Which shots emphasize line, shape or both?



PHOTOS:  Alexis Estrella 2x, Allie Simone 2x, Amanda Citarella, Diana Levy, Samantha Jonson, Jessica Krakowski, Lauren Kelly, Olivia Jorgensen.

Photography and finding subjects for assignments are about thinking, searching, seeing, looking, and finally shooting.  Great photographs do not come from whimsical impulse and taking banal, boring snap shots.  They are about making artistically conceived images which apply rules of photographic composition and art.  Globally famous 20th century photographer, Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002), put it this way:  "Look and think before opening the shutter.  The heart and mind are the true lenses of the camera."

Only occasionally does a mistake make it to the level of good art.  As for every "rule of thumb" and guideline there are stirring exceptions made spontaneously during moments of striking turmoil or unusual circumstances.  In other words, rules of photography which you have read about, applied over the summer, and will apply this semester can be broken.   You must be skilled enough to know how to do it to create a great shot while breaking rules which help you achieve better composition. 

Good composition is the single most important element in photography and it is what will distinguish your excellence in photography, an artistic technological media where every amateur has the the same basic, level playing field.



Each assignment in this course will features a link to one or more digital photographers who emphasize the subject matter's assignment. This link is to a consortium of photographers.  Look for how line and shape are used in their works and let their ideas influence yours without directly copying.  As we mature and grow as artists we can take a single idea and do something more with it.  That is, we can change and grow the idea to make more sophisticated ideas.  The ongoing process of development keeps us from stagnating and becoming bored with repeating the same ideas.  Check out the cool images at:



LINE is often described as the shortest distance between two points.  Although this may be true in mathematics, it is not always true in art.  There are many sorts of lines: short, long, thick, thin, straight, zigzagged, and curved.  Lines can describe edges, which separate two spaces, or they can be independent and act on their own. 

Lines can be horizontal as in the horizon line of a landscape or seascape.  Vertical line examples a flagpole or a thin person standing.  Diagonal lines slant.  Lines may also be parallel as in the double line in the middle of a road or as the double letter l’s in the word parallel.  Lines can also be arced or curved as in a meandering brook or river as seen from aerial perspective or an “s” curve in a road.  . 

Lines also possess emotional qualities.  Arced or curved lines are graceful, elegant, flowing.  Vertical lines suggest strength and dignity and sometimes activity, alertness.  Angular or zigzag lines give us a sense of movement, energy, and tension.  Horizontal lines are peaceful, stable, calm and soothing. 

Line or lines are featured in all the examples below.  What kind of lines are they?  How do they make you feel?  Where is potentially boring symmetry used while remaining an interesting photograph and why?



SHAPE is a spatial form and describes areas. It is defined from the space surrounding it by edges rather than line.  Shapes may be two- or three-dimensional.  Examples of two-dimensional geometric shapes, which are found on a flat page, are ovals, triangles, cylinders, cones, circles, pyramids, squares, rectangles, rhombus and trapezoids.  Some three-dimensional geometric shapes which exist in space are sphere, ball, or globe, egg, pyramid, cube, cylinder, cone, and prism.  Other shapes are amorphous or amorphic having no determinate form.  An amoeba, a non-geometric park layout as seen from a plane and the meandering path of a river demonstrate this property.

Another extremely important part of shape is negative space and positive space.  Positive space or shape describes what is called in painting, the figure. It is the subject matter such as buildings, a door, a profile of a human head, etc.  Negative space or shape is the space, which surrounds positive space.  It frequently wrongly called background and in painting is also called ground.  Background is the sense of space developed in the Renaissance, which describes objects far behind the picture plane. Negative space is a 20th century concept of flatted space in art, in part, encouraged by the invention of the camera whose lenses tend to flatten space behind the picture plane.

Positive space makes negative space and negative space makes positive space.  In a two-dimensional photograph, painting or surface, the negative space is equally important to the positive space.  Photos are therefore made up of positive and negative space.  When doing this assignment you need to look carefully to find interesting negative space. 

