We Bought A Tree

Dear diary, today the edible Nikki and I bought a ten year old Japanese Red Maple. For my UK peeps, that’s a tree. This fine specimen of Mapledom reaches for the sky in every shade of flaming fire red the mind can imagine and outshines even the blazing noon sun of a Canadian Summer. The leaves glow with rebirth, new life, and the promise of summers yet to be, and it is very beautiful.

We paid a good price for our tree. Some may think we paid more than we should.  But that’s not fair. They don’t realize that this tree came as part of a package. To buy this particular tree, we had to suck it up and agree to buy the four bedroom house that came with it.

So we did.

Our House (cue Madness riff, long live Suggs) is on a 40′ by 165′ lot that we have big plans for over the next however many years, starting with a raised rear BBQ deck and a vegetable garden. One day, maybe even a pool. There is a full basement, and my first planned purchase is a beer fridge, and that beer fridge will sit right beside the spot on the wall where I will lovingly mount the dartboard I have kept in storage for many years, waiting for just this very day. Nikki wants a push mower. I love her very, very much.

The front of the house has a veranda which looks across the front yard to our Japanese Red Maple. We plan to spend many years sitting on that porch in rockers, watching our tree grow and waving at the ships passing through the Welland Canal at the end of our street, as they ply their way to the four corners of the earth.

104 Bell Street-8

It took many years and a lot of blood sweat and tears to get here. We earned this. This has been a long time coming. This is us, hitting the slopes of Mount Retirement. As we slide down that slope we aim to add wheels, to make the slide even more uncontrollably fun.

Once we have a garage (second major purchase), I want a ride on lawn mower (because that’s a big-ass yard!), then a snowmobile, a boat, a Seadoo, a motorbike or two and, if I survive long enough to make it happen, a Batmobile. ‘cos why the hell not?  Think big.

Well, that’s the next twenty years planned for. Now we just have to figure out how to make it happen. And that, my dear readers, is all going to be part of the fun. Yay. Retirement, here we come.

Run Me Over. I Double Dare You.

A good advert can stop traffic. A really good advert can make traffic too scared to pass. This, I say, is a really good advert.

Designed for my own company, GYST Services, it gets the message across in a highly visual and effective way. It says that small can be powerful, and versatile, and aggressive. It says we got game. And it says we can hold our own against the big boys, and win. Just like GYST, in fact.

Here, it’s Muscle Car vs Cube. Cube wins. Cube always wins.

And it speaks the truth: Never underestimate the stopping power of a well-placed advertisement. Want one? 🙂

dared

Something Old, Something New. Something Vintage

I don’t get as much time as I would like to work on personal projects. Well, strictly speaking I do, it’s just that I have to be in the right frame of mind, and that can be elusive after a solid day in front of the camera / computer doing the commercial work that pays the bills.

I composited this image from several source images, not all of them ideal, but I made it work. The shot of Whitby harbour was taken the last time I was there, from the famous Abbey walls, home of the Dracula legend. The view from here really is quite breathtaking and I recommend it to anyone visiting the area.

While in Whitby you should check out the Magpie restaurant. Famous nationwide for the best Fish and Chips, and most of the TV crews that film around the area eat here, so you may bump into someone famous. You can see the Magpie in this image if you look closely. I can. Follow my eyes. I’m looking right at it!

Little Whitby
Click to see this image in its full glory

When the composite was finished I tried to come up with a colour tone that set it off to best effect. I maxed saturation, tried photo filters, HDR and high contrast, low and high key variations. All the usual variations. None of them worked for me, and since this is my project I wanted it to look my way, so I kept going until I came up with this retro look. I like.

Intended to look aged, as though clipped from an old newspaper and stored in an attic for almost a hundred years. For some reason, that resonated with me and seemed the best look for this image. I guess that’s the frame of mind I’m in today. All good. Enjoy.

WIP v 2.0

My last post showcased a work-in-progress (WIP) for one of the many companies I work with. For each company I routinely have many folders full of collateral to call upon, and for each I always have at least one WIP. Here’s why.

Any creative brief leaves much room for interpretation.  It’s my role to interpret what is asked for, choose a path to that ultimate goal, and then create something wonderful. It’s on me to make the client go “Wow!” And that brings with it both a challenge and an opportunity. This is all part of the joy of design.

