Look into your photograph, past it’s content.
See it’s composition and you are suddenly able to break your picture down into its component parts. Understanding individual visual elements in an image can help you to capture the eye of the viewer. It’s these elements that make the eye work to absorb the content of an image.
What are the ‘Visual Elements’?
We make sense of the world by building a picture of it in our heads. We recognise objects in our environment because our eye/brain system is able to see/analyse the edges, contrasts, light/shadow/dark, colours and perspectives we see on and between them. Our ability to analyse these patterns gives us an understanding of the world we see.
To make a picture photographers look for strong visual elements through the lens. Then we strive to use them for the picture. A great deal of the creative work in photography is to remove content that doesn’t contribute to the point of an image. So we seek a point of view that isolates what we want to show.
Having isolated distractions the next job is to ‘see’ the subject in the ‘best possible light’. This English idiom is not just waffle (especially for photogs). It is really about using the edges, contrasts, light/shadow/dark, colours and perspectives mentioned above. Finding ways to use these effectively is what will draw the eye in our images.
My list of things we physically see is not detailed. It turns out that we can pin-point specific ‘visual elements’ in a photograph. Research in art has isolated these elements. They are…
- Line (The path of a point, or implied path of a point, through space or over a surface.)
- Shape (A two dimensional enclosure created by a single line – may be geometric or freestyle.)
- Form (A three dimensional object which has a ‘mass’ or ‘weight’; a shape with depth; physical width/height/depth.)
- Space (Positive space: the subject or dominant object in the picture plane; Negative space: the background area. Space can occupy the outside, inside or surrounds in a depicted object.)
- Texture (The presence of an apparent surface that would have a touch/feel character of its own.)
- Colour (Reflected light of particular wavelengths in the visible light spectrum.)
- Value (The brightness/lightness/darkness/colour intensity.)
More after this…
Examples – a slide show!
Some of my definitions above are, perhaps, difficult to understand until you put them in context. Here is a short slide show by Kelly Parker. The examples really show the visual elements well. Click the bottom arrows to move back or forward on the slides.