How to grab user attention with the powerful use of imagery

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show we talk with Mike Kus. We discuss how to create and choose the best imagery to support your content.

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This weeks show is sponsored by Stockio and Gather Content.

This week on the Boagworld Show Mike Kus talks about finding the perfect image for your content marketing efforts.

Paul: Hello and welcome to the podcast about all aspects of digital design, development and strategy. My name is Paul Boag and joining on this week’s show is Marcus. Hello Marcus, how are you?

Marcus: I’m fine Paul, how are you?

Paul: Oh, I’ve got a never-ending cold and it’s just annoying at this point.

Marcus: Yeah, I poorly wife and Dan and Chris at work, everyone is ill. I seem to have avoided it so far.

Paul: You don’t get ill particularly often do you? Your back goes out every now and again in the kind of tradition of old men everywhere.

Marcus: Yeah, although it’s never been as bad. The worst my back ever was worse was the first year we set up Headscape. Which was years ago. I was bad for months then but yes, Chris always says that I’m always ill. It’s just him, he’s always ill! And you are.

Paul: Oh, I’m always ill, yeah. But then I’m kind of a sickly child. I don’t go outside very…

Marcus: Not enough sunlight.

Paul: Partly and I think the other problem is that I don’t interact with other human beings so on the rare occasions where I do, like go to a conference, I’ve got no antibodies at all, no ability to fight any kind of germ whatsoever so I immediately get sick.

Marcus: You need one of those kind of plastic tent things around you.

Paul: Exactly, a bubble.

Marcus: A bubble, yes. You’d quite like that because then people couldn’t come too close could they?

Paul: I know. You wouldn’t have Americans hugging you, it would be wonderful. But…

Marcus: You’re referring to our lovely week in Spain aren’t you?

Paul: Oh yeah, everybody hugs you. That Brad Frost he’s very huggy, I don’t like that! Molly Holzschlag, she’s another hugger. Not that she was there but anyway.

Marcus: He started the conference, the smashing conference that both of us went to, well Paul was speaking at. I did roll my eyes with his enthusiasm, I have to say.

Paul: Yeah, enthusiastic people. I’m not having it! My life is just misery at the moment.

Marcus: Aww.

Paul: It’s just this… just everything…

Marcus: It’s not really misery is it?!

Paul: It is, it is.

Marcus: Io it isn’t.

Paul: My life my life is a disaster. Do you want to know why my life is a disaster?

Marcus: Go on then.

Paul: So not only have I been thrown out of my home because I am referbishing it.

Marcus: Through choice.

Paul: Yes, admittedly. Well, my wife’s choice really, let’s be honest! So, I’m homeless and then I was doing some design work this week. How exciting, when was the last time I…

Marcus: Ooh, nice.

Paul: … How exciting. I know right! And just kind of reimagine something basically so it was really kind of great design work, really excited about it. My Mac broke.

Marcus: Oh yeah, you’ve got a dodgy keyboard haven’t you.

Paul: I have a dodgy keyboard so my Mac is now away for 7 to 10 days.

Marcus: Because Ian at Headscape has the same problem. Well, he has a problem with his keyboard. His R key doesn’t work and they said “Oh, will have to have that in for four days,” I think they said and he’s like “Uh.”

Paul: I know! So it’s a right pain in the arse. So that’s a disaster and then on top of which despite getting up at the crack of dawn I still didn’t manage to get the iPhone for this Friday so I’m sulking.

Marcus: Oh I just wait… Just wait a few weeks and then just walk into any shop and buy one.

Paul: Have you actually ever met me Marcus!? What is the probability of me waiting for anything that I want?

Marcus: Yes, but you are not seven years old any more.

Paul: At the moment, mate, I’ve actually ordered two.

Marcus: Really?!

Paul: Yeah, because I have ordered one from Apple saying that it’s going to say a couple of weeks to arrive and then the carphone warehouse blithely told me told me "Oh, we can deliver it on the 3rd of November. So I ordered it by via them as well but I don’t think they are going to deliver which is why I got the full-back on Apple. I might even, if I’m feeling enthusiastic get up Friday and go to a store and see what happens!

Marcus: Wow, you could camp outside an Apple store.

Paul: Well, I was going to go to the knockoff Apple Store in Salisbury instead.

Marcus: No, I will just wait and then just buy one, walk into a shop and say “I would like that one” and they’ll say “Yes sir, here it is.” And all will be lovely.

Paul: That’s so… But that is so dull.

Marcus: No it’s not!

Paul: That’s so dull and sensible.

Marcus: But Paul, you were just complaining about how your life is miserable and I was giving you an example of how to make it less miserable.

Paul: No because that scenario involves patience and waiting and neither… You know, you’ve got… Some misery in life is just down to your personality type, right? And I can’t deal with waiting.

Marcus: Yes, I guess I’m not that excited about it, I think that’s what it is. It’s like… Don’t get me wrong, I think it will be a lovely thing and I’m really looking forward to having a better camera particularly. Everything else is like “It’s another iPhone isn’t really”.

Paul: Yeah well, yeah. See, I’m excited about it but equally I do know that the minute I get it home I’ll be excited about it for maybe a couple of hours and then life goes back to normal doesn’t it really.

Marcus: Then you’ll realise it’s just the same as the old one but few little bits different.

Paul: Exactly.

Marcus: You’ll play with putting the studio light on somebody or stage light, “Ooh, that’s good isn’t it!” And then you put it down again.

Paul: Yes, yes. Then I’ll wirelessly charge it for once and then go “This takes too long.” And plug it in and that will be it really. So really what we are concluding is that life is meaningless.

