The one thing that all great photos have in common

When I was in photography school, the entire first year was spent on learning the technical skills involved in taking a good photograph. We learned how to use a light meter for proper exposure (this was before in-camera light meters and auto exposure). We learned about composition such as balance, leading lines and the rule of thirds. We learned how aperture (F-stop) affects depth of field and how shutter speed affects focus.

The second year of school was spent on developing our unique “eye” and vision of the world. Our goal was to create artistic photos and to steer clear of cliche photos like sunsets and flowers. Our instructors stressed that we needed to think of ourselves as artists and to create imagery using the camera as our paintbrush. Thinking back, I created some pretty bad photos in an attempt to create an artistic photo.

Today, almost anyone can take a good photo because current cameras and cell phones take care of the technical stuff for us, resulting in nearly perfectly exposed and focused images. What then makes a good photo great?

What I have learned over these many years of both taking photos and looking at photos is that all great photos have one thing in common . A great photo evokes an emotion in the viewer.

I am not simply referring to a sad photo of a child caught in a war zone or a basket full of cute puppies. Yes, both those images evoke an emotion but there are many other ways to evoke an emotion in the viewer. Here are a few to think about next time you are taking a photo.

Compelling subject mater. Images of unusual or beautiful subjects evokes an emotion. Travel photos often fall into this category because it is subject matter we don’t see in our day to day lives. My designer friend Kathleen Dipaolo has moved to India for a couple years with her family. Almost daily she posts compelling photos and every day I look forward to seeing what’s new. If you want to be inspired you absolutely need to follow her on Instagram.

India: Photo by Kathleen Dipaolo

India: Photo by Kathleen Dipaolo

You don’t need to travel to exotic lands or live in India to find compelling subject matter. Even the most mundane subject can evoke an emotion like this chair did for me.

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

It’s just a simple chair but the well worn wood and the sculptural shape evoked a feeling in me of curiosity. The chair itself is beautiful but I would have loved to meet the person who sat it in.

Think about the lighting. The “golden hour” (dawn or dusk) is always a preferred time to shoot because the quality of light is so beautiful and sunrises and sunsets evoke an emotion in the viewer. You can also use light to enhance the feeling of the photo. For example hard lighting evokes an emotion of drama due to dark shadows and high contrast whereas soft lighting has the opposite effect.

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Tell a story. When I was working as a head shot photographer, I would always ask my subject, “what is your goal for this photo and what do you want to convey to the viewer?”. A good portrait is more than just a mug shot of what someone looks like. Everything from the subject’s clothes to the expression on their face as well as their eyes tell a story of who they are.

If you are a designer, photos of your completed rooms should do the same thing. Ask yourself before shooting, what is the story I want to convey to the viewer? Is it the architecture? or the creative use of colors and products? Is the story the location or the outside view? or is the story about the family who lives there? If the image has no story then it is little more than a room mug shot.

What evokes emotion in a photo is different for each of us. I might be wowed by a photo that you might not give a second thought to and visa versa. The point is, think about what you are shooting, think about why you are shooting it and think about the best way to shoot it. Simply by taking the time to give each photo some thought will increase your chance of making a good photo a great photo.

Next week I will not be posting on my usual Tuesday because I will be in Spain traveling as a guest for Tile of Spain. I am so excited for this trip and just as I did in London, I will only have my iphone camera. My intention is to post lot’s of great photos so be sure you are following me on Instagram.

See you in two weeks!


The only two granite choices for your kitchen that are not dated

Before I get to the two granite choices that won’t date your kitchen I want to thank everyone for all the supportive comments that were left on last weeks blog regarding our mission to downsize. It has been more work and more stress than I could have imagined but we are slowly inching our way to getting our house purged of stuff and ready to put on the market. I’ll be sure to update within the next couple of weeks.

Those of us in the design world have seen dark granite falling out of favor for the past several years. I would even go so far as to say most granite counter tops are now perceived as dated. In my part of the country (New England) many homeowners have grown tired of being bossed around by the busy, dark, speckled stone and are incurring the expense of ripping it out and replacing it.

dark speckled granites

dark speckled granites

So what’s trending now? When I attended KBIS (kitchen and bath industry show) a couple weeks ago it is clear that quartz is the new top choice for counter tops. Quartz is an engineered stone that is a composite of natural quartz and a man made resin.The advantage of quartz is that it can mimic natural stone such as marble or soapstone but doesn’t have the same issues with staining and maintenance as those softer stones. Quartz wears like iron and never needs to be sealed. It’s also quieter than granite and the chosen pattern is consistent throughout the slab.

Quartz counter tops

Popular Quartz counter tops

Vendors I spoke with at KBIS told me their most popular sellers today are white, cream, soft gray and charcoal colored quartz.

Silestone suede finish

Silestone suede finish

Silestone introduced a new finish at KBIS called Suede which was so soft and luxurious. Much more natural feeling than the high gloss and shiny granite counter tops of the past.

