Alex Sheyn: My Desk Always Has A Camera

Alex Sheyn is a creative type – designer, illustrator, typographer, and photographer – currently a senior art director at Odopod in San Francisco. Exploring 3D animation, motion graphics, illustration and interactive design to shape and share unique perspectives. Shoots photos on occasion.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I started. I had been playing around with photography from a pretty early age, often becoming the designated photographer on family trips using my Dad’s old camera gear. I grew up in a creative family of architects, artists and musicians, and that creative influence affected me at an early age. Officially, though, my career path began with my degree in Art and Design. I found myself flourishing when I started working at Bright Bright Great, a brand and design firm in the Avondale neighborhood of Chicago. Since then, I’ve been driven to explore the parameters of design and photography by experimenting across the spectrum.

My go-to is a Canon 6D with a variety of lenses. When that kit becomes too cumbersome, I bring out my little Sony a6000. There have also been several occasions where I’ve gotten photos out of my iPhone that I’ve fallen in love with, but I just love the editing power a traditional setup gives me.

For my city/street photography, I try to find ways to show urban environments in ways that elicit unexpected emotion. Sometimes that’s through my editing style, sometimes it’s through finding unexpected angles/vantage points, and often it’s a combination of both. When I was first starting out, I knew I wanted to portray the city in a way that you couldn’t find on a postcard in a gift shop, or hanging up in a real estate office. Chicago, and any large urban center for that matter, is photographed and used in marketing so often that it forces photographers like me to think outside of the box to make what we do worthwhile.

Coming from a family of architects, I am always humbled and excited by the amazing architecture in Chicago, which I often try to feature in my photography. There is also something about the combination of architecture, city planning, and cleanliness that makes Chicago very easy to photograph from a designer’s perspective. The angles, textures, and long lines make it very satisfying to find and capture extremely geometric and well-organized compositions, more so than any other city I’ve visited in the U.S.

As far as filters go – whatever gets the job done. If a generic filter happens to be the best way to get the most out of your photo, then there’s no problem with it. Photography is an artform that is extremely dependent on technology anyway, and the artistry of it is fundamentally universal—Composition, Contrast, Subject, Meaning, etc.— but it’s also heavily dependent on our mastery of that technology to most effectively express those fundamentals. Sometimes, choosing the right filter for a photo can be just as artistic and valuable as editing from scratch. Personally, I love the process of editing a photo from scratch, taking advantage of the editing power that RAW format gives you and really fine tuning until I’m happy. There have been times, however, when I’ve applied a generic filter and it turned out to satisfy me to the point of not needing to do a full, tedious, time-consuming edit. However, the intended output definitely changes things. If I intend on ever printing a photo, or even having it displayed digitally anywhere other than Instagram, that rules out generic filters.

Having an audience for my photography through Instagram has helped a lot with my consistency, both in terms of how frequently I posted new work, and in the style and subject of my photography. This forced me to go out and shoot much more often, which helped me find my style and become more experienced as a photographer. I love learning new, intense processes that are difficult to learn and master. I love getting my hands dirty and putting a ton of effort into the process. I like doing things that are hard that end up seeming effortless in the outcome.  

​I am very influenced by work that seems somehow impossible. In illustration, it could be a level of detail that seems impossibly tedious but wholly worth it. In photography, it could be a photo taken at the perfect place and perfect time while also being beautifully composed. In design, a perfect blend of visual appeal and getting the message across, neither one being compromised by the other, but instead complemented.

I’ve felt most energized and ready to do creative work after long bike rides through the city. Being active jumpstarts my desire to accomplish something, and being able to bike through various parts of the city and watch the neighborhoods and cultures shift and change inspires and informs the content of my work.

I am currently a Senior Art Director at Odopod, a digital design agency in San Francisco. I studied Art and Design at DePaul University, where I really started to hone in on my plan for pursuing a creative career. I worked many odd jobs in and out of college, including being a photo retoucher for a library image collection, working at a guitar factory, and teaching kids to swim. I also began doing freelance web and graphic design work in college, giving me the experience needed to land an internship at Bright Bright Great, where I worked for 5 years and really honed my skills. Photography has always been a huge hobby of mine and I am happy to be doing it as an important part of my career.

Some fun facts:

  • My desk always has a camera, at least 3 different sketchbooks, and about 100 different flavors of pens/pencils on it.
  • I almost pursued a career as a musician, but visual creation seemed more fun.
  • I’ve won almost every raffle I’ve entered (Not counting the lottery). Over the years I’ve won: Free Adobe CC membership, a hot pink electric guitar, 50 lbs of raw meat, an iPad Pro + Pencil, and much more.
  • I might get nominated for an Emmy this year (fingers crossed.)