Let Your Photography Tell Your Story Part 3

March 19, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

The hidden meaning of shapes and lines in photographyLet your photography tell your story part 3Tell your story in your photography. This time the importance of shapes and lines in your pictures

This week, I am going to make you think a bit differently then you might be used to. As you might know I have been a professional designer/artist for more than 21 years and this experience seeps through in my approach of photography. As a designer I am used to thinking in shapes and lines as you might imagine and with every design I make, I know which shapes will tell a story of for example vulnerability, thoughtfulness or curiosity. I use this same approach in my photography. 

Just imagine you can only use shapes to express a mood. I am sure you will agree that straight lines are more rigid than rounded ones which are softer. Straight lines however can also convey a quiet and calm feeling, especially in groups of evenly spaced lines

Let me illustrate this

Endless rows of pine trees in a foggy forestPine trees in a misty forest with ferns underneathThis picture was taken on a cold winter morning when fog was obscuring the sight in this pine forest.

Now what happens when a diagonal line is added ? The scene tells a different story, because a diagonal line appears to be less stable and therefore adds a sense of movement to a picture Rows of pine tree in a foggy forestPine forest on a foggy spring morningA serene picture of rows of pine trees in a foggy forest

Curved lines feel more natural or elegant, like in this picture called Ballet Class. Again there is one tree that adds movement to the scene. These trees are known as "dancing trees". You probably see what a difference even a simple thing like lines make to an image

Dancing beech trees in the Speulderbos, The NetherlandsDancing Trees in the famous SpeulderbosThese trees in the Speulderbos appear to be dancing in the fog on this winter morning It is important to learn to see in lines and shapes besides looking at the scene with the mind labeling something as "mountain", "tree" or "lake". A tree can be seen as a line, a mountain is often a triangle, sometimes an oval, lakes are often more rounded. Imagine a picture with a square lake surrounded by straight pine trees versus a round lake with willows....This is a totally different image of a similar subject. The second picture would definitely look more romantic than the first one, so this is something you have to keep in mind when you try to tell your own story through your images. 

Also, lines can be thin, which adds a feeling of fragility and vulnerability to it. And lines can be thick which adds a sense of boldness to a picture. 

Birches on the Veluwe in the spring of 2017Birches in the mist on a spring morningStillness on a spring morning with the birch leaves showing their first shade of green

Do you see the difference in the story between these two pictures? Both are trees in the mist and if we forget about the colours for a bit and just focus on the shapes, you can easily see the first picture has more fragility in it and the second picture has bold shapes that tell a story of something that is stable, sturdy, impressive, grande and ancient. This is not just down to the shapes of the trees themselves, but also has to do with the choice of lens. The first picture was taken with a standard zoom lens and the second one with a zoom lens (even quite some zoom in this case) to emphasise their might appearance. Trees in a foggy forestForest path on a moody dark morningA beautiful forest path on an early morning in the end of winter

Most objects in an image can simply be reduced to a shape. Squinting at a scene helps to see this more clearly. You will see how an image is built up from groups of lines (lines with space in between) and shapes. Vertical shapes appear more powerful than horizontal shapes and if you want to emphasise the height of the subjects in a scene, it makes sense to take a vertical shot, like the one above. 

Rounded shapes are softer and more calm than a triangular shape. They might even convey a happy and young feeling more easily. This is because we tend to think of round things as cute (think about baby faces, baby animals). This is something I have used a lot in my career as a soft sculpture artist. 

Misty sunrise at the Gelderse PoortFoggy morning in the Gelderse PoortSmall tree in the distance almost entirely covered up by the morning mist at sunrise

Imagine if the shape in the background was not a round oak tree, but a mountain. This would give this scene a totally different story. Not just because there is a mountain in there, but it would appear less soft, because there would then be a lot of triangular shapes in this picture. In this case the triangles point to a round subject floating in the mist.

This week try to see beyond the elements in your frame and see the shapes and lines to see if they add something to your story or if another viewpoint might tell your story better because of a rearrangement of the shapes and lines that make up the composition

Next week will be the last post in this series : Let Your Photography Tell Your Story

If you missed the previous articles you can find them here;

Part One

Part Two

The hidden meaning of shapes and lines in photographyLet your photography tell your story part 3Tell your story in your photography. This time the story telling aspects of lines and shapes and how they can be used to strengthen the message in your images


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