Web Design

Can’t touch this

Responsive design. It’s the latest buzzphrase (I don’t even know if “buzzphrases” exist, but if they did, this would be one) in anything to do with web design at the moment. So what exactly is it, and why should web designers and their clients care about it?


Well, back when I was coding up my first websites a few years ago, you could be pretty sure that if you were doing a fixed layout site (i.e. it doesn’t change size with a bigger monitor) and you set your minimum width to 750 pixels you’d be ok. This was back when 20% of people still had monitors with a resolution of 800 x 600 pixels, so you had to cater for them, removing a few pixels for scrollbars and screen edges. Then, using the BBC news website as a good guide of when to change (in this case June 2009), that increased to a width of 1000 pixels as the majority of end users had monitors starting at 1024 x 768 pixels.

This resolution seems to have stuck as a kind of standard for desktop / laptop machines, with companies developing separate versions of their sites for mobile phones. This was often found at, with an automatic redirection to that version of the site if it detected a mobile being used, often with fewer graphics so that loading times were faster. But hang on, what if I tether my phone to wifi – I still want to see images on a site. What if actually my mobile device is an iPad…I might want to see the normal website, not some cut down functionality design for a much smaller screen.

Step in responsive design – an idea that’s been around for many years, but just not badged as such. One version of the data behind the site, several different “views” of it for different sized screens, and a controller to determine which view should be shown. To geeks such as me, we know this as MVC coding – model, view, controller. When a site detects what type of device is accessing it, a different stylesheet can be served up. The site might work off the user agent (i.e. details of the machine and browser), or maybe the number of pixels available in the browser window. The code stays the same – just the CSS changes.

So is it just about what it looks like? Well, partially, but it’s also about usability (as alluded to in the title). As people who have used Windows 8 (designed to work with a touchscreen) with a mouse will know, you have to design differently depending on whether a mouse or a finger is being used. Buttons and links have to be bigger if you want a finger to select them (guidelines suggest a minimum of 44 x 44 pixels) and gone are the days of using “a:hover” to have a different effect when hovering over something. Now don’t get me wrong, the hovering functionality still works with a touchscreen (for instance on the home page of, you can instead click on the headings of Quality, Flexibility and Reliability), but you can’t rely on a hover of a mouse to inform the user that they should click.

All this is great for end users when implemented correctly – they visit the same site from different devices and have a good experience of the content optimised for the method of viewing. It does, unfortunately, come with a price though in terms of extra web development required – the cost of a designing and implementing a couple of extra stylesheets, but I think it’s well worth it, especially with the statistics showing an increase in the number of users who access the web through mobile devices. And this site? We’re designing it with all of these things in mind.

Film Photography

Cultivating creativity, Cornish style

We’ve just returned from a lovely break in Cornwall, where we stayed within a stone’s throw of the sea at a lovely apartment near Coverack. We can really highly recommend the place that we stayed – not only did it have stunning views, but it felt like home from home and was a wonderful place of beauty where we could be creative.

The morning light over the sea was incredible each day (apart from the day it rained) and although we knew we couldn’t capture the scale of the beauty, we had a bash at it one morning. We called the resulting time lapse “Sea Meets Sky” – to be honest we would have loved to have dedicated more time to it, but there are so many exciting things to do and see in that part of Cornwall and we didn’t want to leave the camera all by itself.

However, we did decide to dedicate our day in Marazion to capturing a hungry sea consuming the causeway:

We had a minor creative disagreement as to the composition for the first part of the time lapse (should we focus on the silhouette of St. Michael’s Mount, or people crossing the causeway?), but that doesn’t really matter as after an hour and a half we chose to move to a better location anyway! The tide times really were perfect as it was slowly getting dark just as the sea was lapping over the top of the causeway. We won’t lie – it was absolutely freezing sitting with the camera, but it was also incredibly beautiful.

So was it just a holiday of time lapses? Not really – we did take plenty of photos too – why not check out the album of photos on our Facebook page or the selection of photos in our Flickr account (there are fewer on Flickr!). Whilst you’re there, feel free to follow us or become a fan of our page!


Moor time lapsed

Dartmoor. A rugged landscape with bracken, ponies and us (briefly) yesterday. We stopped to have a picnic in the car by the side of the road and the view was so incredible that we had to take a photo…but then again the cloud movement looked cool, so we decided on a time lapse.

