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Elements of Design

Lesson 16 from: The Photography Starter Kit for Beginners

John Greengo

Elements of Design

Lesson 16 from: The Photography Starter Kit for Beginners

John Greengo

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Lesson Info

16. Elements of Design

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

The lesson focuses on the elements of design in photography, including lines, shapes, patterns, texture, and color. The instructor discusses the importance of these elements in creating visually interesting and impactful photographs. He also provides tips for composition and suggests different classes and resources for further learning.


  1. What is the role of lines in photography?

    Lines serve as a "handrail for the eyes" and can guide the viewer's gaze through the photograph.

  2. How can shapes be used in photography?

    Shapes can be used to convey information and create interest, even without a lot of detail.

  3. What is the significance of patterns in photography?

    Patterns are visually appealing and can add depth and interest to a photograph.

  4. How does texture enhance a photograph?

    Texture adds another sensory dimension to a photograph, allowing the viewer to imagine what the subject feels like.

  5. What is the impact of color in photography?

    Color can influence where the viewer's eyes go in a photograph and can convey different emotions or messages.

  6. What are some tips for photographing subjects in front of colorful walls or backgrounds?

    The choice of clothing color depends on the artwork or background, and it can be complementary or contrasting to create a visually interesting effect.

  7. What are the steps in the instructor's photo-taking process?

    The steps include subject identification, exploring different perspectives, setting camera settings, focusing, and fine-tuning composition.

  8. What are the qualities of a good photograph?

    A good photograph is both beautiful and interesting, with a clear subject and effective use of light, composition, and timing.

  9. What is unique about photography as an art form?

    Photography captures moments in time and allows us to share exactly what something looked like at a particular moment.

  10. What is the instructor's message about photography?

    Photography is about capturing and appreciating moments of beauty and interest in the world around us.

Lesson Info

Elements of Design

Alright, final main segment here, is the Elements of Design. So, if any of you have gone to design classes, you'll know that there are certain elements that you look for in lots of visuals. The first one for us, is the line. The line is, what I consider, a handrail for the eyes. It's something for your eyes to look at and for your eyes to travel around. And so, having a smooth curved line, any sort of line, is something that is just intrinsically interesting to the eyes. And if you could map where your eyes are looking on any particular photograph, they're often gonna be following these lines. Because that's what our eyes just inherently do. And so, any time you have strong distinctive lines that's gonna be a good element in a photograph. When you take those lines and you continue 'em on, you can make a shape out of them. And so, the shapes don't need to have tons of detail, because we can identify things with just the shape. You can't tell a lot of detail about these rocks, here. But ...

