Finding the Light In Your House For The Best Indoor Photos

mug and seed catalogs on wooden tray

I love natural light. I think it makes photos look much better than artificial light.

Maybe I just don’t know how to make artificial light look good. Definitely a possibility.

But sometimes it is hard to get the right light for your photos inside your house.

There are so many variables to lighting in your house:

  • how many windows do you have?
  • what direction are your windows facing?
  • do you have a covered porch that blocks light?
  • what time of the year is it?
  • do you have a sliding glass door?
  • what kind of window coverings do you use?

So how do you get the best light possible for your photos? That’s what we are going to talk about today.

How do you find the light in your house?

The best way to find the light in your house is to take pictures at different times of the day and see which one is best.

Here is what I did to get the photos below:

  1. Find atleast one window on each side of your house (unless you live in an apartment or attached housing).
  2. Take the same object and put it in front of each window at different times of day. (I did 9 am, 12 pm and 3 pm.)
  3. I suggest you put everything on a tray so you can easily carry it around.
  4. Write down the time and location on a sticky note for each picture.
  5. Choose something to photograph with bright colors so that you can see the change in light easier.
  6. If your window has blinds or curtains, pull them back to get the most light available.
  7. Take a picture with the same settings of the same object at the same angle at the different times of the day.
  8. Evaluate the pictures when you are done to see which window has the best light at each time.
  9. Use this information to shoot indoor photos to get the best results.

Finding the Light In My House

For this test, I chose to photograph a white mug and brightly colored seed catalogs. I put them on the tray so they wouldn’t move as easily and pre-wrote my sticky notes so I could keep track of the times and locations easier.

I am using my iPhone for these pictures, so it is in auto. You can get an even more accurate assessment if you use your dSLR on manual mode and keep the settings the same for all pictures.

Living Room (north side of house)

pull away of the scene

This is a pull back of the living room. As you can see the room has a lot of windows, which makes it a pretty safe bet all day long. This photo looks dark because the phone camera is under exposing so you can see out the window at the snow.

mug and seed catalogs on wooden tray

mug and seed catalogs on wooden tray

mug and seed catalogs on wooden tray

Because there are so many windows in this room ( there are more on the right of the photo as well ), the light is pretty even most of the day. Therefore, I would use this light anytime I need to take a photo.

Sliding Glass Door (east side of house)

pull away of the scene

You can see in this pull back that the sliding glass door lets in quite a bit of light.

mug and seed catalogs on wooden tray

Since this door faces the east, it gets harsh light in the mornings. Not the best for photos unless it is cloudy. You can see the shadows in this photo.

mug and seed catalogs on wooden tray

Noon seems to be the best time for this window because there is still light but it isn’t as harsh and direct.

mug and seed catalogs on wooden tray

Kids’ Room (south side of house)

pull away of the scene

I know shooting in a kids room (especially a messy one that includes 3 boys) isn’t the ideal situation, but honestly this room gets the best light of all the rooms. First, it faces south. Second, it doesn’t have the covered porch over it that all the others do.

Obviously, if I were really taking a picture I wouldn’t have the kids clothes there on the bed. I would probably put a table up by the window and hide all the yucky stuff.

mug and seed catalogs on wooden tray

The best time to shoot in this room is in the morning. There is lots of light, which really makes the colors pop.

mug and seed catalogs on wooden tray

The light is really bright here. You can tell by the shadows and blown out spots.

mug and seed catalogs on wooden tray

In the afternoon, it is really bright too.

I dream of turning the kids room into my office when they move out of the house. It has great light and I could always get a light filtering curtain if I needed it to soften the light. Someday. . .

Office (west side of house)

pull away of the scene

The office gets the least amount of light of all the windows. It is east facing and is tucked in behind the garage, so most of the light is blocked.

mug and seed catalogs on wooden tray

mug and seed catalogs on wooden tray

mug and seed catalogs on wooden tray

If I needed to use this window, afternoon would be the best time since it faces west. But I don’t use it often.

Tips for finding the best light for your photos

  1. Use the information from the test above to get the best window for light for your photos.
  2. The best light might not be in the room you think it “should” be. In other words, if the best light is in your bathroom, take your photos in there. No one will know the difference in the end.
  3. Be aware of covered porches or other things that might dim the light coming into your windows.
  4. Light changes according to seasons, so you might want to try the experiment different times of year. (It is winter right now, but if I did this in the summer I would add a 7 pm time).
  5. Use a reflector or white foam board to bounce light back into your pictures for brighter photos.
  6. If the light is too bright, use a light filtering shade to even it out behind your subject.
  7. When you are using natural light, turn off the other lights in the room so that you don’t have weird color casts.

Using the natural light you have available in your house is the best way to take better indoor photos. I hope this exercise will help you see light in rooms you never thought to photograph in before.

For the best assessment of the light in your house, you should do this exercise once a season. This helps you see how the light changes and what times are best all year round. It doesn’t take much time and this knowledge can really help you improve your photography.

finding the light pin

What are the best windows for natural light in your home? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!

23 Christmas Card Photo Ideas for Your Family

several little kids holding a big candy cane

It’s November, which means it is time to take your family Christmas card photo!

I look back on our years of family Christmas cards and each year shows the growth of our family.

Of course, I didn’t send a card every year. Sometimes life just got in the way.

But when I did, it made me so happy to send them to my friends and family.

So, if you are thinking about sending a cute family Christmas card this year, do it!

