Before & Aftereffects

A picture is worth a thousand words but a good-looking picture is worth much more

Avoid the use of poor images for your promotions. The most successful publicity photos look lifelike, convincing, and are free of distracting clutter. Professional Photoshop retouching is a great way to correct poor photos to maximise the performance of your images. Being concerned with maximising image quality whether for reasons of pride if nothing else, is beside the point, because in the end everybody wants their pictures to look good on the web and in print.

The temporary home for the Christchurch Convergence dance school post 2012 earthquake featured a makeshift dancefloor made of plywood sheets ‘joined’ with black duct tape. As a result every photo of students and classes is marred by the distracting and unwanted black grid.

The good-looking image is uncluttered by unwanted objects and blemishes

Editing out the unwanted grid in Photoshop allowed the subjects of every dance studio photo to shine out as the “hero” of the image.

To shoot candid photos of students in the dance studio, the photographer elected to shoot ‘news reportage’ style. The result is high ISO jpgs, with the aperture wide open and a shutter speed of 1/80 th of a second.

This shooting strategy does away for the need for the flash, but it results in colour images that are grainy or “noisy”. Also, because of the interior low light the skin tones even of young children will be blotchy, also unsightly colour casts of green and yellow that are less than flattering may result from shooting under fluorescent lights.

The relatively slow shutter speed increases the risk that the slightest movement of the subject or the camera will yield “soft” out of focus images, slightly blurry and lacking in sharp contrast.

Portrait photography is a genre where black & white images really shine. A good black and white treatment has a way of stripping unneeded information from an image helping to emphasize specific elements to the viewer without the distraction that colour can provide. For a dance studio website the conversion of these grainy images to black and white was an optimal choice for the hero images to be used. 

Crop and straighten photos remove blemishes and unwanted objects

This photo captures the fun of the moment in this competition performance piece, but the original has some problems.

Cleaning up the image focusses the viewers’ attention on the subject.

To download the Before & Afterimage PDF click on this photo, or this link.

Clipping portraits from their backgrounds makes them very versatile

While the poise of the dancer caught in this moment is timeless and everlasting the imperfections of the original image are so distracting they subtract from her finesse.

Recomposing the shot and cleaning it up showcases the dancer’s grace and form as well as retaining a sense of place.

Once cut away from its background an image like this one becomes a very versatile publicity image that are used for many applications for print and web.

Colour & tonal correction make the image better looking

The first thing we always want to do is fix any overall tonal and/or colour problems in the image. These are commonly called “global” problems. Images that are underexposed and lacking in contrast like this one are fixed almost instantly. The image is straightened and the background elements are extended to the edges pretty quickly too.

Removing the specific blemishes and unwanted objects from the image is fixed with more time-consuming tools that take another level of specialised skills and expertise to yield the seamless result in the great looking edited image below.

Removing the specific blemishes and unwanted objects from the image yields a seamless result.

Unwanted objects impair the quality of photos

Unwanted objects impair the quality of images, making them vanish allows the simple beauty of this candid dance lesson photo to really shine.

Unwanted elements can distract from an otherwise eye-catching photo

A good black and white treatment strips away unneccessary elements and focusses the  viewers attention on the subject.

Because of the interior low light the skintones even of young children will be blotchy, also unsightly colour casts of green and yellow that are less than flattering may result from shooting under fluorescent lights.



Posters are a form of advertising that’s accessible and are quickly developed

Professional-quality campaign poster series are developed from great looking photos in a few minutes. Compared to other forms of advertising, posters are quick, easy and accessible means of getting the word out and building the right image for your campaign.

A professional’s camera will produce images that have better focus and more intention

As a photographer when asked by clients, “Can’t I just take good pictures by myself?” of course I’m going to advocate for my profession and say, “On balance it would be best to get them taken.” What my experience as a photographer and creative designer has taught me is a few things about the knowledge skill and care that goes into shooting a great photo, beginning with having the right equipment on the spot to do the job. Relative to amateur photography on compact cameras or phone cameras, it is better and more cost-effective to get your pictures taken professionally.

