Types of Signage Photography
12 types of signage photography
Signage, the words around us, is a new genre of photography emerging. I’ve shared about my love affair with signage photography. I studied graphic design in art school where typography is a core focus. You'll notice several mentions of typography in this post so I'll quickly define it first.
Typography is the style, arrangement, or appearance of letters. These letters can be on a printed page like a book or a poster, or digitally on a screen like a webpage or an app. It's the art and technique of arranging type to make written language legible, readable, and appealing when displayed.
My love for design is a key influence in my style of photography. I notice it wherever I go and I love capturing it in new ways. Today I’m diving deeper into the types of signage we see in our everyday lives. My goal is to show you how diverse the signage around us is and give you ideas along the way for you to capture on your next photo adventure.
Probably one of the most popular lettering types, everyone loves a good script. Script can be simple with one fluid stroke or decorative and full of flourished embellishments. Formal scripts began their debut in the early 1700s by writing masters and engravers such as George Bickham, George Shelley, and George Snell.
The letters originated from a quill or metal nib pen forming thick and thin strokes. There are plenty of wonderful script typefaces out there but the most intriguing include original letterforms. Check out these examples of script signage photography.
Elegant serif signage
By definition, a serif is a small decorative line added as an embellishment to the basic form of a character. One of the most common serif typefaces is Times New Roman, usually included in every word processor on your computer. But don’t be fooled by this common typeface, there are many examples of elegant serif signage out there like those shown below.
Antique and vintage signs are quite popular these days, entering a new trend. They advertise anything from soda fountains to household appliances and more. This type of signage tends to be more creative in mediums such as porcelain, wood, tin, and neon.
What’s most intriguing about this type of signage is when you see it you’re immediately transported to another time and place. People always yearn for times of the past and it’s one reason we connect with vintage signage. Take a look at these signs for some inspiration on your vintage hunt.
Big and bold san serif signage
Big and bold sans serif signs are the complete opposite of the elegant serif signs shown above. A typeface without a serif is called sans serif, from the French sans meaning “without”. In print, most headlines use sans serif typefaces while serif typefaces are used for body copy. One of the most common san serif typefaces you’ll find on your computer is Arial.
It’s modern, it’s hip, and always good for a statement. See if you can spot examples of big and bold sans serif signage in your city like these.
Speaking of Arial and other sans serifs, Helvetica is arguable the most popular typeface out there or at least the most well-known. There’s even a documentary on the infamous typeface and clever merchandise all over the internet. People either love it or hate it. Here’s a few examples of Helvetica signage out in the open.
Script and sans serif signage
Most of the above examples are based on one typeface but the magic happens when you combine two styles to create something new. When you capture the elegant and unique qualities of a script and add the bold and modern qualities of sans serif, you get dynamic signage like those included in these shots.
Decorative and display typefaces in signage are playful and fun, just about anything is fair game. They became popular in the 19th century in posters and advertisements. The trick is to use decorative typefaces sparingly so as not to lose their artistic and eye-catching effect. They’re perfect for an accent, a heading, or title. Take a look at these distinct decorative styled signage.
Rather than based on a single typeface, vertical signage relates to the orientation they’re displayed in. We’re used to seeing most signage in a horizontal format like a billboard but many buildings (especially theatres) use vertical signs for interest. Signage with vertically stacked letters are ideal for shorter names to ease the reader’s eye. They're also easier to see from afar like these beauties.
The term modern is thrown around a lot these days and can posses several meanings. Here we’ll use the definition of “relating to present or recent types as opposed to the remote past”. These examples of signage shown modern characteristics for their style in typography, use of materials, and minimal color palette.
Marquee / theatre signage
A favorite genre of mine is the marquee and/or theatre signage. A marquee sign is commonly placed over a theatre to present the play, movie, or artist appearing at the venue. Since the turnover is quick, these signs need to adapt easily, sometimes daily. Like the Scrabble tiles you use in a game, letters can be moved around to form new words giving a cut and paste aesthetic feel to your photos like this one.
Sign painting is the art of painting on buildings, billboards, or signboards to announce or advertise products, services, or events. Original, hand painted signs are also making a comeback with a huge demand for lettering artists. For this genre the sky is the limit, no two signs are the same.
Last but not least is informational signage. By far the most important type of signage as it helps guide us in the right direction. Whether it's a street sign for which freeway to enter or exit to take, we depend on clear signage to avoid getting lost.
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And here's an infographic to summarize these 12 types of signage photography: