Shape and form

With­out colour to dis­tract, the eye pays more at­ten­tion to these other im­age qual­i­ties

NPhoto - - Nikopedia -

There are two re­lated is­sues here. Shape in pho­tog­ra­phy can be pushed in two di­rec­tions. One is to­wards the two-di­men­sional and graphic – ‘pure’ shapes that be­have almost as cutouts, as in a strong sil­hou­ette. The other is to­wards cre­at­ing the im­pres­sion of vol­ume, round­ed­ness and three di­men­sions. In ei­ther case, the em­pha­sis is on for­mal graphic struc­ture. Sub­tract­ing colour en­hances the re­main­ing qual­i­ties, and both shape and form are the strong­est. Shape con­cen­trates on the graphic struc­ture of an im­age, while form is to do with the three­d­i­men­sion­al­ity (essen­tially, the vol­ume and sense of round­ed­ness, which we looked at in issue 61).

The two qual­i­ties are in­ter­con­nected, be­cause shape can some­times be used to de­fine form. This in turn gives a sense of vol­ume and pres­ence. Shape de­pends heav­ily on out­line, and in pho­tog­ra­phy this is de­fined by edge con­trast, which you can see strongly in the pic­ture of the church, the pale wood stand­ing out against the darker back­ground of grass and sky. This con­trast draws the eye more in mono­chrome than in colour, be­cause there are no hues to com­pete for at­ten­tion. As Joel Meyerowitz, a pho­tog­ra­pher who moved from black and white to colour, put it, “Black and white has more form. Some­how pictures look like there’s a com­pressed for­mal struc­ture run­ning through them, ty­ing events to­gether.”

(Far left) A wooden church in Ice­land that is ar­guably stronger in black and white, at least when pro­cessed this way for good con­trast, with the shape of the fenc­ing and white church em­pha­sised. Sub­tract­ing the colour fo­cuses at­ten­tion on the ge­om­e­try.

(Left) The side-lit torso of a Kh­mer statue of­fers a clas­sic sub­ject for black and white. Rounded mod­el­ling helps the sub­tleties of form and tex­ture.

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