Learning log (Part two) – Elements of design

Before commencing this module, I did some reading around the history of the Bauhaus Schools, which had a major influence on art, architecture and graphic design. Johannes Itten, who initially ran the foundation course at the Bauhaus, saw composition as the core of creative thought. I looked again at the work of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Alexsandr Rodchenko (see research file). They were pioneers in constructivism and used geometry in photography – introducing a strong sense of lines, shape, patterns and grids. Creative viewpoints were used in which subjects and people were dwarfed by the scale of large or tall structures.

Moholy-Nagy untitled 1940-44

Moholy-Nagy untitled 1940-44

Alexsandr Rodchenko photogram "Stars" 1938

Alexsandr Rodchenko photogram “Stars” 1938

Stairs 1930

Alexsandr Rodchenko “Stairs” 1930

I particularly like the Harry Callahan images where he depicts his wife and daughter (Eleanor and Barbara) as a tiny points in a large expanse. There are also lines, shapes and shadows evident in these images.

Harry Callahan 1953

Harry Callahan 1953

Callahan 1953

Harry Callahan 1953

I re-visited Michael Freeman’s book “The Photographer’s Eye”. His book expands on the subject of basic design, the elements of design and the theories/principles of Gestalt, which I have referred to in this module.


Project: Points

Exercise: Positioning a point

This is similar to the exercise in Part One. The Frame, “Object in different positions in the frame”. Firstly I am to look through past photographs and note those that contain obvious or borderline points. Carrying out this exercise has made me realise that although many of my past “snaps” are precious, I have never really considered the composition or design of them.

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Left: The image has sharply contrasting colours which draws attention and gives the photo an aesthetic quality. Not obeying the rule of thirds – because I was not aware of it when this photo was taken, so central placement seemed right. To improve I would position the subject in the top left third of the frame so it would appear to be gliding down into the frame.

Right: Better positioning and small subject in the frame. However the image has too many other distractions, i.e. clouds, surf, land in the distance etc.

Next, was to take three photographs showing a single point placed in a different part of the frame in each example. Freeman states that to qualify as a point the subject has to be small in the frame, and contrast, in some way, with it’s surroundings.

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A spinning coin on a worktop. Effective because it implies momentum and encourages the eye to move around the frame. It would be a stronger single point if there was more of a contrast between the coin and the wooden surface.


Strong in composition even if somewhat predictable.  I feel the subject is a little too small.

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The contrasting colour of the leaf against the wet blue/grey stone give the point impact. The placement adds a sense of slight movement, I visualise the leaf floating down to the left of the frame. The image is strong because it complies with the rules of the Golden Section. I included the black and white version because I like the contrast.

single point 1b - Copy     single point sepia - Copy

Showing the single point both in colour and in sepia.

Project: Lines

Exercise Horizontal and vertical lines

Below are examples of different ways in which vertical and horizontal lines appear to the eye and in the camera.

Horizontal: Horizontal lines are mostly easy on the eye and tend to be seen as a natural base, therefore stable and solid.

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This image however tells a different story. Because this is an uneven horizontal line with several points it does not appear solid or stable. The row of hay bales on the right appear to be marching across the horizon forming two horizons in one frame. Interestingly, an implied triangle is also evident (trees and hay bales).

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These cacti are randomly displayed in trays. If one looks carefully into the distance they resolve into lines, maybe not perfect horizontals, but definitely lines. This image was created by shooting from a very low viewpoint and a wide-angle lens.


A recent visit to an Amsterdam cheese factory inspired this shot.

Vertical: Vertical lines tend to represent strength and power and are often seen as barriers. Common verticals are trees, human figures and buildings.

Here is an example of a barrier. It is in fact a hay barn. The hay seen through the slats adds some brightness and softens the otherwise heavy grey wooden verticals.

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For an unusual take on verticals. I have included this shot of our wine rack. The wine rack itself is actually hung vertically on the wall, so the bottles appear horizontal. I rotated the image 90 degrees, the different shapes and colours of bottles add variety and shape to the verticals.

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The brief suggests one looks for verticals and horizontals that dominate the scene, i.e. to ensure the lines are the first thing one sees in the picture.

I think this fits the brief. Not only are there strong verticals in the bars across the window, there are many other verticals – lamp-post, chimneys and the Tesco sign. There are horizontals too with the roof lines.

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Strong verticals are formed in this row of old books. The image reminds me of William Henry Fox Talbot’s “A Scene in a Library” (1843–44). I tried this image in black and white but the original is by far the more detailed and atmospheric for me, I can almost smell the ink and dust!

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I have included a couple of photos which I took as practice for the assignment. These two combine vertical and horizontal lines which together are complementary and give an impression of balance.

Two extremes: Left: simple yet lightweight and fragile. Right: Simple yet strong and solid.

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Diagonals are dynamic and active showing direction and depending on the subject and angle, they can show speed too.

From our Amsterdam trip, the windmill on the left was shot against a clear blue sky from underneath the sail to catch a good angle. I have also shown this shot in black and white as I believe it has equal impact due to the sharp angle.

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Below: In this shot I took care to include the background colour as contrast. The light shining on the right of the frame lifts the image and highlights the tips of the plant’s fronds implying movement.

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The same shot in black and white was inspired by the work of Imogen Cunningham Botanical leaf, c 1930 (right).

 diag2 - Copy - Copy         Botanical Leaf c1930s                                                                                

This close up shot of a glass chopping board on a work surface was taken at a 45 degree angle to produce the strong diagonal lines. The strong lines appear to be in tension and the mottled work surface has the look of earth or pebbles under water implying activity.



