Last week I hiked a local mountain called Blodgett Peak with my good friend Randy. It climbs 2500 feet in just 2 miles. This was not an easy hike. Most of the mountain is controlled by the Forest Service, so the trails are neither marked nor maintained. It has steep inclines that increase in height with each step, with ridiculous amounts of loose gravel piled up on the slope. A good chunk of the hike consists of rock scrambling. I felt apprehensive because I knew the hike would be difficult, with an increased likelihood of getting lost.
Back in the ancient days of my youth, a person actually had to have a camera with them to take a picture. But today’s generation has photos at their fingertips by merely pulling out a cell phone. Taking a selfie or a snapshot is effortless. But by applying a few photography techniques, one can take the quality of those photos up a notch. I’m going to discuss three particular skills: Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines, and Depth of Field.
I found this outstanding photograph in the August 2017 issue of Adventure Cycling magazine. It’s on the title page of the article “Canada’s Great Trail: A dream at 125 years is ‘connected’ at 150” by Ellee Thalheimer. The photo was taken by Jean-Marc Carisse and is courtesy of Trans Canada Trail. The caption reads “Trans Canada Trail Board Chair Paul LaBarge shares a misty morning with some very appropriate avian traffic.”
I love this photo! The cyclist is herding geese, with a barren tree in the foreground and hazy outlines of trees in the background. It has a pleasant feel to it from calming colors, and is an excellent example of the Rule of Thirds.
My next photo is an ad in the May 2017 issue of Backpacker magazine, printed on page 55. The featured company is eno, which turns out to be a brand of hammocks. https://www.eaglesnestoutfittersinc.com/. I chose this picture because of its strong Leading Lines that draw the eye to the waterfall.
My third professional photo is from the cookbook Asian Cooking: Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Indian Recipes. The inside cover states “Favorite Brand Name Recipes (trademark) Presents Vol. 1, No. 62, February 16, 2016, published by Publications International, Ltd. The specific photo is found on page 41 alongside the recipe for “Bean Threads with Tofu and Vegetables.”
Depth of Field is the most recognizable photography tool to me, because it’s used in absolutely every photo of food. Whether it’s a recipe, menu selection, or Pinterest food, depth of field is employed. I chose this Asian dish because the background is more cluttered than other examples, so it clearly demonstrates the advantage of using this tool.
Rule of Thirds
The first analysis is the Canadian picture that uses the rule of thirds so well. This composition rule involves laying an imaginary tic-tac-toe grid across a photo. The four places where the lines intersect are the strongest focal points. In this picture we see the cyclist at one of those points and diagonally from it, we see the center of the tree. The grid lines themselves are the second strongest focal points. Here we see the horizon with the line of geese and the bicycle.
For comparison, my neighborhood didn’t have the same misty, soothing elements. To showcase the rule of thirds here I took a photo of the freeway and telephone lines outside the YMCA in Monument, Colorado. The semi truck becomes the focal point as its at the lower right intersection. Not particularly exciting, but there you go.
Above photo by Connie Wilson
The next analysis is of the eno ad, with a photographer relaxing in the hammock. This picture showcases leading lines. The bright, contrasting color of the hammock causes the eyes to naturally sweep towards the edge of the clearing, which reveals a waterfall. Although dark, the shine on the camera is a line pointing straight up, and it takes the eyes directly to the eno brand logo.
The picture I took to mimic the leading lines example is of my daughter relaxing on the front porch. Her legs form the lines that direct the eyes to the stunning autumn leaves on our tree.
Above photo by Connie Wilson
Depth of Field
Depth of Field is used to draw attention to the object in focus, whether it’s in the foreground or the background. Often the object in focus has more light reflecting from it, which also makes it more noticeable. In this photo of “Bean Threads with Tofu and Vegetables,” the details of the food are more sharply in focus than the napkin, glass and other dishes in the background.
The photo I took to mimic the one above is of a typical Asian recipe prepared in my home. Note the food in the foreground is sharply in focus, while the background method of cooking is blurred. This allows the mind to grasp all the elements of the meal, while the photo spotlights dinner itself.
Above photo by Connie Wilson
Daily we are exposed to countless photos– in advertisements, social media, books, newspapers, etc. To make a photo stand out and be memorable, the photographer uses techniques that help steer the reader to what the artist wants him to see. Skills such as Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines and Depth of Field help accomplish that goal.
This is the February 2017 cover of Adventure Cyclist magazine. I can refer you to an online thumbnail of this picture at https://www.adventurecycling.org/adventure-cyclist/adventure-cyclist-online/2017-issues/, but you can’t get closer without paying the $45 annual membership fee. All their magazines show excellent use of typography, but this cover in particular employs several categories of type as well as other contrasting features, resulting in a sharp, memorable image.
