Photography vs. Illustration

Posted by on Nov 18, 2013 in Design for business | No Comments
Photography vs. Illustration

There is a rule in graphic design; Form Follows Function.

When you are promoting your business through ads, video or other marketing collateral, images are vital. You might be able to get away with just text, and fonts can be used to a designs advantage, when it comes to showing only an image will work.

So, what should you use? A photograph/video? Or an illustration/animation?

Prior to the 1930′s almost all of the images used for marketing were illustrations*. But once the technology caught up, marketing went with photography almost exclusively. It is only in recent years that we have seen a resurgence of illustrative materials, but even then the lions share has been photographs. It almost seems at this point that the choice between illustration and photography is arbitrary.

So which should you use? Remember the first line of this article. Form Follows Function. There is power in both art forms, and the choice should come down to what works best with what you are trying to do or sell.

Photography is a descriptive medium. There has always been a long held belief that “the camera doesn’t lie”, and even the ever present spectre of “photoshopping” hasn’t changed that. Photography is ideal for representing the tangible, the universally understood and the specific. This makes it ideal for specific subjects, places and things. Even the most highly doctored and manipulated photographs are rooted in realism and can hit the view on an emotional level.

Illustration is a subjective medium. Even at a subconscious level it requires the viewer to become and active participant, interpreting what they see. Illustrations are ideal for dealing with abstract ideas; conceptualizing how things work, explaining complex ideas, or giving substance to ideas that only exist in concept. Illustration also gives a level of control that is almost unattainable through photography, and can be changed more easily.

Sometimes the choice of image comes down to budget. Custom photographs can give your marketing the unique look and power it needs to succeed, but it can be expensive. Stock photography is a cheeper option, but you most likely not be able to find exactly what you need, and there is a chance your competitors may be using the same images. Original illustrations are, as a general rule ,less expensive than photographs, but may still be cost prohibitive. You can find stock illustrations as well, but you have to be careful that the end result doesn’t end up looking like clip art.

The safest way to decide what kind of image to use, is to consult with a graphic designer who can evaluate your options taking into account your needs and budget.


* If you’re interested in pre-photography marketing, do yourself a favour and check out some art nouveau and art deco illustrations. You won’t be disappointed.

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