Photography & Graphic Design

What is Graphic Design?

Graphic Design is the art or skill of combining text and pictures in advertisements, magazines, or books. These days graphic design is often digital. Print Design is a subset of graphic design, and is a form of visual communication used to convey information to an audience through intentional aesthetic design printed on a tangible surface, as opposed to presented on a digital platform.


Click HERE to see our youth-produced graphic design gallery.

What is the relationship between Photography and Graphic Design?

Photographs are some of the most effective images used in graphic design. If you are a graphic designer, working on your photography skills can make you a better designer.  Furthermore, often artists like painters can take great photographs, even with poor equipment, because they understand visualization, composition and lighting. 

Why Integrate Graphic Design and Photography into the Classroom? 

With little training, teachers can facilitate a meaningful lesson that reaches multiple learning styles and brings creativity into the classroom.  Incorporating visual arts, and media arts into your lesson requires students to access, analyze, evaluate, create and communicate information. This can be done through a  stand alone photography project that taps into vision and expression, or integrated into your science content instruction, where students use text and images to convey a personal message about carbon levels in the atmosphere or to convey their understanding of photosynthesis.  

When you take a photo, everything in your frame should be intentional so remember to look in all four corners!  For more tips like this, take 10 minutes and check out our photography fundamentals slideshow.  A few basics under your belt goes a long way to taking better photographs and getting your students to think about composition and how a photograph represents their vision of the world around them.  Our activity and gallery section will get you started.

Fundamentals of Photography


The focus of photography basics is more often on the technical side-- learning about aperture, ISO, or shutter speed settings, for example. Though the technical aspects of photography are good to know (and can easily be googled), the focus here is on composition, using any old camera (or your phone) and paying attention to the art of expression through it. Composition is the way the various elements of a scene are arranged within the frame of your shot. By changing your perspective or your physical location, you can greatly affect the look of your composition. The way your shot is composed will catch the viewer's interest and guide their eye through the photo. There are no set rules for photography composition, but below are some guidelines to help improve the composition of your photos.  


For further explanation, click here to see the Photography Fundamentals slideshow.








The basic premise of the rule of thirds is to divide your frame into thirds horizontally and vertically in a grid. Then place the important element(s) of your scene where two lines intersect, with horizontal or vertical subjects following the gridlines. Many beginners tend to place their subject in the center of their shot. By placing your subject off-center on a third, you will often create more interesting compositions.




The placement of objects in your frame, their size, and their relation to each other creates balance. When your composition is balanced, it creates a relaxed feeling that is pleasing to the eye. Conversely, objects in your frame can be placed out of balance to create a feeling of tension or unease. Try moving around to see how the balance of your shot changes to create different feelings. 




You can use lines within your frame to draw your viewer in and guide their eye through your composition. Diagonal lines can be especially useful in creating interest for the viewer. Look for natural lines when composing a shot, such as fences, rivers, roads, walls, mountains, or even shadows to guide the viewer's eye to your subject(s).





Leading looks, or eye lines, are the imaginary lines leading from the subject's eyes to where they are looking. Generally, more space between the subject's eyes and the edge of the frame will create a more relaxed feeling, whereas having a short distance between the subject's eyes and the edge of the frame will create a feeling of tension.





Depth refers to the distance from the closest object to the farthest in your composition that is in focus along the Z-axis. A shallow depth of field will blur more of your shot, which will draw the viewer's attention to a specific point that is in focus. This will give your photo a more intimate feel. A deeper depth of field will have most of the photo in focus, which can create a feeling of vastness or openness.



Often, the goal of photography is to convey emotion. This is done best by capturing people in candid situations when they are showing their true emotions. However, photos can also convey emotion without showing a person's face. Body language can convey emotion, and objects can also convey emotion.





A frame within a frame can be used to focus the viewer's attention quickly to your subject. Frames can include trees, rocks, doorways, arches, windows, etc. Placing your subject within a frame will isolate your subject, and it can also add a narrative by giving context to your subject.





Everything in your frame makes up your photo's composition and will affect the way the viewer responds to your photo. You can often control everything in your frame by placing your camera in the best spot and using the guidelines outlined above. As you practice framing your photos more deliberately, it will become easier to create compelling compositions.




These rules are actually more like guidelines to help beginners improve their photos quickly, but all of these rules can be broken. Breaking the rules can create different feelings for the viewer, such as tension or unease. As you become more deliberate with composing photos, you will learn when the rules help and when breaking the rules creates a more interesting shot.