Marcus: Or, Apple need to make something more exciting. Haven’t made anything exciting for years. Your laptop, Ian’s laptop, I mean I’ve got the same one here. I took it to Spain with me and realised that I wish I had taken my old air, which is just sat next to me over there, because it is half the weight, well it’s not half, but it feels like it is. So I have to carry this lump around that doesn’t work so well. The keyboard feels horrible. It’s just… Make something good!

Paul: But do you think… Well, I’m not sure you see. I’m not sure whether it’s actually Apple’s fault. It is partly, but also I just think we’ve got really unrealistic expectations. I mean, what would be good? What would make you go “Wow, I will queue up overnight to get that?”

Marcus: Oh, I don’t know. There’s the sci-fi books have got us kind of wearing earrings and things like that that do all this stuff. A bit like the watch I suppose but the watch… I’ve been reading a book by a Futurist. I can never remember his name, anyway, he’s famous, and he thinks that we will all have access to the Internet via contact lenses or glasses.

Paul: Oh yeah.

Marcus: Now that would get me out of bed. Not that I would want to put contact lenses in my eyes at all but if I could have that level of access to stuff then yes, that would be really exciting.

Paul: But then the thing is with that is you know that it will come incrementally and so, you know, so the first one… We’ve already got Google glasses and that is shit!

Marcus: The first one with contact lenses with the wire dangling down your chin! (Laughter) Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Yes. These things will arrive when I am 75 and my eyes don’t work even less than the don’t work now.

Paul: Well yes, but then will get them replaced by bionic eyes and live forever in your new robot body.

Marcus: Yeah, well, apparently that’s not us, may be my grandchildren might live forever. But even then probably 10 years too early.

Paul: Is it Michio Kaku that you are reading?

Marcus: Yes, that’s his name.

Paul: Yeah, he’s a really cool guy. He managed to… When he was a kid, because he’s a Nobel prize-winning physicist, when he was a kid he blew up his parents garage and knocked out the entire blocks worth of electricity by making a superconductor magnet or something, I don’t know! James was telling me about it. He sounds very cool.

Marcus: Yeah, he is.

Paul: I am, however, excited about the camera. Because what phone have you got? Have you got a 6S, the same as me?

Marcus: I’ve got a 6S, yes.

Paul: Yeah, so it’s going to be a real jump up for us because, for example, we don’t even have portrait mode which looking at some of the photographs that people have been taking, even on a seven is… they are really nice. With that kind of blurry background and stuff so I’m really looking forward to that.

Marcus: Yeah, Ed and Dan have got the big sevens. The 7+ and that’s got the double camera thing in it. That’s what made me think “Ooo, that would be lovely.” Because I don’t really take photographs with anything else these days.

Paul: No, neither do I really.

Marcus: I’ve got an old DSLR but I’ve got no desire to get a new one. And having it in your phone it’s always there. One thing that I would like to do, a retirement project this is, is to go through the 50,000 photographs I’ve taken in the past few years!

Paul: Yes, that would be good.

Marcus: Because I take them and then I never look at them.

Paul: No, I do every now and again. But talking of photography, we’ve got Mike Kus on the show later and he talks quite a lot about photography so it’s a good one. Have you listened to this interview? Or are you as unprepared as normal?

Marcus: Ummm, no!

Paul: It’s worth listening to actually it’s a really good one. I mean we talk generally about kind of imagery and selecting imagery and stuff but then he talks a little bit about photography and taking good imagery just using a smartphone. Because of course that’s what he’s become known for.

Marcus: I know, he was on the show two or three years ago and I just couldn’t believe where he had gone from being a web designer to basically being the go to person for kind of reportage, is that the right word? Photography for sort of advert shoots.

Paul: Yes, he does a huge variety of stuff. That’s why he felt like a really good person to interview for the show because we are talking about imagery and imagery uses social media on your website and stuff like that. And inevitably that is going to be a mix of illustration, photography, you know, using stock imagery. All those kinds of different things. And Mike has got his finger in all of those pies, do you know what I mean? He does everything from doing illustrative work to web design work to photography so yes, it’s a really good interview actually. Should be a good one.

Featured Posts

Play Featured Posts at: 11.19

But, before we jump into that because this show is about imagery and we are talking about making use of imagery I wanted to share with you a little bit of kind of follow-up reading of stuff that you can get into to investigate this subject a little bit more. I want to share a couple of posts from me and then one from Buffer, actually, the social media people. The one from me is “Stop using stock photography clichés” which is… I’ll put links in to all of this into the show notes. But, you can go to it at–photography. That is basically an article about avoiding shaking hands basically. People shaking hands seem to be everywhere. You know, the same images you see again and again and again. So it’s…

Marcus: It’s really hard though. Finding good imagery, as you know Paul, we work for a number of law firms and they don’t, other than themselves, they have hundreds of pictures of themselves, they don’t have any kind of associated imagery.

Paul: Ahh, we talk about this with Mike.

Marcus: Oh right, but they’d all quite like it but, and this is kind of the main issue with lawyers is they are very, very literal people and if you go down the route of gorgeous -looking imagery that you might have to take one or two mental steps to maybe make some kind of connection, they won’t have it.

Paul: Yeah.

Marcus: They want pictures of, you know, courthouse steps and books, law books in a nice old library kind of thing. And that doesn’t work because that’s clichéd and you get to the point of… Well, a current design that we are doing where we’ve just said “you are not having any.” But what we have agreed with them is that they are going to do, using the word reportage again, they are getting in a photographer to kind of just take pictures of them at work over a week or so and use that which I think, fingers crossed, is going to work.