There is one big drawback to quartz and that is the price. It is a luxury product and although I have several clients desire it, they had to change plans once they received a price quote. Unfortunately, quartz can be double or even triple the price of granite. So what should you choose if you want stone but your budget only allows for granite? There are only two choices I recommend and that is white or black/charcoal granites.

White and black granite is as timeless as you will find and unlike the bossy speckled granite, you won’t be limited in picking a wall color that works with your pink, peach, gold or brown granite. Just as with quartz, you can also choose a leather or honed finish for a softer look and feel.

black and white granite

Arctic white and absolute black granite

Jet mist is a dark charcoal colored granite that I think is a beautiful choice. In fact, it looks very similar to the Silestone quartz that I showed above.

Jet Mist honed granite

Jet Mist honed granite

Different vendors have their own names for their white and black granites but these are the only colors I recommend if you are choosing granite.

So, whether you are renovating or building new, take my advise and steer clear of the speckled dark granite. I guarantee you will tire of it and if you decide to sell, buyers don’t want it.


We might be crazy but we’re really doing this!

My husband and I, like almost every other baby boomer I know have been talking about downsizing. For the past three or four years we have wanted to unload our big house in the country/burbs and the responsibilities of cleaning, gardening and the maintenance that goes along with it. Let’s be real here, two people and a dog do not need this much house.

our home

our home

The reason why we have only been talking about moving and not taking action is simple. We could not decide where we wanted to move even though I have spent more time on than I care to admit. Here’s the problem, the towns we would like to buy a smaller home in are either too expensive (real estate has surged 50% or more in the past five years in towns close to Boston) or the towns are too far from my husband’s job.

So on new years day, after a weekend of discussing the feasibility of moving (for the umpteen time) we made a radical decision to sell our home without knowing where we will buy next. What’s that saying? ” jump and the net will appear”? We called the realtor and set a list date. Then we came up with an even more radical idea. Donate 60-70% of our belongings to charity, put another 20% in storage and move into a small apartment that is within walking or bike riding distance to my husband’s job. Crazy or brilliant?

On the plus side we unburden ourselves from the big house and the responsibilities that go along with it. Just as important, we take a huge amount of stress off my husband who currently has an hour plus commute each day, each way, in bumper to bumper traffic. Being close to work is going to be life changing for him.

On the other hand, can we really be happy living in a small apartment? Can we deal with getting in an elevator each time the dog wants/needs to go out? Will I be okay not being able to make any changes in the design or even paint the walls?

Now that we have committed to this plan I fluctuate between excitement of the future and anxiety that we are making a huge mistake. We are forging ahead though and tackling the hardest part….purging for the downsize. I have had so many friends tell me how great I will feel after it is done but I will tell you right now I don’t feel great at all. I feel overwhelmed and even somewhat depressed. Sorting through a life time of memories, family heirlooms, books, art work, photos and several china and glassware collections and deciding what stays and what goes is daunting. We have A LOT OF STUFF!!!

We are now three weeks into the process and this is what I have learned so far

  1. Purging takes time. We actually started the decluttering process over a year ago after reading Marie Condor’s book about decluttering, “The life-changing magic of tidying up”. We got rid of what seemed like half of our stuff. We were only fooling ourselves though because we realize now we only scratched the surface. When there is more than one person involved in the decision making purging can take longer and be even more stressful. For example, I donated 53 boxes of old books to the library and I didn’t give it a second thought. A box of my son’s artwork though from second grade and my shell collection is impossible to let go of. My husband on the other hand has no trouble donating any of our furniture, china or glassware yet refuses to part with old tools and some (fugly) art work that belonged to his parents.
  2. Just GET OVER how much the value is (was) of what you are selling, tossing or donating. We made a decision at the start of our process that we would not try to sell, consign, auction or have a yard sale.Each situation is different and you might decide to sell your stuff and that’s great but in our experience (and we have done everyone of those things) the amount of work and time involved is not worth the pennies on the dollar we would ultimately receive. Instead, we picked three local charities that we are donating everything to. (I did end up listing two things on Craigslist but only because they were too big and heavy to donate, and yes, I received a fraction of what they were worth).
  3. Have a safe place to store things that you can’t make a decision on for a predetermined length of time. One thing that has kept me from completely going bonkers is that we rented a storage locker for one year. Small living may or may not work for us so if after a year we decide to buy another house we will not have to repurchase everything. Plus some of the family heirlooms along with our bikes, skies and most of our artwork we plan to keep but there will be no room in a small apartment.
  4. Allow yourself time to mourn. The purging process can feel freeing but also very sad. Some of the things we are letting go of have great emotional attachment. Marie Kondo says to touch everything and see if it brings you joy. In my case, most things we own bring me joy so I have to be even more selective. The two questions I ask myself are #1. Why am I holding on to this? and #2. When I am gone will my children want this? If I don’t have a really good answer for #1 and the answer to #2 is NO, then it goes. BTW, fooling myself into thinking that maybe some day I will have a grandchild and maybe that grandchild will want…X… is NOT an acceptable reason to hold on to something. Bye bye Beanie Babies!
  5. Your kids don’t want your stuff. I have talked to many friends and acquaintances who have already gone through this process and in almost all cases, the kids don’t want your stuff. Mine don’t and even if they did, they are both living in small Boston apartments so have no space for it. So if it’s truly something they may want some day when they have a home of their own, put it into storage and decide how long you want to pay rent to hold on to it.

