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Emphasize Shape and Form in Macro Photography

After analyzing your surroundings and taking note of the elements of design in your close-up photograph, you’re faced with the challenge of composing an image in a way that emphasizes the elements you feel are most important to your message.

Through lighting and composition you can tell your viewers a lot about a subject, such as how old something is, whether it’s rigid or supple, energetic or mellow. The following sections prepare you to use elements of design to your advantage, mixing and matching, emphasizing and deemphasizing in order to suit your intended message in a photograph.

Showing the shape of your subject

You might consider shape the foundation for your subject. It defines how something is represented in a two-dimensional space (such as a photograph). A Coke bottle was designed to have sex appeal no matter what angle it’s viewed from. Not all subjects were crafted in this way, so it’s your responsibility to seek an angle that shows the shape of a subject in the best way.

This photograph shows the difference between a composition that emphasizes the subject’s shape in a good way and one that does not. The unique design in the shape of this glass’ stem is what sets it apart from other martini glasses. The first image reveals this aspect of the subject, but the other does not.

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100mm, 1/160, f/10, 50    100mm, 1/160, f/10, 50

Revealing form through lighting and composition

While keeping the shape of a subject in mind, also consider how its form is represented in your composition. How much depth are you revealing? A low angle can cause a subject to appear taller (drawing emphasis on its lower portion), while a high angle can cause it to appear shorter (drawing emphasis on its upper portion).

When analyzing the form of a subject, think about what direction and quality of light will work best for your message. Use side lighting to reveal three-dimensionality, and use flat, frontal lighting to do the opposite.

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A soft light spreads out the shadow lines, which is more suitable for delicate, dreamy, or beautiful subjects. A hard light gives shadows solid edges and is more suitable for rigid, tough, or dramatic subjects. In this photograph of a leaf, the camera angle and lighting was chosen to best suit the subject’s form.

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