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7 Pro Tips for Using Photos in Your Magazine Designs

123rf blog 7 Pro Tips for Using Photos in Your Magazine Designs

Fantastic photos are the backbone of any great magazine design, but it can be tricky to know where to start with choosing the right images. Whatever genre of magazine you’re designing for, whether fashion, food, lifestyle or travel, these tips for selecting photos and incorporating them into layouts will put you in good stead for creating a publication that really packs a punch.

123rf blog 7 Pro Tips for Using Photos in Your Magazine Designs

Read on to discover the seven techniques professional designers always turn to, to create consistently amazing magazine designs…

  1. Use Stylistic Themes to Build Your Magazine’s ‘Brand Look’

Every widely circulated magazine has its own strongly branded look. Think of Vogue, and think of elegant serif typefaces and chic monochrome styling. Time Magazine is immediately identifiable by its iconic red and white color palette. Titles at the lower priced end of the magazine market will use brighter colors and more loud, legible fonts to grab attention on the news stands. More high-end titles will use more intellectual-looking typefaces and inspirational imagery to communicate seriousness and luxury.

The photos chosen to be included in a magazine will contribute a great deal to the overall mood and brand of the magazine. Flick through any magazine lying around the house and you’ll notice that the photos used in each title will have a consistency in their styling, mood and presentation.

Once you establish a stylistic theme for your magazine’s photos, you’ll find it much easier to find images that share common traits, which when used together will help to build a powerful brand look for your publication.

Let’s take a look at an example. A fictional cookery magazine features lots of recipe breakdowns and articles about ingredients and places to eat out. Endless pictures of food might sound like heaven to some, but for designers this can be a headache—how can you make pictures of food look consistently interesting and attractive? The key to making each feature in the magazine look more beautiful is to choose photos of food which share consistent elements and styling.

Let’s take this shot as an example of a starting point for building a stylistic theme across the whole issue. What elements of consistency can we draw from this?

For one, we can say that we’ll always choose an overhead shot, which looks down on the meal or ingredients from above. Secondly, we can choose shots that feel informal and rustic, choosing slate or wood surfaces, and food that is presented in a casual manner. We can also choose colors that are rich and moody, with an on-trend feel that would suit a magazine aimed at food enthusiasts of both genders.

7 Pro Tips for Using Photos in Your Magazine Designs 123rf blog

Building this photo into a two-page spread, you can see how immersive the photo appears when teamed with typography that seems to blend into the photo itself.

Using other overhead food shots which share these common traits in other parts of the magazine will help to build a brand look for the magazine that is instantly recognizable and creates a holistic personality and mood for the publication.

PRO TIP: Adobe InDesign is the perfect software for creating professional-standard magazine layouts. In the New Document window, ensure that the Facing Spreads box is checked. This will set up your document with two-page pairs, allowing you to design your layouts across a full spread.

When creating two-page designs for your magazine, you should allow space in the center of the spread, where the spine folds. Important information like text shouldn’t be placed near the center. Allow yourself at least 10 mm on either side of the spine to be free from important information.

123rf blog 7 Pro Tips for Using Photos in Your Magazine Designs
  1. Leave Yourself Enough White Space

White space refers to the relatively blank area of a layout which designers use to create a sense of calm and elegance on the page. White space, misleadingly named as it is, isn’t necessarily white, and can simply refer to an area of a layout which isn’t crowded with attention-grabbing content.

In the same way that designers strive to create white space by using wide margins and blank areas on the page, you need to look for photos that also allow you to have enough white space to give a sense of balance on your magazine spreads. You also need additional blank space to be able to fill with text without obstructing the details of the image.

The opening spread of a magazine feature will almost always use a full-page photo, which either fills one page or the entire spread completely. This grabs the reader’s attention, and encourages them to keep reading the article in full.

Your challenge is to find photos that will allow you to do this, as well as having enough room for both text and an area of white space to balance the layout. Luckily, professional photographers often have the designer’s needs in mind when they shoot fashion or lifestyle imagery. This shot of a young model is a great example.

The subject fills up about half of the image, perfect for filling one page of a two-page spread. The black background will make a great backdrop to pale typography, and there’s enough black color to allow room for a headline, two columns of text, plus extra white space for balance.

Look for photos which have a subject that fills up to half of the image, with half left to white space. This will give you tons of flexibility for producing layouts that balance image and type in a super professional way.

