In a recent Grid videocast, Scott Kelby dismissed a commenter who encouraged further study of art and design to improve his photography. I don’t specifically remember Scott’s rationale but it had something to do with “I never had art classes” etc. I don’t want to pick on Scott, as he’s often correct in his opinion, but this is an area where I completely disagree with him.
Art education usually starts with exploring the Elements of Art-
and the Principles of Design
3. Pattern/ Rhythm
5. Hierarchy/ Dominance
6. Point/ Line/ Plane (Persepective)
An artist or designer draws from these ideas in any visual composition, so photography naturally can make good use of this. I don’t necessarily think about these tools night and day and design shoots around them, but I’m experienced enough that I use them all the time- for instance, telling a family to keep colors to a basic family of cool or warm or Earth tones, or shooting a shiny motorcycle amongst contrasting textures.
My experience has been that the average person will gauge a photo based on color over all the other elements. They may be drawn to colors that pop, or colors that register emotion. People that love black and white images are heavily focused on having all the values represented. Appreciators of traditional fine art nudes are highly invested in shape and form. These are all important, and can be the seeds of good ideas, but the work really improves when the creator plays with all the tools. Cool shapes, proper use of positive and negative space, with an engaging rhythm, great color or value, believable textures… all in one image.
I don’t want to suggest that everything that makes great imagery is all about formal qualities. It’s a good concept + knowing your tools + knowing what you’re doing + being and knowing yourself.