Picture This! A Photographer’s Guide to Getting Started

I bet you’re on Facebook, and maybe even Instagram, too, so I know you’ve seen it: the snapshots your friends post of everything from their food to their clothes to their children. Thanks to advents in mobile technology, anyone with a smartphone can be a photographer – and if they use an app with filters (like Instagram), their pictures can look downright artistic. As a professional photographer & graphic designer, I love seeing so many people taking an interest in creating unique, interesting shots to share with friends & family.

But if photography is something you really want to pursue & grow at, put down the cell phone and step away from the Instagram! Don’t get me wrong – they’re great tools – but we shouldn’t forget the value of an actual camera. I can’t speak for all designers and photographers, but I think the best pictures happen when you take your camera off “Auto” and switch it over to “Manual.” Make sure you know these three things about your camera to take unique and more controlled photos: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

  •  Aperture (or f-stop) affects your light and depth of field. It’s the opening inside your lens. The more open it is, the more shallow your focus, while a less open aperture extends your focus.  And of course, the more open it is, the more light it lets in, and vice-versa – a narrower aperture means less light. It seems counterintuitive, but if you’re familiar with piercing gauges this rule of thumb may seem familiar: the smaller your f-stop’s number, the bigger the opening.


    I used my aperture to help define my depth of field here.

  • Shutter speed is measured in fractions of seconds. This is a great setting to play with when capturing subjects in motion. A fast shutter speed delivers a more sharply-focused image, while slower speeds can show more motion and blur. If you plan on shooting at a shutter speed slower than 1/60, you’ll want to invest in a tripod! Otherwise, you risk adding additional & unintentional blur – no matter how steady you think your hands are! Like aperture, shutter speed can also contribute to the lighting of your pictures, since slower shutter speeds allow more time for light to enter, and faster speeds provide less time for light to enter.

I used a slower shutter speed here to capture the car & pedestrian in motion on a rainy day.

  • You might remember the days of buying film for your camera, but if you don’t, here is a history lesson: films were sold by their speeds. Most people use digital cameras now, which use a measurement called “ISO.” ISO is the digital equivalent of film speed. Higher ISO’s mean increased light-sensitivity, which makes them ideal for working in darker settings, like indoor photos. Bumping your ISO up from a low number to a higher one – like from 100 to 400 – also enables you to shoot at higher shutter speeds or smaller apertures.


    My ISO – along with my other settings – helped make the rain drops in this shot look clean & crisp.

These are just the basics, and you will find that you learn the most through trial & error, so try out all the combinations you can! I think the beauty of art is that it is subjective – there is no right or wrong way to do it. The most important part is having fun & making your pictures your own. In the shot below, I just decided to let loose & try something new, and the result was this mind-bending photo of a tree – just a regular tree, but seen in a new way. Ignoring “the rules” is what helps us capture the unusual beauty in the every day objects we take for granted in our daily lives.

P.S. Oh, and remember: never set your camera to auto!

Contributed by Syd Miles.

$pring $pending

Trees & flowers aren’t the only things in bloom – spring means consumer spending comes out of its post-holiday hibernation, too! Fans drop big bucks on tickets, snacks, and team apparel for March Madness, then again for the start of baseball season;  meanwhile, homeowners get help from contractors to complete all the projects that have piled up around the house during the winter months, and cooped up college kids work out post-exam stress by traveling to sunny locales to let loose for Spring Break. It seems that an increase in spending is yet another effect of Spring Fever!

Psssht! you think. Spring Fever isn’t real! But after months of being cooped up in the house, I beg to differ – and do does Wikipedia, which defines spring fever as “a term applied to several sets of physical and psychological symptoms associated with the arrival of spring. In general it refers to an increase in energy [and] vitality.” These “symptoms”  are due to seasonal changes in production of seratonin, a.k.a.,  the “happiness hormone.” Seratonin levels drop in the winter, because the hormone depends on sunlight for production – and winter is notoriously lacking in sunlight! When the longer, clearer days and warmer temperatures of spring arrive, our bodies readjust and seratonin production kicks into gear.

Add to increased seratonin the excitement that surrounds springtime. Sports fans – and people who haven’t watched a basketball game all season tune in to hours of basketball games and furiously complete their brackets (I’ll admit: I choose my bracket’s winning teams by which team’s uniforms I like best). Office bracket pools, popular at many businesses, may be great for community-building & employee morale, but Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimate that the 50 million or so Americans participating in such pools cost companies a total of $1.2 billion for every unproductive work hour during the first week of the tournament alone! Regardless, fans cheer on the underdogs and Cinderella teams – often at restaurants, bars, and pubs that offer viewers great beer and food specials to drive big business. Our RSVP headquarters is near Dayton, OH, which has hosted the first four games since 2001. UD arena explodes with fans from all over the country, and the first round games generated more than $4.5 million in revenue for the area in 2013. March Madness will soon give way to the frenzy of baseball, as spring training sprung with great fanfare (including famous goofball Will Ferrell joining various teams on the field). Some lucky fans even follow their favorite teams to spring training, enjoying some warm destination far from home. Baseball’s Opening Day festivities herald more than the start of the season – they also welcome the increase in fan spending on merchandise, concessions, and tickets – not to mention all of the local companies that flock to where the fans congregate. Baseball season is a real home run for businesses!

