5 SIMPLE PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS FOR BLOGGERS + CREATIVES

I’m not a pro photographer by any means - though I did have a brief stint after college where I decided that photography was for me... but design won in the end - but being a blogger, I have to take a lot of photos. I’m a firm believer in sticking to what you know, so these tips are for you fellow bloggers and creatives or for beginners wanting to amp up your everyday photography skills:

 
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01 / Always use a tripod and invest in a good one. You don’t have to go all out and purchase a big $350 one - though, some of those are really great and worth the money - but definitely don’t settle for the $20 one either. Admittedly, I fell into the assumption that I didn’t need a “nice” tripod and ended up buying one for about $30 from a local camera shop. Big mistake. About 7 or so months into using the tripod, the legs became weak (especially the higher I set it) and sometimes would move ever so slightly, which would in return cause my photos to not be as crisp as I would have liked. Every single time I used it, I had the urge to throw it across the room. (Don't worry, I didn't!) When I finally got rid of it, I didn’t even bother taking it to the Goodwill because I didn’t want someone else to suffer as I did. It's currently somewhere in the county the dump - where it belongs. (Can you feel that I still have a bit of animosity towards that thing?)

All of that being said... Find something in the middle-of-the-road that has good online reviews. (Google is your best friend.) If you’re just starting out or only take pro-esque photos for your website/blog, I highly recommend the this one. Note: If you do a lot of close up detail photos, it's a good idea to go with the black/silver/gold version so you don't have a weird blue/orange cast on white surfaces.

02 / Different photographers (pro and amateur) have different opinions on lighting. I think it all comes down to the type of photo you want to produce. For me and my particular style, I prefer to use 100% natural light for light and airy photos. I don’t use any on-camera flash or fancy light box. Just the good ‘ole sun. Before taking a photo indoors, I make sure all overhead and table lights are off. This really helps eliminate any weird yellow or blue glow on whatever I’m taking a photo of. I even go as far as to turn off the TV or any computer screens - even if it’s way on the other side of the room - because they can put off a weird glow without you realizing it. Needless to say, this may make the room a tad taker, but that’s when you pull out the tripod and increase your shutter speed. Once in a while, if I need a shot now but the light isn't cooperating or I'm getting really harsh shadows because of the time of day, I'll pull out a reflector to bounce the light a little more or take off the cover to diffuse the harshness a bit. It can do wonders!

When it comes to natural light, sometimes less is more. When a shot is looking dull or a bit lack luster, I go around the room and close all of the blinds. If for some reason I end up getting a photo that has too many harsh shadows, I end up opening one blind, but point the blinds up towards the ceiling so the light can just bounce off the white ceiling and nicely flood the room and eliminate some of those shadows. When using this method (which I do 9 times out of 10), the room can be almost completely dark. The fact that this actually works may sound crazy, but all you have to do is put your camera on a tripod, crank up the shutter speed (sometimes I go as long as a 13-second shutter) and (if you absolutely have to) increase the ISO just a tad. (I’ll get to ISO in a minute!) 

03 / Never, ever, ever have your camera set on Automatic. This is a crime against humanity. (Okay, admittedly, that’s a tad dramatic.) Once I was out of college and not taking photography classes anymore, I always kept my camera on automatic mode. My thought was that it was just easier and faster because I didn’t have to put too much thought into the camera settings but could still get a decent photo. Basically, I was just being lazy. It wasn’t until I took an online photography class (this one!) when I realized how much quality I was missing by not using manual mode. (I’ll talk more about that class in #5.) Being in control of your aperture, shutter speed and ISO is oh so valuable and will make a world of difference in the quality of your photos. Since taking that online class, my camera hasn’t been off manual mode since and I definitely have no plans to switch it back to automatic. If you’re having trouble understanding your camera, once again, Google is your best friend. There are also some great “cheat sheets” out on the internet that can be very useful until you get your bearings around the camera settings.

04 / Keep your ISO as low as possible. I'm not going to get into the logistics and science behind the ISO, but in a nutshell, the lower the ISO, the less grainy your photo will be. If possible, I keep my ISO at 100 at all times and if I must bump it up a little, I never go above 400. This way, I’m sure to get nice, high-quality photos. Obviously, this doesn’t always work for live action shots, but it really makes a difference when you’re taking a photo of a product or an interior - like all you bloggers and creatives do on the regular.

05 / Explore your online resources. We're in a wonderful age where education is at our fingertips. You don’t have to sign up for a college photography course to learn the ins and outs. A quick Google search can put you in the direction to finding an informative tutorial or even an online class. About two years ago, I decided to sign up for Shoot Fly Shoot’s Photography 101 class. I seriously can’t say enough good things about this course. It literally changed my life! Since taking the course, I've had photos featured in books and magazines and I don't look at my camera like a bulky box with a lens anymore. There’s no boring reading involved, it’s all on video and you can start/stop/rewind/pause whenever you want to. At the end of the 3-hour video, my camera was on manual mode and hasn’t changed since. My photos were instantly 1,000 times better than they were before and I had a rekindled love for photography. 