And I want to give you some fun Christmas card photo ideas that will make your card stand out above the rest!

several little kids holding a christmas tree

23 Christmas Card Photo Ideas for Your Family

Duct Tape Family @ Christina Etters Photography

Christmas Candy Cane Stand @ Tiera Faith Photography

A Christmas Story Card @ Work In Progress

Take Your PJs Outside @ Pink Pistachio

Cookies and Milk @ Lana Sky Photography

Lights on a Dark Background @ Tatertots and Jello

Hot Cocoa and Teddy @ Lana Sky Photography

Red Truck @ Kate Reali Photography

Props and Christmas Sweaters @ Alyssa Turner Photography

Cozy Barn and Snow @ Lana Sky Photography

Bringing Norman Rockwell to Life @ Studio ATG Blog

Outside with Large Wreath @ Ivory Lane

Candy Cane Heart Kisses @ Oldani Photography

Tree on a Tricycle @ The Milky Way

Christmas Trees Outdoors @ Sheets Photography

Christmas Tree Farm @ Sara Garcia Photography

Hot Cocoa and Teddy @ Lana Sky Photography

Christmas on the Beach @ Amy Gray Photography

Duct Taped to the Wall @ Happy Grey Lucky

Kid Car with Tree on Top @ Melissa Diep Photography

Out in the Snow @ Rebekah Westover Photography

Cozy Barn and Snow @ Lana Sky Photography

On Santa’s Lap @ Daphne’s Portrait Design

Newlywed Christmas @ The Sweetest Occasion

North Pole Bookings @ Vintage Revivals

These Christmas card photo ideas are so creative and unique. You just have to decide if you want to go funny or classic.

The choice is up to you but any of these ideas would make a great Christmas card for your family.

For more ideas, check out this Pinterest board: Christmas Photography on Pinterest.

christmas card photo ideas pin

What kind of Christmas card do you like to send out? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!

18 Simple Photography Tips for Beginners: What NOT To Do

women with camera on yellow background

Photography can be overwhelming and frustrating when you are first starting to take it seriously.

So many rules, so many things to think about and so many mistakes to make.

You wouldn’t believe some of the terrible pictures I took at the beginning (I hope they aren’t out there somewhere)!

A couple of weeks ago, I shared 14 Simple Photography Tips for Beginners.

I hope that post has helped you know what things you can do to improve your photography.

But today, I want to go the opposite track — what not to do!

Kinda like the old show What Not To Wear. Do you remember that show?

If I can help you avoid some of the common mistakes in photography, hopefully it will get you to where you want to be faster.

So let’s get started.

18 Simple Photography Tips for Beginners: What NOT To Do

1. Don’t spray and pray.

Spray and pray is a photography technique where you take a ton of pictures of a situation and hope that one or two come out good.

This has grown popular since the digital age allows us to take almost an unlimited amount of photos at a time.

But this type of unintentional photography doesn’t have a story or vision. That is not where you want to be.

2. Don’t wear red in a photo shoot.

I made this mistake in a photo shoot for back to school pictures.

I wore a bright red shirt and didn’t notice until I got home and started editing. It wreaked havoc on my pictures.

Problem #1: red leaves a color cast on your subject.

Problem #2: a red shirt makes the subject look like they have red eyes without any flash.

Just don’t do it!

3. Don’t only shoot from the side of the road.

When shooting landscape photos, it is tempting to hop out of the car and shoot your photos from the side of the road.

And while you may get some good shots that way (especially in National Parks), in my experience the shots are much better just a little off the beaten path.

This doesn’t mean you have to go on a 10 mile hike (even though I know the photos would be beautiful there too). I just means that you step out of the car, off the road and get a better view before you take a shot.

4. Don’t use just any available light.

Light is key in photography. And not all light is created equal.

So when you are thinking about taking a picture, think about the quality of the light (not just the quantity).

This may mean moving your subject into better light, or coming back to the scene at a different time of day.

Getting better light will make all the difference in the quality of your photos and the story they tell.

5. Don’t put your subject in the center of the photo.

When you first start taking photos, it is tempting to put your subject in the middle of the photo.

But this is probably the least effective place to put them.

Instead, put them to the left or right (following the rule of thirds). Or look at them from a different perspective to make the photo more interesting.

I discuss this more in the photo tips blog post linked at the top of this post.

6. Don’t say “cheese”.

What do your kids do when you say “cheese!”?

Mine give me the cheesiest (pun intended) smile or face you can imagine.

Definitely not an authentic expression.

Instead of cheese, see if you can tell a joke to make them laugh. Or have them look at each other and make a genuine smile.

Almost anything is better than a photo shoot full of cheesy grins!

7. Don’t shoot at high noon.

The hardest time to shoot outdoors is in the middle of the day. Especially if the sky is clear.

It can be done, but it isn’t something you want to do at first, if at all possible.

With the sun directly above your subjects, there are harsh shadows that can wreak havoc on even the most gorgeous person.

If you have to shoot in the middle of a clear day, try to find open shade to give your photos more even color, less shadows and a more flattering look.

8. Don’t spend too much money on photography equipment.

Repeat after me — Equipment doesn’t make the photographer.

It is tempting to buy high end equipment (if you can afford it), when you first start out.

After all, better cameras take better pictures, right?

No. Today’s digital cameras can make incredible photos, even at the entry level price.

Buy a low level DSLR and learn how to use it.

Then only upgrade once you hit the limits of that camera. Not before.

9. Don’t go to a photo shoot without a plan.

No matter if you are getting paid or just doing it for fun, showing up without a plan is not okay.

Do some research. Find out when the best light is available. What are the best places to shoot?

Have some props or backgrounds in mind.

Going to a shoot and winging it (especially in the beginning) is the best way to get flustered, frustrated and not get your best images.

10. Don’t over edit your photos.

Photoshop and Lightroom are powerful tools that can do amazing things to your photos.

But overuse of editing can ruin your photos and make you look like an amateur.

So keep it simple. Stay true to the original vision of the photo.

Small tweaks can go a long way to increase the quality of your photography.

11. Don’t shoot at extremes.

By extremes, I mean when things are too dark or too bright. This will cause you to either lose texture in the shadows or blow out the highlights.

