Photographic design: How to compose a photo.

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

We now live in an age where pretty much anyone can get their hands on a reasonably good quality digital #camera. As a result, there has been an explosion of high-resolution #images - from pictures of overly saturated landscapes to millions (yes millions!) of cat #pictures. Whether the easy availability of #digital cameras has resulted in more aesthetic photography remains to be seen, but perhaps it is time to revisit #photography and consider composition and meaning above #technical aptitude.

Ok, admittedly the opening paragraph sounds a bit pompous bordering on arrogant. I apologise if it comes across that way, but ultimately I would like to see a sense of #design applied to modern photography. That is, more thought is given to #composition and/or the #story within an image. When I view a photograph I want it to #evoke something emotionally. It doesn’t necessarily have to be pleasant, but it should make me feel something more than simply “that’s a nice picture”. So what do I consider as good design when it comes to #photography? Is it a case of following the “#rules” - rule of thirds, leading lines, framing etc? Is it a matter of #planning every #shoot before actually taking the photographs?

Personally, good #design doesn’t have to rely on any of the mentioned points, although of course it can and many images are often held together by those #rules. To me, good design is about taking a photograph with a particular #purpose or #idea in mind. Does the image #communicate something with its viewer? Does the image encourage #curiosity? Does the image challenge our perceptions of reality and does it force us to reflect on ourselves or the world around us?

I appreciate for some #art purely needs to be aesthetically #beautiful. For me, this is simply not enough. Art, and indeed photography, can play a critical part in shaping peoples and societies #values. Often it is about not pleasing #people, but rather forcing them to #confront their inner demons and their very thoughts on life itself.

The recent event in #Australia whereby prominent #photographer Bill Henson had his photographs removed by the police and condemned by the prime minister for being pornographic, is not so much a reflection on the #artist themselves, but rather on those who see the images in a negative light for whatever #reason. The images were innocent if people saw them that way, but if they saw them as perverted and inappropriate, perhaps then it says more about their #minds and associated #thoughts on the imagery rather than the artist who created them. Do I consider there was an element of good #design about Henson’s work? Absolutely. If they were designed to confront and encourage #viewers to reflect emotionally they were dead on #brief.

One of my biggest concerns is also social #media. If we are not careful it can turn art from an element of culture that celebrates #difference, into something of #conformity. For me, the online community whereby artists are rewarded for being “liked” runs with huge risks. By our very nature, humans like to be #accepted, therefore it is not surprising many will create artworks that are designed to be liked by their peers rather than taking a risk and creating something #challenging and confronting. The same applies to photography, and it would seem there has been a wave of images that ultimately all look #similar due to the creation of photographic applications that apply instant effects to photographs. 

Many would disagree with me and suggest there is a huge wave of accessible #technology which will lead to an explosion of #creativity. For me, I am not convinced. By making photography so easily accessible, people are thinking less about the design of an image and purely aiming to be “popular”. If we are to inject #design and #meaning into photography again, perhaps we need to move away from the popular technologies.

Note: I will highlight though, there are many people out there that are doing amazing original work, so I am in no way suggesting #creativity and #uniqueness is dead.

Books on photography.

Nick Griffin

Aspiring Actor & Comedian
Disability & Social Justice Advocate

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