Design rules: Staging motifs skilfully

Design rules: Staging motifs skilfully

Good pictures literally lie in the street. You just have to see them! If you start using basic design rules when taking photographs, you can skilfully stage your motifs.

Photography has relatively little to do with talent. Sure, a certain talent is helpful. But luminaries, no matter what their field, will confirm, that excellence in performance is all about persistence and hard work. In short: Successful pictures are no coincidence. They always follow a creative concept. In practice, this means: You can simply stick to your motif. Or, what is much more efficient: Consciously apply design rules and work systematically.

Photographing instead of just taking pictures

Only when you do that, you stop taking pictures and really start photographing! Systematic means: looking for and recognizing a good motif and then thinking about how best to stage it. So it’s all about exploring the design elements of a picture BEFORE you press the shutter button.

Conscious photography: With these nine rules good pictures succeed

Sure: Sometimes a good composition can be achieved by just taking pictures. Unfortunately, this is then only a random product.On the other hand, if you have internalized the photographic 1×1, you develop your own style, you can play with elements or break rules skilfully. What ambitious photographers should master – the following list gives an overview.

1. Recognize design elements of a motif

On closer inspection, we find a combination of design components in each photo. For example, lines and vanishing points, contrasts, patterns, reflections, symmetries, frames etc. Maybe the picture even corresponds to the rules of golden cut. All these elements guide the viewer’s gaze and influence the effect and also the expressiveness of a motif.

2. Picture Format: Portrait or landscape, panorama or square?

The image format is a very decisive design element. It underlines the effect of a motif: Portrait format creates dynamics, while landscape format brings calm to the composition. The classic camera format corresponds to an aspect ratio of 4:3. But there are still others: for example the panorama format 16:9 (particularly suitable for extensive landscapes and horizontal lines) or the square 1:1 format (creates a particularly modern look & feel). When taking a picture, however, the choice of portrait or landscape format is initially only important. The actual aspect ratio can best be determined afterwards on the computer.

3. Picture Detail: Emotion vs. distance

Once you have decided on a format, next step is to select the image section. Concerning the effect of the picture, one can basically say: closeness creates emotions (for example in a portrait) – the background is faded out, the picture focuses only on the subject. Wide-angle pictures, on the other hand, are distanced. They place the object to be photographed in context with its surroundings. Image details can be varied in two ways: By changing the focal length of the lens. Or by varying the distance between camera and subject.


4. Perspectives: Vary the angle of view

The viewing angle also influences the image effect. It can be changed playfully through movement (e.g. kneeling, lying on your stomach, climbing a wall etc.). A deep perspective (frog’s-eye view) adds dynamics. It makes objects appear larger. Top views (bird’s-eye view) have exactly the opposite effect: they make objects appear smaller, but they give a good overview. The so-called central perspective is most familiar to us. It corresponds to our usual view of the world. It reproduces the motif undistorted and with the usual look. But that’s exactly why it often seems very boring.

5. Lines and Escapes: Create image depth

Lines, especially when you are running towards a vanishing point, give a photo spatial depth. They create, so to speak, a 3D effect in a two-dimensional image. For vertical lines, a portrait format is suitable. Horizontal lines are best captured in a landscape format. Same applies to similar formations, such as staggers, overlaps or curves. By the way, if vertical lines do not run parallel to the edges of the image, they are called converging lines in the technical jargon. Everyone who has ever tried to photograph a building knows them.

6. Symmetries and Areas: Playing with harmonies and dominance

We find symmetries to be particularly harmonious. Also because nature is a true master in this. Through our everyday life they are very familiar to us – just think of faces, flowers, buildings, vehicles etc. The situation is completely different with surfaces. They have a signal effect in our perception. We find rectangles, circles, diamonds or squares particularly dominant. We know these shapes from street signs, for example. They act as a kind of eye-catcher for us because we know that they have a meaning.

Design rules motifs

7. True Motivators: Colours and contrasts

Contrasts form the soul of a picture. They create great emotion. Opposites can be expressed in the most diverse pairings: large & small, thick & thin, old & young, angular & round etc. Light also creates contrasts. On the one hand by its intensity (light / dark), on the other hand by its temperature (warm / cold). Complementary colours (those colours which are opposite each other in the colour circle) also form a contrast: for example blue & yellow or red & green. Especially with colour contrasts can be played very well when taking pictures. Those who know the theory of colour types and work with complementary colours will create a special harmony in their picture.

8. Golden cut and rule of thirds

The golden cut is considered the mother of all design rules. The ancient Egyptians already worked with it. We encounter it in many areas of everyday life. However, we often do not consciously perceive it. In essence, it is all about creating harmonious asymmetries. In other words, proportions placed in harmony with one another within the picture structure. The smaller part of the picture is in relation to the larger one, and the larger part to the overall picture. A somewhat more practical variation of the golden section is the so-called rule of thirds. For its application a line grid consisting of two horizontal and two vertical lines is helpful, which divides the picture into nine equal parts. The rule of thirds says: In order to create a special harmony in a picture, the important picture elements are not placed in the middle but on one of the third lines or on one of the four crossing points.

9. Image Splitting: "Foreground makes image healthy"

When we look at an image, our brain automatically divides what we see into foreground and background. We perceive the lower part of the picture as foreground, the upper part as background. The golden section or the rule of thirds also comes into play here for a good image division. In a landscape photograph, for example, the horizon line forms the background. This appears particularly harmonious if it runs along the upper horizontal line of the grid of thirds. The foreground element can also be set in scene well if it lies either on the bottom line or one of the lower grid points, depending on the subject. For a harmonious interplay of foreground and background on the grid dots, the picture elements should lie diagonally to each other.

Conclusion: This is how to make a good start

Practice makes perfect. It’s the same with photography. As hackneyed as the phrase sounds, there’s as much truth in it. Practice means routine, sometimes a trained eye when photographing. Only those who master these design rules in their sleep should deal with the subject of exposure. One more recommendation at this point: If you want to have a feeling of success at the beginning, you should start with easy genres. These include, for example, motifs from areas such as landscape, architecture or even street photography.

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