you can just see the shapes and you can start to infer a lot of information from them. And so, I could maybe have shot this completely silhouetted and you would have known, "oh, I think I can tell "what that is." And see you don't need a lot of detailed information when you have these shapes. It's a very easy way to read your subject. I thought this was pretty cool. This is Australia Rock. And you'll never guess where it's located. It's in Australia. And it looks like Australia (laughs). And so, perfect matching for shape. And sometimes the negative part of it will become its own shape. And so, these towers are obviously the main part. But the blue sky becomes its own shape, these own triangles unto itself. When you take a shape and you repeat it over and over again you get a pattern. And I would have to say I am guilty of shooting lots and lots of patterns. Pretty much, any time I see a pattern, I think, there is a potential great shot. And that's because our eyes love patterns. It's fascinating seeing patterns. We love to discover patterns, and they are all around us. There're ones that we create; there are natural ones, as well. And so, the idea here is not to photograph as many objects, whatever those happen to be; it's about density and size and proportion in there. And so, don't feel like, "oh, I gotta get "every little one of these in there." No, you just wanna find a nice point of view that shows them to you in relatively dense manner. So, as I say, they're all over the place. Closely related to the pattern, is texture. And, in this case, you're gonna be able to maybe identify more with the subject, as to what it feels like. And if you can see a subject, and you can think about what it feels like, you're now experiencing that photograph on another level, that is kind of unusual. You're bringing up a whole different sense than visual. And so, when I show you this, I know some of you are gonna recognize elephant. And you're gonna recognize that elephant's skin. And you can imagine what that feels like. And that brings a stronger connection between you and that photograph. In Cuba, there's a lot of places with fading paint. And so, we try to limit the use of the word texture. 'Cause everything has texture there. And so, that patina, that old look, has a very fun look to it, photographically. And those smooth rocks, you can imagine how slippery they might be. The paint job on that car, how smooth that it. Now those king penguins have these wonderful, they call 'em bears with beaks and flippers. And they have a certain texture to the fur. And how that texture changes when it rains. It's like a wet fur coat. A very different texture. So texture matters. Finally, color, of course, matters. Looking at this first photograph, here, think about what your eyes look at, and where they return to. 'Cause a lot of the times your eyes will bounce around the photo, but they often return. And they're often gonna return to areas that are different, areas that are brighter, areas that have distinct contrast. But, when you add color into the scheme, that starts changing where your eyes go in a particular photograph. So, color has a very strong impact. Sometimes you wanna have a lot of color, sometimes you don't wanna have any. Depends on the message that you're trying to have in a particular photograph. But looking for areas that are very colorful. Or, one of my favorite things is color matching, finding things that are matching. Her dress, his shoe, his hat, the doors. One color matches another color. Or simplifying the colors down to just a simple set. Just blue and yellow, that's all you see in this photograph. And they're opposite on the color spectrum, which makes them kind of vibrate and a little bit more interesting, which can be really good. So, obviously paying attention to the colors, 'cause you eyes are gonna be attracted to the colors. So you typically don't want really bright, colorful things that are unimportant in your image. And that will hopefully, helpfully, give you some tips on composing your images. So, that is the composition section. So there's a lot of ideas to play with in there. Love it. Any final questions? Final questions about the class in general? Now is a great time to ask them. Lots to process. Yes. I just have a question. Living here in Seattle, we have a lot of wonderful, beautiful art walls. When you want to take a photo of a person in front of those walls, do you recommend that they go with just quiet colors? Bright colors? Pick one of the colors from the wall and go with that? Or go neutral. I think it depends totally on the artwork. Because maybe you have something that's done in black and white, and you want to shoot the whole thing black and white, doesn't matter what color they're wearing. Or, maybe you want that color splash of that person in that red raincoat next to a worn out, faded one. Maybe you want, maybe you have something that's got a bunch of yellow in it and you're gonna wait for that person in that yellow coat to kind of match that color. And so you wanna be thinking about how that matches up. Like the picture of the Cuban boys. I was waiting for the woman in the yellow dress. I didn't get exactly what I wanted, and so, sometimes you gotta take what's really what you get there. And so, I think it's matter of matching what would look good in that situation. Alright, well, have any final thoughts for us John? Let's get going. Alrighty. And final little section for you here. First off, some blatant advertisement. I do teach a number of classes here, at CreativeLive. And so, if you are wanting to dive in deeper, that would be the Fundamentals of Photography. It has a lot of the same topics, just explored more thoroughly. I then have specific classes on travel and nature and landscape, which really get in to the nitty gritty of dealing with those types of work. And then I have a number of lens classes. Cannon and Nikon lenses, in particular. But then I have one general one for everybody else. Sony, Fuji, or if you're just wanting a smaller size chunk of a class. But choosing the right lens is in there. And then the Fast Start for Camera Classes is where I go in and I have 62 classes right now on all the different cameras. And so, if you wanna get into a particular camera and you wanna know what does this button do, and what does that button do, and how do I recommend setting it up, and how do I set the custom functions, and how do I get this camera tailored to the way I want it to work? 'Cause you wanna be the master of your camera. Then those classes will take you through a step by step tutorial of all of what those cameras can do. That's kind of my biggest thing. And, as I mentioned before, in some ways I hate new cameras, 'cause I gotta learn a whole new system. And that's gonna be my best friend for the next several years, so I gotta get everything learned. I wanna know exactly about how it does everything. And so, I've gone through the steps of reading the entire instruction manual, and shooting the camera out in the field, and putting it into nice simple terms so that you can pick up and get going with your camera as fast as possible. So, some final thoughts before you head outside, or head out to the studio, or who knows, to wherever you might wanna shoot photos. My Photo 5 Step. This is kinda the process which I usually do photography. First is subject identification. What is it that I wanna take a photograph of? I don't take photographs because I feel good, or I'm having a good time. I'm like, what is my subject? Because that's what it's gonna come down to in the photo, is, hey, what's the subject? What are you shooting here? Next thing is I'm gonna be figuring out where can I be? Can I be up there? Can I be down here? Can I go over there? Do I have permission to go over there to shoot this photograph? I wanna see all my different possibilities to see what looks best. I'm gonna figure out the camera settings. Shutter speed, aperture, ISO. Get all that tied in, you might say. Next I'm gonna deal with focusing the lens. And then, finally, I'm gonna do the fine tune adjustment with the composition. Now, in some cases, I don't do this in this order. In some cases, I know exactly my composition, and I'll worry about focusing and the other steps later. So you don't have to follow these in this order. But these are the steps that, you know, each one you need to do. And this is the order that it most commonly occurs for me. When you're looking at your photographs, you might be just wondering, is this good or is this not good? And, you know, you need to get into photography. And you need to start learning out what makes a good photograph. And everyone has their own opinions. So, here's mine. There are two overriding themes to good photographs: they're beautiful and they're interesting. And so, I like something that just looks good, but I like something that's really interesting, that has me thinking about what's going on in the photograph. And what's common about these, is you need to have some sort of subject. Now, the subject doesn't have to be much. It could be a flower petal, it could be the blue sky, it could be almost anything. But I wanna be able to identify what the subject is in there. Things that are beautiful are things that are photographed under the right type of light, that are composed in a pleasing manner, and that are captured at the right moment. Things that are interesting are things that are new, that I haven't seen before. Or maybe I've seen them before, but you photographed them in a way that's just a new perspective, I haven't seen it presented like that before. That would be interesting. And finally, not necessarily telling the whole story. Showing something up close. Showing me a detail, not worrying about the whole story in that one individual photograph. So, I think these are all things that can make something interesting. But if you think about photography, in the greater world of art, documentation, and everything else, whether it's writing, or poems, or sculpture, or anything else, the one thing that is most unique to photography is the moment. Because we get to capture visual moments, unlike any other system out there. Where we can share exactly what something looked like at a particular moment in time. And so, I wrote a little piece. And I would like to end with a piece of, a little video montage, not quite video montage, because I'll be speaking this live, here. But this is on the moment, okay? As photographers, we live and die by the moments that come and go. We look at the world to see what we can see. We judge it not for what it is but for what it might be. Wandering the land, in search of good light. What we find intriguing is not all by sight. It is the capturing of a moment that is our endeavor. For only in photography do perfect days last forever. These moments are revealed to those that let go. Free yourself from distractions, and your vision will grow. They say everything has been shot and nothing is unique. View the world through fresh eyes, and all is romance and mystique. For what it is that we search, I cannot always say. When it appears, then most certainly, thy will know the way. One must be primed, and ready to react. For the chaos of the world lives in the abstract. So much as we love capturing these moments of bliss, we equally fear those that we not see or just barely miss. It is in the apprehension of these moments that peek that photography emboldens us to continue to seek. Subjects are chosen by our interest and vision. But it's history and experience that'll determine our precision. The camera is critical, your eyes essential. When it sings to your soul, the moment is exceptional.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Photography Starter Kit Outline

