The Three Basic Components of a Photograph

Some of you may already know, besides teaching Embrace The Grain Workshop online, I also teach Arts and Humanities classes weekly to middle school and high school students.  In the class, I teach art and architecture theories and apply them to our study of historic and classic to modern masters such as Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Dali, as well as architectures such as Parthenon, Pantheon, Phoenix Hall,  The White House and many more.  Seriously, I can geek out on art and architecture all day every day!  So naturally, I think it would be fun to share with you what I learned about arts, and how I apply what I learned in my photography work.

The Three Basic Components of a Photograph (Art)

Since the beginning of times, people have been making and creating arts.  Whether it's on a wall in a cave or on a piece of stretched canvas, the basic components of art are the same:  Subject, Form and Content.

1. Subject - The "Who" or "What"

The main subject of a photograph can be a person, an object, a theme or an idea.  When we photograph our children at play, the subject of that image is pretty obvious, the children.  However, the subject can also be an unrecognizable object that the photographer use to represent an idea instead of a thing.  Regardless of the genre of photography, a photograph can not be complete without a subject, and it can not interpreted based on the subject alone but with the purpose the subject serves in a photograph as a whole.

sandracoan-1
sandracoan-1

2. Form - The "How"

In the components of a photography, the word "Form" is refer to how the composition is arranged and organized in a photograph.  Beside the basic rules of thirds, golden ratio and golden triangle, the form component also includes elements of art (line, shape, form, color, texture, value and space) and principles of art (pattern, rhythm, movement, balance, unity, contrast and emphasis).  The photographer's choices of elements and how he/she arranges them (principles) "forms" how we perceive the subject (or an idea) of a photograph.

©Joyce C. Kang-000024320021001
©Joyce C. Kang-000024320021001

3. Content - The "Why"

The content is the message that the artist or the photographer is trying to communicate with the viewer.  It can simply be a statement, but it can also be an emotion, an expression or a mood.  Surely, it would be ideal if the viewer interprets the content of a photograph as the photographer had intended to communicate.  However, with the vastly different cultural and experience differences will often affect how a viewer "sees" a photograph.  Naturally, people tend to relate to contents that are familiar and recognizable.

©Joyce C. Kang 2013-SRkang000729-R1-E024001
©Joyce C. Kang 2013-SRkang000729-R1-E024001

A successful photograph should be able to combine all 3 components (subject, form and content) seamlessly so that the components can not be separated or be interpreted apart from each other.   This unity of the components should contain nothing that's distracting or unnecessary.  Just like a well made automobile, all parts must work together and without void to operate properly and without fail.  Let's look at our own work today with an critical eye, are you successfully using all 3 components in your work?

Kids
Kids
Sandra Coan Photography: Family Photos on Film
Sandra Coan Photography: Family Photos on Film