The Visual Language:

Photography is the art of ‘drawing with light’ in such a way as to take a 3d world and capture it on a 2d surface and make is appear in 3d.

I’m going to set aside the ‘exposure triangle’ and any discussion about focus and cameras and lenses for now.  I’d like to discuss what images do. In my mind, a bad image doesn’t do much. A good image will evoke an emotion, or start an idea. So, how do we get to ‘good’?

An image ‘should’ captivate the viewer or direct the viewer to the main subject that the photographer selected. Once you know what grabs the eye, this becomes much easier. This is all about how our eyes and brain are connected and how we process images. It really goes back a couple hundred thousand years. We see faces, circle, bright areas, areas of high contrast first. What part of a face has those attributes? Our eyes.

Next we look for lines, shapes, textures, and colors. When an image has these elements, it begins to captivate the viewer.

Video: Bridging the Gap: Classical Art Designed for Photographers 

Video: Visual Design Of A Photograph by Eileen Rafferty


Horizontal lines tend to give an image a static feel, at rest or relaxed.

Vertical lines tend to give an image a feeling of strength, or firmness.

The diagonal line tends to give an image a dynamic feel, like something is moving.

I’m not speaking strictly of a line as _____________, it could be a line of objects or shapes, anything in common.

Curved lines or the arabesque, draw our view along it.


Our perception tends to group similar shapes. See Gestalt Psychology. We also extend known shapes beyond the image. If you have a half-circle in the image, our minds will complete the circle.


With the correct lighting, a texture or surface of an object is what gives an object a sense of depth.


There are a few things to know about color. How and why colors contrast and what colors compliment each other. Colors opposite on the wheel will contrast and colors adjacent will compliment. Pretty straightforward. But which color appears closer to the viewer? Let’s go back to our hundred thousand year old brain. When humans were first foraging the savanna in Africa, the grass is orange and the sky is blue. Naturally, we would deduce that the orange was closer than the blue. The orange side of the color wheel we refer to as ‘warm’ colors. And the blue side we refer to as ‘cool’ colors. If you look at a landscape of a wheat field with a blue sky, doesn’t the wheat field appear closer? On a flat surface?

Our eyes and brain also correct for color temperature. What we see as ‘white’, the camera may see as blue. Or, what we see as ‘white’ at a high-school basketball game, is actually yellow from the tungsten lights. Don’t be discouraged, this phenomenon is easily correctable.

Video: Perfect Color in Lightroom with Tim Grey


The smaller the light source, the harder the light, which will have a strong contrast around the shadows. Our sun, while a massive object, is only the size of our thumb in the sky.

So, a large light source will have softer light, or softer edges around the shadows.

There is too much information about lighting for a single post.  Look for more details later!


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