Design, Art Direction, Graphics, Illustrations & Photography, in pixels or print. 
Good Design is Good Business, so put it to work for your business and contact me.

Not a Book

Whatever we're reading on the iPad, iPhone/Kindle/Pretender to the Throne etc., it's not a book.
I feel we need a new name for this type of media, after all we've already created a variety of names for other categories of printed matter to distinguish them from books, e.g., A Newspaper, A Magazine, A leaflet,
or A brochure.

So, apart from cultural inertia, why do we still cling to the (increasingly inaccurate) name of ‘Book’ for long-form text content we read on an iPad, or similar device?


As always: Change is the constant.

Related: Terrific article on the future of the book by @craigmod

A new icon for iThoughts

Ithoughtsicon 114Much as I love using my iPad it’s only as good as the apps that run on it and ‘good’ for official ‘business’ apps is especially important as these are not for casual entertainment. Efficiency and fit-for-purpose are the main reasons for buying business apps in the first place.

A while ago I was looking for a good mindmapping app for my iPad and, while waiting for the ‘official’ Buzan app, I discovered iThoughts HD. The Youtube demos were very impressive and it was further encouraging to read some very positive testimonials to iThoughts from a lot of folks whose opinion I respect, including one of my heroes, Steve Krug.

IThoughts HD makes great use of the iOS touchscreen, offering an intuitive and fluid experience that makes it easy to focus on the work of actually building the mindmap, rather than the tools being used to build it. I’m convinced the touch interface actually makes for much more efficient mindmapping experience than a desktop UI, there is something unique in driving data around the screen directly just using your fingers. I find this with many of the more ‘mature’ iOS touch apps, where the developers have taken full advantage of what iOS is capable of. Some tasks seem to be a natural fit for a touch-driven interface, if the apps themselves are designed well.

Most good developers will put their best into programming and coding their app, which is the right thing to do after all, but some surprisingly neglect the presentation of their app (and it's usefulness) to potential customers. Unfortunately neglecting the presentation of an app could significantly hobble the sales potential of the finished offering.

The iTunes App Store is an eye-candy battleground, with the bar already set high for quality of presentation. When faced with a row of competing and similarly featured apps a potential customer will be easily swayed by a more polished, professional and 'expected' icon for an app, rather than a weak ‘DIY’ attempt from someone who is obviously not a designer.

I have actually bought some great functioning apps that display poor branding and icons, but only after fairly exhaustive research in gaining enough trust to overcome the mis-matched branding. Unfortunately most potential customers won’t undertake that amount of work before deciding on buying an app.

So I contacted Craig Scott, the developer of iThoughts, and suggested that improvements could be made to the core icon for his app and the presentation of it via website, iTunes Store, etc. Craig was under no illusions about the quality of the existing icons for iThoughts HD and readily understood the need for improvement. Although I’m familiar with mindmapping apps I asked Craig to brief me on how he wanted iThoughts HD presented and, taking this into consideration, I proceeded to develop some concepts for a new icon style for iThoughts HD.

 

Ithoughts icons sketches

 

From the initial pencil concepts Craig chose one to take to a more polished visual treatment, he had a clear idea of the elements we should use in the icon as he primarily wanted to convey the purpose of the iThoughts HD app itself. So I worked on the concept of branched nodes, a fairly direct visualising of what a mindmap typically looks like. I particularly wanted to keep the elements strong and simple, for swift recognition and clarity at the smallest image sizes, such as document attachment icons. We both agreed on a strong contrasting colour scheme, saturated blues and a bright orange, for contrast on the finished icon. The icon works best when it is quickly identifiable, to help sales in the iTunes Store and for actual use on the iOS device itself.

Ithoughts oldnew icon

I’m pleased to have heard positive feedback from Craig that the new-look icon was well received by his customers and it’s also good to see that the presentation of the iThoughts app now more closely matches the experience of using Craig’s excellent software.

 

Ithought masthead banner

 

Craig was lucky too when iThoughts was chosen to appear as a featured app on the iTunes Store. I created a few banners for this and enjoyed seeing iThoughts displayed prominently on the storefront, for a short while.

If you’re familiar with mindmapping, and are an iOS user check out the iThoughts apps, for iPhone and iPad.

