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Elements of Visual Language

12 Oct 2021

Elements of Visual Language

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As human beings our brains are hard-wired to use our eyes to respond to the world. We group things by shape and size to assess them; we notice movement and direction so we can respond accordingly; we notice similarities and differences to discern what is familiar and what is not; and we sense when things are lopsided or unsteady to maintain balance and survival.

When looking at an image, we automatically go to the place of greatest contrast. We use the horizon line and visible cues to determine distance and space. We respond to repetition, and have a need to make order out of visual chaos.

When I realized how and why my eyes order information the way they do, the elements of visual language made sense in a whole new way.

Have you ever wondered what makes up a great image?
Great images don’t just happen by chance. As a photographer you should strategically choose things like colour, lines, and light — all of which have an impact on how a viewer perceives an image, regardless of taste or style.

These three elements ̶ colour, lines, and light — are the basic structural elements of the image. They hold the image together. They are the basic elements of visual language. Each of these elements has a unique way of expressing feelings and emotions.

What is expressed in language through the choice of words, in visual communication, may be expressed through the choice of light, line and colour.

Think of it as a process of discovering how to unlock the potential of a subject. Ask yourself what the fundamentals of the scene in front of you are, and what information you will need to include in your photograph to capture the essence of the subject.

Try to reduce all different elements into areas of light and shadow. See things in terms of lines and shapes created by light and colour rather than objects. Imagine yourself as a director and choreographer of the elements of visual language on a stage. They are at your service!

You can use these elements alone or in combination with each other, depending on what you’re looking to achieve.
With a bit of practice you will be able to see and “read” the subject in terms of these elements and recognize how they relate to each other. This will also help you to be less influenced by the reality of the objects and allow you to use the expressive language of those elements more freely.