Why Graphic Design Principles Help Photographers: 2021 Guide

This is a guide covering graphic design and photography.

After reading this guide, you should understand the topics of:

Let’s dive in.

graphic design and photography

Graphic Design and Photography

Photography is often viewed differently than other art forms.

There’s an assumption that photographers “take” photographs.

They press a button and make a carbon copy of the scene in front of them.

This is correct, to some extent.

But to define photography this way disregards the combination of skills and creativity necessary to produce quality work.

How do people see graphic designers?

Usually, graphic designers are thought of as “kind of” artists, who do a bit of drawing, dabble in digital art, and are responsible for things like advertisements.

Again, these contain a grain of truth. But they overlook the expertise the job demands.
Graphic design involves many skills, including artistic ability, and proficiency in various software such as InDesign and Photoshop.

Both fields—photography and graphic design—demand a high level of creativity and an appreciation of artistic nuance.

We’ve done some thinking about how photographers can benefit from seeing the world through a designer’s eyes.

graphic design and photography

How Does A Graphic Designer Think?

Each individual designer will obviously have their own approach to the job.

But there are a few fundamentals that they all rely on to produce quality work.

Whether these are principles such as color theory and visual hierarchy, or particular ways of thinking, photographers can use these elements to step outside the box and see the world through a different lens.

1. Purposeful Art

Graphic design often involves using art for a specific purpose.

Some artists (painters, sculptors) produce art with the sole intention of creating a work of beauty, while others use it as a means of self-expression.

Graphic designers, however, are tasked with using artistic elements to achieve something tangible.

Creating an attractive and user-friendly website, developing a logo for a brand, or putting together the cover of a magazine.

graphic design photography

2. Separating To Bring It Together

When designing a magazine cover, for example, a designer must consider several things, such as the target audience, subject matter and current trends—whether in fashion, cooking or sport.

Their creative task is to bring these themes together into a coherent whole that is also visually pleasing.

Their artistic process?

To sift through all the possibilities and decide what makes the cut.

3. Cut The Fluff

As a photographer, your approach might be very different. You watch the world through the viewfinder and try to capture as much as possible in every frame.

In some situations that works, and it can result in exceptional images. In many scenarios, however, photographers would do well to think like the hypothetical cover designer: decide what needs to be there and what doesn’t.

Instead of trying to capture as much as possible, decide to focus on what is necessary and strip away all the “fluff” that gets in the way.

graphic design cut fluff

4. Communication

No graphic designer is successful without excellent communication skills.

They’re not only required to communicate with their clients but also to communicate messages through their designs.

Some photographers might work this way—photojournalists, for example—but many are more accustomed to focusing on the image itself: its structure, colors, and aesthetics.

Those elements are, of course, critically important to a decent photograph, but all too often photographers fail to push themselves past this point.

A photo can be aesthetically pleasing while also communicating a message. And when it holds a deeper meaning, viewers are far more likely to “interact” with it on an emotional level.

A pretty picture can get someone’s attention, but an image with a message keeps it.

graphic design communication

Graphic Design Principles

There are several principles that graphic designers use.

Concepts such as alignment, repetition, contrast, balance, color, and hierarchy get taken into account with every project they tackle.

Photographers, too, are constantly working with different elements, but can benefit greatly from exploring the subtly different approach of a designer. Two brief examples are:

i. Alignment

In graphic design, alignment is used to achieve balance, group elements, and create a clear overall composition.

When taking photographs, experiment with shapes, lines and angles instead of focusing on a specific subject.

Many photographers are familiar with the golden ratio, or the rule of thirds.

But they could benefit from looking at alignment from a purely design perspective, and even experimenting with compositions focused on alignment instead of a specific subject.

graphic design alignment

ii. Repetition

Graphic designers use repetition to connect different parts of an image.

Repeating a font or pattern, for example, can create a strong brand identity that people recognize without seeing the name of the brand itself.

Once again, photographers use repetition in photo composition, but looking specifically for repetition in scenes can open up many opportunities for interesting images that weren’t obvious before.

graphic design repetition

Deadlines, Direction, And Decisions

Artistic skills aren’t the only things necessary in graphic design. Designers often have to go through a lengthy process with a client to produce what is needed.

Good communication skills, an ability to change a design in line with feedback, and a basic understanding of billing processes and even the accounting software in use are often necessary to keep a project moving forward.

A design almost never happens without collaboration.

Each project also comes with time constraints, whether it’s a few days or a few months. This is something many photographers don’t deal with daily, depending on their specialty.

Working to a strict deadline can encourage photographers to hone in on a subject and achieve clarity faster, rather than shooting hundreds of photos without specific intentions.

While a graphic designer can often make changes or tweak a final product, a photographer doesn’t have this luxury.

Setting time limits and forcing the decision-making process can lead to better photographs, as there’s greater pressure to deliver a result.

deadlines

Make A Photo, Don’t Take It

It’s easy to see that graphic designers spend a lot of time creating.

Each click of the mouse is part of their artistic process and contributes to creating an impressive end product.

In contrast, many still see photography as “taking”—clicking a shutter to capture an image that is already in front of them.

One of the most useful tools photographers can learn from graphic designers is the ability to make, not take.

Looking through the viewfinder, a photographer might see all elements lined up for the perfect shot, but that is rarely the case.

Stepping into the shoes of a graphic designer can turn every environment into a captivating image.

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