Elements of Design

Line and shape
Literal lines do not exist in nature, but are the optical phenomena created when objects curve away from the viewer. Nonetheless, line-like shapes are for all intents considered line elements by the artist; for example, telephone and power cables or rigging on boats. Any such elements can be of dramatic use in the composition of the image. Additionally, less obvious lines can be created, intentionally or not, which influence the direction of the viewer’s gaze. These could be the borders of areas of differing color or contrast, or sequences of discrete elements, or the artist may exaggerate or create lines perhaps as part of his style, for this purpose. Many lines without a clear subject point suggest chaos in the image and may conflict with the mood the artist is trying to evoke.

Movement is also a source of line, and blur can also create a reaction. Subject lines by means of illusion contribute to both mood and linear perspective, giving the illusion of depth. Oblique lines convey a sense of movement and angular lines generally convey a sense of dynamism and possibly tension. Lines can also direct attention towards the main subject of picture, or contribute to organization by dividing it into compartments.

The brain often unconsciously reads near continuous lines between different elements and subjects at varying distances.

Straight lines
Straight lines are called linear when used in a piece of art work. Straight lines add affection and can make it look more detailed and challenging. Horizontal, vertical, and angled lines often contribute to creating different moods of a picture. The angle and the relationship to the size of the frame both work to determine the influence the line has on the image. They are also strongly influenced by tone, color, and repetition in relation to the rest of the photograph. Horizontal lines, commonly found in landscape photography, can give the impression of calm, tranquility, and space. An image filled with strong vertical lines tends to have the impression of height, and grandeur. Tightly angled convergent lines give a dynamic, lively, and active effect to the image whereas strongly angled, almost diagonal lines generally produce tension in the image. Viewpoint is very important when dealing with lines particularly in photography, because every different perspective elicits a different response to the photograph. By changing the perspective only by some degrees or some centimetres lines in images can change tremendously and a totally different feeling can be transported.

Curved lines
Curved lines are generally used to create a sense of flow within an image. They are also generally more aesthetically pleasing, as we associate them with soft things. Compared to straight lines, curves provide a greater dynamic influence in a picture.

In photography, curved lines can give gradated shadows when paired with soft-directional lighting, which usually results in a very harmonious line structure within the image.

A shape is defined as a two or more dimensional area that stands out from the space next to or around it due to a defined or implied boundary, or because of differences of value, color, or texture.[4] All objects are composed of shapes and all other ‘Elements of Design’ are shapes in some way.[5]

Mechanical Shapes or Geometric Shapes are the shapes that can be drawn using a ruler or compass. Mechanical shapes, whether simple or complex, produce a feeling of control or order.[5]
Organic Shapes are freehand drawn shapes that are complex and normally found in nature. Organic shapes produce a natural feel.[5]

In design, space is concerned with the area deep within the moment of designated design, the design will take place on. For a two-dimensional design, space concerns creating the illusion of a third dimension on a flat surface:[5]

Overlap is the effect where objects appear to be on top of each other. This illusion makes the top element look closer to the observer. There is no way to determine the depth of the space, only the order of closeness.
Shading adds gradation marks to make an object of a two-dimensional surface seem three-dimensional.
Highlight, Transitional Light, Core of the Shadow, Reflected Light, and Cast Shadow give an object a three-dimensional look.[5]
Linear Perspective is the concept relating to how an object seems smaller the farther away it gets.
Atmospheric Perspective is based on how air acts as a filter to change the appearance of distance objects.IN
Form may be described as any three-dimensional object. Form can be measured, from top to bottom (height), side to side (width), and from back to front (depth). Form is also defined by light and dark. It can be defined by the presence of shadows on surfaces or faces of an object. There are two types of form, geometric (man-made) and natural (organic form). Form may be created by the combining of two or more shapes. It may be enhanced by tone, texture and color. It can be illustrated or constructed.

The tree’s visual texture is represented here in this image.
Meaning the way a surface feels or is perceived to feel. Texture can be added to attract or repel interest to an element, depending on the pleasantness of the texture.[5]

Types of texture
Tactile texture is the actual three-dimension feel of a surface that can be touched. Painter can use impasto to build peaks and create texture.[5]
Visual texture is the illusion of the surfaces peaks and valleys, like the tree pictured. Any texture shown in a photo is a visual texture, meaning the paper is smooth no matter how rough the image perceives it to be.[5]
Most textures have a natural touch but still seem to repeat a motif in some way. Regularly repeating a motif will result in a texture appearing as a pattern.[5]


Japanese dark, light. A notan painting is a small, quickly executed monochrome painting that consists of simple shapes in a number of flat values.

positive and negative space

barry john raybould:

mass notan: rough plan of disrribution of light and dark shapes. 7 or less shapes.

contour notan: detailed exploration of exact contour of light and dark shapes

limited value study: quick painting in 3,4 or 5 values.

shape simplification. Merge shapes that have similar values into larger shapes of one


  1. Law of Proximity. Visual elements are grouped in the mind according to how close they are to each other.
  2. Law of Similarity. Elements that are similar in some way, by form or content, tend to be grouped.
  3. Law of Closure. Elements roughly arranged together are seen to complete an outline shape. The mind seeks completeness.
  4. Law of Simplicity. The mind tends towards visual explanations that are simple; simple lines, curves, and shapes are preferred, as is symmetry and balance.
  5. Law of Common Fate. Grouped elements are assumed to move together and behave as one.
  6. Law of Good Continuation. Similar to the above, this states that the mind tends to continue shapes and lines beyond their ending points .
  7. Law of Segregation. In order for a figure to be perceived, it must stand out from its background. Figure-ground images exploit the uncertainty of deciding which is the figure and which is the background, for creative interest.

‘Grouping plays a large part in Gestalt thinking, and this is known as “chunking.”


  1.  Emergence. Parts of an image that do not contain sufficient information to explain them suddenly pop out as a result of looking long enough and finally grasping the sense .
  2.  Reification. The mind fills in a shape or area due to inadequate visual input. This includes closure (above).
  3. Multistability. ln some instances, when there are insufficient depth clues, objects can be seen to invert spontaneously. This has been explolted more in art (M. C. Escher, Salvador Dali) than in photography.
  4. Invariance. Objects can be recognized regardless of orientation, rotation, aspect, scale, or other factors.

Michael Freeman The Photographer’s Eye p38

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