Images 101

Images are central to human communication and have become a defining aspect of most digital media.

Use a picture. It's worth a thousand words.

—Arthur Brisbane, from Wikipedia

That popular saying that a picture is worth a thousand words originated in 1911. While its truth has been debated, we can safely say that images convey meaning in very different ways than text. Here are a few good reasons for using images to convey a message:

  • People are more likely to remember images than words
  • When images are combined with text, people look at the images first
  • The human brain can process images much faster than words
  • People follow instructions with illustrations much better than text alone
  • An image can provide context or help viewers organize a concept in their minds

There are essentially two types of images:

  • A Photograph—an image of the real world captured with a camera
  • A Graphic—a drawing or other visual created by a person

Computers save digital visuals in two different ways. A raster graphic (bitmap) is a collection of dots, while a vector graphic is a series of geometric lines and curves. Digital photos are captured as bitmaps, while an Excel chart is made of vectors. Some image file formats can contain both kinds.

Image production usually follows three phases:


Pre-production—Prepare, Plan, Gather

Pre-production is the work done before image capture or creation begins. It includes activities like organizing the project, clarifying the message, preparing locations, scheduling, finding people, and gathering equipment. Investing time at this stage makes future steps easier.

For creating graphics, you will need a laptop or desktop computer. Decide what equipment you want to use and practice with it ahead of time.
Broadly speaking, you have two options for capturing photos:
  • Smartphone—the better devices can take high-quality photos
  • Digital camera—offers greater control, as well as the likelihood of higher quality images

If you want to manipulate your photos, you will need a laptop or desktop computer. You may also need additional equipment:

  • Lights—to supplement natural lighting
  • Tripod—to stabilize a camera or allow hands-free operation
Shot list

With photos, you can save time by preparing a list of the shots you will need. Several projects on this website include a template for creating shot lists.


Production—Set up, Capture, Pack up

This is when the raw photos are captured or graphics created. In major projects, this is considered the point of no return.

Tips for great photographs
  • Get close—when photographing people, faces are more important than shoes
  • Try different perspectives—low, high, tilted, closeup, etc.
  • Follow the rule of thirds—don’t center everything
  • Use simple backgrounds—ensure your backgrounds don’t distract from your subject
  • Use focus-lock—focus on your subject, lock it, then frame the shot
  • Watch the lighting—if faces are in the dark, for example, base your exposure on them
  • Use the flash—force it to fire when important areas are in shadow or backlit
  • Keep it steady—brace against something solid, hold your breath, use a tripod, etc.
  • Plan ahead—different times of day have different lighting, noise, crowds
  • Learn your camera—find out what it can do and take advantage of its features
You can create an entire visual project using original work or you can include third-party images. There’s no copyright issue with producing original images and posting them online. Copyright comes into play when you incorporate third-party images.
Downloading image files
With copyrighted images, there are circumstances where you can apply “fair use” principles for a school project. To be safe, we encourage you to only use images that have a Creative Commons (CC) license. Note that a “royalty free” images are often copyrighted; you may have to pay fees and they may be subject to use restrictions.
Photo Quality

Always use the best images you can find.

Raster vs. Vector Graphics

Collections of vector graphics and bitmaps are available online. The vectors will scale as large as you want, while bitmaps can’t be enlarged or shrunk significantly without some distortion.

There are many other image repositories online from which you may draw inspiration and share your work, including Pixabay, Unsplash, Pexels, Flaticon, Vecteezy, and more.


Post-production—Edit, Revise, Publish

At this stage, raw media are selected and edited. Effects can also be added. Finally, the product is posted online or distributed in another way.

Fix and Mix

After capturing or creating your images there are several things you can do with the editing software to enhance it or change its meaning.

  • Adjust the tone and/or saturation
  • Crop the photo or graphic
  • Add a filter or effect
  • Combine it with other images
  • Caption it
Export and Post

Depending on the kind of image project, the file format at this point may be JPG, PSD, RAW, or something else entirely. If you want to be able to share the finished project widely, then export it to one of these standard image file formats.

  • JPG—for photos or other images that are complex and have potentially millions of shades of color. Smaller image size but 'lossy' format.
  • GIF—for images composed of geometric shapes, text, and large blocks of solid color. Limited to 256 colors. May be animated.
  • PNG—For photos or other images that are complex and have potentially millions of shades of color. Larger file size but lossless format.

Get Inspired

View inspiring image projects.

Tame Your Tools

Master the skills used in this project.

Image Libraries

Image-editing Applications

Produce / edit images with these apps.

Get Help

Notre Dame has many helpful resources, including our Media Corps coaching staff, located in the Hesburgh Library.

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