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8 business and non-profit websites

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Eurospace containers

Eurospace import an IKEA-like flat-packed, completely knocked down, galvanised steel containers. These kitset structures are of the sort that are suitable for storage, transport and for use as certain specialist types of buildings. The containers are delivered knocked down flat or so the customer assembles them on site. They have multiple uses such as transportable buildings, office space, storage containers, dangerous goods storage.

The client was really happy with using the Eurowood construction website CMS, and were really familiar with the cms, custom slider module, and entire user interface so their brief was to build the EuroSpace.

They have had success promoting Eurowood using this proven template so we set up the tools and through consultation populated the site with backgrounds and imagery.

With the basic navigational framework and content in place the client jumped right in and composed all the custom sliders, and have overall been very happy with the results.


Ohinetahi House & Gardens | Governors Bay

Ohinetahi is a house and gardens of international significance and they wanted a website to showcase their beautiful garden and features within the garden. For their world-class destination and visitor experience they wanted a magazine-style brochure website lavished with outstanding imagery, and the narrative of Sir Miles Warren and Pauline and John Trengrove’s restoration of the house and garden that got underway in 1977.

There were a couple of design ideas we explored initially but we ended up settling on a very clean and simple aesthetic, just a strong symmetrical image showing off the house and garden on the landing page headed up by an uncluttered navigation bar and branding element. The client is happy with the result and that it achieved their stipulations that the site be responsive, mobile ready.

The site design is a customised WordPress template for which the client provided a basic wireframe and in consultation we constructed and populated the site with all content to match their specifications.


All Greek to me Souvlaki

The client wanted to put their menu and their specialty menu items on a new brochure website which makes keeping their pricing up to date easy.

The brief also included a guestbook/customer review page where they could comment on their experiences.

As well as Greek Souvlaki they make some other specialty Greek food such as Baklava and some smoked meats.

A signature memory of our designer’s trip to Greece is that people have grapevines on rafters just like they do outside All Greek to me Souvlaki hence the grapevine background. The client loved the idea and is thrilled with how it fit in so well with the authentic Greek aesthetic that she had hoped to achieve.


Christchurch Coach Charters

The client wanted a brochure site where he could advertise that he provides coaches, buses, double-decker buses, fancy London Taxis and their drivers for all sorts of events and parties.

Christchurch Coach Charters is an established firm that has been servicing the Christchurch scene for a very long time, and they offer an amazing service, getting picked up by a chauffeur and driven around in style is a really cool experience. They wanted a way for people to be able to contact him easily and to be on the first page of Google. Their website has achieved all of these goals.

Christchurch Coach Charters is a simple HTML website comprised of basic code.


Chistchurch Uncovered

After the Christchurch earthquakes Cat Watson, who had studied archaeology all her life, found herself in a situation she never dreamed would come about. She never dreamed she would be able to practice archaeology, do ideological digs right at home, in her backyard in Christchurch. Which is what happened after the earthquakes and she and her associates quickly discovered they had huge catalogues of colonial settlement era archaeological findings that they really wanted to share and to tell the story behind them in a blog, what developed was a pleasant surprise as the blog has garnered interest from people around the world. This website is super successful. Cat never imagined that thousands of people a day would come and look at these stories, the response has been incredible. The website has done exceptionally well and exceeded all expectations.

Cat actually wanted a website and a blog, but she opted for the blog to begin with because of all of the steady stream of news posts she wanted to publish. The client has since sold the business to another party who has taken over thereins.

The client wanted a really simple website so a basic Responsive WordPress blog was built. WordPress was free, the theme was free, some basic suggestions were made about the widget options on the Right hand side. After a quick demonstration of how to make a post, the client was quick to learn and in there writing up and publishing articles straight away, it has been growing steadily each week ever since and gets read and commented on by people all over the world.