While some people use these things as part of their style, when you are first starting out you should look for more even light. This helps bring out the colors and makes the photo more appealing.

12. Don’t shoot crooked horizons.

As a landscape photographer, crooked horizons make me crazy.

A crooked selfie is acceptable, but if you are trying to take a meaningful photo it should be straight.

Crooked horizons or walls leaning on people are distracting to the overall photo. Don’t do it!

13. Don’t shoot everything wide open.

It is tempting when you are first learning aperture to want to shoot everything wide open (with a low number aperture).

After all, isn’t that blurry background what everyone wants? Yes and no.

Blurry backgrounds are great on portraits. But they don’t work for everything.

If you are taking a sweeping landscape photo, you want everything in focus to see as much as possible.

So don’t just shoot wide open because you think everyone else is doing it. Think about your vision of the photo and set your settings accordingly.

14. Don’t forget to pick your subject to focus on.

A good photo has a clear subject. If you are just taking pictures without a subject to focus on, they will fall flat.

You can focus on your subject with settings, composition and light.

Your subject can be big or small, but it needs to be clear and in focus.

15. Don’t have trees growing out of people’s heads.

Distractions in the background of a photo can ruin an otherwise good shot.

So before you click the shutter button, look around the back of your photo and see if there is anything that needs to be removed.

Whether it is a tree (then you will need to move your subject), or dirty laundry, it doesn’t matter. By moving your subject or the distractions, you are saving time in post processing later by fixing it in camera.

16. Don’t try to shoot at low shutter speed without a tripod.

Shaky hands make for blurry photos.

You need to know how low you can go before you introduce blur, even on a still object.

Then once you find that number, don’t go below it without a tripod.

Don’t have a tripod? Use any steady surface to lean against or put your camera on to reduce shake.

This is such an easy fix, so don’t be stubborn about it.

17. Don’t give away (or sell) unedited photos.

Photography is art, so don’t give away the rough draft.

If you are taking photos that you are hoping are more than snapshots or selfies, then you need to make them the best they can be.

It doesn’t matter if they are iPhone photos or taken with a DSLR. Edit them first before you send them out into the world. Always put your best foot forward.

18. Don’t use the on camera flash.

Learning how to use flash correctly is a skill that can be learned.

But if you just turn on the flash and use it in auto mode, you photos are most likely going to turn out terrible.

Instead of using the on camera flash, adjust your settings or lighting to get the same result without the harshness of flash.

By avoiding these mistakes many new photographers make, you will be one step ahead of the competition. You will also be able to move along easier in your photography journey.

Actions Steps:

  1. Read thru these tips and choose a few to implement into your photography workflow.
  2. Be aware of what you are shooting in camera so you don’t have to overly edit your photos.
  3. Keep trying, shooting and critiquing your photos so you can continue to get better.

It takes years and lots of practice to become a good photographer. Trial and error with many mistakes is just part of the journey.

Hopefully, I can help you avoid some of the mistakes with this post. So get out and practice for improved photography now.

photography tips pin

What other photography tips do you have? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!

7 Simple Tips for Striking Summer Photography

mountains with cows and their reflection in the lake

I love summertime! I love the warm weather, more time spent outside and that everything is so green!

I love taking photos during the summer of vacations, weekend getaways and family fun.

If you want to take better, more appealing summer photography, I’ve got some tips for you!

7 Simple Tips for Stunning Summer Photography

jack rabbit on the grass

1. Embrace the warmth.

I love the long days of summer and the warmth of evening. Capture that warmth of summer in your photos to keep that feeling long after the season is over. In the photo above, a caught a photo of a jack rabbit that likes to visit our yard when he thinks no one is watching. The warmth of the photo reminds me of this summer tradition.

boy holding a firework at night

2. Get the details.

There are so many details of summer you can catch in your photos. In the photo above, I caught my kids lighting their sparklers for the Fourth of July. I also took photos of the fireworks in the boxes and them wearing their flag shirts as details of the holiday as well.

mountains with cows and their reflection in the lake

3. Utilize the elements.

What elements do you have that can help enhance the scene in front of you? In the photo above, I used the lake to make a reflection of the cows and mountains in sky to increase the interest in the landscape scene. Water, fire and sun flares can be used as elements to add interest to your summer photos.

carnival ferris wheel

4. Bright colors make your photos pop.

I love bright colors in photos and the summer is no exception. Whether it is bright colored bathing suits and towels to flowers and beach toys, color can make your photos pop. In the photo above, I used the bright colors of the ferris wheel against the bright blue sky at the carnival to make the photo pop.

Mesa Verde National Park cliff dwellings

5. Get the big picture.

While I love the details, it is also good to step back and get the big picture. If you are on vacation, take a big, wide landscape picture to show the context of your detail shots. In the photo above, I took a photo of the whole of the cliff dwelling from across the canyon after we had already gone and hiked the cliff dwelling for close up pictures earlier in the day at Mesa Verde National Park.

silhouette of a man on a bike

6. Silhouettes bring your imagination to life.

I love this stock photo of a man with his bike. I like the warmth of the moment and it reminds me of long summer evenings. Summer is a great time for silhouettes. Wait til evening, expose for the brightness of the background and everything in the foreground will go black. Simple subjects against a clear sky make the best silhouettes.


7. Shoot the stars or fireworks.

The night sky is fun to take photos of and summer is the best time to do this because it isn’t as cold after dark. In fact, if you live in a hot climate, you will really enjoy night photography in the summer. Whether it is fireworks for the Fourth of July or star trails, the night sky can be really fun to shoot.

Action Steps:

  1. Get out and shoot-Try to get out as much as possible and just shoot photos of whatever you are doing, wherever you are. Whether it is a family vacation, fun at home or stock photos for your blog, summer is a great time to shoot photography!
  2. Try something new-Have you shot silhouettes or star trails before? Get out there and try something different. Who knows, you just might love it!
  3. Light is everything-The most important thing in photography is good light. Keep an eye out for good light around your house and then place your subject in the light for amazing photos. Manipulating light is key for great photography.

