Burn the Ice: Bryan Cerenzio by Rachel Ford

“I’ll tell you about my first and only trip to New Orleans…” says musician Bryan Cerenzio, who tends bar at Richlane in Brooklyn and works with House of Vans. What follows is a tale of lust and youthful inhibition while touring in 2009.

In his early twenties, Bryan was on tour with his psychedelic rock band, The Technicolor Victrola, traveling the United States in a Blue Bird school bus that had been converted to run on vegetable oil. The bus, nicknamed Greased Lightning, carried the four members (Bryan, his brother, and two childhood friends) from their hometown of Southern California cross-country to pick up their tour mates, a mix of hippie-punk musicians on the east coast.  

After reaching New York and amassing a group of 18-20 people –plus their gear ­– for the 30-day tour, they headed south in the grease-fueled bus (which had no cots and no bathrooms). “We had to coordinate bathroom breaks for 18 people,” recalls Bryan. “It was pretty awful.” There was limited access to comfortable bathrooms and showers, and many nights were spent either sleeping on the floor of the bus, or on the floors of homes in the towns they passed through.

Following shows, they’d drive in search of a restaurant from which to fuel up the bus, covertly siphoning vegetable oil from tanks around back. “Japanese restaurants always had the best grease,” he notes. Only once were they caught and threatened with criminal consequences; more likely, they’d face unusable frozen oil when the temperatures dropped or trouble finding the resource they needed altogether – all while exhausted after performing.

There were three or four women on the bus, one of whom was Bryan’s childhood friend-turned-girlfriend, a relationship that lasted until precisely the night of their last show on the road. Young, crazy, and partying every night, the couple cycled through constant fights and passionate love, which was exacerbated on a cramped school bus with no privacy or personal space. “We had good days and bad days. New Orleans was the beginning of the end…”

After a show in North Carolina and an especially challenging time finding grease in the freezing March night, everyone was on edge as they made their way to the Big Easy. They arrived in New Orleans in the early morning hours, eager to fully experience the city before their show that evening. A local band met them for lunch, bringing with them a cardboard box of boiled crawfish and corn on the cob, which they all ate hungrily while constantly drinking Hurricanes. They followed the meal up with beignets. Everything was going well.

They showed up to the location of their gig, a building that looked like a church, possibly located in a far corner of the French Quarter, and after setup they had some downtime. Bryan and his girlfriend were having a good day and she approached him to tell him she wanted to spend some alone time together. They boarded the empty bus, only to be met by two local kids asking to come on-board. They let the kids on and set out to find another place to be intimate.

The sun was still out and they were in a neighborhood, but they managed to find an isolated ghost town of a promenade with no one around where they could get busy. When they were finished, Bryan looked over her shoulder to see an “old crackhead guy” with a flip phone out and pointed in their direction. After a heated exchange that ended in threats to call the police on both sides, all parties left the promenade. Bryan was chuckling to himself about the situation; Bryan’s then-girlfriend was very unhappy and when they arrived back at the venue, it was no longer a good day. The two continued bickering and drinking throughout the show and by the time it was 5:30 am and they had reconciled, everyone was gone from the venue except one of their roadies.

The next show – later that evening – was an important one; they were heading to Austin to play SXSW. Thinking they’d been left in New Orleans, the three ate breakfast and proceed to post up in a bar until about noon, when their angry tour manager found them and ushered them back to the bus. After twenty hours of solid partying (which he compares to a scene in Almost Famous), they began what Bryan calls “the shortest walk of shame of all time.” They boarded Greased Lightning with their heads down, avoiding eye contact with 18 angry faces. He calls the ride to Austin the worst hangover of his life.

They made it for the show and were stuck in Austin for two weeks afterward. Bryan and his girlfriend broke up on the night of their last tour stop, the “Welcome Home” show back in Southern California. Two years later, in 2011, Bryan moved to New York. Today he plays in PPL, a three-piece 90s grunge band formed with one of his Technicolor Victrola bandmates. They just released their first album, Post Personality Loss (now available on Spotify), and started their own label, No Hitter Records, a reference to baseball.

Selfie central by Rachel Ford

Have you ever visited a location that made you ask yourself, "Which international tour book is this in?" We experience this feeling every time we exit our building (yes, we live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn). But seriously, which tour book?

Last week we rode our bicycles to DUMBO (which stands for "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass"), where the two bridges frame a waterfront park. We were expecting tourists; we were not expecting mayhem. Surrounding the intersection on Water and Washington streets were hoards of people with various apparatuses for taking photographs: cell phones, selfie sticks, iPads, GoPros, and even professional cameras. It was comical to watch people compete for space to snap an image of their subject with the bridge in the background. Apparently it's a known thing, as evidenced by this article.

There were parents heeding their teens' requests to take sexy photos as others waited for their turn to get a shot.

There were people risking trespassing violations to get the perfect angle with the bridge in the background.

And it just wouldn't stop: partial nudity, supermodel posing, even pushing to get a clear view. Plus, the threat of cars trying to use the street as an actual street!

Here are a few more of our favorite photos of people taking and posing for photos. So meta.

Have any unexpected tourist locations of your own to share? Leave them in the comments below. We're always looking for interesting places to capture photos...