We set up a tripod with camera on top, manual exposure of a 20th of a second (so that cars would appear as blurs) and set it to take a picture every 30 seconds. Adding a neutral density graduated filter (a bit of glass that sits in front of the lens with a graduation from clear to dark) brought out the detail in the sky. As you can see from the result above, the bubbling clouds are pretty awesome, the ponies moving around are quite cool and we have a few cars occasionally, BUT…it’s very short. We only hung around for half an hour, and once you roll the footage up at 24 frames per second, you get a brief snapshot rather than an epic story. It would be lovely to spend a whole day on Dartmoor at some point to get a richer end product.

This is our third proper time lapse as Lightbulb Head – the first one was at our wedding (we’ll reveal it once we’ve added sound to it) and the second was of melting snow a couple of weeks ago. With each one we’ve learned new things; the main things we’ve noted from this one are the vignetting in the top left corner from the filter holder (schoolboy/schoolgirl error) and to remember that although the camera shoots in a 3:2 aspect ratio, we’ll want the final video in 16:9, which affects the composition. We’ll keep on trying though and we’ll share the results with you as we do.


Burnt by firewire

WARNING: if you have a camcorder with a firewire connection, even though the standard supports plug and play, turn off your PC and camcorder before connecting them (and disconnecting them) to avoid a power surge (caveat – may not apply to 4-pin to 4-pin cables as they don’t carry power…but then again they may have their own issues with static charges!).

As you may gather from the above statement, issues with a firewire cable (or 3) have made us slightly hot under the collar and have made the circuit board in our camcorder even hotter. Less Kentucky Fried Chicken and more Firewire Fried Camcorder. Here’s our tale of woe…


After our previous Canon camcorder was stolen last year, the insurance company provided us with a lovely Canon Legria HV40 HD camcorder – a cracking camera (an assessment which we still stick by). We shot some footage using it, including our wedding video and then decided to try to transfer the contents from the tapes to a computer – firewire being the only real option to transfer it whilst retaining the high definition. Armed with the firewire cable we plugged the camera in…and smelled burning. Not good. The computer wouldn’t recognise the camera. Assessing that it might be a dodgy cable, we went out and bought a Belkin cable, plugged that in and still no joy, then tried it with a friend’s computer – still no joy.

Enter Canon services stage right (well, actually we sent the camcorder to them, but it sounds more dramatic if they enter!). Within a week that had returned the camcorder to us, fixing the issue free of charge (the camera is still within the year’s warranty), with reference to a burned out circuit board, enclosing a sheet of A4 paper talking about dodgy cables. This detailed at length that some cables have a shorter 4-pin section than others, which can lead to short-circuiting in the camera depending on how it is plugged in. There was also a small section saying that to be on the safe side, both computer and camera should be switched off when plugging in a firewire cable…seems strange in this day and age with plug and play devices, but hey ho. Nothing about that in the manual; in fact that’s a direct contradiction to their instructions in the manual where it says to start the computer before connecting the camera:


To give them credit, there is warning to say that if you insert the DV connector the wrong way round, it could damage the camera, but inserting it the wrong way looks very difficult to do!


So, we tried the Belkin cable again and were very happy to begin to transfer our wedding video. Just over an hour into the video, the connection began to stutter, so we tried unplugging the camera and plugging it back in, but to no avail. Dodgy cable? We thought Belkin were quite a good brand. Out we trotted to purchase a new cable (well, we didn’t actually trot), but that didn’t work either. So…back to Canon with the camera. This time it was less good news.

It turns out that ours is not an isolated case of Firewire Fried Camcorder – just perform a search for those three words online and you’ll read many horror stories, and not just for Canon (although it appears that the Canon HV20, Canon HV30 and Canon HV40 are particularly bad). However Canon have assured us that it is user error that caused the fried circuit board – they only repaired it for free the first time “as a goodwill gesture” and are unwilling to take any responsibility for our damaged camera, quoting over £200 to replace the circuit board. And that’s a generous quote for parts + VAT only and no charge for labour. However, they did acknowledge that they were aware of the vulnerability with firewire and kindly promised to pass on my suggestion to the manufacturing part of the business to maybe include surge protection in future models.

So where do we go from here? If we get it fixed (and we see no other option), we will be pedantic in ensuring that both computer and camera are turned off before connecting a brand new firewire cable (our fourth!), but apparently even having the battery in the camera can cause a potential difference, which could fry another circuit board. The whole problem might even be the computer sending a charge down the cable, so there’s no guarantee the new circuit board will be safe. Canon acknowledged that there is no 100% safe method for connecting a firewire cable to the camera. Seems like this gauntlet is a necessary one to run though if you shoot with tape, as miniDV tape decks are only made for the professional market and USB cannot stream at a high enough throughput for HD.