 

Better Photos from your iPhone Part 2

iphone-camera-icon.png

Part one of this series was the backstory for why I became interested in using the iPhone camera with more serious intent for capturing good images. In part 2 I’m getting into the nitty-gritty of the actual techniques I’ve found that have significantly improved the quality of the photos I’ve taken with my iPhone, so here we go...

GET A GRIP


With any camera it is a fundamental requirement (unless seeking a particular creative effect) to hold it as still as possible when releasing the shutter. This is particularly important with the iPhone since you have no control over the shutter speed selected, it is best to expect a slower shutter speed than you'd prefer and to hold the iPhone with two hands, if possible. It will also aid stability if you hold the iPhone as close to your body as you can, tuck your elbows into your sides will also help steady your hands, the aim here is to make your body the tripod.

Try bracing yourself against a wall or other support if available, any solid fixture is good for this - it’s not much good having a steady grip on your iPhone if your whole body is still moving, even slightly. I’ve had surprisingly good sharp photos at crazy low shutter speeds on ’regular’ cameras by bracing myself against walls, pillars, tables, lampposts etc.

Alternatively, instead of bracing your whole body, I’ve found it very effective to brace even just the iPhone, press one of the sides of the iPhone (careful of the buttons here) against a wall or tabletop - confining even one axis of movement of your iPhone may be enough to stop inadvertent camera movement and keep your images sharp.

And finally (the obvious solution) use a tripod! There are plenty of very useful and ingenious supports now available, from cheap and cheerful to insane industrial solutions for more serious photogs and budding cinematographers. A few suggestions:

Joby Gorilla tripod
Olwe Bubo (totally over the top, but tempting for serious iPhone shooters)
Glif (impressive Kick-starter project too)
Moviepeg (brilliantly simple iPhone stand)

Sellotape/Bluetack - anything that holds it still, or props it up - though you need a self-timer app for this (the Joby app is a good free one).

Remember on 3GS (and above) you also have to touch the screen to select focus too, requiring octopus-like dexterity at times when trying to steady the iPhone, shade the lens, touch-focus and then release the shutter - so a tripod may be more useful than you’d think.

Here’s a quick ’n’ dirty video I’ve made to illustrate how I grip the iPhone when shooting. Emphasis here is on holding the iPhone as steady as possible while still being able to operate the features and shield the lens in case of flare.



THE SHUTTER RELEASE


In case you haven't figured this out yet - the shutter actually takes the picture when you release your finger from it. It's important to be aware of for this, and allow for it, as timing your shot is already tricky on these types of cameras.

Also the shutter on the iPhone is known as a ‘rolling’ shutter, the sensor is actually exposed in a sweeping scan, rather than all at once. This can cause bizarre stretching or fracturing of the captured image, but usually only when the iPhone is moved significantly during exposure and along certain axis/angles of movement.

Although usually seen as a problem his can also be used to creative effect, e.g. When panning a shot to follow a moving subject.

KEEP IT CLEAN!


If you're using your iPhone without a case you'll probably find the outer element of the lens area nearly always has oil from your skin (or other materials) on it. Gross, I know!

Always wipe the outmost glass on a clean bit of fabric, or tissue (maybe even a few times) before shooting, check that your cleaning has worked too before you take the shot. When I'm about to take a photo with my iPhone I always rub the corner of the iPhone (lens side) against my shirt, or sleeve to make sure the lens is as clean as I can get it before taking my shot.

A proper optical wipe (the type you can get for glasses) is great, if you happen to have them. Like any camera you've no chance of obtaining good image quality if the lens is obscured by anything.

If you already use a case around your iPhone then you may suffer from another problem, the lens may now be recessed inside the case aperture. This can result in dust and debris from your pocket collecting inside this aperture and around the lens area. So in that case your cleaning procedure would involve blowing out the dust before shooting - I’ve a friend who recommended carrying a camera blower-brush precisely for dealing with this!

TOUCH TO FOCUS (3GS and above)


An elegant, and fitting, solution for the iPhone camera, also one that is now being copied by the more traditional camera manufacturers ~ imitation is the sincerest form of flattery indeed!

This selectable focus feature makes for a much better photo than just increasing the sensor megapixels, as it allows you to decide the area of interest in your shot for sharpness and exposure. Take care how you use this: try several areas in your frame, often a balance between extremes is needed, bracket plenty!