Burn the Ice: Thomas Spaeth by Rachel Ford


“I’ll tell you one of the most unique, memorable experiences of my life…” offers Thomas Spaeth, bartender at Dear Irving in Manhattan and Bar Uni in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. What follows is his true tale of seeking solitude and finding solidarity as a young twenty-something abroad.

In 2009, Thomas was living in Madrid and funding his vagabond lifestyle by teaching English. Teaching afforded summers off from work and he found himself with a lot of time on his hands to travel throughout the country. Up until this point, Thomas had never experienced traveling independent of friends or family, but wanted to experience the independence of traveling solo. After visiting a friend in Barcelona, he boarded a bus to San Sebastián; in one day of travel he fell in love with the country and decided that wanted to stay longer than his intended six months.

While in Northern Spain, Thomas decided to embark upon an ancient pilgrimage called El Camino De Santiago to grow as an individual. He bought a backpack and supplies and set out on his journey. The pilgrimage is thought to be a spiritual path leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Modern pilgrims follow the ancient route directed by distinct markers and stop to sleep in hostels called albergues. Each leg of the journey is a step leading to the next hostel, all directed by the markers that became Thomas’s lifeblood. He describes walking along unmarked paths, hoping he was not lost and the relief felt upon seeing the symbol of the gold scallop shell (the modern symbol of the way).

Because he spoke Spanish, Thomas could communicate with fellow travelers and though he set out alone, he made friends along the way. When his adopted group was caught in a rainstorm, they sought shelter and came upon a charming albergue with an attached farm. Wet and weary, they were met by staff at the gate and led to a stone tavern room, where they were served fresh fruit by the warmth of a fireplace. Once settled, they were taken to the bunk house and offered rest and a warm shower.

When it was time for dinner, the group was led to a communal table with a full spread of food and bottles of wine. At the head of the table was a man who resembled Santa Claus, the presumed host. When the meal was complete, the man rose from the head of the table and welcomed the group in Spanish. He announced that he wanted to speak to them about the important things in life and selected Thomas to translate.

As the man spoke about humanity and the inequality in the world, he paused periodically for Thomas to share his message with the group, and Thomas recalls twelve wide-eyed faces turning in unison between the two men with each pause. Through Thomas, the host encouraged everyone to seek to understand the people of the world, and attempt to walk in each other’s shoes. “There I was delivering the words of a prophet at twenty-three years old,” he recalls.


The group eventually retreated to bed, and when they awoke, Thomas approached the man to thank him. He led Thomas upstairs to tour his own personal museum of humanity, with old photographs and cultural artifacts from places including Southeast Asia, South America and Africa – a glimpse into global citizenship. Thomas set out on a journey to find himself, and instead found the power of human connection.

All in all, the pilgrimage took thirty-four days, but the highlight remains the experience at the albergue. “Am I the same?” he ponders. He likens the encounter to a really long mushroom trip: so clear in the moment but in the end the specifics are a hazy memory. To this day, Thomas does not know the identity of the man. “It was just a stop along the way, but one day I hope our paths cross again.” As a permanent reminder, he has the scallop marker symbol tattooed on his big toe.

Burn the Ice by Kyle Ford


We are excited to announce the return of a regular segment on the FML blog: Burn the Ice

Burn the Ice will be an on-going story-telling blog series. The name is derived from an industry term for melting the ice in a bar's well by adding hot water. Typically this is done at the end of the night. For us, it's symbolic of the end of a shift, when random stories and unique aspirations are shared over a shift drink.

The idea for the series grew out of the 30-Second Stir interviews we conducted back in our Ford Mixology Lab days, when we would interview some of our favorite bartenders while sitting at their bar. The premise for Burn the Ice is perhaps more open-ended, as it starts with a single question:

"Tell us a true story."

Check back here for regular updates and explore the photos at #burntheice on Instagram.

Want to be featured? Shoot us an email at info@fordmedialab.com. We plan on adding to the series near weekly.  As we live in Brooklyn, Burn the Ice will be predominately NYC focused, but you never know where our adventures will take us. 

Be defiant by Rachel Ford

Swampy H NWB.jpg

Have you watched HBO's The Defiant Ones? It is amazing for so many reasons, but above all we found it to be highly inspirational. Watch it – and then live by these quotes.

"If you want to accomplish something that hasn't been accomplished, you have to be relentlessly and unapologetically determined." – Bruce Springsteen

"Be true to yourself. Be true to your art. Never take it for granted." – The D.O.C.

"You don't have to conform. You can be as raw as you need to be." – Ice Cube

"Don't ever change who you are." – Eminem

"You can't please everybody." – Patti Smith

"Deliver quality." – Tom Petty

"Do more. Do more. You're the underdog." – Will.i.am

"Do it again. Do it again. Do it again." – Gwen Stefani

"Stay in the fucking saddle." – Jon Landau

"Treat everything like it's your first opportunity." – Kendrick Lamar

"Quit fucking around." – Trent Reznor

Which will be your new mantra? Share in the comments below.


FML book club by Rachel Ford

In an effort to never stop learning, I've made it a goal to read at least one non-fiction book each month. I'm currently an avid reader of fiction – I tear though a book every week on my Kindle – but murder mysteries are hardly going to inspire action (at least any action I will be taking). I searched online for favorite motivational books of entrepreneurs and picked a few promising titles to start.

This week, I tore through The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don't Have with People You Don't Like Doing Things You Don't Want to Do by Sarah Knight. We give it four martinis up, highly recommend.

