Basic Shapes in Photography – That You Should Know!


Welcome to a beginner’s tutorial on shapes and forms in photography. Circles, squares, rectangles, triangles – As “simple” as these may seem, the basic shapes and forms are actually one of the most important building blocks when it comes to composing a good photo.

But to an untrained photo ninja, looking at things from this aspect of “basic shapes” can be quite a challenge… Even more so when it comes to creating award-winning compositions with it. So just how do the basic shapes affect a photo? How should we place them in a photo frame? Read on to find out!



Section A
Basic Shapes

Section B
More Shapes

Useful Bits

What’s Next?




It is no secret that we can use various colors to suggest different feelings and emotions in photos. How we place subjects in the frame can also affect the overall feel of the photo. By “simplifying” the subjects into basic shapes and understanding them can help to better adjust the composition.



Well, the first challenge for some beginners will probably be, what shapes? Learning to look at the world in terms of basic shapes can be kind of a difficult thing at first, but consider these:

  • Cherries, melons, apples, oranges are round in shape.
  • Tree trunks are circular when we look at it from top-down, but they form tall rectangle boxes when we look straight ahead.
  • There are square tiles on the floors and walls.
  • The wings of butterflies are triangular.

So yes. It is seemingly difficult, but it also very simple at the same time… Let us go through the basic shapes, examples, and a couple of thoughts on how to use them below.



Examples: Fruits, sun, Ferris wheel, flowers.

Composition Considerations: Captain Obvious fact – Circles form a closed loop. What this means in terms of design is that circles “trap the eye movement”, and are naturally attention-grabbing when used correctly. Especially when the photo is entirely flat, and there is one big round spot screaming out “keep your attention here”!




Examples: Tiles, horizons, buildings, furniture, windows.

Composition Considerations: Squares and rectangles generally give a feeling of structure and organization. But please do be careful when composing with “huge pieces of squares and rectangles” – If they occupy a huge part of the photo frame without any other points of interest, the photo will appear to be very flat and boring instead.



Examples: Wings, roads, railroads, mountains.

Composition Considerations: The triangle is an interesting and dynamic shape. Depending on how we compose using triangles, they can act differently.

  • They can act as arrows to direct the attention of the viewer.
  • They can like diagonal lines, adding depth to the photo.
  • Triangles can also add implied lines and movement.

So yep… Avoid having too many triangles in the frame or it may turn out to be very busy and confusing instead.




So far so good? That’s all to the basic shapes, but here are a couple more things to know about shapes.



  • Organic shapes: Mostly formed in nature, often rough, jagged, and uneven. For example, peas, oranges, watermelon are all round in shape, but they are not “perfect circles”.
  • Geometric shapes: Mostly found in man-made objects and structures. They are often straight, even, and have defined edges. Examples include buildings, bridges, roads, and paths.

Well, the point here is, the “imperfect” organic shapes are interesting too! Just keep an eye open, and there are plenty of shapes to be found in nature.




When looking for interesting subjects to shoot, some beginners will probably sub-consciously look for the “obvious shapes” only. Organic shapes in plants, flowers, the sun, and animals. Geometric shapes in buildings and roads. Well, that is only one side of the photography world. The “obvious shapes” are what we call positive shapes, and there is another “hidden” side that we call negative shapes:

  • Positive shape: What you see is what you get. Positive shapes are whatever the objects/buildings/things are.
  • Negative shape: Whatever shape that is created in the negative space. As in the above example, a heart shape that is formed by various rock formations.

So keep an eye open for the negative shapes as well – These little gems are often hidden in unexpected places and can make interesting photos.



When we mention shape and form in photography, what is the difference between the two of them?

  • Shape: Squares, rectangles, circles, and triangles. Shapes are two-dimensional and “flat” in nature.
  • Form: Spheres, cubes, cylinders, and pyramids. Forms are three-dimensional and have “volume”.

Sure thing, photos are two-dimensional only. Some of you photo ninjas might be wondering if all these “2D shapes” and “3D forms” make any sense at all. Yes, they do. With some clever placements of the subjects, different lighting positions, and play with perspective, we can create both shapes and forms in an otherwise “two-dimensional” photo.

As with the example above, the main distinction is that shapes will appear to be “flat” and does not have any depth at all. While shadows, angles, and perspectives will give the illusion of depth, thus creates form.




Now that you know the difference between shapes and forms, does it mean that we should always seek to produce photos with the more “advanced 3D forms”? Well no. Composition in photography is about creating interesting and creative photographs. There are no fixed rules to it.

Shapes and forms only serve as guidelines for what is possible in the endless ocean of possibilities. Shapes are simple – Simplicity is good sometimes. Forms give the illusion of more depth and volume – Details are good sometimes too. You decide what is best for yourself.



That’s all for this guide, and here is a small section on some extras and links that may be useful to you.





Thank you for reading, and we have come to the end of this guide. I hope that it has helped you to better understand the basic shapes, forms, and how to better use them in photo composition.

Composing at the abstract level of shapes may not be as easy at first, but practice makes perfect. So just keep practicing and you will become better. Good luck and happy shooting!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *