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Calm before the storm

Posted by Robert Mohns on July 31, 2013. Tagged: culture

This week is Yankee Homecoming, a week and a half long summer festival in Newburyport. Fried dough, live bands, craft shows, kids activities, a Michael Jackson impersonator, tarot readings, ice cream, and people everywhere… The cacophony can be deafening. (I'm pretty sure it was a major factor in Nils leading the charge to open our Silicon Valley office.)

As I walked to the office this morning, I was struck by how peaceful it is then, as the vendors were just opening up their tents in market square and getting ready for a long day.

Yankee Homecoming, Market Square, Newburyport, MA 01950

Bonus photos

Later in the day, I noticed the Michael Jackson impersonator outside my office window:

Michael Jackson impersonator at Newburyport Yankee Homecoming 2013

Obligatory cute kid photo:

Walking into Market Square

Leaked Culture Reel Photos

Posted by Jared Laham on July 26, 2013. Tagged: creative, culture

imarc_reel

We have just wrapped on a video shoot here around iMarc East's office and thought, since celebrities leak photos of themselves, we could give you all a peak at some behind the camera shots. We had a blast working with Off The Front Productions on this video and can't wait to share it with you all soon. Stay tuned!

jeff_interview

jared_makeup

Some of us obviously had more beautifucation needs than others and were good sports about getting makeup applied for their cameo. Yes that beard is real, I swear.

filming_outside

When we were out filming on Inn street, some pedestrains passing by asked if we were filming an episode of cupcake wars (there is a cupcake shop next door to our office) or a new Mark Wahlberg movie. 

Action shots compliments of Tim Gurczak.

 

Building RSAConference.com: Part 4 of 4

Posted by Jeff Turcotte on July 9, 2013. Tagged: clients, engineering, technology

Previously in the Building RSAConference.com series, we showed some of the Strategy, User Testing and Creative phases. In part 4, we will be forging ahead with the a focus on the technology; the tools engineered to ensure a great experience for both visitors and the administrative team of RSAConference.com.

Shell

Very early in the process it was determined that RSAConference.com would best be suited to a Custom CMS on an Open Source Platform. Custom because they had a lot of structured data that was specifically tailored to the management of their events, and open source because they needed a tool with zero lock-in which can be augmented and enhanced easily as needs change from year to year. With this approach, we could also ensure that all components were up to the high security standard that is is critical to the RSA Conference brand.

Since the RSA Conference CMS was built specifically for their problem set, the RSA Conference administrative team can use a workflow tailored to them, as opposed to forcing their workflow into a generic product.

Some highlights of the tools that RSA Conference has at their disposal are:

Pages

Allows the admin to create and edit any page on the site, either through a simple WYSIWYG editor or free-form HTML (if somebody is so inclined). Structured data, such as Upcoming Events or a list of Top Event Sponsors, can be placed within pages, making it dead-simple to incorporate data managed through another tool. This means RSA Conference administrators can make a single update to conference metadata, and have it cascade site-wide throughout all their pages.

Conferences

Admins can manage all Conference meta data including Sessions, Speakers, Sponsors, and many more. As an international conference, they work with a multitude of registration vendors, so this gives them a lot of flexibility moving forward. The registration vendors can focus on the actual registration process, while RSA Conference can maintain control over how attendees and potential attendees explore the conference information, giving a much more consistent user experience and in turn solidifying their brand.

Heroes

The custom CMS gives RSA Conference full control over the homepage hero element (otherwise known as the splash banner), making it a very powerful promotional tool. The RSA Conference team can make the week to week changes that they require without the need to call on a designer or developer. That said, the tool is flexible enough to give a designer plenty of leeway to make a splash if necessary.

Blogs

Blogs are huge part of the new RSAConference site. With a large number of guest bloggers keeping content fresh, we created specific blog author access levels to the CMS, allowing RSA Conference fine grained control over who can post what, when, and where. The administrative area allows RSA Conference to manage drafts and versions, manage guest blogger logins, and review and approve guest blogs.

We also deployed LiveFyre LiveComments to lower the barrier to entry to participate in discussions and share content.

