Photos have been at the forefront of graphic design for as long as 2D design has been around, right back to the analog photography days.

They have been central whenever it came to making design features look good.

From the ‘wanted’ posters with the stylish borders and fonts in the old West to the modern web page, photos have always made design more engaging and interesting to look at.

Plus they made it much easier to communicate ideas and tell design stories, what with each being worth a thousand words and such!

To help you understand what analog photography can do for your design, in this article we’ll go over the core film photography concepts and discuss how you can use them to take your graphic design results to the next level.

Let’s jump right in.

What is Analog Photography [An Overview]


Analog photography, or film photography, is photography that’s done via film-format cameras and light-sensitive color negative film.

Remember those old Polaroid and Kodak instant film cameras with just a viewfinder, no screen at the back, and a roll of film inside that you had to wind up to take a picture?

Those instant cameras were basically simple film-type versions of traditional analog SLR cameras.

Today, analog photography is seen as a hobby for fine artists, or as the base for very high-res fashion photography, like the kind you see on New York billboards.

The latter uses large format or 35mm cameras with advanced (and expensive!) digital backs.

Nikon, Leica, Pentax, Canon, and Fujifilm are some of the commonly known film camera brands. Ilford is another famous analog camera brand, but for compact medium-format film cameras

How Analog Photography Works

The basic operating principles of shooting film have remained the same since the days of the pinhole camera.

Analog photography works by exposing the film stocks to incoming light.

Whatever’s in front of the camera gets imprinted on the film when the light leaks into the camera through the lens.

The light streaming in is controlled by the shutter, and the shutter speed controls how much light is allowed to shine on the film.

Just like in digital cameras, there is a viewfinder/rangefinder that you can look through.

When you’re done shooting, you have to step into a darkroom to develop the photos.

History of Analog Photography in Graphic Design


Film photos have always been an integral part of design features.

Classic music albums, the earliest color images in newspaper ads, and posters are all examples of film-based photos in design applications.

Today, it’s all about getting that film-like quality to make graphic design look artistic or old-school.

Main Differences between Analog and Digital Camera Photography


The main differences between analog and digital photography are pretty obvious.

However, there are some nuanced differences in image quality, capturing techniques, and photo manipulation for graphic design purposes.

These are:

  • Analog film can create double exposures simply by rewinding and taking a photo on the last frame you used. Digital cameras need to do this via software, usually in Adobe Photoshop and/or Lightroom.
  • Digital cameras (DSLRs) have a ton of camera settings that can help you modify an image both before and after you take it, then and there. You can also add tons of SFX to digital images. Film is severely limited on that front.
  • You need to develop analog photos and then scan them to use in modern graphic design implementations. With digital, you can just download and design as you like.
  • Technically, you can take much higher-resolution images on film. You can then scan them to create digital copies that you can blow up without losing detail.
  • Obviously, you have a limited number of shots available on film so you have to be more careful with settings while shooting.

The main differences listed above differentiate between analog and digital photography; however, there are additional differences too.

Additional Differences

The following are some of the additional differences.

  • You can modify film by using various different chemical mixtures while developing. You can also adjust camera settings such as ISO, aperture, and shutter speed for certain light and focus effects. However, all of this is much easier and more diverse in digital.
  • Digital cameras are a great learning tool and you have more freedom to play around with them to improve your design skills. However, film is the OG medium! Mastering that means expertise in color, composition, framing, lighting, and general expression.
  • You can fix digital photos in post so you don’t need a ton of photography equipment, to begin with. You do need it for film cameras, especially if you’re not going to scan and Photoshop images later.

Interestingly, analog cameras are cheaper to buy and use for a while, especially if you already know basic settings for different light conditions.

You can run them for a long time before you start closing in on the starting price of a DSLR or even a compact point-and-shoot camera.

Importance of Analog Photography in Graphic Design


Here’s how analog photography helps improve graphic design:

  • It can improve your composition and framing skills. You will have a better eye for lines, shapes, color balance, as well as how to use the available space creatively.
  • It can improve your understanding of color, as well as how color impacts moods, thoughts, emotions, and even decisions.
  • It can help designers understand focal points better. Film doesn’t always produce uniform colors even in the same photo, and being able to detect that will designers choose points of greatest vibrancy, and make them the center of design pieces.
  • Film photography can make you more efficient with your design philosophy. Since you have limited photo opportunities on film, you’ll learn to be more efficient with your design too.
  • Most importantly, photos are a great way to express your creativity. They’re a different artistic medium from computer-generated graphics. Photos add an extra layer in which you can express your design creativity.

All of these points hold true for digital photography as well.

However, film will give you a greater appreciation for design and help you channel your creativity better.

How to Use Analog Photography in Modern Graphic Design

Want to try working with analog images for your next graphic design project?

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

1)     Scan Images using Flatbed Scanners

To ensure the highest resolution results and optimal image clarity. 35mm film is already a larger format than the standard film size. Make sure to take full advantage of all that available resolution by using high-quality flatbed scanners.

2)     Use Higher Contrast Images

To compensate for softened focus and lower saturation. Color negative film has subdued colors that are not good for brighter graphic design pieces with elements such as food and drink. Use either color positive or Lomography film for a better design aesthetic.

3)     Keep the Analog Aesthetic

Create designs based on the, and similar to, the signature analog photography image aesthetic. Choose images that look like they’ve been captured on film, with that classic color pop or slight graininess that you get with film.

4)     Maintain Image Uniformity Throughout Design

Use analog images throughout the design application. Make sure that whatever you’re designing has that film aesthetic throughout it. This means that a website should have a similar design theme with the aforementioned color of black and white film quality on all pages.

5)     Use Fewer Colors

Try to keep the design limited to 2-3 colors for a more uniform design theme. The whole point of using analog photography is to get that film-effect that you can sort of imitate but never truly replicate with digital.

6)     Keep It Simple

Make sure not to crowd the design feature too much. The entire point of using film is to have unique, classic-looking images. Design around the image and don’t add too many elements that could distract from how good the image is.

7)     Use Minimal Typography

Make sure to keep the text to a minimum when creating around a photo. Also, use simple, minimalistic fonts. The image should be the highlight (where the viewer’s attention goes first), unless, of course, you’re designing a magazine cover or news report slide.

What’s great is that you can find the ideal images (originally captured on film) on Pixelied.

Even better, you can edit those images and turn them into the centerpiece of your graphic or marketing design feature.

To get started, simply head over to our free editor.

Final Thoughts

The design aesthetic for the last few years has been minimalist and quite basic. But luckily, photos are making a comeback as the focus of online design implementations.

Plus, thanks to online design platforms such as Pixelied, you now have a simple place where you can choose a photo and create a brilliant social media ad or blog post banner out of it.

Let Pixelied be your ticket to a world of awesome film photography masterpieces that you can design with.