Paul: Hmmm, I think, certainly in this post I talk about some of the alternatives, things like using illustration, I talk about how you use the imagery within the page. You can take even a fairly dull image if you kind of use it in the right way. And of course you can stylise imagery as well and then you can pick imagery that has got… Taken from a particular angle or, you know, it is cropped in an interesting way. But you are right, this whole thing about not being too literal I think a really good thing but yes, if you got a client that can’t wrap their head around that…

Marcus: Some of them will and some of them won’t and you know what lawyers are like when they start arguing. It is… there lives are about arguing with each other and other people so it’s just been a bit of a nightmare that one.

Paul: Your solution is quite a good one, which is don’t necessarily use imagery. Use typography, you can do some amazing stuff with typography that looks really good. But actually you really should listen back to Mike’s interview that we will run in a minute because he talks about how his process for getting to less literal imagery which starts with the kind of strapline or an idea that he then builds imagery out from. So he kind of leads the client to the understanding of the imagery if that makes sense, in quite a nice way. So it’s worth listening to that.

Marcus: I will.

Paul: So, “Stop using stop stock photography clichés” was one. The other one, it is a bit of a weird selection I guess because it’s not actually about imagery. It’s an article I wrote called “How to squeeze the most from your imagery.” I’m not going to try and read the URL for that one, you can just google it and you will get it back or look at the show notes. This one is really about image optimisation and image performance and how to get your imagery to download lightning fast. So, you might want to check that one out and I talk in particular about a company that I’m going to mention later when we look at apps that do all the hard work for you if you don’t want to do it because getting fast imagery on your website is a big deal and really important. Then, the very last one I wanted to mention is a post by Buffer and and it’s “The ideal sizes for your social media posts.” Damn, that sounds interesting doesn’t it! But it actually talks you all through what size you should save images out to show to share on various social media platforms from Facebook to Pinterest to wherever else. Which is actually quite useful, for example, every time I put out a post I always try and associate an image with that and you need to know what sizes you are working with and all that kind of thing. So that’s a useful little one as well. So there we go, that’s some reading for you to check out.

Let’s quickly talk about a sponsor and then we will play Mike’s interview. Actually it’s a very relevant sponsor. It’s almost like I planned this and I knew what I was doing! So today’s sponsor is stockio. So this is a, as it sounds, is a stock library which have got thousands upon thousands of original high quality imagery both photography, graphics, vectors. But they’ve also got lots of iconography, typography, so fonts, and video as well. They have got a huge range of stuff and the great thing is that it is all free. Absolutely free for personal use and commercial use. It’s the guys, you know the mighty deal people? I don’t know whether you’ve come across those, them Marcus? But they are the people behind it and they have put it together. It is absolutely superb. It is a really, really good resource, loads of good quality imagery and graphics and typography etcetra that you can make use of. It’s all ad driven so it costs you absolutely nothing. You don’t even need to, and I like this, you don’t even need to register to download the images if you want to. You know how some of these free sites they force you to register so they’ve got your data and they can use it. This one you don’t have to, you can just go and download stuff. You can register and it’s probably worth doing so because that then, obviously once you got an account ten you can keep track of what you have downloaded in case you want to get at it again. You can also favourite stuff and all that kind of thing. So, to check these guys out just go to and you can, yeah, download to your hearts content which will be very useful because as we discover in the conversation today imagery is absolutely essential when it comes when it comes to any kind of content marketing really. All right, so shall we get Mike on the show and have a little chat with him and see what he’s got to say? So over to Mike.

Discussion with Mike Kus

Play Discussion at: 18.47

Paul: So, hello Mike, it’s great to have you on the show. How have you been doing recently? Are you doing well?

Mike: Yeah, yeah I’m good thanks Paul. Yeah. Everything is going well.

Paul: Good. You’ve got a very interesting kind of career that’s developed for you because you kind of do this huge mix of different stuff don’t you? From branding to web design to consultancy and then of course the whole Instagram and photography side of things. It must be keeping you amazingly busy I’m imagining.

Mike: Yeah, yeah it’s good. I guess I’ve always just had my, creatively speaking, my fingers in a lot of different pies. I just like a lot of different aspects of creativity, whether it’s design, branding, web, UI work and photography and I’ve just almost, I guess it’s when you just start doing something and you’re really into it it is quite… Especially with the way that we are connected today, it is very quick for people to latch onto something and you start photography and if you put some effort into it something comes of it. Because you can just share stuff so easily. There’s a few things I’ve ended up doing like that and if I put something out sometimes you know that you can put a couple of things onto Instagram or Twitter. If you find it interesting then someone else probably will. And suddenly you are getting requests for that. I’m trying to think of a good example of this, of something I did for pleasure, you know created for pleasure, then you know, couple of weeks later someone asks for it on a commission. That has happened to me a few times, you know, just doing something for fun and then someone comes back to you and says “Hey, I would like one of those.”

Paul: Do you think part of the reason that happens is because you’ve been able to build up quite a big following on like Instagram and things like that. You know, has that made a big difference do you think?

