Beginning Designer's Guide to Working with Photographs
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Photographs almost always add interest to a design and emphasis to a message. Extra-large or extra-small photos, dramatic cropping, interesting filters, or special digital effects can transform a ho-hum layout into a creative visual solution.
We’ll present some basic guidelines for planning your photographs, but don’t be shy about deviating from those guidelines and stretching the boundaries of what we used to call “Journalism 101” photography: totally safe, conservative images, properly lighted and cropped. Now we refer to this style as the “Pleasantville” look, where everything is completely predictable, perfect, and ideal, which is often completely boring.
A photograph can actually look terrible by Pleasantville standards and be a great image for your design. If you doubt it, look at many of the photos in high-tech, high-fashion, or youth-culture publications. Catchy, smart, sassy, provocative, disturbing—anything but boring.
Watch your Composition
The composition of a photograph (or a layout) refers to how the elements of the image are arranged and manipulated to direct your attention through the image or design. This is done with the visual suggestion of the direction of lines and form, the emphasis created by lighting, color, contrast, and size.
A well-designed photo has been planned with an awareness of composition and with a conscious attempt to control a viewer’s focus and attention, leading the eyes from one point to another in a particular order.
An effective composition can be subtle and unobtrusive, or it can be a flashing, neon sledgehammer, depending on the style and tone you want to convey in the message.
For some great tips and techniques on taking your own photos, go to the Kodak web site (www.kodak.com) and find the section on “Taking Great Pictures.” It’s a wonderful resource.
The most common problem is the most fixable—take a good look through the viewfinder of the camera. Look for a stovepipe coming out of the top of someone’s head, half-eaten food, wrinkles in clothes, odd shadows, unnecessary clutter, and anything that is not visually pertinent to the image. If you can’t move the object, move the photographer.
photographstipsLet’s say you’re taking a photo of some of the members of your bike club on their cross-country trip. This is a typically bad shot—there are telephone poles and wires, overflowing dumpsters, and other superfluous, distracting, and downright ugly stuff in the photo. Since you can’t move the poles and the dumpsters, move yourself!
Don’t always crop in tightly when taking the photo. If you leave a little extra space around the image, you have more options for layout design later. Professional photographers tend to compose the image beautifully through the lens, but that means you might have fewer choices in how you use the photo later.
Take photos from different viewpoints. A simple change of origin can turn an average photo into an interesting one. (For this particular image of a dinner party, we ran an artistic filter on it because even though we liked the photo, it wasn’t a technically great one because of the lighting conditions.)