Category Archives: How-To

Advice #48: What’s Your Secret to Shooting Photos?

Photoshop Actions

First off, this is just a quick note that I’ve changed my long-running advice column from Ask Nubby to simply Advice. I felt it needed some clarity and the “+” comes into play since my goal has always been to give positive yet relatable advice. If you have a question of your own, contact information can be found in the sidebar.


I’m wondering if you could do a post on your photography for blogging. Your images are always consistent in style and very punchy with colours. I’m a junior-intermediate user of a high end DSLR camera, but can’t seem to get the most out of it in a blogging capacity – your journalistic style photographs and pics of your work always look lush!

Photoshop Actions

Shooting away at The Viceroy, Santa Monica! Photo by Gala Darling.

One of the key components that you’ll notice across the board for established bloggers is that they have a fairly consistent style to their photos. This is one of those more ownable elements that you can use to differentiate your content. Shooting almost all of my own photos has allowed me to add my unique take to blogging over the last ten years. I bought my first Nikon digital camera in 2002 and it opened up a whole new world to me.

I’ve been carrying a camera in my bag since the sixth grade and am constantly shooting. But the straight-up truth is that I’d never call myself a photographer. I’m first and foremost focused on being a designer — I just know how to manipulate my photos to look the way I want. I am not very technically savvy in the photography department — I have a very point-and-shoot method to what I do. I keep my settings on auto and shoot in natural light 90% of the time. If I need something above and beyond the basics, I call on one of my professional friends or my brother to make it happen. I’ve been around enough pros and have also been on enough sets to realize that photography is an art all it’s own and I have major respect for that.

This is the exact setup that I use.

Here’s the exact setup I’ve been using for the last 2+ years: A Nikon D40 paired with a Nikon 35mm f/1.8G Lens. I particularly like the D40 because it’s on the small size as far as DSLRs go and super tough. I just throw it in my handbag and go! I’ve tested a few of the new micro-sized DSLR cameras but too many of them feel cheap and breakable. The Nikon 35mm f/1.8G lens is great for detailed, close-up shots which I do a ton of. I still need to do some more research about what lens to invest in next! That’s it, though. I like to keep things as simple as possible and shoot almost everything on the blog with with this combo.

I use Actions to edit all my photos.

Between the camera and lens, I can get a good base image to work with but beyond that, it’s all about using Photoshop Actions to implement a consistent look. Actions are a series of recorded steps that help you edit your image without having to do each step manually — they are essentially a one click editing process! Can you say time saver?

If you’re wondering how to load an action in Photoshop, it’s easy! In your menu bar, simply go to Window > Actions. Once your Actions palette is up, click in the top right corner on Load Actions and you’re set!

Over the last three years I have pulled from a number of other actions and tweaked my process until I was happy with the style. Some actions are too soft for my taste while some are too harsh so I never use them straight out of the box. I personally have three of the below sets of actions and after much research, I really want to try out the fourth as well!

1. Making Nice In The Midwest Photoshop Actions are great if you’re going for a soft, vintage effect.

2. Devlin Photos has an awesome variety of Photoshop Actions that are geared towards weddings and beyond. As a sidenote, Lisa Devlin will be at our Blogcademy New York launch teaching you about Photoshop shortcuts as well!

3. Elsie and Emma of A Beautiful Mess shared examples of the actions they use and now I really want to try out Totally Rad Actions!

4. As a sidenote, I know not everyone can afford a set of actions right away so I also included a link to my favorite free action: Vintage Film Effect by Fallout 75. I modified this one a lot when I used it but there’s some good layers in there to tweak and learn from.

Here are some real life examples of befores and afters of images I’ve featured on my blog. All of these were edited with actions:

Photoshop Actions

Photoshop Actions

Photoshop Actions

While I wish I could give you the exact formula of actions I used on these, I’ve built my own mix over time with many elements from the above sets of actions. I tend to like my images to be bright, vibrant but not too saturated and to have an overall cool tone. I’m constantly adding and subtracting to get what feels right to me but always depend on actions to get me off to a solid start when editing.

