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Working with Lines, Patterns, Shapes and Forms in Photography

Whenever you look at a photographic image you are basically looking at a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional scene.

This, in fact, is a very difficult thing to achieve in photography and most beginner photographers struggle to represent form and shape in their images due to the inherent limitations. However, this is not entirely impossible. These tips should help. Let’s understand each of these – lines, patterns, shapes and forms and how to use these in your photography.

Working with Lines in Photography

follow the lines by Thomas Leth-Olsen
follow the lines by Thomas Leth-Olsen

Lines are well, straight lines that point to something in an image. They run from point A to point B, sometimes culminating within an image or continue infinitely. Multiple parallel lines tend to taper towards each other and seem to meet at infinity. This is due to the linear perspective. This can be used cleverly in your images to draw the attention of a viewer to something that is important in an image.

Like in the image above, the lines point to the jogger at the corner of the frame. The viewer is drawn to the jogger as he is undoubtedly the point of attention.

Related Post: How to Create Forced Perspective Images


squared by Georgie Pauwels
squared by Georgie Pauwels

Patterns are repetitive by nature and this is where they add something extra to an image. Several boxes arranged together, bowls, chairs arranged in rows and columns and even windows can make interesting patterns. But after a while patterns can become a bit too predictable and downright boring. That’s why you will see that professionals prefer to break the pattern whenever they can.
Breaking a pattern adds a bit of visual tension in the image and that interestingly adds a bit of spice to an image.
How do you break a pattern? That’s very easy. If you are photographing a set of similar looking bowls, fill one up with colored water. If you are photographing a set of white chairs, replace one of the chairs with a bright red one and so on. Even Photoshop is handy in this regard.

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Shapes are basically two-dimensional representations of something. Essentially in that respect, any image is basically a shape of something. When a two-dimensional representations start to become three dimensional, or rather give the illusion of becoming three dimensional, it becomes form.

So, the basic difference between shape and form is that shape is two-dimensional while the form is three-dimensional.
The shape is easily created by placing the source of light behind the subject and thus creating what is known as a silhouette. Not always do you have to place the light directly behind the subject, as long as the effect is the same.


Exchange Square by See-ming Lee
Exchange Square by See-ming Lee

In order to create a form, you will need to use light in a way so that you can get a bit of shadow in your images. A hint of shadow is what gives form and depth to an image and that is what in turn creates the illusion of three dimensions.

It is not shape but form that captures a subject onto a two-dimensional plane with an illusion that it is three dimensional.
To create a shape the light must hit the subject from the side on.
Side on lighting will create both highlights and shadows which are necessary for the illusion of depth.

Side on light is also very contrasty and you will notice that it is one of the favorite lighting arrangements for low-key photography.

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