The rapid breakthroughs of smartphone technology have made it possible for everyone with a cellphone to snap a good photo, edit it for artistic effects, and share it with millions of viewers worldwide. With the popularity of photo filters, smartphone photography has enabled anyone to show off their creative visions. While photography is easier now more than ever, not every photo paints a thousand words. Photography as art requires skills. That is why professional photographers study and learn the basic elements and principles of photographic composition to understand what exactly are required to create a captivating image. 

The basic elements of photography are the foundation of good photographic composition — or any art form for that matter. Each element individually adds a unique quality to the photo. These elements are line, shape, form, color, texture, pattern, and space.

In this article, we will explain each of these elements to help you make more creative decisions when taking or editing a photo.

Line

We can think of a line as a set of connected points. While a point usually draws a viewer’s attention to an object, lines create a path for the audience to follow in your image. 

Lines can be vertical or horizontal. They can also be straight, curved, or jagged. Common examples of lines you see in a photo are roads, bridges, and the division between the sky and the sea.

Unlike in geometry, anything that connects two or more parts in a picture can be considered a line in photography. For example, a photo of jagged mountain ridges. Lines can also be imaginary. For example, a woman looking at a flower. While we may only see an empty space between the woman and the flower, we understand that there’s a connection between the two elements.

In photography, lines serve a unique role in connecting two different elements. They also create structure and guide a viewer’s attention towards the subject we want to emphasize.

Among the basic elements, line is said to be the most important. When used correctly, lines can communicate emotions. For example, horizontal lines convey a sense of rest and calmness, while diagonal lines suggest movement or direction.

Color

Color is probably the most exciting element that we love to see in a photograph. Colors not only make photos attractive but also set the mood and communicate certain emotions. 

In photography, colors are usually classified as either warm or cool. The colors red, yellow, and orange are considered warm colors and often suggest energy and liveliness.

Cool colors like blue, purple, and green evoke a sense of peace, sadness, or calmness.

Colors create artistic effects in a composition. In most cases, it makes the biggest difference in a photo. Each color has its own emotion and contributes so many visually appealing effects. Even a black and white photograph has its own dramatic effect.

When you compose your photos, it is important to understand first what message and mood you want to impart to your audience. It will help to recognize the inherent qualities each color brings to your composition. You can pair warm colors with cool tones to create captivating contrasts and eye-catching images. If you want to communicate a more unified message, using one or two dominant colors will achieve this.

Shape

In photography, shapes are any two-dimensional representation of objects. A rectangular door, square tiles, or a solitary cloud floating in the sky all add “shape” to a picture.

There are different varieties of shapes. It can be as obvious as the shape of a crescent moon or conceptual as the shape of a smiling face. Each shape has a unique emotional impact and holds the power to attract the attention of viewers. A circular shape often evokes peace, while a triangle may portray something dynamic.

Shapes also create structure in a photo. For instance, taking a picture of a curved cloud over a curved valley gives the image a circular composition.

Some photographers emphasize interesting shapes by using a silhouette effect. The clearly defined shape of the subject against the background conveys a dramatic contrast, which engages viewers.

Form

Unlike shape, form is a three-dimensional representation of objects in a photograph. By adding thickness to shape, we create forms.

Photography is usually two-dimensional. To create the illusion of depth and represent the third dimension, photographers use forms. By using lighting and shadows, we create a three-dimensional image to make the object appear more life-like. 

Photographers utilize different lighting setups to give form to their subjects in varying degrees and intensity. By carefully controlling the lighting on the subject, you can add highlights and shadows in your image to create an illusion of thickness or depth.

Texture

We also use lighting to emphasize the details that are on the surface of the object, whether they are rough or smooth. These details are known as texture. 

Texture adds a sense of tactility to your photo. Capturing the texture of a person’s skin, for example, makes the photo more interesting and gives it a unique story. Texture also helps convey a certain emotion. An image of jagged mountains or smooth pebbles lying on the shore has different moods to share.

When taking a photo, you must decide on the overall creative vision you want to share. Objects that have more texture easily capture the viewers’ attention. However, having too much texture in areas that are less important in the photo can be distracting.

Since a picture is two-dimensional, conveying how an object feels can be challenging. To maximize texture, you may manipulate the lighting and shadows in your picture. 

Pattern

Photographers use repetition of shapes or textures to create a pattern. Pattern provides a sense of similarity in the photo, which has a calming effect on viewers. 

In real life, patterns offer a sense of security and help us make sense of our surroundings. This concept is the same in photography. By using patterns, photographers create visual harmony and familiarity in their photos. Patterns are great focal points for the audience, which enable photographers to take attractive and familiar images.

Sometimes, we look for things that don’t fit well with the surroundings. This is part of our survival instinct. For this reason, photographers add elements that break the continuity of patterns, such as adding a contrasting color. By breaking the harmony in a photo, we create a more dynamic composition.

It’s easy to capture patterns, especially in natural and man-made landscapes — a picture of a bird’s feather or a high-rise building with large rectangular windows, for example. While patterns are everywhere, you should carefully observe patterns that create unique repetition and interconnectedness, or an element that conveys a sense of disconnect from the world. This will help you share a compelling story that engages your viewers more.

Space

Space, in photography, can either be positive or negative. Positive space is the part of an image that usually attracts our attention first, such as areas with visual weight or high levels of texture. The subjects of our image take up the positive space in our photos. Negative space, on the other hand, is the “filler” or the “blank” areas in between positive spaces.

Like form, space adds depth to your photos. By using the concepts of foreground, middle ground, and background, we guide our viewers all around our image. Space also creates distance between objects and portrays specific perspectives and proportions. 

The element of space is crucial in building your photo composition. Images with so much positive space may feel crowded while having too many negative spaces makes it feel empty. If you want to capture a photo of a busy cityscape, having a lot of positive space may communicate a sense of urgency. If you want to evoke a sense of isolation, taking a picture of a tiny subject against a vast scene will achieve this effect.

Conclusion

Just like any art form, photography has no actual rules set in stone. Even if there are any, they are always meant to be broken. Instead, there are elements and principles that every photographer, whether amateur or pro, must know and utilize to create the most captivating composition.

Every picture is a unique story. This is why it’s important to consciously and intentionally use these basic elements. Using them wisely and creatively will lead to more photographic opportunities that will truly showcase your artistic view of the world.

Nowadays, creating captivating photos is much easier than ever. With a lot of photo editing apps available, such as MyZesty, it is more convenient to maximize the elements in your photo. 

MyZesty is a new photo editing and sharing app that allows you to edit photos using basic and advanced features without the complicated steps in other photo editing apps. The app’s cropping tool and other adjustment settings enable users to utilize the rule of thirds and adjust lighting, shadows, and colors with ease. This will help you maximize and highlight the elements in your image for more artistic photographic composition. To learn more about MyZesty, download it here for free!