Readers: Let me know if you have any more specific questions about my photography setup or editing in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer!

The Making of Rock n Roll Bride Magazine: Tips & Insights

Rock n Roll Bride Magazine

A mock-up of Rock n Roll Bride Magazine

Today I have some tips and tricks to share that I gathered while designing my biggest personal job to date, Rock n Roll Bride Magazine. These are meant to give you some insight into managing a project of this scale and will hopefully make things easier for you both from a design and management standpoint.

Tips & Insights

• Get your print specs as early on in the process as possible. Nobody wants to go through and reformat 80+ pages at the end of a project! Since Kat is located in the U.K., her magazine was set up with a different standard of sizing — I knew this from the beginning and was able to build her magazine on the proper template from day one.

• Draw a rough outline before diving into the design process. I knew that Kat’s magazine would be a maximum of 80 pages and feature 4 core sections plus a handful of additional supporting pages. I also knew that featured weddings would take up the largest chunk of pages. I sat down with a pen and paper and quickly sketched out the page counts so I had some guidelines.

For example: 2 lifestyle articles x 5 pages each = 10. 5 featured weddings x 6 pages each = 30. 2 D.I.Y. features x 5 pages each = 10. 1 fashion spread x 8 pages = 8. Misc. layouts + last minute additions = 22 pages (this has some wiggle room in case an article stretches on a bit).

Rock n Roll Bride Magazine

• If you get stuck on page layouts, step away from the computer. Sketch out some thumbnails to get your creative juices flowing. One of my all-time favorite design book authors, Jan V. White has a few titles that can help you quickly visualize fresh layouts. I love his books because most were written before design became computer-based and the solutions are solid. The two titles I reach for most often are the Graphic Idea Notebook and Designing for Magazines.

• Use a few basic grids throughout your publication for consistency. InDesign makes this super easy. Simply go to Layout > Margins and Columns > Columns and set the number of columns needed. Then adjust the gutter so that your content has some breathing room.

• Stick with black and white printing for your first proof. Not only is it about 1/10th the cost of color but it will allow you to focus more closely on the strength of your layouts and the overall legibility of your type before tackling the images.

• Always mock up your design before sending it to the printer! Once issue 2 was finalized, I did one final print, trimmed all the pages and then affixed them with double-stick tape (see above). I wanted to make sure that when I flipped through it, the magazine as a whole had a solid flow.

• Things look WAY different printed versus on your computer screen. The scale of type and the brightness of images may be way off from what you think. Even if you’re completely confident in your layout, print it! Then, print it again. And again!

• Keep your content organized in a way that makes sense to you. Since Kat’s magazine had four distinct categories that the content was divided into (Lifestyle, Fashion, D.I.Y. and Weddings), I used these as my main content folders so I could drill down and find images and text quickly. We kept a text document of copy for each segment nestled in there along with the photos – breaking the magazine content into those four sections made the project feel a lot less overwhelming. We focused on filling these areas out first and then I went back to the supporting pages at the end and filled in the blanks.

• Save the front and back cover design for last. Chances are, your imagery will change as you move along and it’s hard to know what the headlines will be until you’re getting close to wrapping up the project. Think of this final design challenge as a way to wrap up your masterpiece and give it a face and a name!

Rock n Roll Bride Magazine

• Always save your proofs. I hold onto mine in my flat files. You can learn a lot from looking back at your process.

• Set up some basic layouts you can reuse. InDesign master pages allow you to apply the same templates again and again. Consistency in a print publication is a good thing — developing a consistent rhythm with formatting will help establish a visual style throughout.

• Let your content breathe! I remember the first time I did an editorial layout in college — we were all new to InDesign and a lot of us felt the need to jam as much content onto each page as possible. But think instead of each page as a piece of art. Allow images on certain ones to take the stage — maybe all that’s needed is a big, beautiful quote. Others may tell the heart of the story. Let the copy rule on those. Overall, let either the copy or image take the lead because that lack of balance is what creates visual interest. If both of these elements are too equal on a page, it loses impact.

