Design Principles For Photography: Basics Creative Photography, Second Edition
By Jeremy Webb
1. Basic design theory
The role of the viewfinder in photography
The use of space
The rules and when to break them
Exercise 1 – Cropping
Photographic genres – Still life photography
Styles and movements – Pictorialism
2. The elements of design
Shape or form
3. First design principles
Variety and unity
Exercise 3 – Form and structure
Photographic genres – Landscape photography
Styles and movements – Surrealism
4. Depth and scale
Actual and illusory depth
Scale and proportion
The absence of scale
Exercise 4 – Abstract images
Photographic genres – Stock photography
5. Movement and flow
Exercise 5 – Observation
Photographic genres – Constructed or staged photography
Photographic genres – Photojournalism and documentary photography
Styles and movements – Modernism
6. Emphasis and emotion
Point of interest
Focus areas vs areas of de-focus
Mood and emotion
Exercise 6 – Themes
Photographic genres – Editorial photography
7. Putting it all together
Expressing views and visions
Symbolism as visual shorthand
Exercise 7 – Concepts and ideas
Photographic genres – Design and conceptual photography
Styles and movements – Postmodernism: Predominantly 1960s to 1990s
Acknowledgements and picture credits
The idea of studying design principles in photography can sound a little off-putting – much like the tedium of learning scales when starting to play a musical instrument. This book will hopefully remove that kind of negative association and show how photography underpinned by the power of design principles is photography that has the power to last and affect us deeply. Design plays a vital role in turning images into long-distance runners, not simply sprinters.
Our resistance to design principles partly lies in our attitude and approach to design in the widest sense. We’ve simply become immune to design’s overwhelming effect on our daily lives. From the moment we wake up and hurl our alarm clocks to the floor, to the moment we close our eyes and turn off our digital radios, our days have been filled with well-designed furniture, cars, magazines, packaging, town planning and so on. Most of it works, although much of it doesn’t. But design always promises something – mostly, the idea that it is intended to make our lives a little better.
It could be argued that design principles make our photography a little better. However, this is a feeble underestimation of their usefulness to photographers or lovers of photography. Rather than existing as a strict set of unchallengeable rules or guidelines, design principles applied to photography can act as a kind of fluid, flexible and unseen nervous system that brings images to life. Some great photographers naturally have the wisdom and insight to work with design principles. However, not all photographers share this talent. Luckily, it is a skill that can be learned and developed to create memorable and lasting images.
The continuing rise of digital culture has reignited interest in the world of photography as a mass art form, and new channels of distribution have opened up to send billions of photographs spinning across the globe at a bewildering rate. It’s not simply the technological new age that facilitates this volume and speed of image distribution – our collective mindset and greed for speed also grease the engine. The world is simply crammed full of photographs like never before.
This appetite for photography, however insatiable, is still hungry for photographs of substance, craft, meaning and powerful intent, despite an overwhelming landslip of the mediocre and mundane. What makes photographs endure? A photographer who calls upon his or her sense of design and delivers with style and vision sends images out there that are worlds apart from those generated with mere speed and convenience in mind.
An understanding of design doesn’t slow you down, trip you up or stand in your way. It is a skill available to everyone at all times and unless we reach out and grasp the full potential of the medium, photography just sits and runs in ‘sleep mode’ when it should be life-affirming, vivid and impossible to ignore.
Title: Red sofa and banana
Source/photographer: Jeremy Webb
Design awareness enables photographers to see potential in situations that are not apparent to others. It improves your photography and increases your ability to see the world differently by understanding how even the simplest scene can provide opportunities to be playful with the principles of design.
Basic design theory
The opening chapter takes a close look at a few of the most important steps in the process of photography – how you frame your subject and where you take your photograph from. Decisions over distance, angle and viewpoint can profoundly affect the overall appearance of the final image, and the use of space within photography can give life and substance to your subject, influencing how we ‘read’ photographic images.
The elements of design
These elements are widely considered to consist of six design features or characteristics that photographers can utilize within their picture-taking to create images with vision and creativity. Like raw ingredients ready to be powerfully combined by the design process in the following chapter, we’ll take a look at each one in turn and evaluate how they can be used as aspects of composition.
First design principles
Having looked at the raw ingredients or elements of design in the previous chapter, this critical section of the book shows how the elements of design can be processed, combined and manipulated to create powerful images that have design at the heart of their appeal.
Depth and scale
All photographs are two dimensional, but this doesn’t have to limit our thinking or our intuition. The use of design principles can create the illusion of depth and this can influence our involvement within the image. We’ll look at how proportion and scale can confuse and delight the eye, and how the art of the abstract is derived from an awareness of simple but essential design principles.
Movement and flow
When photography appears too static or limp, it’s often because the image contains no real sense of motion. Motion means life. A sense of movement can bring an image to life with powerful directional forces that demand an active engagement with the image rather than a passive acceptance. This aspect of photography can be easily accessed through the use of dynamic design.
Emphasis and emotion
To a large extent, successful photography relies on the ability of the photographer to construct his or her image so that its audience will respond to the same point of interest (POI) or feel the emotional response the photographer intended. This chapter looks at how the use of colour, focusing and a range of compositional techniques subtly or profoundly influence our emotions.
Putting it all together
What good is all this knowledge if it simply remains theoretical? Applying design principles to your work puts you in charge of the whole picture. We wrap things up in this chapter by looking at symbolism, presentation and a range of ideas to help keep design at the heart of your work. Applying design principles to your work puts you in charge of the whole picture.
Source/Photographer: Jeremy Webb
The mundane sight of supermarket trolleys is given a different twist by shooting through a rain-soaked car window. The vivid blues and reds of the webbing straps have softened and bled almost like watercolour paints on paper, providing a softer and less distinct image of the everyday.