This process of forcing a viewer to stop and look again is commonly known as creating a “Spot”. A “Spot” does not have to be formed by a different shape. It could be a different color, texture, or size. Most often it’s something that is totally different, like a rose in a field full of daises. Being aware of shapes is similar to being aware of lines that can lead your eyes either into or out of a photograph. Shapes can be obvious or not so obvious. They can be real, or they can be implied.
Why do some photographers seem to take forever to arrange a group of people? What is it they’re looking for? More than likely, it has to do with shapes. Three people standing in a straight line is boring. Move one of them up or down and suddenly you’ve formed a triangle. Add one person in the opposite position of the point and now you form a diamond. Shape adds feeling to the unemotional canvas of a photograph.
Obviously not all shapes have the same impact. Circles and Triangles tend to grab attention. Squares and Rectangles on the other hand tend to blend in. Combining shapes is often what makes the difference between a great shot and a boring one. Shape often goes hand in hand with texture. The roundness of the female form is usually more pleasing to look at than the coldness of a steel beam.
When my wife and I were engaged we had a friend take some photos of us for the wedding announcement. We went to a local park and found a nice interesting big rock to sit on. When our friend took the shots, she was not aware of the shapes in the background. In the distance there was a street lamp. The way the shot was taken the lamp pole was not in the shot, but the lamp part itself was. To this day, friends still ask: “Remember that UFO in the background of your announcement pictures?”
Sometimes shapes are formed by the lack of something; this is often referred to as: “Negative Space”. Positive space is simple. That’s your subject, usually in the foreground. But negative space on the other hand, is what most people are not aware of (like the UFO). Sometimes shapes are opposite of everything else in the Positive space, this can leave the viewer confused. You might say, “Something is just not right.” When in doubt, start looking at your negative space. The bright round shape between subjects may actually be pulling your eyes away from the subject itself. This is a classic example of: Negative Space.
Where you place the shape also matters. Here is a photo tip to remember: if you are taking a family portrait and the father is huge (round or tall) don’t put him right in the middle up front. Why? People will have a hard time looking at anyone else in the shot, if his shape dominates the picture. Place him behind someone else, or have him kneeling so he doesn’t tower over everyone else. Being aware of shapes (both obvious and not so obvious), can make all the difference in the world.