This tech actually does three things: sets exposure, focus and white-balance. Be aware though that this feature also affects how you hold the iPhone for the shot - and not in a good way! Whatever way you hold the iPhone you will need a finger or thumb available to tap the screen for focus, then quickly release the shutter. I say quickly because I’ve noticed that the iPhone camera will reset focus and exposure to a general centred selection within about 4 seconds or so after tapping your preference on the screen, so don’t wait long after selecting your focus point.

For maximum hilarity try doing all this while shading the lens from flare!

I’ve already dropped my iPhone once when trying to apply a convoluted series of gestures during shooting with it, so I’ve added an Ottercase and a wrist-strap (my own hack) to my nice new iPhone 4 - hate to loose the aesthetic, but hate the thought of losing the iPhone even more. You can see the Ottercase in the video.

LIGHTS CAMERA ACTION!


Mostly a great photograph needs great light, and it is most definitely one of the iPhone’s main strengths as a camera that you’re likely to always have it with you if the light suddenly changes turning the ordinary into something extraordinary. This can often happen quite fast, so if you notice the light changing watch how it’s affecting everything you see and grab your iPhone quick, as the effect may be gone again just as fast. Some of my favourite iPhone shots have been caught within a few short-lived moments of glorious light, and when it’s gone, it’s gone!


Poor lighting...


Church dull lighting

Same scene, the only thing changed is the lighting...


Church at sunset

Beware of flare when shooting towards any light-source, the glass protection over the iPhone lens is exposed and flat - catching and spreading nearly any light that falls onto it. Flare like this can ruin a photo, creating unexpected intense colour shapes and generally bleaching out colours and contrast everywhere. Luckily it is a relatively easy problem to fix, always try to shade the lens if the light source is out of frame, use your hand, or a hat, or your pal with you if possible! You’ll know when it’s working as you ought to see the shadow from your hand falling over the lens glass, be careful too in keeping your hand out of the frame when shooting.

This can make a huge difference when photographing facing into the light.

Shooting into sunlight without shielding the lens...


Lagan path backlight flare

Shooting into sunlight, this time shielding the lens...



Lagan path backlight


IN GENERAL


As with most small sensor cameras performance in low-light is not very good and, due to the iPhones auto shutter-speed, you’ll need to keep the iPhone extra-steady when shooting in poor light.

For brightly lit photos be very selective with the touch-to-focus (if you have it) and be careful of highlight burn-out in very bright areas - the small sensor has a narrow dynamic range.
If your iPhone is 3GS or lower you won’t have a flash (you’re not missing much!), but you can still modify the available light by using a reflector (anything largish and light-coloured) to bounce light back into a shadow area. You can also use almost any form of lighting to help illuminate your subject, as long as you can move it, or your subject into a better position. Be mindful of how the light actually looks, artificial lights can be harsh, diffuse it if possible.
Also avoid extreme back lighting (e.g. subject standing inside a window with daylight behind them), or foreground light (e.g. Subject brightly lit, but background very dark). This does not usually end well!

iPhone image quality is very good, for a device of it’s type, but not great when compared to ‘big’ cameras, so go for strong composition, geometric, graphic, contrast - look at the shapes on the view screen, move around, re-compose if necessary. It’s not costing you anything to shoot extra frames - so shoot plenty!

Make the most of it the big iPhone screen, it is an excellent viewfinder and what you see is what you’re getting in your shot. Of course try vertical and landscape orientations too - sometimes even an obviously vertical opportunity can benefit from a landscape composition.

The iPhone has a fixed wide-angle lens & it does not zoom (forget the digital zoom), that means your feet are the zoom!

I’ll close this part with a great quote from the inimitable Joe McNally: ‘Get your lens in a different place!’ Don’t settle for the lazy and obvious option of shooting from your typical standing posture, get low, lower, lie on the ground - get high (I mean altitude!), stand on a chair/wall/stationery bystander, climb something!

Thankfully this is somewhat easier to do with a small device like the iPhone.

We now have some great camera apps available for the iPhone, and there are many to choose from, but I have a few must-haves on my list - more on these in Part Three…

MiFi Review

The short summary: Fast and easily portable mobile Internet for any WiFi enabled device.