Resources

The RSA Conference team had a lot of content for their audience. A major goal of the site was to make it an up-to-date content repository of session videos, podcasts, and presentations to keep people coming back. We put custom tools in place to manage all of these different kinds of content, link them to their respective conference metadata, and integrate with RSA Conference’s CDN(s) of choice.

Code

Deployment and updates

Our server team took the finished site and deployed it to a multi-server cloud setup to handle the ever-growing traffic requirements. iMarc’s code deployment system gives RSA Conference no-downtime updates.

Post-launch, with the collaboration of the RSA Conference team, we are reviewing analytics, doing performance tweaks, and continually ensuring that RSAConference.com is the product that will work the way they desire and best represent what they do.

See you at RSA Conference!

# # #

Learn more about iMarc’s engineering practices and standards in our Handbook, and explore some of our Open Source projects and tools at github.com/imarc.

Interested in working with the iMarc team? See current opportunities at imarc.net/hiring.

Missed the earlier parts of the series?

  1. Building RSAConference.com: Part 1 of 4: Strategy
  2. Building RSAConference.com: Part 2 of 4: User Testing
  3. Building RSAConference.com: Part 3 of 4: The Creative Process

Building RSAConference.com: Part 3 of 4

Posted by Jared Laham on July 2, 2013. Tagged: clients, creative

In Part 1 of the Building RSAConference.com series, Robert covered the Strategy phase of the project – where discovery, planning and decision making takes place. In Part 2 of the Building RSAConference.com series, Marcel covered user testing – a key element of ensuring a good user experience. Today in Part 3, we'll share our creative process to establishing and designing the new look and feel of RSAConference.com.

RSA Conference's events are dynamic, fun, educational and intensely engaging. They are the go-to events for the security industry. The RSA Conference team wanted to not just improve the overall aesthetics of the site, but for it to exude the same fun and thought leadership that the live conferences offer. It needed to build the same excitement in conference goers leading up to the actual conference.

Design Goals

In our design kickoff, we helped the RSA Conference team identify the key goals the new design should serve:

  • Clean, modern, and engaging look, but also allow each year's confernece theme to express its distinct visual style.
  • Establish a visual style for each conference location, using and extending the existing brand.
  • Support smartphones, tablets and desktops equally, using responsive design to create an accessible resource for attendees and security professionals.

Responsive Design

Being that this is a conference website, it was important attendees could easily access it from their smartphone, tablet or desktop while attending the conference. Every visitor should get as much content, visual, and interactive richness as their browser can support, regardless of what device they happen to use.

We chose a responsive design approach to ensure that all visitors will get a complete experience, regardless of their device — but still optimized for that device, whether it be a desktop, phone or tablet.

rsa_responsive

We designed three fluid layouts (using CSS3 media queries) to ensure a pleasing and consistent experience across phones, mid-size tablets, large tablets and desktops. We paid close attention to text size, line length, download size and proximity of calls-to-action to ensure each layout delivers clear, readable, engaging content that loads quickly.

Interface Design

To establish a baseline of visual likes and dislikes, iMarc's creative team benchmarked various websites with the RSAConference.com team. Next, we created three distinct style tiles exploring different directions in font, color, and user interface elements that evolve RSA Conference's visual brand for the web.

Overview of a style tile's key elements:
rsa_styletile

Local Flavor

Each conference needed its own identity within the site, so the iMarc team created branded cityscapes that used color and key land marks from each conference location to differentiate each conference and ground each page.

rsac_cities

Bring it all together

With style tile providing direction and key visual elements defined, iMarc's creative team (with wireframes in hand) began designing the homepage. We find that starting with the homepage design is a great way to establish most of the major styles that will inform the rest of the pages.

Final design for RSAConference.com homepagersa_homepage

Explore the fruit of these labors at www.rsaconference.com.

# # #

Next week: Part 4: Engineering

So how do we turn all the planing, user testing, and design work into a working site? Next week, find out from our very own A-Team leader Jeff "Hannibal" Turcotte.

Building RSAConference.com: Part 2 of 4

Posted by Marcel Moreau on June 27, 2013. Tagged: clients, strategy, user experience

In Part 1 of the Building RSAConference.com series, Robert covered the Strategy phase of the project – where copious planning and decision making takes place. Here in Part 2, we will forge ahead with a focus on the user experience.

