4 Design Principles That Will Help You Improve Your Still Life Photography
I know learning these rules will help you to see images differently, and understand how they work and why they impact the viewer. Honestly, once you’ve learned these rules, it’s hard to ignore the principles and not notice how they work in great images. We all have our inspiration collections or reference folders. So far you’ve probably been trying to guess why the images looked so good. After learning about these 4 design principles, you’ll know for sure.
The idea behind contrast is to create enough separation between important elements in the frame. If elements aren’t the same, then make them very different. In many cases, contrast is the most important visual cue that lures the viewer.
Contrast can be treated very differently. You can contrast big shapes with small shapes, dark values against light values and vice versa. You can contrast colors, textures, directions. There’s really a lot of opportunities.
Repeat visual elements of the design throughout the image. You can repeat colors, shapes, textures, spatial relationships, line thickness, etc. to develop the organization and strengthen the unity. Repetition is very useful to organize space in the image.
You can’t just randomly scatter objects in your frame and expect a great result. You might get lucky. But we are here to learn how to make things work for us by design. Every element should have some visual connection with another element on the page. That way you create a clean and sophisticated look.
Items that are related to each other should be grouped close together. Physical closeness implies a relationship. When several items are in close proximity to each other, they become one visual unit rather than several separate units. This principle helps you to organize information, reduces clutter, and gives the viewer a clear structure.
I think you will have noticed by now that many images incorporate more than one design principle. All these rules are interconnected, so it’s important that you learn to recognize them and use them to your advantage.
Learn by Example
We can learn by example from a couple of great artists who surely master these principles.
Let’s begin with this lovely piece from Grégoire Vieille (www.gregoirevieille.com). I like it a lot. It’s a simple piece with much power in it.
- Contrast. The author created great contrast between the main subject and the background with only a few tools. He used color to create a strong separation. Then there are textured charcoal pieces versus the smooth surface of the product. I also like that there is good tonal contrast, although I believe that if the product was much lighter compared to the background, it would make the image even better.
- Alignment & Repetition. The charcoal pieces create great variety for the background while keeping it uniform. The vertical lines create a strong composition and balance the image.
This is a beautiful shot from still life photographer Nori (www.norimichi.com) to analyze. Simple and elegant image.
- Contrast. Very strong contrast that leads us straight to the point of focus in this image. The brand logo which we’ll recognize immediately.
- Alignment. The vertical lines describe the shape and also lead to the focus point.
Another example is from David Newton (www.dnewton.com).
- Contrast. The photographer made a smart choice by picking a complementary color to the lipstick color: red vs. blue. Notice texture contrast. Smooth product surface versus rough and broken texture of the background surface.
- Repetition. The photographer created a random pattern of lipstick shapes on the surface. This creates a great repetition in the design, which he breaks by leaving the lipstick in the frame. Making it a focal point of the image. The viewer will immediately be drawn to this piece.
Note: The only improvement I would make, is to crop it tighter on the product. Right now the eye is drawn more to the center of the image to which the pressed lipstick shapes point to.
The next shot is created by Chris Howlett (www.howlettphoto.com).
- Contrast. We see how another photographer successfully creates a strong separation between the subject and the background. Chris created a very textured and rough background with the rope against the smooth surface of the bottle. He balanced the image with the use of a cold versus warm color scheme.
- Repetition. The rope creates a well defined repetition in the image. Almost circular placement pattern helps to lock the viewer’s attention in the frame.
Another beautiful piece to analyze is one by photographer Derek Lomas (www.dereklomas.com).
- Alignment. The image is constructed along a strong vertical line equally dividing the image. The red color harmonizes the image in a monotone color scheme.
- Contrast. The cylinder shape of the bottle creates a strong contrast against the circular bubbles.
- Repetition. The bubbles give us a repetitive pattern along the vertical line. There are also bubbles within the bubbles, which creates a harmonious and cool pattern.
There is a ton of other amazing images we could analyze, but you’ll notice the same theme. They all rely on the 4 design principles. You can do it yourself. Just open your inspiration folder and start looking at the images. Compare them to the principles and try to find how those affect the images. Eventually, you’ll get it. Once you begin to see this, it’s impossible to go back. You’ll just know how to do it right.
If you want to improve your still life photography use the 4 principles of design in your work. Even after applying 1 or 2 rules you’ll notice the difference. Good luck!