But sports teams & gameday hotspots aren’t the only ones seeing green (that’s dollars – not vegetation). Home improvement contractors experience a surge in springtime business, thanks to homeowners who spent the winter months scrutinizing their homes and killing time daydreaming on Pinterest. They have a list of projects around the house a mile long – and contractors are ready to help them cross off items on the “honey-do” list. Homeowners also swarm the multitude of  spring home improvement shows hosted in cities everywhere, looking for more ideas & the right contractor to help make dreams a reality. For just a few dollars, home show attendees can enjoy celebrity guests, specialized markets, and products demos that will get their creative juices flowing, and dialing fingers itchy to call up contractors for estimates & appointments. The Home Improvement Research Institute predicts a 5.8% sales growth in 2015 – increasing to $318 billion dollars. BILLION. With a “B.” That is great news for contractors & homeowners alike!

Maybe warmer temperatures haven’t quite settled in near you – I know of friends in neighboring states who got pummeled by snow mere days after enjoying sunny, 70-degree days! I imagine they felt like Clark Griswold, cooped up in their snowy home, but dreaming of the warm weather they just had.

If temps near you haven’t started climbing just yet (or started but just won’t stay up!), maybe it’s time to get away from it all. Why waste your shortened days stuck in the miserable, snowy, gray weather? I know you hear the siren call of the warm sandy beaches of the south – so answer it! We sure did – my husband & I took a trip to the Bahamas last week, and let me tell you: we have no regrets. It was wonderful!

heather blog pic

Here we are, about to take a dip!

We aren’t the only ones escaping the daily grind – college students flock to towns throughout the Carolinas, Texas and Florida. Panama City alone counts 200,000 visitors during the spring break season! This fact does not go ignored by corporate marketers; major brands that cater to the youth market (such as Coca-ColaGilletteMTV, and branches of the United States armed forces) are in full-marketing swing at popular spring break destinations. Our Bahama trip proves that a spring break get-a-away is not just for 20-something college kids: this is a great time for young families to plan their trip while their school-aged children are on break from school. We say “Bon voyage!” and cash registers everywhere answer, “Ka-ching!”

Contributed by Heather Craaybeek.


This Week in Advertising: Mar. 8 – Mar. 14

Welcome back to RSVP’s This Week in Advertising feature! This regular series includes the news tidbits from the advertising world that interested, excited, or amused us this week. We’re glad you’ve joined us – let’s see what happened This Week in Advertising:

  • You may remember that we highlighted McDonald’s response to recent trials and tribulations in this very feature just last month, but in case you’ve forgotten: Ronald & Co. launched an ad campaign that touted their food’s dedication to being absolutely terrible for your health in response to the (frankly, legitimate) concerns consumers & experts alike have about eating french fries with 19 ingredients in them. In what seems to be a bewildering about-face, McDonald’s recently announced its plans to add kale to its menu via some to-be-announced item(s) in select markets this year. This development also seems to fly in the face of the chain’s promise to cut back on its sprawling menu offerings, and only serves to confirm what the rest of us have suspected for years & what The New York Times put into words earlier this week: McDonald’s is suffering a crisis of identity (is it too late for a mid-life crisis? After all, the brand is making its first appearance at the über-hip SXSW festival, where it will likely stick out like dads at a One Direction concert).
  • Speaking of dads, remember how horrified you were when your parents found your diary? Remember the epic speech you made about privacy and how you’re “twelve years old now and can like boys and stuff!”? No? Just me? Well, anyway, Facebook wants to continue the creeping tradition parents everywhere started all those years ago, and will soon launch a feature called “Topic Data” that enables advertisers to see what users are saying about brands, products, and events on their personal pages. There is no word yet on whether it will also track mentions of how dreamy Seth in 4th period chem looks when he smiles.
  • Even though parents can be, like, totally annoying and stuff, we absolutely love and appreciate them…granted, we may not realize it until we’re 20 and living in our own apartment for the first time ever and finally realizing how much work it is keeping ourselves fed, housed and clothed. It is in the spirit of parental appreciation that American Greetings unveiled their #worldstoughestjob ad last year, in which the company posted a fake ad & interviewed applicants for what sounded like indentured servitude, but actually turned out to be mothering. While American Greetings put the salary for being a mom at $0, British florist Interflora has released a “Mum Salary Calculator” that allows parents to put in the amount of time they spend acting as their child’s/children’s teacher, caregiver, chef, etc., and calculates what their salary should be, if parents were, you know, compensated in money instead of love.  The calculator operates in pounds, but you can convert your salary to dollars here.
  • Let’s end things on a feel-good note! Microsoft is famous for its support of charities & innovative thinkers, and launched the #CollectiveProject to highlight innovative thinkers whose ideas could make the world a better place. One #CollectiveProject student, Albert Manero, founded Limbitless, which focuses on creating bionic limbs for children in need. This week, Manero joined forces with Tony Stark himself (actor Robert Downey Jr.) to present a young boy with his very own Iron Man-esque bionic arm. Watch it here, and have a great weekend!