I couldn't put it down. The title is cheeky (it is a parody, after all), but the sentiment is completely practical. The idea is to opt out of obligation without being an asshole and to free yourself from caring about what others think (#notsorry). I laughed, I made lists, and I stopped giving so many f*cks. If you constantly feel overextended and obligated to people or things, READ IT!

What should we read next? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Exploring what lies beneath by Rachel Ford

A few weeks ago, Kyle and I participated in an underground tour of the New York Subway system. The last time I signed us up for a tour it did not go well (Kyle WOULD NOT recommend a ghost tour of Greenwich Village, if anyone is interested), so he was hesitant when I told him we'd be touring the subway. I pictured us walking through damp and dark underground tunnels, snapping photos of the dwellings of the illusive Mole People, but that was obviously not what the MTA had in mind.

On a summer Saturday morning, we trekked down to the Financial District for the tour, which began at the entrance to the Chambers Street station. Our guide, Gary, was awesome. Once I knew we weren't going to be wandering around in the dark next to the tracks I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was interesting and informative nonetheless. Did you know there's a commissioned work by Roy Lichtenstein in the Times Square station? Or that the original (now closed) City Hall station can be seen in all its glory from the windows of the 6 train? How about the amount of horse manure (in tons) that polluted the city streets before the trains were built – trains that were once above ground?

Aside from the learnings of the tour itself, it got us thinking... Here's something that we walk over and ride on every day that we never once had taken the time to contemplate or appreciate.  When you think about it, the subway is really an incredible thing. What is also fascinating is that tour guides like Gary have so much knowledge about one specific aspect of the city. What inspires one to become an expert on the history of the subway, or pizza places, or graffiti murals – or ghosts for that matter? Perhaps some day we'll write about it, or rather them. There is wonder all around (and beneath) us; sometimes you just have to stop and take the time to process it.

Subway station lighting is not designed for beautiful photography, but we made due. A few of our favorite snaps are below. For more subway-related imagery, keep an eye out for our upcoming project, Last Stop.

The making of a magazine: sharing our process by Rachel Ford

He shoots/she writes. Want to know what it takes to make a magazine? 

Kyle Ford, Creative Director

What inspired you to make a magazine? Honestly, a great question to which I have a two answers. First, I have an affinity for thoughtful printed publications. With information and entertainment in our day to day lives having gone nearly completely digital, I find myself having a certain romanticism for something you can hold. Print is only dead until you pick it up again. However, I do believe that the quality of printed projects today needs to start with the intent of being non-disposable (think bi-annual publications like Cereal and Drift). Otherwise, digital channels will certainly eat your content and work alive.

As for 1806 magazine, specifically, I spent 7 years working in the spirits industry, 5 as a brand ambassador for Rémy Cointreau. While traveling the world, training bartenders, bar owners, and consumers on the merits of fine spirits, I got to know a lot of people. It was my job, after all. I learned that the bar industry attracts some of the most creative minds with intriguing back stories. The idea eventually formed over conversations (and martinis) with Rachel to somehow tell these stories. The intent of the project was to do something completely disruptive in the cocktail space. Instead of creating just another magazine about cocktails, why not make a magazine about the people who make and enjoy cocktails? An interesting recipe that we’ve since realized can be applied to any industry. Stop talking about the product! You know? Talk about the people who make it and the people whose lives are enriched by it. That is far more interesting.

What is your process for taking photos for the magazine? For 1806 magazine, I wanted to visually capture three things: the people we chose to interview, their individual context, and their shared context. For Volume 1, this meant portraits, scenery and textures from bars, and photos evocative of the uniqueness of New York City. Photographing the portraits was the most challenging, as I intentionally shot the majority of them while Rachel was interviewing the subject.  

What do you aim to capture in your portraits? People in thought. I actually credit this project with helping me develop this very specific style of portrait. I tried to avoid taking posed portraits as much as possible, often utilizing Rachel as my “squeaky toy” to engage the subject in thought. While it is not simple to capture the right moment, when it is done correctly it reveals to the real person behind the stories being told. This can sometimes produce difficult images to look at, but that is okay with me. I want to portray the underlying emotions that make people who they are.

What do you hope to convey with your photos? Going back to my process for taking photos, I would say context. I want the reader of 1806 magazine to gain a sense of who these characters are – within their environment. Only then can we truly begin to understand each other. This is one reason I included so many photos of the textures of the bars and surrounding city. For someone who has never been to New York City, I wanted them to get a strong sense of what it feels like to be here.

Rachel Ford, Editor in Chief

What is your process for selecting contributors for the magazine? Our aim was to tell the stories not often told. As one bartender recently put it best, "Most people get into bartending by accident," which generally alludes to an interesting backstory. Over the years as a brand ambassador, I met and connected with so many talented individuals and got to know details about their lives beyond the bar; these stories were worth telling. For volume 1, we were able to draw upon the bartenders in our own backyard; for volume 2, we relied upon the eyes and ears of local bartenders to help fill in the blanks of our storyboard.

What is your process for interviewing contributors? I require only three tools for contributor interviews: a spiral-bound notebook, a pen, and listening capabilities. I take all of the notes by hand and am repeatedly asked why I don't record the interviews to either electronically transcribe or play back later. My answer is that there's something about writing as I listen that keeps me present in a way that transcribing afterward does not. By the end of interviews for volume 2, my hand was perpetually cramped and I was rethinking my strategy!

