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Elements of Composition: Shape and Form

Some predate blog entries for prosperity. I live with my own blog tardiness. At first I planned to have a weekly entry on this subject but things rarely go as planned, just ask Murphy, whoever (s)he is (must be Eris' cousin or something).

In any case, with a weeks delay, I wish to talk about shape and form, two very important concept in composition. While similar, they are different. Shape is essentially bi-dimensional, while form is in 3D glory. To make the point across, without sounding pedophile I hope, image your own or a sibling's baby bum. Shot straight on, with direct lighting, it will look like two ovals, side by side. This is shape. Ovals. But shot from the side with side lighting, the sphereness, if such a word exist, will come out, showing three dimension.

Here are two pictures shot from a classroom. the composition in both is similar, but because of the angle, the left one shows only shape, the right one some form.

Now the form on the left one isn't so apparent, but we do get a better feel of 3D on the side of my face. By the way, when I shot these, I wanted to express the feeling of someone wanting to join the real world: sadly, many young people in Japan rarely venture out of their apartment, let alone their bedroom, preferring the comfort of their secure virtual world. I drew upon my experience of a young boy who couldn't join his friends in the swimming pool after an unfortunate bicycle accident 27 years ago.

Shape and form are so essential in composition, they are easy to forget. But they are fundamental to our understanding of the world. I think the human shape and form is the most easily recognizable one for us, just because it dictates much of our actions. In the left picture, even if the green and horizontal line occupy more space, our eyes are directly attracted to the human shape, because it isn't as abstract. Here are some more examples of shape.

As the two last pictures show explicitly, front and back lighting work best to express shape. In the middle shot, the shape of the buildings is easily identifiable, just like the location and participants in the last one.
Form on the other hand deal with tri-dimensionality and can be, at least in my case, harder to express. Conventional photography is flat, in 2D. The challenge with form to show an added dimension to a flat media. This is usually done with side lighting and shadows. I must admit my own weakness in this conjecture, form is not something I have focused on much, and I had to go back through some shots to find decent (not great) examples, although I did make an effort to shoot some this week, when I actually had time to shoot for my own leisure. Here are some examples.

Both the left and right pictures show a lot of shape, but also some form. The mountain one shows form especially in the top right side, where a second peak is discernible in the shadows. Same thing with right one, where the shape of the Shinkansen 500 series is highlighted by the Sun's reflection. With the middle one, taken between classes, the sidelight coming from the setting Sun puts highlights and shadow into the Udon banner across the street.

I'm not completely satisfied with the examples I gave in this lesson, I hope to provide more by next week, with an detailed explanation of the implied meanings of different shapes, although if you think 2 minutes about it, I'm sure you came up with valid guesses.

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