So now that you have these tips in mind, get out and shoot this summer. The photos you shoot now can be used on your blog all year long!

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What do you love to photograph in the summer? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!

10 Steps to Manual Mode: White Balance

a person editing on a computer screen

This is the seventh part of the 10 part series: 10 Steps to Manual Mode.

You can access the series here—> 10 Steps to Manual Mode Series.

In this seventh part of the series, we are going to talk about white balance.

What is White Balance?

The camera’s ability to correct color cast or tint under different lighting conditions including daylight, indoor, fluorescent lighting, and electronic flash. Also known as “WB,” many cameras offer an Auto WB mode that is usually—but not always—quite accurate.

How does the color of light effect your photos?

All light is not created equal. It may look the same to the untrained eye, but different light can affect your photos in different ways.

The color of the light is usually measured by temperature.

In high end cameras, you can fix the white balance by adjusting the temperature in Kelvin. In lower end cameras, it is done by distinguishing types of light.

Here are two photos taken in the same spot.

The first one has light from an under the cabinet light that is casting a orangey light on the photo:

The second photo has that light turned off, so it is only getting light from the sliding glass door, which is more even, natural light:

I haven’t done any editing on these, so the only difference is the color of the light. That is where white balance adjustment comes in to play.

What is the temperature range of light?

I love this chart of the Kelvin Color Temperatures @ It illustrates this point perfectly.

The color range from blue to orange shows how the type of light can change the tone of a photo.

If you know the type of light you have and you have the ability to set your camera to a Kelvin temperature, you can use this knowledge to get the proper white balance in camera. This will save you time later when editing.

How do we use white balance to take better photos?

White balance is the ability to fix the color of light in your photos so that it is neutral. This makes your photo look better and more real to the viewer.

You can either try to guess and set the white balance in your camera to decrease the amount of color from your light source.

Or you can set the white balance to auto and let the camera guess the white balance. If it doesn’t get it exactly right, you can fix it in post processing (Photoshop, Lightroom, etc.)

I use auto most of the time and fix it later. I do this mostly because I don’t want to constantly change the white balance when I move to a new location. It is just one less thing to worry about at the moment.

But there is no right or wrong way to fix white balance. You just need to be aware of it and how it affects your photos in the end.

3 Tricks to Get Proper White Balance Every Time:

  1. If you want to set the white balance while you are shooting, you can change that in your camera settings. You should either have light names to choose from (incandescent, sunlight, etc) or you can choose a Kelvin value. Each time you move to new lighting, you should adjust this setting.
  2. You can use a white balance card to help you set the white balance later. This is a white, black or gray card that you take a picture of in the scene with the light you are using. Next you take all of the rest of your pictures. Then, when you are post processing you can use the card in the picture to determine a true white, black or grey. This is especially helpful if you don’t have anything in the photo that is a true white, black or grey to compare with later.
  3. The last (and easiest way) to fix white balance is to do it in Lightroom or Photoshop when you are editing your photos. To do this, you use the white balance dropper tool and click on something in the photo that is true white, black or grey. By clicking on this, the computer will adjust the white balance of the photo to a neutral tone. This is how I do it and it works really well.

Here is a video that shows you how to change white balance in Lightroom:

white balance video from Julie Gropp on Vimeo.

Action Steps:

  1. Access the color of light before you start shooting in any situation.
  2. If you are shooting indoors, try to turn off any lights that are casting a strange color on your subject.
  3. Use one of the 3 tricks above to fix your white balance on your photos for better overall photography.

This is the seventh lesson of ten that will be coming in the next few weeks.

Next week we will talk about histogram and how to use it properly for great photos. Click here to go to the next lesson —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: Histogram Basics.

White balance is something I really didn’t understand when I first started shooting in manual mode. I thought all light was equal and I was just happy when I had enough of it to go around!

But little things like white balance can make a big difference in your photos, so don’t dismiss it too fast.

I hope this post has helped you understand white balance and how you can fix it in your photography. With the technology we have now, there is no reason why we can’t have photos without color issues.

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How do you fix white balance in your photos? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!

10 Steps to Manual Mode: Aperture Basics

close up of chipmunk eating something

This is the fourth part of the 10 part series: 10 Steps to Manual Mode.

You can access the series here—> 10 Steps to Manual Mode Series.

In this fourth part of the series, we are going to focus on aperture.

Aperture is one of three parts of the Exposure Triangle that is very important when understanding photography.

I discuss the basics of the Exposure Triangle in this post—> Exposure Triangle Basics for Shooting in Manual Mode

What is Aperture?

Aperture is the F-stop number on your lens. This number controls the depth of field (the part of the photo that is in focus) in your photo.

a squirrel in a tree eating something

A smaller number means the lens lets in more light, which makes for a brighter picture with less in focus. This is called shooting wide open (usually between a 1.6 to a 5.6 f-stop number) or with a shallow focus. Your focal point will be in focus, but everything in front or behind it will be blurry. In the shot above, the squirrel and the adjacent branches are in focus, but everything else is blurry.

cowboy on a horse with his dogs in a green meadow

A larger number means the lens lets in less light, which makes for a darker picture with more of the photo in focus. This is called stopping down (usually between f 11 to f22 (or 32 depending on your camera) or with deep focus. The bigger the number, the more of your picture will be in focus.

In the photo above, I wanted all of the photo in focus so you could get a better perspective of the context of the cowboy and his dogs in the forest, not just the cowboy himself.

How do we use it to take better photos?

close up of chipmunk eating something

Shooting wide open (smaller aperture number) is called a shallow depth of field. Many people use a shallow depth of field for portraits or macro shots, where they want to have a blurry background or lots of bokeh, as in the photo above.

