August 04, 2020

Much of our daily lives are inspired by the way we live visually; the way we dress, how we furnish and decorate our homes and, on a global scale, our social media content. The photographs and selfies we post on Instagram document our lives in a creative and deeply visual form. In 2020, TRILLIONS of superior quality photos will be taken by people all over the world, thanks to the advanced technology featured in our smartphone cameras! Photo editing apps and filters can help to enhance your pics but one of the best ways to improve your photo-taking skills is to consider photo composition. Knowing the basic building blocks, or elements, of design will improve how you “speak visually” to your audience and make your photos stand out. So, if you’re looking to improve your understanding of smartphone photography and learn how to take good photo (and how to take a good selfie), then you’re in luck! We’ve asked our design team to put together the things you need to know about the 8 elements of design that can be used to develop your skills, and in turn, enhance a viewer’s experience of your photos. 


One of the most basic elements of design is the humble LINE. Lines are inherent in almost everything around us and are seen by the eye in all sorts of places - think trees, bridges, railway tracks, fences, architecture, books and even the humble zebra. Lines can be straight, curved, dotted, continuous, solid, dashed, flowing or angled. They can connect any two points or create energy (like wiggly or zig-zag lines) and movement by directing the eye (such as diagonal lines). Lines are effective at offering a natural edge (such as a horizon) or forming borders. But the best way to use lines in your photo composition is to use leading lines. Leading lines draw the viewer’s eyes into the photo and create depth. They start in the foreground and lead into the distance. Rows of trees, the water’s edge on the sand, roads and railway tracks are perfect leading lines! What lines can you see in your subject matter to draw the viewer into your photos?


Texture refers to the visual illusion created by the surface quality or feel of an object. Texture can add detail and depth to your pics and can be created visually by considering your subject in different ways or from different perspectives. For example, from close-up, on an angle, from below or a bird’s eye view, in a reflection or in relation to other textural objects (check our pics included in this post for some great examples of texture highlights!). The natural world is full of amazing textures and surfaces where photos in detailed perspectives work well. You can create beautiful abstract images by shooting contrasting textures adjacent to one another or layering textures. Focusing on reflected subjects in rippled water, glass or metallic surfaces is another great way to use texture. The character texture creates is a visual sensation or experience and can turn your photos from ho-hum to va-va-voom!!


We all know what shapes are right? Shapes are enclosed spaces or dimensions that can be used to add interest to your photos! They can be organic, geometric, hard-edged, abstract or symbolic and can be used on their own or in conjunction with one another to create form or pattern. Rows of windows or archways, repeated mosaic patterns or supermarket shelves stacked with rows of products (especially in foreign countries!) can create fascinating patterns in detail by cropping the shot. Like color, shapes can also evoke emotions. Heart shapes convey love while square shapes communicate security, trustworthiness, and stability.  Angular shapes indicate masculinity while flowing and curvy shapes like circles suggest femininity. Arrow shapes can lead the viewers eyes around your photo. Shapes also work well in conjunction with other elements (shapes and color are perfect partners so look for interesting shapes which are highlighted by contrasting background colors!). Shapes can be a powerful tool for shooting exciting compositions when they are highlighted by using different focal techniques. For example, when using portrait mode to focus in on a shape, you create a depth of field that draws the viewers eye to your focal point. Challenge yourself to find shapes through your camera lens!


Letterform or Type refers to textual elements in a composition. That includes fonts, their spacing, size, characteristics, and the way different text elements relate to each other. Type carries a visual weight and, like lines, instinctively draws the eye. Type can be seen all around us in our everyday life, from the words in signs and headlines to those in advertising and street art. Fonts help to tell the story of your composition where the choice of typeface conveys an emotion or mood (similar to the way color and texture can portray emotion). Playful, serious, purposeful, decorative, abstract or traditional, text can be functional and used as words to read. Text and language can also be used aesthetically as unique shapes or forms when it creates patterns. Even numbers, symbols and characters can create a visual element. Think numbered telephone buttons or scrolls of text in another language. Unfamiliar text or words can also be used to highlight the color of the object surrounding the words. Train your eye to look beyond the meaning of the words by photographing typefaces as a type of shape or color in your composition (even in a language you do understand!). This can be a great way of bringing another perspective to the written word and make your composition jump off the page!



When we talk about form in design, we’re referring to 3-dimensional objects. Objects in 3-D have dimension and depth and create the feeling of space. On a 2-dimensional surface, such as a photograph, form can be created by using the other elements of design such as shapes, lines, texture or even colors. Compositions that feature multiple layers create dimension and depth, moving effortlessly from the foreground to the middle and the background, so good use of lighting is often important. Creating space and depth by using shadows and light to tone, silhouette or profile objects means that multiple dimensions of your subject is visible. This will involve shooting photos from multiple different angles, not just from a front on view. Use your feet and move yourself around to capture close-up views or side views, or crouching down to shoot from underneath, will ensure you are seeing more than just the one side of your subject. Form creates interesting compositions by allowing the 3-dimensional quality of your subject to be the star of your pics!


When we talk about ‘tone’ in photos, we’re talking about light and dark or how a single colour can appear multi-dimensional because of the way shadows and highlights form over it. To emphasise tone, look out for things in our world that are single color but appear multi-dimensional because of how the light reflects within its space. Natural elements such as rock and wood are often amazing examples of how natural tones of colors (or colors within the same color ‘family’) can create very soothing and calm feelings within your pics. These can be warm shades such as the neutrals and browns of timber or brick, or cool colors such as the blue tones found in metallic surfaces or bluestone. By adding contrast to your tonal variation, you can create a different mood - the higher the contrast the more dramatic the effect. Soft, gradual or subtle tonal variation appears much gentler to the eye but can be just as intriguing! Get out in your garden or when next walking in the park, challenge yourself to highlight tone and see what interesting photos you can create!


The word ‘point’ may make you think of a small circular dot but in photography point often refers to a focal point. This is the place within a photo that our eyes are naturally drawn towards and grabs our attention. You can achieve a focal point through perspective (such as the use of leading lines where your eye follows from foreground to background). A focal point can also be created when your eye follows the edge of a building or structure (or The Great Wall for example as in our pic!) from one point to another or from one side to another such as in a shoreline. A focal point may also be symmetrically placed in the centre of your pic to draw the eye. The tip of a building can act as a focal point (particularly when combined with the use of line and shape). Other interesting photography methods involve a literal point - literally have someone point to the highlight, use color to advance a portion of your image or by having everything in the photo pointing to the same direction.  The use of a circular dot in multiples can create beautiful abstract textured surfaces! It's all about focusing your audience on the point in your image that can maintain the attention of your viewer. Be creative and have fun with points in your photos by thinking outside the box!


The effect color has on us has been studied repeatedly and it’s no coincidence that it is the universal language of design, psychology and marketing. It builds mood and characterizes different emotions and personalities. Red can signify anger, love or passion while blue represents the sky and creates a sense of peace, serenity, and freedom. Colors also have historical and cultural meanings - as children we learn that red means ‘stop’ and green means ‘go’, or that a purple heart is associated with courage. Light, soft pastel colors can suggest femininity, calmness and elegance while colors that contrast will create vibrant energetic and playful designs. In photography, it’s the play of colors in conjunction with one another that creates interesting composition. A riot of various colors can be just as pleasing to the eye as those working in harmony with each other. Or it may be that one colourful element within a neutral space that stands out and captures interest. Photography apps can also help to create amazing effects by playing with the tint and vibrancy of color! Pull out the photos on your phone and start experimenting with color on your existing photos and you may be surprised with the results!



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