    Contributed by RSVP Staff.


March is National Reading Month!

National Reading Month kicks off with Dr. Seuss’ birthday at the beginning of March, and we encourage you to celebrate by sitting down & enjoying a good book, reading to or with your children,  or joining a local book club – or even start your own! Our staff is full of avid readers, and we regularly read & discuss books as a team; past reads include The 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleThink & Grow Rich, as well as Dr. Seuss’ own Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, and we will be starting Brendon Buchard’s The Motivation Manifesto later this month. We asked our staff, “What book most influenced you & why?” Check out everyone’s responses below, and be sure tell us about your most influential book in the comments!


Jodie Hook, RSVP General Manager: Similarly to Jeff, I haven’t always been much of a reader. It wasn’t until I picked up Little House on the Prairie in middle school that I came to love reading. The series is full of adventure, trials, and triumph, and within its pages I found a new hobby. As an adult, I now read any time I get a chance: during my lunch break, after the kids are asleep, during whatever rare quiet moments I can find, I spend them with a book. I hope to instill the same love of books into my kids – I already love the Harry Potter series & would enjoy sharing the magic of Hogwarts with them.


Caitlin Tuohy, RSVP Senior Graphic Designer: My mom read The Little Engine That Could to me as a child, and I’ve carried with me the message of never giving up ever since. In case you’re unfamiliar, it’s the story of a train whose engine stops working while carrying toys to little boys and girls. The engine tried to keep going but it couldn’t, so the toys ask other trains that pass by if they will help pull their train over the mountain – all of them refuse. Then one little blue train that wasn’t very big at all decided to help, and did everything possible to get the bigger engine over the mountain so the children could have food and toys. The little blue engine famously chugs “I think I can, I think I can” as it helps the larger train over the mountain – and even now I find myself thinking the same thing when work or life puts their own mountains in my way.


Syd Miles, RSVP Graphic Designer: I’m a graphic designer, so I suppose it makes sense that a graphic novel (A long-form comic book. -Ed.) left its impression on me! Star Wars: Blood Ties: A Tale of Jango and Boba Fett is the first issue in the Star Wars: Blood Ties series. In the book, a father teaches his son (well, his clone) to be fearless by exposing the boy to dangerous things at a very young age. Though that would probably be considered pretty horrible parenting in our galaxy, I actually found it inspiring. I really like the idea of putting yourself in situations that may be scary, only to come out stronger in the end. I think you have to do that sometimes to grow as a person – as Boba Fett learns, you just have to face your Balyegs.


Renee Pugh, RSVP Administrative Assistant: Long before the American Girl Company became famous for their diverse doll collection, they published multiple book series featuring young girls coming of age during important historical moments, such as the American Revolution or World War II. Each series featured 6 books, and each book covered a different moment in the character’s life, such as her birthday, or Christmas for example. The books always included a small historical appendix at the end, which detailed the finer points of life during that time period. For whatever reason, the Victorian-Era Samantha series has stuck with me all these years, and instilled within me an appreciation not only for history, but also for progress, and an understanding of the importance of moving forward into a future that may be mysterious & unknown, but ultimately rewarding.


Heather Craaybeek, RSVP Regional Sales Manager: Quiet moments of solitude are especially rare in my life, as a busy working mom whose family is still settling into our new house, so my favorite way to escape and get away is to pick up a great book for nothing more than the pleasure.  I prefer vivid books, full of details and descriptions that let my imagination run wild & “visit” places I’ve never been before (or places that only exist in words artfully created by a deft wordsmith).  My favorite is Alice Sebold’s best-selling thriller The Lovely Bones (later made into a movie of the same name). She writes so vividly that the images still haunt me, years after my first read-through – I still can’t drive past a cornfield without getting goosebumps!


