01. April 2013 · Comments Off on Let the Buyer Beware · Categories: Developing Content for Your Web Site · Tags:

Today my client The Investor Advocate posted a remembrance of the great legal journalist Anthony Lewis, who died a week ago today. As a young man Lewis was greatly influenced by Justice Harlan Fiske Stone’s footnote to his opinion in U.S. v. Carolene Products Co., decided in 1938. You can read the details as they relate to Lewis in the post.

My job was to find an image to go with the post so I started by searching for anything related to the court case.
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16. October 2012 · Comments Off on Business Portraits · Categories: Photography, Portrait · Tags:

I had an amazing photo shoot this morning with Randy Sabien.
A few weeks ago we did a shoot at the University Club in St. Paul and our goal there was to get a standard portrait with nice lighting and a good background. I posted some of the results on this blog and soon we’ll be adding photos to Randy’s web site that people can download for publicity purposes when he does concerts, etc.

This morning’s photo shoot had a different goal.
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Someone was curious about the “mood” image on the home page of my website.  My daughter made a puppet in 8th grade art class.  First I photographed the puppet as a standard portrait:

puppet against white fabric

Then I wrapped it in black fabric and startled it with a spotlight pointing up towards the face!

puppet wrapped in black fabric

I took this image and used Photoshop to paint around the face and hands with black.  Then I used the perspective tool (Edit – Transform – Perspective) to distort the proportions.  Finally, I used Curves to saturate the colors for a lurid effect.

transformed in photoshop

Analysis by Smart Alice Web Design & Photography, smart web design for businesses who want a unique and effective presence on the internet.

Copyright 2010,  Alice Gebura,  All Rights Reserved.

I attended a workshop in Ikebana,  the Japanese art of flower arranging. The Ikebana concept that impressed me the most was that of visual motion.  Ikebana strives to keep the eye engaged by eliminating any element that would stop the continuous scanning motion of the eye.   Some examples of such eye stopping elements are:

  • Straight lines
  • 90 degree angles
  • Absence of  negative space (space between objects)

The photo to the left shows an Ikebana arrangement.

Example of Ikebana

Example of Ikebana

Notice the following:

  • Simplicity, only 3 elements: white calla lilies, pink azaleas and black tray
  • Curved lines, no straight lines
  • Only 5 upright flowers grouped as 3 + 2, creating negative space between the vertical elements, the stems
  • Negative space between the horizontal elements: calla lilies at the top,  azaleas and tray at the bottom

Despite the sparse, simple aesthetic, its visual interest  pulls you in and keeps you there.  Isn’t that what we want for our own web sites?

I gave some thought to how I could  apply this to web design.  I believe when you drill down and understand your goals and core values and how to realize them, you arrive at a truth that can be expressed simply and effectively.

If you don’t really understand who you are and what you’re doing, what better way to cover it up than to keep piling on more and more until you get a web site that looks like this:

hutchins for congress

Analysis by Smart Alice Web Design & Photography, smart web design for businesses who want a unique and effective presence on the internet.

One of my favorite photographers Bruce Percy says the following about creating a landscape photograph:

“The strength of an image lies many times in what we exclude from it.  Putting more things into a scene can often dilute the strength of the message. Keeping it simple is key.”

Web designers would do well to follow this advice.  Similar to creating a landscape, creating a web site should isolate and focus on what’s important by carefully selecting and streamlining graphic components.  We create something ugly and unfriendly when we clutter a page with multiple ideas, extraneous information, or unnecessary functionality.  Choose one idea and execute it well.  Don’t add stuff just because you can.

Redundant menus


For an example of what I’m talking about, let’s visit the Harvard Parks & Recreation web site.  The left column provides links to the rest of the site.  When I mouse over the Main Page tab, the same content links appear (see screen shot on the left).  Why do I need to see the same links twice?

Ugly Graphics – and lots of them

There are three different graphics on the home page.

Landscape photo – used as background for title. Note the gray, out of focus, pixelated photo.  If you can’t find a great photo locally (hard to believe), why not spend $3 for a decent image from iStockPhoto?  The landscape theme is relevant, though.  The message it conveys is “lake/recreation/swimming/boating/fishing.”


Tree logo in the left corner. Suggests a conservation theme.  Relevant?  Not really.


Lawn – close up photo used as background. Suggests lawn care.     Note the text next to the check box is barely legible.  Text that is too tiny to read drives people crazy.  Do we care about the number of visitors? Just because it’s easy to count and display visitor numbers, doesn’t mean it should be included.


Three different graphics with three different meanings create visual and mental confusion.  Extraneous functions and poor design contribute to usability issues.

A Simple But Effective Layout

An example of a simple yet effective web site is that of screenwriter Zen Freese.  The coffee stain graphic, the horizontal lines, and the tape are things that remind us of the writing process. We write at our desk, cup of coffee on top of the last draft, taping the latest revision to a page in progress.  Our tools, represented by the two fonts, are a typewriter and a pen.  The message is clear.  Nothing extraneous distracts us from the message. Unfortunately this well designed site no longer exists.


Web design is about common sense way before it is about how much functionality or other junk you can stuff onto a page.  Keeping it simple for both impact and usability is key.

Analysis by Smart Alice Web Design & Photography, smart web design for people who want a unique and effective presence on the internet.
Copyright 2009, Alice Gebura, All Rights Reserved.

choclateOne of my all time favorite web sites is David Lebovitz, Living the Sweet Life in Paris. Lebovitz is an all star pastry chef. His web site/blog has fabulous food photos (I’ve included an example here). The images are superb – beautiful, professional photographs that instantly tell you this guy is serious about food and food quality. He uses those gorgeous photos to illustrate his various culinary adventures with ingredients and funky kitchen gadgets.
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