The challenge is to visualize exactly what the client means when they say something like “I want something dynamic!”. That broad concept and what it means to me, may not be what it means to the person speaking. Dynamic can mean interactive, or giving the impression of motion. I have, in fact, seen this very sentence yelled out lout, accompanied by a palm slamming onto a table. I even once watched as a CEO did a little Superman impression complete with accompanying “Whoosh!” flying sound. I kid you not.

Those are the clients that don’t really know what they want, and do you know what? They don’t need to know. They just want me to pull something amazing out of my hat. And that’s where the opportunity comes in.

In the absence of specific guidelines, you need to come up with your own starting point. Make your own design decisions. Choose the direction and the meaning of what you create. Many of my clients want me to come up with all the ideas. That’s fine. I actually prefer it.

I usually begin by asking for two colours. Then I ask for two or three words which encapsulates the message they want to send. That could be about the company itself (Dynamic! Forward thinking!), or about the product they want to promote (Reliable! Innovative!). That’s when I start throwing pixels.

Starting with the base colours provided, it’s sketch time. What do those two or three words say to me? How can I make that message into something visually pleasing that will attract the target audience of Joe (or Joan) public? Is it a sales message? Informational? Who is this aimed at and what do they want to see? What will pull them in?

Starting with a blank page I can spend a lot of time putting together concepts which are ultimately thrown away, because for whatever reason they don’t quite work. That time is not wasted however, since it helps to polish the process, and zones in on the final choice of concepts. Now, some have likened this process to a sculptor starting with a square block of marble and throwing away the marble chips as he works, revealing the finished statue. That’s far too pretentious to my way of thinking, so forget that, but on a practical level it is true that throwing away all the good concepts created along the way would be wasteful. Though they may not work for this particular project, they may be perfect for the next. That’s where WIP folders come in.

Q-Dealership
Click to view larger image

The previous post showed one such WIP concept, a car representing a company. Compare that image with the one in this post. Same idea. Different product, different company, different look and feel. But for this company, this concept works.

Many creative artists and designers have also had the unhappy experience of putting their hearts and souls into a project, only to have it dismissed out of hand by the client when they present it. I feel your pain, I’ve been there. I think all of us have.

What I want to say to those on the receiving end is simply this: If you haven’t already, put your cast-off designs into a WIP folder of your own. When you have time, revisit it. You may find another angle, another inflection, another use. If not, you can play with the design, develop it further. Practice. And play.

Play is the oil that keeps the wheels of imagination turning. There I go being pretentious again. But it’s true. Keep on keeping on. Your WIP folders serve as your source of both inspiration and reassurance: When you look back on them you know your work is good.  Use your WIP concepts to reflect on old and new projects, and to get your creative ideas flowing. Often, you will find they serve as a launch pad for new and even better creative ideas.

And that springboard will lift you to new creative heights.

WIP

This discarded concept is an unfinished work-in-progress developed for one of the companies for which I design the advertising art.

Yellow and black are our corporate colours. The concept centres around the recurring phrase “If it was a <this> it would be a <that>, where the thing it would be represents either a feature of the software, or spoke to the quality of the product.

The plan here was to roll out a new concept in this line each week using a new tagline to match the updated art. It was intended to make people to look forward to each new ad, and have them watch keenly for every new distinctive yellow and black advert, keeping their interest and building product awareness.

This type of campaign is a good concept, one that I have used to great success on other campaigns. This one, however, didn’t see the light of day. I may go back to it someday to put the finishing touches to it but right now it’s just gathering electronic dust in the WIP folder of my collateral library. Came across it today again while doing my month end backups and reorganizing.

Rather than just keep it sitting on my hard drive I thought I would share it here and let it see daylight. Fire up the engine and take it out for a spin, so to speak. Hope you like!

If Sigmund Software was a car, it would be a Mustang
Click to view larger image

Before and After

Many people will see a photographers’ work and say “Wow! You must have a great camera!”

That’s like telling a world class chef that he must have a nice oven.

Waving the camera around is the comparatively easy bit. When you get the photos into the computer, that’s when the magic begins.

