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The Principles of Art for Digital Photography

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/18/2011

Here is a look at the seven key principles of art that are used in digital photography.

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    Art Photo

    Art, as a more general field of practice, has developed visual elements and principles over the multiple disciplines that it has spanned across. Digital photography has built on these principles of visual art and are now employing many of them in the construction of the photographic image. Here is a look at seven key principles of art that can be applied to digital photography, and how you may utilize them in the construction of your images.

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    The form of a photographic image really refers to the shape and dimensions of the image, which does not simply mean those of the photograph itself. The form of the photography goes into its use of the three dimensional space, or lack thereof. The way that the photograph utilizes the depth of the image, the width of the area, and the negotiations then of the objects within it. To try to engage the form in your photographic image you have to really find a way to take your concept and employ this use of form to illustrate your ideas or add to your composure. This, like the rest of the artistic principles, is going to be affected by your negotiation of the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

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    In a simple sense, color really refers to what can be seen of an object from the light that reflects on it, but color in photography is a central aspect of the image. The color will set the mood, diagram the exact nature of the object, give a spatial reality to the photographic image, and really acts as a key element of the photography art principles. Color is also important when it is lacking, or completely desaturated as with a black and white image. Here the nature of the binary color pattern and contrast in the photography will illustrate many of the photographic design principles that color illustrates.

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    Lines really construct the framework of an image, and that is not just true to the principles of photography art. A line is really a visual pathway to a point that moves through space, but every object and subject that can be seen is really composed of lines. What you can do when considering the principles of art in your photographic image is to play with these lines, especially since they will dictate the way that the viewer looks at and around the image. These lines can be both those that exist in the location or on the object, or it can be something that is constructed more or less and added to the image. The reality is that lines in photography can be something that just helps frame the image, or can be the subject of the photo itself. In these cases, the line usually jumps forward from its passive role in the background to the foreground, and this usually requires it to appear in an unnatural space.

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    The shape of the photographic image is closely related to the form of the image. Instead of negotiating the three dimensional area, shape really refers to the two dimensional qualities of the image. This is to say that shape is where the image utilizes the physical two dimensional limitations to draw out a quality in the image's design and approach to the art principles. The form and shape can either be at odds with each other or can be co-dependent, but this is really going to be determined by the subject and framing of the image.

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    Space is broadly considered the area of the image composition in photography design, but it can be broken down further from there. Positive space is the general area of the image that is taken up by shapes. Negative space is the area that is not taken up by those shapes, or the area that is absent of objects and surrounding the space. Both of these elements of space are incredibly integral to the composure of an image and, in many cases of abstract photography, there is not always a distinct line between the two.

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    Value, in the elements and principles of art, refers to the differences between light and dark. When the elements and principles of art are applied to digital photography you may find that value really ends up dealing with lighting, balance, and especially photographic contrast. Since contrast and value are such key elements to creating a visual art piece you will find that it really determines not only how the image is seen in terms of context, but the basic visual structure of that image. Value, like many photographic elements, can be worked on in post-production with software like Adobe Photoshop.

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    Texture may seem like it only appears as a principle of art in relation to fine arts like painting and sculpture, but texture applies just as much to digital photography. Texture really refers to the feel of a surface, which can be physical in with the fine arts or just visual with digital photography. Consider how the image may "feel" in a more abstract sense for the viewer, which will include not just the objects and environment in your digital photography image. The way that the other principles of art will play themselves out will help you to make a series of objects or surfaces have the correct appearance of texture. This is going to be affected by photographic lighting, the nature of the objects, how color is used, and basic composition.