Field Notes | The Economist | Photography

The content of The Economist’s photos varies greatly, from humorous and witty to moving and violent. The broad range of photo content helps the magazine meet its mission of providing a summary and analysis of what has happened in the world during a week. The photos not only document events, but provide a distinct point of view.

Some photos isolate one important detail, such as a hand, rather than showing an entire person or scene.

These closely cropped photos require readers to think, analyze and consider implied information. Including photos of unusual details reinforces the idea that The Economist is a magazine for intelligent people who want a unique analysis of world events unavailable elsewhere.

Like the cropped photos, images of people interacting seek to tell an unusual, clever story. The photo of a dog and police officers below is typical of how The Economist integrates words and images to tell a fresh story about events that daily news outlets have already covered heavily.

The magazine also includes beautiful landscape photos with strong graphic appeal.

The clean lines and simple shapes in landscape photos, such as the ones above, mimic the simplicity and clarity of the magazine’s design style.

The magazine also runs many portraits of world leaders, which attempt to capture subjects at a moment that reveals something about them.

The portraits are generally shot while subjects are going about their lives, not posing in studios.

Just like The Economist includes many short articles, it includes many small photos, rather than a few in-depth photo stories. The multiple small photos are one of the elements that give the magazine the feeling of density I mentioned in earlier posts. Not all stories have photos, but every page includes some visual element to break up copy. The designers use both horizontal and vertical photos, but generally use the same sizes to create consistency and unity throughout the publication. They also typically include one photo that is about twice as big as the others on a spread to serve as a dominant visual. Sometimes, as in the case of the page below, the smaller photo includes text or another element that makes it compete with the larger photo.

This illustrates that size isn’t enough to make a visual  dominant. Designers need to consider other elements we’ve discussed in class too, such as color, to prevent small photos from competing with larger ones.

In addition, square photos are used in the table of contents. Although square photos seem less dynamic than horizontals and verticals, they serve an important purpose on the table of contents by providing consistent and predictable spacing so readers know what to expect and can find information quickly.

I noticed overlapping photos and photos with cutout backgrounds for the first time in the March 3-9 issue of The Economist. Maybe the publication is changing its design philosophy? In some cases, the silhouettes created movement across pages by using the gestalt principle of continuity. They made some pages seem dynamic and fresh. In other cases, however, cutouts seemed sloppy and choppy, making the pages appear amateur, as with the example below.

The overlapping photos were distracting. It leads to text with slightly awkward line-lengths that are uncomfortable to read. Plus, the overlap cuts out information from the main photo.

The lesson: cutouts and overlaps can make pages dynamic and visually appealing, but should also be used sparingly and carefully