Easy introduction to ‘visual elements’ in photographs

Look into your photograph, go deeper than it’s content.

Examine the composition of your image. Go beyond it’s immediate pictorial display. Look into the basic structure and you will be 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.

Visual elements shown in a slide show.

Image taken from the slide show below shows how the visual elements work.

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 and 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 an image, 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.

The Elements of Art

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 visual elements. They are called, by artists, “The Elements of Art”. There are seven of them…

  • 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 freeform.)
  • 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.)
  • Value (The brightness/lightness/darkness/colour intensity.)
  • Colour (Light of particular wavelengths in the visible light spectrum.)
  • Texture (The presence of an apparent surface that would have a touch/feel character of its own.)
  • Examples – a slide show!

    Perhaps, some of my definitions above are difficult to understand. If you can put them into context it will help. 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.

    Download a Presentation Transcript of the slide show.

    Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

    Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

    Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
    See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
    See also: Profile on Google+.

    9 responses to “Easy introduction to ‘visual elements’ in photographs

    1. Another great slide show Damon! Very thorough!

    2. Cathy Donohoue

      This is one of your best tutorials!
      You made it easy for me to see some of what I am doing correctly and incorrectly.