What is it that makes a photo pleasing to the eye and attractive to your mind? You might think of bright colors, the uniqueness of the composition, the activity of the people in the grouping, or the sharpness of the image. These are all critical items that cause us to be drawn to an image. When taking pictures – or selecting an image for your design project – how does your photo compare with the points listed above?
Quality photographs can convey information and emotions in a way that words simply cannot. Such photos greatly enhance a design by catching a person’s attention and by drawing viewers into the layout. Having an eye for strong photographic compositions is essential, whether you are creating the snapshot as a photographer or are simply working a picture into your layout design. With the high-quality image capturing equipment available today, we don’t need better equipment to obtain attractive images, just skills to maximize the images we use in our work.
Get closer to the subject(s). Closer is most often better. Backgrounds are usually less important and less interesting to the viewer than the faces of the people being captured. Faces of people are generally more important than their entire bodies, head to toe. However, if a photo involves comparing people’s height, head to toe is an important composition element.
Understand sun angles and time-of-day lighting. The colors of nature change as the sun angle changes. Midday sun produces less contrast which, as a result, reduces visual interest, coloration and definition. Early morning or late day sun has a different coloration than during the main part of the day.
Automatic exposure settings on modern cameras are not always helpful in obtaining an optimum image, so a more intimate knowledge of photographic processes (such as f-stops) will help you produce a more desired result. Also of note are camera flashes; most camera’s flashes are only useful for up to 10-15 feet.
Include action or staged action to increase the viewer’s interest. Photographs that show action attract the eye more readily than static images. For instance, a picture of somebody throwing a baseball will grab your attention quicker than an image of someone merely sitting.
An action shot can create angles of interest that move the viewer’s eye across the photo/layout. The direction that the photo subject’s eyes are looking, the ways in which the subject’s limbs are positioned – all of these aspects contribute to a photo that is not only interesting to look at but can help tell a story as well.
More pictures are better than fewer. When working as a photographer, make sure to take plenty of pictures. Consider wedding photography: this is the one time that family and friends are together with the bride and groom; this is your one chance to capture The Big Day. Take ample photos so that you can capture as many moments as possible. Although not every photo will be of superior quality, you will undoubtedly have a greater amount of images to choose from when submitting your photos to the customer.
Graphic designers benefit from having numerous photos to choose from as well. Although adding too many photos to a layout will confuse the design, relying on backup photos will make your job much easier. Recall that print projects almost always include a safety zone and that re-sizing certain photos will distort the pixels. If the single photo you chose goes too close to the cut edge of a piece, or if the image become too low-resolution upon re-sizing, then you have to re-work your design or take extra time to find a new photo. If you have several high-quality pictures among your assets, you can simply select the correct photo from the collection so that your layout is not print-ready but engaging to the viewer as well.
Having a working knowledge of photo composition and the capabilities of your equipment will make the projects you encounter as a photographer (or a graphic designer) much easier. By making/using photos that show the subject(s) up close, by understanding how lighting affects colors and contrast, by including action in the images, and by using a wide selection of images, you will have a basic command of photographic design principles that can streamline future endeavors.
Be aware of the quality curve. As camera technology takes a step up, the results (photos) often decrease in quality overall. This relationship might occur because more people enter the market by buying the newest, high-end camera, thinking that the latest camera technology will automatically create stunning images like those seen in magazines or online. Seasoned photographers know that cutting-edge equipment is only part of the equation; if the images created with a top-of-the-line camera are made without proper attention to lighting, composition, and color, the ensuing photos will look merely drab and ordinary.
Know the relationship between image file size and quality. Years ago a client came into our store with a memory SD card, wanting us to print out the images he had taken with his expensive new camera. Our printed product looked much less than ordinary and the customer asked why his photos turned out so poorly. When asked what settings he used on the camera, the client mentioned that the instructions said he could only get a small number of images at the top setting. The client said he than chose the setting that allowed him to get as many pictures as possible on the SD card, not knowing that the setting he chose created photos with fewer pixels, which in turn resulted in lower quality pictures.
A camera is only as capable as the photographer who holds it. To purchase the newest camera without having a background in photographic composition and lighting is like buying a race car capable of doing over 100 mph and always driving it at 30 mph. Budding photographers can save money and buy a 30 mph car to cut their teeth on before moving up to the latest and greatest equipment.