Introduction to Composition – part 2

Photography – Writing with Light

Part 1 stated that visual and written composition had parallels. Both are languages with symbols and rules (or guidelines) for manipulating their symbols to convey messages or stories.

We are familiar with the symbols of written languages – they are words. What are the equivalents of words in visual communication?


It all begins with light. Light creates tones and colors. These tones and colors, in turn, create the symbols of visual communication or, as we will refer to it from here on – Visual Design.

Note: colors such as red, green, blue are not tones. They are hues. Correctly stated “light red” is a light “tone” with a red “hue or color”.

The symbols (words) of visual design, created by light, are –

  • Shapes – Circles, Squares, Triangles (as well as ovals, rectangles, various triangle types or, in general, all open or closed geometrical forms)
  • Lines – of various lengths, thicknesses and angles
  • Textures – The roughness or smoothness of surfaces
  • Perspective – An illusion of depth, vital to visual expression

Note that while shapes and lines actually exist on the 2-dimensional surface of an image, texture and perspective do not. However these latter two are vital to the reality of the image and, thus, it’s essential that the photographer create the illusion of their existence.

Future parts of this introduction to visual design will examine each of these symbols in some detail. Following that we’ll consider the “grammar” of visual design. The grammar – or principles – of visual design will show us how to arrange the symbols in ways that express our messages meaningfully. Visual design allows clear and expressive communication. On the other hand blindly following rules – such as the so called rule-of-thirds – leads to boring and repetitive compositions and stifles creativity.


We are at the beginning of a journey to learn how to write our messages with light. Light creates the words of our story in the form of shapes, lines, textures and perspective. Using the principles of visual design, the grammar of our visual language, we will discover how arrange these “words” in order to write our message in clear and unambiguous ways using our camera.

Open your minds and prepare to see the world and to make images in a whole new way.

Life Magazine