Photo Illustration is a general term which refers to the idea of taking a photograph (or several photographs), and editing it to turn it into something different. Illustrative photography is often used in advertising, marketing, book cover art, and even journalism.
During the early days of printing, photo illustration was quite simplistic – cropping one photograph and merging it with another, or drawing on top of a photograph to achieve a particular effect. In recent years, however, sophisticated photo editing tools such as Photoshop have made illustrative photography reach a completely different level. Today, it is possible to edit a photograph to the extent that when it is reprinted, the viewer cannot tell what changes have been made.
Illustration vs Post Processing
Photo Illustration is not the same as post-processing a photograph – although sometimes photos go through post-processing before they are worked on. Cropping an image, performing red-eye reduction, and other basic editing tasks are all basic parts of preparing a photo for print or inclusion in a portfolio.
Using PhotoShop to make a photo illustration is a different part of the editing process, and may not even be done by the original photographer. The designer who makes the illustration may work with several different photographs, and even work with drawings, paintings and 3D models to achieve the desired end result.
A Picture Really Can Tell A Story
Illustrative photography is a broad field. The idea that “a picture tells a thousand words” is true, especially in the hands of a skilled photographer and editor. If you can tell a story with an unmodified photograph, that can be classed as illustrative photography. If the photograph needs edited, then make sure that every change adds to the story.
Producing Great Illustrative Photos
To be proficient in photo illustrations is a mandatory for any illustrative professional wherever they’re doing: illustrated maps, book illustration, cartoon illustration. Illustrative photography is something that some people naturally have an eye for. You can be taught what goes into setting a good scene, and you can learn about lighting, aperture settings and shutter speeds, but choosing and designing the photograph itself is an art form.
Some basic things to remember include:
• Keep the background simple – especially if you intend to heavily edit or process it later
• Soften light by pointing the source away from the subject and reflecting the light off a white piece of paper
• If you use a dark background to augment details of your subject, remember that you will need extra light to make the subject stand out.
• Always work with the highest quality images possible – when you edit images, save them in a lossless format to avoid quality degradation.
If you need inspiration, look at portfolios of a few prominent illustrative photographers. The more you expose yourself to great photography, the better your own work will be.