In summary, this saga has made us very wary about firewire; we had no idea this technology could be so dangerous and costly. The clue’s possibly in the name though…now has anyone been burnt by fireFOX…?

How to... Photography

No business like snow business!

It’s snowing! Well…it was…but there’s not quite so much of it any more…I’m still hopeful that we’ll get some more though! Back in February 2009 I had my first ever “snow day” where I couldn’t get into work and I was forced to play in the snow in Sevenoaks and build this snowman (it’s a hard life!):


Since then I’ve had several opportunities to photograph snow and over that time I’ve learned that the following few tips that I wrote back in 2009 still stand when shooting the white stuff.

  • Exposure – It’s quite difficult to get photos of snow looking as white as it actually is. The automatic metering on a camera goes ‘oooh, I see lots of white, therefore I must be over-exposing this image’. So it’s necessary to compensate in the other direction. Open up the aperture by a fraction of an f-stop, or by 1 f-stop. Most digital cameras have an option to do this, and most of the photos I take in the snow average 1 f-spot of compensation.
  • Light – Light and shadow is even more important than with normal photography, as the range of colours is diminished (mainly white), so try to keep the composition interesting. A splash of colour in an otherwise white photo always works well.
  • Protection – Keep your camera protected! This is essential. It’s often been snowing pretty hard for some of the time I have been shooting snow, so I make sure that I am quick with shots, and between shots I keep the camera covered. I also allow a little time for the camera to get used to the colder temperature outside so that the lens won’t steam up. Also, protect your batteries – they don’t like the cold, so keep any spares very close to your body.

Since 2009 I’ve had several opportunities to see “proper snow”, with my favourite being a New Year trip to Riga in Latvia a couple of years ago. The depth of snow there could be measured in feet rather than inches, even though it was regularly carted away to places outside the city. Amongst several standard winter scenes that I photographed, my favourite from the trip has to be this one, taken from the Sky bar in Riga.


In the next few days Kiri and I intend to actually start using our Flickr account ( and we’ll upload some of our snow pictures from previous years.

For now, we’ll sit in the warmth, charge up the camera batteries and hope to get some good photos of the snow tomorrow when there’s a fresh new blanket. Love it!



When I started taking photos properly, I didn’t really know much about cameras or photography. What was the relationship between aperture and shutter speed? How could I vary how much of the picture is in focus (later understood as “depth of field”)? How would I know when to use flash? What did the different lens numbers mean (I’ve now got a watch with these numbers on!)?


I found some of the answers in a book – Keep it Simple Guide to Photography. It’s a very basic book, but has some great examples, and it makes photography accessible for the beginner. I can really recommend it for anyone wanting to make more out of their existing camera, or anyone wanting to take the step from compact to SLR. In fact, I’ve recommended it to so many people over the years that I should probably get commission…aside from the fact that you can buy it for a penny at Amazon!

I say that I found some of the answers in there – but I don’t think you can fully learn photography from a book. It’s by taking loads of photos and making lots of mistakes that I’ve properly learned and that’s what I’d recommend.

But…photography is so much more than understanding your way around a camera. Some of the basic philosophies around photography that I stated in a blog post in 2008 still stand:

  • Practice the art of seeing – so often in this digital world where you can take hundreds of pictures without paying the earth, people just take photos. I know I shouldn’t be bothered by it, but it makes me sad to see people absently pointing their phone at something and clicking the button whilst not even looking.
  • Kill the phrase “I’ll fix it in Photoshop” – composition and lighting can all be changed after a shot, but you can save so much time by getting it right in the camera. I’m a real traditionalist in this respect, and don’t do any post-processing (aside from occasionally removing sensor dust from my photos)…but I find myself being more sloppy with digital photos than I am if I’ve got a film camera in my hand.
  • Style happens, don’t think about it – when I first started taking photos, I didn’t think about style, then I went through a stage where I was obsessed with “finding my own style”, and my pictures deteriorated in quality. I then forgot about style, and my own style emerged!
  • Examine your own photos– once you’ve taken a picture, look at it afterwards. I don’t just mean glance at it – critique it. Decide what you like about it, decide what you don’t, and then use what you’ve learned when taking more photos! Don’t just stop at your own photos – do the same with other people’s photos (but don’t be rude!)

Obviously you never stop learning and developing (pardon the pun) your photographic style, but I think the book and the basic philosophies got me started along the right track.