Mike: Yeah, it definitely has for my photography work obviously. It’s sort of… the stuff I do on Instagram is a sort of mix between… In a way it started off much more people, sort of, I guess, using my following to promote their products or their area, like I’ve done tourist work. But more often now it’s a mix, a mix of a lot of different stuff. Yes, I do use my following to help them promote something but I’m actually… Normally the engagement involves, you know, there’s a bunch of deliverables. For example it’ll be like three posts on Instagram or a couple of stories. But then it will be a set of 20 pictures documenting this place or this event that they can then use on their channels and on their literature that they may put together themselves. Also, it’s evolved into… I’ve started to do talks and workshops on photography for people to. And that’s been part of something I’ve done recently. I’ve created a set of pictures I’ve posted on Instagram, doing a set of workshops it’s all been wrapped up in one sort of sponsorship engagement. And it’s nice, because it’s becomes much more than just posting content on Instagram. It’s got me involved in, you know, sort of more projects that are a lot more meaty and interesting, it’s good.

Paul: Yeah, so of course I’ve seen some of the clients that you’ve worked for and it’s people like Land Rover. And of course the great thing for working, I imagine, with someone like Land Rover is that they have got these kind of incredible locations that they go to and there is kind of imagery built in there. But you know, a lot of organisations don’t have that kind of nice set of imagery to begin with. That they are a hosting company or an HR company and so imagery isn’t as obvious. I mean how do you deal with situations like that to stop you ending up with pictures of business the men shaking hands?

Mike: Yeah, well this is the funny thing, this is something I talk about… To me this question relates much more to, you know, how to design for the web and you do get clients that do all sorts of different things and sometimes they are doing something that is, like you say, a bit more difficult to visualise because they’re dealing with data or they are an office-based tool or something. So without thinking too hard you are thinking of images like you said, like pointing at iPads and looking at screens and shaking hands. This is something I’ve been talking about on the conference circuit of late which is really how to, I guess, my feeling is when you design something, and this is sort of really about sort of online branding and stuff, is that when you are talking about imagery is that it really is an opportunity in most companies to bring in some more interesting visuals to tell the story of what they do. Because whilst a company might say, for example, have some sort of, be some sort of project management app or they might be dealing with gathering statistics, it’s probably not what they… That’s what they technically do but they probably have a mission or a goal that they want to help people, you know, they probably want to do something and what they are actually trying to do is save time in a certain space. What you can start doing then is you start to focus on that part, the problem that they are trying to solve, rather than the technical solution that they provide. Then that is what I do, if I now take on a client, I start to look into what it is, I dig in to what they are trying to do. Try and find out what it is that is driving them to build that company up. And not really focus on what the tool actually does. Then that is what… That is often much more interesting than what the technical… What the tool does technically. That can provide you opportunities to then create interesting imagery. Whether that is photography or illustration for example. I’ve worked with a bunch of companies in the past that, for example, this is an example that is probably my best example in my portfolio is a company that I did a website for called Mixed which is a web design agency. And obviously by the very nature of being a web design agency, you know, you are one of thousands, and you are made up of the same components, you have a team, a location where you work and a portfolio essentially. Obviously you have to have a strong portfolio but outside of that how do you differentiate yourself from the competition. If you are just going to use standard imagery like pictures of people working behind Apple Macs for example that is exactly what you expect to see. Or some Post-it notes on a wall or something. All this sort of stereotypical stuff you think of. So what I did with them was dig into who they are and they worked on some big sort of hefty back-end development projects but they also had this keen eye for visual design and are always keen to stress that they cared about both aspects. Within their work I felt like their call values to what they did was striking a balance between aesthetics and functionality and were keen to stress that they didn’t want to… Either one of them was not going to be, you know, they weren’t going to sacrifice functionality for aesthetics but equally they weren’t going to ditch there sort of goal to create an engaging visual experience either. So I came up with the strapline which was “Beautiful form, perfect function.” It was just like a key phrase which to me is the compass for the direction of that site design, that visual design. It becomes part of the branding and everything I do is really with that in the back of my mind. So what I did was I created this homepage for them that randomly served up an object which I felt was sort of… demonstrated that exact phrase. So like a simple chair, a spoon, a classic pencil. Which all perform perfectly but are also aesthetically pleasing. So, I sort of use certain imagery throughout and had that bank of assets I created which was this pencil and spoon and I could use them throughout the site and bring back phrases like the user language to just always have this… It resonated throughout the website. Also they had all the standard content you would expect to find in a web design agency site but it was wrapped up in this story of the balance between form and function. And for me doing that sort of… Applying that sort of thinking is a good way, when you work with any company, to use especially when you’re working in a sector that is difficult to visualise without thinking about, like you say, the standard images of people shaking hands and looking at iPads. When you start thinking of applying this sort of storytelling to what they do it opens up a whole another door to a whole load of potential creative opportunities. That is the sort of thinking that I have applied to pretty much all the projects that I work on. In order to… Back the standard imagery.

Paul: Yeah, that makes a huge amount of sense because you are telling a story rather than just selecting a set of images that, you know, describe the thing that you are creating. I mean, of course, the problem is is not everybody can hire someone like you to create these beautiful images. Although I think anybody can go away with that idea of, well what is that core story here? What is that core strapline? But for those people, especially with content marketing which is what we’re talking about this season, potentially you are generating large amounts of imagery. You know, you are trying to put out a lot on Twitter and Facebook and stuff like that in order to grab peoples attention. So you end up looking at stock libraries. Now, you get a lot of crap on stock libraries but you also get some good stuff. So, how do you tell the difference how can you look at this potentially millions of images that it pulls back to you and actually pick the good from the bad? What should you be looking for?