Starting today and all semester what you will look for in your photo shots are a variety of images which fit line and shape and which have meaning to you as the photographer and us as the viewer.  We are interested in seeing that your photographs convey a meaning, both from your intent and that it is passed on through the photograph to what viewers see.  Look at the photographs below to determine how shapes are used and the emotional content of the imagery.  Look at how shape becomes more striking in black and white than in color.





Alfred Steiglitz was a pioneer in early 20th Century photography in the United States.  About his 1907 work, above, called "The Steerage" he said, "I saw shapes related to one another–a picture of shapes, and underlying it, a new vision that held me…" This photograph is one of the most important images of early photography because of the way the composition leads the eye around the frame as well as the sociological distinctions between upper and lower classes traveling to the USA on a boat.  Notice the existence of both line and shape in the composition.

  Bernice Abbott (1898-1991) was born in Ohio and attended Ohio State University.  In 1921 she went to Paris to study sculpture and a few years later decided to study photography with Man Ray for two years.  After gaining skills and confidence she opener her own Parisian studio. Just before the Depression in 1929 she returned to New York and won government funding to photograph the city.  In 1936 she had photographer Paul Strand formed The Photo League.  "Its initial purpose was to provide the radical press with photographs of trade union activities and political protests. Later the group decided to organize local projects where members concentrated on photographing working class communities. Abbott's photographs of New York appeared in the exhibition, Changing New York, at the Museum of the City in 1937. A book, Changing New York, was published in 1939. She is also published a Guide to Better Photography (1941). In the late 1950s Abbott began to take photographs that illustrated the laws of physics. Berenice Abbott died in Monson, Maine, in 1991. (SOURCE: USAPabbott.htm)

Below are some of her photographs which show a strong sense of composition thanks to the inclusion of line and shape.





1. Let your main subject FILL THE FRAME.  Get close up or use a zoom if you have appropriate lenses.  

2. Use interesting composition.  Keep the center of interest away from the center of the picture. Use the Rule of Thirds. The Rule of Thirds states that the center of interest should never be directly located in the center of the image.  In looking at the images above, the lily is centered and the left side of the image is boring, the person's eyes are in the top third of the frame and the diagonals of the shadows add to interest.  In the center image, the Mayan Indian stele is centered making it centered but more interesting because it is a diagonal.  Imagine how it would look if the photographer would have taken the shot vertically, eliminating all the unnecessary surrounding excess that does not apply to the photo's meaning. The centered sculpture in the fourth image is ringed by buildings and foliage which take away from the image looking stuck in the center.  In the fifth photograph, above, by Ansel Adams, he eloquently uses the rule of thirds.  The dark area to the right in the mountain is the visual center of interest in the frame.





You may shoot your pictures in any order as long as you demonstrate the use of line and shape and follow the following ideas.  Check off what you’ve shot in the space below:

_____  _____  _____  _____  Photos of same object 6", 1', 2' and 3' away to determine what your focal length of the camera is.  You will then know the minimum distance away from an object you can shoot it and still have it in focus.

_____  _____ Horizontal Line

_____  _____ Vertical Line

_____  _____ Diagonal Line

_____  _____ Parallel Line

_____  _____ Curved or arced Line

_____  _____  _____  _____ Interesting negative space shapes

_____  _____  _____  _____ Geometric shapes

_____  _____  _____  _____ Amorphic shapes

_____  _____  _____  _____ Shapes of the Shadows

Label all photos before handing in.  Please do not hand in a file with just the number of the photo.jpg.  I will not know what I'm looking at to grade.  You must indicate what type of shot it is, i.e. diagonal line.jpg, horizontal line.jpg, etc.


1.  If your print-selected photos are in color, CONVERT TO BLACK AND WHITE.  In the top Photoshop menu, go to IMAGE/MODE/ GRAYSCALE.  Click on Grayscale and if it shows, hit yes to discard all color information.


