Design, Reverse engineer

Three little tools for better interior & architecture shots

I love old houses, and to document the remodel of my own historic home, I started a blog. Every week I write one post, and most of the photos are house-based. So for this assignment, I wanted to focus on interior photography and architecture. It’s tricky to shoot interiors in natural light, but I know by practicing these three approaches for good photography, my eye will improve, and so will my shots.

Rule of thirds

Source—photograph by Eric Piasecki

This photo is a favorite—I love warm colors, large-scale art, and leopard print. But the way the photographer used the rule of thirds draws most of the attention to the painting and the chair. It’s an interesting choice because if you were to stand in this room, the saturated orange curtains, the beams, and the amazing windows would probably hog the spotlight (in fact, if you want to see more shots of this room, click here).

Because the painting and chair fall on the intersection of lines in the rule of thirds, they get the most attention in this image.

For my own photo, this coffee-table image places a tiny detail—a small bouquet of yellow mums—as the focal point based on rule of thirds.

I also like how the leather album’s embossing and word “photographs” become important details because of their proximity to an intersection in the grid. These small flowers would not be the focal point in the room if you walked in right now, but the flowers’ location in the photo demands attention. It is worth noting too that the plaid throw on the sofa offers a nice balance to the flowers, even though the blanket isn’t in focus.

Leading lines

Source—photographer unidentified; design by James F. Carter

This is one of the most beautiful houses I’ve seen, and the photo’s structure leads the eye up the stairs and to the landing (with all its beautiful flowers, books, millwork, and furniture).

That long vertical line also leads the eye into the adjacent room, and I know magazine photographers work hard to get shots with glimpses into other rooms. This image doesn’t simply offer a glimpse; it more or less draws your view right inside. Even the lines of the walls and ceiling point toward the room in the background (not to mention all those spindles on the railing!).

To be honest, using leading lines is the most difficult photo principle for me to shoot, but I tried to pay attention to the architectural details in our house and see how they direct my eye.

This image of our breakfast nook has lines leading directly toward my twins. The lines of the table, countertop, corner, and millwork help accomplish this.

Shallow depth of field

Source—photo by Joshua Campbell

This image, posted on a site where photographers share their best work, focuses on a mailbox with something behind it. What is in the background—a fence? A house? There’s a little mystery built it.

Because the background subjects are out of focus, it feels almost like the mailbox is standing guard. The lovely rustiness is a nice touch and wouldn’t have been noticeable had everything been in focus.

I love playing with my aperture setting, and when I saw this mailbox outside a restored historic church in my neighborhood, I knew it would be fun to play with.

Wouldn’t this be a cute image for the church’s website, a perfect shot to run on the “contact” page? It works well because the address is easy to read, but the audience can also make out the building in the background. But because the building is blurry, the image doesn’t feel too busy.

The cool thing about interior and architectural photography is that by having a strategy in mind, you can really dictate where the audience focuses. In this way, the loudest object in the frame doesn’t have to be the focal point—unless you want it to be. These three strategies for shooting photography give the person behind the camera the ability to make the images “work” for him or her.

Design, Reverse engineer

A big heading (& the tiny text that explains it)

If the entire purpose of graphic design is to communicate with text, this ad is a success. From starting out with a phrase that puts every woman (and a lot of men) on edge to compelling prose you can’t help but finish reading once you start, this ad accomplishes a lot. The photo doesn’t hurt, but the text is the driver. Nike is known as the expert brand for sportswear and footwear, and this ad is just one of hundreds available online. The original designer isn’t identified, and this ad was found in multiple places, including a collection of Nike ads (linked here and below) and a Tumblr image collection. If people are saving ads just because they like them, you know they’re effective.

First typeface: San serif

The first typeface is a sans serif font in bold caps. In the newspaper world, this would be called a hammerhead—a one liner that’s compelling based on its formatting alone. The font is recognizable as a go-to selection for Nike advertising, but even if the audience isn’t aware of that, the bold and centered heading demands attention, even tearing eyes away from the dominant image. San serif fonts are monoweight, so when they’re set in bold, they’re heavy—there’s no thinness in any portion of any letter. The fact that the text’s message is unsettling leads the audience to check out the sea of grey body text below. Because the heading is all caps, the reader has to put forth more effort to actually read the words. The heading helps build the tension before the body text clears things up.

