Finding shapes in a scene brings a layer of organization
Most things to do with composition, if you apply them well and interestingly, have a boosting effect on creativity. The reason is that by making the composition work harder – which generally means finding visual, graphic connections between things in your frame – you’re adding an extra layer to the image. In this sense, ‘layer’ doesn’t mean quite the same thing as the physical, depth layers that we looked at in issue 70.
Here, layered means an extra way of looking at the same subject. A graphic structure is one solid way of doing this – choosing a viewpoint or moment so that what’s in frame is organized into a recognizable shape. However, it can’t be too obvious and due just to the way the subject was deliberately made. We’re looking here at virtual shapes that happen in the viewfinder, not actual physical ones.
To work, they have to be unexpected or fleeting, and above all because your eye was smart enough to spot the shape when other people might not have. There are no prizes for finding a rectangle in a doorway or window! The basic principle is that for this kind of shooting, the more unusual and coincidental, the better it works.
Getting in shape
It’s a kind of coincidence, and that’s potentially powerful in photography because it’s hard to control and therefore rarer. It means, as in this example of two young Vietnamese women dressed in the traditional and graceful ao dai, the photographer – you – saw a shape and made it work. In fact, as in so many situations, the coincidence here of a triangle and two circles was not a readymade gift, but began as a possibility. The conical hats were graphic to begin with, triangular from the side or circular from the top; and the flowing white ao dais were curving and fluid in shape. So, while there was no reason to predict this exact coincidence of shape, I was already looking for some sort of combination, which made me prepared.
The hats became these two circles because the girls shielded themselves from the sun, while the triangle of their combined dresses was apparent for just a few seconds as the breeze lifted the lower corner of fabric. Like the other photographs in this feature, the shape comes from the subject, but is in a way separate and overlaid. It’s a second layer of observation and interest.
The two elbows add a locked zigzag pattern
A breeze lifts the left edge of the dress to make the triangle
Two clear and separated circles, but no obvious shape to the dresses yet…
If you enjoy this article and want to learn more, there are 50 more paths to be discovered in Michael’s new book Fifty Paths to Creative Photography (NB: all 50 are different from those that will be featured here in the magazine).