Shooting stopped down (larger aperture number) is called large depth of field. People usually choose a large depth of field for landscape photography where they want every detail, from the front to the back of the photo, in focus.

How does aperture effect the exposure triangle?

Anytime you adjust one of the three parts of the exposure triangle (Aperture, ISO, Shutter Speed), you will most likely have to adjust the others as well to get the proper exposure.

If you shoot wide open, you are letting more light into your photo. Therefore, you may need to increase the shutter speed to make sure the photo isn’t too bright. You can also more likely shoot with a small ISO.

If you shoot stopped down, you are letting less light into your photo. Therefore, you may need to decrease the shutter speed (by taking a long exposure with a tripod) to increase the light in the photo. You may have to increase your ISO as well.

How does proximity to your subject effect aperture?

The closer you are to the subject, the more pronounced aperture is.

In other words, if you are far away from your subject (lets say a you are taking a photo of a barn in the distance in a landscape shot) you could use F8 and get most of the photo in focus.

If you are very close to your subject (an ant on a leaf) you could use F8 and most of the photo would be out of focus.

This is an advanced perspective of aperture, but I wanted to make you aware of this phenomenon.

Using aperture to portray your vision:

Let’s take a look at a series of photos and how aperture played a role in how the landscape was portrayed.

cattails by a lake with aspens in the background

In the first photo, I use a stopped down aperture to get not only the cattails in focus, but the aspen trees behind it in focus too.

cattails by a lake

In this photo, I am almost standing in the same spot, but the photo looks different because I opened up the aperture a little more to get the cattails in focus but the aspens are blurry.

cattails by water

In this third photo, you can’t see the aspens at all. You can’t see anything in the background, only the individual cattails, which are now the focus of the photo.

In this case, I was in the same location shooting with 3 different apertures and I came home with 3 very different photos.

Using aperture to tell the story:

You can also use aperture to tell different parts of the same story. These 3 photos came from a birthday photo shoot I did several years ago with my middle son on a mini golf course.

boy in green shirt laying in mini golf course

Here is an overall shot of him on the golf course. I’m not sure the aperture here, but I would guess f11 because most everything is in focus except the buildings in the very far background. This gives context to where the shoot was and that he enjoys playing mini golf.

boy in green shirt sitting in a mini golf course

This second picture is closer up on him. This was probably an f5.6 or f8 (not sure exactly) because he is in focus but the background is out of focus. You can still tell we are at the mini golf course, but I use aperture to focus more on him and this cute smile (pre braces) and his personality.

boy in green shirt holding an orange golf ball

This last photo was just a cute way to show that we were playing mini golf by concentrating on the golf ball with him in the background. It shows how little is hands were then (he is 15 now and bigger than me!) and the texture of the ball. This would have been shot at a wide open aperture (as low as this lens would go) which was probably an f4 or f2.

Using aperture to help tell your story is a great way to make your photography stand out. You don’t need to use the same aperture for every shot. Play around with it and make it work for you and your story.

3 Tricks to Choose The Right Aperture:

  1. Think about and evaluate your vision of the photo. Do you want the entire photo in focus, or just your subject? If you want just your subject in focus, use a low aperture. If you want the entire photo in focus, use a high aperture.
  2. Practice with the aperture to see how low you can go on certain subjects without being too blurry. When you are first starting out, you might not want to go as low as your lens will go with aperture. It is harder to keep what you want in focus at the lowest numbers.
  3. Make sure when using a low aperture that the subjects you want in focus are on the same plane directly across from you. If you shoot at a diagonal or your subjects are different distances from you, you won’t be able to get them all in focus at a low aperture.

Action Steps:

  1. Test your lens to see how high and low it goes with aperture.
  2. Try using different apertures on different subjects to see how it effects the whole picture.
  3. Try getting bokeh (blurred out part of a photo) with a subject by focusing on one subject with a low aperture.

This is the fourth lesson of ten that will be coming in the next few weeks.

Next week we will talk about focus and how to use it properly for great photos. Click here to go to the next lesson —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: Focus Basics.

Aperture was the hardest part of the exposure triangle for me to learn as a new photographer. It can be a big part of your photography style once you know how to use it.

Don’t just shoot wide open because others are doing it. Try different kinds of apertures on different subjects to see what works best for your vision. Finding your personal style is a big part of photography and I think it is the fun part too! Good luck!

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What is your favorite aperture to shoot with? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!

10 Steps to Manual Mode: ISO Basics

young girl taking photos of a flowering tree with a DSLR camera

This is the second part of the 10 part series: 10 Steps to Manual Mode.

You can access the series here—> 10 Steps to Manual Mode Series.

In this second part of the series, we are going to focus on ISO.

ISO is one of three parts of the Exposure Triangle that is very important when understanding photography.

I discuss the basics of the Exposure Triangle in this post—> Exposure Triangle Basics for Shooting in Manual Mode

What is ISO?

ISO refers to how sensitive the sensor of your camera is to the light.

Most people want to shoot with as low ISO as possible. This allows for the best quality of photo with the least amount of noise. If you are shooting on a sunny day outside, then it is easy to use a low ISO.

But if you don’t have a lot of light, you may need to increase your ISO. Don’t sacrifice the quality of a photo just because you don’t want to change the ISO number.

How do we use it to take better photos?

ISO controls the amount of light you let into your photograph.

So in order to use ISO at it’s best, you want to use the lowest number possible for ISO without sacrificing the quality of your picture.

You should experiment with your camera to see how far you can push the ISO before the picture starts to get grainy. This will be different for every camera.

For my camera (because it is an older model), the realistic ISO number I don’t want to go past is 1600.

But for newer cameras, some of them can handle 3600 or higher without noise. It just depends. The software is getting better every year.