The RSA Conference team was concerned about the experience their users were having while using the website. Content was deeply buried and lacked focus, account management tasks were cumbersome, and the site was not device-agnostic. What steps would we take to get actual users involved in the redesign?

Dave on his laptop between sessions.

Usability Sessions

After collaborating with the RSA Conference team on site maps and wireframes, we needed to take that extra step to ensure the new web experience aligned with what users expected. So iMarc and RSA Conference conducted live usability sessions onsite at RSA Conference 2013 in San Francisco, CA.

Our usability sessions were divided into two activities:

  • Tasked-based analysis via clickable prototype 
  • Card sorting

Tasked-based analysis via clickable prototype

We converted our wireframes from static files to clickable HTML prototypes. Over 30 minutes, we assigned our participants a number of tasks to complete. These tasks related directly to project goals and pain points. Our usability participants all nailed it.

One of the most important elements of a productive usability session is “thinking out loud”. The more we can get the participant to vocalize their thoughts as they try to complete a task, the better. We received plenty of feedback during task-based analysis.

Our testers showed some unexpected behaviors. For example, we discovered that the dropdown navigation menus were heavily used to explore the site (which we expected), but some testers used the homepage “hero” banner’s links as navigation and ignored the menus completely! But overall, the testers found the new layout and menus to be fast and easy to use, and offered positive feedback.

Tip: always record the screen/audio (with permission, of course) if possible. No matter how thorough a notetaker you are, you will miss something. We used Camtasia with Samson Go Mics.

Marcel and Hoyt performing card sorts

Card Sorting

With our audio still recording, we moved to some physical card sorting exercises. Card sorting, as Robert mentioned in Part 1 of this series, yields insight not only in the final layout of the cards, but along the way. Again, our participants nailed this exercise. All vocalized their thought process as they arranged their cards on the table.

This exercise is especially useful for the “color” it gives to the data, especially compared to the surveys conducted earlier. We learn not just what, but why. For example, most of our participants told us they prefer slide presentations because they are quick to read and easy to share. But a few strongly preferred podcasts because they can listen to them during a commute or at the gym.

Laptop on table with cards

Conducting these usability sessions helped us make informed decisions. We made some final tweaks to our site map and wireframe documents that really strengthened them — and in turn, a more focused design and a better user experience.

# # #

Next week: Part 3: The Creative Process

Want to know more about iMarc's UX practices? Check out our Handbook, which documents our processes and deliverables. We've published it under the Creative Commons 2.0 (BY-SA) license, so you are welcome to borrow from it.

Building RSAConference.com: Part 1 of 4

Posted by Robert Mohns on June 18, 2013. Tagged: clients, strategy

RSAConfernece.com on a tablet deviceWe just took the cover off a project that has been under wraps for a while now… a complete re-design of the leading security industry conference's website, rsaconference.com!

In the coming weeks on the iMarc blog, you'll be reading more about how the new site was planned, tested, designed, and built.

 

Before starting part 1 of the 4-part series on building RSAconference.com, I’ll let our project sponsor speak for himself:

“RSA® Conference helps drive the global information security agenda and provides a 360-degree view of the security industry. We selected iMarc as our partner to redesign the RSA Conference site to drive registration, engage users year-round, and better promote our online content. Through great collaboration the team excelled and delivered an exceptional, user-centric and responsive site, optimized for mobile devices.”

—Craig Hansen, Senior Web Technology Manager

So how do you redesign the face of the conference, with dozens of content contributors, outside vendors and service providers, multiple points of technical integration, stringent uptime requirements, and a long-established brand identity that must be adapted into a responsive, mobile-friendly design? And oh, by the way, it's a security site so it will be attacked by hackers…

Craig's team of dedicated pros were instrumental to the project success. A project this big doesn't happen in a vacuum; the RSA Conference team was on-point, on-time, insightful, constructive in every way, and open to anything at all! My hat's off to RSA Conference: they are fantastic collaborators.

Okay, ready? Let's descend into the depths of the project…

Part 1: Strategy

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” —Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Before you can solve a problem, you must understand it. So, of course, the first step of any project is learning. Appropriately enough, the 2013 conference theme is Security in Knowledge.

What are the goals?

"If everything is important, then nothing is." ―Patrick Lencioni

To succeed, you must focus your energies on the core things that matter most. This entails making decisions, and saying “no” to some things. This allows you to say “yes” to the ones that matter.

We've found that a very good way to help our clients prioritize their goals is to conduct a card sort exercise. Often used to organize existing content, a closed sort methodology is well suited to organize and prioritize goals and audiences as well. 

The real value is not in the results themselves, but in the process of getting to them. All the client team members gather around a table. A stack of cards, with one goal written on each, is distributed among the team. We ask them to place each card into a priority grouping: Top, High, Medium, Low. To add a bit of discipline, only three can be Top Priority.

And then we stand back. The client team lays out each card, talks about it, and decides where to put it. Occasionally they create a new card, or remove an irrelevant card. As they talk, they create a consensus they can agree on, flush out disagreements, and resolve them. And, as they free associate ideas and chat, we learn countless facts and tidbits that would otherwise be undiscovered. The conversation informs our explorations and decisions as we move forward.

(For the curious: top goals were to improve the user experience, grow year-round engagement, and improve natural SEO. Surfacing RSA Conference's great-but-buried content was a key element for all of these. It's a cliché, but content is king!)

That's just a starting point. Many other activities followed, including…

  • Assessing current site content, usability and technical infrastructure
  • Auditing current content, origination, staffing and publication processes
  • Interviewing internal stakeholders and contributors
  • Conducting competitive benchmarking and audience analysis
  • Creating user personas
  • Conducting a user survey of attendees
  • Analyzing current web traffic
  • Identifying integration points
  • Analyzing current search engine performance

 

 

 

The Discovery Report

Our deliverable at the end of the discovery process is the discovery report: a document which catalogs and summarizes research in a way that is easy to understand. 

Through the rest of the project, it was used as a touchstone to look back on and vet decisions. It's also useful for quickly onboarding members of the development and production team, and new contributors on the client team.

Site maps, wireframes, and specs, oh my!

 

“Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.” —Sun Tzu, The Art of War

 

Having spent weeks learning, we were prepared to create the documents defining the new site.

There's a lot of iteration. We went through 16 versions of the site map, which describes content and navigation, making changes based on testing it with tools suck as TreeJack and based on our evolving plans for the site. 

Wireframes define key page layouts, content and functions. These required fewer revisions, thanks to extensive and collaborative benchmarking with the RSA Conference team. We identified many best practices and sketched out ideas in meetings before ever opening a drawing app.

Finally, with site maps, wireframes, discovery findings and plenty of conversation under our belt, we could create the Production Specification — the blueprint for the new site.

 

The Production Spec defines every point of integration, every page, every content tool, every user interaction. It sounds like a waterfall process, and at this stage, it is. We'll test it (more on that in Part 2, including our work at the conference itself in San Francisco), and based on that we'll make changes as we do design (coming in Part 3), and during development, the engineers adapt and change the site as needed in a very agile fashion (Part 4). 

In other words, plans change. But plans there must be.

# # #

Next: Part 2: User Experience and Usability Testing

Want to know more about iMarc's strategy process? Check out our Strategy Handbook, which documents our processes and deliverables. We've published it under the Creative Commons 2.0 (BY-SA) license, so you are welcome to borrow from it.

These are not the users you're looking for…
He can go about his business … Move along.

E2 Boston - We're Back!

Posted by Katie Mack on June 11, 2013. Tagged: events

E2 Conference Logo

We're excited to return to the E2 Conference in Boston next week. Last year, we met a lot of forward-thinking business leaders and had some great conversations around web and mobile strategies for enterprises. We even forged new partnerships from our experience at the conference and cannot wait to attend again this year for more exchanges and connections.

This year, members of the iMarc team will be taking in sessions around user experience and mobile applications. Be sure to follow @imarcllc on Twitter for updates from these tracks. You can also find us at Pod 10 featuring our recent applications and designs, and demonstrating our mobile and web platforms. The iMarc business development team will also be available to chat, and are eager to discuss new digital strategies for providing exceptional user experience and building brand equity. One lucky E2 attendee who stops by our Pod will also win an iPad Mini; don't miss your chance to enter!

If you are in the Boston metro this Tuesday or Wednesday, use iMarc's Priority Code CMIMARC to register for a FREE pass to the exhibit hall (http://www.e2conf.com/boston/). Then, stop by the iMarc Pod and say hello! We'll be ready to start planning your next project.


User friendly CAPTCHAs. Really.

Posted by Robert Mohns on June 4, 2013. Tagged: user experience

I'm not a fan of CAPTCHAs, those mangled-text tests of your humanity. They make life easier on website owners at the cost of making life miserable for users.

But the spammers, do they care? Nope. So CAPTCHAs, it seems, remain a necessary evil.

But now there are CAPTCHAs that don't make life horrible for the user. Some are downright fun. Here are a few of my favorites.

How Many Kittens?

This simple, custom CAPTCHA used by PowerMax's online store takes advantage of the fact that spammers focus on attacking the common CAPTCHA systems. A single website's custom, one-off CAPTCHA isn't worth creating an attack script, even when it's as ludicrously simple as this one.

jQuery simpleCaptcha

A common plug-in is a good candidate for attackers to script attacks. Solution? Use your own custom images, instead of stock ones. Jordan Kasper's simpleCaptcha jQuery plug-in makes this easy. Get the source at Github.

PlayThru

This one's novel: Are You A Human's PlayThru uses simple, interactive games instead. Since it's SaaS, the company has funds to continuously develop new games to stay resistant to bot attack. And if you pony up a few bucks, you can create your own custom branded games. Now this, my friend, is gamification as it was meant to be.

Photography Series: Making the move from a smartphone to a DSLR

Posted by Christian Keyes on May 29, 2013. Tagged: creative

iPhone and DSLR

Chase Jarvis once said that the best camera is the one you have with you. Given the advent of smartphones and their built in cameras, nearly everyone has the ability to take a picture at any given moment. Couple that convenience and portability with social sharing and creative filtering, and you've got millions of new photographers creating art and learning basic principles of the craft. However, even an amateur photographer using their phone casually will inevitably begin to wonder what else is out there and how they can get started down the path towards becoming a more professional photographer with a more appropriate camera to take better pictures.

I need to be careful here about using words like "amateur", "professional", and "better". I also need to apologize in advance for using so many "air quotes" in this particular post. Let me first say that I cringe whenever I hear people speak in an elitist manner about photography and gear, especially when it comes down to the end result of the photos captured. The word "amateur" has a poor connotation that we need to discuss. If you took Latin or French, you'll remember that the root meaning of "amateur" merely denotes the "love" of something, not inexperience as it has become synonymous with in modern times. Photography is so closely tied to art that you have to change how you define a "good" photo. Granted there are "rules" that one can take when shooting to ensure proper exposure and composition, the best photographs are the ones that stay with you personally and emotionally. I've never heard anyone say they like a photo because of the composition alone, or only because the exposure was perfect. The subject and tone are what ultimately matter when shooting and reviewing photographs. Of course, a "professional" will generally have more expensive gear and experience, but even they may not share the same vision and enthusiasm as someone with modest equipment. Maybe you're in love with the act of taking pictures, but aren't always impressed with your results and the technical quality of your photos. Perhaps you're enjoying taking photos on your smartphone or point and shoot but don't see the merit in stepping up your game a bit. Here are some benefits you'll gain from making the jump to a DSLR.

DSLR

To really understand why a DSLR will give you creative freedom over your smartphone, we first have to understand exposure. This simply means the amount of light allowed to fall on the camera's sensor based on the control we have over said light.

There are three main components to exposure:


Aperture

The size of the "hole" we allow the light to pass through as it hits the sensor. This is extremely important and can be tough to understand when getting started in photography. All you need to know now is that the larger the hole, the more light we allow in, and the quicker we can achieve the proper exposure. Conversely, the smaller the aperture, the longer it takes to gather the necessary light. Things start to get complicated when you add the fact that as our aperture gets larger, our depth of field, or cross-section of the photo that is in focus, becomes less deep. As we reduce the size of our aperture, you guessed it; our depth of field becomes wider and more of our photo will be in focus.

This control is one of the key differences between smartphones and most other cameras. The variable control we gain with a DSLR is not available to us on a camera phone, as they have "fixed" apertures. Although good smartphone cameras don't have terrible specs when it comes to aperture size, control of our aperture gives us the freedom to take creative liberties with our photos.