Rosemount Weddings | Darjon Vineyards Wedding Venue

The Adams’ came to Adele with the web design brief that they wanted a really eyecatching and beautiful website to sell their wedding venue hire and event planning service, with all the trimmings, in their Rosemount vineyard. The clients do the complete package, organise the entertainment, the catering, they work with lots of different entertainers and caterers, they offer top of the line, end-to-end event planning level of service.

The website has played it’s part in the marketing mix to contribute to the Rosemount venue’s business having taken off and really thrive.

The client had another website as well, which is Ohoka Horse and Carriages, and their son has a 5-piece band with a hosting package, so we offered a full professional hosting package where they could host all of their websites under the one account.

They grew to be in a position to purchase another vineyard, the Darjon Vineyard, as a wedding venue for hire as well. They now manage the two wedding venues which both do exceptionally well, mostly in summer, but to some degree throughout the year.

The second website, Darjon, we built on a responsive WordPress platform. Rosemount was built by a third party web designer using an HTML template, and while not responsive, the client is happy with the beautiful aesthetic of it. We manage the updates to the site as required throughout the year to keep everything up-to-date.



Cat Rescue

Cat rescue is an organisation that is managed and run by volunteers who find strays, collect them, vaccinate them, treat any injuries and then rehome them. Similar to the Cat Protection league and the SPCA but run entirely on donations. They also help with managing the feral cat populations all around Christchurch. They will get a call from say a factory in Addington, that they have a cat problem, to control the populations effectively it is not optimal to remove all the cats completely, so they manage the numbers using best practice methods. They also assist people who cannot afford to de-sex their cats.

This is a WordPress template site chosen that best suits their needs but it is not responsive. The site is proving a very successful hub for people wanting to adopt cats and people volunteering their time to contribute to the organisation and its mission.


Trotts Gardens

Alan and Catherine Trott are a lovely couple from Ashburton who had a crazy idea of buying a farm and turning it into a garden. They even went as far as buying the local church which they purchased for $1 and transported it to their property to set up a chapel so that people could have photos and weddings in their garden. The entire town thought they were mad, but now it has gone from a National Garden of Significance with an amazing variety of plants, to recently becoming an International Garden of Significance. The Trotts are just really happy to have their website up there containing a brief intro to their gardens and the narrative of how they came to be, a gallery of their best photos and overall just communicating the love they have for gardens, and how very passionate they are about them, and about working in nature.

The gardens are very popular as a photo venue for weddings. Asian couples often helicopter in from Christchurch to get their photos taken in Trott’s gardens.

Having promoted their gardens on generic catalogue sites for a few years the client came to us knowing that they needed to get their gardens online. The site is built using HTML and CSS and works pretty well on a mobile phone.

Allan Trott has published two books about their gardens which can be purchased from the site.

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‘Paua Aotearoa’, adults and kids T-shirt, four colour print on navy and black fabric.

Surface Active: Making waves in a sea of sameness

Surface Active art-to-wear: T-shirts in the spirit of fun.

Surface Active made in Aotearoa, T-shirts main neck label.

Surface Active T-shirts main neck label.

By the mid 1980s T-shirts had become hot promotional items, garments on the outskirts of fashion, and a relatively new medium for the Graphic Designer’s art. What had for a long time been considered a poor medium for Graphic Design grew to an almost essential one. All you have to do is walk down the street anywhere in the world since the early 80s to see what a ubiquitous promotional vehicle they have become. If you mail out 100 potential clients a direct mail brochure perhaps 200 people will see it. But mail out, or better yet, sell 100 T-shirts, and assuming they’re at all decent looking, you launch 100 walking billboards.

The trend over the past several decades has been to embrace more casual clothing, to the point of stone-washed and distressed, though this has in no way meant this sort of clothing has become less expensive or stylish. Brand awareness, including personal brand awareness has been part of this trend—to such an extent that people want, or are at least willing to flaunt, the name of the brand or designer of their shoes, jeans, and bags on the items in question. In short clothing manufacturers made their products promotional vehicles for themselves.