Mike: Well, I’m not sure there’s like a an exact science to that but I think for me it’s instinctual. You know, you just look at stuff and you could instantly tell if things look staged and, you know, stereotypical office scenes, and then stuff the looks a bit more natural. I think it depends what you are looking for. If you do need an image that is very much… Say you can’t apply that sort of thinking I’m talking about, your client needs something a bit more literal. So, creating these stories and giving yourself opportunities to use interesting imagery just isn’t available to you because it’s not what the client wants, then it is sort of the case of maybe you do need a picture of some sort of office. But you don’t want it to be like that sort of glass walled office unit space where everyone is wearing suits. Then, I guess I would be, I guess first you can look in certain sites and things like, for example, in the past I have used stuff from stocksy which is a library that just has the general tone of the pictures is a bit more down to earth. So their offices are maybe, I don’t know, a bit more rustic and the photography style isn’t sharp bright white light and everyone with suits. It’s just a bit more relatable to the kind of clients that I’ve been working with. And I guess it is just a slight tweak on the style thing there. Also you have other, you know, unsplash which is a huge free library which now has millions and millions of pictures on it. And that’s an interesting one because whilst in the past that library, I feel like the downfall to unsplash in the past was that for people using images was that she saw them everywhere because they were nice images and everyone was just using them to stick on their website which instantly makes you… To me it sort of cheapens your product or website because you can’t… I’ve seen that picture, for example, of the girl holding the sparkler up to the camera on about 20 websites. You know to mean?!

Paul: Yeah!

Mike: So as soon as you see it feel like “You’ve got a just got a free image for your website.” It doesn’t look like there’s any thought gone into it. But now that everyone can upload all sorts of images all the time they are almost using it like a portfolio. There are millions of images on there that you don’t see around a lot of the time. So you can get stuff on there that if you use it there’s probably a good chance you probably only see it on your site. But the problem with that site is that i feel like it’s not so necessarily geared towards… I mean, it has got a lot of stuff on there now but, you know, it’s still a lot more landscape heavy maybe. Not such… Great images, amazing photography on there but maybe not so necessarily as practical as you would want it to be for some cases. But that is changing because there is so much stuff on there now. You can pretty much type in anything and there will be something. So yes, that’s an option. You know, to look there as well.

Paul: You are certainly right about things like, you know, picking something that’s got a little bit of a different style to it, is shot in a different way, the lighting is a little bit different, or the angle is interesting or the people are dressed in a slightly different way. Which brings us onto the area of photography because I mean that is a huge part of any kind of content marketing work is to include a lot of photography. But not every company can afford to pay professional photographers to do stuff for them. One of the things that has always really impressed me about the photography that you do is that you don’t have fancy kit you. Most of the time you are literally just using a smart phone. So I wondered if there was advice that you could give to people about being able to take their own photographs that they could use in content marketing areas.

Mike: Yeah, well, I mean that is totally hundred percent possible. You know, with a smart phone, any smart phone. I often get asked which phone I use and I’ve used… I’ve always had an iPhone for personal use but I’ve used other phones like LG, Samsung phones and there’s a lot more… If you got a modern smartphone they’ve all got, you know, pretty good cameras on the them now. So the results that you can get are, you know, are technically pretty good. I think the key thing to, I think, stress is that it is much more, in my mind, much more about how you use it, how creatively you use any camera whether it be a phone or a camera. But with a phone I think you can definitely create images that are worth using, you know, by yourself. It’s just down to being a bit smart about how you use it and creative when you’re using it. So the one thing that I feel like it’s a little bit, the one thing you are disadvantaged with on a phone is for example you can’t really create a shallow depth of field. You can, but you have to be super close to something to get a blurred effect in the background or a blurred effect in the foreground which is what you normally see in high quality stock imagery because they are using a real camera. You know, it has a huge lens, well not huge lens but it has lens that is capable of producing that effect. So I feel like… what I do with my camera and my iPhone is, there’s a bunch of things I do. I often… if you’ve got a scene you want to take which is appropriate for the content that you want to make is with a phone you can, for example, you can think about, the first thing I’d think about is light. You know, shooting it at a certain time of day for example. So inside using window light, your lights has the greatest effect on any picture so if you shoot in the middle of the day outside you are not going to have interesting light because it’s beaming down from above and everything is drenched in light, there’s no interesting shadows. But if you are shooting in the morning, for example, it comes from a much lower angle and no matter where you are it is creating interesting shadows and makes any particular scene that you may want to shoot much more interesting just in the terms of the light that is shining on the subject. It could be a street or an office with the light coming in the window at a certain angle. So that is the first thing I would think about, is when I’m shooting and when to get the best light. To me you get much more interesting light when it is low in the sky so morning time or evening. Secondly I would think about what angle you take it from. This is really important for an iPhone or a smart phone camera just because you can it can create some… You take a normal scene and given it give it much more interest and so… If you think if you just take photographs from eyelevel all the time you see the world exactly as you see it every day. As soon as you take a picture from just a foot above the ground, for example, you are seeing an image of a place that you don’t generally see so it is more interesting, it’s a bit more surprising and so just by holding your camera really high or really low you can make an image more interesting. Also you can sort of create that shallow depth of field effect actually on smart phones. Sometimes what I do is I make sure something in the foreground is super close to the lens and you do get that sort of that little blurred effect in the foreground. And that creates, not only does it create that sort of shallow depth of field it just gives the photo in general a sense of depth. So you can really feel the depth within the photograph. What’s cool about these little tips actually is that you can layer them up. So first of all you’re thinking about the light then the sort of angle in the composition of the picture and then may be thinking about putting something in the foreground. Each one of these decisions all contribute to the success of the image. Even with a smart phone by thinking about those simple things you can then create images that people wouldn’t realise were taken on a phone.