The first category of type I’m highlighting is Sans Serif. This typefaces is characterized by letter-forms that are the same consistency throughout with no variation in thickness of the letter strokes. Another feature of this typeface is the lack of serifs, which are the decorative doodads on the end of letter strokes.
The artists also used Slab Serif, a typeface characterized by uniform letter strokes that have horizontal serifs on most of the alphabet letters. The category evolved from the need to easily read letters from a distance, as in the case of signs and advertisements.
A bonus typeface displayed in this magazine cover is Oldstyle, which has angled serifs on the letters. The curved strokes transition from thick to thin; they are replicating brush strokes from quill and ink. A line drawn through the thinnest parts would be diagonal; this is known as “stress” in the typeface world.
Sand serif and slab serif contrast nicely by themselves, but there are several techniques applied to increase the contrast between the typefaces. One is the color of the letters in the word “cyclist” (see photos above). It is schoolbus yellow (or orange, depending on your interpretation of the color of a schoolbus). All other letters are black or white, as well as the picture on the cover. The letters also range in size. One subtitle, here highlighted in blue, has shadowed font that no doubt is a play on the word “sunset.” Finally, here highlighted in pink, the image of the cyclist has been placed over some of the words so that the mind has to fill in the missing letters. It’s a neat trick.
The use of contrasting typeface categories, the size of the letters, and the grayscale page with one yellow word all contribute to giving this magazine cover a professional and memorable look.
This is the 5k race flyer from our local YMCA here in Colorado Springs. (https://www.ppymca.org/programs/adult/running-races/creepy-crawl-5k). I’m going to use it for my reverse engineering assignment for COM130-17.
I chose this picture because the ad caught my eye — enough for me to consider registering for the race. I’ve run this race twice in the past, but the race shirts have been bright Halloween colors (orange and lime green) with spider designs that frankly I will never wear. But this octopus! With a hint of pirate! And on teal– my favorite color! It’s a classy logo, and I may gamble the $35 entrance fee in hopes that the race shirt features it.
But what makes it so eye-catching? Why does it make me consider registering, when I know from experience there’s a good chance it’ll be snowy and/or 20 degrees at the start line? The reason it’s so appealing is that the artist took advantage of the basic principles of design to rope me in. I’m going to break down the ad and analyze how each of these design aspects were used: color, repetition, alignment, contrast, and proximity.
- 1. Color:
The YMCA used the basic complementary colors of blue and orange, which are opposite of each other on the color wheel. Usually complementary colors are used with one dominate color and its complementary as an accent, but in this ad they have been given equal weight. I find it works really well, though; possibly because it’s a picture of an octopus in water and not just do-dads decorating a plain background. The lettering in white also stands out really well and is easily readable.
Note: I just noticed that the website image does not have all the text that the flyer has, so I’ve taken a picture and uploaded it. The color difference is noticeable; the website version (pictured at right) is richer.
Repetition involves repeating some aspect of the design throughout the visual. In this instance, the same font was used for the dates– both the race date on the left and the registration deadline on the right– and the slogan, “Yo-Ho, Yo-Ho, A Runner’s Life for me.” Another feature that displays repetition is the dotted, swirling line that circles the central image. I think it keeps the eyes from drifting off the page because it works as a border.
Each item on the page should have a purpose and a visual connection to other items on the page. In the YMCA flyer, the lettering is left flush, in a line. The race series name, Creepy Crawl, lines up with the race date information. Also, the tag line at the bottom of the page (“Yo-Ho…”) begins at the same vertical space. On the right, the registration deadline begins where the tag line ends. In addition, the swirly dotted line lends a visual connection throughout the ad.
The 5k advertisement utilizes contrast to add visual interest in a couple of ways. One is by varying the position of the letters in the words. “Creepy Crawl” has letters that zigzag up and down. The dates and other information are in straight lines, but the tag line (“Yo-Ho…”) is on a curved line. Another way the ad employs contrast is through texture. The octopus is visually smooth, while the steering wheel looks rough and the water in the background looks grainy.
Proximity is a tool that groups like items together to make information quickly digestible and memorable for the reader. This ad does a great job by having three separate sections of information that each give pertinent information. The largest font, “Creepy Crawl” tells the event (5k), the company (YMCA and location), and sponsor (Kaiser Permanente), as well as mentioning the one mile kids run option. The block on the left, in a different color and font, gives race day information. The block on the right, using the same race information color and font, gives the registration deadline and website. This flyer was designed so that all essential information for this race can be found swiftly at a glance.
The creator of this race flyer employed all the elements of design to make a professional, effective advertisement. The colors are bright, complementary, and easy to read. Repetition is used throughout the piece to lend consistency to the message. The alignment is deliberate and keeps the reader’s eyes moving around the page to each word block. The contrast is almost tangible with use of textures. And finally, the proximity of information makes it easy to scan the page and find the necessary information. It’s an impressive piece of work, and I will likely run this race solely because of this flyer.