From The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos


The vocabulary of design is made up of what we can call graphic elements, the two-dimensional forms that appear inside the picture frame. In classic design theory, relating to painting and illustration, it is not so difficult to isolate these marks and forms on the paper from real subjects; the things that they might be used to represent. Painting and illustration offer no compulsion to be realistic, so that an abstract treatment of the basic elements is perfectly acceptable to the viewer.

In photography, however, this is not completely straightforward. We come back to its unique property, that its images are always taken directly from real things. The marks on a photographic print are never the same as those drawn by hand. They always represent something that existed. This by no means invalidates the idea of graphic elements, but it does make them more complex in the way they act.

The simplest elements of all are points, which tend to draw attention. An order higher than these are lines, which are valuable in directing and creating vectors. An order above these are shapes, which have the role of organizing the elements of an image and bringing structure. What we choose to identify in a photograph as a point, line, or shape often depends on how we ourselves choose to consider an image, and this can be influenced by the content and our understanding of and interest in it.

All three groups are intimately connected, because the simplest graphic elements...

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Topics of Interest

OVERVIEW Another perspective on composition in photography is that of the distribution of tones and colors. This is intimately connected with exposure and with the ways in which this is later...

ANTICIPATION The less control you have over a shooting situation, the more valuable it is to have an idea of what may happen next. Though largely irrelevant in studio work and other kinds of...

Aims To develop an undrstanding of how visual elements imteract with each other and with text to convey specific messages. To develop an awareness of the techniques employed by individuals in the...

Adding Texture Texture is a traditional photographic visual element that is often overlooked when working digitally. All but the highest quality professional films have visible grain when they are...

THE SEARCH FOR ORDER All the visual arts depend heavily on ordering the various elements according to the artist's preference, with the assumption that the visual impressions presented by the world...