Paul: Yes, absolutely. I mean some the stuff that you are posting is absolutely gorgeous. You just think… It’s not always even special things. It’s easy. If you’re taking a picture of an amazing mountain or a beautiful young child or whatever then that is kind of good material. But you could really make a great image out of anything if it’s done right. Sorry, go on.

Mike: No, I was just going to say that’s exactly true. That’s something else I talk about is that photographing the simple things is that it is great to go to all these cool locations and stuff but actually, you know, you can, you can basically make an interesting picture out of almost anything. Especially like in autumn for example, there are leaves on the ground and the grass has dew on it. You you don’t need to be in an amazing location to create an interesting image.

Paul: Hmmm, and it’s also about, with those examples you just gave there, it’s about getting in close and looking at the detail of the world. You know, detail that you often overlook. Most of the time you’re looking at the big scale because you are looking for not getting run over by a bus or whatever. You know, you’re not looking at an individual key on a keyboard or a blade of grass or whatever else. So that’s a big part of it. But what about editing? Once you’ve got this image, I mean, the images that come of smart phones are pretty good generally speaking but do you spend a lot of time editing and if so are you applying filters or are you editing by hand. What advice would you give around that kind of thing?

Mike: Yes, so, well, I feel like I edit most of my pictures in Instagram. I sometimes do some bits and bobs in Photoshop if the picture is good but it’s got some sort of defect that I have to fix. Sometimes I do that. But the majority of the stuff I post is edited in Instagram because Instagram is now a really powerful application. I mean for a phone it has all the basic things you need to edit a picture. Even without any of the filters, you know, you can adjust the brightness, the contrast, the sort of detail, you can adjust the colour slightly. There’s lots and lots of things you can do on those filters and it is super easy-to-use. Sorry… Not the filters, yeah, basically the editing tools within the app. You know, the very basic versions of everything you would want to do to a photograph and you can adjust your photographs in quite a big way if you want to. I would suggest that people do that, they experiment with going through… I would essentially I sometimes just go through from one side to the other in a way and I sort of just, I look at a photograph I don’t really have a sense of, an agenda with the picture I just look at it and go “This needs to be darker.” So that’s the first thing I change and then normally that has an effect on the picture, you go a bit darker now it needs to… It’s losing some of the detail in the brick work in the background so I would use the structure tool which sort of adds a little bit of detail to any, you know, to the photograph. And you just sort of, it is almost like you adjust something and it gives you some feedback. You make another decision and adjust something else until you are happy with the picture. Also you have the ability to sort of crop things a bit and zoom in a little bit in Instagram. You are getting high quality pictures of your phone so you can afford to zoom in on a part of the photograph without losing too much quality. Then you can use some of the filters. Some of the filters, sometimes the way I use the filters, for example, they have certain qualities, certain filters. So one of them might lighten up the centre of the picture and if the photograph happens to be, have light in the middle of it it’s sometimes nice to exaggerate that little bit with the filter. And you can, normally what I do is use that filter and then just push it up gently because you could go from 0 to a hundred percent on the strength of the filter. You would use a tiny part of that filter. Essentially that’s… Normally I use the controls, the general editing tools rather than the filter but sometimes I will add… There’s certain filters on there that have some nice general colour tones that you could use a little bit of to, you know, add for example there’s a filter called aiding for example which to me is like almost is like adds a bit of general autumnal feel to your pictures. So if you are… If you use a little bit of that and it will enhance that a little bit. Also, I feel like my goal with taking pictures is to sort of try and convey what it is likely to be there at that time. So the funny thing is that when you get the pictures back of your phone very often they don’t look like that time. They don’t feel like that time because the lens of the camera is so much less sophisticated than the lens in your eye and your brain taking all the… You know, fully experiencing the light and you often take a picture into the sun and its blurred and it blows out but in the way the editing journey for me is going back and correcting, you know, it’s sort of like taking what you’ve got off the camera and then taking the necessary steps to make it feel like what it was like to be there again.

Paul: That’s a really nice way of thinking about it. Because one of the questions I was going to ask you is… Well you said, you edit it until you are happy but how do you know when it’s done? But I’m guessing it’s when you feel it represents what you saw at the time. Is that where you head for?

Mike: Yes, exactly, yes. It’s sort of almost not just what you saw but what you felt. Because you know, there’s an example actually of a picture that I use when I’m doing this photography workshop which is a picture of Big Ben. I was walking into Westminster and I took a quick snap because it was a beautiful evening and there were all these pinks rushing through the sky and I could see the detail on the clock face and it was just a really nice atmosphere. When I got the photograph on my phone to look back later it was all silhouetted and it didn’t capture those colours that I remember. So then I went in and it is extremely sort of heavy editing example but it is a good example I think because it demonstrates this thought process. So I then sort of re-croped in around the clock face because that what I was thinking about. I pushed out all the shadows and you can see the detail again. I used a little colour tool in Instagram to insert some pink back into the sky and then with a few tweaks here and there it was then much more… Even though it was very different looking at the end, in my mind it was much more representative of the way it felt to be there at the time than the photo the camera delivered to me in the first place.

Paul: That’s a really… I love that. I think we will end on that point because I think that’s a really good piece of advice is to edit to the point where it is feeling like it originally was. So where can people find out more about you Mike?

Mike: Well, in terms of design, my brand in graphics web stuff, at They can see my, follow my photography at Instagram and my user name is MikeKus, that’s K U S. On Twitter I’m MikeKus. So yeah, basically if you want to follow my design work on dribble also MikeKus!