Second typeface: Oldstyle

I love that this ad has lots of body text, and better yet, it’s set in a classic oldstyle font. Its traditional and recognizable feel leads a viewer to relate to the message, and reading is easier because of the font choice. When I was an undergrad, a professor taught me that serif fonts are naturally easier to read because the serifs help round out the letters, connecting all of them together to form the shape of a word. That’s essentially what Robin Williams writes about in The Non-Designer’s Design Book when she discusses oldstyle fonts. She said, “The serifs of lowercase letters are always at an angle … and have a curve where they meet the stem.” That structure is obvious here. The structure is completed with moderate thick/thin transitions that make this font feel timeless. One more thing: This same typeface shows up in “Beaverton, Oregon” near the Nike Swoosh and at the top of the page in the URL; it’s just set in italics.

Analysis of contrast

The two typefaces contrast in weight, size, structure, and form. The heading is large, and the body text is small. The heading is strong and bold, and the body text is regular. The heading is monoweight, and the body text has moderate thick/thin transitions. And the heading’s shape is boxy, and the body text is curved and flowing. While the heading requires more effort to read, the body text is processed effortlessly. One area of consistency is the alignment—the header and the text box for the body text are centered.

Because the heading and body text contrast starkly, each element on the ad is necessary. The audience needs the image for the heading to make sense, and the audience needs the body text for the heading to not be offensive. All three elements complement each other to produce an effective, feel-good ad that builds up the target audience of women athletes.  



How color and contrast gave Rosie the Riveter staying power

One of the most iconic ads in American history is the poster depicting Rosie the Riveter. Produced in 1943, this ad was created to celebrate and promote the strength of women, who were desperately needed in the workforce during World War II. The ad’s designer, Miller J. Howard, took this idea of strength and kicked it up a full 10 notches or so, and he started with color.


Arguably the design’s most important, eye-catching, and affective choice is the palette. Let’s start by discussing the primary colors. Sure, we often associate primary hues with kids’ stuff, but they’re striking in their contrast in this ad. Because they are equidistant on the color wheel, each shade in this triad looks pleasant with the others. And because of the purity of these colors, each one stands out but also amplifies the next.

The color palette is key because it carries the message of patriotism. Since Rosie is dressed in red, white, and blue, the subliminal message is that this poster is about America or American ideals in some way. That’s what makes the choice of yellow for the background so interesting; the designer could have predictably reached for white as the backdrop because, you know, red, white, and blue, but instead went with yellow so the image would pop off the background. If this poster had been designed with a white background rather than yellow, it wouldn’t have been as striking, period.

And you can’t deny the energy of the colors either. Because yellow is a warm color and constitutes so much of the image, it is an attention grabber. It is stimulating. It draws your eye whether or not you want to look. Add the red in the bandana, and you get another pop of heat and power—which, of course, was intentional as this ad was designed to get women excited about joining the workforce.


A large image of a woman flexing her bicep is the dominant image, contrasting starkly with the tiny text and blue bar at bottom. With such a bold color scheme, a bold image was necessary too. This picture fills more than half the page.

Contrast is key in the text too. The white font at top is bold; the letters are thick and confident, and to be honest, all the capitalization isn’t necessary, but those caps make the message feel that much stronger. Because the white text is set in a contrasting field of navy blue, it also stands out.

The contrast in text sizes carries a message too. The most important message is enormous and placed high on the page, while the text on Rosie’s badge and at the bottom of the page is small. The bigger the text, the more important the message—but there’s more than meets the eye at first glance here too. For those who want to look a little closer, there’s more to be learned.


The minor details details comprise the only subdued element of this ad. Located within a shallow navy bar at the bottom (the same shade as the navy on the top), the text is intentionally placed there because that information is least important. If people wanted to know who produced the ad and what their “next steps” might be, the details are there, but they aren’t vying for attention. All the secondary details are in close proximity to each other so it’s easy to gather them up and know where to find them.

By keeping the image of Rosie close to the “We Can Do It!” text, the two read almost as one image. This is furthered by the fact the blue “bar” is actually a speech bubble pointing at Rosie. Thanks to proximity, we know these elements work in tandem.  


Although “We Can Do It!” is center aligned, it does not feel pathetic because it stretches across the entire page. And if you were to draw vertical lines down the sides of the poster, you would see all elements line up on the left and right sides. The fact that the bulk of Rosie’s body is on the left side of the poster also makes it dynamic; had her image been perfectly centered and straight on, we would have lost the drama of it.


Being white on a navy background again allows the words to be easily read—contrast at its finest. And being white exemplifies the principle of repetition; all the ad’s text (aside from the artist’s signature) is white and in a san serif font. And of course, the color palette is small but repeated in her lips, cheeks, eye color, bandana and shirt but in varying tints and values.

Final thoughts

Who wouldn’t have noticed this poster hanging in the post office or at the local supermarket? It’s pretty much impossible to miss. And that’s why this ad has had staying power. It is dynamic thanks to high contrast, it pushes us near the brink of overstimulation with color, and that was precisely the goal. Go to work, ladies—you can do it.