Human Body, Nude, Moab Photography Workshop, form

The human body, in a nude state, is the hardest to capture or paint. Photo taken at one of our Moab photography workshops.

Capture The Third Dimension In A Two Dimensional Medium

A model and I were discussing some fine art photography concepts when she began telling me stories from her middle-school days of competing in high diving. In that discussion she told me the importance of form, which ironically, in photography, form or the lack of it, is what separates a picture from a photograph.

Form is also the most basic element in art based on the fundamental that form is a three-dimensional geometrical figure as opposed to shape found in two-dimensional objects. Great photographs however require both shape and form, plus a little texture in the photo never hurts. An amateur photographer will normally capture shape, or shape and texture, but lack form in their photos, while a great professional photographer will create and capture a third-dimensional illusion.

Photography is similar to a painting on a canvas, flat and two-dimensional. However, like a great painter, when a photographer can create the illusion of the third dimension, they will showcase the form of their subject, which will make their photographs more iconic than a simple picture. Photographers who understand this, just like high divers, dancers, sculptors, fitness trainers, tennis players, etc., have to understand form, can create photography that stands out amongst their peers.

While lack of form in the gym can cause injuries, fortunately the lack of form in photography normally doesn’t—or does it based on my recent article, “Like Me, My Life Depends On It?” But one thing lack of form in a photograph will cause is boredom in the viewer of your photo while form in a photograph will entice enthusiasm from your audience. Iconic photos have great form captured within the frame, something not found in lackluster pictures—think selfies vs. professional portraits.

Low-key Lighting Italy Photo

This low-key lighting photo of Heather I captured in Venice, Italy. The light source was ambient room light.

Fundamentally, photography ultimately is about texture, shape and form and one way to capture the latter three is through the use of light that utilizes chiaroscuro, the intermixing of lights and darks, to create the “illusion” of a third-dimension on a two-dimensional medium. This is what separates the greats from the good or close enough for government work types—take the time to use light illusion to bring out the form in your subject, not just their shape.

Most people overlook form because we open our eyes the minute we’re born and for the rest of our lives we live in a three-dimensional world; so basically, we get used to seeing form in everything, thus causing a lack of appreciation of form itself.  But when we use the right lens, and hold our camera at the right angle besides the obvious horizontal and vertical format, plus light the subject appropriately, the human body begins to take its form through our lens.

Low-key Lighting Photo

Low-key lighting is the easiest least expensive genre of photography, however, you have to find the light to capture form.

The easiest way for a photographer to see form is to take one light, place it anywhere in a darkened room, aim the light at your subject, then walk around until you see form take shape. When you find form in your subject, understand that it appears because of the physics’ law that applies to lighting, “The Angle of Incidence is Equal to the Angle of Reflection.”  The understanding and application of this basic “reflectance law” is what separates the greats from the average artist.

The key to great photographs is that they will cause the viewer to feel mystery, mood and be intrigued. This is what will invoke our imagination.  An image with form will provide, implied or actual, length, height and width of some apparent geometric shape within the image.

There are two types of forms in these geometric shapes and normally one will become more apparent than the other, it’s either symmetrical or asymmetrical. Symmetry provides identical balance while asymmetrical form includes irregular shapes. A great example of asymmetrical form is something like a snowflake, while symmetrical form is found in a cube of ice.

When photographing models, if a photographer takes the stance that all objects are geometrical and looks for those shapes like the cube, square, triangle, cone, rectangle, hexagon, etc., within the scene and the subject, then the photographer will “see” form.

Form is something I look for in my fine art photos, as I often start with a concept, then the model creates shapes with her body while I try and capture her form. I close with please don’t forget the men and women in uniform who serve patriotically to protect our freedoms—God Bless them, their families and friends, Rolando.

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