Garry Black Photography


When you look through the viewfinder rather than looking at your subject what you should be doing is breaking down the scene into its graphic elements. The graphic elements are line, shape, patterns, form, texture, tone and colour. These are all strong compositional elements that can be used effectively to reinforce an image and its impact and bring simplicity, harmony, and balance to your photographs.

Good composition has little to do with what the subject is, but is much more about subject placement and/or arrangement. Looking for the compositional elements placing or arranging the subject within the frame, it will make the difference between a strong and a mediocre image.


LINES have a strong impact on composition. All lines are created by tonal or colour contrast. They are effective for moving your attention within the picture space. As with all composition, there really is only one rule and that is 'keep it simple'. The use of lines in an image can be very effective, but will be most effective if kept simple.

The intersection of different lines within an image can be useful to draw the eye towards the subject. However, a certain amount of caution is required, if there are too many lines you are likely to create a more complex and chaotic image. If you see a line that can be used in an image, try to isolate it and then experiment with different camera positions to see how it alters the position of the line within the picture space.

The expressive strength of lines comes primarily from their length and position. Generally speaking the longer the line, the further it leads us visually and the greater it's total psychological impact.

Vertical lines generally convey a sense of height, stability, strength, and grandeur. While horizontal lines will often suggest stability, calm, tranquillity, peacefulness, and expansiveness. Tree trunks, mountains and tall office buildings are good examples of strong vertical lines. Flowers in a field, the flatness of a desert scene or a prairie landscape or a lake and ocean panorama are scenes that show the expansiveness created by horizontal lines.

While diagonals and curved lines are active, they create tension and provide perspective. Curved lines may impart a more sensuous or graceful feeling to a picture. A curved of a blade of grass combined with a soft diffused background creates a very gentle image.

Diagonal lines or a diagonal placement of a subject within the frame creates a more dynamic image. Diagonal lines add a certain tension to a photograph by giving the impression of movement, change and instability. Unconsciously we see a diagonal line as being temporarily out of position. That instability creates an impression of dynamic movement. This is a technique that car manufacturers use when photographing "sports type" cars. The car will always be show at an oblique position, suggesting its "dynamic character".



Lines have spaces between them, and the position and length of the lines and edges of the picture determine the shape of these spaces. This combination of lines and edges then can be said to be responsible for creating shapes. These shapes are powerful visual elements, sometimes they more important than the lines, which create them. Consider the shape of a silhouette, it has more visual importance to us than the lines/edges that form it.

There are three primary shapes, they are the square, circle and triangle, and these have strong graphic qualities. If you have one or more of these shapes or implied shapes in your image, they will draw attention to themselves and hence to the subject matter of that shape. The square being the least visually powerful of these shapes, as it is composed of stable lines (verticals and horizontals). Circles and triangles are more dynamic. They are extremely powerful in commanding the viewer's interest. In addition to the primary shapes, secondary shapes are also formed, ovals, rectangles, polygons and numerous other variations. These also play an important roll in the visual design of a picture.

Remember basic principle of good composition - keep it simple. By isolating simple shapes you are reducing and simplifying the composition, thus creating an image with impact.



When repetition of lines, shapes, form or texture occur at more or less regular intervals, a pattern is created. A pattern is basically a rhythm within an image, which provides a sense of order and simplicity. Patterns increase the symbolism of their components.

The major compositional consideration with patterns is how much to include, too little and you undermine the sense of order that comes from repetition, too much and you can create a confused image. To develop a pattern you must fill the entire picture with it. Using a macro or telephoto lens will narrow your perspective of the scene and are perhaps the best lens to use. The problem with using wide-angle lens is that they create a pattern where the foreground units of the pattern are larger than those in the background. This results in a visual effect that gradually recedes from the viewer and therefore diminishes the visual impact.



When we look at anything, the primary impact of its colour is on our emotions. Colour stimulates an emotional response. In autumn we go crazy taking pictures of all the red, yellow and golden trees. But, then we put our cameras away when the world turns brown and gray, until next spring when the world comes alive again with colour.

During those months that are in the absence of bright colour it is much easier to see and understand the visual element of FORM. We tend to identify physical objects by their form, and respond to them in terms of their colour. All black and white photographs and colour photographs that contain only one colour, composition depends on form alone. Colour has a tremendous emotional influence, but not in picture organization.

Form has four basic components: line, shape, texture, and perspective. All of these are made visible by differences in the intensity of tones. But their appearance is modified by the quality of light and its direction. When the intensity, direction, or quality of light changes - lines, shapes, texture, and perspective change and the appearance of form is altered.



Texture refers to the roughness of a surface. But, how do you show texture which has a depth dimension in a picture that is two-dimensional - only height and width. We can show actual lines and shapes on film, but we can only reproduce the illusion of texture, not the texture itself.

Lighting can enhance or diminish this illusion. The direction of the light dramatically affects the appearance of textures. Back lighting and side lighting produces very strong impressions of texture, this is because the shadows are clearly visible creating abrupt tonal contrasts with the brightly-lit areas. Whereas front lighting diminishes the surface roughness because the contrast that produces the shadows is missing. On overcast days the light reaches an object or scene more or less equally from all directions, tonal contrasts are also missing. However if a range of tones is present in the subject itself, we will perceive the surface roughness. As you would find on a beach with round cobbled rocks or the weave of grasses in a field.