Elle & Company

5 Principles of Design to Improve Your Photography Style

Monica GalvanLauren Hooker4 Comments

If you’re a designer who doesn’t feel confident behind the camera, whether that’s your newly purchased DSLR or your beloved iPhone, this post is for you.

What you may not realize is as a designer you already have a creative toolkit at your fingertips of skills to use to develop a striking photography style all your own. Many of the design principles you’ve learned and picked up along the way are key in photography too.

Today we’re discussing 5 principles of design you may already know and use in your design process and show you how to apply them with your photography skills to improve and help develop your own unique style of photography.

5 Principles of Design to Improve Your Photography - The Elle & Company Collaborative

1  |  Concept: Have an idea first


No matter what type of design you specialize in whether it’s branding, print, or web design, we all begin the same way. We start with a strong idea, a concept.

When starting a new design project for a client we generate multiple concept ideas before narrowing down to the final one, this is step one of the creative process. While you may have the concept-generating phase down in your design process you may be wondering, but how does this relate to photography?

Every photograph tells a story.

One of the reasons people connect with photography on such a deep level is because of the emotions they experience when they see the photo. Look back on all the photos you’ve taken, you’ll notice each one tells its own story whether you meant to or not.

Great photographers know this and they use the camera to compose the story they want to share with the world.

Now that you realize every picture is worth a thousand words, what story will you tell? Taking a moment to think about this before you press down on the shutter button of your camera will immediately improve your photography for the better. Instead of creating pretty images for likes on Instagram, focus on creating meaningful photos that tell stories.


2  |  Composition and Framing


Composition is all about how you arrange the elements of your design.

If you’re a fan of Swiss design and live by organized grids, you may want the composition of your photos to be more structured. Structure can mean a centered subject, looking for straight horizon lines, or maybe you use the rule of thirds.

But if you’re more freeform and like your design to bleed off the page then you may want to experiment with your subject to create a more dynamic composition.

Your photography style will evolve as you experiment with composition and combine it with other design principles.

Quick photo tip: When capturing a scene be sure to photography it in more than one way. For example, get in the habit of shooting in portrait and landscape mode and also move in closer and farther away from your subject to be sure to capture those wide angle and detail shots. When it comes to the editing process you’ll be glad you have options!


3  |  Color and Mood


Color has the potential to make the most impact in your photography.

You may be a fan of warm tones with plenty of natural sunlight to illuminate your subject or you might be more of a night photographer focusing on the cooler and darker elements when composing a scene. It’s less about what your favorite colors in a photograph are (though they certainly may have an impact!) and more about the feeling you want to evoke.

For example, a cooler or darker color palette can give off a mysterious and emotive vibe while bright colors can be energetic and loud.

Quick photo tip: One of the best ways to achieve amazing colors in your landscape and outdoor portrait photography is to shoot during the golden hour, the hour of light before sunrise or sunset.

Related post: Learn more about how to shoot during the golden hour

Don’t forget that the lack of color in a photograph can often have just as powerful of an impact, if not more.

Without color to help pull your story along you have to rely on details like lights and shadows. Without the distraction of color you can focus more on themes and the concept or idea of your photo. Black and white photography can be nostalgic, reminiscent of another time but it can also be modern, elegant and sophisticated, it’s all in how you use the technique.

Even if two people took a photo of the same exact scene it would be different because no one can see the world like you can. You have a unique perspective, use that to your advantage


4  |  Create Interest with Contrast


Contrast in design and photography is achieved in several ways.

In design, contrast can mean the difference of using a sans serif typeface with a serif typeface to call out information but it can also refer to color. Using too many similar colors like shades of blue can make for a cohesive design but lack contrast until you add another color into the mix.

Contrast in photography usually refers to how bright or dull colors are in the photo but you can also create contrast with light and shadows. For example, shooting at high noon creates the harshest shadows when shooting outside.

Getting creative with your lighting, both indoor and outdoor, can help you push past boundaries in photography and create something truly unique.


5  |  Hierarchy: Always Have a Focal Point


Equally important as the four design principles listed above is hierarchy. How you use hierarchy to balance the elements can make or break the design, not to mention it has the biggest impact on communication.

Of course a design should be aesthetically pleasing, but above all if it doesn’t communicate an idea clearly then it’s merely decoration.

The same goes for photography. In other words, have a focal point. If you mindlessly snap away with a camera with no real focus you’re most likely going to capture uninspiring photos that no one has a connection with.

 Instead choose a subject, carefully compose your frame around it, and you’ll be on your way to creating engaging photos.


One Last Tip (and the most important!)


Don’t forget to get creative and imaginative with photography! Use these five design principles as guides to help you improve your skills but also incorporate your passions and interests. Before you know it you’ll be creating amazing photographs in a style all your own.

Now, get shooting! Practice and have fun.

Know what you love to shoot + how you like to shoot = your unique photography style.

Are there any other elements of design you feel you can use to improve your photography skills? Let me know in the comments below!


About the Author


Monica Galvan is a visual storyteller who helps creatives find their visual voice and become more confident behind the camera. She is also the creator of Fall in Love with Photography, a free 7 day photo challenge to kickstart your photography. 

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