What questions do you ask in your interviews? I remember our first interview in NYC clearly. Having minimal experience interviewing people, I was worried about being adequately prepared, so I purchased a spiral-bound notebook and wrote five or six questions inside as prompts. An amazing thing happened when we sat down for that first interview: I only had to ask question number one. This question became so powerful in eliciting the response that we wished to capture that it has been the only question asked of all contributors to date: Where are you from? 

What do you hope to convey with your writing? My goal is two-fold; I feel both a responsibility to the city and to the contributors to tell their stories with authenticity, accuracy and respect. From the standpoint of the city, it is important to us to include as comprehensive of a snapshot as possible. For the contributor stories, it is important to us to convey the uniqueness of the individual and a relatable human element. I hoped to write something that would read like an inspiring biographical story and draw interest from readers both inside and outside of the world of cocktails and spirits.

Have any other questions for us? Leave them in the comments below.

A new perspective by Rachel Ford

When you're hyper-focused on achieving your goals, it can become easy to get stuck in a rut. Specialization and repetition are important for establishing your brand identity, but so is growth; in order to grow, you've got to challenge yourself. Whether it be by reading, observation, or attending educational sessions, it's crucial to step outside of your box every once in a while to see what else is out there. 

One way to gain new perspective is to collaborate with and learn from others in your field; in our case, that means connecting with other photographers, writers, and creatives. In the past several months we've attended some valuable free photography events at Adorama and Sony Square in NYC, where we've gained knowledge and made connections with other photographers.

Yesterday Kyle and I joined talented photographer and Sony Alpha Collective member, Dave Krugman (pictured above), for a Depth and Composition photo walk hosted by Sony at Sony Square NYC. After getting inspired to add layers of depth to our photographs, we headed out into Madison Square Park to test out the technique. We have been fans of Dave's work since discovering him on Through The Lens: Cuba (which we watched to prepare for our own trip), so we were excited for the opportunity to shoot with him.

The premise of the exercise was to view either the foreground or background as a secondary subject and utilize it to add depth and perspective to the image. This technique is something that I had already developed a fondness for because I love the context that a slightly blurred object in the foreground adds. What I had not tried was shooting from behind a bush with our 200mm lens, which made me feel both super creepy and oddly exhilarated at the same time. Kyle focused on the foreground image in his shots, utilizing a blurred background to add context. By challenging ourselves and viewing the images of Dave and the other photo-walkers, we gained a new perspective.

Check out some of our favorite shots from the walk below (Kyle's are on the left, mine are on the right), and visit Sony Square for a list of upcoming events. What do you think of the technique?

Soaring into our second year by Rachel Ford

As Kyle and I approach our the first anniversary of making FML our full-time gig, we've been experiencing many emotions: accomplishment, awe, anticipation, excitement, hope, and a little fear. Even in such a short period of time, the business that we started has evolved into a different – and better – version of itself. Change is necessary for growth, but as we've grown it has become apparent just how much our business has changed. 

When we drafted our business plan over one year ago at a quaint wine bar in Manhattan, we wrote out the vision, mission and values; eleven months in – with tons of content created and two magazines under our belt – it was time to revisit the ethos of our company. First things first, you may have noticed that we've changed the M in FML from Marketing to Media. This change was born out of realizing that what we planned to do was ultimately only a small piece of what we would actually end up doing. Finding our niche allowed us to better understand our strengths and capabilities, as well as our limitations.

Here are three lessons from our first year that we hope to bring into year two:

1. Find balance- When you're solely responsible for your business, it can seem like there's no such thing as free nights and weekends. It's easy to get caught up in working constantly, which can lead to burnout. Use tools like time blocking and calendar management to hold yourself accountable to a schedule and remember to make time for exercise, meals, rest, and quality time with your friends and family. Not only will you be healthier and happier, but you'll avoid setting a dangerous precedent with your clients that you are always available.

2. Stay flexible- If opportunities present themselves that are outside of your intended wheelhouse, consider if it is worth it to expand your capabilities. If clients are consistently seeking a different service from you than the one you offer, ask yourself if you're offering the correct product or service. If something you thought you'd be willing to do suddenly seems like a waste of time or resources, stop doing it. Understand your market and constantly seek ways to improve your business; change leads to growth and growth leads to change.

3. Be aware- There will be challenges. Often, the same challenges will present themselves time and time again. Pay careful attention to the actions that continually lead to frustrating circumstances and invest the effort into achieving a different outcome. On the flip-side, take note of actions that lead to positive outcomes and repeat them! Many of the most annoying problems have incredibly easy solutions – you only have to be open to finding them. 

Do you have any tips of your own you'd like to share? Leave them in the comments below.

Choosing a magazine cover by Kyle Ford

Looking at the calendar, I can't believe that it has already been 3 months since the launch of 1806 Magazine! Today, Rachel and I decided to go through the photos used (and not used) in the making of Volume 1 and came across the 8 different covers we pitched to Collectif 1806.

I thought it would be useful to share some insights into our creative process, since we struggled with what should be present on the cover.

Choosing the right cover for volume 1 of 1806 Magazine was vital, since it would literally be the project's first impression to the world. It would also set a precedent for any forthcoming volumes. We wanted something that would attract the eye, pique curiosity, hint at the contents within, and create strong brand recognition. 