Shutter Speed

This is the duration we allow light to hit our sensor. The faster the shutter speed, the easier it is to "stop" motion. Similarly, the longer we leave the shutter open, the more we see the effects of motion in our pictures. However, as is the case in many poor smartphone photos, these longer durations are what make photos look blurry. Our hands and arms move, our subjects move, and we miss moments. Even at speeds that sound fast, 1/20th or 1/40th of a second, we'll almost always get blurry results. Smartphone cameras choose shutter speeds automatically based on the amount of available light and the fixed aperture setting. The sequence below was taken with various shutter speeds while shooting a rolling car to highlight the stopping power of a fast shutter.

The brighter the scene, the faster the sensor will be able to gather the light, and the camera will be able to use a faster shutter speed. On the other end of this spectrum, dimly lit rooms and shots at night require much more time to expose the sensor, and we're more likely to be left with blurry pics. In these night shots especially, you'll start to see some "noise", or colorful pixels that generally detract from your photos. This is all tied in with the third area of exposure - ISO.


ISO

This third variable deals with the sensitivity of your camera's sensor to light. When plenty of light is available to us, our sensor doesn't have to guess or amplify light to provide a nice image. However, in darker situations, the need to amplify the electronic signal to gather light introduces unwanted noise - not unlike a microphone at a concert.


ISO numbers typically range from 100 all the way up to 3200 on the iPhone 5, and even higher on high end DSLRs. The higher the number, the more amplification and the more noise you'll see. With smartphones, since we don't have the ability to "open up" our aperture to gather more light, and if we can't slow down our shutter to collect the necessary light, the ISO must therefore be increased, generally resulting in noisy and poor quality images. Of course, we can take noisy pictures with a DSLR as well, but the expanded control we're afforded allows us to avoid this scenario.

Understanding how these three aspects of exposure work and interact together is the key to being a technically proficient and confident photographer. Playing and experimenting with these controls is the greatest benefit of using a DSLR over a smartphone. As with all creative endeavors, control, possibilities, and options are key. Control allows you to express your vision without compromise. At the risk of getting too deep here, loss of controls and variables can often be beneficial to creative types. Limitations force us to explore alternate methods and tricks to achieve unique results.


Additional Benefits of DSLRs


Interchangeable LensesCanon lens lineup

Beyond the control you gain from manipulating all aspects of exposure, a DSLR will also allow you to change lenses as necessary. Most entry level kits provide a standard zoom lens, which will allow you to photograph a wide variety of subjects. From there, you could choose to buy an additional lenses depending on what you enjoy shooting or to assist with tricky shooting situations. For example, one of my favorite lenses is actually very inexpensive: a 50mm f/1.8. The number followed by the f denotes the lens's aperture. The lower the number, the larger the hole for the light to pass through, the faster we can gather light, and the shallower the depth of field becomes; which is generally a very pleasing look for portraits. The 50mm focal length is very close to what the human eye sees, meaning your shots will feel very natural and true to life. If you want to gain additional reach, your next lens could be a telephoto zoom lens. An affordable and versatile option would be the 75-300mm f/4-5.6 lens. Between this, the 50mm, and a typical 18mm - 55mm kit lens, you'll have incredible flexibility. Something important to keep in mind is that "zooming" done on your smartphone is digital zoom, which ultimately degrades the image quality and is the equivalent of enlarging and cropping a file on your computer. Optical zoom through lenses is a far superior way of bringing the action closer, resulting in a crisper image.


RAW files

A RAW file taken from a DSLR contains more data that a flat .jpg file shot from a smartphone. These files are far more forgiving, even allowing us to lighten or darken an image's exposure without degrading its quality.  As much as we all love Instagram filters, even the greatest effect can't bring back an overexposed image back to life.


FlashSpeedlight

Sure, smartphones come equipped with a small LED flash, but these pale in comparison to the flash you'll find built in to most entry level DSLR kits. Taking this one step further, you can choose to add an external flash or "speedlight" to your camera to really illuminate the scene. Learning how to tame and modify light is critical to taking great pictures, and I'd actually advise against going too flash crazy when first learning how to wield your new camera. Think of your on camera flash the same way you do an oxygen mask on an airplane: it's good to know it's there, but you hope you don't have reason to use it.


