elements of design

with sarah wilkerson

Elements of Design covers the major components of artistic composition and discusses how photographers can use these elements to maximize an image’s aesthetic appeal and influence its psychological significance. This course focuses on using distinct compositional elements to help you define your vision before you press the shutter, to increase the energy and interestingness of your images, and to ultimately broaden and improve your overall portfolio. We’ll discuss the elements of design, undertake a personal portfolio evaluation, and engage in upper-level analysis of several of the most critical aesthetic components used in composition. The instructor will remain available to you for all five weeks and will hold a webcam based “office hour” for live Q&A, demonstrations, and discussions during break week.
“I would recommend this course to anyone who is ready to explore the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of making images work.”


All participants must have a mastery of technical basics (exposure, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc) and proficiency with their preferred processing software. Participants need not shoot in manual regularly but must be comfortable doing so. We will not be covering or critiquing technical basics in this course.
A 30 image portfolio (minimum) must be assembled prior to the commencement of the workshop.

• 4 Weekly Printable Lesson Downloads with Assignments (outlined in syllabus)
• Instructor-Led Online Q&A for Each Lesson
• Personal Critiques of Weekly Assignments by Instructor & TAs
• 90 Minute Live Office Hours and Workflow Walkthrough (plus Recording)
• Color Editing for Impact & Intent: Photoshop and Lightroom Videos
• Introductory and Wrap-Up PDFs with Introspective Bonus Exercises

Welcome & Preassignment

Reading: the importance of practice and upper-level critique; introduction to design elements
Preassignment (optional): Portfolio self-assessment

Lesson One: Lines

Reading: The art and psychology of lines; linear form, function, and type
Assignment: Theme selection and lines

Lesson Two: Space and Shape

Reading: Visual deconstruction; Subject placement for story and mood; Shapes
Assignment: Creative subject placement within the frame

Break Week

Live Office Hours
Discussion (optional): The Elusive Muse

Lesson Three: Color

Reading: Color theory; Color palettes; Chromatic association; Color manipulation
Assignment: Color focus

Lesson Four: Transformative Photography

Reading: Limitations of human vision; processing for transformation and optic simulation; black and white
Assignment: Producing a transformative image

15 thoughts on “Elements of Design”

    1. Sarah Wilkerson

      Hi, Lisa. Thanks so much for your interest in this class! The class is not currently scheduled to run this year but may run again in the future; unfortunately, I haven’t set a specific date for that at this time.

  1. I took this course several months after taking Composition and Creativity and wow– it has given me a fresh set of eyes. The weekly lessons are jam-packed with material and will be referenced for a long time to come. The peer critique was invaluable and Sarah’s critiques were detailed, empowering, and honest. I would highly recommend this course to anyone seeking to explore the psychology of composition. What an amazing experience!

  2. This course guides the student through an in depth look at the elements of design and how they apply to photography. You engage in a self-review and discover design tendencies within your portfolio and then work to strengthen your use of both elements that you already regularly employ and those that are less often utilized. As in all of Sarah’s courses, the critique and instruction is outstanding and the atmosphere of cooperative learning that is fostered among students is second to none. I would recommend this course to anyone who is ready to explore the “why” and “how” of making images work.

  3. An absolutely amazing workshop. The lessons were extremely well thought out and the critique invaluable. Sarah is a fantastic instructor – extremely supportive, but also not afraid to be truthful. So many shy away from giving “true” critique, but she embraces it.

    I’ll be honest – it was challenging to deliberately shoot and edit every day, and humbling to post images I didn’t love some days. But all of that (self-imposed) pressure gave me exactly what I was looking for – a major creativity boost and a more trained eye. I’m sure I’ll continue to learn from this class for a very long time.

    Doesn’t hurt that my classmates were pretty awesome, too :)

  4. This was an AMAZING workshop! The amount of information that is packed into this course is absolutely unreal! I know I will go through each lesson several times in the future because they are so jam-packed. I loved the format of the class. It really allowed/helped me to internalize the elements that were being taught. The instructor feedback is very detailed. I was continually amazed by the keen eye Sarah has and how well she can describe an image and make a point. You not only learn from your own images but your classmates as well. This workshop gave me a creativity boost I have never felt. For me, this was a huge moment in my photography journey!

  5. Another mind-bending class from Sarah! It really pushes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to consider every element in your viewfinder… it caused me to shoot with more purpose. The lessons are packed with information and Sarah is wonderful about answering questions and pushing you to make your images better. Such an awesome class!

  6. This is the companion course to Composition and Creativity, and I took this course in May this year. It covers the use of advanced compositional elements to frame, balance and organise your photography with sections on color and on BW conversion. The standard is very high and the instructor will push you to shoot every day and work on your photography in all areas. The feedback is constructive and inspiring and the standard of the other participants and the joint support and warmth of the CM environment makes this very worthwhile. You need a good portfolio already and a full understanding of photo editing and your camera. Highly recommended.

  7. I just finished this class, after having taken Sarah’s first class, Composition and Creativity. Sarah has once again out done herself with the course she has put together. The amount of information she shared and the encouragement she gave each of us to explore and expand our photography was amazing. The lessons are challenging and designed to force you out of your comfort zones. And, Sarah is there to hold your hand and offer her support and guidance every step of the way. Your photography will jump to a whole new level after this class. Truly outstanding!

  8. This is the best educational investment I have made so far. The lessons were thought provoking, succinct, and challenging. It forced me to get outside of my comfort zone and challenged me to look from a different vantage point. Sarah’s feedback was philosophical and thought provoking as well. She brought up ideas that I hadn’t ever considered and pointed out details that I didn’t see on my own. It was just a fabulous educational experience. Thank you!

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