Stock Photography for Web Developers: Part 9 | WebReference

Stock Photography for Web Developers: Part 9

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Stock Photography for Web Developers: Part 9

By Nathan Segal

This week we're going to take a brief look at a few of the photographic and design techniques necessary to create your own stock images. However, it's important to realize that an in-depth knowledge of these techniques is not something that you can learn in a few minutes, or even a few days. The reality is that it takes years, but this article will give you a taste of what's involved.

A few of the topics we'll look at are the Rule of Thirds, the importance of image placement, designing for type, verticals vs. horizontals, "learning how to see," negative space, etc.

The Rule of Thirds

A relatively simple method of working with photographs is the Rule of Thirds, where you create imaginary lines in your field of view, breaking up the image into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. The task is to place the key elements of your image where the lines intersect. While this creates balance in images, it also leads to images becoming static, where the main focus in on the center of the image. Breaking this rule and experimenting with different placements will give you more creative freedom.

With stock photography, where you place the image is of critical importance. Consider the image below:

This image was designed for a book cover. Note the placement of the spacecraft and how there is a large, dark area at the top of the image. This is perfect for contrasting type, as you see here, allowing the text to jump out and move forward towards the viewer. With this type of an image you can delete parts of it, as on the spine (indicated by the blue lines) or keep the entire image as you see here.

If you were using this design for the web, the entire image could be used as a background or as an insert in an article.

Here's another example:

This image was entirely computer generated. It uses a terrain map from the now defunct Corel Bryce application and the rest of the image was assembled in Photoshop. The image is wider than normal, but one client found an application for it on a CD cover, simply by cropping out the unnecessary elements of the image.

Consider this image. Granted, it's stock illustration, rather than photography, but the same principles apply. You can see how I've sectioned off the space for type. This type of image would be good for the front cover of a magazine or book. On the Web, it could be used as an insert in an article.

In years past, stock photography images were usually in one of two formats, vertical or horizontal (as necessary for print applications). Verticals were preferred because they were often used for the covers of annual reports, books, magazines, etc. The horizontal format would typically be used for inserts on a page, as a two page spread and/or for brochures. It was a good idea to create images for both formats because if you didn't get a sale in one you might get a sale in another. There are some exceptions such as panoramas or square formats, but the first two are the most common.

All of that changed with advent of the Web. Now, Web designers use images for backgrounds, navigation bars, banners, etc. This has opened up an whole new world for photographers but it also can make shooting difficult as it's not the easiest thing to create a composition for use in a banner, due to the display ratio which could be 5: 1 or more.

Another approach is to use existing images and crop them, but that doesn't always work. It's often necessary to create an image composite, using several different images to form a finished result. Another consideration is type placement, as discussed above.

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March 27, 2003
Revised: February 24, 2006