Tips on Designing with Photographs

Photography as a Design Tool

What can we learn from Jan White about creating a cohesive design for a printed product (anything from a flyer to a print book) using photographs? Essentially, this question directly addresses the goal of all design. That is, how do you take a huge amount of information (visual and written), put similar things together, separate dissimilar things from one another, and lead the reader’s eye and imagination through all of this information in an enlightening and enjoyable way?

Not an easy task. However, there are some guidelines to get you started. Here are a few from Jan White’s Editing by Design. Actually, even though I refer to photos when describing White’s book, the images in the print book are all hand-drawn illustrations and sketches of book page spreads:

Purpose: Choose photos for either the mood/tone you wish to evoke for the design piece (let’s say the huge opening shot at the beginning of a magazine article) or for the narrative content of the photos. Both approaches eschew photos that are (as Jan White says) just “pretty.”

Size of Photos: The most relevant photo (in terms of advancing the goal/purpose/message of the design piece) should be the largest and most prominently placed. This will lead the reader’s eye to this image first. Other photos, which will be smaller, will create contrast in size (contrast is an important element of all graphic design and fine art), while supporting or furthering the message. As you can see, the design grows organically out of the editorial goal.