Surface Active art-to-wear

Promotional teeshirts take this walking billboard concept one step further by being clothing that promotes products, services, cultural and ideological views in such a way that the wearer is willing to be identified—whether through a sense of aesthetics, humour, social responsibility, or irreverence, or loyalty to a watering hole, cultural institution, environmental organisation or charity. People are willing to wear someone else’s message because they feel it says something about themselves—which is the essence of fashion.

‘Kiwi Space Shuttle’ T-shirt, six colour print on grey marle fabric.

‘Kiwi Space Shuttle’ T-shirt, six colour print on grey marle fabric. Placement; six colour front, one colour woodcut around hem front and back.

Initially our Surface Active art-to-wear T-shirts were designed to be retailed by us and also to be wholesaled to environmental organisations such as Greenpeace and the Maruia Society, for inclusion particularly in their annual pre-Xmas direct mail catalogue campaigns and sold in their retail stores.

As design pARTners in the visual arts Chrissie Terpstra and I sought to apply our teeshirt design skills to everything from promoting small businesses and one-time events, to our Surface Active art-to-wear wildlife, Kiwiana and nuclear free collections for the likes of Wild Places and The Epicentre, Christchurch’s two ecostores, and for Greenpeace and the Maruia Society. Our market developed to include DoC visitor centres and similar conservation themed retail outlets in National Parks the length and breadth of the country, and the prestigious Te Papa store at the then brand new National Museum in Wellington. As our business and reputation grew we were commissioned by the likes of the International Antarctic Centre, Orana Park and certain DoC conservancies to design and produce custom ranges of adult and children’s shirts.

‘Adelie Penguins, Antarctica’ adult’s and children’s two colour T-shirt print on white fabric.

‘Adelie Penguins, Antarctica’ adult’s and children’s two colour T-shirt print on white fabric. Placement; Complementary graphics, two colours front and back.

This delightful collection is from our SurfaceActive Art-to-Wear range 1996–2000.

In terms of our T-shirt design itself, it evolved from straightforward application of a symbol or logo, screenprinted on the kitchen table in our flat in 1986, sometimes hand painted to finish, to approaches that treat the shirt as a canvas, involving printing the garments as piecework prior to being stitched up by local seamstresses. Whereas our early designs simply applied graphics to the front of the shirt, our designs developed into appearing on the front and back, wrap around, and encircling the hems and sleeves. Treating the T-shirt we were printing on as the design of a piece of clothing in the round. We also developed from printing initially printing white and light coloured shirts to having our locally made pure cotton garments custom dyed in vivid dark hues in small batches prior to their speciality “dark shirt” printing.

The mechanics of hand-screen printing fabric

When you are printing on cotton fabric with seams you cannot get the kind of fine detail you can printing on paper. The fabric absorbs the inks or dyes and the colour spreads through the fibres—the fabric equivalent of dot gain.

Surface Active print shop, Jewelled gecko hand pulled eight colour Teeshirt printing in progress.

With our layered or hand-separated multicolour designs the colour is laid down in areas with the hand-pulled silk-screening process, with “flash-curing” of the print between colour passes, in some cases up to 10 passes to print one garment, front, back, hem and sleeves, one colour at a time.

Fabric colour and the issue of “hand” or feel of the fabric printing inks

‘Jewel Gecko - New Zealand’ eight colour T-shirt print on dark green fabric.

‘Jewel Gecko – New Zealand’ eight colour T-shirt print on dark green fabric. Placement; Eight colour front print, one colour kowhaiwhai print front and back around hem.

The other reason other than avoiding toxic (and highly hazardous) solvents that are used for printing “Plastisol” inks, and for selecting water based inks and dyes as the better option is that of the “hand” or feel of the ink. Water-based inks have a nicer feel to them but they are more difficult to work with as they easily cure, “dry in” or clog the stencil especially in peak demand hot summer weather, rendering it useless and in need of remaking. Waterbased dyes have no “hand” to them as such as the screenprint literally dyes the light coloured fabric.

