Back to Basics 1: Photography

On 31 August 2014 by Alisa Damaso

KC thought it would be fun to do a Back-to-Basics series of different media for those creatives who want to try something different every now and then. Our first post touches on using the Elements and Principles of Design in photography. If you love snapping photos, grab your camera and try these exercises!

Creating visually beautiful photos and sharing them with others is one of the funnest things about photography. However, there’s more to it than just pointing your camera at something and clicking the shutter button. Sometimes you’ll want to design and set up a shot using certain guidelines. Whether you’re an enthusiastic hobbyist or someone who loves capturing special moments with your camera phone, try using the elements and principles of design the next time you look through your viewfinder. Check out the examples below. All photos by Alisa Damaso.


The Elements of Design

Photo by Alisa Damaso
Line and Direction

Horizontal lines can evoke a feeling of serenity, vertical lines imply balance, and oblique lines signify movement. This shot from the top of the Eiffel Tower shows the vertical, converging direction of the city streets, leading the eye up to the horizon. 

Photo by Alisa Damaso

Whether positive or negative, organic or geometric, use differences in value, color and texture to create interesting shapes in your photograph. In this photo, the octogonal shape of the skylight in this dome is repeated and enlarged, radiating outward to create a bigger octagon at the base, all the while leading your eyes around the center.  

Photo by Alisa Damaso

Play with size and scale to create illusions, or to accentuate or understate an object. How big is this puppet? Without relating it to another object, the size of which I already know (like a person or an actual guitar), these puppets may appear life-size. 

Photo by Alisa Damaso

Get up close to an object or take advantage of directional light to represent the texture of a surface, or even to create a pattern. Here you can see the detail of the wall — all the pores and breaks of the limestone — because I chose to show the wall at the corner where it meets a flush side. 

Photo by Alisa Damaso

Use color and temperature to emphasize your focal point, balance an image, or create a moody atmosphere. In this photo, notice the warmth of the yellow lights being dispersed by the cold fog over the empty road, creating an eerie atmosphere. 



The Principles of Design

Photo by Alisa Damaso

Create equilibrium by capturing symmetry, circular radiation, or varied tones. “A large shape close to the center can be balanced by a small shape close to the edge,” Lovett says. Similarly, “A large light toned shape will be balanced by a small dark toned shape,” and keep in mind that darker shapes appear heavier. 

Photo by Alisa Damaso

Gradation adds a sense of movement to a shape and helps the eye travel comfortably across your photo. Produce different perspectives by applying gradation of direction and size, color from warm to cool, or tone from dark to light. Here the splatter of color gets more intense when you move your eyes from left to right. 

Photo by Alisa Damaso

Create an interesting image by introducing an element of variation in a series of similar shapes. That way, each shape requires careful consideration from the viewer. These meaty hors d’oeuvres are essentially the same object repeated, however they all differ slightly in assemblage and positioning. 

Photo by Alisa Damaso

Use the opposition of distinct forms, lines or colors to intensify the properties of each element in your photograph. Ideally, your point of interest should hold the most contrast, unless your goal is to create a chaotic image, in which case — go crazy! Here you’ll notice the stark difference in the cool tone of the sky and the warm color of the rusty silo.

Photo by Alisa Damaso

If your photos need a little pep, applying one or more of the elements can help create dominance in your images: maintain unity while contrasting size, shape, color or positioning while your main focal point remains dominant. The crab on the top of the pile sticking out of the water is perfectly in focus and is clearly the dominant figure of this photo, as I used a low f-stop to blur the crabs in the background. 

Photo by Alisa Damaso

Apply the elements to create a linear or tonal link between shapes in your photo. “Relating the design elements to the idea being expressed,” Lovett says, “reinforces the principle of unity.” For example, these geese at Hyde Park in London are at varying distances from one another, creating an illusion of size variance.  

Alisa Damaso

Alisa Damaso is an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer based
in the San Francisco Bay Area. She enjoys the magic of the outdoors,
watching campy horror movies, and singing songs about food getting
stuck in her teeth. Her hand is married to a pencil and she never leaves
the house without a sketchbook.

Twitter LinkedIn    

Leave a Reply