Formal or Basic elements are like alphabets in visual arts. When we acquire a new language we learn alphabets, build vocabulary and learn grammar rules to express our thoughts, ideas or feelings. We further polish our language skills with regular practice by reading, writing and speaking. In the same way basic elements are very much like alphabets and words which when composed using design principles can result into a beautiful visual poetry. Let's get acquainted to these elements.

Please note that these elements are arranged as per hierarchy of complexity.

0. Ground


Ground can be understood as an empty canvas which is nothing but a blank space on which we arrange various elements. This process is called organizing space, if done well, it results in harmonious & attractive images. Ground can be white, black, solid color, texture or pattern. A photographer carefully needs to compose an image by placing subject (figure) in a way that emphasizes the subject and tells the story. Organizing space is governed by two principles known as visual weight and balance. Intersection of the two diagonals is geometrical center of the canvas. Optical center lies just above the geometric center (the red dot), this is the point where viewer's eye will rest on an empty canvas. Elements need to be balanced about this optical center; vertically, horizontally or diagonally. As one moves away from the center towards the corners, visual weight increases. There are four such locations of maximum visual weight (the blue dots).

1. Point (or Focus)


(Photograph by Ashish Bharti)

It is a small area of maximum contrast in the image. A point forms a visual center of gravity where the viewer's eye will rest. A second point of interest introduces a LINE. it may be actual line or perceived (optical) line.  The second point in order to make a line must be similar in some respect such as color, texture or shape to the first point.As soon as a third point enters the frame our brain perceives a triangle made up of three points.  These three points will be mentally grouped and shall be interpreted as a group and no more as three single points. Triangle is perceived even if there are no visible lines connecting three points.

2. Line

Lines are the edges formed when tonal value changes. A black line on white background is change of white to black and then back to white. In photography, it could be a real line formed by sudden or gradual tonal change.


Use of Horizontal Line by Florianritter Use of Vertical Lines Use of Diagonal line by Ashish Bharti

Alternately,it could be a perceived line formed by gaze, a pointy shape or maybe two similar figures mentally perceived to be connected to form a line. There are various type of lines such as horizontal line, vertical line, curved line, diagonal line, irregular line.  

3. Shape 


(Photograph by Ashish Bharti)

Shape is a two dimensional entity having length, breadth and will enclose some area. Basic shapes are triangle, rectangle, square, rhombus, trapezium, circle, ellipse, etc. More complex shapes can be generated by using intersection or union of these basic shapes. In visual arts, for a shape to work, it usually is supposed to have some geometric recognizable character to it. It may have distinct color or texture or pattern or tonal variation which will make it stand out from the background. Area around a shape is referred to as negative space. Composition in photography is a careful arrangement of shapes & negative space to convey meaning to the viewer.

4. Form


(Photograph by Ashish Bharti)

Form is three dimensional entity and has volume. It's difficult to learn how to represent three dimensional form in two dimensional photograph. Having concrete knowledge of human depth perception helps a photographer to effectively compose forms. You may accentuate or subdue a form by using certain angle and lighting.

5. Texture


(Photograph by Ashish Bharti)

Human vision & Sensory touch are closely related. Seeing a crisp and rough texture may evoke a strong emotional response by recalling from past experience. Texture also helps to depict depth in a photograph.

6. Pattern

Humans like looking at patterns & trying to find the missing pieces in a pattern. This can be used to make photographs interesting by using patterns effectively. A patterns is usually formed by repetitive point, line, shape or form. 

7. Tone


(Photograph by Ashish Bharti)

Tones are complete shades of grays between pitch black to snow-white. Tones can be of any color. An image with predominantly white side tones is called as High-Key image while an image with predominantly black side tones will be called as Low-Key image. The more tones are represented in an image the better will be contrast in the image. However, it up to the photographer to make an image of high contrast or low contrast depending on creative choice.

8. Color


(Photograph by Ashish Bharti)

Color is a very complex and important concept in photography. Sometimes it can be a distraction while other times, if composed well, it becomes soul of a photograph. There are three primary colors namely; red, yellow & blue. However, human eye comprises cones cells of three kinds namely; red, green & blue. Colors can cause varying emotional response from the viewers. Composing colors in your images can be challenging as colors' meaning may vary from culture to culture.  

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