When something is wrong, we instinctively search for the sources of error. We often look in the wrong place. In photography, the search for most people begins with everything but image design: Which camera do I need for this? Maybe it’s because of the lens? Do I have the wrong equipment?
Too rarely or often very late, the point of image design is searched for.
That’s why we take care of the basics of image design in this article. What is image design and what possibilities there are to make your images more appealing. This definitely belongs to the list of the most important things you can do to just take better photos.
Covering all the rules, possibilities and the entire image design here would be an absurd assertion, so here again applies; a blog article, a tutorial, etc. can at best only give a scaffold and an overview. If you want to learn it properly and go deeper, you can’t miss a course and exercises.
What is image design?
Image design is an umbrella term for several tools that belong to this topic. This includes a large number of components. To name but one of the biggest or most important: geometry, perspective, image structure and composition, and also an understanding of colors.
By showing certain colours (or not showing) when taking pictures, or by influencing the colour mix again in post-processing, I also influence the image language and image design.
But before we take care of colors, beautiful one by one.
So where do we start with the photography design?
Looking through the viewfinder. Or, to be sure, even before. If we sharpen our attention then this image design starts when we only move through the area with the camera and look for motifs.
We then concentrate on the geometry and colors that we perceive and think about the image design even before the first glance through the viewfinder. With the camera tool, more or less only what was created in the head is then more or less only realized.
Geometry and perspective
In the viewfinder, the next step happens. Ideally, we are looking for a perspective that is not commonplace. From the perspective from which we always perceive life, it is usually not necessarily the most exciting view of a motif to be found. So try to keep you moving, a little further up, down, left, right… More extraordinary perspective is often a good first approach to image design that captivates the eye.
This is also one of the reasons why I would recommend fixed focal lengths especially for the start (but also later). A zoom lens always leads you to laziness. Standing still and changing the image section is easy. But if you have to move with a fixed focal length, you usually find new, often better perspectives in this movement and sharpen the view.
Geometry and Rules
If a perspective is found, geometry is the next step.
There are several geometric “rules” – the simplest of which is the “third rule”. The image is divided into horizontal and vertical thirds (imaginary or actually in the viewfinder with the grid display). Both the surfaces and the intersections resulting from them are well suited to position motifs in them. And only in the rarest cases is the middle area the most suitable
However, these geometric rules such as golden cut, etc. should be enjoyed with great caution. A rule is sometimes only there to break, that must never be forgotten.
Much more important here is the colour harmony between skin tones, sky, sea, sand and the very reduced other colours that do not distract. In addition, a little more in color theory.
Too much in the picture?
An often seen mistake that hits not only beginners is to put too many motifs in one picture. “Who says what’s too much,” yes, I know the contradictions. And again, exceptions confirm the rule.
But as a rule, an image with too many motifs leads to the fact that there is no clearly recognizable main motif. Which makes it more difficult for the viewer to process the image, which cannot clearly captivate the eye’s attention and is therefore not an image that one looks at longer than the famous one second.
If you manage to provide the eye with as little distraction as possible and a clear main motive, you will find that the image gets more attention. A distracted eye usually leaves the image quite quickly and whatever you want to express or show is not noticed.
In case of doubt, always decide on a main motive.
Image design and colors
An essential part of the image design, which one quickly overlooks especially as a beginner in photography, are the colors. At this point, one could start a fundamental discussion again, whether one wants to “capture what is there” with photography or whether one wants to design something, so that it is appealing to the eye of the beholder.
Both are possible. You can focus on doing everything in terms of image design as “right” as possible, or you can help yourself in editing.
No matter how you do it, paying attention to colors is important. So let’s take a look at the key points to colors and what they can do with your photos.
Image design with complementary colors
The easiest way to get attractive colors into an image are the so-called complementary colors. So 2 colors that face each other in the color spectrum.
As a small tool, there are apps with which you can find color palettes. So you can think beforehand, which colors in your pictures could fit together well. You can also use this tool for image editing to get a nice appealing color mix into the image.
My favorite tool in this field is Adobe Color CC, a free web app:
“Teal & Orange” (see screenshot above) is one of the most well-known variants of appealing complementary colors. This variant is very often used in the film and at the moment also on Instagram. By pulling sky colors slightly into the green in order to no longer be bright blue but just blue-green and other image areas are rather pulled into the warm, this image look is created.
Here I don’t want to dictate or give you fixed rules and color combinations, this is very much due to taste and personal style that you can and should find for yourself. Experiment with colors to your own taste.
Over time, your perception and thus your preferences in terms of colors will also change. There’s nothing wrong with you starting to deal with colors, first of all copying what others are doing and copying colors you see online in photos.
This can be very helpful for the learning process. Just don’t forget to let go of copying and find your own style.
What you show and what you don’t show
Just as important as the colors you show, however, are also the colors you don’t show. Or you don’t allow dominance in the picture.
So try – when photographing or editing – to make sure that, apart from the colors you put value on, the colors that don’t fit and disturb the image don’t get dominance or maybe be completely excluded.
In Lightroom and other image editing programs, you can use the HSL sliders to make colors more dominant or remove their presence, also change their tint, etc. Use these tools without exaggerating and you’ll see how much that helps your images.
Don’t be afraid of image editing
As already mentioned above, one can have far too many fundamental discussions in photography. One of the myriad possibilities is whether or not you can manipulate an image. This discussion is indeed a complete waste of time, because photos have always been manipulated since they were taken. In fact, photography is in a way a manipulation of reality and not an image of it. But we will not be able to have this discussion here.
This photo was taken on our world tour. It was absolutely not time to consider whether there could be disturbing elements in the picture. Correct exposure (yes, this looks underexposed – always expose to the brighter image areas so that you can get more out of the editing) and then simply try to get the scene as completely as possible into the picture.
Image cutout, colors and details can then be easily edited:
From my point of view, there is absolutely nothing to prevent image editing from taking advantage of it. A nice current example from the Shootcamp was this photo from the January Challenge. Beautiful colors, beautiful edge light from the obviously setting sun (in great view the picture comes even better) only the bush at the bottom left in the corner has distracted a little.
A few seconds without much effort in Photoshop, get away with it and already the whole photo benefits from it.
We want to take beautiful photos, we want to create pictures, so let’s just do it with the means we have at our disposal.
As I said, image design is a very extensive topic where you never really stop developing yourself.