The not-so-short full story: read on…

Some time ago I enjoyed a trial period from Three.co.uk for their MiFi device and here’s how I found it, primarily as a companion for my iPad. The iPad I’m using is the 3G version, so I was able to directly compare performance of the MiFi against the onboard access via the O2 network.

For a start I did some stats-only testing using the excellent Speedtest (iTunes link) app on my iPad. This provided me with some ‘hard science’ figures on access speeds, although what it actually means when using the browser in a ‘real world’ situation can feel quite different. Access speed depends on quite a few variables, but the figures below show an averaged ‘typical’ result for the locations I tested this at.

At Belfast Airport location:

iPad via MiFi: Upload : 1151mbs  -  Download: 1574
iPad via 3G: Upload : 350mbs  -  Download: 200mbs (Strange result, but that’s what Speedtest was showing me!).

In Lisburn town centre:

iPad via MiFi: Upload : 1625mbs  -  Download: 995mbs
iPad via 3G: Upload : 240mbs  -  Download: 600mbs

Although I was accessing both Three.co.uk and O2 via 3G the access speeds were noticeably faster for Three.co.uk in almost every test I performed, for both statistics and real browser behaviour. This makes a very convincing case for the MiFi. 

Also, as a not-very-scientific example I accessed several Wikipedia pages to see what these download figures mean in real terms when wanting to browse the web. I choose the same set of pages and forced a total refresh of the cache on iPad between reloading the pages each time.

Basically I found that fully downloading a lightweight Wikipedia page took about the same time (6 seconds) on an iPad 3G cell network connection as it did via the MiFi - but when accessing larger pages I could see a significant improvement on the MiFi. Strangely I also did some comparisons using O2 Openzone and found the MiFi still had the edge in speed. I expected Openzone would easily have delivered the fastest access, but this was not so.

The Mi-Fi unit itself is sturdily built and appears capable of withstanding a fair degree of abuse, although I did find a few minor issues with the model I was using. In some instances the buttons along the side of the MiFi were a little stiff to operate, the casing seemed to be a tiny bit too close a fit on the model I was using and this sometimes impeded the movement of the buttons. This was only an occasional and minor issue though, powering up and activating the various functions was easy enough, once I was accustomed to the startup sequence. In any case Three.co.uk have now replaced the device I was testing with a newer (and much better designed) model. I’ve seen the new version up close and it obviates the minor physical issues I had with the earlier model, the new version is pretty much a complete redesign - and very nice it is too.

I found the icons on the screen a little cryptic at first, but after a quick scan over the brief user guide all became clear.

Basically there are five status icons to show: 1)Power on/Battery 2)Network access 3) WiFi 4) High-Speed network 5) Roaming

These icon LEDs also change colour to indicate status changes for some of these features, e.g., red for ‘no cellular access’ and green > amber > red for battery status. On the current model this has all been replaced with a much simpler single LCD panel.

With regular use the status icons are understandable at a glance and a simple power-on sequence can be performed quickly, after which the MiFi can be returned to a pocket or bag and you can browse away without giving it a further thought. This is the essence of the MiFi - turn it on connect your device and off you go browsing/emailing, Twittering etc., and I must say it performs spectacularly well at this.

The WiFi network password is clearly labelled on each device, just key it into your iPad/laptop and it should connect right away. It is also possible to connect up to five devices with the MiFi, handy if you need to connect an iPhone and an iPad, or a laptop at the same time, or if you wish to share your connection with others.

Overall I found the MiFi to be a terrific device - an absolute must-have if your devices do not include SIM card features of their own - and if you find yourself bereft of a WiFi zone (which, in my part of the world, is most of the time). It really does live up to it’s promise of easy and fast mobile Internet access and makes a great companion for an iPad. Of course you are obliged to carry an extra device for mobile access but the compact size of the MiFi and it’s ability to operate from a pocket or bag makes it an easily portable choice. Battery life for the MiFi was pretty useable too, I was getting about 4 hours plus of continuous use and it will automatically time out to energy-saving mode if you forget to turn it off.

Incidentally, something else I noticed, when I accessed a Youtube video via 3G on my iPad I received the very compressed ‘3G’ lower quality version of the video, but connecting via the MiFi served the video in whatever resolutions were available - good to know that.