This first question we asked was, "Do we put a cocktail on the cover?" After all, this was to be a magazine that focuses on cocktail culture. As you'll see below, our instinct was no. We wanted to simply highlight the locality of the volume and draw people in with Collectif 1806's arcane logo and the tagline: "The defining stories of thirsty people." We knew that the personal stories and variety of photographs within would be interesting regardless of the reader's penchant for consuming cocktails. We didn't want to limit our potential audience by making a visual statement about the contents.

Alas, by the time we had placed a cocktail photo into the InDesign template, we knew that there was no going back. Fate was sealed for 1806 Magazine. Cover 8, as predicted, was quickly approved over the other options. Once the beautiful printed copies of the magazine were in hand, I had already forgotten about what could have been.

Looking back, I still have an attachment to number one, three, and five. Cover 1 served as the placeholder during the making of the magazine. The rays of light beaming down upon the dark silhouette of Manhattan seemed to nearly capture the inimitable spirit of New York and the people who live here. Plus, I just got used to looking at it.

As we toyed around with alternate covers, I was sold on Cover 3, which is the door to Do or Dive. I liked that it was a photo of a dive bar in Bed-Stuy and not some fancy cocktail bar in Manhattan. This is a place that NYC industry folk, who often live in Brooklyn, would easily stop after a shift for a shot and a beer. Also, the sign touted an undeniable message of hospitality: "You are always welcome here."

Cover 5 was taken under the elevated subway tracks of Queens. It had absolutely nothing to do with cocktails, but everything to do with New York City. Since our headline story ventured into the street art scene, and photos of street art would be scattered throughout, a graffitied cover made sense.

The final cover was actually a photo I took at a Collectif 1806 cocktail hour at Featherweight. It is of a Begonia cocktail, containing The Botanist Gin, Creme de Violette, Cointreau, Cocchi Americano, and Absinthe, crafted by Matthew Houlihan. Funny enough, I had only intended to use the photo for my Instagram (I did on January 23), as we had more or less wrapped the magazine. As cover doubts emerged in the magazine's finalization, I remembered the Begonia photo and decided to try it out. What do you think? A beautiful cocktail ended up as a beautiful cover.

Cover 1

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Cover 2

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Cover 3

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Cover 4

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Cover 5

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Cover 6

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Cover 8

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1806 Magazine, Vol. 1: New York City by Kyle Ford


We just launched a magazine!

We collaborated with Collectif 1806 to create the bi-annual 1806 Magazine. Each volume will focus on a different city and reveal a photographic and journalistic cross-section of its cocktail culture. By sharing a snapshot of unique individuals and their settings, we hope to pay homage to a community-at-large that thinks outside the glass – the bold few who were called to the bar to shake up the status quo and inspire the stories worth telling.

Available now: Volume 1 - New York City.

Only 3,000 copies. Check our store for availability.

10 essentials for smartphone photography by Kyle Ford

Kyle's Pixel XL

So, you want to take better photos? You've realized that one of the keys to having a great social media presence is consistently great content, but don't know where to begin? No matter your objectives - from earning publicity for your business, to gaining exposure for your personal brand, to all-out fame and fortune, these photography essentials will assist in making your content dreams come true. Whether you are using an iPhone, a point-and-shoot, or DSLR, these 10 photography tips will definitely give you a leg up. 

1) Before you take a photo, think about its composition.

This is Photography 101. In fact, successful composition is the difference between merely capturing an image and taking a thoughtful photo. This seems intuitive enough, but just opening your Instagram explore tab will likely unveil an avalanche of poorly composed images. So, how do you make sure your images are photos? The secret lies in being able to answer yes to these four questions before you snap:

  • Is there a clearly defined subject and background? No? Then what exactly are you photographing and why?
  • Is there a sense of balance? Consider the weight of everything in your photo.
  • Is there a purposeful point of view? Play with perspective. Taking photos from a unique angle can make them more memorable and help to develop your own style.
  • Is there a degree of simplicity? While busy photos can work, it is generally best not to confuse or overwhelm your viewer. Unless, of course, that is what you are going for. 

Did you answer "no" to any of these questions? If so, start over or accept mediocrity.


2) Know how to use your camera.

This should go without saying, but take some time to review all of the capabilities of your camera. Since most smartphones don't come with detailed instructions these days, do a quick Google search and read up on the camera yours it equipped with. It's capabilities will ultimately determine what kind of photos you can take and their quality. Also, be sure your camera's lens is clean. Further, be sure you tap the screen of your smartphone to focus the camera on your subject and ensure that lighting is optimized.

3) Use natural and ambient light.

We used to go so far as to say, "Death before flash!" Think about it, though. When was the last time you saw a great smartphone photo taken with a flash? Without getting too much into the science of light, just know that directly bombarding your subject with harsh lighting is generally going to make your photo look over-exposed and often accentuate undesirable details. This applies to direct sunlight, too.

Instead of using flash, first look to take advantage of other sources of light in your environment. Typically what is ideal for social media photography is what's called ambient, indirect, and diffused light. A great example of this kind of light is what pours through a window in the afternoon (see the coffee photo below). This gives you a chance to play with shadows, while enveloping your subject in a warm, even embrace of light. Even when the ambient light does not seem ideal, snap a photo anyway. One of the advantages of digital photography on a smartphone is that there are several options for adjusting your photo after the fact. While it will never be a good as capturing a photo in ideal lighting, using your favorite photo editing app to adjust things like exposure, highlights, shadows, and contrast can definitely improve the situation.