Custom designed and built in-line printing workshop

We developed a custom in-line sequential printing methodology, rather than rotary print methodology in our back-shed “sheltered workshop” to successfully overcome the drying-in drawback of waterbased printing dyes and Supercover inks. It was achieved by way of additional manual labour and an innovative use of my own design of screen holding humidifier boxes for keeping the ink and screens moist between print runs. 

‘Harlequin Gecko - New Zealand’ eight colour T-shirt print on charcoal marle fabric.

‘Harlequin Gecko – New Zealand’ eight colour T-shirt print on charcoal marle fabric. Placement; Eight colour front print, one colour woodcut print front and back around hem.

If you want to lay down a light colour on a dark shirt you have to use acrylic Super-cover inks, in some cases laying down two light coats to best build opacity while preserving detail. Flash curing in between is the only way ensure print quality is maintained throughout the print run

If your dark shirt design has a lot of solid light ink coverage you end up making something that has the feel of a bullet-proof vest when you’re wearing it. We avoided this by planning our designs to combine both ink and dye passes, colours darker than the fabric colour are dyes, lighter ones are super-opaque acrylics, all required flash curing between.

The other huge benefit with water-based inks, aside from wash-up with water, and their “thinners” being water, is that the finished garment once flashed off to the point of being touch dry is given a final cure in just 20 minutes in a domestic tumble dryer rather than a 6m long high-tech curing oven.

Surface Active wildlife collage design fabric print on bedding set.

Surface Active wildlife collage design, step and repeat one colour fabric print on custom bedding set.

Optimising the illustration workflow for easy printing and graphic quality

‘Ocean - New Zealand’ one colour children’s T-shirt print on navy blue and jade green fabric.

‘Ocean – New Zealand’ one colour children’s T-shirt print on navy blue and jade green fabric. Placement; One colour front and back. ‘Puff’ printed emboss effect ink.

One of our specialities is one colour “puff printed” designs, the so called puff inks contract when cured and so draw up the fabric surface. This has a tremendous tactile and visual effect on single colour dark shirt prints such as the Tuatara and children’s Ocean and Forest floor designs.

I developed a variation of drawing wildlife art for reproduction from classic zoology methods, using mixed media, charcoal pencil with pen and ink on coquille board to achieve a crisp “line and tone” effect from one colour “line” images.

Garment prices scaled with print cost

With hand-pulled screen printing the cost of printing a batch of shirts scales with the number being produced up to a certain point, set-up and clean-up time being equal regardless of quantity. The number of graphic “placements” (a graphic on the front is one placement, front and back, two placements, etc.), and the number of colours, type of ink used,. per graphic also determines the printing cost.

Regarding the gallery and our T-shirt models

As with other some portfolios on the site Archive the over 40 designs included here are collected from the period between 1988–2002 of our Surface Active printed garment editions. I have made no effort to force the shirts into defined categories; rather, I present them in a manner intended to inspire and entertain—an approach appropriate to the spirit of fun that T-shirts represent.

‘Weta - New Zealand’ T-shirt, adults and kids, on oatmeal and grey marle fabric.

‘Weta – New Zealand’ T-shirt, adults and kids, on oatmeal and grey marle fabric. Adult garment a six colour print. Placement; piecework, front, back and sleeve.

In that light-hearted vein a shout-out must go to our T-shirt models from back-in-the-day, the kids are all 20-or-30-something now at time of writing. Our compliments and lasting gratitude are also due to their T-shirt modelling parents, our friends. SurfaceActive employed most of them as our highly-trusted sales crew selling from our stall at the weekend Christchurch Arts Centre Market, come rain or shine, year-round 1988–2002.


Design and Art Direction: Design pARTners, Chrissie Terpstra and Shaun Waugh
Illustrator: Shaun Waugh
Hand-pulled screen printing: Surface Active: Chrissie Terpstra and crew

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