5 Moments When Photography Made Me a Better Designer

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Although photography is part of most (if not all) design curricula, it was only recently that I decided to deepen my knowledge beyond the basics.

It might not be obvious to say that photography and design are complementary fields, but they certainly share various concepts. 

That’s what I’m here to discuss today: how photography has enhanced my design process.

The goal here isn’t to delve into the technical aspects (a vast subject that I’m still exploring as a photographer), but to highlight concepts I’ve been applying in my day-to-day work as a designer at Rock Content, making a difference in my daily work.

1. Rekindling the beginner’s mindset

When we start learning something we’re interested in, we become more open to practicing, experimenting, and learning from our own mistakes. This is an ideal moment to stimulate creativity and envision new possibilities.

In the case of photography, it’s no different.

Gaining knowledge about new framing techniques or learning about double exposure, for example, illustrates how photographic concepts can enrich layouts with an extra touch of originality.

On the other hand, an “expert” who has mastered the fundamentals and gained experience can fall into the trap of getting stuck in processes that they already know work efficiently, thus hindering creativity.

Embarking on my photography journey has revived the beginner’s mindset within me, reigniting the desire to experiment and discover new processes.

2. When studying composition

This is a discipline shared by both design and photography.

Principles such as symmetry (or its absence), balance, the rule of thirds, leading lines, framing, and the golden spiral are equally relevant for both layouts and photographs.

Studying photography involves understanding and managing spatial perception, meaning the spatial relationships among elements within a frame.

Enhancing this perception will contribute to improving the distribution and arrangement of elements within a layout.

In this photo, for instance, I captured two Argentine women enjoying the sunset at the “Window of Paradise” in Arraial do Cabo, Rio de Janeiro. This image exemplifies composition, utilizing the natural window frame and applying the rule of thirds: the two women occupy ⅔ of the width and ⅓ of the height of the photo.
The double exposure technique (on the left) assisted me in creating the cover for the 6th edition of Rock Content Magazine (on the right). In these examples, two images are superimposed so that we can view both in a single composition. I used this principle to portray overlapping people and rainbow colors, resulting in the effect seen on the cover.

Another interesting example lies in the relationship between the varied framings of design elements and the different focal lengths of photographic lenses.

Horizontal format pieces, like banners, resemble wider framings provided by wide-angle lenses.

However, on social media, the vertical format of smartphone cameras (usually 1080x1920px) is predominant.

Thus, the same horizontal banner mentioned earlier requires a vertical version to be shared on platforms like Instagram Stories, for instance.

This example showcases the same artwork laid out in different formats: a blog banner, a square post for social media, and a vertical story. In this case, we have 3 different framings, but I needed to redesign the arrangement of elements as I had more or less width in each format.

By studying photographic composition, the designer gains a more versatile arsenal of options to organize graphic and textual elements according to the format of each piece.

3. When studying storytelling

Storytelling is another discipline of utmost importance in photography.

Through it, capturing moments gain a deeper meaning and purpose, resembling how a work of art evokes sensations and impressions in the observer.

By enhancing the skill of storytelling in photography, the designer incorporates a powerful tool to make their layouts more appealing and engaging, using images not just to communicate, but also to narrate stories and evoke emotions.

An example of storytelling through photography: a lone trumpet player sitting on the walls of the “Walled City” in Cartagena das Índias, Colombia. The image leads us to speculate the story behind it: what music was he playing? Was he just practicing or a street artist? Does he belong to a musical group or an orchestra?

The outcome is even more powerful when we combine image and text to creatively tell a story that aligns with the concept of a campaign, for instance.

4. In the creative process

Design and photography share stages of the creative process that range from conceiving a shoot or campaign to experimenting, creating versions, and final refinement.

Studying photography is not only a way to practice these processes but also to enhance aesthetic sensitivity and critical analysis, which are essential in the creative process.

Photography also sharpens visual problem-solving skills, as it demands quick thinking to capture specific moments with appropriate settings, adapt to lighting, plan the best time to shoot, and improvise when things deviate from the plan.

5. Observing the world around me

Lastly, photography has intensified my observation of the world around me.

The feeling that an incredible photo can arise at any moment turns a simple evening stroll in the neighborhood into a photographic expedition and a rich harvest of references.

In this way, with just a few steps, I find myself paying more attention to sunset lighting (the “golden hour”), people in motion (generating authentic everyday portraits), previously overlooked bird species, color and texture combinations in fabric stores, and most importantly, the beauty that encompasses it all.

This heightened awareness and contemplative perspective of the world have revitalized my creativity in blending colors, typography, illustrations, and graphic elements.

If you’re hesitant to start (or resume) capturing images, I can confidently say that it’s been worthwhile.

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