Sometimes what we feel are the smaller elements in our pictures are actually what makes the picture interesting. Photographers have a conscious or sometimes subconscious impulse to adhere to or break the rules that create visual harmony in their photographs.


Similarity is a concept that creates a calming effect in its viewers. Our eyes are drawn to patterns as a way of making sense of our surroundings, and this doesn’t change when looking at photographs. Using patterns in photography can create a sense of visual harmony, and familiarity.

In pictures containing patterns for example, the small elements that breaks the pattern could be something that’s a contrasting color. It’s part of our survival instinct to look at something that doesn’t fit correctly with its surroundings.

Negative Space

The space behind a subject with no elements that draw the eye. Minimizing dead space can be important, but it some instances it can create a powerful image. If the subject has nothing else distracting it, the viewer is limited to focusing on the only available thing in the photograph. The less options there are to look at, the more powerful the subject becomes.

We all have preconceptions about any particular object. We project the way these objects will affect the appearance of our photos before we even take the photograph, which end up looking better in our minds then they do in reality.

The tendency to focus only on the main subject, and consider the space surrounding it as something that can be fixed later diminishes the quality of a photograph. In order to achieve a harmonious picture, it’s important to consider all elements at once.


This is the logical element in photography that allows us to at least understand where the direction of the photograph. When something is too far off on the horizon to see, or too far out of our range of perspective we use lines and paths that direct our attention to we can assimilate based on our own logical reasoning capabilities.


Using all of the above knowledge about composition and psychological aesthetic, you can make people feel uncomfortable by creating something unbalanced, or even disturb them by blurring things into the background that are not represented that way in reality. For example you can make viewers feel at ease by incorporating symmetry, an element that expresses minimal conflict and even fairness.


Our brains also like to group things together to make sense of an image. You can also use this principle to group people or objects together to create common themes or meanings. Watch out for this one though, as proximity can also lead to issues. Your image has the potential to become abstract if its background has too many conflicting elements. If there is something behind the subject of the photograph it can skew the viewer’s perception.


Our brains have a tendency to fill in gaps of missing information as a way of finishing the story behind a photograph. This is important for abstract images, or images that feel incomplete. A photographer who leaves an image open to interpretation has created a large number of stories for the viewers to come up with. This creates a feeling of a chaos within an image, whereas an image with good set up for closure creates a sense of finality, and where circular thinking can be resolved.


Color is more than just a visually pleasing element, it contributes to so many things within a photograph. It creates the mood, sets the time, and frames the subject. Contrasting colors are eye-catching because they don’t blend into one another, they create indiscriminate lines in between two subjects that force the viewer to stare longer. Cool toned images can create a darker or mysterious image, where warm colors create a lighter and soothing image.


 We focus a great deal of our attention on light in photographs. The absence of light, is often overlooked. Shadows can help to direct the eye to a specific point, and helps to create the composition. They can also be used to add hint of drama, or interest to a photo. And of course, they can emphasize the light; drawing attention to highlights in an image. Having both present in a photo creates balance.

Deciding how to use these element is ultimately up to the photographer. Understanding elements of design and how they complement each other, can help the photographer set intentions for a photo and create stunning work.