Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Classic Principles of Design (Image Making Series - Part Three)


To begin the design process using digital tools (Photoshop, Lightroom, Topaz) I chose the above image out of dozens of shots. It had the most pleasing balance of sky and land and the placement of the tree in the foreground against the background. This image follows fairly closely to the rule of thirds. The macro compositional elements were framed in place, but the overall image had many weak components. Many constituent elements of design were still very weak: color balance was weak, overall contrast was uninspired, foreground background separation didn't work, and center of interest was not honed. It lacked style, was not very creative, and much of the story is about texture... but what texture did I want to emphasize? The tree of course, but why? In relation to what? Is texture it, the whole story, or is there something else?

Using the elements of design I can begin the process of abstraction which I define as pulling out or extracting pieces of the whole and enhancing them for emphasis. The purpose is to abstract the component elements of design in order to hopefully create an image which adheres to design principles. In the end an image can be judged by looking at it through the lens of the PPA rules and the following classic principles taught in school.

Principles of Compositional Design

The principles of design are the recipe for a good work of art. The principles combine the elements to create an aesthetic placement of things that will produce a good design.

Center of interest (emphasis) - is an area that first attracts attention in a composition. This area is more important when compared to the other objects or elements in a composition.  This can be by contrast of values, more colors, and placement in the format.

Balance - is a feeling of visual equality in shape, form, value, color, etc.  Balance can be symmetrical or evenly balanced or asymmetrical and un-evenly balanced.  Objects, values, colors, textures, shapes, forms, etc., can be used in creating a balance in a composition.

Harmony - brings together a composition with similar units.  If your composition was using wavy lines and organic shapes you would stay with those types of lines and not put in just one geometric shape. (Notice how similar Harmony is to Unity - some sources list both terms)

Contrast - offers some change in value creating a visual discord in a composition. Contrast shows the difference between shapes and can be used as a background to bring objects out and forward in a design. It can also be used to create an area of emphasis.

Directional Movement - is a visual flow through the composition. It can be the suggestion of motion in a design as you move from object to object by way of placement and position.  Directional movement can be created with a value pattern. It is with the placement of dark and light areas that you can move your attention through the format.

Rhythm - is a movement in which some elements recurs regularly. Like a dance it will have a flow of objects that will seem to be like the beat of music.

I can't go great detail explaining any of the principles listed so far in this series. That's typically what is covered in several semesters in college. They are like the laws of thermo dynamics for physics or the elements of style in a writing course. All academic disciplines have their guiding principles, and only the professional or committed amateur makes an effort to master them.

That said, we all could benefit from at least knowing them on the level which can help answer a desire to do something with our pictures, besides framing snapshots.

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