June 16, 2017

Lessons I Learned From Photography

I’m not the type of person to have many hobbies, but there’s one thing that I have cherished for a while – photography.


I was in elementary school when I first held a camera. As an awkward little kid, I hated assembling into a line, posing and being a part of group/family photos – so my clever solution was to be on the other side of the camera. Ever since then, I have been taking pictures of things around me. From walking around town trying to find interesting subjects to taking photography classes in school, I’ve noticed that many photography tips/lessons apply to graphic design. Let me share what I’ve learned so far.


Know your tools and make the most of what you have

Photography can turn into a very expensive hobby. As a photo-enthusiast, I often get tempted by new camera releases. It’s true that new cameras have better technology and higher resolutions; however, it’s also true that better cameras don’t make you a better photographer. This lesson applies to what I do as a graphic designer. There are numerous new tools and programs coming out almost every day. Instead of jumping into everything, I learned to value establishing my core design skills with the tools and programs I already have. When I do establish my skills, then I’ll know exactly what tools that I need.


Know your grids

One of the first lessons that I learned in photography classes was how to use grids. The most well known rule is called “The Rule of Thirds.” The basic principle behind this rule is to break the image into thirds with horizontal and vertical lines and place the point of interest at where the lines intersect. Similarly in graphic design, grids are essential. We must use grids to set up margins, match baselines and create a cohesive/balanced design.


Break your grids

Rules are meant to be broken.. Following the grids will definitely produce good photos but sometimes it’s too safe. Photographs taken by Alex Webb are good examples of exploring beyond the traditional grid system. I enjoy looking at his style of layering the subjects and treating the scenes in a picture as blocks of shapes. I find the technique of breaking the grid most applicable in web design. Elements that break the grid add movement and a unique characteristic to the site.


Website example: https://conference.awwwards.com/


Photographs by Alex Webb:

photo of kids
image of street
boy in a tree image
image of boys exploring

Think it through

As much as I enjoy taking pictures with digital cameras, I also enjoy using analog, film cameras. Film photography has it’s own unique look that digital cameras cannot produce. Because of its limited resources (24-36 shots per roll), I tend to slow down and analyze each shot before pressing the shutter button. The process of envisioning the final product before you actually start producing is applicable in graphic design. Before I jump on my computer to start working on my designs, I try to sketch as many ideas as I can to form a solid direction.


I’m only in the midst of learning photography. As I progress, I’m sure that I’ll encounter more lessons that I can apply to my graphic design career.

Photo of Kei

Kei Kato is the Pixel Mixer at Fifth Letter, a visual adventurer from the Far East.