Paul: So, just Mike Kus everywhere then, that’s nice and consistant.

Mike: Yeah, pretty much.

Paul: You’ve got the same advantage as me of having a relatively unusual name which means you can often secure it.

Mike: Exactly, yeah. It’s good.

Paul: I would highly recommend following Mike certainly on Instagram. I just… I both love and hate his photographs at the same time. I love to see them but I hate the fact that I struggle to take photographs like him but he has shared some really good advice today and I hope that you found it useful. Mike thank you very much.

Mike: Thanks for having me Paul.

Featured Apps

Play Featured Apps at: 49:11

Paul: Cool, so that was Mike. Very smart guy really knows his stuff with imagery. Annoyingly talented as well.

Marcus: He always has been.

Paul: Oh, it just gets right up your nose doesn’t it! Okay, so let’s quickly do our second sponsor of the day which is go content! Go content! Go Content, yay!! Woo hoo! No, GatherContent. Oh, it’s so embarrassing isn’t it.

Marcus: Are you drinking today Paul?

Paul: I… Just… The… Yes. But that is beside the point. I’ve just recorded a little stupid… They do like an advent calendar, a content strategy advent calendar, which are little videos that they send out every day over Christmas. I recorded one of those for them and I managed to screw up their name in that as well! Gathered content I called them in that. Rather than gather so I don’t know why they are sponsoring the show really. I wouldn’t if I was them.

Marcus: It’s all forms of advertising.

Paul: Yeah, even bad advertising! There’ll be all these people googling go content and getting annoyed because it’s not coming back. Anyway, GatherContent are a tool that helps you, guess what, gather content and manage all of that content. So it’s all about getting it and managing the content that you need for your website, your app or even a social media campaign to be honest. It’s a job that normally absolutely sucks doesn’t it? But GatherContent does make it a lot easier. It’s got a lot of features that we’ve covered in other episodes but what I want to talk about today is that it is a great place not only to write content but also to review it and approve it in one place. You can also use GatherContent to gather and manage all of the assets like imagery that goes alongside the content that you are creating. You can also edit and discuss the content actually within the app and people can then go in and approve it. So, it’s very flexible from that point of view and it also makes sure that people know what they have got to do and when they have got to do it and you can agree on the roles and responsibilities that everybody has. It is definitely worth checking out if you are working on any content heavy or content driven website. They’ve got a 30 day free trial, no need for a credit card or anything like that. You can go and check them out by going to

Right! Apps. When it comes to imagery I’ve got some apps for you that you ought to check out. One is a service that I use called Sirv. Remember I was talking… before the interview I was talking about performance and so all of the images on Boagworld are now served via Sirv. So they are not hosted on Boagworld at all they are actually hosted on a third-party platform. It is such a cool platform that I use all of the time. Now, I should be upfront which is that ages ago they gave me a free account so I guess this may feel like a sponsored post but it’s not really, it’s just, yeah, they haven’t asked me to do it. You can try them out for free, it’s not very expensive, they only charge you for the storage rather than your bandwidth which is really good. It’s like it starts at $19 a month and it is really worth it. Not just because of the speed of them delivering but they have also got a whole load of really cool functionality that they provide alongside it. So, for example you can do 360° images where you can rotate stuff which is brilliant, obviously for any commerce site or something like that where you can look around the product. They also allow you to manually resize and optimise images by changing the URL. So you can put various parameters on the URL and it will basically instantaneously save and serve the correct size image. Also it supports responsive sites so it will detect the container size that the image is in and then serve the appropriate sized image to that. So it’s got… I mean they’ve got so many cool little features that you can do. You can also even do things like add text overlays onto images or watermark them. You can change the colour of images, its just kind of this never-ending set of little features and stuff. So they’re worth checking out. I use them all the time. Another little tool you might want to check out if you are doing social media, imagery for social media, is a silly little tool but if you are not a designer or don’t come from a design background it is really useful and it is called Adobe Spark, right? So what’s great about Adobe Spark is you can essentially… you know…I’m just trying to think. You know if you are just trying to do a social update and you don’t really have any particular imagery but maybe you want to do a quote or something like that, or an infographic, Adobe Spark just makes it really easy to create those kinds of graphics with a… almost like those inspirational posters. Here’s a picture in the background with a quote over the top of it, you know, that kind of thing.

Marcus: A meme.

Paul: Is that what you call them? Is that what the cool kids call them?

Marcus: Well, hummm.

Paul: Yeah, You’ve no idea have you because you are not a cool kid are you!? So it’s got…It can do basic typography, it can add iconography into it, it’s got imagery you can use and then it will save it all out at the proper sizes for different social media platforms and that kind of stuff. They even do basic animation and video type stuff in it so it is worth checking out as a kind of quick and easy tool. For those of you who want to edit some photography on your device, your mobile device, I mean there are loads of different tools that will do this. I mean I know that Mike was talking about you can do a lot of editing in Instagram which is absolutely true. There is one tool that I use a lot and I find it really useful and it is a tool called Snapseed. Have you ever used that one Marcus?

Marcus: I have’t used it, I’ve heard of it. I only ever edit imagery on my desktop. I don’t ever do it on my phone.

