Elements of Design

I have come across many elements of design from multiple references. But this manual will enumerate them as prescribed by Bryan Peterson in Learning to See Creatively.


Line is the most basic, and perhaps most powerful of all the six elements, as described by Peterson. Lines evoke various senses and feelings, depending on how straight or curved they are, and their orientation. It also directs your eyes to move at a specific direction across an image.

The Atomium, Brussels, Belgium (2011) ISO 1000, f/5, 1/100sec
The Atomium, Brussels, Belgium (2011)

The above picture contains several prominent lines. The curves provide a sense of space within the tube. But the more prominent elements are the diagonal lines along the tube that lead your eyes towards the same directions as the escalator.


An arrangement of lines can make up a shape. Next to lines, shapes are the most fundamental of the elements of design. It is also the principal element of visually identifying a subject.

Maritime Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (2011) ISO 100, f/6.3, 1/160sec
Maritime Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (2011)

The frame of the glass roof is populated by dozens of lines. That is obvious and was, in fact, the first thing that caught my attention. However, the combination of the radial and tangent lines created the circle. The lines intersecting with each other, in turn, creates a lot of other shapes — triangles, quadrilaterals, pentagons and so on. You’ll even see stars. These, I think, are the more interesting element in the frame.


It can be difficult to differentiate shape from form. It can also be a point of confusion in class. But the bit of information to cling to is that shape is a flat construct, whereas form is three-dimensional. Form adds a sense of depth and perspective to a shape.

Eger, Hungary ISO 1600, f/3.5, 1/50sec
Eger, Hungary (2014)

As opposed to shooting perpendicularly, the slightly diagonal perspective from where I shot the above picture made the subject more identifiable — a cathedrol dome. The perspective also gave a sense of how high and how tall it is. It also provides a more telling view of the structure on which the murals were painted over. I also don’t think the inscriptions would be legible or even visible had I been directly below the center of the dome.


Texture is more commonly associated with our sense of feel. However, texture can also elicit a sensation just by being looked at. A subject’s roughness or smoothness can evoke strong and deep emotions from viewers. On the other hand, texture is not as visually obvious nor is it instinctively or habitually the first thing a photographer notices or intends to capture, unlike lines, shapes or forms.

San Francisco, CA, USA ISO 500, f/8, 1/80sec
San Francisco, CA, USA (2013)

There are elements in the above picture which you might be able to notice first. But it is also a juxtaposition of two powerful textures — what I presume to be the warm and soft fur of the squirrel (I didn’t touch it) and the hard, rough and dry wooden bench. Close inspection of the picture can lead to you being able to imagine these textures and perhaps, almost feel them yourself.


Pattern can be described or defined as an arrangement of shapes or forms that can be considered as organized or consistent. This perception of organization gives a feeling of stability or security and of course, predictability.

Singapore (2014) ISO 200, f/14. 10sec
Singapore (2014)

Two levels of patterns can be identified in the Sky Garden — the branches of the man-made trees, and the arrangement of the trees, both of which make for interesting landscape architecture.


Of all the elements of design, there is none more obvious than color. It is often the first thing a viewer notices in an image. Colors can elicit or suggest what may as well be the widest variety of feelings among all other elements. Each color is associated with different and sometimes disparate types of emotions or perceptions. Green can be associated with freshness on one hand and envy in another. Blue can mean coolness or loneliness. Red — there’s life and love and then there is anger. Those are only three sample colors, and yet there is a huge gamut our eyes can identify.

Delft, The Netherlands ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/200sec Post processed
Delft, The Netherlands (2011)

While by no means, a colorful picture, notice how that lone green light dominates the picture. It’s the first thing you notice. It may even be the only thing that matters to some viewers. While it is enough to illuminate some of the computer parts in the picture, it also somehow conveys a sense of cold and darkness in the frame.


Peterson, B. (2003). Learning to See Creatively: Design, color and composition in photography. New York, NY. Random House, Inc. pp. 48-85

Jirousek, C. (1995). Introduction to the elements of design. Retrieved December 17, 2015 from http://char.txa.cornell.edu/language/element/element.htm.