Skill Gathering with, "Master Your DSLR Camera."

by Carlo Carino in ,

Level up your skills with a truly educational iPad app. "Master Your DSLR Camera," from Open Air Publishing Inc.

Save a place for this on your home screen.

I like to be in on every stage of a project when I can. One of the early steps in most design jobs is original photography. I've got a few friends who are professional freelance photographers. I've also worked with some truly great ones who produce outstanding work. If you're lucky enough to find one that will let you direct a photo session — stick with them.

But as a designer, the there are many situations where you'd do well to become a halfway decent photographer yourself. Some examples:

  • Location scouting
  • Conceptual planning
  • Limited time and/or budget
  • You don't have time to do a lot of post-processing on bad photos

I took photography courses in high school and college. One of these classes was even taught a real-life Pulitzer Prize winner. But those lessons never seemed to stick. I've wanted to be a better photographer ever since.

The real leap forward in my development came when I got "Master your DSLR Camera" from the iTunes App Store earlier this year. After several months using the app, I can truly say I've made a lot of progress. Now I'm almost where I want to be.

Click to enlarge. The outside of DFS Tumon Bay Galleria. Shot just after sunset. I never could have taken this a year ago.

It's promoted like an interactive book, but I think it's best to treat it like your own tag-along photography expert.

It is all of the following and more:

  • Comprehensive
  • Professional looking
  • Authoritative
  • Interactive
  • Ambitious 

But best of all, it's made for exploration.

Ideal ideas and instructions for most any situation.

It's the kind of app/book you use when you have your camera in hand and ideas in your head. When you know the look you want to achieve, it's ready to show you how. All while increasing your understanding of your camera and it's myriad settings in the process. I can't overstate how well this works as a learning tool.

On the down-side, navigation through the app takes some getting used to. There many times where I tapped in the wrong place, bringing up windows or switching screens to unintented places. But once you get past the hurdles, real magic awaits.

It's got well organized lessons, HD video tutorials, and interactive camera-setting simulations.

The app lets you drag the slider across to simulate the effect of various shutter speeds.

Let me say that once more — interactive camera-setting simulations. Just mind blowing.

It's available on the App store for $9.99. I don't know how valuable it might be to true photography professionals. However, if you're a designer who wants to become more versatile by improving your photo skills, it'll be more than worth the price. 


Hero Video — Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design

by Carlo Carino in ,

Pretty nifty video about the making of a great book. "Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design," is definitely on my must have list.

Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design from Laurence King Publishing on Vimeo.


There's something invigorating about getting to know someone else's design process in such an intimate way. Anytime you can get a massive resource about one of your design heroes, do it.

Drawing on versatility: Why it's a good idea for designers to cultivate many illustration styles.

by Carlo Carino in ,

Versatility is one of the key virtues of a good designer. To a large extent, a designer's job boils down to storytelling. Every good design tells a story. They provide concrete information about products, people, or events. They also convey a sense of tone, attitude, history, or culture.

How well the story is told is largely dictated by the decisions a designer makes.

"Carlo in four styles"However, the number of decisions open to a designer are dictated by how versatile that designer chooses to be.

I call versatility a choice because it takes care and consideration. Also because it takes work to add skills to your repertoire. If you care about how well you tell a story through your visuals, then versatility is a must.

Which brings me back to drawing. If you're a designer, then you must be able to draw -- not beautifully or even accurately -- just enough to put your ideas to paper in a meaningful way.

Let me quote Douglas Bonneville of from his great post, "Why graphic designers should learn to draw."

All the elements of design are rooted in drawing, as is painting. Drawing is the fundamental skill of visual artists of any stripe. The better we draw, the better we paint, and the better we design, because drawing contains all the problems and pitfalls we must overcome as designers. If we never fully deal with the problems with a pencil, we never fully solve our graphic design issues with much cruder tools.

With that said, not all designers are illustrators and vice versa. Not unless we want to be versatile, that is.

An example

A large part of my work involves doing digital renderings for upcoming real-world projects. This is often accomplished with a combination of photography, Photoshop, and other digital tools. On projects like these, the story is a simple one: this is what 'Project X' will look like -- and it will look cool.

Sometimes, however, I'm tasked with conveying a more complex story: this is what 'Project Y' will look like, feel like, and how it will connect to its intended audience in an emotional way.

The best way to tell that kind of story is through an illustration. Or better yet, a series of illustrations, like storyboards.

This is where it helps to have a few drawing styles in your pocket. Because the style must fit the story.

If you're drawing a storyboard for a playground project, for instance, do you do a rough, dark, grungy abstract illustration? Or do you do one that's more akin to a child's grade-school drawing? How about something that looks a little more Disney?

The more styles in your arsenal, the more choices you have. The more choices you have, the more likely you are create a visual that tells the story in the most appropriate way.

Again, success in a project like this depends on how versatile you are.

One way to do it

There's no simple way to become a versatile illustrator. It's partly research — gathering examples of a handful of different styles, some of which might you might not even like at first.

Then it's a matter of copying what you see. Over and over.

I call this 'cracking the code'. Getting to the point where you can think about the logic and personality behind a particular drawing style.

Then do an original illustration while employing you're newly assimilated style. I cannot understate how eerie this feels the first time you do it.

Then do it again. Find another style, rinse and repeat.

Not a copy anymore

Don't worry about feeling like a thief, though.

The thing is, you might start with a copy. But given time, these new styles become infused with your personality. It's unavoidable.

It ultimately becomes just the way you draw. Only now, you're more versatile.