Bonus tip! On the topic of online resources… If you’re looking to invest in a new lens, I highly suggest renting one and taking it for a spin before you shell over the money. It’s affordable and convenient. I've rented from about three or four companies in the past, but Borrow Lenses has always been my favorite. 

Well, that wraps up my top five simple photography tips for bloggers and creatives. If you have any tips to add to the list (or any questions!) be sure to leave a comment below!

ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE ON HAVING A "WORD OF THE YEAR"

Truth be told, I’ve never really been a fan of the whole “word of the year” concept; mainly because I always thought it was something you’d only think about until March or so, then the piece of paper with "your word" on it would find its way to the back of the junk drawer in the kitchen, and life would go back to the way it was before you had that "come to Jesus" meeting with yourself on January 1st a few months before. Basically, I thought that the “word of the year” concept was simply setting yourself up for failure--until last year.

 
 

I didn’t have a big “ah ha moment” that made me change my mind. However, over time, I've come to the realization that it's actually okay to fail. I don’t have a good story about how that realization came about. I can’t for the life of me remember the exact moment or what was going on at the time. Knowing me, it was probably while watching an animated Disney movie or something. But I digress. Sure, I’ve heard all of the cute tweetables about “not failing is not living” or whatever; but I thought of them as just that: cute tweetables that actually didn’t have any bearing on my life. The truth is, failure is an inevitable fact of life, and many times, we can learn much more from hard-fought failure than we ever do from easily-won successes. Just because we’re afraid of failure (or even success for that matter) doesn’t mean that we should be frozen in fear. So, with my newfound respect for failure, I decided to come up with a word for 2016; a word that would help me keep focused on the things that matter most, not be as frazzled about the to-do’s, and that would ultimately help me prioritize better:

Rest. 

And guess what? I failed. I failed hard. To put it simply, 2016 was definitely not the year of rest for Greg and me. These last twelve months have been filled with big life changes, sleepless nights, schedules scribbled on restaurant napkins and two failed attempts at taking an actual vacation. I said “yes” to things I didn’t have time for, I let the “people pleaser” in me guide my decisions, and I didn’t take time to refill the tank when I was feeling low on fuel. With all of the change that came along in 2016, Greg and I also have a collection of incredible and unforgettable “God stories” to be thankful for as well. But overall, I struggled with not only physical and mental rest, but also resting in the sovereignty of God rather than the circumstances scribbled on a restaurant napkin in front of me.

In light of that, I thought about adopting the same word for 2017 to give myself some grace and have a “do over”, but before officially declaring my word, I decided to write out a list of 17 goals I wanted to accomplish for 2017. (First, because I thought that would help me focus in, and secondly, because I love lists.) After spending a good block of time writing and praying through my list, I noticed that the common theme among the seventeen items was a huge desire to produce good fruit this year. Not just little grapes here and there but big, huge watermelon-sized, God-sized ideas. 

At first, the word that came to mind was “Be”. I don't want to just talk about these things he’s placed on my heart. I want to take action, do what God wants me to do and be what God has called me to be. As I went to write it down, not once but twice, something tugging at my heart stopped me. So I tucked my notebook, pen and Bible away in my bedside table and decided to sleep on it. After about five minutes of laying there in bed and praying about all of these watermelon-sized “good fruits” that I would love to produce this year, John 15:4 came to mind:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  |  JOHN 15:4 ESV

And just like that, I got out of bed, grabbed my cell phone and used the light of the screen to retrieve my notebook and write down my word for 2017:

Abide. 

The dictionary says that “abide” means to dwell, submit, wait for, and remain. That definition isn’t too far from what Jesus is calling us to do in John 15. To abide in Jesus means to submit to him and, to use my word from last year, rest in his goodness and sovereignty as we do what he has given and commanded us to do, not because it merits his favor somehow, but because he has given us his righteousness. 

Truly abiding in Jesus is turning to Him in prayer instead of picking up the phone when someone aggravates you. It’s praying and waiting on his voice when it’s time to make those big (and seemingly small) business decisions. It’s giving each other (and ourselves) grace when things don’t go the way we planned. It’s turning to God when we go to make those plans in the first place. It’s finding true joy in Jesus and the gifts and talents he’s given you, not comparing yourself to others. It’s knowing that he is enough when you feel like you’re failing. It’s letting go of our worry, fear, anxiety and resting in Him.

I love what Matthew Henry wrote when commenting on John 15:4: 

“…Let us seek to live more simply on the fullness of Christ, and to grow more fruitful in every good word and work so may our joy in Him and in his salvation be full.”  |  MATTHEW HENRY

No matter what your “word of the year” is, or even if you still think having a “word of the year” is silly, my prayer for 2017 is that we learn to live simply, abide fully and love Jesus more. Here’s to twenty seventeen!

