Photo Graphics


A striking yellow wall against a deep blue window make for a strong colour contrast. The sharp lines of the wall and the window-grid form a similar pattern. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

A striking yellow wall against a deep blue window make for a strong colour contrast. The sharp lines of the wall and the window-grid form a similar pattern. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Ambarin Afsar tells you how you can capture shapes, lines and contours present in your everyday surroundings, to introduce a graphical quality in your images.

Daily life brings us in contact with things like doors, windows, shutters, road markers and so on. But, we rarely pay any attention to them. If you observe closely, you will notice geometrical forms like lines, circles and triangles in these seemingly ordinary articles of daily use. At a road crossing you can find geometry in a traffic signal, in zebra stripes, even in overhead wires. You may wonder how to go about spotting shapes and lines. We explain how you can make use of similar, day-to-day shapes and lines to make great pictures.

Find Geometric Shapes
Look around and identify the shape of every object that you see. You will see rectangles in walls and steps; circles in clocks, dishes; triangles in lampshades, lines in wires, shutters, roofs and so on. Continue with this exercise with a viewfinder pressed against your eye. Look for details that are otherwise ignored. For instance, if you are shooting a glass-fronted building, zoom in and you will see a grid like shape in its windows. Zoom out, take two steps behind and the building will appear as a rectangular shape.

Keep the Compositions Clean
While aiming for graphical quality, it is important to shoot uncluttered frames. Look through the viewfinder, identify a detail and isolate it. Make this detail your main subject and omit other distracting elements. If you notice a particularly striking orange hoarding next to a building, include only a part of the building in the frame. Change your position to make an in-camera crop.

Group Elements Together
However, if you want to include more elements in the frame, group them so that they do not look scattered. If your subject is train tracks or a road with markers that recede and converge in the distance, compose the frame so that the overhead wires do not prove distracting. Alternatively, choose a wide focal length and a good vantage point from where you can see both the road markers and the overhead wires converging to one point.

Choose Focus for Impact
Since the subjects here are geometric shapes, you can keep everything in the frame in sharp focus. If your frame comprises of simple shapes such as a fire hydrant, a pole and a clean blue sky beyond, then use a narrow aperture like f/8 or f/11 to keep the edges crisp. Alternatively, employ selective focus when it is difficult to isolate all the cluttered elements in the frame.

If your frame comprises of a wall of a building and a wonderfully clouded sky in the background, focus on the wall to give prominence to it and emphasise its texture. This also eliminates the distraction the cloudy sky would create. The pattern of the soft, out-of-focus clouds will echo the texture of the weathered paint on the wall.

Play With Symmetry and Repetition
Look for symmetrical, repetitive shapes. Symmetry means shapes of the exact same size and dimension that occur repeatedly. You are likely to find proportionate lines, circles and other shapes in the metal grilles of a building, office cubicles, stacked bricks, stairways and so on. Mirrors, corners where walls meet or even reflections can provide images that make the viewer feel that he is looking into a kaleidoscope. However, unsymmetrical yet similar shapes of varying sizes such as those found in a row of odd-shaped houses can also create wonderful patterns.

Draw Attention with Contrasting Colours
Colour contrast adds to the graphic feel of an image. Look for vividly painted houses, vehicles and signboards or hoardings. Even tall structures like entire buildings can provide contrasting colours in your frame.

You can enhance these colours by increasing the hue and saturation settings in your camera. It is important to remember that black will contrast well with any colour. So, use deep shadows to create a dramatic contrast with the prominent colour in your image.

Another way to create colour contrasts is to position vividly coloured subjects together. A deep blue sky would contrast well with the bonnet of a red car. You can achieve this by positioning yourself so that only the bonnet of the car is visible against the sky. This will also exclude any trees or vehicles in the background.

Experiment with Delicate Pastels
Looking for vividly contrasting colours does not mean that you ignore pastels and subtle hues. Such understated colours can also provide soft, yet unique contrasts. Light pink walls can contrast pleasingly with pale yellow doors or windows.

Employ Strong Light Sources
Strong sunlight or artificial light is great for enhancing the shape and form of your subjects. It also brings out tactile detail like the textures of the subject. Go out in the afternoon and you will notice that most structures cast sharp, angular shadows. For instance, you will find the parapets of windows casting strong, triangular shadows at this time. Although shooting in harsh light can lead to loss of detail in dark areas and tones, dramatic shadows can add to the graphic look of the image.

Subdued Light Works Too
On the other hand, subdued light found indoors or on overcast days can emphasise colours and tones. However, such subtle light will give you soft and diffused shadows.

Experiment with different types of light at various times of the day, till you achieve the desired result.

Enhance Images with Noise
You can enhance the graphical quality of your images by adding noise. To introduce noise using camera settings, select the maximum ISO value. This will give your images a coarse, gritty feel. Noise can emphasise texture, colour detail and make the image look evocative, yet stark. If you increase noise in a colour image, you will notice that colours often bleed into each other. This makes for unusual, striking abstracts.

There is great geometry all around us and can be found in various man-made structures. However, nature is the basis for all geometrically inspired constructions. Nature has great congruence, which can be seen in leaves, flowers, trees and all other natural life forms. These beautiful symmetrical elements make fascinating subjects that compel and draw a viewer into the image. Regardless of the subject, it is important to remember that graphical images can be made virtually anywhere—in your house, in the neighbourhood playground and even in your office.

Train yourself to look for geometric shapes in anything you lay your eyes on and you will find great images lurking in each nook and corner.

Tags: abstract, Ambarin Afsar, art, Better Pictures, Composition, graphics, may 2010, Shooting Technique, surreal