How to set the tone and tell stories with geometric shapes

Oct 10, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

How to set the tone and tell stories with geometric shapes

Oct 10, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Most photographers know of the aesthetically pleasing qualities of certain geometric shapes and patterns. There’s all kinds of “rules” based around them. Triangles are a common compositional tool, as are squares for the “frame within a frame”. Whether we choose to follow those rules or not is down to each individual. But is there more to it than just making things visually appealing?

This interesting short video from Now You See It dissects the shapes found in several animated and live action movie characters. It looks a little deeper at the psychology of shapes, and how they can change our mood and feeling about a character before they’ve even said a word. While the video does pertain primarily to movies, the theory can hold with still photographs, too.

YouTube video

Another visual area where shape psychology plays a big part is logo design. Certain shapes can and do give us certain feelings about a company without even knowing who they really are. Circles and curves are positive, friendly, united. Straight sharp edged shapes like triangles and squares can suggest stability and balance. These rules also often follow through to the font used as part of the logo.

geometric_shapes_outlines

Using the same principles to help reinforce the mood of a scene in a photograph is an interesting idea. Or, how you want the viewer to feel about the person contained within a photograph.

Obviously, you can’t just change the shape of your subject’s face, like you can with an animated character drawn from scratch, so what can photographers do to help sway our viewer’s perception one way or the other? Well, we can do it with lighting. We can create shapes with the highlights and shadows to help reinforce a persona in our subjects.

Many of us do it already without even realising it. In portraits, for example, small light sources provide sharp edged shadows. When lights are used off-camera at an angle, these can often result in shadows with very straight edges. These can give an impression of strength, or perhaps even be a little sinister.

Big round octaboxes, on the other hand, can help to give a more welcoming and friendly appearance. The round catchlights in the eyes, the light that creeps around the whole face to soften the shape and give a sense of depth and form, rounding things off.

It’s probably why men are often photographed with small hard light sources, while women are usually photographed with great big soft light sources. It’s not only more flattering visually, but psychologically, too.

What do you think? Do shapes and their psychology play a role in your work? Or do you think it’s just mumbo jumbo? Can you show examples that disprove the suggestions in the video? Let us know in the comments.

[via No Film School]

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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2 responses to “How to set the tone and tell stories with geometric shapes”

  1. James Lorentson Avatar
    James Lorentson

    Great post, John. It’s always interesting to breakdown what visual elements are working to influence our feelings unconsciously.

  2. Eduardo Veríssimo Avatar
    Eduardo Veríssimo

    This seems a lot like astrology.