• Do your research. Buy a few magazines from the genre you’re designing for. I knew very little about the wedding industry as a whole so I bought a few Martha Stewart Weddings magazines, flipped through a few more wedding titles and researched what worked. I knew that I wanted to have a fashion and lifestyle angle in the mix so I defaulted to my no-fail favorites for inspiration: W, Interview and O Magazine. The big time publishers have the big design budgets and know what’s up when it comes to great page layouts. Observe the best and pay close attention to what makes their layouts stand out.

• Commitment-phobic? Print on demand first. If you’re wanting to give your layouts a spin and see how they look in a magazine format before taking the plunge, order a single issue through MagCloud first. See your work on perfect-bound glossy pages before committing to a full run!

Rock n Roll Bride Magazine

• Finally, practice makes perfect. The first time you tackle any big design project, it feels overwhelming (at least to me). But just like anything, the more times you do it, the more it becomes second nature. Five years ago, this project would have given me a panic attack. Now I say, bring it on!

If you have any questions about the specifics of my process, let me know in the comments!

Skate or Die DIY: Customize Your Own Skate Deck!

scotch blue tape DIY skate deck

When ScotchBlue Tape invited me to take part in their D.I.Y. creative challenge, I was both honored and flattered but I’ll be honest here: my mind when blank when it came to dreaming up a project. I’m used to spending my days designing behind the computer but feel like a fish out of water when it comes to handcrafting most things — luckily, this is Joey’s strong suit! He started his own line of skateboards last year and we’d often talked about collaborating on a design but it was one of those projects we never seemed to get around to. We quickly realized that this was our chance to finally make it a reality!

scotch blue tape DIY skate deck

To get started, I built out some inspiration boards to give Joey and idea of the direction I wanted my design to take. Pinterest is great but I thought it would be WAY more fun to curate my ideas on cork boards. I knew I wanted the design to be geometric, have at least one pop of color and include my old standbys, type and stripes.

scotch blue tape DIY skate deck

These are the supplies that are needed:

• Blank Skate Deck. Joey carved mine himself (see above) out of reclaimed wood from a furniture shop that was 9 ply but you can pick up a blank deck at most skate shops.

• Print-outs of Design. We printed out my design in three 11×17 inch sheets (black and white is fine on normal paper) that were then taped together as a stencil.

• ScotchBlue Tape. The thinner width was especially awesome for knocking out our stripes.

• Spray Adhesive: You’ll need this to affix the paper stencil to the tape. We used a 3M version.

• Spraypaint. We used Krylon brand with a gloss finish in black, white and yellow (see above) and finished with a clear coat to seal it.

• X-acto Knife. You’ll need to cut out the pattern so you can spray paint the design.

• Prep: Joey cut this deck out with a jigsaw himself, measured and drilled the holes for trucks and sanded it to a smooth finish. If you purchase one from a skate shop, the holes will already be drilled.

link love

1. Start with a base coat of spraypaint (we used white) and let it dry for a full day to make sure it isn’t tacky.

link love

2. Cover the entire bottom surface of the skate deck in ScotchBlue Painter’s Tape.

3. This is the surface that the stencil will be cut out of.

scotch blue tape DIY skate deck

4. Cover the entire taped surface of the skate deck in spray adhesive.

5. Next, affix the stencil to the tacky surface and cut off the excess.

scotch blue tape DIY skate deck

6. Cut out the black portions of the stencil using an X-acto knife. Remember to cut through both the stencil AND the painter’s tape. The stencil and tape are affixed together so peel both off to reveal the painted surface.

7. All black portions of the stencil should be removed EXCEPT for the A.

scotch blue tape DIY skate deck

8. The first coat of black spraypaint is applied. The A was masked over with ScotchBlue Tape because we were going to apply a different color to it later in the process.