Curves can give the impression of delicacy – flowing, light and elegant. I don’t think the following shot shows any of the above, but to me it is clearly curves.

Monochrome version: I see movement as the eye follows the near curve on the left and travels through to the curve to the right of the frame.

Colour version: This appears to be smoother due to the colour adding some shine. Therefore I think the flow is conveyed more. I did consider including this shot in my assignment as there is also the hint of an implied triangle where the curls split in the centre.

curve 1 BW   curve 1 - Copy (2)

My favourite shot of curves. This one portrays delicacy and elegance. There is movement in all directions.

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In this shot the curves show a lot more aggression and none of the delicacy. The movement is strong and definite. There is also movement portrayed in the tiny “scales” on the individual branches. They appear to be vibrating.

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Direction is strongly portrayed in the shot below. The eye sweeps down the steps aided by the rail on the wall, implying movement. I think this shot also shows speed, possibly due to the sharp, narrow steps. I feel as though one would have to run down the steps.

To improve this shot I could have cropped the wall to the left of the frame as I now see this as a distraction. Another reminder to “see” everything captured in the viewfinder, not just what I want to see!

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Implied lines

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An example of an eye-line. The people in this shot are looking at something outside the frame, so it leaves the viewer wondering or guessing what they are watching or looking at.

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This image shows the eye-line between the figure and the statue. The statue also implies a line – looking out across the mountains. This tempts the viewer to look deeper into the frame.

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In this image there is an extension of a line. The line of the road takes the eye into the picture to continue through along an unseen route.


For this exercise I am to produce real and implied triangles in varying perspectives. This I found relatively easy as any three points make a triangle. I now see triangles in everything and everywhere I go!

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An actual and obvious triangle. The colour makes it strong.

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This image is easy on the eye due to the apex being at the top of the frame and it forms a simple element of basic design. I prefer the black and white version, the green colour in the image on the right detracts from the lines and angles of the step ladder.

The architecture of modern buildings can lend itself well to triangles and other clear-cut lines. The angles of the shots are important. The first of the shots has created the impression of the bow of a ship. The triangle is reinforced by the lines repeated on each floor of the building. The second shot taken from a low angle shows a triangle formed at the side of what is actually a very long building.

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Implied triangles:  

Whilst flicking through a home magazine I came across these two retro/ vintage style cushions. I immediately recognised the implied triangles in the poses of the glamorous women.

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Searching the internet I then found these photos of Barbara Stanwyck from the 1930’s. Both poses display a triangular design.

Triangle 1     Triangle2

Below:My first image is of the pear tree in our garden. I took several shots at different angles in order to get the triangular shape that I see daily looking out through the window. I particularly like the little pears as they too represent triangles and contrast in colour to the tree. The image implies a triangle with it’s apex at the base of the frame. This makes for a less stable triangle that naturally appears to lack balance.

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This view across the fell is one I also see daily and once the autumn colours set in, the appearance changes dramatically. Here an implied triangle is visible thanks to the greenery of the patch of land protected from the elements.

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Here is an implied triangle formed by the outline of the woman and her dog. The apex at the top, the triangular shape provides structure to the image. This shot has been cropped, but only slightly to cut out a purple jacket. This was a busy scene at a dog show and I really wanted to capture this image.

implied dog

Next was to arrange three people in a group in such a way that their faces or the lines of their bodies make a triangle.

Here my sister, nephew and niece are studying a university prospectus. The implied triangle is clear from the lines of their bodies. An inverted triangle is formed with the lines converging towards the bottom of the frame. This shot organises the photo into a definable shape.

When studied more closely I also see more triangles 1) the position of my sister’s arms across her body. 2) her pointing finger and thumb. 3) the shape of my nephew’s head and face. 4) the open book – a broad triangle.

Barney etc 003


Although this was not an actual exercise, the brief suggests that natural circles are very difficult to find. I ran to grab the camera for this one! While I was gardening last week I came across this (almost) circle of leaves, which the wind had formed in a hollow in the grass. The eye resolves this image into an assumed circle.


Rhythms and patterns

Rhythm was the most challenging subject to find and produce an image. I wanted a subject that had an obvious visual beat, sequence and syncopation.

I chose this shot of a fern leaf losing it’s summer colour and gloss. It portrays rhythm and movement through its fronds and the curled ends portray musical notes. I “hear” a gentle tinkling sound as the wind moves through the fronds.

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My second  rhythm shot shows a strong optical beat and the eye is taken across the image from left to right. This shows good continuation and the sharp contrasting shape makes it a dynamic, heavy, loud beat.

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Moholy-Nagy Chairs at Margate 1935

Above: These shots show how pattern is best portrayed when the subject is extended outside the frame. The image on the left has added dynamic due to being placed diagonally in the frame.

Below: I spotted this photograph in an old copy of National Geographic Magazine (November 2007). I have shown the image in my Colour module, but felt the need to include it here for its pattern. Taken by Juhani Kosonen of Finland, water droplets, each reflecting the bright colours of nearby buildings.


Below left: My image fulfills the criteria of a pattern by filling the frame. The break in the centre, created by the greenery (observed through the centre pipes) makes the image more dynamic, therefore less static. Right: Here the pattern is repeated and the eye can visualise the pattern extending well beyond the frame. There is a contrasting visual element to emphasise the pattern.

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