Ratings and Reviews

Kanoelani Patenaude

I am a pro photographer in my dreams, where I know the in's and out's of my camera; however, reality proved differently, as real life would tell you, I was a deer caught in headlights just looking at my new 7D Mark II. I am a photographer enthusiast without the skills, but a lot of love for the moments one, or the profession/hobby of it can capture. I mostly shoot my husband, friends, and community surfers in the lineup, and of course, my children, who rarely sit still. Thus, I switched from Nikon to Canon, venturing on the 7D Mark II for the grand reviews of how stellar of camera it is for action shots (surfing, and kids, this was a no brainer). That said, and overwhelmed with the way beyond my skill set, but noted desire and aspiration to grow, I made the purchase, and sought help rather quickly as I wanted to feel confident with what I was utilizing to capture the best memories possible. I came into this John's courses knowing the "on/off" button, and "auto" shoot mode. I came out of the course feeling like the pro in my dreams, and ready to shoot manual. John's teaching style is on point, and his detailed visuals are a huge plus. My first shots post this photography kit course, I thought were great for my first educated shoot, and shockingly, I even received and email from one of the sponsors of the surfers I captured, asking if they could use my image for their sites and publications. Not bad for a newbie. Though, my intent was never a business purpose, I did not know if I should charge a small fee, or give it for free. I don't mind free as it's not my business, yet I don't want to ruin it for any professional photographers in town doing the same thing that are charging. Perhaps another course to help me with that. I highly recommend courses by John Greengo! Thank you so much, John!


I'm not sure my first review posted. But I LOVE this class! John Greengo is a great, engaging teacher who is really adept at representing the concepts visually and excellent at explaining them verbally. I love how he goes through examples with photographs he has taken. Even though I only have a Nikon Coolpix digital camera, it does have Manual, Shutter priority, and Aperture priority modes. Through his class I've gotten a really good sense of how to balance ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. It's a great overview for me especially since I am new to photography, I can play around with some of these settings, and I have a greater understanding of what I might need in a higher level camera in the future. Money well spend! (For $29, this is an absolute steal). John Greengo is an awesome teacher and I hope to take more of his classes in the future!

Megan Wagner

John is extremely articulate and is a great teacher with lots of visual aids and metaphors to help understand photography. I have been doing photography for a few years now and this class was a tremendous help in boosting my knowledge and refreshing my memory in multiple aspects of photography. The graphics that John uses are helpful and he even goes through images and asks which settings would be best to use and will go through the why. He makes things easy to understand and is very clear about the information he provides. I am so glad I took this course and I would highly recommend it even to an experienced photographer. Thank you John Greengo!

Student Work