Let’s take this photo above as an example. It is straight out of the camera. That means there is no editing, straightening, sharpening or noise reduction. This is taken inside my kitchen with no window nearby (there is a sliding glass door in the next room that is open to the kitchen).

I want to show you my thought process as I figure out what setting work best. The settings are at the top of each photo:

Photo #1: 

In this photo, I have my ISO at as low as it can go: 100. But as you can see, it isn’t bright enough and by hand holding it at 1/6th of a second, it isn’t super clear.

Photo #2:

a photo of farm fresh eggs in a vignette of a farm animal statue and sign

So with this one, I doubled the ISO to 200 but increased the shutter speed to 1/50th of a second. This makes the words a little clearer but the photo is still too dark.

Photo #3:

a photo of farm fresh eggs in a vignette of a farm animal statue and sign

On this photo, I increased the ISO to 500 and the shutter speed to 1/80th of a second. The words are clear, but the photo is still too dark.

Photo #4:

a photo of farm fresh eggs in a vignette of a farm animal statue and sign

Here I increased the ISO, but kept the other settings the same. Still too dark.

Photo #5:

a photo of farm fresh eggs in a vignette of a farm animal statue and sign

I doubled the ISO again here and it looks great! This might be a keeper!

Photo #6:

a photo of farm fresh eggs in a vignette of a farm animal statue and sign

In this last photo, I doubled the ISO again with not much difference, except I introduced more noise. That’s not what I want!

Introduction of Noise:

Noise is grainy or spottiness in your photo from the camera not having enough light to take the photo. You can tell the difference in these 2 photos. Noise usually starts in the shadows and if you keep pushing it it will cover the whole photo.

ISO 1600:

a photo of farm fresh eggs in a vignette of a farm animal statue and sign

There is a small amount of noise in this photo, but it isn’t too noticeable. Don’t forget that these are SOOC, which means I haven’t used any noise reduction software here.

ISO 3200:

a photo of farm fresh eggs in a vignette of a farm animal statue and sign

You can definitely notice more noise in this photo and we haven’t added much more light in contrast to the one above.

So the winner of these photos is photo #5: ISO 1600 Aperture 5.0 SS 1/80. Of course I could have introduced more light to the situation to decrease the ISO, but I wanted to show you the difference in settings on this photo.

How does ISO affect the exposure triangle?

Start with your lowest number ISO on your camera (usually 50 or 100).

Then set your aperture and shutter speed for the shot you want to get.

Then come back to ISO if you need to and bump it up to get the amount of light you need in the picture.

3 Tricks to Keep Your ISO low:

  1. Use a low shutter speed- If movement isn’t part of the vision for your photograph, use a tripod to stabilize your camera. This will allow you to let more light in the shot by lowering the shutter speed.
  2. Add in more light- Are you shooting indoors? See if you can shoot by a window or other light source to add more light to the shot without raising the ISO.
  3. Use a wider aperture- Still need more light? Decrease your aperture number to allow more light in the shot as well.

ISO is one of the 3 parts of the exposure triangle and it is crucial that you know how to use it properly to make a well exposed photo. By keeping the number as low as possible for the amount of light you have, you can take a photo that is well lit but not noisy or grainy. This is the key to using ISO properly.

Action Steps:

  1. Use the lowest ISO possible for your lighting situation.
  2. Test your camera to see how high you can push the ISO without introducing noise or grain into the photo.
  3. Try to get it right in camera: It is better to use a higher ISO in camera than to try to bump up exposure later in post processing.

This is the second lesson of ten that will be coming in the next 2 months.

Next week we will talk about shutter speed and how to use it properly for great photos. Click here to go to the next lesson —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: ISO Basics.

Shooting in manual mode on your DSLR is important for every amateur photographer to learn. Knowing how to balance the 3 parts of the exposure triangle (including ISO) is the key to doing it right.

It will take many hours of practice before you get it right, but it will be worth the trouble, I promise!

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What is the ISO your camera goes up to before it introduces noise? Let us know in the comments below. And if this post was helpful, please share. Thanks!



10 Steps to Manual Mode: Holding Your Camera

a man taking a photo with a DSLR camera

Over the next two months, every Monday I will be teaching a new step to learning manual mode on your DSLR.

If you are wondering why shooting in manual mode is such a big deal, check out this post—> 6 Reasons Why You Should Learn Manual Mode in Photography

This first week may seem basic and boring, but it is very important.

Knowing how to hold your camera and use it properly can make a big difference when learning how to shoot in manual mode.

How do I hold my camera properly?

When holding a DSLR camera, you want to make sure it is secure and stable.

You need to use both hands, one on each side of the camera.

Keep you elbows in and your feet steady.

Lean against a wall or other steady object if needed to further stabilize yourself.

When you are holding the camera, you are the tripod. You want to keep your camera as still as possible so you don’t add hand shaking motion to the photograph.

This may seem trivial, but it will be very important to how clear and clean your photos come out.

Especially when you start using manual mode to take pictures with low shutter speed or wide open aperture. You will need a steady hand (or tripod) to make them the clearest they can be.

man taking a picture with a monopod and DSLR camera

How do I look thru my camera to take a picture?

A DSLR is not an iPhone. You do not hold it out in front of you to take a picture. You DO NOT use the screen on the back to look at your picture while taking it.

When taking a picture with a DSLR, you put your face up to the viewfinder and look in the hole.

Why do we do this?

When you look through the viewfinder, you are eliminating the other distractions around you.

This helps you focus on what you are shooting. It helps you see things in the photo that shouldn’t be there.

Maybe it is a tree branch sticking out of someones head or a rogue toy laying on the floor.

By looking in the viewfinder, you can find these distractions and remove them before you take the picture.

This helps speed up your workflow later and increases the quality of the straight out of camera shot.

