10 Tips on Geometry for Photography

Photography Technique

Composition, colour, focus… so many options to consider when taking photos. It’s impressive how some photographers combine different things to create unique looks.

I like colourful, geometric images with people in interesting situations.

As I am always looking for interesting lines and shapes for my photographs I thought I would write a few tips related to geometry.

Tip 1 – Clean Framing

If we consider the verticle and horizontal lines of the frame of our photos; in most situations an image looks cleaner and more comfortable if people and objects are not cut off.

This picture of Bonjour; a beauty store in Hong Kong, is a good example. I did a pretty good job of framing the store, the top is aligned just above the sign, the sides are almost even. However I cut people off on the left and right. I think it’s still a decent shot, but would have been better if had avoided this. In this situation you can try taking several photos to capture the right moment.

bonjour cosmetic store hong kong

The example below was taken on Brick Lane, London. It’s a little better, I kept people fully in or out of the frame.

I think clean framing is one of the most common mistakes in photography. I believe we want to see a complete scene. When we cut people off it makes us uncomfortable; perhaps it destroys the illusion of the scene being fully captured?

Tip 2- Using Horizontals

The most common examples of strong horizontals must be horizon lines. Perhaps we are trained to see horizontals as major points of contrast or separation in an image. In nature we see them split the land / sea / sky.

In the photograph of the ramen counter I liked how the horizontals break the seating area from the staff area.In the rail station photograph the horizontals provide a clean break between the people and map. This picture also illustrates that it’s often visually appealing to place major horizontals at 2/3 on the vertical.

The below picture of the national theatre is an example of brutalist architecture. There are a lot of lines here, but I think the horizontals in particular add a lot of strength to the image.

Horizontals often calm an image down; they can also increase the sense of width, provide a strong content break and draw the eye from side to side.

Tip 3 – Using Verticals

Verticals can add a  sense of height and tension. A classic example is when we have rows of tall buildings.

Looking back down from the top of the hill in Hong Kong, all the verticals add a lot of detail.

I think verticals can also be used well in portraits. Take the below example of metal chains in Shanghai; I thought at the time this would be a good backdrop for a model shoot.

Tip 4 – Using Diagonals

A lot of striking images have strong diagonals. They add energy and excitement. Perhaps there is something unexpected about them.

The below example of Christmas lights on The Southbank in London shows that lines don’t have to be straight or perfect to provide a geometric pattern.I love this shot of vinyl in a record store I took in East London.

Tip 6 – Using Shapes Incl. Frames

Framing is another favourite topic of mine. The photo itself has a frame, but within the photo you can find another frame and place your subject inside it.

In the below photo; taken in Tokyo, inside the camera frame the tree and bushes provide a second frame, the stone ‘tori’ then provides a third frame and the red/orange wooden ‘tori’ a fourth frame, with the path leading into the distance.

I noticed an opportunity in the coffee shop below to get the classic London bus framed through the window also capturing some customers talking outside.

wider scene - bus framed in window

A personal favourite of mine is to frame people inside bars and restaurants.

curtain barIn this last example, I loved the corridor, and to add more interest I waited on people to walk past and caught them in the frame provided by the windows and doors at the end.

Tip 7 – Using Geometry For Perspective

I take a lot of photographs that have more of a 2D look and feel. I quite like a flat look. But having said that, I also love taking shots with a strong sense of perspective. When dealing with perspective we can look for lines that lead the eye into the image. Or so called ‘leading lines’. In a 2D sense these are simply diagonals, but they create the illusion of 3D in our photograph. It’s really popular and effective to start them from the corners of your frame. The below shot is off the new rail station at Canary Wharf in London.

I also used the station exit as a strong diagonal to give a sense of depth to this picture outside Old Street station in London.

Another classic example of a bottom corner diagonal providing a sense of depth. Also combining soft focus to add mood.

Perspective shots often look nice when taken along pathways framed by trees or other objects.

autumn 2014, green park, london

Tip 8 – Looking For Geometric Patterns

A little more abstract; and particularly popular in architecture and nature photography, is looking for simple or complex patterns which combine different aspects of geometry.

The below picture was taken inside the South Korea National Museum in Seoul.

And the design of The Gherkin in London is pretty cool.

Even with simple verticals and horizontals on a flat view I thought this shot of lanterns in Man Mo temple, Hong Kong was pretty interesting.

Tip 9 – Other Shapes

There are other composition theories such as the golden mean / rule of thirds etc. A lot of beautiful photos have patterns that follow these. I think it’s because these mathematical patterns are the building blocks of nature. However I don’t think it works when you force it.

In addition to straight lines I often keep my eye open for curves that enter and exit the frame taking interesting paths across it. I think these really guide the eye.

Tip 10 – Combining things.

In reality most of our images combine a lot of geometry. I think the trick is in looking carefully at the world around you and the balance of lines and shapes in a scene and then framing your image to provide some balance and interest. The below picture taken in Fitzrovia in London is an example where I found a 2D flat scene in half the frame and a perspective scene in the other half.

Bonus Tip – Embrace Wide Distortion

If you shoot with a wide angle lens you will often end up with distortion. You can fix a lot of this in post processing. I recommend experimenting with the manual settings for distortion correcting; it’s surprising how much you can fix.

Having said that, I think for most of us correcting distortion might be an artistic choice. I often find the dramatic effect distortion can create to be quite interesting. I like this example from Shanghai, where all my horizontals and verticals are wrong.

Things to Avoid

To my taste the things to avoid are cutting off people & objects. Next try to align verticles and horizontals and use diagonals creatively.

Another thing to avoid would be overuse of dutch angles (camera tilt) unless; in rare situations, you see a cool creative scene – it tends to work well in automotive shots.

How do you feel about geometry in photography?

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