CCS01I – Intro: Elements of Design

by | Mar 9, 2016 | (MON) Completely Composed |

Elements Of Design – Introduction

In this section, the first quarter of the Completely Composed series, I am going to breakdown and present the Elements of Design. Over the period of the next 13 weeks, I will explore these design elements, that have been identified as being critical components in photographic composition, through a series of articles, examples and assignments. Each element will be thouroughly explored for both its indivual characteristics in composition, as well as its interplay with other elements that might be present in a scene. As we begin to get a handle on recognizing the elements, we will mix in what’s known as the “Principles of Design”. The principles serve as a roadmap for how elements might be presented in a scene and ways by which elements can interact with one another. Over the course of the next 13 weeks, we will weave together both the elements and the principles into a set of visual clues and guidelines, you can use to idenitfy compelling composition within a scene given the available light.

Artists have, for many millennia, used the Elements of Design in the creation of their works. While there is no universal agreement on a single set of elements and principles, the vast majority of the listed components remain consistent between various texts, lectures and presentations on the topic. The elements and principles that I will present in this section, over the next 13 weeks, all serve to help the photographer both recognize and understand how foundation elements in a scene can and do affect the composition. as well as the look and feel, of a captured image.

Look And Feel:

While the moniker “Look And Feel” may seem like nebulous prose, it is indeed useful verbiage when discussing either existing images, or potential images you would like to create and the considered application of the Elements of Design, to a composition, can have a dramatic impact on the feel of an image.

As we cover each of the elements, I encourage you to pay attention to specific characteristics of that element and the ways by which those characteristics can convey specific emotional attributes to a viewer. Look for ways that element use and arrangement can effect:

  • Impression of order
  • Impression of chaos
  • Impression of strength
  • Impression of weakness
  • Impression of warmth
  • Impression of cold
  • Impression of serenity
  • Impression of tension
  • And the list continues on…

While the list of emotional characteristics is lengthy, it doesn’t take one long to see that evoking emotion, in the viewer of an image, is a good thing and having control over these elemental characteristics is indeed a powerful control mechanism in considering and creating compelling composition.

Meet the Elements:

I feel like this is a bit of a tease at this point. I keep talking about the elements, the principles and their interaction, yet I haven’t concretely spelled out any of them. Clearly that’s what the next 13 articles are for, so for now, let me at least give you an overview of what those articles will cover and the breakdown of elements and principles that we will be covering in this section of the series:

  • Lines
    • The study and recognition of lines, real or implied, that exist within a scene and how they effect the image.
  • Shapes
    • The study and recognition of shapes, real or implied, constructed from lines within a scene and how those shapes effect the image.
  • Direction
    • The study of the direction of lines and shapes, real or implied, that exists within a scene and how that direction effects the image.
  • Size
    • The study of the size of lines and shapes, real or implied, that exist within a scene and in relationship to one another and how that effects the image.
  • Texture
    • The study of the surface quality of a shape, the tactile sense of that surface and how that physical or virtual texture effects the image.
  • Color
    • The study of color(s) within a scene, their relationship to one another and the effect that that color, or colors, has on the image.
  • Value
    • The study of the tonal values that the color or colors within a scene display and the effect of those tonal values have on the image.
  • Balance
    • The study of elements, physical or virtual, that exist within a scene, their potential balance against one another and that balances effect on the image.
  • Gradation
    • The study of color temperature gradation and / or light intensity gradation in a scene and the effect that that gradation has on the image.
  • Repetition
    • The study of the repetition of elements within a scene, the dynamics of that repetitions and how both effect the image.
  • Contrast
    • The study of elements that are in opposition to one another, on the basis of light intensity, color value or contextual meaning, in a scene and the effect that that contrast has on the image.
  • Harmony
    • The study of elements that are harmonious with one another, on the basis of light intensity, color value or contextual meaning, in a scene and the effect that that harmony has on the image.
  • Unity / Dominance
    • The study of elements within a scene and the relationship those elements have in terms of geometry and meaning to other elements within that same scene and the logical connection that is displayed between those elements in the image.

Keeping Things In Order:

Before I send you off to the next article in the series, “Elements of Design”, I would like to call your attention to one additional thought. That is the notion of all things in good time, or to keep it simple, do the articles in this section of the series, in the order they are presented herein. Here is my thinking…

The articles in the Elements of Design section are really presented in a building block order, where the layers build upon each other to form a series of interdependent components that you can and will find in potential scenes. This really isn’t an order I have applied to my thought process, it is more of a natural order of things, when you think about the construction of scenes that you might interpret. Even underlying that, to a certain extent (and I am not trying to scare you off with technical verbiage here…), is a “construction” oriented view that really uses some innate principles of geometry and component interaction to both analyze and build more and more complex visions of a scene as you are considering what is and isn’t present within that scene.