HOW TO BE MORE PRODUCTIVE EVERY SINGLE DAY

In this season of life, I’m wearing a lot of hats. My daily to-do lists are constantly all over the place. For example, some of today’s to-do’s include re-writing product descriptions for the shop, laundry, writing this post, more laundry, finishing Ephesians 4 and taking notes in time for our small group later tonight — and picking up 3 pizzas on the way there.

Not so long ago, my attempt at juggling life got to the point where I would often go to bed, think back on my day, and realize that despite working all day long, I didn’t feel like I had actually accomplished anything. My mind was in a million different places, and the concept of real productivity had flown right out the window. Realizing this is something I can easily fall into, I’ve really had to make an effort to be more productive and focused with my time. That way, when I lay my head on the pillow at night, I can look back and feel good about how I spent my time that day. For me, that means a better night’s sleep and a much lower anxiety level.

 
 

In an effort to help any of you that might be in a similar boat (I know I’m not the only one!), or if you just want to be more productive in general, here are five things that have helped me restructure my days to be more productive:

01 / Write it down the old fashioned way. Even though I love Google Docs, and I'm a huge advocate for Evernote, I’ve found that when it comes to my daily to-do’s, I work best from a list that I’ve written down with pen and paper. I use my daily planner for deadlines, birthday reminders, events, appointments, “big picture” to do’s, which helps me plan out my week’s major plot points. For all the things in between, I have what I call my “Brain Dump Notebook”, which I’ll get to the details in #4. All in all, there’s nothing more satisfying than crossing out each task you’ve accomplished one-by-one. If I get something done that wasn’t initially on the list, I write it down just to cross it off. It's a huge morale booster when I look at the list and see everything I've accomplished that day. (I can't be the only one that does this, right?!)

02 / Set a timer. Since I work from home, sometimes it can be difficult to balance "work-work" and "home-work". If I’m not careful, I’ll work for hours at a time and totally forget about the clothes sitting in the washer. That being the case, setting a timer (or “timeboxing” as Greg calls it) has totally transformed my work days at home. Once I have my day planned out (which I try my best to do the day/night before), I go through the list and jot down an estimate of how much time it should take. For larger projects that will take 4-6 hours (like logo concepts for instance), I break them up into smaller tasks that coordinate with my project workflow. On a normal morning, the first thing I do after my morning routine is set a timer for 30 minutes and focus on nothing but answering emails. Once the timer goes off, I’ll set it for 10 minutes, take a "break", and put a load of laundry in the washer, freshen up the half bathroom, or do a bit of light pickup around the house. When the timer goes off again, it's time to start re-writing product descriptions (for example). Not only does this break up the monotony of the day, but it ensures that you actually get things done.

03 / Initiate "Do Not Disturb" Mode. I used to think I had the market cornered when it came to my ability to multitask. It wasn’t until recently that I had a startling revelation: I’m actually horrible at it. Absolutely horrible. A few months ago, for some reason or another, I decided to “semi-unplug” for an entire work day. By the end of the day, I realized I was slaying my to-do list! Honestly, I think I got more done in that one day than in the three previous days, combined. Thinking back on my normal day-to-day, I realized that the biggest culprit was my cell phone and notifications. By simply using the “Do Not Disturb” function on my iPhone and laptop, I can instantly increase my productivity levels and stay focused on what I have planned for the day. (If you haven't explored that function your iPhone, go do it now! It's a game-changer.)

04 / Start a “Brain Dump Notebook”. About three years ago, I unintentionally designated a plain kraft spiral notebook to serve as a catchall for my brain. Three years and five filled notebooks later, I can tell you that it has been one of the best things I have ever done. It’s where I keep my “Master To-Do List”, scribble out product ideas, jot down notes while I’m on the phone with the insurance company, write down so-and-so’s number that I need to pass along to someone else, etc. The important things eventually get transferred to Evernote or my planner, but when I’m in the moment and just need to write something down quickly, I don’t have to stop and think about where it needs to go. I’ve found this method to be much more productive than trying to file things in my brain or keeping track of a bunch of individual notes floating around my workspace, kitchen, purse, etc.

05 / Re-fill your tank on the regular. Finding rest in the everyday and “filling your tank” regularly is vital to your productivity level. Being in “work mode” 24/7 can ultimately result in burn out and not getting anything done at all. Intentionally carving out time in the day - even if it’s just 10-minute break in between a project - and taking a quick walk, reading that article you pinned a while back, or doing whatever you find fun and fulfilling, can be a game-changer when it comes to your productivity level. Stepping away from work (or whatever it is you have going on) for even just a short amount of time gives you a fresh perspective; helps you work better faster and smarter; and ultimately creates time for the things that are more important. For me, having these breaks (as well as taking a whole day off every week for those "more important" things) has given me peace and rest in the midst of the insanity of everyday life.