Alicja Colon

UI Photography: Part 2 #tbt

Spoiler alert: you may have read/seen this post already. Tucked into the Focus Lab journal is a lot of valuable information from the past few years of learning and growing. We want to make sure you have access to all the in-our-heads goodies we have to offer. Hence, our Throwback Thursday series, which will post each third Thursday of the month.

The previous installment of this two-part series reviewed why custom UI photography is a splendid thing. Today, we’ll go over the obstacles to creating beautiful UI shots.


Copy Space

This is a no brainer. Shoot your images with the end use in mind. Allow for copy space when composing the images. Famous photographer Joe McNally once said (something along the lines of), “Reshoot at the first shoot.” Meaning, dive in with your initial idea, execute it, then refigure and shoot it again, and again, and again.



Photography, by definition, means “painting with light.” Ergo, considering the lighting of your image, and all the technicalities that play into that, is of vital importance.

Lumen is the technical term for the measurement of light intensity. Each light source has a brightness, the sun, lamps, flashes, and even computer screens, and each has an unique intensity and different options for dimming.

“The midday sun is like the Chuck Norris of lights, overpowering even the brightest alternate lighting sources, namely computer screens. ”

Trust me, don’t pick a fight with Chuck. Instead, shoot in the morning or evening.

Shooting indoors allows for more lighting flexibility. But, remembering that your computer is a light source, you have to take care to balance the light of your screen against the ambient light of the overall scene. Accordingly, you may need to decrease your screen’s brightness to avoid overexposure. Another option is to brighten the scene by using a flash but in order to avoid washing out the screen, set it to the lowest intensity, shoot far from the subject, and use modifiers.


Ready for some lumen knowledge?! Flashes are powerful but emit a light for a very short period of time; they average an output of 100,000 lumens. Continuous lighting (computer/mobile screens, light bulbs, LEDs, etc.) are weaker since they have to maintain intensity: 800 lumens for bulbs, 10 for screens, 2,600 for LEDs (at max power, but most are dimmable). And the further away the subject is from the source, the weaker the light beam becomes.

I play with a flash to add a little flair or even out the lighting of the scene. I choose a LED or reflector if I need to add a little light to the UI. Generally speaking, I keep the light as global and soft as possible, using an umbrella as a modifier for the flash.


Kelvin, aka Color Balance, is the measure of the color of light. While indoor lighting is the most controllable in terms of intensity, it gets tricky when it comes to the Kelvin factor.

Screens are color-balanced at 5500K (Kelvin), which is the standard for daylight. So shooting outside, especially at the right time of day, the color of the scene will match the color of the screen.


Indoor lighting, however, is tungsten (~2000K), which is orange. This doesn’t mix so well when photographing UI. You have four choices of mitigation:

  1. incorporate the color temperature as an intentional choice, perhaps use it to separate the foreground and background;
  2. shot near a window;
  3. use gels to change the colors of your lights;
  4. fix the balance in post production. (Though, I am not a big fan of this option. I follow the adage, “Get it right in camera.”)


Moiré, aka Screenwave

Moiré - not Dean Martin’s That’s Amore - is a photography term for the crossing of two patterns that creates another - unwanted - pattern. This phenomena may be familiar to those of you who have photographed your computer screen in an attempt to recreate Bill Kenney’s famous tilted Dribbble shots (there are many, many more, but you get the drift).

Moiré is largely avoidable (at least from a UI perspective), but you have be willing to adjust a few things…

1) Higher resolution sensor - The more pixels the camera can record, the less likelihood of Moiré. It’s math.

1a) Shoot in RAW, not JPG - RAW is an uncompressed file that retains all the details the camera captured. Shooting in JPG gives the camera the responsibility to compress the image, therefore it dictates which pixels get the axe.

2) Distance from subject - The closer to the screen, the more pronounced the patterns are. Moving away from the screen allows for the pattern to blend together.

3) Camera Angle - Moiré is avoided by simply shooting at angle instead of dead-on (or vice-a-versa).


4) Aperture - I like to shoot with the larger apertures (like 2.8), which produces a more shallow depth. The focal point is smaller, therefore the background is more blurred. This great photographic marvel also means those pesky moiré lines are blurred together. ;)


Do you have any tips? I’d love to add them to the arsenal. Questions? Ask away!

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