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.
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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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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!