4) Use grid lines.

Have you heard of the Rule of Thirds?  It is a popular photographic composition principle. Using it as a guideline can add desirable interest to your photos. Imagine your image as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines. Instead of centering your subject, the Rule of Thirds suggests placing it off-center along these lines and their intersections. Now that you know about this, you'll start seeing how often it is used in photography all around you. So, how do you make use of it? There are two options:

  • Activate a grid on your camera: iPhones and Androids both have the option to turn on grid lines while you are using the camera. Look in the settings for a 3x3 grid, which divides your screen perfectly into the Rule of Thirds.
  • Use grid lines when you crop your photo: Most photo-editing programs have an option to turn on grid lines while editing a photo. This is particularly useful in cropping your image to conform to the Rule of Thirds. Instagram even has this built-in to their cropping tool.

Personally, we prefer the second method, as we find an on-screen grid distracts from capturing the essence of a situation. However, if you are going to use this method, it is wise to capture more than you think you need in your image. This way you can re-compose and crop as needed when you edit. In other words, take your photo with your crop in mind.


5) Edit your photos.

In these digital days, chances are that most of the photos you find yourself admiring have been edited or manipulated in some way. And, why not? It has never been easier to improve your photos. As we mentioned earlier, there exists a whole assortment of apps available that literally enable you to do it at the click of a button.

Let's face it, cameras (and their users) aren't always perfect. With the use of filters and other adjustments, you can actually correct an image to better match what you had in mind. All from your phone, you can crop a photo to frame a subject correctly, while also adjusting important things like brightness, contrast, saturation, and sharpness.

You can easily play around with adjustments under Instagram's edit tab, or download another app like VSCO for even more filter and editing options.

Pro Tips:

  • Always sharpen your photos to some degree. Every social media platform compresses your uploaded images, immediately reducing their quality.
  • Straighten your images, when applicable. If something is slightly or needlessly askew, it can throw off the balance of your photo.
  • Cool off your image. The human eye tends to be more attracted to blue and white tones. This can be achieved by adjusting your images temperature and/or pulling out some saturation. Give it a try and see what looks best.

6) Embrace negative space.

So, what is negative space? Simply, it is the area around your main subject. By cleverly making intentional use of this space, you can draw attention to your subject and even evoke certain emotions from your viewer. The easiest way to do this is by referring back to one of our four composition questions: Is there a degree of simplicity? Think open sky, a wall painted a solid color, or any other large expanse that can be used as a background for your subject.

Hearst Building


7) Look for symmetry.

"The desire for symmetry, for balance, for rhythm in form as well as in sound, is one of the most inveterate of human instincts." -Edith Wharton

Looking for and utilizing symmetry is one of the easiest ways to create a pleasing and balanced photo. In photography, this usually means creating an image that can be divided into two equal parts. However, this doesn't need to be perfectly precise, as there are plenty of examples of rough symmetry all around us. After all, it is one of our human instincts to seek out and create balance. In doing so, remember use those handy grid lines to line everything up!

South Williamsburg


8) Look for repetition.

In particular, look for patterns. One of anything is happenstance. Two of anything is a coincidence. Three of anything signifies a pattern, and patterns are pleasing to eye. They can occur in nature or be man-made, and appear whenever strong visual elements like lines, shapes, forms, and colors are repeated over and over again. A great example of this is a tiled floor, which can be beautiful on its own or serve as a striking background. Sometimes patterns can be more subtle, or appear as a result of seeking out symmetry in our environment (like with the railing in the photo above).

9) Use leading lines.

The use of a leading line is another useful composition technique that can be used to draw a viewer's attention to the subject. Think of it as paving a path for your viewer's eye to follow through your photograph. They can be used for emphasis, to tell a narrative, or to create a correlation between objects. They can be straight or winding, natural or man-made -- think rocks, roads, fences, train tracks, staircases, sunlight, shadows, or anything in a row. The use of leading lines creates a sense of purpose, especially when understated.

Greenpoint Ferry


10) Keep it candid.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So, how many words is your photo worth? This brings up the important concept of narrative.

Posed photos can certainly serve a purpose, but candid shots have the potential of being far more interesting. Why? They almost always tell a story. While posed shots can certainly do the same, candid shots capture the energy and emotion of the moment. This is particularly important for content you choose to share on social media, as your audience is generally following you for a glimpse into your life or brand's lifestyle.

"But, I might not get the photo I want?!" Yes, while keeping it candid may not guarantee you a particular result, you could also end up with a perfect moment that you would have otherwise missed or never seen. Some of our favorite photos are the result of throwing ourselves into the moment with our camera and snapping away. Take as many photos as you can! Having options are your friend. No photographer consistently nails a desired shot on first try. And, quite often, a better photo presents itself when you are "working the shot." Look below.

New Orleans

Now, go out and practice! And, feel free to tag us on Instagram when you come up with something that makes you particularly proud (@kyle4d@rachel4d@fordmarketinglab).


Instagram etiquette by Rachel Ford

When someone holds the door open for you, you say thank you. When you request something from someone, you say please. When you sneeze, you cover your mouth (we hope). But when it comes to Instagram, the rules of polite human decency are a little less obvious. Just what is the proper etiquette for social media? 

