Stock Photography for Web Developers: Part 9 | 2 | WebReference

Stock Photography for Web Developers: Part 9 | 2

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Stock Photography for Web Developers: Part 9

The Importance of the Fundamentals

If you want to become a successful stock photographer or Web designer, it's essential to learn the fundamentals of design. Reading a book won't do it – you have to "learn how to see."

Looking at that phrase probably has you confused. Chances are you'll say that you already know how to see and that you know how to create Web layouts, book covers, etc., but that's not what I mean. "Learning how to see" refers to learning how to see as an artist (or photographer). There's really no way that I can put that into words; it's an intuitive process that develops as a part of learning the fundamentals of art and design.

It's a misconception that learning computer graphics or having the coolest camera will make you a better artist or photographer. If you don't understand the principles of design, you're likely to produce what one service bureau referred to as, "slick-looking bad computer art."

In reality, having all these tools can be a hindrance. If you truly want to learn about design, I would tell you to put technology aside for a minimum of one year (if possible) and take time out to learn how to draw and paint the traditional way. Among other things, you would learn about proportion, perspective, drawing the figure, gesture drawing, the color wheel and more. You would do a lot of experimentation. With the guidance of instructors and your own experience, you would begin to intuitively understand what works and what doesn’t. I would also recommend classes in photography, especially classes that teach you about the form, lighting, shadows, etc.

Useful Techniques

Here are some techniques that you can make use of when shooting stock photography and/or designing your Web site:

  • For effective Web layouts, practice on paper first and solve your problems there, not on the computer screen.

  • Create a frame out of cardboard that is a match to the viewing frame on your camera. Use this for viewing your scenes, not your camera.

  • Keep detailed notes. This is especially important when you need to repeat a process or technique.

  • Don't become fixated on the subject (or form). In art school, we were taught to draw the negative space. By doing so, the positive image of the form would emerge. The same practice applies to stock photography. Be aware that both the positive and negative spaces are equally important.

  • Don't strive for perfection; that only creates unnecessary pressure. If something doesn't work, view it as a learning experience.

  • Take frequent breaks. It's a fallacy to think that if you work harder, things will work out. In actual practice, the reverse is true.

  • It's important is to know when to use the computer and when to turn it off. A case in point was an experience I had at Hanna-Barbera a few years ago. There, a background artist would draw out his scenes on paper, using pencil and marker. The result was scanned into the computer and he added the colors and shading with Photoshop.


If you're a creative professional who has been feeling restricted by your knowledge and understanding of photography and/or computer graphics, I urge you to take a few courses. They will help to expand your creativity and will likely open new doors to creative expression that you never knew existed.

The next article will be the last one in this series. This will feature a glossary of terms, information on stock photography pricing software, image editing applications and resource materials/Web sites.


Web design is a combination of skills so quality resources on the subject are few and far between. Design includes skilled page layout, graphic design, use of white space, rhythm, and nuance. On WebReference, have a look at our HTML Style section and Production Graphics for more information. Another invaluable rerource is Dmitry's Design Lab. Dmitry Kirsanov, author of Top Ten Web Design Tips and HTML Unleashed, shows how you can use Style Sheets, graphics, and layout to make your pages stand out from the crowd. In addition, here are some books to consider:

Mastering Digital Photography and Imaging, by Peter K. Burian

Elements of Color, by Johannes Itten

Design and Form: The Basic Course at the Bauhaus and Later , by Johannes Itten

About the Author

Nathan Segal is an Associate Editor for He is an Artist and Writer who has been writing for computer and photographic magazines for 8+ years. His specialty is taking complex methods and explaining them in clear, easy-to-understand terms. To learn more about his work and background, click here.

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Created: March 27, 2003
Revised: February 24, 2006