The Properties Of An Image

In order to understand images, we need to be able to talk about them. We need to be able to identify various attributes of images, and see how they are different than other images.

I call these tools "image properties", but they sometimes might better be considered as "properties of things in images".

Here's a list of some common properties that an image (or a thing in an image) may have.

  • Brightness
  • Contrastyness
  • Color
  • Saturation
  • Size
  • Position
  • Sillhouette
  • Focus (out of focus vs. sharp)
  • Motion Blur
  • Implied motion
  • Headroom
  • Facing Direction/Looking Direction
  • Distance from camera
  • Perspective Distortion
  • Framing
  • Completeness

Many of these are self-evident, but let's break it down.


How bright is the object? Is it totally white or black? Over or under exposed? Are it's edges bright, is it totally bright, and/or does it have highlights?


How Contrasty (yes that's a real word) is it? In some ways, this is the opposite of blurriness, as contrastiness and percieved sharpness often go hand in hand.

Does this object take up a little bit of space on the histogram, or do we see a full range of tones from black to white?


What color is it? What is the nature of that color? What does that color say about the object? What does the color pallete of the image say? Are there complimentary, or other such color rules, at play?


Saturation refers the percieved color intensity of any color or object. How 'colorful' is it, basically? Saturation can be hard to define, but it is easier to think about as the opposite of greyscale.

How does saturation get increased, anyway?

Changing the saturation of an image isn't quite as simple as pushing the "R, G, and B" values further from each other, as this would eventually leave us with just red, green, and blue pixels. First, the color is converted into a different color-space, a 3 dimensional map of colors. RGB space is a 3D space with red, green, and blue values on an axis. Converting to a different color space such as HSL where the colors are organized by hue,saturation, and lightness as opposed to by quantity of red,green, and blue-ness. THen one pushes the colors along the saturation channel easily, and then convert back to RGB. These conversions are matrix transformations, if you remember your linear algebra from college. If not, don't worry about any of this.


How big is the object compared to other objects? How much space does it take up in the frame?


Where (in the 2D image plane) is the object? Is it on one of the third-lines?

Where (in space) is the object? Is it near other objects? Far from them?


What is the outline of the object? Is it a blob, or defined? Does it overlap with other objects in the scene


Is the object in focus? Is all of the object in focus?

Motion Blur

Does the object have motion blur, or is it on a background that has motion blur?

Implied Motion

Does the object look like it should be moving, like a car with blurry wheels, or a person running.


If it does have motion blur or implied motion, does the object have space to move in the image, or is it against the edge of the frame?

Does the object have spacing around it, is it "comfortable" where it is, or does the position feel unnatural, like a person's face up against the far side of a photo.

Facing Direction/Looking Direction

Is the object "open", towards the camera, or "closed", away. Is the object towards the edge of the frame or towards the middle/accross the frame.

If there are eyes, are they looking at camera, behind camera, or to the side? Is the head facing the same direction the eyes are? Is the chest (the collarbone) facing the same direction as the eyes and/or head?

Distance From Camera

How far is the object from the camera? Was the photographer fery far away, or very close? Is the object the closest thing?

Can the photographer get closer? Could they go further away?

Perspective Distortion

Does the size of the object relative to other objects in the scene match with our expectations of reality, or have things become amplified? Are flat objects still flat?

If this object is one of a series of similar objects, like columns on a building, how much different in size is this object than the others?


Does the object have a natural, unnatural, or implied frame around it.

A natural frame like a window, looking through railing poles, or curved tree branches; where an object would be surrounded in a sight that may be expected "naturally".

An unnatural frame where something has been constructed, placed, or held up to the camera.

An implied frame where there is no literal frame, just a use of shadows and other compositional elements to 'surround' the subject.


Is all of the subject visible. Is any part not visible implied in existence, like the top of a head, or uncertain, like how far down an iceburg goes.

If somebody is reacting from something, is that something visible?

It's All Relative Baby

I skipped many of the hypothetical questions because they are all the same: Is this the most [blank] thing in the image? Is is the brightest? The darkest? The only thing in focus? Is it the closest thing to the camera? The furthest? Does it break a pattern? These questions one can ask themselves about almost everything on this list when considering why an image does or does not work, and what to do about it.

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