Here are the three things you must do:

1) Offer photo credit. By law, the person pressing the shutter button owns the image, so give them a shout. Asking someone to snap your photo seems like a small favor, until the picture has been posted to Instagram to rave reviews, and then they've done something they could have been paid to do. Obviously, the tourist on the street probably doesn't know (or care) that the small favor resulted in something he can take ownership of, but legally, he could come collect. Additionally, if the photo is fantastic and someone wants to repost, credit will carry over for both the person who snapped the pic and the person who originally posted, which is doubly polite. 

2) Cite your sources when reposting. Re-gramming is considered a form of flattery, but you've got to give credit to the original poster to avoid being an Insta-a$$hole (or worse). Passing something off as your own is not cool; in school it's called plagiarizing, in a store it's called stealing, and in business it's called fraud. If you're just a guy with a personal account, it's about being polite; if you're more than just a guy with a personal account, it could potentially cause legal drama. Just yesterday, we read on Page Six that socialite/model Hailey Baldwin is being sued for $150,000 for allegedly posting a quote on her social channels without giving proper credit to the author. Bottom line: be polite and cite.

3) Tag with caution. It's always a good idea to tag brands that are featured in your posts; brands love to see their goods in use, and it could lead to anything from a regram to a partnership. But tagging your whole company in a picture of you doing your job? That's annoying. Our general rule: only tag persons, places, or things featured in the image. Before you tag, ask yourself if it might be more appropriate to mention your intended taggee in a comment instead.


Is the quest to be on-brand making you irrelevant? by Rachel Ford

Sophisticated. Aspirational. Luxury

Most marketing execs can rattle off a list of precise adjectives when asked to define their brand. These descriptors drive the activities and ideas that are "on-brand," but the quest to adhere to them could be limiting, or worse- making the brand irrelevant.

The problem with sticking to a set of specific guidelines is that labels are limiting to today's consumer. The climate is changing, and so should the elements that make up your brand story.

Here's how you can adapt, capture market-share, and stay relevant:

1) Be fluid. The millennial consumer is a multi-hyphenate; they aren't just defined by one thing, there's a bunch of slashes after their name. Sticking to one idea seems too stuffy; limiting. He doesn't want to be seen as a finance guy; he's also a creative. She doesn't want to wear head-to-toe Chanel tweed; she wants the vintage Chanel bag slung over a t-shirt, jeans, and the most coveted kicks. There has to be a curve ball thrown in the mix that makes the composite unique. To today's consumer, aspirational means, "I'm not following; I'm defining;" show them that your brand can be a part of their story.

2) Allow for the unexpected. It's the studs on the designer shoe. It's the spray paint logo on the luxury handbag. It's the rubber watch band on the hi-tech timepiece. Sending a mixed message is what takes brands from ordinary and expected to extraordinary and unpredictable- which is what the consumer they're trying to attract aspires to be. Free your brand from its precious confines and set the existing perceptions on fire.

3) Shake up the status quo. When you throw a curve-ball at your brand story, you're not diluting; you're creating buzz. The one piece of the puzzle that seems off-brand is what will be remembered. We were once working with an established liquor client who wanted to throw an event for a group of bartenders at a cocktail festival. While we encouraged them to think outside of their box and add an element of edginess to their otherwise buttoned-up aesthetic, this client was adamant that a civilized cocktail hour would be the most "on-brand." They moved forward with the cocktail hour, while unbeknownst to them, their top competitor hired a 90s rap legend to perform an invite-only bartender party. While both brands had a similar brand story, target consumer group and heritage, one won over the intended target by dishing out the unexpected. When done correctly, the unexpected element will not create a new culture around the brand (said competition did not suddenly pigeonhole themselves into the hip-hop market), but will help you evolve and stay relevant. 

How to get your brand to go viral by Rachel Ford

Some brands aspire to coolness, while others just nail it- every. time. How does a brand break through the typical marketing barriers and create viral demand?

We can't tell you how many times we speak with brands who are desperate to reach the mysterious millennial consumer. We speak from experience that nothing makes the millennial consumer nuts like a viral marketing campaign. 

The best example we've seen as of late comes to us from fashion designer Alexander Wang, who started an absolute frenzy during New York Fashion Week. You can read more about the specific details on our sister site, Fashionable Decisionshere.

To spare you the long read, here's the short version: AW announces his collaboration with Adidas Originals at his show (#WANGSHOW), before throwing a star-studded party catered by McDonalds and 7-Eleven (#WANGFEST).

The following day, he posts cryptic messages to lead desperate fashionistas to a pop-up truck, selling nine pieces from the collection months before they drop in stores and handing them over in garbage bags. The truck makes three stops and the lines span blocks. WTF, Wang?

The following weekend, AW hosted an airbrush graffiti artist at his flagship store to customize any t-shirt or denim purchase, an event publicized all over Instagram. The coveted airbrush design? #WANGOVER. Because the first thing a millennial consumer wants to do with an expensive, new garment is have someone spray paint on it (no, seriously).

There are countless lessons that we can learn about launching a viral marketing campaign from Alexander Wang's Fall 2016 Fashion Show game, but we've narrowed it down to three.

How to take high fashion less seriously, and get snapped for Instagram. Image: nymag.com.

How to take high fashion less seriously, and get snapped for Instagram. Image: nymag.com.