Please note that the model I tested has now been replaced by a much-improved updated model, which improves the already good MiFi in almost every respect, from aesthetics and ergonomics to build quality. I would definitely recommend a MiFi as an excellent mobile Internet solution for those who don’t already have SIM-enabled devices, or even for those who do and are flush/nerdy enough to afford an alternative network access. The Pay As You Go prices are modest and there are also some good deals on MiFi contracts, checkout the Three.co.uk MiFi section of the site for details.

Three.co.uk are also pretty active on Twitter, account name is: @ThreeUKLatest if you’re interested in following them.

Better photos from your iPhone (part 1)

In the constant effort to improve my photography skills I decided to make a more conscious attempt to always have a camera with me when I'm out and about. My problem with this is that the camera I prefer for high quality images, a Nikon D200, is something of a brute to carry around all the time. I even bought an excellent small Domke bag expressly for carrying the D200, a second lens and a tiny flash, but this is still a big and heavy enough bag to think twice about when heading out the door. I do still grab the packed Domke on occasion, but I need to be in a 'serious shooter' frame of mind to take it with me.

I also have an excellent little Ricoh GX200, which can shoot RAW and offers terrific image quality for it's compact size, with the usual small-sensor caveat of requiring good available light to shoot in.

But I really want a camera I'll always have with me and so eventually I decided the only camera guaranteed to fit the bill for 'always' is the camera in my iPhone. I'm currently using an iPhone 3GS and the 'touch to focus' feature really does offer a significant improvement in getting better image quality from the otherwise basic camera. Additionally there are now a great many photography apps on the iTunes store that offer surprising editing and manipulation capabilities for iPhone captured images.

Since making the decision to use the iPhone camera I wanted to know a bit more about the properties and tech specs of the camera module itself. From information on various sites I found this on the iPhone 3GS camera:

  • Resolution = 3MP
  • Lens = 3.85mm focal length (equiv to about 37mm on regular camera)
  • Sensor = 1/4" CMOS
Autofocus = 2cm to infinity
Auto exposure & ISO = from 70 to 1600
  • Aperture = fixed at 2.8
  • Shutter speed = variable. (EXIF data on my iPhone images shows a range from 1/10Sec to almost 1/3,000! So automatically controlled shutter speeds and ISO determine the exposure, unfortunately neither are accessible to the user).

And here's a camera update from a review on Macworld of the new iPhone 4:

"As on many smartphones (including previous iPhones), the iPhone 4’s 3.85mm camera lens has a fixed aperture of f/2.8, and automatically adjusts the shutter speed and ISO to get the best exposure. In our tests, we managed to make the ISO go as low as 80, and as high as 1000. The longest exposure time was 1/15 of a second, and the shortest was 1/10000 of a second."

By today's standards that's a pretty low-end camera and I've often heard the complaint 'but that's not a real camera!'. Well I'm as big a sucker for camera gadgetry as any other photo-geek but years of lusting after better and better cameras has led me to understand that a better camera does not necessarily equal a better photo. It is not the camera that determines whether the photo is good, or not, it's the photographer - I know this is a cliché but, by and large, it's true. Bear in mind too that the photography marketplace is awash with a rising tide of sales BS, apparently with the express purpose of selling you a 'high-end' camera with more features than you have brain cells (and sometimes they even succeed!).

My philosophy is that any camera is as real or serious as you make it, and anything that captures an image is a camera, from a cardboard box pinhole camera to a Hasselblad.

A few short years ago 3mp sensors were top of the line for emerging Digital SLRs and some fantastic images have come from those cameras. I can go back through my Lightroom catalogue and find many images of superb quality taken with my first 'serious' DSLR, the Nikon D70 - and it only sported a 6mp sensor.

I find that the quality of iPhone camera is more than enough for casual shooting, reference shots and experimental imaging.

The constraints of the iPhone camera are far outweighed by its convenience, because, of course, 'The best camera you have is the one that's with You'. This makes the iPhone almost perfect for unplanned, or unexpected photo-ops, here's a few examples of photos that only exist at all because they were shot on an iPhone:


These photos may not be high-res captures, but they capture something else, something far more fundamental to photography for me; It's all about being there, catching a random moment of perfect light, seeing a familiar location in a new way, or a unique event unfolding before your eyes - and, most importantly, it's all about the image, not the image quality.

