Photography aesthetic elements

In photography aesthetic elements are arranged in a scene to form a particular visual outcome, called composition. Composition can also be about picking a viewpoint to form a pleasing visual outcome. In practical terms, the photographer tends to use both “arrangement” and “choice of viewpoint”.

In general, composition aims to direct the viewer to see the point of the photograph. The “point” may simply be an aesthetically pleasing scene, or something containing a more complex story. Even a visually disturbing or discordant outcome are the result of efforts in composition.

The finer points of a particular composition relies on a range of “photographic elements” and the “principles of photographic art” for using them.

The visual elements in a photo have attributes, which are called the “photographic elements”. These are…

  • Line – lines and edges that the eye follows within the scene.
  • Color – the variety of colors and individual hues (and intensities/brightness of each).
  • Shape – a two dimensional area, marked out by edges, which exhibits similar textures/colors and may be geometric or defined by organic or natural processes.
  • Form – three-dimensional structure with length, width and height.
  • Tone – shade and light variations that define ‘form’ persuading the eye of its three dimensionality.
  • Texture – the surface detail of ‘shapes’ or ‘forms’ that persuade the eye they would have the feel of the real thing if touched.
  • Space
    1. Positive space – the space occupied by a shape or form.
    2. Negative space – the space between shapes or forms.
  • Depth – the viewer’s perception of distance between ‘foreground’ and the ‘background’ in the picture.
  • Sharpness – the degree to which an object or particular part of the picture is sharp or blurred.

How the individual elements are used are the “Principles of photographic art”. They may be defined as the organization of the elements of a picture. They are arranged into a coherent or harmonious whole (sometimes known as the “Unity”). The whole creates the picture and the photographer intended statement for the piece. These are…

  • Unity – the concept of the whole piece, how it forms one piece and how well the elements are organized overall.
  • Harmony – a consistent overall theme, which seeks to make a well-ordered and simple outcome. The aim is to reduce discordant and unnecessary elements.
  • Color – individual colors act as independent elements in a picture. Overall control of color, its contrasts and complementary properties make it an important part of the organization of the picture.
  • Variety – the degree to which different type of things, forms, and shapes are used. This is also about how contrast and emphasis are deployed.
  • Movement – shows action or partially completed action, implied movement into a scene or along a line. Movement can also be through the expression of motion blur. It may even the passive control of eye movement through the scene using elements of composition (particularly lines and edges).
  • Contrast – expressed through light and shade; brightness and darkness; color differences; texture variations; pattern differences; juxtaposition and so on – contrast has a powerful effect on the eye.
  • Balance – the arrangement of elements to create a harmonious distribution of visual weight in the picture. If an element occupies too much of the picture, or seems too heavy the picture is unbalanced. The eye tends to be drawn to the heavier elements.
  • Proportion – the relative size of shapes and forms; the relative quantity of an element; or the relative quantity of different elements
  • Pattern and rhythm – use of recurring elements in an organized or rhythmic way introduces a dynamic to the picture. Pattern and/or rhythm can be used to imply movement, activity or organization.
  • Geometry – the way shape and form are organized overall. Is the picture constructed using symmetry/asymmetry, the golden mean, rule of thirds or other geometric principles to organize the final picture.
  • Focus – through the depth of field, focus controls how much sharpness there is at any given point or individual element and where that sharpness is centered. The eye is naturally drawn to the sharpest part of the picture. However, the transition from sharp to unsharp can be relatively abrupt. Equally it can be distributed through the depth of the picture. Focus also includes the quality of the unsharp (blurred) areas of the image (bokeh).
  • Viewpoint – often not considered a principle of art. Viewpoint is important in the principles of photographic art. The birds-eye view, adult eye-height view and ground level view offer three very different perspectives and probably different elements of the same scene. The point of view is therefore be an important principle in organizing individual elements.

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