Sunday, August 25, 2013

photography or quilting = happy me

at work on a photo shoot in early august
i hesitate to post this today because 1) my photos are solid, but not the best by a long shot, 2) my people and life photography are better than my sewing photography, 3) i didn't have time to take the photos i would have liked to to go along with the post or to write it as well as i'd prefer. but here's what I've got to share. i hope it helps someone somewhere.

 i have been a hobby photographer for about 15 years. i got my first slr camera in 2000 and made the switch to digital in 2008. this was later than most because i wasn't satisfied with the quality of digital til that time. currently, I shoot with a canon 60d, usually with my 2.8/24-70mm zoom lens. i've read dozens of books, taken some real-time workshops from professionals and at least two online courses, too. i've also taught basic photography classes to mom groups a few times.

i love photography!
and making pretty pictures.

in order to not bore with a bunch of words, this post will be interspersed with photos i took recently on our big road trip as well as fabric and sewing shots. warning: it's a big post.
tour boat on san juan island, wa

although i shoot daily and have done infant portraits and a few family sessions (as well as one engagement shoot - yikes!), i am NOT a professional photographer. in fact, being asked to do photography for others makes me super nervous! i just really like learning about photography and making the best photos i can in-camera at the time i take them. capturing my world and experiences makes me happy.

i'm a homeschooling mom of 7 who also likes to read, scrapbook, and quilt. i do NOT want to spend my time editing photos. therefore, i do my best to shoot well-lit and cropped photos when i take them. and i live with what i get. an imperfect photo often captures enough of what i want to some degree. i'm okay with that.
the backlighting in this photo made it rather hazy and faded, which can be corrected with editing. but i like it fine the way it is.

the opening photo in this post was taken by my friend's daughter while i was consulting with jen about the shots i got of her and her husband. jen, a college roommate and my bestest old friend, talked me into doing a last-minute family session for her while visiting them in Washington state this summer. her idea, NOT mine!

this is a photo i took of two of my girls after that shoot on the beautiful Puget Sound. it's a tiny bit dark, but good enough for me, especially since i was able to capture the colors in the sunset sky by adjusting my white balance! that's a feature I've been messing with the last few months and i am happy with the improvements mastering it is bringing.

my kids playing on the private beach of the house we rented on san juan island

i learned how to shoot in manual mode a few years back and am fairly competent in it. i definitely understand the workings and interplay of iso, aperture, and shutter speed. however, i find that shooting candids of children/moving targets does not usually allow for time to work in manual. so most often i shoot in P (program), which is sort of like auto but allows me to make adjustments.

my go-to adjustment is the exposure compensation. i use it to quickly bump up or down the amount of light coming in the camera's auto settings. this works quite well for me most of the time. if i'm not happy with what i'm getting that way, then i go manual.

bakery stop in canon beach, or

when i started blogging about my sewing and began shooting more things rather than people, i quickly realized my product photography needs help! i keep my eyes peeled and take note of other sewers photographs and look at styling in craft books for ideas on how to improve.

bear d1 made 2 yrs ago - acceptable, but needs better exposure and less distracting background

desk of merriweather lewis at fort clatsop, or

i know my photos are not the best out there. however, i'm satisfied with the quality of them and that's what's important. like i said, i'm happy with imperfect photos and i'll post them if they're all i have. but there are three basic things i learned a long time ago that can improve any photography with any camera tremendously. i'll share those today and maybe some more complicated tips another day.

1. shoot your subject and leave out the rest

most untrained people, when handed a camera, will center their subject in the frame and leave as much room around it as possible. you don't want to cut anyones head off - i get it. (my grandfather was 6'4", that happened to him a lot in group photos.) but what that can do is give you a shot like this:

when what you wanted and were thinking of when you took the photo was this:

so think about what you want to photograph, the story this photo is to tell, and then include only that in your photo. in my sample photos, the story i wanted to tell was "fabric i got at a certain shop." the top photo is "some fabric i bought, my tile floor, my courtyard door." the second photo captures much more closely what i was trying to show.

get in close. fill your frame with your subject as much as possible. maybe even cut off a bit of it.
 in this photo, i put my fabric pile on a plate for styling, but to include the entire plate, i had to include a lot of wall space and dusty cabinet top also. not a very effective photo.

this zoomed in photo still includes some of the pretty plate for styling purposes, but cuts off part of the plate and even the fabric, which showcases the fabric even better.

now if you want an atmospheric shot and the setting is part of the story you are trying to tell, then include the entire setting in your photo. but if not, then zoom in on your subject and leave the setting out.

case in point - the top photo of the fabric on my floor in front of the door was actually taken to show where i was shooting so as to demonstrate shooting in natural light. that's the story that photo tells. but i didn't include the whole hallway or entire door, just enough to give you the idea.

zoom in close. then closer still.
don't forget that sometimes the zoom is you not just your lens. move yourself.
this photo tells the story of my daughter playing in the water in the bay.

i love how this photo captures the seaweed muck on their feet
and the second photo captures a detail of the story i wanted to tell. maybe you can see the seaweed in the top photo, maybe not. i made sure to get a shot of both parts of the story.

