Half-week homework: Unleash your inner designer

Here on the Mike’s Camera blog, we spend a lot of time talking about images as if they’re born in their (more or less) final form, but this week, I’d like you to move the target quite a bit further back and expand your post-processing skill set. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to use your images as elements in some sort of design. If you play your cards right, you could end up with the snazziest holiday celebration on the block in the process.

Note: I wouldn’t suggest that it’s not a reasonable goal to nail a shot and walk away from your subject ready to print. Taking time to carefully select the right gear and hone your technique in order to get as close to the perfect image as is possible is a great idea, and there’s a huge amount of value in starting as close to the finish line as is possible. There’s a valid argument for a purist philosophy as a way of distinguishing “photography” from “digital art,” as well. (My wife has a bit of this streak, telling everyone who looks at her double exposures that they were done in-camera, not on the computer.)

That being said, I want to make it clear that there’s no shame in spending a little more time on the step between importing your memory card and uploading your images for prints, even if you do consider it a different category of work. And because it’s something new and different, you’re sure to get different, edifying results!

So, what kinds of design work am I talking about? The most immediately useful suggestion would be custom-printed items that could either be gifts or add value to your next get-together. For example, check out this sweet drink menu I made for Thanksgiving dinner. The source photo is on the left (Tonle Sap lake, after an unfortunately dry summer) and the result is on the right—click to enlarge.

There’s nothing like printed material specific to the party at hand to make it feel like an Event. We can print menus, place-cards, game instructions, awards, broadsides of your Christmas poem, and pretty much anything else you can dream up. There’s even still time to print this year’s greeting cards! And it’s not just the content we can tailor to your needs, it’s the form too: ask about fancy paper upgrades (note the texture on my menu 😍).

If you’ve covered your walls with all the canvas, metal, acrylic, frames (etc.) they can handle, trust me: this is a revelation. Once you realize you can customize almost anything with your own designs, you won’t be able to get enough of it. Outside of creations to please and astound guests, you’ll want to personalize your day-to-day life with mugs, bag tags, and more.

(Plus, if you’re a font aficionado like I am, it gives you an excuse to actually use some of the weirder ones.)


Free canvas-based editor (à la Adobe Photoshop): GIMP
Free fonts (filter by license if you’re interested in commercial use): DaFont, Font Squirrel
Free stock photography to augment your own: Unsplash, Pexels

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