Friday Foto Talk: Pattern II – Shapes   11 comments

It's a lucky thing to be able to see a solar eclipse, and an annular eclipse like this one of 2012 highlights both of nature's most powerful circles - the sun and the moon.

It’s a lucky thing to be able to see a solar eclipse, and an annular eclipse like this one in 2012 highlights both of nature’s most powerful circles – the sun and the moon.

This is a continuing series on using patterns in your photography.  My images tend to be landscape and travel oriented, but you can use pattern in any kind of photography, including portraiture.  The first post in the series discussed line, so check that out.  Everything pattern-wise in photography builds off the idea of line.

Please note that these images are copyrighted and not available for download without my permission, sorry ’bout that.  If you’re interested in purchase options, just click on the images to find out prices for prints (framed and unframed) along with downloads for license.  If you don’t see an option that matches what you want, or have any other questions, please contact me.  Thanks for your interest!

The perfect circle of the rising moon contrasts with the unusual shapes that make Monument Valley in the American Southwest so famous.

The perfect circle of the rising moon contrasts with the unusual shapes that make Monument Valley in the American Southwest so famous.

Shapes, depending on how strong they are, can make great main subjects.  They can also help support your main subject by forming leading lines that point to it. Shapes can also frame your subject.  They can also strengthen your subject by repeating its possibly more subtle shape.  Most importantly, shape can help to elicit feeling or emotion on the part of the viewer.

Some shapes are more powerful than others.  I’m sure most of you can guess the shape that draws a viewer’s eye more than any other – the circle.  Circles are a very calming shape, and the reason likely has to do with the presence of two bright life-giving circles in earth’s skies.  If you include either the sun or moon in your image, you will automatically be taking advantage of the circle’s innate power.  Partial circles work nearly as well as complete circles, and squished circles (i.e. ovals) can be quite effective too (see image below).

So-called water tanks are filled by a recent thunderstorm at Toroweap on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

So-called water tanks are filled by a recent thunderstorm at Toroweap on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

 Whenever you have a partial or complete circle or circles in your foreground, plus the sun or moon in the background, you have a strong repeating pattern.  Repeating shapes in an image multiplies their effect.  Some of the finest landscape images ever made take advantage of strong repeating shapes.

Another strong shape is the pyramid.  I tend to think of the pyramid and arch as being two extremes along a continuum.  Obviously, mountains are the likely reason behind the visual power of the pyramid shape.  Mountains are thus the most obvious pyramidal element to include in your photos.  Again, anytime you can repeat that shape in your foreground, you add interest to your image.  There are times when you will find pyramids built by humans that are directly inspired by mountains, which are regarded as sacred (see image below).

A small stupa in Nepal's Himalayan mountains allows Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike a moment of rest and reflection on the trekking trail.

A small stupa in Nepal’s Himalayan mountains allows Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike a moment of rest and reflection on the trekking trail.

It is no accident that Timberline Lodge on Oregon's Mount Hood was built with a pyramidal shape.  Mount Jefferson is in the background.

It is no accident that Timberline Lodge on Oregon’s Mount Hood was built with a pyramidal shape. Mount Jefferson is in the background.

The gentle curves of arches are really a type of softened pyramid, thus they walk the line between bold and calm.

The gentle curves of arches are really a type of softened pyramid, thus they walk the line between bold and calm.  Line is also an important part of this image.

The S-curve, though it is really a line, is such a can’t-miss picture element that it’s worth stressing here.  Any linear shape that makes an S-curve can be, as mentioned above, a good way to lead the viewer’s eyes into your image.  As such, S-curves make good foreground or middle-ground elements, along with main subjects in their own right (see images below).

The S-curve of the African darter's neck is the inspiration for its local name of "snake bird".  This one perches along Botswana's Chobe River.

The S-curve of the African darter’s neck is the inspiration for its local name of “snake bird”. This one perches along Botswana’s Chobe River.

The cross-bedded sandstone in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Utah forms sinuous patterns across the landscape.

The cross-bedded sandstone in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Utah forms sinuous patterns across the landscape.

Other shapes, such as squares and rectangles, hexagons and other polygonal elements, etc. can add a lot of impact to your images.  The more symmetrical the better, but almost-perfect shapes arguably make stronger elements than do perfect ones.

A lonely corridor faces the sinking sun at Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  Nested rectangles are featured.

A lonely corridor faces the sinking sun at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Nested rectangles are featured.

Hexagonal columns are common in the volcanic rock called basalt the world over.

Hexagonal columns are common in the volcanic rock called basalt the world over.

Cracked salt flats form repeating shapes in Death Valley, California at sunrise.

Cracked salt flats form repeating shapes in Death Valley, California at sunrise.

Teardrop and wedge shapes, especially when closed by a reflection as here at Blue Lake in the Washington Cascades, can be as powerful as circles.

Teardrop and wedge shapes, especially when closed by a reflection as here at Blue Lake in the Washington Cascades, can be as powerful as circles.

Always be on the lookout for interesting shapes in your pictures, whether or not they are perfect, whether they have angular or curved edges.  The most important thing to do is to use shapes to support the overall feel of your image.  For instance you may not want to introduce strong angular elements into a composition that is otherwise very peaceful and calming.  That is, not unless you want to create a sort of tension into your image.  That can work, but it’s a bit risky.  Be careful about diluting the message or impact in your pictures.

Very recognizable shapes like this one can instantly determine the mood of an image.  This cross sits improbably on top of a mountain on the island of Flores.

Very recognizable shapes like this one can instantly determine the mood of an image. This cross sits improbably on top of a mountain on the island of Flores.

I don’t want to make this sound too difficult, but it’s important.  Photographers too often go around just shooting what they see (I’ve been guilty!).  Realize the best images are those that have a mood or emotion that is hard to ignore.  My advice is to pay attention to how you feel when you’re viewing a scene.  Then try to find a composition and include elements that will frame, set off, or otherwise make that feeling even stronger.  Happy shooting!

I was attracted to this covered pier on the island of Roatan in Honduras partly because of the lifesaver hung there.  It supports the circular shape of the setting sun.  Both circles are set off by the rectangular frame of the pier.

I was attracted to this covered pier on the island of Roatan in Honduras partly because of the lifesaver hung there. It supports the circular shape of the setting sun. Both circles are set off by the rectangular frame of the pier.

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11 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Pattern II – Shapes

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  1. Fantastic images, especially the first one.

  2. That’s an excellent and varied set of photographs. I like the implied comparison of the hexagonal basalt columns and the cracked salt flats. That Monument Valley moonscape/landscape is gorgeous.

  3. Your incredible photography never ceases to amze me.

  4. Good post. I like the snake bird – can you tell my bias?

  5. Wow! The Monument Valley should be on a travel magazine cover! Love the last one.

  6. Always wonderful suggestions and advice. Thank you so much.

  7. Have you ever taken shots of the “walking stones” in Death valley?

    • No, last time I was there, many years ago, I was quite the casual photog. You need to be willing to drive a LONG washboard road, one that tends to eat tires for lunch. But I’ll eventually return.

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