2. try different angles and perspectives

lavender farm san juan island, wa

i've been known to lay on the sidewalk or climb on a fence to change my angle when taking photos. walk around, move yourself, try out different sides, get higher or lower. by playing around with perspective you can change your photos dramatically. and often you can crop out background distractions by moving yourself rather than your subject, which isn't always possible.

here are two photos that are not at all great, either one of them, but one is much better than the other just because it's oriented differently.
awkward! ugh.

still somewhat awkward, but better
standing directly over your subject, on a chair if necessary, can really help give you a flatter photo. it sure would help with the strangely angled one we all get of our quilts on the floor sometimes. (I've posted plenty of those - see above.)
taken standing in front of the table the blocks were on
taken standing directly over the blocks, shooting down

3. take lots of photos
photo #1 - fabric pull for new nephew's quilt

photo #2 - added a bit more light
 i already mentioned this, but it deserves it's own place in the list. if you're playing with cropping and angles, you are naturally going to shoot more. but i'm saying it again to be clear.

photo #3 - tried shooting from the top to see pile better, but it shows the top too much

photo #4 - shifted angle and tried adding light; too much
photo #5 - better light, but i'm not liking this angle

in the days of film photography, you had to shoot blindly and hope it was working out. film and development cost $$$. digital doesn't work that way! you get to see (mostly) how your shots are coming out and you can erase what you don't like. memory cards are super cheap compared to film and can be reused many times. the storage capacity on them these days is enormous.
photo #6 - restyled pile by fanning out and stood over for another angle

photo #7 - new angle on fanned pile
so click, click, click away!
don't be stingy.
just make sure you download often or carry extra memory.

photo #8 - shot from top again, zoomed in a bit

photo #9 - added some light

photo #10 - restyled again in a pinwheel, off centered

photo #11 - one more shot! but i like #10 best because i cropped just a little better

sometimes the first photo of the 6 or more identical shots i took works the best, but usually not. and if you're photographing people, the more you have in the group, the more you need to shoot to increase your odds of that one great shot.

 you also have to learn how to use that trash can button a lot so you don't end up with photos you don't need clogging your storage. be ruthless! take a lot, then get rid of what doesn't work or isn't the best.

here's the bonus tip:

4. turn off that flash & learn to use natural light!

this is an entire subject unto itself, beyond the scope of my post. but after you've started playing with the above 3 tips, it's going to make night-and-day difference in your photos. there are limitless resources dealing with this subject. look it up and figure it out. you won't regret it.

this post was inspired by beth's new photography workshop link up at plum and june.


  1. What a great and informative post! I like how you included examples of everything you were saying. I totally agree about using yourself as the zoom instead of the lens (I actually use a prime lens 95% of the time so I don't have a choice) and your advice about moving yourself instead of the subject to help unclutter the background. Thanks for linking your post.

  2. Great post! I love # 10 the most. I enjoyed reading your thinking process too. I'm also linking up at Plum and June.

  3. You have shared sew many great tips here. I really enjoyed seeing all your photos and reading your explanations. Thank you for sharing!

  4. These are really great tips! I have to play around with daylight, location and angles because I actually take all of my blog pics with my iPhone, so all of the technical camera adjustments are impossible for me!

    :) Kelly @ My Quilt Infatuation

  5. I have a great eye, and I have noticed the photography on your site. Very nice and I enjoyed all your tips! My motto is to take a ton and hope one comes out!
    Nice to see photos of the PNW :-)

  6. Nice photos. :) And great tips. I can't wait to try some of these next link-up.

  7. Awesomeness! Cute kidlets, liberty and pretty photos :-)

  8. Thanks for sharing. I loved reading about your process.

    One thing (among many) i need to learn to use is the exposure thingy you spoke of... Instead of my current work around in post processing.

    There's so much to learn and I enjoy earning about it as an amateur. :)

  9. Very helpful! Thanks so much - lots of good tips to consider!

  10. what a fantastic post - thank you for so many helpful tips. I love your photography :-)

  11. Wow - this post was incredibly helpful! I homeschool my kids too and time is so valuable so I've been putting off learning to use my nice new camera.

    So I'm staring by reading the posts in the photography linkup and will go from there.

    Beautiful pics!

  12. Love your pictures! I love the way you do close-ups of your family to tell a story. It took me a while when I first photographed my family to start taking photos of other parts of them instead of having them front and center.

  13. I loved your interesting and informative post. Thank you so much for putting everything down so that people like myself can see what you are talking about!
    You have inspirred me to go out and have another go!

  14. Great informative post! Picked up few things from your experience too. Love the photo where your kids have mud/ weed..

  15. What an awesome post. I will have to try taking pics at different angles like that. You gave some really great tips!!!

  16. Lovely photos! Thanks for the hints.

  17. I love how you showed your progress... what worked and what didn't. It's always so tempting to just show the best, but it really helps to know what didn't work as well too!

  18. What a useful post! Thank you so much for taking the time to write up all the tips. I really like your lifestyle photo examples, actually, about how framing certain parts of people doing things can create different moods.

    You take amazing photos.


  19. I can tell you also enjoy photography. Digital has made photography so much fun and instant too - love it!

  20. Beautiful photos and great tips. They group photo is wonderful!

  21. This is a great post! Thanks for all the tips. and 7 kids and homeschooling - I am impressed!! Nicely done!

  22. Great photos and thanks for all of the tips!!


a kind word is always appreciated. thank you for your visit.