The Elements of Art in Photography

The Elements of Art in Photography

In fine art of any media, there are seven basic elements of art. There are also the principles of design, but I will get to that in another post. I learned the elements of art while studying fine arts at Young Harris College. While we only applied these to other mediums such as painting, charcoal, and pencil drawing, they are just as applicable to photography!

The seven elements, in no particular order, are texture, line, color, shape, form, tone, and space. This post will just be a short description of each element along with an example. In the future, I will go in-depth with each of the seven elements and how you can apply them to your own photography.

While most of the tutorials online are about technical things such as sharpness and contrast, there isn’t much information about the artistic side of photography. Using these elements when setting up and framing your shot can really turn your photograph into a work of art. Basic composition like the rule of thirds may do wonders to your photography, but considering some or all of these elements will make your work something people will really love!

Here are link to each of the future posts.

  1. Texture
  2. Line
  3. Color
  4. Shape
  5. Form
  6. Tone
  7. Space

The first element of art that can be applied to any subject matter is texture.

Texture

Texture is pretty self-explanatory – finding things that have interesting textures and including them in your photograph. For portraits, a textured background such as a worn, rustic barn can make your subject stand out and give you an creative background. Textured skin adds character to interesting people, giving them a story.

Texture

The texture of the water in this photo makes it MUCH more interesting than just a photo of still water.

Line

Line can mean a few different things. Leading lines can move your viewer’s eyes throughout a photograph – diagonals are great. Repeating lines that fade in to the background will bring the viewer’s back in to the picture. Lines aren’t always straight; the “line” of a model’s body can create an “S” shape that will lead the viewer’s eye all along her body.

Line

Notice the “lines” or fingers in this fly fishing photograph all lead your eye straight to the subject.

Color

Color is a very basic element. The primary colors of red, blue, and yellow can be mixed together to create secondary and tertiary colors, eventually creating the “color wheel.” Colors opposite each other on the color wheel are complementary and work well together. This is why you always see red with green (Christmas), blue with orange (sports team), and yellow with purple (Lakers).

Color

The orange hair and the blue sweater in this portrait are complementary colors.

Shape

Objects in your photo such as a rectangular door, a round tree, or square tiles add “shape” to an image. These can be used as “frames” for your subject or just to add an interesting piece to your art.

Shape

The round shapes in the above photo are what make this image what it is.

Form

Form is what takes your two-dimensional photograph and makes it appear life-like and three-dimensional. This is usually achieved by controlling the light on your subject. There are many different lighting setups for portrait photography that will give form to your subjects in varying degrees or shape and intensity.

Form

Using carefully placed lights will add light and shadow in the right places in order to give a three-dimensional appearance to the photo.

Tone

Tone is using varying degrees of light and dark to add contrast and give liveliness to an image. Black and white photos rely completely on tone because of their lack of color. Tone can be used to make your subject stand out through contrast.

Tone

Don’t be afraid to use tone to really isolate your subject, especially in a black and white image.

Space

Space is another element that gives depth to your image. All images should have some kind of foreground, middle ground, and a background. This is a simple way to move your viewer’s eye all around your image and even back in space. Space also can refer to a positive and negative space in your photo. Positive space is taken up by something such as your subject. Negative is an “empty” or “blank” space, which may still have something in it. Negative space is what is in between all the positive space.

Space

Notice the distinct foreground of leaves, mid ground of the rocks, and background of the trees in this photograph of a creek.

If you enjoyed reading this, please be sure to share the link below and send to someone you think might be interested!

In the next few days, weeks, or however long it may take, I will go in-depth with each individual element of art and how to use it to improve your photography. If you want to follow along, be sure you “like” the Facebook page, or even subscribe via email on the right of this page!

Here are links to each of the future posts.

  1. Texture
  2. Line
  3. Color
  4. Shape
  5. Form
  6. Tone
  7. Space

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed reading the elements of art in photography series, you’ll want to check out The Principles of Design in Photography.

 

5 Comments

  1. I love reading your blog and can’t wait to hear about the hike that is coming up. I will be sure to follow up.
    your cousin marisa sims

    Reply
  2. Wonderful blog. I look forward to seeing the rest of the examples posted and to your blog covering the principles of design! I really appreciate how you tie these in to photography specifically. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Thanks for checking it out!

      Reply
  3. This is a wonderful learning tool that I share with my photography students regularly. It puts the terms into language that any high school student can understand, I wish the textbooks were as good. I look forward to the completion of the list.

    Reply
    • That’s good to know! I just added the next element of tone.

      Reply

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