Web Design

WordPress plugin geek alert

I was considering starting this blog post with an apology for it being a bit geeky…but actually that’s not something that I should apologise for – I should celebrate it. So, in true geek style, I thought I would share what I think are the best core WordPress plugins as we start 2013. Oh – before I start, I should probably say that I’m not associated with any of the providers of these plugins, so they’re not paying me to promote them.

Image gallery plugins
Most websites that we (Kiri and I) have worked on have required some kind of image gallery. When I wrote my previous photography website (in the days before Kiri), I wrote the gallery functionality from scratch in PHP, but it didn’t have a particularly usable admin interface as I knew I’d be the only one uploading to it. However, we needed something more user-friendly for sites that other people would be updating. WordPress does have its own native gallery, but I think it is no co-incidence that if you perform a search for “gallery” within, the top result is the NextGEN gallery plugin. The flexibility that it provides in the admin interface is great, with the ability to organise images into albums and galleries, update the thumbnails etc. I’ve made a few tweaks to the CSS and navigation between pictures on a couple of our sites, but think it’s great in its raw form too.


Search plugins
Not all websites require a search functionality – in fact there’s an argument for leaving out the option to search, which allows visitors to use their favourite search engines, whether that be Google, Bing or Lycos (ah, flashback to the late 90s!). Now I’m aware that WordPress again has native search functionality, but in line with the inner workings of WordPress, the results are sorted by date. In this day and age, we’re used to search results being returned with the most relevant links up at the top – step up Relevansii. Once again, it’s got a lovely admin interface and it’s very easy to integrate.


Social media “sharing” plugins
In a world where social media is king, you want to be sharing your content with the world. Actually, scrub that. You want your visitors to be sharing your content with the world. It’s got to be easy for them to share your words of wisdom with all of their friends on Facebook, Twitter and Friends Reunited (wow, I really am having a throw-back day here). There are loads of companies begging to help you with that so you don’t have to add individual buttons to your site. Most have catchy names like addthis or sharethis – doing what they say on the tin. Something else that does what it says on the tin is sexy bookmarks. Sadly, since I started using this plugin several years ago, they’ve renamed it to “Shareaholic“, but it will always be sexy to me. You get to choose which social media sites you feature and which bits of your site you want shareable, and you’re sorted. Boom.


Cookie compliance plugin
In May 2011 the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations were updated with regards to their cookie policy (cookies are the crumbs of information that websites store on your computer so they recognise you when you visit the site again). This meant that websites have to ask the visitor’s permission before putting a cookie on their computer. Now that’s quite a bit of work for website owners to do, and for users to click “yes, I agree” on every website…so the Information Commissioner’s Office updated the guidance in May 2012 saying that actually implied consent will do. As WordPress is designed to remember someone’s name when they comment on a site, WordPress sites require a warning about cookies. I’ll be honest, I haven’t found any great plugins to warn users yet, but the best one I’ve found (aside from the spelling mistake in the word “compliance” and some CSS validation errors) is the EU Cookie Law Complience Message plugin where you can customise the warning and provide a link to your own compliance page (or the ICO website).


Anti-SPAM plugin
Before Askimet started charging for businesses to use their plugin, I probably would have recommended them (and I guess I would still recommend them for personal blogs), but actually, I’m quite happy with the in-built WordPress SPAM handling. I can’t really explain why in any better way than a blog post at does…so I won’t!

And there you have it – my favourite WordPress plugins. I’m now going to go and do something ungeeky like…ummm…ummm…you know what, who am I kidding? I’m off to to check out the latest gadget offerings from CES!



Four hundred. That’s the number of blog posts that I wrote for in the last 5 and a half years, and in the last year of that, there have been fewer than 30 posts. That’s a lot of blog posts that I don’t really want to get rid of as part of the merge with Lightbulb Head, accounting for a good few hours of my life! It’s lucky that I don’t have to – Kiri has said she’ll make a book out of them, creating the story of


However, within that vat of old blog posts, there are a few which are still pertinent today, others which are amusing to read in hindsight (think technology predictions!) and others which, quite frankly, deserve to be dropped on the floor. So, my plan is to choose some of the better posts, update them and pop them up here, but don’t worry, you won’t get all of them! I’ll start with one about my camera equipment.

