Thursday, November 21, 2013

Portraiture 101

What makes a good portrait? Photographing people is the most common and, in many ways, the most rewarding but challenging task for photographers. We all know a good picture when we see one but what is it that makes the good photos stand out? Is it because it is an especially good likeness? A photograph will always be a true likeness, even when we think it isn't. How many times have you heard someone say "that doesn't look like me at all"?

The reason for this is that we are used to seeing people moving around, at least their faces, and in some kind of context, doing something or talking to us. So what makes a good portrait of someone is that it should say something about that person that we feel is true. A good portrait sums up the character of the person or at least an aspect of their character. The pose, viewpoint, direction and quality of lighting, choice of lens, choice of background and the cropping of a picture can all contribute to the mood of the photograph and therefore what you are saying about that person.

"A good portrait is a picture that says something about the person, gives you an insight into the person's character, whether you believe it or not."

The most important item in the list above, by far, is the pose. Capturing the right moment is crucial and, with that in mind, it is important to take as many shots as you can. Each one will be slightly different, as you take pictures you will think up new ideas, the whole thing is an evolving process. Which brings me to one of the most important tips for successful portraiture.

"You must be ready for the action and work very quickly, seize the moment."

People, especially children, get bored very quickly. If you start fiddling with your camera telling them to hold on a minute you will never get good pictures. The most important part of the picture is the expression on the face. When you see that expression you must be ready to instantly capture it, everything else, the lighting, the background, the composition must be ready. Facial expressions, at least the good ones, are very fleeting things. If you ask someone to smile and you leave them holding that smile for even a second it will look very false. 

When taking pictures of children I like to use a long lens and blend into the background. After a while they forget you are there then you start to get much more natural expressions. You need a lot of patience to work this way, you must not keep stopping them or trying to get them to turn in the direction you want because you will break the mood. Just keep watching be patient and be ready. 

In closing, portrait photography is a very personal thing, new experiences and continuous shooting builds your portfolio, your confidence and communication skills with your model of choice. Every photoshoot is unique and must be handled differently, find the method that works for you, whether it be planning out every detail of a portrait shoot from location to wardrobe, models and make up or it may be as simple as being in the right place at the right time, keep your camera and gear ready, and generally having fun with any assignment.

Just remember when capturing life.. "Let the good stuff happen when it will."

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Here a sketch..there a sketch..

Putting ideas quickly on paper is the only way to evaluate them to see if they are worth exploring further. Computer renderings and modern CAD tools are great, but thinking on paper with a good old-fashioned pencil, pen, marker, sharpie, crayon is always the place to start.

Sketching is awesome. Personally this is the only way I know of starting the design process. Why sketching is great.

Your first idea is rarely your best.

When you have a project to do and the inspiration hits you like a train... This is the beginning. Sketch it out! It only takes a few seconds, and it gets the idea out of your head. Now sketch some more ideas. You won’t know whether your first idea is the best until you explore others. If you find something you like more, you’ll feel a rush of gratitude that you didn’t waste 5 hours in Illustrator, with something like adjusting the letter spacing on a bad logo.

Sketching is fast, rough, and dirty.

Learn to embrace your pencil and paper, and you’ll be thrilled at your speed of ideas. You’ll wonder why you ever fought it. You can make a series of thumbnail sketches, or they can be larger. As long as your sketches are good enough that they capture the necessary elements, drawing skill is unnecessary. By giving yourself the freedom to scrawl out rough ideas, you’ll get to creative places you could never have imagined.

You’ll save time.

Sometimes you have no choice but involve the client in all of the steps of the design. We don’t like the “big reveal” because when the process is kept a mystery, the end result is often a disappointment. We show clients a lot of sketches to show our intent. When a course correction is needed, we spend a few seconds sketching a revision, rather than taking hours to move pieces around in Photoshop.

It separates concepts from details.

It’s natural for people to focus on the wrong details when you first present a concept. If you take your idea straight to a design program, clients tend to zero in on that single blue color, or the first style of typography presented. This creates road blocks for communication when all you simply need is to know is, “Are we heading in the right direction?”

Sketching is for everyone.

I often hear people fret about sketching based on their lack of confidence in their drawing ability. Don’t worry! It is all about visual communication. Sometimes its about getting the idea/concept out of the client’s head and to the drawing board. Doodles from the client sometimes helps the process.

Lastly, sketching is fun!

When you stop worrying and allow your ideas to evolve, you’ll discover how enjoyable it is to sketch. Especially when you find your perfect pen and paper combo! Mine’s is a Sharpie Finepoint permanent marker and copy paper.

Here’s my challenge to you: The next time you’re given any sort of communication task, whether it’s a logo, a brand concept, or even a map with directions to your favorite coffee shop, try your hand at sketching. By incorporating sketching into your everyday tasks, you’ll find it makes an appearance in your professional routine as well.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

If you Must work Smart.

Whether we like it or not, we often find ourselves awake at all hours of the night, struggling to complete various tasks we haven't yet finished in our day. Specifically graphic designers, we are always slaves to inspiration, or we promise the world and try to deliver. Here are a few tips that us late-night workers can use to help us get through our work more easily and get us into bed. 


If it’s not possible for you to get sleep at all one night, you’re going to need to boost your energy levels somehow. If you have a high caffeine tolerance and you know it won’t make you jittery or restless, try coffee or tea while you study. Caffeine In small amounts can drastically improve your energy and focus for long nights of studying.

Please be aware of what you put into your body. It’s recommended to avoid energy drinks, for they often contain supplements to increase the negative effects of caffeine, such as increased heart rate, anxiety and shortness of breath.

Another good idea for all-nighters is to avoid sugary foods if you’re going to snack, because they can make you crash sooner. Instead, stick to a protein rich snack or fruit.


After sitting at a desk chair for hours on end, it is easy for your posture to droop and become poor. It's important to be aware of the tips for better posture for prolonged periods of time. Believe it or not, but simply adjusting the way you sit can help your time spent computing be more productive and comfortable.


Straining your eyes to look at your computer screen for prolonged periods of time is never good. No matter how much work you have to do, it is imperative you take breaks to allow your eyes to rest. Breaks can be a good time to get a bit to eat or drink. We don't recommend taking any of those sugary energy drinks, however. We like to stick with a fruit smoothie to help reenergize ourselves. 


Play music in the background that can help you study or work and not put you to sleep. Whatever music helps you to get into your zone, use it. Be aware of who hears it and how loud it is so it won’t disturb others.


When you're up late working on a deadline for the next day, it can be quite a stressful situation to try and complete everything. It's crucial to stay calm at times like these and allow yourself some way to de-stress. You can try writing down your thoughts for starters, reflecting on what's stressful. Sharing your emotions can also relieve the stress, maybe talking with fellow classmates, colleagues or designers may help. Or you can find a peaceful healthy distraction.

Eliminating late nights often comes down to taking control of the way you manage your time on the clock. Spend it wisely.