9. Remove the rest of the stencil.

scotch blue tape DIY skate deck

10. This is the result.

11. Peel off the A section of the stencil and SAVE IT!

scotch blue tape DIY skate deck

12. Create a fresh, inverted circle stencil.

13. Use paper and ScotchBlue Tape to mask the entire skate deck with exception of the circle and a single stripe (these are the areas we want to make yellow).

scotch blue tape DIY skate deck

14. Spraypaint the yellow sections. Let this dry for a few hours to ensure nice, crisp edges.

15. Remove all paper and tape to reveal the yellow. Then, replace with the A that was set aside earlier. Mask off everything that should NOT be black. Apply one final coat of black paint and let this dry for a few hours.

scotch blue tape DIY skate deck

16. Once surface is dry, remove all masking to reveal your final design!

link love

Joey wasn’t quite finished yet, though. Before I took my deck out for a spin, he applied grip tape to the surface and sliced out my trademark cross symbol. The perfect finishing touch! Get creative here — you can cut out anything in the grip tape you can dream up!

link love

I loved my finished design so much I put it on display in my office. Nothing beats a piece of functional art! If you have any questions at all about the process, please let me know in the comments and we’ll do our best to respond! And if you make your own skate deck design, let us know — we’d love to see it!

scotch blue tape DIY skate deck

This post is a collaboration with ScotchBlue Painter’s Tape. Visit Scotch Blue Tape on Facebook to learn how to win rad stuff and check out the other participants’ projects in the gallery. All concepts and designs within this post were created in partnership with Joey Maas.

Developing A Design Process: 01

ask nubby advice

ask nubby advice

Moodboard for Sasha Gulish Photography branding

One of the questions I get asked most often is about my design process. Most of us have a method for working through a project but once it’s done often enough, it begins to feel like second nature. I’ve continually held off writing this article until now because truthfully, my design process has become so routine that I don’t think of it as being significant. But, when I take the time to step back, I realize that we each have a different method for working through projects and can learn from one another. Today, I’m going to share an overview of the general design process I go through when working on a project. Please note that the process detailed below is focused solely on the creative side of a project and not on any of the administrative or strategic tasks that take place.

1. The Questionnaire

ask nubby advice Questionnaire

When I’m working with a new client, I begin my process by sending out a questionnaire. It’s comprised of a short, succinct set of questions meant to jog memories and provide the basic information clients might not otherwise think about. The last question encourages clients to gather their own visual inspiration and links to sites and content they like. After all, we know ourselves better than anyone else and the more we share about what we love & loathe, the easier the designer’s job becomes.

ask nubby advice Pinterest

2. Visual Research

While the client is doing their own visual research to show me what they like, I’m doing mine at the same time. Conducting visual research is important because it helps you become aware of current trends. This doesn’t mean that you should rip off every hot color, font and lockup you see. It’s meant to inform you of what’s happening in the world around you. Think about the flipside; you don’t want to end up with a logo that looks exactly like someone else’s because you didn’t do your homework! Clients tend to want a logo that’s on-trend while still remaining unique. But by on-trend, I mean current, not trendy. Nobody wants to go through the hassle of redesigning their logo every few years if they can help it!

My top places to search for visual inspiration are:

1. Designspiration

2. Pinterest (This is my personal account where I save some of my favorite images).


4. Flickr: I have a private folder that I upload everything I find into and have been actively adding to it since college. I do this mainly because I can be anywhere in the world, log in and have my full collection of inspiration at my fingertips.

ask nubby advice

Thumbnail sketches from a recent logo design

3. Thumbnail Sketches

Ah, yes. Our college professors made us do page after page of thumbnail sketches and they do have their benefits! My head is usually full of potential fonts and lockups the second I start working on a new project and getting them onto paper helps me define some of the options I really want to explore. Plus, being away from the computer helps me clear my mind and creatively focus in a fresh way. To be completely honest, I’m not a big sketcher. Often, my notebook pages will be composed mostly of lists, like “try this font” and “reference this image.” Sketch, make lists, do whatever suits your style best. Just try to do some part of your creative process away from the computer. Breaking up your routine often yields some of the best, most unexpected results.

ask nubby advice

Inspiration section from my presentation deck

4. Presentation with Visual Research

A moodboard (at the top of this post) is more of an arbitrary, outward-facing step I’ve included to show online folks what outside influences inspired me on a particular project. But usually, the visuals I’ve gathered are placed in a section within the first client presentation I deliver called, you guessed it, “Inspiration.” This is beneficial for the client because it can make them more feel more confident of the outcomes when they understand the general reference points. Also, something lurking in the visual inspiration may very well grab their attention. Perhaps they’ll say, “I love the layout of option #4 but the type feels off. Can you modify it to feel more like the type in XYZ?”

