photography.

Rounded shapes, like circles and ovals, create a sense of movement because of the lack of corners and edges.

Squares and rectangles tend to create a feeling of stability.

Triangles in photography direct the eye to the point of the triangle. Flip the triangle upside down though, with the point down, and because the shape doesn’t sit on a proper base creates a feeling of being off-balance.

Irregular shapes, where sides are different lengths, can also create a more tense feel in a photograph.

Squares and rectangles are excellent frames for your focal point in your image or they can be part of a repeating pattern. 

Multiple circles can trap the eye of your viewer inside your image.

Spend some time looking for shapes in the world and take some photos. Don’t forget to place your dominant shape on a rule of thirds line. See the example below.