Contrast and Affinity: Line and Shape

Posted on  by sleduc

Creative Commons image Photography Composition Chart – All in One with Fibonacci’s Gold by Rodnei Reis at Flickr

The following information was adapted from Bruce Block’s The Visual Story: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media chapter 4 starting on p. 87.


  1. Create a blog post titled, Contrast and Affinity: Line and Shape
    • Create the following headings
      • Summary
      • Terms and Concepts
      • Films to Watch
      • Controlling Line and Shape Production
      • What I Learned
  2. Define terms and concepts
  3. Watch scenes from selected films that showcase the visual structure
  4. Create a short film that emphasizes the visual structure and embed in your blog post
  5. Write what you learned
    • Include feedback about the film
  6. Invite someone edit your blog post
  7. Turn in a blog post feedback form

Terms and Concepts

1. Line

  • Line
    • Edge
    • Contour
    • Closure
  • Intersection of Planes
  • Imitation through Distance
  • Axis
  • Track
    • Actual Tracks
    • Virtual Tracks

2. Linear Motif

3. Contrast and Affinity

  1. Orientation
  2. Direction
  3. Quality

4. Shape

  • Basic Shape Recognition

5. Contrast and Affinity

  • 2D: circle and triangle
  • 3D: sphere and the three-sided pyramid

Films to Watch

  • Linear Motif
    • Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
      • Directed by Bruce Beresford
      • Written by Alfred Uhry
      • Photographed by Peter James
      • Production Design by Bruno Rubeo
  • Diagonal Linear Motif
    • Natural Born Killers (1994)
      • Directed by Oliver Stone
      • Written by Quentin Tarantino and David Veloz
      • Photographed by Robert Richardson
      • Production Design by Victor Kempster
  • Shapes of Spaces
    • The Conformist (1969)
      • Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
      • Written by Bernardo Bertolucci
      • Photographed by Vittorio Storaro
      • Production Design by Fernando Scarfiotti
    • The Shining (1980)
      • Directed by Stanley Kubrick
      • Written by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson
      • Photographed by John Alcott
      • Production Design by Roy Walker

Controlling Line and Shape During Production

Here is a practical situation. Tomorrow you’re going to direct a scene, and you’ve decided to emphasize lines and shapes. How can you control them on the set?

1. Squint. Most lines in the modern world are vertical and horizontal because they’re created by architecture. Doors, windows, and walls tend to be vertical and horizontal. The same thing often is true with furniture. What is the linear motif of the shot? Use a contrast viewing glass or learn to squint properly so recognizing the lines in your locations and pictures becomes easier.

2. Evaluate the lighting. Since line exists because of tonal or color contrasts, line can be controlled through lighting. As a picture gains tonal contrast, more lines will appear. Brightening or darkening an object can create or obscure lines to alter the linear motif.

3. Stage movement carefully. When an object moves, it creates a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line or track. Each of these three lines communicates a different visual intensity to the audience.

4. Create a linear motif storyboard.Line is an important factor in planning shots. A storyboard is a series of drawings illustrating the composition of shots. But the following storyboard plots the linear motif of line orientation from shot to shot. The linear motif will decrease or increase the visual intensity of any sequence. It doesn’t matter if the sequence is a violent car chase or a quiet conversation; the contrast or affinity of line can orchestrate the intensity changes of the scene.

Block, Bruce. The Visual Story: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media (p. 114).

The most intense frames of this storyboard are 12-13-14, because they have the greatest visual contrast. The line orientation moves from diagonal (12) to horizontal (13) to diagonal (14). This is an extremely useful storyboard, not because of realistic drawings of people and objects, but because it uses the Principle of Contrast & Affinity to structure the linear motif of the sequence. Visually, this sequence will build in intensity toward a climax.

Shape control requires careful examination of an object’s silhouette:

1. Evaluate the shapes:

  • a. Actor. If the actor and wardrobe are reduced to silhouettes, what is the basic shape?
  • b. Scenery. Define the lines to discover the shapes in your picture. Horizontal and vertical lines usually create squares and rectangles. Diagonal lines create triangles.
  • c. Set dressing. Define the basic shape of the furniture and other set dressing.

2. Control the lighting. Lighting can change or emphasize the basic shapes of objects in the picture. A pattern of light can create a circular, square, or triangular shape.

3. Simplify. Shape works best if it’s easy for the audience to see similarities and differences. Use the lens choice and camera angle to emphasize, or remove lines and shapes in the shot.

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Posted in Le DucTagged AffinityBlockCinematographyContrastFilmIBLineShapeStoryVisual