I hope that didn’t come across as to “heady” at this point, because I don’t want it to sound that way. What I really want you to realize is this, there is an order to how you should deconstruct a scene and then how you should take those deconstructed elements in a specific way and consider how they interact with and build upon one another. By adhering to this order, early on, as you progress through this section of the series and begin to look at Rules of Composition, it will be easier for you to optimize scenes that are in front of based on the ambient conditions at that scene. This ultimately will have you carefully consider ambient light, its direction, your point of view in relationship to that light and ideally the quality of that light, when thinking about how to capture a scene in its ideal composition.

It is this order of consideration, that I am referring to in the previous paragraph, that will make the difference between saying “the light sucked” or coming home with compelling images, when others don’t. For now, trust me on this…


I hope you have enjoyed reading through this section introduction and are ready to head on into the first article specifically on an Element of Design, “Elements of Design – Lines”. I am sure you will find the next article interesting and I am further sure that if you have never had any experience with formal arts training and / or have never heard of Elements of Design before, that the article will have you quite intrigued. It will provide the basis for helping you to look at scenes in a new way, and as you continue reading through the articles that follow after that, that “looking” will become more and more meaningful and should, at least from a composition point of view, make more and more sense to you.

If I could give you one word of advice, as you process the next thirteen articles, it would be this…start to think about all the elements you are learning allow the way, in your day to day observation of things around. Even if you don’t have a camera in your hand, begin to inspect scenes from the standpoint of “how can I optimize the elements that are here” into a final composition that you know you have created and that you know says something compelling to you. This mindset won’t come to you in the first two are three articles, but about half way through the light bulb should suddenly pop on.


Series Schedule…

Quarter:Quarter Title:Week:Topic:Code
Quarter:Quarter Title:Week:Topic:Code
PreCompletely Composed - IntroductionWeek 00Completely Composed - IntroductionCCS00I
OneElements Of Design (EOD)Week 01EOD - IntroductionCCS01I
Week 01EOD - LinesCCW01C
Week 01EOD - Lines (More)CCW01M
Week 02EOD - ShapesCCW02C
Week 03EOD - DirectionCCW03C
Week 04EOD - SizeCCW04C
Week 05EOD - TextureCCW05C
Week 06EOD - ColorCCW06C
Week 07EOD - ValueCCW07C
Week 08EOD - BalanceCCW08C
Week 09EOD - GradationCCW09C
Week 10EOD - RepetitionCCW10C
Week 11EOD - ContrastCCW11C
Week 12EOD - HarmonyCCW12C
Week 13EOD - Unity / DominanceCCW13C
Week 13Quarterly ReviewCCW13R
TwoRules Of CompositionWeek 14ROC - IntroductionCCS02I
Week 14ROC - SimplificationCCW14C
Week 15ROC - Use Of SpaceCCW15C
Week 16ROC - Rule Of ThirdsCCW16C
Week 17ROC - Proportional RulesCCW17C
Week 18ROC - Balancing ElementsCCW18C
Week 19ROC - Leading Lines CCW19C
Week 20ROC - SymmetryCCW20C
Week 21ROC - PatternsCCW21C
Week 22ROC - Point Of ViewCCW22C
Week 23ROC - Foreground And BackgroundCCW23C
Week 24ROC - Depth Of FieldCCW24C
Week 25ROC - FramingCCW25C
Week 26ROC - CroppingCCW26C
Week 26Quarterly ReviewCCW26R
ThreeRefinements And TechniquesWeek 27RAT - IntroductionCCS03I
Week 27RAT - Working The Shape (Rectangles)CCW27C
Week 28RAT - Working The Shape (Circles)CCW28C
Week 29RAT - Working The Shape (Triangles)CCW29C
Week 30RAT - Working The Shape (Others)CCW30C
Week 31RAT - Left To RightCCW31C
Week 32RAT - Juxtaposition CCW32C
Week 33RAT - Shooting When You Are Not ThereCCW33C
Week 34RAT - Reflections, Angles And EffectsCCW34C
Week 35RAT - Illusions In TimeCCW35C
Week 36RAT - Time To GraduateCCW36C
Week 37RAT - Colors, Stars And FlareCCW37C
Week 38RAT - Cooking With GlassCCW38C
Week 39RAT - Optical ManipulationCCW39C
Week 39Quarterly ReviewCCW39R
FourBreaking The RulesWeek 40BTR - IntroductionCCS04I
Week 40
BTR - Ignore The ThirdsCCW40C
Week 41BTR - Defying BalanceCCW41C
Week 42BTR - Optical IllusionsCCW42C
Week 43BTR - Positive Versus NegativeCCW43C
Week 44BTR - The Non-Conventional FrameCCW44C
Week 45BTR - IsolationCCW45C
Week 46BTR - Chaos From OrderCCW46C
Week 47BTR - Working The Focus ZoneCCW47C
Week 48BTR - Shifting SymmetriesCCW48C
Week 49BTR - Breaking PatternsCCW49C
Week 50BTR - Feeling IsolatedCCW50C
Week 51BTR - Light, Bring Your OwnCCW51C
Week 52BTR - Plant And ShootCCW52C
Week 52Quarterly / Final ReviewCCW52R