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Four Ways Photography Can Make You a Better Designer

by Shane Mehling
art & design, featured, photo & video

We know, you already have so much on your plate that how dare we ask you to take on another thing. And it is especially egregious because we’re asking you to do something that requires equipment and a set of the skills you have no time to learn.

But hear us out.

While we understand if you have no time or desire to shift your resources to something new, there are some very positive effects taking up a little bit of photography can have on your design career, enough that in the long-run it may be worth it. Here’s a starter kit if you’re curious, and here are some reasons this may be a great move:

1. Color

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We’re sure your taste in pantones is exquisite, and you may know more about color theory than anyone else we’ve ever met, but when you are looking through a viewfinder and seeing the interplay of colors in real life, it could very well open a whole new sense of depth and understanding. After all, whether it’s in the city or nature, sometimes colors fit together that you would never think could actually work. And the best part is you don’t have to wait for a different designer to bring them to your attention.

2. Work Ethic

You could very well be running on nothing but caffeine, sweat and tears as a designer, but one thing photographers deal with that designers don’t is the need to get out at times that aren’t always convenient. As a designer you often have the elasticity to let inspiration flow when it’s most conducive to your work. For many designers, you have the ability to sit at your desk and stare at a wall for hours until it’s time to start cranking out your brilliance. But photography forces you to work with time and sporadic events and the weather — all of which are beyond your control. It may make you realize how easy you have it. Or, by asking a little more out of your creative process and legwork, it may show you exactly how much more sweat you are capable of.

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3. Acceptance

Just like photographers are at the whim of time, they are also at the whim of the shot they are given. There is Photoshop (and of course Lightroom) to wipe out the things you don’t like and accentuate what you do, but you may also decide that the certain little problems with the picture, the things that you wish weren’t there at first, actually add to the character of the image. Learning to accept these kinds of flaws and idiosyncrasies becomes a part of their craft and, oftentimes, those things they let slide only end up enhancing the image later on. This kind of thought process can teach you as a designer to not massage everything so much that it turns into mush.

4. Simplicity

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Photographers can buy bags of stuff to get closer to the exact kind of photos they want. But often they also see how wonderful that perfect shot is when taken by whatever is at hand. If  you’re just doing this casually, which we suggest, you will see how much fulfillment you can get by using so little. As a designer you’re probably not at a loss when it comes to the tools available to you. Getting a new plug-in may fill you with joy and make you think you can do your job even better. But if you’re stuck with a no-frills point-and-shoot, and you capture a photo you think could be a medal winner, it’ll remind you how all the tools in the world can’t make up for a designer who’s got a great eye.

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Shane Mehling

Shane Mehling is a freelance writer and editor who plays in noiserock bands.