Here are three factors for taking your marketing game viral, as demonstrated by AW at NYFW:

1) Be Secretive- Alexander Wang waited until his show to announce the Adidas partnership. While it had been reportedly been rumored for months, confirmation came during the finale of his show, when it was least expected. As GQ put it, "Alexander Wang did the fashion equivalent of the surprise album drop." Naturally, social media exploded.

2) Be Scarce- Nothing makes us want something more than the idea of not being able to have it: i.e. a limited edition. While the 84-piece collection officially launches this Spring, nine items were released early (as in the day after the show), but they could only be purchased from the back of a truck that would make three stops around NYC. In order to get your hands on the gear, you'd be subjected to an hours-long line, and filled with anxiety that by the time you reached the front it would be sold out.

Adding to the viral frenzy was the fact that he announced the pop-up with a cryptic video on social media, and an aerial view of the truck revealed a phone number that, when called, would give the next location. If you missed out, you missed out. Up next after NYC? Two little cities by the names of Tokyo and London.

AW and his model squad. Not pictured: Madonna in her Alexander Wang for Adidas Originals track jacket. Image: nymag.com.

AW and his model squad. Not pictured: Madonna in her Alexander Wang for Adidas Originals track jacket. Image: nymag.com.

3) Be Authentic (and a little irony won't hurt either)- Alexander Wang is certainly not a budget brand, but instead of having his afterparty catered with caviar and passed canapés, he recreated a connivence store serving Slurpees and a fast food chain serving french fries.

Instead of a swank pop-up in a trendy shopping district, his pop up was a truck, with purchases handed over in black trash bags. Adidas itself is an iconic, accessible brand, which he literally turned upside down (seriously, they let him flip the logo).

By featuring iconic American food chains at his party, a graffiti artist at his store and selling clothes out of the back of a truck, he was not diluting his brand; he was taking the seriousness and stuffiness away and creating authenticity. 


How to grow your Instagram following by Rachel Ford

The number one question we're asked is, "How do I grow my Instagram following?" There are varying reasons for wanting to grow your following, from ego, to the ability to monetize your Instagram. It may seem like a daunting (or impossible) task, but it's really quite straightforward. 

Here are three tips for growing your Instagram from two people who've done it: kyle4d and rachel4d.

1) Take great photos. Unless you're a bonafide celebrity whom people already want to follow, you've got to give the people something they'll want to see. This doesn't mean that you need a state-of-the-art camera; your cell phone is most likely more than capable, but you do need to put in a little effort. Pay attention to lighting and spacing, learn how to filter, and post pictures that people would actually want to see. If you're truly trying to gain followers, you must share images that someone who doesn't know you would find interesting. It's that simple.

2) Be social. Like posts. Leave comments. Follow people. The 'Explore' tab is your best resource for connecting with users whom you do not know, and who may have similar interests. Usually, it goes like this: You like a photo. The person whose photo you've liked sees the notification and checks out your page. At minimum, they might throw you a like or two, but the goal is to compel them to follow you. How do you do that? See Tip 1.

3) Use relevant hashtags. Hashtags help people find content that they're interested in. Hashtags also help you organize your content, which is why people often create unique hashtags for events. Be strategic with your hash-tagging, and don't be annoying by using a hashtag for #every #word #in #your #caption. Again, the idea is that your hashtags will lead other users to want to follow you. How do you do that, again? See Tip 1.

Lastly, remember that nothing worth doing comes easy. Be patient, be consistent, and see Tip 1.

Three secrets to killing it on Instagram for brands by Rachel Ford

Unlike traditional advertising, Instagram gives brands the ability to immerse an audience in their world; however, the mistake many brands make is treating social media the same as they would traditional advertising.

Posting what appears to be an ad (or worse, an afterthought) can leave your brand vulnerable to competitors. Many companies do not yet understand the importance of social media outreach, but they'll soon learn as their competitors attain relevancy and gain market share by dominating in this rising space.

By posting effectively on Instagram, your brand is creating a virtual look-book with the powerful ability to position your product in any way you choose.

So just how do you kill it on Instagram? Here are three secrets to social success:

1) Get your product out of the picture (yes, really).  In the world of traditional advertising, every shot in an ad campaign would most certainly feature the product, but your Instagram outreach will be most successful if it creates a story of how your product fits into your target consumer's best life. Take a hint from the influencers for this one and position your brand into a bigger picture; in this case, your product is the Influencer. 

Need some convincing? Think of your favorite product. Got it? Now, ask yourself if you want to see photos of it repeatedly in your feed. We didn't think so. In this example, you're thinking of something you already know and love; imagine how annoying and irrelevant the image overload would seem it you weren't a loyal fan. But posting new and exciting ways to think about the product you love? That's Insta-gold.

2) Be authentic. Over-produced studio shots look like over-produced studio shots. Today's consumer is discerning and seeks authenticity; your glossy, staged image is not fooling anyone. Photoshopping your packaging into a studio shot not only misses the mark, but conveys to the consumer that you just don't get it. The most compelling shots tell the brand story in a way that is interesting, relatable, and creates interest in being a part of the brand's story.

3) Showcase a lifestyle. Marketing companies love to throw around the word 'aspirational,' but how do you position your brand to be desired? Often, products are cool because they are associated with other cool products. Whether it's marketing to millennials, Gen-Xers, hipsters, Wall Street guys or suburban housewives, demonstrating how your product fits with things they value is what will ultimately drive interest and sales. Paint the picture and insert your brand into it.