So just pretend like the digital screen is not there when taking the picture and look thru the viewfinder the old fashioned way.

Why am I even talking about these things?

Don’t these things go without saying?

No, not really. These days, everyone is used to taking pictures with their phones.

With the phone, you have to look at the screen to take the picture.

It can take some getting used to to go back to the “old school” way of looking thru the camera viewfinder.

And, with a phone, you are in auto mode. This means that the camera uses a faster shutter speed for less camera shake.

Just doing these 2 things will make a difference when shooting in manual mode.

Action Steps:

  1. Hold your camera steady with both hands and feet firmly planted on the ground.
  2. Use a wall or chair to hold yourself in place if needed.
  3. Look thru the viewfinder, not digital display, when taking a photo.

This is the first lesson of ten that will be coming in the next 2 months.

Next week we will talk about ISO and how to use it properly for great photos. Click here to go to the next lesson —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: ISO Basics.

So stick with me and we will work out the ins and outs of shooting in manual mode together.

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What would you like to learn about shooting in manual mode? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!


6 Reasons Why You Should Learn Manual Mode in Photography

a fall scene around an lake in the mountains

It has been about 6 years since I taught myself how to shoot in manual mode on my first DSLR.

I struggled for a couple of years after that before I felt like I really had it down.

Now it is like second nature to me, but for awhile I thought I would NEVER get there.

I would read tons of tutorials, watch videos and even took a couple of classes before I learned it.

Why would I spend all of that time and energy learning this skill?

I wanted to. . .

  1. be a professional photographer
  2. learn how to use my new camera to its fullest
  3. be able to take control of my photos
  4. learn to take pictures of people with blurry backgrounds
  5. learn to use the light I had without the flash
  6. be able to shoot in RAW to edit however I wanted

Couldn’t I do all of these things with a smart phone?

Then, no. I had a flip phone back then and the pictures were TERRIBLE.

Now, maybe. My iPhone 8Plus takes pretty good pictures.

But a iPhone doesn’t replace a DSLR. I discussed my opinion on the subject in this post—> 6 Reasons the DSLR Isn’t Dead (From an iPhone User)

And if you want to use your DSLR to the fullest, you need to get out of auto mode and move over to manual.

So let’s break this idea down to see just exactly how manual mode can help me achieve this list above.

6 Reasons Why You Should Learn Manual Mode

To Take Control of Your Exposure

a fall scene around an lake in the mountains

A DSLR is a complicated tool with many functions. When you are shooting in auto mode, you are only scratching the surface of what this tool can do.

When you go into manual mode, you can control the exposure triangle (ISO, Shutterspeed and Depth of Field). These are key components to any photograph. You don’t want the computer to guess these things for you. You want to control them yourself for every photo.

I discuss more about the exposure triangle in this post—> Exposure Triangle Basics for Shooting in Manual Mode

I love this photo I took in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado on a fall afternoon. Because I chose my own settings, I was able to capture this beautiful day in all its glory.

To Take Control of Your Available Light

sunset in hawaii

When you are in auto mode, the camera uses the light available and determines if it is enough to take a proper picture. If it is dark outside or indoors, the camera will kick on the flash to boost the light.

But the on camera flash makes photos harsh and leaves dark shadows behind the subjects. It isn’t flattering at all. You want to avoid the on camera flash at all costs.

But by using the manual settings, you can use your available light to your advantage. This helps you produce a soft, manageable light that makes for great pictures.

Sunsets are almost impossible to capture properly in auto mode. I took this one on North Beach of Oahu, Hawaii a few years ago.

To Take Control of Your Focus

a close up shot of a boy with a green shirt on

Focus is a key element of a good photo. It draws in the viewer and lets them know what you think is the most important.

Now, obviously, you can nail focus in auto mode. But to really get the focus you want, you need to use Shutterspeed and Depth of Field to make it pop.

For instance, if you are taking a photo of a small lizard on the ground, you want to choose your focus carefully to make sure it can be seen among everything else going on in the photo. You could use a high shutter speed and small depth of field to isolate the lizard from the background and make it the subject. If you shoot in auto mode, everything would be in focus and your subject would be lost.

I took this picture of my son a few years ago (he is 15 now). I wanted to focus close up on his face just the way it was in that moment. I especially wanted to focus on his beautiful eyes, long eyelashes and cute freckles. I did this by using a wider aperture and letting everything in the background just fade away.

To Take Control of Your Vision

light trails in the city under the subway station

Anyone can pick up a point and shoot camera and take a photo. My kids do it all the time. But to really craft a piece of art, you need to have a vision.

That vision may include a subject with a blurry background, star trails in the night sky, or a silky smooth waterfall. All of these visions will need to have custom settings using manual mode to make them happen.

Once you learn manual mode, you will be able to consistently and thoughtfully be able to share your vision of the world around you through photography.

Vision in photography moves your photo from okay to awesome. It may even have people asking, “How did you do that?”

In the stock picture above, the photographer used their vision (and long exposure) to create the light trails of the city and subway system you see here. In auto mode, this would have looked just like a normal city street without the wow factor.

To Take Control of Motion

a silky smooth waterfall

Do you want to freeze time in your photo? Increase your shutter speed.

Do you want to shoot a light trail on a freeway full of cars? Decrease your shutter speed.

By evaluating how you want your photo to look and then changing your settings accordingly, you can take control of the motion in your photos.

The difference between a waterfall with choppy water or smooth water? Shutter speed. That is why you need to learn how to shoot in manual mode.

In this stock photo, the photographer used a long exposure to get the silky smooth water of the waterfall in motion.

To Take Control of Your Editing

an HDR shot of a green forest

Editing is the last step in making a good photo great.

You can’t save a terrible photo with editing. The picture needs to be fairly decent to start with, and editing in software like Lightroom or Photoshop can bring it to the next level.

