Part OneBasic Layout Design.
Design, ordering and arranging elements into a scheme into a layout that gives the best outcome. This is not generally the work of a photographer (although probably more so with the ease of self publishing) and is more often the domain of an editor or artist in a production team. Following any predetermined rule is likely to result in static and uninteresting work but there are five basic principles of design that a photographer should be aware of.
Size.Two equally sized images will detract from each other and cause confusion as to which one should the viewer look at first. When making a layout with two images a decision must be made which is the most important and make that the bigger one on the page.
Poor layout with two similar sized images
Two image layout with one dominant image
Repetition of the same shape for important compositional elements will tend to make for a monotonous layout and lack interest.
A page layout should have a pronounced tonal range. Through the tonal range of the photograph to the white of the paper and the grays of the typeface there should be a certain amount of black. The type of photograph will influence this decision. A high key image will benefit from a light typeface and an image with a lack of bold tones will be better served using a bold typeface.
Each unit of a design layout (unless they are equal) points in the direction of the longest dimension. A long vertical photograph points up and down and a large block of bold text will point in the direction of the largest unit. Some working in this field feel it is important to stop each design unit from pointing in a certain direction by using another unit at right angles, therefore carrying the eye to the next unit in a preconceived order.
The careful use of the white space (the area of white paper between the design units) brings together the shapes and perceived direction and order. It also plays an important role in the contrast of size, shape and tone.
Size Contrast but all Vertical (Poor)
Improved Directional Contrast (Better)
Units at Right Angles (Good)
The design units within the layout must appear to belong in the space they occupy, with a look of stable equilibrium. None of the design units, whether body, headlines, pictures or cut lines should struggle for position or look as if they are about to fall over or fall out of the page. There are no hard and fast rules which will determine a successful balanced layout. Experience with trial and error will eventually bring results although there are four factors which are a help to start with.
- The Focal Centre
- The Tone of the Units
- The Size of the Units
- The Shape of the Units
The Focal centre of balance in a layout is on the vertical centre line somewhere between the two horizontal lines dividing the layout into thirds and halves respectively. In the illustration above the mobile telephone is on the focal centre point.
Design units of similar size, tone and shape will form a perfect balance if they are placed equidistant from the focal centre.
Proportion is the size relationship of the various component units to one another or to the complete layout. A pleasing layout has a great deal to do with how space is divided and obvious proportion is often considered as poor proportion. The more subtle the scheme the better, with ratios of 1 to 3, 2 to 5 and 3 to 5 offering better effect than say 1 to 1.
This is defined as a regular recurrence of design elements and is characterised by separation of form, development of a graduated tone, repetition of common tone and interrupted rhythm. Any of these techniques impart a feeling of movement or "flow" to a layout.
The units of layout must be assembled in such a way as to form a unit, or single impression. If the units are scattered around the page visual confusion will occur. The eye must move easily from one design element to another so that the various parts assimilate into a logical order.
The five principles of layout (contrast, balance, proportion, rhythm and unity) are difficult to express equally in every piece of creative work. The layout artist should draw upon knowledge of each to add appeal to the page. There are three design concepts that most work will fall into. They are classical, editorial and modern.
Classical layout consists of two facing pages as in an open book with a narrow gutter dividing the type, wide margins, top sides and bottom.
Editorial layout uses pictures, headlines, cutlines, copy and other design units grouped into a single continuous mass. The layout is characterised by two large units: a unit of pictures and display matter and a unit of text
Modern format is based on simple geometric arrangements of lines parallel and at right angles to each other, an internal framework holding the design units together.
Examples of contemporary practice (limited to Editorial examples)
© National Geographic Magazine Fig 1.
Fig 1. is a good example of the layout artist using the Focal Centre of the page to attract the viewer with bold headline text and one dominant photograph. On the left hand side the word "Chernobyl" is positioned on the vertical centre line and exactly within the one half and one third page division that form the Focal Centre. On the right hand side the photograph is on both centre lines although the main feature within the image (the long sweeping curve of lights) is within the Focal Centre zone.
Included in the above are good use of tonal contrast within the text. The text has varying size and font which provides a tonal range while the use of white space makes for an airy and light feel. The greater area of white space above the layout is an inverse of the traditional architectural proportions ( 4 bottom, 12 main, 3 top) and works well in a story where the natural order was completely reversed after the explosion. Balance is achieved by utilising the Focal Centre within the text and photograph without further text on the right hand page.
© National Geographic Magazine Fig 2.
Fig 2.shows the skill of the layout artist with excellent use of space utilisation. The standard editorial four column arrangement has been broken by the inclusion of a photograph spanning two and a half columns. There is tasteful use of white space above column four and the area below the caption. The full bleed photograph on the left hand side and top introduces balance to the right angle text layout.
© Tatler Fig 3.
Fig 3 is a variation on the Classical layout and makes use of the shapes within the photograph to complement the text. The two page layout has balance and rhythm. The photographs have been carefully chosen and are the dominant design units. The text is well balanced with white space above and makes good use of the capital T (Not sure if that is a feature of Tatler or a coincidence). The caption on the left hand side is placed neatly within the steps and fits the space and is level with the end of the main text. The full bleed image on the right has the same boy as the left image and this provides more rhythm and balance. The image also has the correct composition of elements within it to keep the layout within the page. Dark areas of book case and the left facing chair make a suitable frame.
Prior to this research I had not aware of the laid down rules of page layout and composition. I am now more aware of the intricacies of the layout artist/editor and fascinated by the use of rhythm and balance. Clearly there are occasions when the rules can be broken but for most editorial uses the pre determined standards seem to work. The techniques become obvious when there is an understanding and it is now difficult to look at any printed mater without being aware of the good and bad examples. As a photographer I am not likely to manage a layout but it is an interesting subject to continue with and develop a notional amount of skill.
Kerns, Robert L: Photojournalism - Photography with a Purpose, Prentice Hall
National Geographic Magazine, December 2013
National Geographic, Greatest Parks of the World 2014
Tatler, August 2014