7 Basic Elements of Photography

By Thomas James

Photography is the art of taking pictures with cameras. As with any art form there are certain rules and conventions, which are associated with particular ideas about what is considered beautiful or appropriate. There are seven basic elements in photography. These are composition, light, depth, line, texture, pattern and shape and the vantage point of the photograph.

Composition

Composition is the arrangement of objects in a photograph. There are various guidelines and artistic conventions that attempt to describe what makes a good composition. The most widely recognized of these is the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds involves dividing the rectangular frame of the photograph into nine equally-sized sections using two imaginary vertical lines and two imaginary horizontal lines. The photographer then tries to align the main objects of the photograph along the lines or at their points of intersection. This is believed to create a balanced and aesthetically pleasing composition.

Texture

Texture is a property of a photograph that inspires a sense of tactility in the observer: the photograph makes you want to reach in and touch it. The texture will involve the detailed surface properties of the object or objects depicted in the photograph. These can be irregularities in the surface of a piece of wood or the complexity of a patterned fabric.

Depth

Depth is the creation of a sense of three-dimensionality in a photograph. A sense of depth is created using focus, framing and angles. Focus involves zooming in on particular objects so they are crisp and clear and other objects are blurry and unclear. Framing involves identifying an obvious foreground object close to the camera, with the main subject of the photograph further away.

Line

Lines are the outlines of objects in a photograph. The lines of a photograph guide the eyes of the viewer around the photograph, and a photograph with interesting lines seizes the viewer's attention. Different lines can be used to convey different moods. Horizontal lines can be used to convey a sense of rest or stability. Vertical lines can be used to convey many different moods, such as power, strength and growth. Diagonal lines convey action and dynamism.

Light

At its most basic level a camera is a device for capturing and recording light, therefore patterns of light and shade are the most basic elements of any photograph. A photographer needs a deep understanding of how light affects the operation of a camera and how light affects the photograph produced by that camera. Key issues to consider are the level of light and the angle of light. The level of light in a photograph affects the level of detail visible in light or dark areas in the photograph: if the camera is exposed to a high level of light shaded areas will seem darker. The angle of light refers to the location of the original source of light in the photograph and determines the distribution of shadows in the photograph.

Patterns and Shape

Our minds automatically organize the things we see into patterns and shapes. Patterns and shapes can be aesthetically pleasing and draw attention to a photograph.There are three important aspects of patterns and shape: rhythm, symmetry and triangles. Rhythm is where a shape is repeated in a photograph. Symmetry is when a photograph looks like it consists of two objects that are mirror images of each other. Symmetry can be subverted so the two objects are similar but not quite alike, which can be used to highlight difference and contrast. Triangles are formed within a photograph by two diagonal lines. These draw the viewer into the photograph and make the photograph more interesting.

Vantage Point

The vantage point is the position from which the photograph was taken. It is the point of view of the viewer of the photograph. Different vantage points can convey different relationships with the objects depicted in the photograph. Viewed from a low vantage point looking up at an object conveys dominance, power and authority. Viewing from a level vantage point conveys neutrality and objectivity. A vantage point above and looking down on the object suggests vulnerability and weakness.