menu

COMPOSITION & the ELEMENTS of VISUAL DESIGN

postMany photographers on purchasing a new camera are preoccupied with learning its various features and controls and no doubt, this is important in obtaining correctly exposed images and an appropriate depth of field. However, once the basic operation of the camera is mastered, one needs to direct their attention to seeing and composing effective images. Effective images are those that command attention and communicate some feeling to an audience. Capturing a “feeling” and your viewers’ attention is a demanding task that requires practice, experimentation and study. Studying the basic elements of visual design and understanding how they work will help new photographers improve their composition, but simply following rules does not guarantee success. Furthermore, how an audience responds to an image depends on their past experiences (memory), interests, and what it is that they are looking for. This is why the same picture often receives a variety of responses from different viewers. To create effective images a photographer must understand the way people respond to various kinds of visual organization. This involves learning the vocabulary of design, viewing examples of artwork that utilize effective design elements, and actively implementing components of design into the process of photography. 

Line

A line represents a “path” between two points. A line can be straight, curved, vertical, horizontal, diagonal, or zigzag. Lines imply motion and suggest direction or orientation. A line can also be implied, that is filled in by the mind when several points are positioned geometrically within a frame. Placing four dots on a page in the shape of a square can imply the points are linked as the mind searches for recognizable patterns. The direction and orientation of a line can also imply certain feelings. Horizontal lines imply tranquility and rest, whereas vertical lines imply power and strength. Oblique lines imply movement, action and change. Curved lines or S shaped lines imply quiet, calm and sensual feelings. Lines that converge imply depth, scale and distance – a fence or roadway converges into the distance provides the illusion that a flat two-dimensional image has three-dimensional depth. A line is an effective element of design because it can lead the viewer’s eye. To create more effective photographs actively look for lines and arrange them within your viewfinder to invoke specific feelings. 

Shape

Shapes are the result of closed lines. However shapes can be visible without lines when an artist establishes a color area or an arrangement of objects within the camera’s viewfinder. Some primary shapes include circles, squares, triangles and hexagons all of which appear in nature in some form or another. Space is defined and determined by shapes and forms. Positive space is where shapes and forms exist; negative space is the empty space around shapes and forms. For images to have a sense of balance positive and negative space can be used to counter balance each other. 

Form – Light & Dark

Form refers to the three-dimensional quality of an object, which is due in part to light, and dark areas. When light from a single direction (e.g. our sun) hits an object, part of the object is in shadow. Light and dark areas within an image provide contrast that can suggest volume. Factors that can affect our feelings towards an image include the direction of the light source, from above or below, and the gentleness or abruptness of the half tones. Light coming from behind a subject can form a silhouette resulting in object that is completely black against a lighter colored background. Silhouettes appear as two-dimensional shapes lacking form. The absence of color often enhances our perception of form for instance in black and white photographs. Light emitted from above and to the side when applied to portraits creates what is often referred to as “Rembrandt lighting”. This form of lighting emphasizes edges and depth. In landscape photography oblique lighting occurs early and late in the day where it enhances the natural texture of the landscape and is often accompanied by warm or cool color casts. 

Color

There has been a tremendous amount of research on how color affects human beings and some of this research suggests that men and women may respond to colors differently. Color affects us emotionally, with different colors evoking different emotions. In short color has the capacity to affect the human nervous system.