Photography Element of Composition: Shape

Shape is an important element of composition in photography and in art. Shapes add meaning, context, balance, and interest to an image.

using shapes in photography

What is Shape in Photography?

Shape is the two dimensional appearance of an object, usually created by a closed line. This type of shape is referred to as a positive shape.

Shapes can be geometric, like a square, octagon, triangle, and circle. These are easy to find in manmade things and structures, like buildings.

They can also be inorganic and free-flowing, like an amoeba or petal on a flower.

Shapes can sometimes be revealed by differences in color, pattern, and texture. For example, the paint below creates two irregular pentagons, one yellow and one black.


Sometimes shapes appear in the negative space of an image, or the empty air between two objects. Below, the negative space between the two swans is shaped like a heart.

shape in photography

And shapes can be implied, like the triangle shape created by the heads below.

How to Use Shape in Your Photography

First, notice and visualize the shapes around you. Here are two ways to train your eye:

  1. When you are photographing a subject, you can take a minute to scan your environment for shapes. If you find some interesting ones, try to incorporate them in your image.
  • Make sure, however, that the shapes make your image stronger and more interesting. Pay attention to where the shape shows up in the image. Just because you found a shape doesn’t mean you need to include it in your image.
  • Try using a shape to frame your subject, for example having your subject stand in a rectangular door.

2. Or you can go on a photowalk where you are specifically looking for shapes – organic, inorganic, implied, negative, and positive. When you find an interesting shape, incorporate it into an image as the main subject. You might fill the frame with the shape, or use symmetry to highlight it.

Second, harness the energy of shapes in your photograph.

Notice how the shapes change depending on your point of view too. For example, a rectangular building can look like a trapezoid if you are standing close to it and using a worm’s eye view to take the photograph.

  • Vertical rectangles and trapezoids create a sense of solidity, mass, and stability.
  • Circles have a calming rhythmic energy. They can trap the eye, as you circle around and around the shape. Spirals do the same thing, sucking the viewer’s eye deeper into the composition.
  • Triangles can have a grounding energy if the base is horizontal to the ground, or can function as a leading line if the triangle is upside down.

Finally, experiment. Create images where shapes are filled in with a solid color, such as a silhouette! A silhouette is a backlit shape, or a pure shape filled with black against a bright background.

You could also photograph a silhouette!

#MindfulPhotoChallenge: Shape

Find and use shape in your photography!

Share your images on Instagram with #mindfulphotochallenge and/or #RefocusPhotoChallenge, and tag me @ goodhartphotography.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like:

  • My full color 30-Day Photography Challenge Workbook here on Amazon.
  • My Photography Articles Listed and Sorted by Type here
  • My Mindful Photography Workshop here
  • My “A Gossamer Thread” Newsletter about photography/creativity, productivity, and joy here

Photo credits: Alexander-Dummer, Belinda-Fewings, Evie-S-Nzy, Joshua-Woroniecki, Luis-Eusebio, Mayur-Gala, Ross-Elder, Sherat-Beyazkaya, and Todd-Quackenbush.