What is Form in Photography?
So you’ve been bitten by the photography bug and are trying to build your professional vocabulary. After following a few popular photographers online, you keep coming across the term “form,” but you’re still unsure what it means in a practical sense. So what is form in photography? We will discuss this topic and explain how you can make the most of it in your work.
What is form in photography: a basic definition
Picture Correct defines form in photography as: “when shape takes on three dimensions. Form is created by shadows and highlights on an object in the photograph.” To further highlight what form is, an analogy may be useful.
The Pageant of the Masters is a beloved Southern California artistic tradition in which stage actors are cleverly painted to look like they’re inside a giant flat painting on stage. The audience is never sure who is a 2D backdrop and who is a real person until they move. Once they do, it breaks the illusion, and the audience is delighted. (Fans of Arrested Development will recognize this from the episode “In God We Trust”).
In this same way, form in photography is when the flat illusion is broken, and real-life actors distinguish themselves from their surroundings. To say it’s when the subject of a photo really “pops” is a bit of an oversimplification, but it gets you most of the way there.
What form isn’t
Form isn’t an optical illusion or an editing trick. You can easily get the wrong impression that form is simply when something looks 3D in a picture. You’d be in the right neighborhood with that thought, but definitely at the wrong house. Here are two things form isn’t.
A nifty video editing trick very popular with advertisers is creating a frame around a video and having a character climb out of it to look 3D or simply adding two lines to a video, as seen here for that in-your-face effect. But keep in mind, the still at the end of that video clip is not illustrative of form photography.
Another thing anyone might confuse for form is the HDR photo editing effect. HDR stands for high dynamic range, and when you play with this setting, you can exaggerate the existing contrast in an image. Overused HDR during the post-production stage is not form in photography. Form occurs during the shoot itself and is the result of a well-balanced composition. We delve deeper into this ahead.
Exemplary form photography
Now that we’ve got an analogy and a decent idea of what not to call form photography, let’s dig into the work of artists who showcase form in their photography well. If you try to google something like “good examples of form photography,” you’ll likely get many Photo 101 student assignments. So to save you frustration, Expert Photography has an excellent collection and breakdown of form photography. You’ll notice through all the images that the subject of the photo is always pronounced and has great depth of field.
To better understand form and its place in an image, we need to understand all of the elements that come together and produce an image. Photo Traces has a great guide to the six most basic elements of photo composition.
- Shape and form
- Space (positive and negative)
- And finally, tone
All photos, from the legendary to the meh, have these elements. In a well-composed photo, the color’s tone is in check, the texture intrigues without distracting, negative space frames the positive space subject nicely, and those lines and shapes create form.
What is form in photography: the big picture
We hope to clarify this concept in photography and help you on your creative journey in this medium. The way experts talk about their field’s terminology can sometimes be overwhelming or, worse off-putting because it’s inaccessible. This article broke down what constitutes the concept of form in photography for any skill level. We showed you that form is a crucial and often misunderstood aspect of photo composition through analogy and example. Now that you’ve read our guide, we hope you can confidently answer when your friend asks, “what is form in photography?”
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