Formal elements of a photograph

Updated April 17, 2017

Good photographs are not a chance happening. They must include basic elements to draw the eye and create wonder. Formal elements are the core behind several principles that create an overall statement for the photo. The elements are also used by art critics to analyse the meaning behind the photograph. There are seven elements photographers use in photography.

Lines and Shapes

The most basic elements in a photograph are lines and shapes. Lines structure a photograph, leading an eye from one side of the photo to another. Lines can also create more complex shapes in a photo or add depth. Poles, roads or train tracks are examples of lines in photos. Shapes are created from lines and can be natural shapes such as a rock or geometric shape such as a triangle. They can add two- or even three-dimensional quality to a photo.

Forms and Value

Forms and value make a photo more complex. Forms are three-dimensional shapes such as pyramids, boxes or balls that add width, depth and length to a photograph. A bat hitting a ball is an example of two forms that may appear in a photo. Value is light and shadows that appear in the photo. The contrast between black and white can add depth and more shapes or lines to a photo. For example, the sunlight behind a bat striking a ball may form a shadow on the ground. The lines on the edges of the bat will draw your eyes down to the ground or in the direction of the ball.

Space and Color

Space and colour are the way a subject fills up your photograph. Space is the area between and around objects. Space may make an object appear large or small. It can also make something look beautiful, ugly or shocking. Colour can have a similar effect and assists in defining the other elements in the photograph. Colour can also inspire emotions. If a ball is blue, it evokes a different emotion than if it is grey.


Texture is the surface quality in a photograph. Texture is implied in a photograph by the positions of subjects in a photograph. A branch may appear jagged, if not for the soft bird sitting on it. Texture provides the photograph with realism and character, often evoking emotions through actions or contrasts in texture.

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About the Author

Maria Woehr is a journalist with over 10 years of professional writing experience. She started editing in 2006 and has been published in "The Westfield Leader Times," "Insurance & Technology Magazine," "InformationWeek," "Positive Thinking Magazine," "Go Magazine," "The Deal," "The Financial Times" and many other outlets. She is a graduate of Boston University and has a master's degree from Drew University.