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There is a difference between MAKING a picture and TAKING a picture. My goal at Photofocus is to turn picture takers into picture makers. Picture making is a much more thoughtful activity than picture taking. Picture taking is akin to snapshooting. You just grab a shot here or there as things come in front of you. There are times when that fits the bill, is fun and even appropriate. But when you are serious about your photography, you want to be more thoughtful, contemplative and careful.

That’s when you want to design a photograph.

Here’s my way of designing a photograph. Your mileage may vary.

1. Have a goal

My pictures – like most these days, are often seen online. With that in mind, a Steve Jobs quote seems appropriate. “We designed the buttons on the screen to look so good you’ll want to lick them.” My goal is similar. I want my photos to look so good on the screen you’ll want to – well you get the point.

2. Have an audience in mind and know what they expect

All good communications practice, whether it be art, illustration, writing or photography revolves around the audience. Who is your audience? What are they like? What interests them? How old are they? Where do they live? What do they like to do? What interests them? What compels them? What makes them happy, sad, lonely, etc.? Most important of all – what are their beliefs, feelings and desires? If you know this information it can and should impact greatly how you design your photograph.

3. Tell a story

When making rather than taking a photograph, you want to think story. Think about what story your photo tells. What will people take away from the picture? What will they think about it later when it’s not in full view – or better yet, will they think about it at all? If you tell a story with your camera you will have a successful image and part of designing the photo is thinking about that story.

4. Craft

What colors will you use to draw in the viewer? What subject and background will you use? How will light (angle, direction, quality and quantity) impact the final result? What focal length lens will you use? What perspective and angle will you take? How will the composition work to support the story you want to tell? You have to think about all these elements (and more) to properly design a photograph.

5. Use layers

Not the kind you find in Photoshop – but visual layers. Make sure your photo has important elements in the foreground and background. Make sure your image has depth. Give the viewer of the image an easy way to get into the photo, use craft to guide them through it, then give them a way out. It’s like a beginning, middle and end to a story. It’s a bit ethereal but think about it and hopefully it will resonate.

6. Think impact

What will hit your viewer first when they see your picture? Think about the thing you WANT them to see and then use things like light, composition, focus etc to make that part of the image stand out – make it shout. Keep it simple. Make the most important thing in the image the most impactful. Don’t leave the viewer guessing. Make it easy to understand what you want them to look at.

I’m just scratching the surface here. Whole books have been written on this subject. Blog-style posts aren’t white papers nor are they meant to be all-inclusive. Thank goodness – if they were I’d never get any sleep. But I do want you to think about this stuff. Play around with it. Add to this list. Then go design a great picture.


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