Two professional photographers offer advice on how to expand your sense of style
By David Willis
Design in photography is basically a combination of the functional with the aesthetic. What does that mean? It means that it’s hard to define. The slightest variation in light, tone, colors, patterns, shapes, focus, motion, shading or viewpoint can lead to a drastic difference in the overall feel of a photograph. By manipulation of shutter speed, aperture and lens choice—the functional aspects of a camera—you can vary these elements of design in endless ways.
Because good design is so open to interpretation, there aren’t any laws that will lead to a perfect design for every photograph. There are concepts and ideas that can point in the right direction, however. Recently, we spoke to William Neill and Richard Hamilton Smith, two frequent contributors to OP, for advice on how to improve your sense of photo design.
"For me, personally, I don’t think design is concrete," says Smith. "As soon as we try to define design, that means we’re trying to put a fence around it. I think it’s an evolving process." For Neill, good design is a question of asking himself how he can arrange everything in the frame for the best effect. "After I’ve identified the subject, which is certainly the most difficult aspect, then comes the photographic phase of the process. Is the light right? What lens do I use? Camera position? How do I arrange the elements of my image within the camera’s framing?
Choose A Good Subject Subject choice is probably the most important part of the photographic process. Don’t simply look for an interesting subject; find a way for it to be shown in a different or unusual manner.
"I look for many different things," Smith says. "How light and shadow touch an object, or textures, shapes and patterns. The way colors interact. Those are all part of what goes into the mix of making a picture. Lastly, I decide which parts aren’t necessary for the image I want." Once you’ve selected your subject, it’s important to maintain the balance of the shot.
"How well does everything fit?" Neill asks. "Is something important running off the edge? Is the essence or subject of the photograph distracted by other elements in the image? I think that’s a key thing. Have I distilled the image down into what it’s really all about?"