Why and How: Using Shapes in Nature Photography

Shapes can also be referred to as “optical surfaces”. They result from the combination of lines and angles. In nature photography, they can be real or implied.

In this article, I show you how to take advantage of using shapes 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 exists as a being or object, both which possess lines, mass, contours, and often, a silhouette that we may struggle to recognize.

We can also define a shape by the way it materializes. We may talk about its appearance or the state in which it is presented.

Why Use 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 stop imagining it from our own detailed perspective and analyze its basic structure, or skeleton.

For example, a fish or an animal is no longer seen as a portrait but as a series of geometric shapes. You must add the emotional expressions, the texture of the fur, plumage, or scales, and play with the light to produce a quality picture.

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

Shapes structure your composition, guiding the gaze along the leading lines which channel towards the centers of interest.

Although you can elevate volume with shadows and lights, you still need the vitality of shapes.

You must learn to spot geometric shapes in a photograph, and frame them to convey your message.

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

The Three Properties of a Shape

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

The properties of shapes allow you to better analyze a scene and to decide whether a shape should be integrated into an image.

  • Mass: it describes the amount of space filled by a shape. It qualifies the heaviness and 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.
  • The relationship: it defines how forms interact with each other in a photograph.

The Role of Light

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

One advantage of nature photography is that the natural light is nearly perfect. A grazing light can highlight the entirety of one form or create additional ones in a suggestive way.

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

Some Rules of Using Shapes

To emphasize one form over another in a photograph, you merely eliminate attributes like textures and details. The form becomes easily identifiable by its contrast, and its impact is very strong.

When photographic elements connect to each other in a photo, shapes catch the eye of the viewer, attracting the gaze 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 outlining its circumference without ever directly revealing it. Suggestion is key in art of photography.


The triangle is a form that brings balance to a photograph. It is the strongest and most basic form.

The triangle is the shape that creates 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 through different points. One does 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, the photo evokes a sense of calmness.
  • If one of the sides of a triangle is parallel to one of the edges of the photo, it reinforces a feeling of direct solidity. It promotes movement from the base to the summit.
  • If the tip of a triangle is directed upwards, then this form suggests a rise in emotion.
  • 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 may think of mountains when we see triangles in nature.

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

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


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

The square is a very symmetrical form. It leaves a great amount of space around it.

It must always be combined with other forms.

Claim your free guide to make your photo impactful and meaningful

Claim Your Free Guide '50 Pages of Tips to Give Impact and Meaning to Your Photos'.

Curves and Ovals

These shapes are special because they easily accept the centering of the main photographic elements and their radiation. They evoke softness and serenity. Like the square, a round form leaves much space around it.

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 visibly marked. It has a relaxing and pleasant effect.

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 is a rare form in nature, but it is very useful for subdividing a photo.

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

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


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


My advice to you is to learn the advantages and disadvantages of the different forms available in nature. These forms will allow you to compose impactful and interesting scenes.

Be humble, patient, constant, persevering, and persistent because the road to excellence is long.


I Want to Help You to Create Interesting Photos