How Designers Can Benefit from Photography

It’s common for visual artists to get a little territorial. A graphic designer may wonder how could a painter ever do what I do?  or vice versa. And it’s true: each discipline requires a different skillset, and if an artist desires to master their craft (especially for profit), they focus solely on that discipline, which, in turn, creates that sense of territorialism.


However, a healthy knowledge and understanding of other art forms will often increase an artist’s proficiency in their own field. It will also increase their marketability, which is invaluable in times of increased freelance competition. In this case, photography skills can benefit graphic and web designers.


Increased spatial comprehension

Good photography relies on spatial relations and composition. Composition utilizes the principles of balance, lines, flow and focal points to create a pleasing effect for the viewer. As any designer knows, these are also characteristics that define a good web or graphic design.

Photography provides the benefit of studying “real-world” weight to objects, which can (and should) be applied to the composition and spatial relations in web design. For example, Google Material Design—a relatively new attempt to streamline design concepts across major sites—focuses solely on the characteristics of paper, which makes browsing the web feel more tactile rather than virtual. For this reason, designers who also use photography better understand the elements that make an image more tactile.

Designers can also benefit from photography by studying movement. A photograph is composed of lighting and color—qualities that rely on the movement from both inside and outside the frame. The slightest change in angle could drastically affect the photograph, which is something that web designers often don’t think about. There’s also movement inside the frame, which can be spontaneous and give a sense of energy to the photograph.

This isn’t to say that all web or graphic design should mirror the characteristics of the physical world; rather, it’s meant to make designers more aware of the spatial relationships, which give a better understanding of visual characteristics. An appreciation of both scale and space—elements of photography— will give a designer confidence in their work, and make them more effective overall.


 A greater appreciation and utilization of surroundings

Despite the prevalence of computers in our modern culture, it’s still entirely possible to be a fine artist without being tied to a keyboard: writers can kick back at a café with pencil and paper; painters can set up an easel to paint a sunrise. Web designers, on the other hand, don’t get this luxury. The inherent nature of their work limits them to the space in front of a screen.

It may seem obvious to state, but the virtual space of the Internet does not share the same qualities as real-world surroundings, and it’s easy to become infatuated with the lackadaisical, ethereal aesthetics of the Internet. Photography, however, contains urgency, deliberation and focus (literal and figurative focus)—which are difficult characteristics to convey in the virtual world, but, if achieved, create striking designs.

Each photo taken requires decisions regarding subject, angles, settings, movement and placement. Simply, it’s a process—a process handled differently by each photographer, but a process nonetheless. And each time a photographer engages with that process, they are also engaging with their natural surroundings. Designers who utilize this process will have a deeper understanding of their craft instead of throwing design elements around without consequence.

Plus, there’s something to be said about getting some fresh air every once in awhile.


The importance of light and color

Web designers not only benefit from photography by gaining new awareness of spaces around them, but they also have a greater understanding of how color and light affect an image.

As mentioned before, web and graphic design occurs in a virtual space where creators have unlimited possibilities of what they can do to an image. Due to this, it’s easy to become infatuated with the bottomless cache of tricks to achieve an aesthetic, but those who have experience in photography will have respect for how physical color and light affect visual mediums.

Since the process of a camera taking a photo is based on how the eye works, a photographer will have a better idea on how light and color affects mood and tone. Any good graphic designer should know the fundamentals already (warm colors convey passion; cool colors represent calmness, etc.), but a designer with photography experience will better understand how subtleties can have dramatic affect. When an artist has to address these nuanced changes in the real world (i.e. with their photography), it makes them more aware of how their decisions affect the viewer.


Reduce the dependency on other people’s work

On a practical level, an understanding of photography will benefit a web or graphic designer by reducing the need to use other work.

Even the most talented visual artist will sometimes need to use photography or elements of pictures in a design. Some artists will get around this by using stock photos, and that’s perfectly fine, but it also means running the risk of using imagery that’s been or being used elsewhere. Obviously, two designs that use the same stock photo will suffer from diminished originality.

Graphic and web designers will benefit from photography by acquiring their own photos or reference points. This will improve their overall vision, and reduce the need to change a design based on what’s available in stock photo libraries.


Monetary benefits

Artistic careers can be frustrating, and even the most skilled graphic or web design can experience times of financial drought. Branching out into other fields of work, on the other hand, is a good way to increase income. Freelance designers can offer photography services to their clients, which is not only a great financial supplement, but also boosts the prestige and appeal of an artist. Multi-talented designers—or those that can offer the most comprehensive skillsets—are more marketable, and in a freelance culture that’s increasingly competitive and cutthroat, artists should take advantage of every opportunity to appear more marketable.

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