LESSON 5 – Design Elements & Quick Fixes

CIOS F255 - University of Alaska Fairbanks


When creating digital graphics, it is helpful to keep in mind aesthetics and some basics of design principles while editing your images, adding depth of field and perspective, or transforming them into ideas and composite designs.  Design principles cross the boundaries between photography, graphic design, graphic arts and layout. This lesson builds on the techniques covered in lesson 2 but also requires an understanding of selection and layers.

At the end of this lesson you should be able to

  • perform routine corrections to digital photographs to increase the visual quality.
  • assess the composition of an image for cropping to rule of thirds.
  • find public domain or images free to use through Creative Commons or other resource.
  • perform lens corrections to optical distorted images
  • adjust the perspective of an image

Design Concepts

Composition & Harmony

Anyone can use Photoshop to alter images, create composites and amazing effects. Developing a good eye for making decisions about design issues such as composition, color harmony, contrast, balance, rhythm, etc. is extremely important for your creation to be successful, pleasing and visually dynamic.   There are whole courses on these subjects but, for now, we will focus our efforts on learning  just a few basics of composition. This will help you when cropping and when designing any collage or product in Photoshop.

Composition: Rule of Thirds

Look at this photo for 30 seconds and notice exactly how your eyes travel around the image.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 7.42.17 PM

Naturally, your glance will go to the dog first but there are some distracting elements that may pull your eye away from the main focus in a way that is not optimal.

Now, look at this photo and notice how different your experience is – where your eye wanders, what is most captivating, how you feel about the photo.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 7.42.02 PM

The photo was cropped to demonstrate the Rule of Thirds, one method of creating more visually compelling photographs through composition. They eye is naturally held by the points of the vertical and horizontal intersections of thirds   (see guides on image blow). In the photo, our gaze is held longer by the dog and the photo is balanced and pleasing.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 7.41.10 PM

Some cameras offer rule of thirds grids for helping you compose your photograph when you take it. In Photoshop, when you crop an image, you have some choices for overlays that help with determining Rule of Thirds, Golden Mean and other traditional methods for composition. Find them in the options of the crop tool.

Cropping for Harmony

What happens if you have an image that you need to straighten but doing so messes up the composition? Photoshop has a crop setting that will automatically build in the areas that are cropped out. This works best with images that are relatively simple at a distance, like landscapes. Read more about content-aware crop here.  

Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, Proximity

You may want to use what you learn in class to create brochures, posters, or other material where graphic design concepts become important. Train your eye to see these elements whenever you find things like advertisements, posters, book covers, everywhere. Watch the at least the first 8 minutes

Additional Reference

  1. Wikipedia – Design Elements & Principles:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_elements_and_principles
  2. Digital Web Magazine:  https://www.digital-web.com/articles/principles_of_design/
  3. Advanced Photography.net:  https://www.advancedphotography.net/photography-principles-design-15-power-composition-tips-design-principles/
  4. Rule of Thirds –  https://www.alibony.com/graphics/def_rule_of_thirds.html

Copyright, Fair Use & Public Domain

In this course you may be using some of your own photos or those of others. If you use other’s images, you should be aware of copyright as it pertains to the work you are doing in this class and beyond. I strongly encourage you to use your own images or those that you find on the web, however, if you use someone else’s photos for your creation, you must get permission first or obtain them from a public domain source.  Also, it is always appropriate to give credit to the creator of the original document, however, giving credit does not equal obtaining permission.  

Copyright law is designed to be a legal mechanism to protect creators of original content. Technically, works are protected from the moment they are created. Using images, audio, video, or any other media without the permission of creator is an infringement of copyright.

There are instances where use of copyright-protected material without express permission from the creator/owner may be permitted. These instances are referred to Fair Use. Fair Use makes provision for activities such as teaching and criticism. If use of protected material is called into question it will be up to you to defend your intention of fair use of said material.  More information about Fair Use can be found in this factsheet from Copyright.gov.

Work that is considered to be in the Public Domain has no copy protection. Usually, these works have not had their copyright renewed or it has expired. You often hear of these works referred to as having fallen into the Public Domain. A work can also be expressly dedicated to the Public Domain by the creator/owner. Find Public Domain images.  

In the case of the creator/owner who wants to share with others, Creative Commons offers solutions see:  Creative Commons A Shared Culture.    

Another basic etiquette consideration pertains to when you use a photo with someone’s recognizable face (unless in an openly public venue). You should get permission first   in this case before altering their image with Photoshop (not a copyright issue, but one of courtesy with some potential legal ramifications).

Additional  Reference

Straightening, Perspective, & Distortion

The fishing on the dock photo below is an example of an image that needs to be straightened -the horizon is not level. The building photo perspective needs to be adjusted and there may be some lens distortion. You might also have taken a photo where someone’s head appeared distorted or larger than it should be. This can happen when you use a camera with a wide angle lens and the subject is too close. Here is a good example, check out this linked page  and you’ll recognize the problem.      To fix distortion issues, please read this Adobe Tutorial on lens distortion.  

fishing akasofu

Selective Blur

Sometimes it makes sense to focus an image on a specific element of the image. The background is too distracting or you want to make one element stand out. You can quickly achieve this by using the Iris Blur effect in the Blur Gallery filters panel. Top Menu -> Filter -> Blur Gallery. Play with the blur area to change the shape, intensity, location and feathering of the blur. Read about how to use the Blur Gallery effects here.  

distracting background  iris blur


Composition & Rule of Thirds

Perspective Warp


Crop & Straighten



  1. Download and fix the perspective on this photo (click on image to get full size).
    inside church  
  2. Choose 2  of your own photos* that you feel need some major work – look for problems with composition, straightening, perspective, color cast, or any of the quick fixes described  in the notes. You can also choose one that you feel could use an iris blur effect.
  3. Make a copy of each  file and open them  in Photoshop
  4. Complete the quick fixes you have in mind.
  5. Create a new blog post with a title that tells  us what assignment number it is and who you are (“Assignment 5 – Moss”) – it is important to always title your posts in this manner so they are unique (if they are not unique titles, they won’t post properly  on the blog).
  6. Upload a before and after quick fix versions (saved for web) of all of  your images and briefly describe what you did to them and why.

*If you don’t want to use your own photos, you can use any of the photos provided for class here  or  you can look through the public domain images at Wikimedia Commons  but make sure the ones you choose need significant help.


Please log into Blackboard and take ‘L5 Quiz’ in the  Quizzes section.


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