PRO TIP: Found an amazing image for your layout, but it’s not quite long enough to fill two pages completely? In InDesign, use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to pick up the background color of the image, and use this to fill a rectangle shape lying behind the image, which extends across the whole spread. In this way, the image appears extended.

123rf blog 7 Pro Tips for Using Photos in Your Magazine Designs
  1. Prioritize Shape and Graphic Impact in Your Photos

Magazines are a particularly creative print medium, as there are fewer conventions and rules involved in their design than other media, like books or reports. So it’s really up to you how creative you want to get with your magazine layouts! If you treat each two-page spread of your magazine as a whole layout you can create stunning designs that use the extra space to maximum effect.

In the same way that you might blow up a single letter or word to create typographic impact on the page, you can also use photos to make a graphic statement. Look for strong silhouettes and high contrast between subject and background to create bold shapes with your images. This headshot of a woman is a perfect example of a photo with a strong silhouette.

Strongly shaped images give you tons of flexibility with how you can lay out typography on the page. Why not abandon the conventional two-column style and wrap text around an image to create a particularly interesting, attention-grabbing design?

123rf blog 7 pro tips to magazine design

When browsing for photos to use on the inside pages of your magazine, you should always think about how the image will interact with other elements on the page, like text, illustrations and other photos. Photos which feature strong, graphic shapes make a great foundation for other secondary elements on a layout, and they look fantastic to boot.

PRO TIP: To recreate the wraparound type effect in this magazine spread, use the Pen Tool (P) in InDesign to trace around the silhouette of the photo. When you’ve created a whole shape, go to Window > Text Wrap, and from here set the text to Wrap around Object Shape.

123rf blog 7 Pro Tips for Using Photos in Your Magazine Designs
  1. Look for Naturally Styled Shots

Go for natural shots over staged, posed photography

When working with shots of people in your magazine designs, a great rule of thumb is to always seek out photos that appear more natural in style. Overly staged photos with awkward-looking models instantly cheapen the look of you magazine, and don’t communicate authenticity to the reader.

This isn’t to say that shots of people should always look ‘fly-on-the-wall’; posed shots can look great if the subject appears relaxed and authentic.

123rf blog 7 pro tips to magazine design
7 Pro Tips for Using Photos in Your Magazine Designs 123f blog

There’s no set technique for seeking out natural photos, but a good tip is to judge if you connect emotionally with the photo or, rather the opposite, if it leaves you cold. Naturally styled photos should make you feel at ease, and serve as a relaxing backdrop to the text content of the feature.

PRO TIP: Great magazine layouts rely on a balance between fantastic photos and beautiful typography. In InDesign, you can give your layouts more typographic flair with some really simple tweaks. One of the easiest tricks is to apply an Optical Margin Alignment to your text frames. This pushes the outlying parts of the text, such as serifs and commas to outside of the text frame boundary, giving the illusion that the margins of your paragraphs are completely straight.

In InDesign, go to Window > Story to open the Story panel. Select the text frame, and then check the Optical Margin Alignment box to apply the effect.

123rf blog 7 Pro Tips for Using Photos in Your Magazine Designs
  1. Have Some ‘Filler’ Images to Hand for Feature Pages

Magazines are far from wall-to-wall text content—their selling point is that they are filled with enticing images that interest the reader in a visual way. For many titles, the text content of the magazine plays second fiddle to the photos. This isn’t to say that the text isn’t important (it is!), but ultimately the reader’s first port of call to nay magazine article will be image-based, not text-based.

The sheer amount of images that designers are required to use in their magazine designs can be overwhelming, but there are certain images that you’ll find will prove to be more versatile than others. These are ‘filler’ images—photos which fill up a lot of space, look attractive and don’t have a specific subject.

Landscapes and city scapes are great fillers for travel, lifestyle and current affairs magazines, and it’s well worth having a few to hand for when you want to add drama and interest to a feature without using a photo of a particular person.

123rf blog 7 pro tips to using photos in magazine design

Beautiful, dramatic landscape photography serves as a great backdrop to striking typography, without commanding too much attention and dominating the layout.

PRO TIP: When using a full-width photo as the introduction to a feature in your magazine, try to integrate the article title text with the photo. This helps the layout to feel more uniform and engaging. Look for sections of the image that you can use as a guide for placing text. For example, here I’ve placed a text frame over the top of the area of the photo where the land meets the edge of the water. Using the shore as a baseline for the text to sit on gives the whole spread a more interesting look.

