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Principles of Photo

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

The basic principles of photography help in clicking better pictures. Some of these elements are borrowed from the arts theory. Below are the principles of photography that we use to arrange the elements of photography and compose them to create visually impacting photographs.

⦁ Unity or Harmony

We can say that unity exists when all elements in the image are in harmony or agreement. Especially when you are composing several elements, it doesn’t matter if you’re using different elements as long as each of them belongs to the composition and all these parts are equal as a whole.

The photo above can be separated into parts but is unified together to form a complete composition.


Once your eyes are trained to look for the elements in a photograph, you’ll realize that they are all around us. However, you don’t want to pack all of them in a single composition. So having a balance in the composition is crucial to have a sense of stability and having equally spread visual weights in your image.

There are three ways to achieve balance in an image:

Symmetrical balance – This is also known as ⦁ perfect balance. In the photo below, for example, both sides of the image have the same elements.

Asymmetrical balance – Balance doesn’t always mean you need to have the same elements on both sides of the composition. Sometimes a balance can be achieved by playing with shapes, colors and textures to make sure that the different elements in your image give a feeling of the same visual weight. Using the rule of thirds can achieve asymmetrical balance. You can also achieve this by putting two subjects of different importance together, that contrasts with each other in terms of size, color, depth, etc.

⦁ Radial balance – This is a type of balance that is based on a circle with all elements arranged around a central point like they are radiating from it. The photo below is a good example of achieving a radial balance.

⦁ Emphasis

Emphasis is used to create a sense of visual dominance to a certain element to draw the viewer’s eye to important parts of the image. This can be achieved through differences in size, depth, and color.

The photo in example 1 is using size for emphasis. The trees and grasses below were given a rather small area of the composition to emphasize the blue sky.  The photo in example 2, on the other hand, achieves emphasis through depth.

⦁ Proportion

Proportion or scaling is using different sizes of elements to attract the viewer’s attention to a certain subject. The photo below is a great example of using a proportion to make a rather small subject look greater than life.

⦁ Contrast

The contrast in photography is just a position of two or more different elements with the purpose of letting one element pop out compared to another. This is easily achieved through using highlights and shadows or by using complementary colors. Silhouette images fall into this category.

Rhythm or Repetition

This is pretty self-explanatory. When an element occurs over and over again in a composition, it creates rhythm or repetition.

⦁ Movement

Movement is leading the viewer’s eye through your photo onto a certain focal point. The photos below are great examples of achieving movement in an image:

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