5. The Moodboard

I’ve noticed a huge trend lately of designers showing moodboards online of what inspired a particular project. I’ve never shared this part of my process with my readers but am considering making a change the next time I showcase a project. Of course, in my world the inspiration is just a folder of gathered imagery tucked inside the client’s job folder on my hard drive but in an effort to present a so-called organized, methodical look, an example of the visual research I gathered for photographer Sasha Gulish’s identity development is at the top of this post. Looking back, it really did help speed up the design process and aligned perfectly with the colors we’d already been considering.

ask nubby advice

The final outcome of Sasha’s identity / business cards (note that only the blue version was printed).

6. Revise / Review / Redeliver

Once you’ve delivered that first round, it’s time to wait for client feedback, revise the options they liked, perhaps gather even more visual inspiration if they’re feeling a particular direction and send off the second round. Rinse and repeat until complete!

I’ve titled this article Developing a Design Process 01 because I figured that you might have more questions about specifics. If there’s something further you’d like to know about developing a process, please leave a question in the comments!

Organization Methods: Tips And Tricks From A Virgo

nubby twiglet organization

nubby twiglet organization

Over the years, so many of you have asked me about my methods for organization. You want specifics. You want photos. You want me to reveal the nitty-gritty. Well, I’ve finally sat down and transcribed some of my simple everyday strategies for keeping belongings easy to locate and visually pleasing in the process!

This article is meant to touch on a variety of areas in my life and how I keep them organized. This is what works for me and hopefully it can be a starting point to help you to discover some methods that work for you. Perhaps it’s second nature for Virgos to be supremely organized. Orderly surroundings give me a sense of calmness and as laughable as this might sound, my surroundings are a reflection of how I feel on the inside. Yep, a cluttered space to me equals a cluttered mind! You’ll notice that overall, I try to keep it simple — depending on what I’m doing, I sort belongings by color (clothing, shoes and books), title and date (magazines), and subject (client files and digital inspiration). I’ve found that the more difficult you make the solution, the harder it becomes to keep it up.

nubby twiglet organization

Hand-me-down bookshelf I use for shoe storage

01. Shoes

I like the look of organizing shoes by color because what’s more cheery than having a mini rainbow nearby?! If organizing a collection by looks makes you happy, then so be it.

nubby twiglet organization

02. Clothing

I have a fair amount of clothing but I do my best to clean out my closets regularly and to keep the selection as edited as possible. For bizarre finds, items I might just use for a themed shoot or clothing that has sentimental meaning that I just can’t part with, I use the small extra closet in my office for storage which I’ve dubbed my ‘Costume Closet.’ This keeps my regular closet much easier to navigate and appropriate for everyday wear.

nubby twiglet organization

Our house was built in 1928 and like most older houses, closet space is very minimal. For this reason, I have two large IKEA PAX Wardrobes that are set up in our oversized upstairs bathroom (it could easily fit 15 people; there’s just a toilet and sink). These closets allow for plenty of room for everything and a huge selection of customizable fixtures can be added.

nubby twiglet organization

My left closet is comprised of jackets, skirts and dresses (hanging) and pants, shorts and basic t-shirts (stacked on the lower shelves). The right closet is mostly made up of shirts, blouses, sweaters, cardigans and generally casual layers. Everything is arranged by color.

nubby twiglet organization

Below the hanging items, I have a color-coded drawer for socks and below that is an identical drawer for tights (also by color). The clear plastic organizers are from Target. The bottom of the closet contains a shoe rack which has a few odds and ends that I wouldn’t want to display — athletic shoes, flats, etc. And finally, the top of the closet contains a row of IKEA KASSETT Storage Boxes which house everything from extra shoe bags and scarves to childhood costumes and keepsakes. My system isn’t perfect but it makes sense to me and allows me to quickly find whatever I need.

