A Guide to Photography and Taking Pictures for Graphic Designers

A Guide to Photography and Taking Pictures for Graphic Designers
Photo by .M for Matthijs

A Guide to Photography and Taking Pictures for Graphic Designers

As a graphic designer, sooner or later you will need to take a picture. If you are fortunate enough to work for a company which supplies you with a camera, use it if that camera is good enough. If it is not, find one that is.

What is good enough? A camera that can provide enough light to adequate illuminate the subject. This can be done with a built-in flash or with an add-on flash. AND, a digital camera that provides enough pixel resolution. A good rule of thumb is anything below 6 megapixels probably won’t do everything you need done.


A hot shoe is the place on a camera where a removable flash is mounted. The hot shoe interface allows the camera and flash to work together.

In general and if you can afford it, get an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) with a removable lens. Some cameras with a permanently attached lens will work, but it needs to be a zoom (telephoto or magnification lens).


Years ago as a photographer who shot several rolls of film a week, I carried a 35-200 mm zoom lens. It met 99.5 percent of my needs a photojournalist. Then, I got my hands on a 24 mm. That lens, a 135 mm fixed length and a 70-200 mm took 99.98 percent of my pictures. The 24 mm shot more than 90 percent of my pictures.

I found that the wide angle lens forced me to get up close to my subjects. By getting close, I picked up details I missed standing a distance away. I started noticing details I missed before. I had to pay more attention to light and the surroundings. As a result, the quality of my photography went way up and I began to receive awards and assignments (which meant more money) that had passed me by previously.

The three basic rules of photography, especially where graphic design is concerned are: Get Close. Get Close. Get Close.

After you get close, start paying attention to what you are taking a picture of.

Start framing that picture, with the camera viewfinder or display, for use in your project before you ever snap the first shot. The viewfinder or screen image is the final edge of the picture. If you think of it as the final edge of the picture for when you turn it into art for your design, you’ll find you will have to get a lot closer than you expect. You’ll also take better pictures.

Getting close means several things:

Rule 1 is More detail in your final image. A good thing, unless your project calls for a blurry image.

Rule 2 is Less cropping needed. With digital images this is especially important. The more you enlarge a digital image, the faster the image quality drops off. When you enlarge a digital image, you enlarge the pixels which make up that image. There is a point of diminishing returns.

crambo - the image is at 100 percent of size with a 180 DPI resolution.

In this example, the image is at 100 percent of size with a 180 DPI resolution.

crambomaged - the pixels begin to show.

In this tight crop and enlargement of the same image, the pixels begin to show. The greater the magnification, the more the pixels will show.

This problem is made even worse when the DPI (resolution) of the original image is lower. Most digital cameras generate images at 72 DPI. They just have a much larger image area.

katie4x4 - 72 DPI and the picture is 4x4.

In this image, the resolution is 72 DPI and the picture is 4×4.

katie7x7 - In this image, the resolution is 72 DPI and the picture is 7x7.

In this version of the same image, the picture is nearly doubled in size. Quality is beginning to drop off as the image is beginning look out of focus as pixels are enlarged.

katie-pixelated - he out-of-focus appearance is even more dramatic.

In this magnified crop, the pixels are even more evident and the out-of-focus appearance is even more dramatic. Increasing the resolution of the image through Photoshop does nothing to clear up the image. The fuzziness remains. Only the pixels are smaller.

Rule 3 isĀ  Less image manipulation. Even if you will severely alter the picture in something like Photoshop, starting with an image which fills the frame is going to move you ahead of the game as No. 2 states.

Rule 4 is Watch the Light. You can see quickly if you have enough light. Where are the shadows? Do they obscure something important? If so, move the subject if you can and reshoot. If not, turn the camera flash to the highest setting. Cameras with built-in flashes may not generate enough light, which is why an SLR with interchangeable lenses is good. These cameras support add-on flash (called strobes in the photography industry) units.