This is where a DSLR comes in. You need to be shooting in RAW, not Jpeg. This gives you the ultimate control over your image. And while you can shoot in RAW in auto mode, the more you know about your camera settings, the more you can manipulate them in post processing to get the look you want.

In the stock photo above, the photographer used several RAW files and compiled them together for this HDR (high dynamic range) shot that could not have been shot with auto mode.

As you can see, shooting in manual mode is all about control. Controlling your camera so you can control your photo so you can control the final product. Auto mode will never give you that level of control of your photography.

Action Steps:

  1. Get a DSLR camera (even if you have an iPhone).
  2. Learn how to shoot in manual.
  3. Practice, practice, practice until it becomes second nature.

Are you lost on where to start with manual? We are going to be starting a series every other week for several months to help you learn all you need to know to make manual shooting part of your workflow.

Edited: I have a blog series about shooting in manual mode. If you want to find out more, start with this post —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: Holding Your Camera.

Until then, what has been the hardest part of manual mode for you? Please let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!


6 Reasons the DSLR Isn’t Dead (from an iPhone User)

Do you use your iPhone for blog photography? While iPhone is convenient, click here to find out why I think the DSLR isn't dead and why you need one. #photography #photographytips #blogging #photographyforbloggers

I love my iPhone. I take it with me to every event, check my social media on it often, listen to podcasts, watch videos on it and sometimes even call or text people.

I love my iPhone, but it isn’t a substitute for my DSLR. For those that don’t know, DSLR stands for Digital Single-Lens Reflex and it is a camera where you can change out the lenses for whatever kind of photo you want to take.

I got my first DSLR 6 years ago for Christmas. I was so excited to learn how to shoot manual and learn what all the buttons were for. I felt like I could be a real photographer because I had a real camera.

Now this was an amateur, low level DSLR, but I didn’t care. It could teach me what I needed to know about making beautiful photos of the world around me.

Over the next couple of years, I learned how to shoot in manual. I learned how to use a tripod and how I could use different lenses and focal lengths to my advantage.

People started to comment on how beautiful my pictures were. “Your camera takes great pictures” they would say. That would get on my nerves sometimes, but I would go with it.

It was no use trying to explain that the camera doesn’t take the pictures, I do. That would be like saying “Your stove bakes great cookies”. It isn’t the stove, it’s the baker. While tools make some things easier, they don’t do the work for you. The same with a camera.

Anyways, back to my DSLR. I loved taking my camera on vacation or to my kids baseball games and getting great images. Sure, it is kinda big and clunky, but it does the job very well.

Then I bought my first iPhone. Before that, I had an android that didn’t do much for me in the way of pictures. I only used it for emergency photos and carried my DSLR pretty much everywhere.

I had heard so much about the iPhone and how awesome the camera was with it that I just finally broke down and got one (by then it was the iPhone 4).

It was fun to take pictures of everything around me and even videos too. It was handy to have a camera that I could stick in my pocket and always have with me.

So like everyone else, I filled my 8GB iPhone 4 with as many photos and videos as it would hold. I’m not much into selfies (I prefer to be behind the pictures instead of in front of them) but every once in a while my kids would convince me that we had to have a selfie and I obliged.

So why am I telling you this story? If I have an iPhone (now I have a iPhone X), why do I need a DSLR?

Because the iPhone can’t do what I need a camera to do.

What my iPhone can’t do:

  1. My iPhone doesn’t perform well in low light conditions. If I take a low light photo with my phone, I’m going to get a grainy mess. The technology is getting better, but I don’t think it is all the way there yet.
  2. My iPhone photos look TERRIBLE if I zoom with my fingers. One of the big no-nos of iPhone photography is don’t zoom with your fingers. If you want a zoom, you are going to have to move your feet or get a zoom lens.
  3. I can’t enlarge and print my iPhone pictures to whatever size I want. Most people look at the small screens for iPhone pictures and they look amazing. But if you blow them up and put them on your wall, the quality won’t be as great as a DSLR.
  4. I can’t zoom in on the guy in the outfield from the stands. My kids play lots of sports. I need my big 300mm zoom lens to get them close up, even in the outfield.
  5. I can’t change settings such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO and white balance. On the new iPhone 8, I hear they do have portrait mode (which acts like a small aperture), but you still don’t have the control you would on manual mode of a DSLR.
  6. I can’t shoot in RAW format, which gives me the full ability to edit my photos. I love shooting in RAW. It gives you so much more control when it comes to editing and completing your vision.

And while I am sure there are apps to solve atleast some of these problems, I prefer to use my DSLR for all of these things and more.

So if you are serious about photography for your blog or for your life, you need to have a DSLR.

man taking pictures of trees with a DSLR camera

What Kind of DSLR Should I Get?

I am a Nikon fan and probably always will be. But in the arena of DSLR cameras, there are 3 names that everyone talks about (affiliate links):

  1. Nikon
  2. Canon
  3. Sony

I don’t think you can go wrong with any of these brands. I just happen to have a Nikon and that is what I like to use.

What About Mirrorless Cameras?

I don’t know much about mirrorless cameras, since I have never used one. But I know their popularity is on the rise, so we should probably add them to the list.

I’ll let Wikipedia explain: “A mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC) is a digital camera with an interchangeable lens. A mirrorless camera uses an image sensor to provide an image to the electronic viewfinder (EVF). It is called mirrorless since it does not have a movable mirror in the optical path.”

These cameras are a good option instead of a traditional DSLR. If you have one, please comment below and tell me why you love/hate it.

So while the iPhone has it’s place in our fast paced, digital world, in my opinion it doesn’t replace the need for a DSLR camera.  When it comes to photography, you want to have the best tool (you can afford) to get the job done. I hope that my 6 reasons above have convinced you that I’m right!

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What do you think? Is the DSLR dead? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!




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