Pin Me

The Principles of Design in Digital Photography

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/23/2011

Here is a look at the six key principles of design that are used in digital photography. Learn how balance, movement, repetition, contrast, pattern, and unity all contribute towards the effectiveness of your photographs.

  • slide 1 of 7

    Designing You Photograph

    An image in digital photography is not just a photograph in a passive sense, but an image like any other. To effectively put together an image of any form you have to have a concept of design. This sense of design is going to help guide you on how to bring together visual elements, themes, and ideas to work together to illustrate your final image. Here is a look at some key elements of design as used in digital photography.

  • slide 2 of 7

    Balance

    The balance of the image remains a clear point in photography design, and likely one you should focus on right from the start. There is a general sense of equilibrium in your image, and this is usually going to refer to how you balance objects in the image. There are a few principle ways that you can address this issue of balance in photography design, all of which refer to how things are placed in the image along both the three dimensional and two dimensional planes. Symmetry is considered a very formal form of balance in photography, and in art as a general rule usually. This means that the focus will be right toward the middle and each side of the image will likely reflect its opposite side. This is to say that it feels balanced. Asymmetry is much more informal and it is where the image is unbalanced, the focus is somewhere else in the image, and some areas have much more positive space than others. Asymmetry is usually identified as a much more active and interesting use of balance as a photography design principle.

  • slide 3 of 7

    Movement

    Movement in a still photographic image may seem counter-intuitive, but it is standard in the design of the photographic image. There is a pathway of different elements, especially lines, that will draw you through the image. This is where the image directs the audience how to view it, and it is central to the construction of that image. Look for ways to indicate movement, either in the image itself or from the viewer who is engaging the image.

  • slide 4 of 7

    Repetition

    Like the other photography design principles, you do not necessarily need to utilize repetition in every image. Repetition is a design principles that can end up allowing you to compose a visually striking image from a series of source objects, depending on what your concept is and how you want your image to appear. Try using repeating objects, specific images, or similarities to illustrate a point or visual motif that you like. Oftentimes the use of repetition may actually come at odds with other principles of photography design. This is often one of the key aspects of abstract photography.

  • slide 5 of 7

    Contrast

    Contrast, in digital photography, is usually just referring to the contrast between light and dark in an image. This is not always the case as contrast refers to the differences between different parts of the image, or parts of the image that are at odds with other parts of the image. This may mean a sad person in the foreground while children are playing in the background, or it can just mean the contrast of a person with a light skin color wearing a dark shirt. This may mean that you need to address issues around digital photography lighting, or really just the way that you arrange the basic ideas and subjects of your image.

  • slide 6 of 7

    Pattern

    Pattern draws on similar concepts to repetition, but is not going to really be as rigid. Instead, pattern is a way of formulating an image to highlight the commonalities in a series of objects or subjects within an image, not necessarily just highlighting the constant repeating nature of them. Pattern may be one of the most important photography design elements since it appears all over, both in the constructed and natural world, and is one of the ways that humans try to make sense out of the world. Finding patterns in your photographic image is a key way to approach composition.

  • slide 7 of 7

    Unity

    Unity is a specific photography design principle in that it identifies the totality of the image itself. The unity of the image regards the image itself as one single entity, rather than a series of competing parts or design elements. All the aspects of the image are to work together to create one solid piece, so you will also need to look at the image in a more grandiose sense if you are really going to see how productive the design elements will be. This unity should also be a key part of the post-production photo editing that you may do in a program like Adobe Photoshop.