nubby twiglet organization

03. Books

I jumped on the bandwagon a few years back when this style of organization for books became trendy and couldn’t be happier with the outcome. The bookshelf is from West Elm and conveniently enough, it’s on wheels which makes cleaning super easy.

nubby twiglet organization

04. Magazines

I’ve invested in quite a few packs of IKEA FLYT Magazine Files and choose to group my magazines by title and then date. I also have separate ones for reference materials and catalogs that I’ve saved for inspiration. These magazine files are great because they’re cardboard — when you’re finished with them, simply break them down and recycle!

nubby twiglet organization

The Container Store has a great selection of makeup storage solutions

05. Makeup

A small cabinet in my office holds all of my makeup but I tend to keep the items I use on a daily basis all in one area. The Container Store has some fantastic makeup storage organizers and I found this acrylic option among their selection.

nubby twiglet organization

Folders of image-related inspiration stored on my computer

06. Digital Files

This is the most important area of my life to stay organized in (and I’m not exaggerating). When clients hire me for a design job, it’s important to keep their assets organized and if they need a file a few years down the line, it’s my job to locate it. For this reason, I apply a job number to each new project that comes into my studio. For instance, #NT151 would be for job 151 (NT = Nubby Twiglet). This job number also directly correlates to the invoice number when I’m billing a client. Once a job is complete and final files have been sent, I move it to an Archives folder so that my Clients folder doesn’t get overly cluttered with closed jobs.

For digital inspiration, my system is much more easy-going. I have a folder on my desktop titled 2011 Pix and drop everything I’ve gathered online into it. Every week or so, I drop all the strays into labeled folders that make sense to me. They can be as open-ended as food, cars, cameras, fashion and so on. Any way you can think of to break up a few thousand inspirational images should work just fine!

I also keep a folder on my desktop labeled Blog 2011. Every time I make a post, I drop all the final web-ready JPEGS in there so that I have a clean backup of every image I’ve posted for that year.

07. Digital Storage

I cannot stress this enough — keep your really important files backed up on TWO separate drives! I’ve heard horror stories of friends losing years’ worth of work when their external drive failed. I have two LaCie drives, (my favorite being the LaCie Starck 1 TB Drive) and I diligently back up my client files, photos and music from my main computer every few weeks.

nubby twiglet organization

Design Inspiration folder on Flickr

08. Online Digital Inspiration

Ever since I was in college, I’ve gathered up design-related inspirational images and uploaded them to a private Flickr folder. Now bursting at over 5,000 images, it’s a digital library at my fingertips that I use to gather research from for every new job that I start. The importance of having this inspiration saved online is that I can access it from anywhere — whether I’m freelancing, on vacation or in a meeting.

nubby twiglet organization

09. Loose Inspiration and Reference Materials

I have a set of IKEA flat files in the corner of my office that house all my clippings, notebooks and printed inspiration. The drawers hold everything from silkscreened posters to old journals. Having all these items clearly separated yet all housed together has been a lifesaver!

nubby twiglet organization

Fashion Notebook

10. Collage Notebooks

I’ve been clipping visual inspiration from magazines since I was a teenager and those clippings can really pile up after awhile! I keep everything tidy by keeping notebooks for three specific categories: fashion, typography and interior design & home. As the clippings pile up, I collage them in, often categorized my theme and color. To see my collages, which I often scan for the blog, check out the Fashion Notebook, Decor Notebook and Typofiles sets on Flickr.

In Closing: Being Organized Makes Life Feel Less Chaotic

I hope that these examples will inspire you to get your life organized in your own, unique way. Because I have a lot going on, having some basic organizational systems in place means that I’m rarely wasting time digging for items that I think I may have lost. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to organize your belongings; your system just has to make sense to YOU. If you have questions or want me to cover another area of organization in a follow-up article, let me know in the comments. Happy organizing!

nubby twiglet signature