Back in January 2008 (almost 5 years ago to the day) I wrote about my cameras as the most frequent question I was asked was “what camera do you use?” followed by “what do you recommend I should buy?”. I’m still asked these questions today, and I’ll come on to recommendations in a bit, but firstly, this is how my kit bag has changed:

  • Main digital camera – back in 2008, this was my trusty Nikon D50 – I still regard this as a cracking piece of kit, but I sold it to my brother-in-law. Nowadays my main digital camera is a Nikon D700
  • Main film camera – a Canon AT-1 that was my Father’s and Grandfather’s was the answer in 2008 and it’s the same answer today – it’s doing well considering it’s around 30 years old
  • Backup digital camera – I don’t think you could call my Canon Powershot A510 a backup camera, but it was the only other digital camera I owned. Now I have a Nikon D5100 that I use both as a backup, but also as my main camera when I have to think about weight of equipment
  • Backup film camera – funny story here – the answer in the original blog post was a Canon AV-1. Between then and now, I have owned every single camera in the Canon A-series (A-1, AE-1, AE-1 Program, AL-1, AT-1, AV-1) – they are beautiful items, but it did get a bit silly. I’ve now downsized again, and have just the A-1 as a backup
  • Lenses – I’ve got largely the same lenses for my film cameras – 28mm-70mm, 70mm-210mm and 50mm. Digital is where there’s been the biggest change – back in 2008 I had an 18mm-55mm. Now I’ve got an 18mm-200mm VR lens (almost welded to my D5100 – the best all-round lens I’ve owned), a 50mm, a 24mm-70mm f2.8 and an 80mm-200mm f2.8. They weigh a tonne!

So that’s the kit, but what about recommendations? Please feel free to let me know what you want to be taking photos of, and I’m happy to make individual recommendations. What I will reveal is that I intend to buy a new compact camera soon and the Panasonic Lumix TZ30 looks very attractive!



Last January I made my official move into graphic design by setting up Lightbulb Head as a business and becoming a freelancer. Full of flare and enthusiasm for this new venture, I started to think about how I might apply suitable branding to my business and I set to work designing a logo. I pondered long and hard, sketched out countless ideas and even experimented with new techniques, but found myself continuously dissatisfied with the results. I’ll admit that I’m an outright perfectionist with no desire to be cured, which can be both a hindrance and a help in my line of work, but the main spanner in the works at the time was that Lightbulb Head had only just been born and was yet to show its identity – I couldn’t quite pin down what visual form it should take.

Before long, the projects poured in and I ran out of time to work on my own design and branding. The logo remained a half-cooked plan and got shoved to the back of my to-do list… until now.

Lightbulb Head logo (black)

Perhaps driven by the dawning of a brand new year, or perhaps by my proactive husband (who is actually my polar-opposite when it comes to procrastination… we make a good team!), we’re proud to announce the completion of Lightbulb Head’s new logo.

The idea of simply using the image of a light-bulb hanging by its cable came to us once many of our more complicated ideas had been thrown out. Light is actually a very basic and fundamental thing and we decided we’d like to try and reflect this (our ethos) in our branding. The logo really sprang to life when we applied the font ‘Pompiere’ by Sorkin Type Co, its lengthy ascenders echo the image of the cable beautifully and could be interpreted as long shadows cast by the light-bulb.

The image below shows 5 different versions of the logo and 1 icon, so that it is equipped for every circumstance. Source ‘B’ is our favourite as it shows the characteristics of light (dramatically piercing the the darkness) most accurately.

logo development

All in all, we’re very pleased with the result, but there’s lots of branding work still to be done so we’d better crack on.


Mobile photography

Yesterday we went for a bit of a wander and I thought I would use the inbuilt camera on my Android Wildfire (I’m a little behind the times with phones!) rather than taking a dedicated camera, just to see what it was like. For a start I don’t have any special photo apps on my phone yet – there are just so many out there. This is what I managed to take:

Peckham Rye Common on New Year's Day

What I should probably say is that it took me about 5 minutes to take it by the time I’d taken the phone out of my pocket, unlocked the screen, been distracted by a new text message (well, 2 actually), opened the standard camera app and pointed it in the right direction, worked on a nice composition, unlocked the screen again after the 5 second inactivity time-out, chosen which point I wanted to focus on and then pressed the button. OK, some of that can be attributed to lack of familiarity with the phone, but I can’t help but think that for that amount of faffing around I could have taken a better photo on my DSLR or even a compact camera, whilst having more control over the shot. However…I was able to upload the picture directly to Flickr from the phone, which in turn automatically tweeted it – an obvious benefit.

So, my question to you is – can you recommend any good android apps for taking photos? I’m not talking about photo editing apps, but ones which give you nice control over ISO, shutter speed etc. Answers on the back of a postcard (or just reply below!)