Photography: Design Elements & Examples

The Newseum, located in Washington, DC, is home to the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery.  This gallery features some of the most iconic images in history:

From Old Glory being raised over Iwo Jima









To a lonely photo of two US presidents











To a shocking portrait of the Ethiopian famine.











It is the emotion captured by these photographs that makes them so truly great, yet each image also contains specific design elements that draw attention to the subject at hand. For example, in the Iwo Jima photo, the use of negative space in the background highlights the action in the foreground. In the presidential photograph, the two figures take up only about a third of the left-hand side of the image, following the compositional rule of thirds.  And the Ethiopian portrait has been closely-cropped to draw complete focus on the two subjects in the photograph.

With these three photographs, we have illustrated the way negative space, the rule of thirds, and the power of the crop create powerful images.  What other design elements are good to keep in mind when taking photos?

  • Balance: using elements in the background or foreground to avoid having too much negative space in a composition
  • Viewpoint: choosing the best angle and/or distance to shoot the picture from
  • Framing: using surrounding elements to create a border around the subject of the composition

For more rules of composition and examples of the rules listed above, check out: And for a closer look at several featured Pulitzer Prize Winning photographs, make sure to visit the Newseum’s Online Gallery.