Ch 9: Photography
Graphic design and photography go hand-in-hand. Composition, layout, and color are all principles that apply to both fields, yet applied through different mediums. One of the most significant factors involved in quality photography is the composition, or how the shot is laid out. For graphic designers layout and balance are critical. While photography and design are separate they do share some of the same artistic “rules,” and learning more about photography can help you with graphic design. Photographs surround us. On television, magazines, books, calendars, websites, and our digital devices they are everywhere. Their quality can make or break the design and feel of a design. The importance of good photography in design cannot be understated. A wonderful shot related to the content of the design can help to bring a reader in. High quality photography is essential to making a design look professional. Many new designers underestimate the importance of choosing the right photography when designing something. People are visual creatures and photography plays a crucial role in creating a great experience for your readers.
TED Talk: “David Carson: Design and Discovery”
Watch TED Talk: “David Carson: Design and Discovery”. Great design is a never-ending journey of discovery — for which it helps to pack a healthy sense of humor. Sociologist and surfer-turned-designer David Carson walks through a gorgeous (and often quite funny) slide deck of his work and found images.
HOW DESIGNERS CAN BENEFIT FROM PHOTOGRAPHY
It’s common for visual artists to get a little territorial. A graphic designer may wonder how could a painter ever do what I do? or vice versa. And it’s true: each discipline requires a different skillset, and if an artist desires to master their craft (especially for profit), they focus solely on that discipline, which, in turn, creates that sense of territorialism.
However, a healthy knowledge and understanding of other art forms will often increase an artist’s proficiency in their own field. It will also increase their marketability, which is invaluable in times of increased freelance competition. In this case, photography skills can benefit graphic and web designers.
Increased spatial comprehension
Good photography relies on spatial relations and composition. Composition utilizes the principles of balance, lines, flow and focal points to create a pleasing effect for the viewer. As any designer knows, these are also characteristics that define a good web or graphic design.
Photography provides the benefit of studying “real-world” weight to objects, which can (and should) be applied to the composition and spatial relations in web design. For example, Google Material Design—a relatively new attempt to streamline design concepts across major sites—focuses solely on the characteristics of paper, which makes browsing the web feel more tactile rather than virtual. For this reason, designers who also use photography better understand the elements that make an image more tactile.
Designers can also benefit from photography by studying movement. A photograph is composed of lighting and color—qualities that rely on the movement from both inside and outside the frame. The slightest change in angle could drastically affect the photograph, which is something that web designers often don’t think about. There’s also movement inside the frame, which can be spontaneous and give a sense of energy to the photograph.
This isn’t to say that all web or graphic design should mirror the characteristics of the physical world; rather, it’s meant to make designers more aware of the spatial relationships, which give a better understanding of visual characteristics. An appreciation of both scale and space—elements of photography— will give a designer confidence in their work, and make them more effective overall.
A greater appreciation and utilization of surroundings
Despite the prevalence of computers in our modern culture, it’s still entirely possible to be a fine artist without being tied to a keyboard: writers can kick back at a café with pencil and paper; painters can set up an easel to paint a sunrise. Web designers, on the other hand, don’t get this luxury. The inherent nature of their work limits them to the space in front of a screen.
It may seem obvious to state, but the virtual space of the Internet does not share the same qualities as real-world surroundings, and it’s easy to become infatuated with the lackadaisical, ethereal aesthetics of the Internet. Photography, however, contains urgency, deliberation and focus (literal and figurative focus)—which are difficult characteristics to convey in the virtual world, but, if achieved, create striking designs.
Each photo taken requires decisions regarding subject, angles, settings, movement and placement. Simply, it’s a process—a process handled differently by each photographer, but a process nonetheless. And each time a photographer engages with that process, they are also engaging with their natural surroundings. Designers who utilize this process will have a deeper understanding of their craft instead of throwing design elements around without consequence.
Plus, there’s something to be said about getting some fresh air every once in awhile.
The importance of light and color
Designers not only benefit from photography by gaining new awareness of spaces around them, but they also have a greater understanding of how color and light affect an image.
As mentioned before, web and graphic design occurs in a virtual space where creators have unlimited possibilities of what they can do to an image. Due to this, it’s easy to become infatuated with the bottomless cache of tricks to achieve an aesthetic, but those who have experience in photography will have respect for how physical color and light affect visual mediums.
Since the process of a camera taking a photo is based on how the eye works, a photographer will have a better idea on how light and color affects mood and tone. Any good graphic designer should know the fundamentals already (warm colors convey passion; cool colors represent calmness, etc.), but a designer with photography experience will better understand how subtleties can have dramatic affect. When an artist has to address these nuanced changes in the real world (i.e. with their photography), it makes them more aware of how their decisions affect the viewer.
Reduce the dependency on other people’s work
On a practical level, an understanding of photography will benefit a web or graphic designer by reducing the need to use other work.
Even the most talented visual artist will sometimes need to use photography or elements of pictures in a design. Some artists will get around this by using stock photos, and that’s perfectly fine, but it also means running the risk of using imagery that’s been or being used elsewhere. Obviously, two designs that use the same stock photo will suffer from diminished originality.
Graphic and web designers will benefit from photography by acquiring their own photos or reference points. This will improve their overall vision, and reduce the need to change a design based on what’s available in stock photo libraries.