Back to Basics: The Power of Shape

Recently I decided that a good way to stimulate creativity was to return to basics. So even though I have been photographing for 40+ years, I decided to take the class offered on-line by the Photographic Society of America. The class uses John Hedgecoe‘s book Complete Guide to Photography as a text. The book is unfortunately out of print, but copies are available, although even used copies can be expensive. One of the virtues of the book is that it uses a “project” approach: a brief introduction is given and then the reader is asked to create photographs focusing on the principle just discussed.

I started with the very first project: The Power of Shape. As Hedgecoe states:

Of all the essential pictorial elements, shape is the most basic to our understanding of objects and scenes.

Here is my exploration of the power of shape.

Designer Tea Kettle Silhouette

A designer teakettle was placed in front of white foam board. The kettle was supported by a transparent base; residual image of the base removed in Photoshop by cloning. The foam board was slanted to maximize scattering of sunlight toward the camera. Exposure was adjusted to make the kettle black. The kettle is highly reflective and in direct sunlight so a highlight – the direct reflection of the sun – was still present. Although not a traditional silhouette because of this, I feel this adds a suggestion of three dimensionality to the subject, which only enhances the power of the shape. There is also a hint of the blue of the handle. While not part of the original plan on the photograph, I feel this also adds a spark on interest and differentiates the image from other silhouettes. Technical details: f/22, 1/5000 sec, ISO400, focal length 105mm, Canon 5D MII, EF28-105mm lens.

Cupids Span
San Francisco Embarcadero

I was particularly intrigued by the double bend shape of the bow in this sculpture, Cupid’s Span,  on San Francisco’s Embarcadero. The sun was placed just behind the feathers of the arrow to provide some texture to the sky around the feathers on this unusually cloudless day. Exposure was based on a meter reading from the feathers. Technical details: HDR processed from two hand-held exposures, one at f/18, 1/640sec and one at f/13, 1/400sec, except reclining figure is from the second exposure only to eliminate ghosting. ISO 100. Focal length 38mm, Canon 5D MII, EF 28-105 lens.

Handle and Knob

The theme of this image is the graceful curves of the handle and its visual interaction with the shape of the orange knob on the kettle’s lid. Although the purpose of this exercise is to understand the power of shape, I found I could not ignore the lessons of the other projects in the chapter; in this case “Form that Gives Substance” and the “color” projects. The designer teakettle was placed in front black foam board. Light was natural window light from behind and to the left of the photographer. Technical details: f/4, 1/160 sec, ISO400, focal length 105mm, Canon 5D MII, EF 28-105mm lens.

Door to Folgers Coffee Company headquarters
San Francisco

This is another “modified silhouette” of the door to the Folgers Coffee Company headquarters in San Francisco. Of course, one may consider this to be more about “pattern” than about “shape”, but patterns are made of shapes, after all. The photograph was taken from the inside of the building shooting out with the exposure set for maximum over exposure of the outside world. Some residual image of the outside in the lower right corner was deleted in Photoshop. Even at this level of over exposure there was some detail in the central panels that could be brought out by judicious processing. This may overlap the project “a touch of color”, but I think it adds interest. Technical details: f/5.6, 1/40 sec, ISO 100, focal length 63mm, Canon 5D MII, EF 28-105 lens.

Ferry Building interior
San Francisco

The arching, metallic roof support on the right side of the image combined with the window arch first attracted my attention in the image of the interior of the Ferry Building in San Francisco. I also really enjoy the play of light. Technical details: f/5.6. 1/160 sec, ISO 100, focal length 105mm, Canon 5D MII EF 28-105mm lens.


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