Focusing

I've always hated trying to focus on my subject with a smartphone. Auto focus is always too slow, and as great as the concept of tap to focus is, I've been spoiled by the robust focusing systems built in to DSLRs. Smartphone cameras use contrast detection to discern what is crisp, while a DSLR uses multiple focus points and projected infrared grids to gather information about the distance and position of subjects. Although I don't use it often, I also really appreciate the ability to manually focus on what I'm shooting. Removing the technological assistance can be uncomfortable at times, but is ultimately very empowering to be in complete control of what is in focus. Lastly, a quick auto focus system, or skilled manual focusing, cuts down on the time between seeing something worthy of shooting, and taking the actual shot. I can't think of anything worse than missing a smile or glance from a subject because I had to wait for my smartphone to clumsily detect what I was trying to shoot. Second to that frustration is trying to gauge what I'm looking at on my smartphone's LCD on a blazing sunny day.


Image size and quality

Quality over quantity doesn't just apply to the photos you take and the lenses you own; it is also a great way of understanding megapixels and the images you shoot. Although most smartphones boast cameras with 6, 8, 16 and even 41 megapixels, this doesn't mean a whole lot unless they're good pixels. Sensor size means a lot when talking about the quality of pixels and how they're interpreted. A typical smartphone camera sensor is about the size of a Tic-Tac mint, while an entry level DSLR has a sensor closer to the size of a normal postage stamp. Both cameras could offer you a 16 megapixel file, but the larger sensor can more accurately translate what it has seen because the "pixel density" is closer to a 1:1 ratio.


What should I buy?

Without going too in-depth about the merits of every camera released in the last ten years, all I'll say is that you don't need the newest camera on the market to learn and practice photography. In fact, I suggest the opposite; buy the most affordable yet capable DSLR kit you can get your hands on. Don't be afraid to buy a used or refurbished camera, or even one that is a few years old. With the exception of minor enhancements and video features, most entry level cameras haven't improved by leaps and bounds that would matter to someone just starting out. One of my favorite cameras to carry around on a day out is an 8 year old, 8 megapixel Canon that I don't need to worry too much about dropping and abusing. Save your money for an additional "fast" lens, like the 50mm f/1.8 I mentioned earlier. Both Canon and Nikon offer this lens for less than $120. Mine is nearly 10 years old and works as well now as the day I bought it! The most important thing is to buy something you're comfortable with and get out there! 

I'm sure that nobody reading this is pretending that their smartphone can take a better picture (technically speaking) than a DSLR, and it shouldn't be expected to (yet). Hopefully this post has shed a little light on the subject of making the exploratory jump to a DSLR if you're really enjoying the freedom and creativity that your smartphone camera has afforded you. In the end, the best camera is the one you have with you, so why not try carrying a better camera with you wherever you go? Personally, I've had a long time love of photography, and I hope that anyone trying to flex their creative and artistic chops will take the leap to photographing with a camera that will best serve their passion.

I've intended this post to be just one in a series of helpful photography lessons. I look forward to exploring more on controlling exposure and thinking differently about how you shoot pictures. The more you understand how your camera functions, the easier it becomes to take great pictures. Thanks for reading!


Additional Resources

http://www.exposureguide.com/photography-basics.htm
http://www.photographymad.com/pages/view/10-top-photography-composition-rules

Our Award Winning NESHCo Experience

Posted by Katie Desmond on May 23, 2013. Tagged: awards, best practices, clients, mobile

We have just returned from the NESHCo Conference where we had a really great time and met a lot of smart healthcare marketers. The sessions were fantastic, one of which was a panel discussing the impact that the Boston Marathon Bombing had on some of the hospitals in Boston. Overall, attendees found it incredibly moving.

We had a lot of great conversations and we really welcomed the opportunity to share with others our work for Anna Jaques Hospital. Through an amazing collaboration with our client we were able to plan, design, and deliver an award-winning website that took the honors of a Silver Lamplighter Award!

We couldn't be more proud of the work we have done with Anna Jaques Hospital and our other healthcare clients. For more information about our healthcare experience or if you are wondering if your website needs a check-up, visit: www.imarc.net/hospital for helpful tips, best practices, and an RFP template!