Watch the light because image-enhancing options cannot bring out an image that simply isn’t there. If what you need is neither washed-out or obscured. You will spend unnecessary time in a photo support program trying to correct this. The best thing to do is not let it happen in the first place.

009 - there is plenty of light.

In this example, there is plenty of light. There’s just not enough light under the tent. Now lets see what happens when there is either too much or too little light in a picture.

light2 - the camera's flash unit was needed

In this image, taken indoors, the camera’s flash unit was needed, but was not turned on.

washout - the flash was too much and the picture is washed out.

In this example, taken indoors, the flash was too much and the picture is washed out.

If you are shooting in a well-lit location, get the lights behind you. Existing light is called ambient light. This is especially important outdoors. People you plan to take pictures of will line up so the sun is to their back. This means their face will be in shadow. If you are going for a silhouette effect, that’s what you need, But if you need to see faces, the sun needs to shine on them.

This may be a problem on a sunny day, especially when you don’t want the people to wear sunglasses. Here’s what I do:

Tell the people to close their eyes. Tell them you will count to three. On three, they are to open their eyes for an instant. You snap the picture in that instant.

You won’t get squints and you should get everyone’s eyes open.

Rule 5 is watch the background.

Make sure there are no trees growing out of someone’s head.

badbackground - colored lights appear to be growing out of the head on the girl at left.

In this example, strings of colored lights appear to be growing out of the head on the girl at left. Moving slightly probably would have taken the lights out of the picture. Make sure the background is either clear or shows things you want seen.

fishin - people fishing

In this example, while the central point is people fishing, the background is interesting and could be important depending on how the picture is used. You can manipulate the background if needed with software, but if it can be easily done before the picture is taken, you are ahead of the game.

Rule 6 is don’t stand in one place.

Walk around. Kneel. Climb up on something. Change the camera’s angle and you can sometimes dramatically change the picture.

scooter1 - the rider and motorcycle stayed in one place and the photographer moved.

scooter2 - the rider and motorcycle stayed in one place and the photographer moved.

In this example, the rider and motorcycle stayed in one place and the photographer moved. The difference in images is quite dramatic. The angle of the bike is different and the background is different.

Rule 7 is shoot pictures.

Considering the overall cost of a project, short and long term, film is cheap, the cheapest part of your project. Digital images are even cheaper yet. By getting a lot of images, you give yourself more to work with when you get back to the computer.

[tags]photography, photographer, graphic design, digital photography, shoot pictures, take pictures, shooting pictures, taking pictures, tips for photography, photography for designers, images, pictures, graphics[/tags]

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  1. Salote Vodoimua
    Posted July 8, 2009 at 4:12 am | Permalink

    I really love this site… helps me learn more…
    Just started with Graphic Designing stage1 in a university in Fiji… and Loving taking photos…

  2. Posted July 21, 2009 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the tips my friends always say I’m the worst photo taker ever. Hopefully this will help

  3. lindsay
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    wow.. now that REALLY is photography for complete and total novices. MOST of the stuff talked about in here is really common sense. I mean, WOW the idea of moving to a different position to take a picture, that is just earth shattering. That will change the ENTIRE way I take pictures! I always thought i had to stand in one place!

  4. Posted August 13, 2009 at 3:03 am | Permalink

    Great tips, my family portraits have never looked so good. My tip for you guys is ‘always make sure the lense cap is off, before you start snapping’

  5. Posted August 16, 2009 at 4:07 am | Permalink

    it’s really an amazing help for all who have just stepped into photography.

  6. Tery Intrygue
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 1:34 am | Permalink

    this really helped alot. now all i have to do is learn how they do those urban rap & r&b album covers in photoshop. lol. if you can help me please email me. peace

  7. Posted September 3, 2009 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    Im not much of a professional photographer but these tips sure do help alot… Thanks !

  8. Posted September 11, 2009 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Rule six is the best photograph for me because the background is water

  9. rafe
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    I’ts very interested to me!!!!!!

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