Jeff Vice, RSVP Regional Sales Manager: Like many kids and teenagers, I really didn’t have much of an interest in reading, and it wasn’t until college that I discovered I actually really liked it. Up until then, I always imagined that reading business books would be really boring and dry, but one of my professors suggested starting with Harvey Makay’s Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive. It turned out to be the right prescription for someone like me who didn’t have much interest in reading such books. The topic was simple and Makay’s writing style is entertaining and witty. I went on to read his other books, and eventually graduated to more complicated and technical readings through the years.  In fact, my reading preference is now business titles over any other category, and it’s all thanks to Swim With the Sharks.

Contributed by RSVP Staff.




This Week in Advertising: Mar. 1 – 7

Welcome back to RSVP’s This Week in Advertising feature! Apologies for last week’s hiatus; a nasty flu bug made its way around the office, but now we’re back & better than ever! This regular series includes the news tidbits from the advertising world that interested, excited, or amused us this week. We’re glad you’ve joined us – let’s see what happened This Week in Advertising:

  •  The millennial generation has proven a difficult audience for advertisers to capture, as these post-Gen X-ers are less inclined to watch television shows traditionally, subscribe to print magazines and newspapers, and listen to radio. The key to reaching this up & coming (and highly idealistic) demographic may be in the message, not the medium: brands like Coke, Dove, and McDonald’s are targeting Millennials with positive, uplifting messages, in hopes of generating new business & continued loyalty. Could your business benefit from a similar approach?
  • March is Women’s History Month, and many companies are focusing their attention on common issues facing women in our world today. A striking example comes from across the pond, where British charity Women’s Aid created an interactive billboard featuring a battered woman’s face (WARNING: the link includes an auto-play video, so proceed with caution in quiet spaces). As more people look at the billboard, her cuts, bruises and other injuries disappear and heal; this is achieved using facial recognition software to register the number of people who have looked at the ad. The message is clear and powerful:the best way to combat domestic violence is to pay attention to those abused.
  • Oreos may be the most fun cookie to eat: you can dunk them, twist them, pull them apart, and if you’re my younger sister, you can eat the creme from the middle & stick the bald cookies back in the package to be discovered later by someone else who just wanted a snack before bed (…not that I’m bitter about that, all these years later). ANYWAY. Oreo is embracing their cookie’s playful history by inviting several artists to illustrate words commonly associated with the iconic snack, including “dunk,” “twist,” and “dream.” The colorful, creative ads are part of the brand’s “Play With Oreo” campaign.
  • Remember when travelling by plane was a delightful, luxurious experience? Well, OK, neither do we, but ask your grandparents about it! Before airlines were faced with the Airline Deregulation Act in 1978, they competed not on price, but on service, food, and passenger experience – and they sold the heck out of it, with colorful ads depicting exotic locations in whimsical & lush detail. You may be stuck in coach (don’t worry – most of us are), but you can get a look at the good ol’ days with German artist Matthias C. Hühne’s upcoming book, Airline Visual Identity: 1945-1975. The massive book, which includes full-color depictions of ads from the golden days of air travel, isn’t due out until April (and costs a whopping $300+), but you can whet your appetite with some classic airline ads courtesy of AdWeek.
  • Finally, Business Insider set the record straight this week when the popular publication shared a video on Facebook, correcting common mispronunciations of 15 popular brands. Think you know how to say “Adidas” properly? Watch the video to find out!

    Contributed by RSVP Staff.

Common Advertising Complaints, Part 1: Impatience and Budget

Take it from me: if you spend most of your time talking advertising with lots of business owners every day, you will become familiar with the common reasons why they don’t, won’t, or can’t advertise. In each of those scenarios it usually comes down to this:  they “tried” some advertising thing once and it didn’t work, and now they think that ALL advertising doesn’t work and is just a waste of time & money.

The key word here is tried.  Tried means that whatever they did, they probably either targeted way too few prospects, or marketed their businesses for such a short period of time that no one even knew that they were there – and maybe both.  I think that there are two things going here that play a large part in the business owner’s advertising efforts: impatience and budget.

The impatience portion of this equation is that the business owner feels that, if the phone doesn’t ring immediately after his advertising hits, then it’s a flop & a failure. The budget portion is also typically is tied to the impatience: because of their front-end impatience about promoting their businesses quickly, this business owner typically chooses an inexpensive medium or tactic because he or she hasn’t properly allocated the business’ budget to afford the right advertising avenue for their needs.

The bottom line is that if you don’t have the budget for it, then save for it.  Don’t jump into advertising in a hurry, and don’t compromise.  I can assure you that compromise will only end in you being very disappointed in the results – and you’ll be another one of those business owners who says they tried it and it didn’t work.

Be sure to join us for part two, in which I discuss the issue of consistency, and how it is key to advertising success!

Submitted by Jeff Vice.