What is unity in photography?
Certain photos have that je ne sais quoi — a special appeal that you can’t quite put your finger on. For many captivating images, that quality is unity, which exists when multiple aspects of an image are visually in sync and working in harmony to strengthen the theme. Unity is one of the key principles of design and other visual arts, and working elements of unity into a photo composition can elevate it into a work of art.
Find harmony in the world around you.
Practice unity photography principles by finding and highlighting synchronicities — or subtle repetitions — whether in a studio photoshoot or out in the world. These repetitions can exist in any element of the photo — lines, textures, mood, colors, shapes, or forms. Unity can enhance every style of photography, including landscape photography, architecture photography, macro photography, abstract photography, and portraiture.
Simplify complex subjects.
Commercial architecture photographer Angie McMonigal aims for unity in her shots to help bring out the beauty of the urban landscape. She dissects something like a large skyscraper into smaller pieces to help highlight harmonious elements and show her subject matter from a unique perspective.
“I’m from a really small town in central Wisconsin. I’ve always been fascinated by big cities, but I think, at the same time, they kind of felt overwhelming,” says McMonigal. “By breaking down these little details, though, I can digest the space in a more manageable way.”
Add unity with elements of design.
Implement unity in your photos by becoming familiar with various principles of art and design. “It’s a matter of getting used to the different compositional tools, whether that’s symmetry, patterns, or leading lines,” says McMonigal. “When I first started, I would pick one each time, go out, shoot, and that would be my focus.”
Composition and symmetry
Symmetry is one element of visual design that can add unity to an image. “A lot of buildings are designed symmetrically,” says McMonigal. “Humans are drawn to symmetry. It’s human nature to find this appealing and pleasing to look at.” Arrange your composition according to the rule of thirds or the golden ratio to add additional visual interest.
Convey unity through the use of color. Look for repeated colors in your surroundings, like blue in the sky, blue on the door of a building, and blue on a car. If you’re shooting a portrait, place your subject in front of backgrounds that match the colors in their hair, eyes, or clothing.