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«A good photo should never look staged». Interview with Andrew Couldwell

«A good photo should never look staged — that isn’t real life, it’s not how humans behave or look», says Andrew Couldwell, web designer from UK. He used to be a bartender, but talent couldn`t wait anymore and Andrew started working with HTML. Today Andrew has already won certain popularity among those who are not indifferent to the topic of web design.


We would really appreciate if you could tell us a little bit about yourself. When and how did you begin your career as a web designer?

My first encounter with web design, funnily enough, came from working a part-time job at a pub. Over the bar, a local asked me, “You do artsy stuff, can you make me a website?” I said yes, having absolutely no idea how to do it! I went home and discovered that the family PC had some basic software called Microsoft FrontPage, and then I figured out the rest from there! That was probably in 1999/2000.

Soon after that, I went to art college in order to take a foundation course, Fine Art and Graphic Design. I experimented further in my own time, creating basic portfolio websites for my art. Through this, I realized web design was something that interested me more than drawing, painting and graphic design. So, I went on to do a degree in multimedia design at university – where I learned almost nothing – and continued to pursue web design in my own time. I progressed from FrontPage to Dreamweaver, then finally, to actually learning how to write HTML without the aid of any software. And I continue to progress to this day.

If the image looks ‘fake’, it’s a contradiction that reflects badly on the product/brand. 


Could you tell us about the oddest thing that has ever happened to you when you were buying or using a microstock image? (illegal use, wrong character, you bought an image just because of the small detail you needed, etc.)

I guess my oddest use of stock imagery happened in a very recent project. I had to create a winter fantasy scene, combining elements from several different (stock) photos to create a new one. Literally forging a landscape and then changing the levels, colors and such so it all worked together. It was quite a challenge! Scanning through photos for a perfect tree shape, an epic cloud formation, distant mountains, or drift of snow wasn’t my usual image sourcing experience.

andrew-couldwell-interview-2 Nike Free Yourself Dashboard. 

People or no people? Which should we expect to see more of in microstock images?

You can argue both ways. There are countless scenarios where both are useful. The answer to this question will be different for each field of photography.

I generally don’t look for stock imagery with people, as it tends to be too staged and cliché. However, it can be useful for some projects. For example, I recently worked at a startup designing fundraising tools for charities. The issues we dealt with were global, and they were usually people-centric. For charities, it can be important to have a human presence, especially to elicit an emotional response. Humanitarian, geographical and cultural projects are a great example of this, and you can’t send a photographer to the other side of the world every time you want a specific image of that sort. Stock imagery can be super useful for this.

A good photo should never look staged.

Of course, images without people can be useful too, but in my personal experience, landscape shoots are often assets the client already has – especially if the landscape is local to them and they’ve worked with a photographer in the past, or if they can find and commission a local photographer to get a specific shot. Again though, sometimes it’s just easier to source an existing image. Or if it’s an atmospheric shot, where the actual location isn’t important, and it’s more about a scene, theme or ideal, then scanning through stock photos can yield some great photos to perfect the job, which you wouldn’t have obtained otherwise.

andrew-couldwell-interview-3 Break The Bag Habit.  

Your do`s and don’ts. What would you suggest to microstock photographers?

Avoid cliché and staged photos. Also, don’t touch up your photos too much: overproduced photos are just as bad as cliché photos; a good photo should never look staged — that isn’t real life, it’s not how humans behave or look.

Avoid cliché and staged photos. 

Why create this in a photo? If you don’t believe that the photo is real, then it has failed, unless it’s intentionally ‘faked’ to fit the message, campaign or audience. We often use photos in design and advertising to convey people enjoying a place, product, experience or life. If the image looks ‘fake’, it’s a contradiction that reflects badly on the product/brand. The more natural the poses, lighting and setting, the better.

andrew-couldwell-interview-4 Protect Our Waves Petition. 

It is very tempting to download images for free instead of buying them. But it’s illegal. What would you say to people who use microstock images illegally?

It depends who the person is. If it’s a designer, then shame on them, they should know better — you should respect your fellow creative – it’s as simple as that! But I suspect, or would hope, that the majority of people stealing stock, watermarked or copyrighted images are everyday Internet users, clients, social media fanatics and bloggers, but we can still educate these people on copyright law. When you take someone’s photo, you’re stealing from them and their family. If you can’t respect that or don’t value the quality of the image or the skill of creating it, you should go take the photo yourself!

andrew-couldwell-interview-5 NASA Buzzroom. 

Any web page with just text looks blank. A good image can bring realism to the page and make it more attractive for readers or just occasional visitors. The question is what type of photo would you use for a realistic image? What about for an artificial image?

I wouldn’t agree that web pages look blank without imagery. The focus should be on the content, that’s why the user is there. Minimalism, simplicity, white-space and typography have been very popular trends in web design over the past year or so. There’s also the issue of loading times on mobile devices to consider. The availability of web fonts means we can apply more typographic treatments now. Beautiful typography can be just as effective. Images can and should be used to support and illustrate the content. has championed this ideal with its simple, clean, spacious and typographic design. Images can optionally be used in a variety of different ways or not at all — the design works just as well with or without.

Good design works just as well with imagery or without. 

Don’t get me wrong though, I think photos, art and illustrations are a great component of design, but not a necessity. They can make the design more balanced, but it has to be a great photo. If you have a photo, an illustration, or art piece that supports the text, then include it, great. However, I believe – and I often say this to clients – that if you have no good imagery available, don’t use any at all. I see countless articles online that use irrelevant imagery for the content they write. A photo for the sake of a photo — it’s just not necessary. I think it cheapens the content of the article. But like I said in the do’s and dont’s question earlier, if you’re going to use an image, use something real, believable and high-quality as opposed to cliché and stereotypical.

andrew-couldwell-interview-6 Harvey Nichols mobile. 


Do you think that a designer must know how to draw?

No, certainly not. Designer is a very broad term, though. I would think being able to draw would be incredibly beneficial to an architect, interior designer or fashion designer and priceless for an illustrator. But for a digital designer? No. Saying that though, I always like to sketch out my ideas with a sketchpad and pencil before doing anything digitally. That’s my process, and it helps me to shape an idea, but that’s just my personal preference. At a team level, or while sitting down with a client, a basic level of drawing is useful for quickly communicating an idea. But for web and app projects, sketching a user interface is little more than drawing basic shapes, which I wouldn’t qualify as being able to draw. And I don’t mean to insult anyone with a genuine skill in drawing (laughs).


Do you work as a freelancer or as staff in the company?

I’ve been a freelancer for the majority of my career. Right now I am a freelancer, but I will soon be going into an exciting full-time position. In the past, I’ve worked full-time at three agencies (in-house), full-time (freelance) at one overseas agency remotely, and part-time for a startup. I’ve run a personal project on the side for years, and I do a lot of volunteer work as a Rep at a charity too.

andrew-couldwell-interview-7 Mobile web. 


Where do you find inspiration?

I generally surf the web for inspiration, whether it’s visual inspiration on a web platform or reading articles. The website I visit the most is I like following and discovering new creative minds whose work I particularly like. I find it valuable seeing what inspires them as well, via the activity feed. I also like as a platform for reading what these types of people think.

You can find Andrew's portfolio here.
Author: Rogneda Elagina-Apperson. You can follow her on Google.