The perceptive elements: direction, size, texture, colour, value.

These elements of design that I like to call ‘the perceptive elements’ are not as objective as the previously discussed elements. I say as such because the observation of such are often influenced by the perceptive interpretation by one’s mind, which is culmination of lifetime of personalised events and visual experiences.


Direction is – although strongly correlated- distinct from the principle of movement. Movement has more focus in leading our eyes to a direction and physically giving us sense of motion through visual perception. Direction, on the other hand, is fundamentally of orientation.

The shoreline maintains a horizontal sense of orientation/direction. The combination of water foliage, wide-ish angle atmospheric perspective (35mm, no crop factor) , and the overall spatial division emphasises sense of direction AND movement from the bottom edge of the frame towards the shore.

Upon this definition, I personally find direction as a guide for avoiding bad compositions, rather than an aid for making stronger composition. Directing elements can mislead, or even cause unnecessary movement in photos.

With that being said, though, simple vertical or horizontal definition can often make (albeit often clichéd) unified comps.


Size (and proximity)

Size is also something of relative term. Size is more often discussed in fraction of the frame. If it covers more a quarter of the frame, the element is pretty darn big. If it covers only a twentieth, it might be quite small.

Both the small-ness and the big-ness can be used for subject isolation as long as other elements and principles come into play accordingly.

No subject left behind


I do enjoy the occasional in-your-face comps. (quite literally)


Texture is the suggested tactile qualities, which can either be suppressed or emphasised by adjusting the lighting, the camera angle, or both.

You can inject extra life in geometric comps with texture.
You can inject extra life in geometric comps with texture.


I can TOUCH the rocks!
I can TOUCH the rocks!

With photography, you have it easier than painters and drawers. All you have to do is make sure the lighting is right: you don’t have to worry about emulation, rendering, and reproduction with proper technique. Here’s a thought of a learning traditional artist: USE THEM WHEN YOU CAN.


Color is a very complex, touchy subject. No matter how hard I try to be objective and informative as possible, any opinion or idea is going to piss someone off, and a ruthless debate may ensue.

Artists are often trained with the RYB colour wheel, but that goes down the drain because you’re not using pigments when photographing: you’re using light. Analogue or digital, you need to get used to using the RGB colour wheel for colour theory and colour schemes. With that being said, though; the colour yellow is often acknowledged as a fourth primary colour. It gets really confusing to a point where we all pull our hairs out.

Possibly the most relevant colour theory in photography is colour schemes – particularly complementary colours. RGB, RYB, CMYK, all these numbers and wheels are frustrating and confusing. The way I see it (which is not the only way of doing things): is Yellow v Blue = Warm and cool. Thus, yellow and blue are complementary while Green and Magenta are complementary since, well, it’s practically never disputed. Red is the strongest of hues, so it practically dominates all others. When used in moderation, its complementary hue is considered Cyan/Green.

Color overload

It is worth nothing that In the real world, it is usually difficult to find objects that are even near pure red. You usually see more green, blue, and a bit of yellow. Just look around you right now: I think most people will find fewer objects blasting with on-your-face red, except some red flower, perhaps.


In its essence, value is the amount (or lack there of) of light (or luminance). In design terms, value also considers gradation, level, or number of different ‘light values’. I am careful to not use the word contrast because contrast, in design terms, is associated as a principle, not an element. Photographers often throw the words such as bits, evs, stops in discussing value. These are often associated, however, with the overall light entering the camera, and has very little to do with value in photography as art.

When discussing value, we only talk of the value expressed within the image. In digital photography, your histogram is your available range of value. In today’s 8-bit imaging world, there are only 255 levels of value available in digital photography, period.

Black-and-White obviously helps you understand value in its pure luminance.
Black-and-White obviously helps you understand value in its pure luminance.

Returning to the subject, value is often associated with contrast. Value is not often appreciated for it’s same-ness. Rather, it’s differences, the way it changes, the way it molds, the way it transitions: that is how value presents itself on the frame. In the design world, contrast is associated with any perceived difference and change within the frame. Since value is rarely observed on its actual light-ness rather than that in relation (or contrast) to other elements in the frame, it is closely tied to the principle of contrast.

Black and white photography helps with learning strong composition and understanding. However, colour is also a visual and compositional element. Black-and-white is an artistic decision, an omission. Proper implementation of colour can do things black and white photos can never achieve.

I’ve been talking awfully about principles of design when I’m talking about elements. Principles of design is about manipulating the elements to achieve a desired effect, or feeling on an image. They are obviously more important when discussing compositions, but I do have to cover elements of design before going over the principles. I hope this post serves as a good foundation before understanding the principles of design for those who are not acquitted which such concepts.


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