A great shot is still a great shot, even if it's only 800px wide on your browser screen.

Often the quality of the iPhone image needs some help to really shine, so I have no problem post-processing my iphone images extensively using some of the wonderful photo-editing apps now available. I know some purists frown upon such extensive processing of images, but, in my opinion, 'image processing' starts when you raise your camera to take a photo in the first place. Aiming your lens, choosing angles, framing, exposure control, shutter speed selection etc., etc., are all decisions you make in capturing an image.

Editing the final image with software to enhance, or change it, is part of the same image-making process - it's ALL selective. To me there is no such thing as photographing something 'as it was', only 'as you see it'.

After a few weeks I expected that the quality my iPhone images would improve, but I did not expect that using the iPhone camera would make me a better photographer in a fundamental sense, but that is what I believe has happened. I'm shooting a lot more images, I concentrate more on what I'm looking at when shooting (the whole screen of the iPhone is my viewfinder), there are no distracting controls, just a shutter button. Lessons learned from shooting with my iPhone have improving my 'eye' for when (or if) I bring out a 'real camera' later.

I find it's refreshing to pay less attention to the mechanics of how I'm getting the shot, It's faster, more direct and I feel closer to the images I'm shooting. In fact, thinking back on it, this is why I was bitten by the photography bug in the first place.
 An added bonus is that there's no auto-review on iPhone after releasing the shutter - so there is no time wasted 'chimping' images already shot.

I'm not sure this kind of rapid self-development (pardon the pun) is even possible with any other camera, once you bring controls, buttons, menus etc. into the situation your relationship to capturing the image totally changes.

This is part one of my 'Better Photos from your iPhone' series. This post is much longer than I intended, but I've learned a lot from using my iPhone camera and I'd like to share this with anyone else who'd like to 'up the ante' on the success of their iPhone photos.

In part two of this series I'll cover the physical aspects of how to get better shots with your iPhone.

 

Eyeing up the MiFi

mifi1.png

The kind folks at 3Mobile sent me one of their popular MiFi devices to try out with my iPad and, although this is not my full review, I wanted to put up a quick post about it.

The device is pretty small and will easily slip into a pocket or bag, the MiFi also appears to hold a charge for a good while. I've heard quite a few people expressing interest in this as they have bought, or are thinking of buying a WiFi only iPad and indeed this is a very good solution if you're thinking of buying the non-3G version of the iPad.

There's an added bonus in that the MiFi will provide Internet connection for any other WiFi devices that you own too, e.g. I can easily connect my iPhone, or Macbook Pro using the WiFi.

I'll have more details to post later, after I have a chance to test it out more fully, but I can say already that I've seen some surprising speeds from it around my home town of Lisburn.

So far, so fast then, more later.

 

Art & Copy at the Art & College

I've been looking forward to this movie for a while and finally got to see it last night at the NUU Art College in Belfast. The theatre in the College is a nice modern facility, but unfortunately they were attempting to show the movie DVD from a laptop. As a result we had a few crash-induced intervals throughout the screening, although to be fair there these problems did appear to be with the supplied disc itself. 

Technical issues apart though I really enjoyed the movie and, although there were many truly larger than life Ad legends interviewed, the movie's measured delivery made a good job of setting the context of those personalities against the environments that created and inspired them. In fact it reminded me of the Helvetica movie - which was excellent.

The creative luminaries interviewed in the movie are a who's who of Advertising legends: George Lois, Mary Wells, Hal Riney, Lee Clow, Dan Wieden and David Kennedy - to name but few.

George Lois was definitely one of the most entertaining, not so much 'in your face' as through your face and out the back of your head!

It was terrific to see that the passion and drive of these creative tribe 'elders' remains undiminished, despite their long years of service in the most high stakes and high-pressure of Advertising Agencies. The creatives interviewed in this movie are the real deal 'Mad Men' and 'Mad Women' responsible for some of the best and most memorable campaigns ever seen. It is entirely believable that they're said to have influenced 20th Century thinking and popular culture more than any president, government or movement has.

Amongst the many highlights of this movie were the shocking origin of the famous Nike 'Just Do It' strapline, the almost dumped classic 'Got Milk' slogan (a familiar theme in Advertising war stories, 'Vorsprung durch Technik' was almost dropped by Audi too) and the creation of the amazing Apple '1984' Superbowl ad.