3.  RE-SIZE YOUR IMAGE.  In the top Photoshop menu go to IMAGE/IMAGE SIZE.  Under Width and Height make certain that the image is 7.5" x 10" in any direction.  ALL MOUNTED COURSE PHOTOS WILL BE 7.5" X 10".

4.  BACKGROUND TO "LAYER 0" so all Photoshop tools will work in this layer.  Go to the top menu in Photoshop under WINDOW.  About half way down, click on LAYERS and make certain it is checked.  Go to the layers menu and click on the blue colored BACKGROUND.  It will become LAYER 0.  Once it becomes LAYER 0 your image is unlocked and everything you do will be in different layers. You will find correcting mistakes and throwing out layers much easier to deal with then if the initial photo is locked in BACKGROUND.

4. SAVE EVERY PRINTED IMAGE AS A SMALL FILE for your final exam web gallery in Front Page.

5. SAVE ALL WRITTEN INVENTORIES to a file of your choice as they will also be used in the final exam web gallery in Front Page.




        1.1.  In your journal, make the first page the title page and call it “DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY”.  Include your name, address, homeroom, grade and email.

        1.2.  At the top of the next page in your journal label it with the heading “DP ASSIGNMENT I – LINE & SHAPE”.

        1.3.    Beneath the heading find and glue down 3 black and white or color pictures, which show dominant use of line or linear elements in the composition and 3 black and white or color photos, which show shapes and interesting positive and negative space.  Label each as to whether they are line or shape. 

        1.4.  You may also take notes on one of the pages in each DP Assignment chapter of the Journal.



        2.1.  Find an old beat up black and white picture from your family archives.  You may use a color photo but it must be turned into black and white and printed in black and white. 

        2.2.  Scan it at least 600x 600 dpi's.

        2.3. enlarge it to a maximum of 7.5" or 10.5" without creating pixilation.

        2.4.  Retouch it to make it look like it is a new print and print it.  Glue retouched photo (printed on the HP laser jet printer) and a copy of the original photo in your journal.  You may print the retouch on photo paper and mount it for yourself if you choose.



        3.1. Go online.  Copy and print Alfred Steiglitz's photo, "The Steerage" (from the link) 7x10.  Take a peace of tracing paper and trace the major elements of the composition.  Affix the tracing paper over the print.

        3.2.  Go to your summer assignments.  Take your most interesting summer shot and copy and print it 7x10.  Trace the major elements of its' composition.  Affix the tracing paper over the print. 

        3.3.  Mount 2 at the end of Journal 1.  



4.1. Place all 26 shots in my teach folder in the folder marked Digi Photo/Line and Shape/under your class color.

4.2. Select your best 3 photos to print, 1 must be in line, 1 in shape and the other as you wish.

        4.3. Using Photoshop make a copy of your images by going to FILE/SAVE AS/CHANGE THE TITLE/SAVE.  Go in the top menu and go to IMAGE/MODE/GRAYSCALE/REMOVE COLOR.

        4.4.  Using Adobe Photoshop in school, print each in black and white on an 8.5" x 11" paper in a 7.5" x 10.5" frame using the Epson printer.  All prints should be in gray scale and printed on Epson Photo Glossy paper.



        5.1.  CUT 11” x 14” MATS from mat boards or purchase them precut.  All images should be dry mounted on either black or white mat board with typed written inventories rubber cemented to back.

5.2. WRITE 3 INVENTORIES, one for each photo and affix them to the backs of each mounted photograph.  You can link onto the WRITTEN INVENTORY preparation page here.

5.3.  SIGN EACH PHOTO IN PENCIL (date optional) directly under the BOTTOM RIGHT of the photo on the mat using white pencil on black mat board or thin sharpie on white mat board.


~ Line/Shape Photos Due (A) Thursday 2/10

~ Line/Shape Final- Printed/Mounted Photos Due (A) Thursday 2/17


Back To Digital Photo Home