With access to good photography equipment becoming cheaper and easier, the main thing that will set your photos apart from everyone else is you, the photographer. Try to explore new perspectives and develop your own voice as an artist. 





It is important to understand that different shot styles help to tell the story, and varied shot styles is a visual storytelling technique, integral to the message. For example, a close up of someone's face connects the viewer to the character and helps to create emotion. Or shooting someone at a low angle makes them look powerful and intimidating. 


What message do you get from the different shots? You can brainstorm additional examples of shots used in popular media (e.g., news broadcasts are often shot with medium shots; close-ups are often used to capture emotion and facial expressions in an interview, etc.) Consider watching a sequence from a popular movie and pause the film periodically and try to name each type of shot and discuss why the filmmaker made this choice.


Click on the links below to download any slideshows or pdf's. 



Classroom Activities



Technical Skill Builder

It's time to practice! Send students out individually or in pairs on a shot styles and/or composition scavenger hunt. You might assign certain shot styles to students to save time and increase accuracy. They can share their photography by uploading their images to google classroom or another shared platform. Hold a class gallery stroll or exhibition to reinforce the basics.  

Shot Styles Scavenger Hunt
Composition Scavenger Hunt



Writing, Creativity and Digital Literacy Skills

This activity is interesting because students all interpret and write about a single photograph differently, rendering the exercise good fodder for discussion.  The technical skill building (students have to voice record their written interpretation of the photo and lay in soundtrack that plays under their voice) also makes each photograph a creative and unique media presentation. 


Click here for a copy of the lesson plan associated with this classroom activity. It is provided as a Word Doc so you can easily download and reformat your own copy.


Technical Skills, Visualizing, Creativity

This activity turns into a game and takes after the game called Dixit (watch a video on the rules for Dixit here, or for a PDF of the rules click here). Decide how students build a stack of images (you might give them different themes like find something classic, or natural, etc. and send them out to take photos or graphically design images). Once your students have created a stack of printed images, and each person has a set of DIY voting tokens, the game begins.  This is a great way to engage peers in looking at and interpreting each other's images. 




Graphic Design, Critical Analysis, Media Literacy Skills

Students will make a satire of an advertisement while exploring image editing software. The goal of this activity is to build media literacy skills through investigating and dissecting ads and learning how to subvert the messages using satire and parody. 


Click here to view a folder of images you can manipulate for this classroom activity, along with a full lesson plan (again in Word Doc format so you can easily download and edit it yourself).



Coming soon

Photography to Stop Motion Animation


Stop motion is an animation technique that's been around for over 100 years, so you're probably familiar with at least a few stop motion films. How about Chicken Run, Fantastic Mr. Fox or James and the Giant Peach? And in simple terms, stop motion is animating an inanimate object by taking a series of still images and stringing them together to create an illusion of motion.  A great way to understand this concept and get started in stop motion animation is to create your own flip book


And you don't have to make a whole film. Sometimes stop motion animation is used to add a creative element or animated explanation to say an instructional film, or to animate a title or credit sequence with the goal of focusing the viewer's attention on an otherwise text-filled screen.  


To see a sample of different stop motion styles check out this highly entertaining compilation video of professionally made stop motion animation videos.


Do you know how it's done? Watch this short stop motion instructional video by Mashable for the basics.




  • Download one of the free stop motion apps from the Apple Store or Google Play.  We like iMotion, Vine, Stop Motion Studio, and Stop Motion Maker.


  • Keep the story simple - best to capture something unbelievable and animate something that is typically inanimate.


  • Planning is critical - either storyboard or script your piece in pre-production.


  • Use diverse shot angles & shot styles to keep your product visually interesting. Great music and sound effects are also important elements of high-quality stop motion.


  • A tripod is an absolute must and once it is in position the tripod must not move! If possible, utilize a camera with a remote so that you're not jiggling the camera or tripod when snapping the pictures. Ideally, you'll also have a tripod or camera mount that allows your camera to look straight down (this is not required if you're shooting your subjects head on, but is very helpful if you're shooting two-dimensional objects like construction paper cut-outs).
  • Remove shadows from your set and attempt to diffuse your light source by using filters or by placing wax paper over the lightshade. A simple two-light set up with one light coming in from each side works well. Position lighting to eliminate shadows. 


  • Think about your background/set and how it helps tell your story.


  • As you are shooting, be mindful of what is showing up in the frame! Novice animators will often photograph their hand or other objects not meant to be caught in the frame.


  • When your film is complete, export the video from the app. You can let it stand alone or make it part of a larger project by bringing it into your preferred editing software to add music, other footage, credits, and titles.