Definition: Principles of Art (effective composition)

Principles of Art | Glossary entry

Principles of Art (effective composition)

[Note: Sometimes called the “Principles of Design”].
The “Principles of Art” are about how to use the “Elements of Art” (“EoA”) to compose images. The aim is to achieve a strong, aesthetic outcome, with appeal for the viewers eye. These principles pull together the basic elements in the scene (Line, Shape, Form, Space, Colour/Hue, Tone/value and Texture) and help you to use them effectively.

Not all authors use the same definition of the principles of art as the ones below. Some of the principles of are so intimately mixed, that people sometimes combine them. No matter how they are presented by different authors, the Principles of Art are listed below.

The Principles of Art – the basic meanings
  • Balance: This principle is about creating a visual equilibrium between elements in the picture. Maintaining a balance means not overpowering the picture, for example, with powerful elements that draw the eye when they are not the main point of the image.
  • Contrast: brings out the conditions within the picture that emphasize differences, conflicts and opposition between the elements.
  • Emphasis: The establishment of a focal point, or centre of dominance in a picture. Often this principle is about drawing the eye to the key interest, what you want the viewer to see.
  • Variety: A type of visual interest that draws the eye through a number of different visual components.
  • Unity: The concept behind the picture, the comprehensiveness of the scene, the oneness of the message.
  • Harmony: Overall visual continuity achieving the unity in the theme; the wholeness of the elements; simplicity; uncluttered; conditions that emphasize similarity, peace and flow.
  • Proportion: Controls the size relationships of the different elements or components in the scene.
  • Rhythm: The use of visual elements to induce regular movement, a visual repetition or tempo to parts or the whole of the image.
  • Movement: Can be either a combination of elements to depict action/movement; or a dynamic design to draw the eye through the picture.
  • Pattern: The repeating of one type of element to create a picture (or form a major part of one).
  • Repetition: A combination of elements used many times to create a harmonious whole.
Using the Principles of Art

Of course, there is more to understanding composition than simply learning the words. As a photographer you are an artist. You will need to cultivate how best to analyse a scene using the “EoA” and then decide if the relevant aspects of the principles of art help you to achieve a harmonious, complete, artistic piece, or whether you have discord or lack of interest in your picture so the viewer loses connection with it.

Using both the “EoA” and the Principles of Art takes practice and effective application. By the latter, I mean that when your work is appraised by others you can improve through those critiques. Consequently, you can develop an appreciation of how the Principles of Art work. Moving forward from this article, you would need to do deeper research on the topic. This means you will learn to appreciate how the work of others has achieved excellence. Learn to analyse the images of other photographers and artists and you will begin to understand how these principles work. As you analyse the works of others, think about how your own work could be improved as you use these principles.

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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+.

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