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Why and How: Using Shapes in Nature Photography

Shapes are also called optical surfaces. They result from the combination of lines and angles. In nature photography, they can be real or suggested.

In this article, I show you how to take advantage of it to create interesting and creative photos.

The shape of the triangle between sailfish and sardines reinforces the reading of the image.
The shape of the triangle between sailfish and sardines reinforces the reading of the image.

Definition of a Form

A shape can be a being or an object, lines, a mass, contours, a silhouette that we perceive confusedly.

But we can also define a shape by the way something is materialized. We talk about its appearance, the state in which it is presented.

Why Using Shapes in Nature Photography?

Geometric shapes are fundamental elements of a photograph. With the colors and tones, they are the elements which you really need.

As soon as we start to perceive a photograph as a set of geometric shapes, tones and colors, we see them as they are and no longer as we would like them to be.

For example, a fish or an animal is no longer seen as a portrait but as a series of geometric shapes. Then you just add emotion, texture on the fur, plumage or scales and play with the light to get a great picture.

The combination of these elements facilitates the reading and understanding of the image. You will add geometric shapes as elements to help guide the eyes of your audience.

The shapes structure the composition to better guide the gaze along the lines and to channel towards the centers of interest.

You can create volumes with shadows, lights but you need shapes: it is vital.

You must learn to see geometric shapes in a photograph. Then you will place them in the frame to send a message.

Of course, geometric shapes can take different forms such as horizontal lines, vertical lines, squares, circles, unspoken lines (suggested as off frame).

The Three Properties of a Shape

A shape has 3 properties.

As a nature photographer, you must always have them in mind when creating a photograph.

They allow you to better analyze a scene and to know if a shape can be integrated or not in an image :

  • Mass: it describes the amount of space filled by a shape. It qualifies the heaviness, the size of this space.
  • Proportion: it defines how the mass of one photographic element is comparable to another. It is the comparison of weights between several forms.
  • Relationship: it defines how forms interact with each other in a photograph.

The Role of Light

Good light management is essential for highlighting shapes. It will give the 3D effect that we always look for in photography.

The advantage with nature photography is that most of the time natural light is used. A grazing light can highlight the entirety of one form or create others in a suggestive way.

A properly lit shape can become dominant if placed against contrasting backgrounds.

Some Rules of Using Shapes

In order to emphasize one form over another in a photograph, you just have to eliminate attributes like textures and details. The form becomes just identifiable by contrast. Its impact becomes very strong.

The way photographic elements connect to each other in a photo, creates shapes that catch the eye from one point of interest to another.

If a composition lacks shapes then it becomes difficult to read and understand.

Negative space can be used to describe a shape by showing its circumference without ever showing it directly. It's all about the art of photography to suggest.

The Triangle

The triangle is a form that brings a balance. This is the most basic and strongest form.

The triangle is the shape that has the most impact.

  • If the main focus of a photograph is a triangle, the viewer's attention will directly focus on it. It is a form that can be suggested using different points. They do not need to have a particular organization. Triangles do not need to be equilateral.
  • If none of the sides of a triangle is parallel to one of the edges of the photo, it gives a sense of calm.
  • If one of the sides of a triangle is parallel to one of the edges of the photo, it reinforces the solidity. It promotes movement from the base to the summit.
  • If the tip of a triangle is directed upwards, then this form suggests the rise.
  • The ascending triangle is a harmonious form that provides a sense of calm and balance. It is a form that evokes spirituality because the summit points to the sky.

Triangle shapes are numerous in nature. We can mention the mountains.

If the tip of a triangle is pointing downwards then this shape suggests imbalance.

The descending triangle accelerates the movement of the eyes and gives an impression of insecurity.

The Square

This form strengthens balance and rigidity. This form is hard to find. It is easier to suggest it with different elements.

The square is a very symmetrical form. They leave too much space around him.

It must always be combined with other forms.

Curves and Ovals

These shapes are special because they easily accept the centering of the main photographic elements and their radiation. They bring softness and serenity. Like the square, it is a form that leaves a lot of space around them.

The circle symbolizes infinity, sweetness, harmony. It gives the impression of a perfect balance.

A circle in a photograph is easy to notice. It needs to be well marked and visible. It has a relaxing and pleasant effect.

The rectangle

The rectangle is a rare form in nature, but they are very useful for subdividing a photo.

The horizontal corner recalls a peaceful atmosphere, rest. But it can also provide the feeling of heaviness and coldness.

The vertical rectangle expresses power, strength and solidarity. It can also be used to dramatize a composition.


The silhouette is a very powerful form and very aesthetic. The silhouette of an unknown form is interesting and provocative. The impact is much stronger than a known form. Silhouettes are very emotional forms.


My advice is to know the advantages and disadvantages of the different forms available in nature. These forms will allow you to compose scenes that have impact and make interesting pictures.

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Article published on Friday, November 29, 2019 . Written by
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