Paul: Yeah well, Snapseed actually makes it really easy to do it on your desktop, sorry, on your phone and actually now I like Snapseed so much that I prefer editing on the phone more than on the desktop now, so I tend to swap back to the phone whenever I want to edit a photograph because it is just so nice. You know, its got filters, yeah wonderful, but it’s got more sophisticated controls than that as well. Even down to, you know, it will do various face detection type stuff to kind of pick out peoples faces and that kind of thing but it has also got some nice features in terms of straightening buildings and things. You know sometimes it kind of… You get distorted, because of the way you have taken the photograph, you know the perspective is all a bit weird. So it can mess with that kind of suff It can do all your blurs and basically anything you need it to do it can do and it is all very intuitive. (Old fashioned phone rings) Thats a subtle phone call you’ve got going there!

Marcus: Hang on!

Paul: What is that. Have we stepped back to the 1920’s?

Marcus: Yes we are now in the 1920’s. Hello.

Paul: Hello. Blandford 213.

Marcus: Yes. Hartney Whitney 29.

Paul: So what was that? Was that your desk phone?

Marcus: Yeah. I’ve got a fantastic old phone. But normally I have it forwarding to my mobile but because I am here for the next 2 or 3 days I thought “Oh, I’ll turn it off.” But I can’t just mute it.

Paul: Well No!

Marcus: It’s got a proper bell in it so it is loud.

Paul: They didn’t have muting in 1920. You need to stuff some cloth around the bell or something.

Marcus: It is inside it. It is a proper, like a bacolite phone. It’s not bacolite.

Paul: Ahh, that is so cool.

Marcus: The reason I keep it is because it is the nicest handset to make calls on. Its fantastic and you get… even in the kind of old fashioned, you know, you can kind of push it up against your ear with your shoulder, it is that big. It’s fabulous.

Paul: Yeah, you can’t do that with mobiles can you really. It’s all a bit awkward and uncomfortable.

Marcus: Yeah, and it’s as clear as a bell. Particularly for….

Paul: Yeah, I heard!!!

Marcus: Ha ha ha. When you are using it to speak to somebody, particularly for overseas calls and that kind of thing. I like it very, very much. but yeah, Oh dear.

Paul: Oh well, there we go.

Marcus: It rang. It wasn’t meant to.

Paul: Thats ok. So the very last app that I wanted to mention for this show is obviously Sketch. Which has become such a staple of the webdesign community as the primary tool for creating user interfaces. I find it very good, not for image editing necessarily, but for like creating social media type updates and imagery for that kind if thing. You know, its good for kind of doing vector based imagery as well. It’s a handy little tool to have around for those kind of purposes as well. Its a little bit of an aside but if you are still a photoshop user and you are designing webdesign interfaces in photoshop I would really encourage you to check out sketch. I was… I’ve used Photoshop since version 1, before it had layers which just blows your mind when you think about how we used to build websites back then, but anyway. I have used it all the way through and I absolutely love Photoshop and I was quite reluctant to look at Sketch and there was all these cool kids kept coming around and saying “Oh yes, we are moving to Sketch now.” I would go “Woopy doo, like I care!” but I have to say I have been totally converted and that is what I have been working on the last couple of days doing the design I have been doing.

Marcus: Cool.

Paul: It’s very nice. Do the guys and Headscape use Sketch?

Marcus: Some do. Some still use Photoshop.

Paul: Oh.

Marcus: Leigh uses Sketch, Ed uses Photoshop. 

Paul: Right, see. Yeah, what do you do hey? Alright, well I think that is about wrapped us up for this week I believe. Marcus, do you have a joke?

Marcus: Yes. I do have a joke Paul.

Paul: Okay.

Marcus: I have to have… But I have to do an apology before I do the joke.

Paul: Why is that?

Marcus: Because Ian Lasky has sent me lots of jokes and I forgot to get back to him to say thank you.

Paul: Ohh!

Marcus: And I had to be reminded by you Paul.

Paul: Hmm. He wrote to me complaining about your behaviour.

Marcus: Yeah, it was appalling! Anyway, I have got back to him but thank you Ian and my apologies. Please do continue to send me jokes because I like them very much. This one, I’m not sure, I think I might have said it on the show before but it would have been so many years ago that it does’t matter so I ma going to do it again. So, here we go. I called the RSPCA today, thats… Do I need to explain who the RSPCA is?

Paul: A pet charity in the UK.

Marcus: Yep… and said “I’ve just found a suitcase in the woods containing a fox and four cubs.” “That’s terrible.” She replied. “Are they moving?” And I said “I’m not sure to be honest but that would explain the suitcase.”

Paul: Hmm. Okay.

Marcus: Come on. That’s good.

Paul: Well, it was kind of a bit predictable wasn’t it really? You know, there we go. You try and that has got to count for something.

Marcus: I feel quite sort of downtrodden now.

Paul: Ahh, I’m sorry Marcus. You are special in your own way!So next week we are going to be talking about Social Media, he says confidently without actually looking it up! So we are going to kind of dig into how to get the most from social media, some of the common mistakes that people make all of that kind of stuff. I have no idea who we are going to have on the show. It might actually, I’ve got a bit of a cunning idea that it might be nobody! It might be just you and me. because we haven’t done that for ages have we, just the 2 of us?

Marcus: Lets do it!

Paul: Well I don’t know yet because I have got someone who I potentially asked. They just haven’t come back to me yet.

Marcus: Oh right, Fair enough then.

Paul: So I won’t chase somebody else. Just if they don’t do it we will do it just the 2 of us. I think we can be entertaining can’t we by ourselves?

Marcus: Yeah well I mean I tell great jokes and things.

Paul: And I know some shit! Maybe?

Marcus: A few bits and bobs.

Paul: So there we go. That will be a good show! Everybody is really looking forward to that one now! Alright then. So until next week thank you for listening and goodbye.

Marcus: Goodbye.