Take Photos Through the Lens of a Graphic Designer

Photography and Graphic Design, A Marriage of Cousins

Photography and Graphic Design are very interrelated fields and the skills and techniques that apply to one can also be applied to the other.  Both are visual forms of artistic expression.  Graphic Design’s goal is to convey information clearly and in a manner that is pleasant to the audience.  I’m sure you can see why those skills would be useful to a photographer.  So lets get started!

Lines In Design

The line is one of the most basic elements of visual communication, but it’s fundamental nature informs its ubiquity.  Line is a form that has width and length, but no depth.  In graphics design, lines are used to create edges or separations between elements.  You wouldn’t guess it, but simple lines can be used effectively to convey large amounts of information and emotion.

Horizontal lines are considered to be peaceful and meditative because they invoke images of a horizon.  Vertical lines, however, are more active and aggressive.  They denote size, strength, and prominence.  Diagonal lines indicate movement or action and have a dynamic feeling.  Curved lines have a sense of softness and smoothness and beauty.  Curved lines also have an interesting property in that they can be discontinuous without throwing off the design.  Studies show that the mind tries to complete curved lines and follows them even if there is a gap.

The form of shape of the line aren’t the only aspects that carry meaning.  The weight or thickness of the line denotes a sense of structure.  Thin, wavy lines are fun and whimsical while thick, heavy lines are resolute and static.  Tight, short, and scribbled lines denote chaos and energy.

Indicate, Don’t Illustrate

Lines convey so much information, in fact, that you can use the minimum lines to identify what is truly interesting about your design.  Creating the concept and core structure of your piece with minimal lines helps you understand how to capture the form of your subject in the most recognizable fashion.

Lines are a large part of layout.  Even if they are not expressly drawn, they are often indicated by the design structure.

Lines in Photography

We can apply these design principles to our photography.  If you want a calm, serene look, try to photograph long horizontal lines in both the foreground and the background.  This makes the scene look expansive and open.

If you want to project strength with your photo, try to compose it with less vertical lines and more horizontal.  This will make the subject taller and more prominent.

Diagonal lines denote movement. so if you are photographing something with movement, you need to compose for it.  For instance, if the photo is a surfer, try not to show the water horizon in the surfing show because the strong horizontal line will detract from the dynamic nature of the subject.  If you recompose to show the subject at more of an angle, you can capture the movement in a much more dynamic way.

Curves are a great way to denote softness and beauty.  Even subjects that don’t necessarily think of as soft and beautiful, like a spiral staircase, can be shown this way if composed correctly and accentuating the curves.

Rule of Thumb: When flummoxed, break subject down to lines, then decide what emotion you want to convey with the photo.  Your task then becomes to accentuate those lines in such a way to convey that emotion.