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Tutorials -Visual Elements of Photography

*Adapted from worksheet created by educators at Amon Carter Museum

available online at:

NOTE: Whenever focusing student attention on a specific visual aspect of a photograph consider the following:

  • What does and How does this aspect of the photograph add to our understanding of the source and the topic at hand?
  • What meaning does the photographer’s choice suggest…about the photographer, the subject, the audience…?
  • What is this element’s value as a teaching tool? How does our focus on this element further my objectives?
  • If I bring up this element with my students what do I want them to gain from our observation/investigation?


Framing is how a photographer carefully presents a subject. Unlike painters, who usually begin with a blank canvas, photographers begin with everything in front of them. Once a subject is found, a photographer decides what to include in the picture frame—his/her subject. The photographer then composes the image to draw a viewer’s attention to the subject in a way that best expresses the artist’s idea of it and/or what he/she is trying to accomplish with the photograph.

Questions to Consider

What do you think the photographer chose to include or exclude from this scene in order to draw your attention to the center of interest?

In what ways did the artist use framing in this image? What in the photograph

helps frame the center of interest?

How does the choice of framing impact the message or meaning of the photograph?

Angle of View

Angle of view is the position from where the photographer took the picture. A photographer can point the camera from below, above, or straight at an object. In other artistic media, this is often called point of view. When looking for subjects, especially in nature, a photographer often shifts the angle of view to make interesting images. Angle of view can also express emotion or mood. It can give

the viewer a sense of being small if looking up, or a sense of being big if looking down. Relationships between objects in the frame can be manipulated by angle.

Questions to Consider

What is the angle of view for this image?

Is the camera angle in the photograph at eye level, lower than eye level (a bug’s eye view), or above eye level (a bird’s eye view)? Is the viewer looking straight on or from one side or another?

How does the artist’s angle of view make you feel about the subject?


Focus is the sharpness or clarity of subjects in the photographic image. Soft focus is created when a photographer manipulates the camera to achieve blurry, gentle edges. Photographers use the aperture (lens opening) and limitations of the lens to create sharp detail, soft edges, or both; this is called selective focus.

Questions to Consider

What is in sharp focus? Has the photographer kept everything in sharp focus?

Has the photographer kept only a few things in focus? Explain.

Has the artist made this image in soft focus?

What mood or feeling has the photographer created by choosing soft focus or sharp focus?


Light Quality

Light quality describes the source, amount, and direction of lighting in a photograph. Light can come from natural sources, like the sun. It can be altered or created by humans, by using such things as flash bulbs or lamps. It can also be diffused by clouds or by humans putting a veil of cloth over a lamp. The direction of light is also important when looking at photographs: it can come from

above, behind, or from one side. Bright, dim, cloudy, directional,diffused, and flash are some terms used to describe lighting.

Questions to Consider

Determine the source of light (sun, lamp, flash?). What is it?

From which direction does the light come? Does the light come from above the

subject? Below it? From the side?

What kind of light do you think this is? Is the light harsh with strong shadows,

or is it diffused with soft, light shadows?

How does the light impact the message/meaning of the photograph?


Artists use color to achieve many effects. Color gives viewers a sense of mood,

place, and time of year. Color can also move your eye around a composition and

create a sense of space on a flat surface. Some artists achieve very saturated (strong, intense) color in their images, while others intentionally use subdued or muted colors in their subject matter.

Questions to Consider

Are color photographs more “real” looking than black-and-white photographs? Why or why not?

What can a photographer achieve with color that she or he cannot with black and- white pictures?

How would this scene be different if it were in black and white or in color?

How do you think the artist has captured either saturated or muted color?


Texture is how the surface of an object appears to feel or actually feels to the touch. Texture can be described as rough, smooth, soft, etc. Texture is shown in photographs by the way the light falls on an object and

through value changes. The paper on which the photograph is made also determines texture.

Questions to Consider

What objects in the photograph show textures? Describe those textures.

Is the texture of objects something you noticed right away, or do you notice it after looking for a while? Why?