12 Principles Of Design In Photography & Art

Jeff Picoult

By Jeff Picoult

Last updated:

ELEMENTS of DESIGN Vector Sketch Notes

The allure of photography lies in its ability to communicate and evoke powerful emotions in viewers. But have you ever wondered how it achieves this? The secret formula for these compelling images requires a harmonious alignment of elements and principles of design photography, which sets professionals apart from beginners. If you want to level up your skills, scroll down to learn!

12 Basic Principles Of Art And Design In Photography

The 7 foundational principles of photography are balance, pattern/repetition, emphasis, contrast, rhythm, movement, and unity/harmony. Besides that, other elements like lines, shapes, textures forms, etc., also contribute to the beauty of an image.

1. Balance


Balance indicates the even distribution of visual elements within a photograph. This makes sense when the human brain naturally appreciates compositional harmony. In the field of photography, professionals often apply one of these three types of balance:

  • Radial balance: Elements are scattered throughout the frame but still draw the viewer’s eye towards a central focal point.
  • Symmetrical balance: Elements on one side of the composition mirror those on the other.
  • Asymmetrical balance: The two halves of the composition display opposing elements in color, texture, shape, or other characteristics.

2. Rhythm


This design principle of photography shares the same meanings as those in the music field. Similar to how notes are distributed on a musical staff, photographers strive to arrange subjects within a confined space to maintain their coherence and individuality.

From our experience, artistic rhythm is developed through progression, alternation, or repetition of elements. However, experts sometimes struggle to master this aspect and bring their ideas to life. Finding the sweet spot between artistic arrangement and monotonous repetition can be a fine line to walk.

3. Pattern


Pattern refers to the synchronization within a frame, or in other words, the intentional organization to evoke specific emotions in viewers. You make a pattern whenever you create a role element and repeat it. Thus, your design achieves unity to convey a common thought.

Do not mistake this concept for mere monotonous repetition. An example of pattern creation can be found in the intricate geometric configurations of symbols and colors known as “mandalas” found in Indian art. To achieve this effect, select a focal point, such as lines or shapes, and arrange them at various positions within the photograph.

4. Emphasis


Even if multiple elements are present in the frame, it is still best to establish a focal point. It stands out thanks to its strategic location, size, color, and other distinguishing features. Think of a portrait where the subject appears sharp and clear while the background is blurred with a beautiful bokeh effect – an example of emphasis.

This setting determines how viewers engage with your work. For instance, audiences land their eyes first on the only brightly colored subject in a dark scene, shaping their perception of the entire image.

5. Contrast


Contrast occurs when at least two opposing elements appear in the same frame. It adds depth, visual intrigue, and a narrative quality to a photograph. Photographers have added multiple pairings to their toolbox of contrasts, such as light-dark, warm-cool, big-small, and more.

But contrast goes beyond the obvious. For example, capture round water droplets on the smooth and blurred surfaces of florals. Alternatively, placing curved and straight lines nearby also creates the primary point of interest.

6. Unity


Also known as harmony, unity represents the feeling of everything in your photograph fitting together seamlessly. Whether you’re using contrast, balance, or any other principle, the key is to ensure these elements work together as a whole.

Even a small misstep, such as an awkward perspective, incorrect exposure, or harsh cropping, can disrupt this harmony. Therefore, work carefully with elements of art to maintain visual relationships.

Furthermore, it is important to establish a clear and consistent concept. Pre-visualization empowers photographers with better control and precise idea development.

7. Movement


This term refers to the representation of a subject in motion within a photograph. It is closely tied to the direction in which the human eye naturally scans an image. Technically, motion represents the relationship between the moving subjects and the camera’s shutter speed.

This dominant element helps enhance dynamism and direct the viewer’s gaze. From our observation, photographers often employ three techniques to convey movement in their portfolios: motion blur, suspended motion, or visual flow.

8. Perspective

Newbies often position their lenses parallel to the subject. However, it is not the only perspective to approach in your shooting sessions. Trying different angles brings a fresh and captivating dimension to your images, unleashing your boundless creativity.

For example, taking photos from below makes your subject appear powerful or majestic (like an awe-inspiring shot of skyscrapers reaching the sky). On the contrary, a top-down angle highlights the spirit of strength and dominance.

9. Hierarchy

Which primary details do you want all viewers to focus on? Once you find the answer, establish the hierarchical structure within your photo. This principle consists of three levels – most important, average, and least important, to position elements of photography in your visual composition

In most cases, objects placed in the center always grab attention first. Additionally, studies have shown that our eyes follow a “Z” or “F” pattern when scanning a scene. So, use these insights to your advantage!

10. Depth Of Field

Depth Of Field

Besides the seven principles of art, depth of field, which controls how much of your image appears sharp, from front to back, plays a vital role. It comes in two types: large and shallow. The first one indicates that the main subject should stand out. In other words, the background is intentionally blurred to eliminate any distractions.

On the other hand, a shallow depth of field maintains all the background and foreground in focus. This setting allows the viewer to explore the scene with clarity and detail.

11. Proportion


Proportion involves size relationships between objects and their actual dimensions. We have two common approaches: perfect or distorted scaling.

The first approach represents subjects in their true-to-life proportions. Conversely, distorted proportions magnify or minimize objects based on the desired visual effect.

12. Light

Lighting plays a vital role in how we perceive a scene. Just as our eyes cannot see without light, lenses require proper light settings to accurately capture an image. This entails controlling the intensity of light passing through the camera’s shutter.

Lighting also includes illusions to achieve depth, balance, and other aesthetic effects. One common example is to control the direction of shadows by adjusting the direction of the light source.

6 Key Elements Of Design Photography

Elements Of Design Photography

1. Lines

Lines shape and form everything around us. In photography, this factor contributes to directing the audience’s attention and conveying the photographer’s emotions or insights.

2. Shapes

Shapes are formed when at least two lines converge. In photography, shapes serve multiple purposes, including framing objects based on a specific hierarchy and adding depth through lighting or silhouette techniques.

3. Forms

Simply put, forms represent the dimensional shape of objects, adding depth to the picture and creating a strong sense of realism and authenticity. Though photography captures the world in a two-dimensional plane, advanced techniques, especially lighting, can create lively shots.

4. Textures

Texture is all about the way things feel – rough, smooth, soft, bumpy. However, it is quite difficult to fully capture textures in the 2D world. Fortunately, lighting techniques can give you a hand. By playing with light and shadow, photographers can create the illusion of texture and make surfaces appear alive.

5. Space

Space in photography plays a vital role in shaping the perception of depth. It represents the relative distance between objects and the overall perspective portrayed. 

In the world of art, there are two types of space: negative and positive. Negative space refers to the area occupied by the focal point within the composition, while positive space indicates the background that surrounds and interacts with the primary element.

6. Colors

This term covers saturation, brightness, and hue, which are used to distinguish between objects and colors. It is divided into warm and cool tones, each evoking a distinct mood and vibe. 

Even if you shoot in black and white, the absence of color still holds a huge impact. These monochromatic images possess a timeless quality and often leave a lasting impression.


The principles of photography are not all about jargon; they should become your sidekicks to capture pieces of true artwork. Don’t limit yourself to any techniques. Think out of the box and experiment until you can bring your vision to life!

Share on:
Jeff Picoult

Jeff Picoult


Jeff Picoult is a seasoned photographer, who blends artistry and innovation. With a humble approach, he captures moments resonating with depth and emotion, from nature's beauty to the energy of sports.

Leave a Comment