I particularly loved one of the quotes from Mary Wells when credited with 'inventing' an astonishing new look for one of her high-profile clients (I think it was the Braniff Airlines campaign) her reply was that she did not invent it, rather she discovered it and showed it to the client. Mary's summary of what makes a great Advertising talent is that they're 'born with a gift for sensing what will turn you on.' Art & Copy certainly bears that out.

If you're involved in the creative business in any way I'd recommend seeing Art & Copy, in fact there's so much great work and inspiration in it that it's worth picking it up on DVD copy for occasional future reference.

Also: they had me at 'Art'.

I ‘shopped the Sheriff!

Back in the day it was called airbrushing and indeed I once wielded this magical, mythical illustration tool myself, long before Digital roamed the earth.

Today Photoshop is the ‘daily driver’ for most of us with more than a passing interest in image editing and illustration, and rightly so, as Photoshop sports an amazing roster of tools which truly make ‘Ye Olde Airbrush’ appear barbaric by comparison. Strangely it is interesting to note that although Photoshop’s digital toolbox is very sophisticated the techniques of masking, painting and shading etc. are still remarkably similar to the days of airbrush and ink.

When I first saw what Photoshop could do I immediately realised that my beautifully made Iwata airbrush was now an antique. The flexibility and speed of working in Photoshop was a total culture-shock from the glacial pace (and the ensuing high costs) of airbrush work, with the icing on the cake arriving in the form of Wacom digital tablets and pens. 

So here we are years later and the efficiency of Photoshop has driven retouching work from mainly a salvage operation well and truly into the realms of illustration. 

Software advances have significantly accelerated the use of retouching, of course (Photoshop CS5 has just been released as I write this), but much of this type of work is still crafted manually and can be time-consuming as it often requires a high level of actual drafting skills. For professional retouching a Wacom tablet is also pretty much an essential requirement, as is developing some degree of skill in using it. The big deal here is that Photoshop now does so much of the grunt-work that I can spend much more time exploring the more creative possibilities when editing my images.

The photographs shown on this post were part of a website design for Mainstream Renewable Power, and are intended to convey that they are a ‘people company’, so at concept stage I suggested we create images of their own personnel, but with a creative approach that allowed us to feature them prominently as part of their website design and to reinforce the newly developed corporate ID. 

Well in advance of the shoot I sourced some real-world props that I could retouch to transform them into elements of the brand, these props were specifically chosen with regard as to how I could illustrate them in post-production to suit our brief. So in this case the photos were shot specifically to be retouched. 

I was pleased we were able to accomplish this featuring the real heroes of the company, Mainstream’s own personnel, as opposed to models, and Mainstream themselves were very happy with the results.

Roll-over the retouched images to see the original images we started with...

The photos were all taken by the very talented Phil Smyth The full set of images may be seen in the masthead area on Mainstream’s current website here.

So, where were we then?

Welcome back.

The Hiatus is over now that I've finally made the time to overhaul my design blog - and this is the result. I hope to resume reasonably frequent blogging and thought 'A Career in Creative' summarises it fairly well. I'd like to cover the creative process, concepts, design, techniques and the business aspects of working as an independent/freelance. You'll also find the odd smattering of arts, culture and photography - all passions of mine.
In an attempt to keep the peace I'll even do my best to avoid rabid Apple fandom, but they do make this so difficult!

In fact I've taken stock of all my web projects (including some dormant domains) with the result that some long simmering plans are finally taking shape, so there will be a few more developments in the (hopefully) near future.

I've also taken the opportunity to move this blog from Wordpress to Squarespace, I still love Wordpress, but for this blog I wanted to try the Squarespace platform, it does appear to have some unique features and I'm completely blown away by their iPhone app. I must also say also that Squarespace made a good (and easy) job of importing all the content from my Wordpress blog. I'm not being paid by Squarespace (quite the reverse!) but I am very impressed by their service so far.

Still getting used to the new gaff here, but it's a good sign that I'm able to concern myself less with the technicalities of managing the blog and get on with creating better content, of course time will tell.

So funny I could weep...

This has got to be the sharpest and funniest portrayal of worst-case scenarios in a creative/client relationship. Unfortunately, outrageous as it may seem, discussions like these are all too common in the creative business.