Take this photo. Very difficult lighting, the sun through the windows was silhouetting the happy couple. Without blasting the flash and ruining the ceremony, you have to adjust your strategy. I exposed for the outside light knowing that when I adjusted in post the windows would be blown out to white, giving me a beautiful soft glow, correctly exposed faces, and no distracting greenery.

I didn’t stop there. The minister standing between the bride and groom was also far too distracting. Her smiling face was the natural focus of the photo, but I wanted to show the love in the eyes of these two as they gazed at each other. They were the only people in the world at this moment. The minister, a wonderful woman, had to go.

Phil and Kelly - before and after
Click for larger image.

This is where Photoshop skills come in. Removing the minister using a combination of masking and the healing brush, I then clone stamped the window frame and wall in place and adjusted the shading to match the scene. I tweaked the colouring, adjusted the RGB curves, and used some adjustment layers to add warmth. After adding the ribbon and linked rings, I used my favourite script font to add their names in gold, and finished the whole thing with some final tweaks in Perfect Effects. After applying some noise reduction and sharpening, it was done. An hour well spent, and on to the next photo. You cannot do all that with just a camera. Even a great one.

The high resolution version of this ‘after’ photo became the cover for the wedding album.

It is something the happy couple will be able to look back on at their 50th anniversary, and smile.  It is their perfect memory. That was the plan. That is always the plan.

A Toast to the Newlyweds

Last Saturday, May 30 2015, I was asked to be the wedding photographer for two friends. As anyone that has been in this position knows, this rarely ends well. All kinds of things can go wrong, and long-term friendships can turn into long-term bitterness. Fortunately, that is not going to happen here.

Kelly and Phil have been together for some time. They finally decided to tie the knot at the Bethel Community Centre in a low-key event attended by a select group of friends and family. No releasing of doves. No ticker-tape cannons. Just a minister and the people they loved. And it went well. Very well. Continue reading A Toast to the Newlyweds

Time, gentlemen, please!

When I was a boy I spent a lot of time in bars. Specifically, one bar, the Malt Shovel. As a latch key kid I would swing by to meet mom as her shift as a barmaid finished. I would help clear tables, collect ash trays and, occasionally, bat my cow eyes at the stragglers and ask them to bugger off home so I could get out of there.

It is not legal here in Ontario for bars to sell alcohol for take out. In England, back when I was a boy, it was common. Many bars had a separate entrance or window where you could pick up beer without having to actually go in the bar.  It was called ‘out sales’, as in, you take it out.

This was also great for the more enthusiastic drinkers who, having reached the point of being cut off by the bar staff,  would accept banishment gracefully and just take a couple bottles for the walk home, to keep out the cold, doncha know. Very civilized.

Compare that with today. I wonder if that old fashioned style was not a better way. Drunks don’t walk home these days, they drive. That’s not good. Worse, because they can’t get a drink to take out, they stay longer and have those extra drinks at the bar instead. That’s also not good.

So here is my question: Does it make more sense to have out sales, or not? To me, it certainly does. It allows bar staff to move drinkers out without arguments. It makes the roads safer and keeps the patrons happier, since they don’t have to put up with the offensive drunk that just left.

Anyway.  I’m just reminiscing about those long distant days when I stood knee high to a grasshopper and learned far more than I should have from the regulars at the bar. I won’t call them happy days, but do you know what? They were not at all bad.

I love my wife

i love my wife. Even when she takes me shopping for shoes. Shoes at the Outlet stores in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Shoes that she checked out online before we set off. Shoes that, it turns out, they don’t actually have in stock.

Shoes that, the lady at the store says, are only available through the web site. So Nikki can’t try them on for size. And these shoes  can’t be delivered to a Canadian address. That would be too easy. Oh no, these shoes must be ordered online and delivered to a U.S. Address.

Then, she says, we can queue to go over the border to collect them. Paying tolls, gas money and import duty on them. Of course, with a wink, my wife could put them on and wear them on the way back.

And they wonder why this store is empty.

2014: A Year in Review

As 2014 draws to a close I look back over the accomplishments from this year with, I think, a justifiable sense of pride.

42,149 views of my medical technology blog at Sigmund Software. And that is just on Google Plus. That’s over 100 people per day following what I write. Or to put it another way, over 850 readers per article. On a highly targeted subject like behavioral health, that’s reaching a lot of medical professionals. That’s pretty good. Add in the hits from Twitter, Reddit and Facebook, as well as those following the blog on RSS, and I’m one very happy camper.

