6 Classic Design Elements for Better Photography

by June Jiang | March 25, 2016

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Applying design principles to your photos

We all know a great photo when we see it, but have you ever thought about what makes it great? No matter what the subject, a photograph pleases our eyes when it has unity and balance. To identify and take great pictures, it’s important to know how to apply classic design principles to photography.

1. Line

A photograph is two-dimensional. Taking a photograph “flattens” a scene. One way to add the third dimension back into an image is to find the leading line in the composition. The leading line draws viewers in and creates a sense of depth. Leading lines are everywhere, such as fence lines, tree lines, winding roads, and brick pavement.

Lines also form patterns, as seen in staircases and window blinds. Patterns can be the sole subject of a photograph or used as background.

2. Shape

Shape is the outline of an object. There is no depth to it. Beauty shots require no shadow on the face; therefore, light has to be set up as flat and even. Silhouette photos emphasize shape so the light source has to be behind the subject.

6 Classic Design Elements for Better Photography

3. Value

In art, value is the light or dark. In photography, it’s highlight and shadow. Every value in between falls on the gray scale. Value is perhaps the most important element in photography. Low-key and high-key portraits refer middle values to black (low-key) and white (high-key) respectively. Low-key values create feelings of mystery, drama, and gloom, whereas high-key values have the opposite effect. How lights are set up has a direct impact on the expressive feeling of a photograph. A  spotlight creates drama in stage photos, while angled light brings out high contrast.

6 Classic Design Elements for Better Photography

4. Texture

Texture is often a subject in macro photography. Textures are associated with patterns. When you get close to an object, its texture becomes a pattern. When you distinguish two different textures side by side, such as soft skin next to weathered wooden fence, it creates a strong visual impact.

6 Classic Design Elements for Better Photography

5. Color

I’ve talked about color in my previous posts. Color is used to pull a viewer into the composition. It also gives a sense of depth. When you isolate a strong color, it always makes a strong visual impact. Before pressing the shutter button, make sure to evaluate all the colors in front of you and think about how to organize them.

6. Space

In photography, space refers to the foreground, background, and depth of a photo. The area surrounding the main subject is just as important as the subject itself. Increasing the negative space around an object strengthens the composition of a photograph. Pay attention to the blank wall behind your subject and use it to your advantage.

In real life, several design elements work together to make a photo stand out. As photographers, our job is to identify, sort, and organize these elements to create harmony and unity in our work.

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