One of the most powerful lessons I learned in design school was the Three Look Rule. Thanks, Julie! It applies to everything involving design. I’ve had it rolling around in the back of my head for a few years now. I consider it a pivotal lesson in terms of design, theory, expression, and craft.

The basic premise is there are three distinct opportunities that you, the designer/artist/photographer, have to engage an audience. Each one of them come with their own criteria. Use them to evaluate each move you make.

The below applications of these rules are illustrated with commentary and images from Brian Mullins. Thanks, B!

Look #1: The First Impression

An eye-catching photo is more the just the sum of it’s parts. This shot has nice lighting, composition, and the subjects look relaxed, but there’s more to it. Once the trust between subject and photographer is built. The subjects look natural, which makes the best first impression.

Time: Less than 2 seconds

Jimmy: This is the most crucial aspect of your work. You have to engage the user immediately and make them continue to look. Shock won’t work, you have to intrigue them. This is the toughest to get right. If you don’t instantly grab the audience’s attention, you’ve lost them.

Brian: This rule also applies when you’re working as a photographer with new clients. You usually get about one or two shots to make your “first impression.” If you play your cards right, it can happen immediately, but it can also happen as you work with them. There is almost always a “defining” moment when photographing people when they know they trust you. After that, you get the genuine expressions that you’re after.

Look #2: The Second Glance


Discreet color casts can add various undertones to any image. Gold, speaking strictly in terms of color theory, evokes a sense of prestige, quality, wisdom, and wealth. Consciously adding a gold tone to this shot emphasizes the pricelessness of the moment. How did I add it? Exposure, of course.

Time: 30 seconds

Jimmy: In architecture, this happens when a user approaches a building you designed. Whether it be the front door or the parking entrance, you need to clearly define what happens where. Tell the user to look at what’s important. Don’t use labels, use design.

Brian: This is where being deliberate in photography comes in. Whether it be moving the clutter out of a shot or working twice as long to insure the photo has “that important thing” you are trying to communicate to the viewer. Make sure the image has a clear voice.

Look #3: The Study


Nothing can compete with capturing the details. In this shot, you can clearly see the wedding dress’ layers as well as detail in the grooms tuxedo. The extremes of white and black are tough to capture. When done correctly, they pop. Now the couple has a beautiful shot to hang on the wall that won’t get stale or boring. Why? The details. I slightly desaturated the midtones for a vintage feel. Again, Exposure was used.

All the time in the world

Jimmy: This is where designers shine; it’s all about details. This is where 50 iterations of a single aspect of your shot does you justice. Keep going. Make sure that everything is just right.

Brian: Whether it be a hair out of place, relocating individual sesame seeds, or agonizing over every facet of the shot. We get caught up in the photo because it captured something great, but we overlook the small things that, once the emotion and glow of those initial two looks wear off, will stand out.

In addition to all of the other amazing photography stuff that Brian is involved in, he recently launched an educational website for those interested in learning some new tricks.