123rf blog 7 Pro Tips for Using Photos in Your Magazine Designs
  1. Use a Cover Image That Sells

What makes you pick up a magazine from the news stand, and ultimately buy it? Perhaps you like the celebrity featured on the cover, or have spotted a feature you’re particularly interested in. But even more important than both of these factors is the emotional connection that the cover establishes with you, the reader.

There’s a reason why almost all magazine covers, save for specific genres like interior design titles or nature titles, will feature a portrait of a person. The person will be looking into the camera, helping to establish a connection with the reader. People use eye contact to connect with others, and this is a fact exploited by magazine designers when they come to design a cover.

The nature of the emotional connection may differ from cover to cover. A smiling young actress might help to sell a magazine to a fashionable woman who aspires to the joyful elegance embodied by the actress, while this intense portrait of a boxer might connect with boxing enthusiasts who empathize with the strength and intensity of the man on the cover.

To maximize this power of eye-to-eye connection, magazine designers will often fill a cover almost completely with the face of the subject. Although you will see occasional full-body shots of models and celebrities on magazine covers, notice that most designs will feature only the upper body, shoulders and head of the subject, which forces you to engage with the cover and look the subject in the eye. It’s an old but incredibly effective tactic for selling magazines like hot cakes.

7 Pro Tips for Using Photos in Your Magazine Designs 123rf blog

To improve the selling chances of your own magazine, choose portrait shots for your covers. The more intense they are, the more likely it will be for them to connect with the browser on an emotional level.

PRO TIP: You can create a ‘spotlight’ effect on your cover images by applying a strong radial gradient to your image.

To do this in InDesign, select the image frame, and then head up to Object > Effects > Gradient Feather. Under Options, choose Radial for the Type, and then move the sliders at the top of the window until you are happy with the effect.

123rf blog 7 Pro Tips for Using Photos in Your Magazine Designs

Set the Color Fill of the image frame to the same color as the background of the image (here, black) to blend the gradient effect.

123rf blog 7 Pro Tips for Using Photos in Your Magazine Designs
  1. Use an Image as a Building Block for Creating a Whole Design Concept

Some photos are made for hanging on a wall, simply because they are complete just as they are. For magazines, your standards for photos should be a little different. For feature pages especially, you need photos that will interact with the text content, and be a team player for the layout.

Look for photos which feel somehow incomplete, and you can imagine being paired with strong typography or enhanced with illustration. This image of a hand holding a phone against a bright background is a fantastic example.

The image has the potential for further meaning—using your design skills you can complete the narrative. Teamed with jaunty typography, this layout uses the phone image as a key part of communicating the theme of the article.

123rf blog 7 Pro Tips for Using Photos in Your Magazine Designs

In your own designs, look for photos which feature abstract subjects, which you can enhance with your own specific type, plus, as we mentioned earlier, plenty of white space for letting your typography have plenty of room to interact with the image.

PRO TIP: Jaunty, off-beat typography looks makes article headers look fantastic, and is a great way of injecting more personality into your titles.

The steps to recreating jaunty type like in the article design here is to set words in separate text frames, rotate frames to different angles, and finally to adjust the Baseline Shift of individual letters to make some characters appear higher or lower than others, adding to the jumpy, jaunty effect.

In InDesign, you can adjust the baseline by highlighting individual characters with the Type Tool (T), and increasing or decreasing Baseline Shift from either the Character Formatting Controls panel at the top of the work space or from the Character panel (Window > Type & Tables > Character).

7 Pro Tips for Using Photos in Your Magazine Designs 123rf blog

Go forth and Create Awesome Magazine Designs!

In this article we’ve explored how photos really are the foundation of fantastic magazine design. Keep this checklist of pro tips to hand for when you’re next tasked with designing a magazine—you’ll find these tricks really help you to elevate your designs to the next level.

  1. Use Stylistic Themes to Build Your Magazine’s ‘Brand Look’

  2. Leave Yourself Enough White Space

  3. Prioritize Shape and Graphic Impact in Your Photos

  4. Look for Naturally Styled Shots

  5. Have Some ‘Filler’ Images to Hand for Feature Pages

  6. Use a Cover Image That Sells

  7. Use an Image as a Building Block for Creating a Whole Design Concept

Start building up your collection of great images which are perfect for magazine design. Browse fantastic high fashion shots, portrait photography, dramatic landscapes and creative food images, to give your magazine layouts the professional touch.

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