I also placed a dozen print items on the pages of some national publications, reaching several million more. These ads also went out in e-blasts across the USA, one of which set new records for ‘open’ rates (according to the vendor, and he should know). And these numbers represent just one of the five companies in the Group for which I run the social media and web sites.

We did good. I did good.

Separately from the day job

2014 was also the year I moved into Event photography. In 2014 I shot four weddings, one 50th wedding anniversary, a music concert and several parties, and I already have bookings for next year.

This is a great way to spend evenings and weekends and I love being invited to take part in these special occasions. My main focus as a photographer is to capture emotions, to freeze forever those fleeting moments of pure happiness. My clients to date have without exception told me I do it very well.  The customer is always right, they say. I’m not going to argue the point…

I am increasing my service offerings in Event photography to include online photos, photo books and video. To this end I am pleased to announce the launch of a dedicated web site, where guests and families can now view photos from the event of the day, and even download them or have prints made for the coffee table or the wall. I will be adding to this site over time to include unique artwork for sale. I am going to show my creative side. Watch this space.

As well as providing opportunities to cherry-pick your very own wall-mounted and framed art from your own event, those that did not attend may simply view the photos from the happy day, and feel as though they were a part of it. Great for out-of-country relatives, just send them the link to your personal album!

I am very excited to be able to offer this particular service to my brides and grooms, and hope to expand this even further over time.

Dear reader, I would welcome the opportunity to be a part of your own special event. Take a look at these shots from the portfolio. If you like my style, contact me to discuss your needs. Let’s talk.

I also managed

to keep a couple of dozen commercial web sites running without interruption. The busiest of these, the News in Port Colborne and Wainfleet, is a Niagara peninsula based online community newspaper which I took control of last year. Since then, the numbers have gone through the roof.

Pulling in visitors from the entire Niagara peninsula and the Golden Horseshoe, we are fully accredited members of the Ontario Press Council, and yes, I have a press pass. The site has so far this year reached 403,000 viewers, 33,000 in December alone. I live in a small community of just over 19,000, so I will consider this a huge success.

I only handle the technology behind the site and keep it running, taking care of the practicalities of ad management, updates, backups, security, and bandwidth management. The bandwidth requirement for this site has grown exponentially since January, which saw me having to juggle servers three times during the Summer, and throw ever more resources in, just to keep us online and operational: We have a lot of visitors, growing every day.

Though I write an infrequent column, the lion’s share of content is supplied by Heidi, the founder. She keeps the content flowing and her hard work keeps people coming flooding back. Whether you enjoy her style or not, it is highly effective. The results show it.

Our December bounce rate is 0.76%. That is an amazing number for those that understand it. According to Google, fewer than 6% of sites achieve a bounce rate below 25%, placing us squarely in the top one percentile of web sites. Globally. Fewer than one in a hundred visitors click away without reading further.

Which makes this site a gem of an opportunity for advertising. If you operate a business in the Niagara peninsula, please consider throwing some of your marketing budget in this direction. You will find it a great return on your investment. This is not a sales pitch, but if you do want to consider it, please contact me direct to discuss your options. I can answer all your questions, and get your ad up and running quickly. Again, let’s talk.

That’s enough, I think

I have written about a few of the professional highlights of the year just gone. There have been plenty of others, too many to list in full.

I created a 10’ by 12’ trade show booth, several promotional videos and three rolling attract mode ads. I graduated college. As a member of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals I received an Honorable Mention’ for a piece I submitted, and I contributed to a couple of their seminar/webinars. Not the least of my accomplishments is simply keeping up with the software learning curve, from Photoshop to Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere Pro, After Effects, Dreamweaver, Muse… It’s a very long list and a lot of hard work went into staying on top of the game. But that’s just part of the deal, if you want to play this game. And I do.

In closing this review of 2014, I want to point out one personal highlight: My one year anniversary with Nikki. She and I are looking forward to bigger and better things every year, both personally and professionally. We have Plans with a capital P.

We look forward to riding the roller coaster of 2015, and beyond. We hope to share the ride with those of you reading this.

Get ready to scream. In a good way.