Finally, I believe you owe it to your kids to declutter before it’s too late. My mom passed away after living in the same house for 55 years and seemingly never threw a single thing out. To this day I am still traumatized remembering the amount of work and the toll it took on me to go through her house, large attic and a full basement and sort through generations of stuff. It was a nightmare I vowed I would never do to my kids.

I know small living isn’t for everyone and it may not work out for us. We are giving it a try though because to simplify our lives by living with less is the best way I can think of to up level our lives going forward.

I’d love to hear your opinions. Would you consider doing this or do you think we are crazy?

Do you know about this hidden iPhone camera feature?

Hi Friends, today I have another super helpful yet mostly unknown iphone camera tip to share with you.

More often than not, the difference between a good photo and a great photo is timing. That’s why it’s not uncommon to see photographers walking around with their DSLR cameras around their neck. They are always ready to capture the perfect moment in time if a great photo opportunity presents itself.

What happens though when you only have your iphone and you see the perfect image yet only have a second to grab it before it’s gone? This happens often if you think about it, especially when photographing kids, pets, or any kind of action. It happened to me on Saturday when I was driving home and saw the most amazing light hitting a church steeple. It was dusk and for about 10 seconds the setting sun lit up the steeple and bathed it in the most surreal light I have ever seen. I stopped the car (right in the middle of a rotary), jumped out, grabbed a single shot and it was over. Had I not known about this iphone trick I would have missed the shot. I already shared this photo on IG and FB so if you are seeing this image for the third time I do apologize.

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Side note: Had I had more time I would have re-positioned myself so the scraggly bushes weren’t in the foreground but believe me when I tell you I only had a couple seconds to take this single shot before the light was gone and the magic was over. 

So when seconds make a difference do you know how to access the iphone camera instantly? If you are like me you probably have your phone locked. Entering the pass code, then scrolling to the camera app can take 10-15 seconds or more. It’s a tiny amount of time but it can cause you to miss the moment.

There is a hidden feature on the iphone that very few seem to know about. To bypass entering the lock code and then locating the camera app, all you need to do is open the home screen and swipe your finger left. You will then have instant assess to the camera. Watch below to see how fast I was able to take a photo without entering my 6 digit pass code and then scrolling though two screens to open the camera app.

So the next time you want immediate access to your camera, or like me, see a once in a blue moon photo you will now know how to access the camera before the moment has passed.

I don’t know if other phones have this same ability as the iphone but I would love to know so please share if your phone has a similar feature.


The seven top trends at KBIS 2017 in photos

It’s funny how everyone comes away from a big design show like KBIS (the annual Kitchen and Bath Industry Show) with a different perspective and different thoughts on what is new or trending. I am a color lover so I obviously am going to be drawn to all the color I see. Also, as someone who is beginning the process of downsizing I was also on alert for space saving products. I guess I’m not alone because small and compact seemed to be one of the overall themes of the show. I spoke to many vendors and most shared the same point of view that Millennials don’t want the big houses and the Boomers are dumping theirs (Like my husband and I).

So in no particular order, here are the seven top trends I spotted at KBIS 2017 in photos..

1.COLOR: Color was a big story this year. Skittle colored faucets, ranges and furniture were crowd pleasers and Instagram darlings.

color at KBIS

KBIS 2017:Linda Holt Photo

Here’s the thing though about these brightly colored appliance. I asked reps from multiple booths displaying colorful appliances if they were they selling many of these colorful appliances? The answer was overwhelmingly “not many”. What color are they selling? Stainless steal. Sorry to burst your bubble folks but although everyone says they LOVE color and the fun colors draw show goers into the booth for Instagram photos, very few homeowners are putting these colorful appliances into their homes. Is it fear that they will tire of it? Is it the expense? Probably both but I think after attending KBIS now for the past three years I have come to the conclusion that these colorful appliances are little more than expensive marketing pieces. So for the time being it looks like stainless is still king.

2. Say goodbye to all white kitchens: I didn’t spot a single all white kitchen while at the show. I heard someone say they attended a “how to get published” seminar and the editor of one of the top shelter magazines told the audience their magazine is no longer going to publish all white kitchens. Wow…harsh but I guess since that is all we have seen for the past five years it takes some tough love to get folks to move on. So what was on trend for cabinets at KBIS? Lightly stained wood with visible grain.

KBIS 2017 Linda Holt Photo

KBIS 2017 Linda Holt Photo

3. Mixed color cabinets: Besides stained wood cabinets, mixed color cabinets also had a very strong presence at the show. White with blue, white with black or gray and even white with stained wood.

two toned cabinets

KBIS 2017: Linda Holt Photo

4.The return of the statement back splash: Oh PLEASE say it ain’t true! This is one trend I am not a fan of. I always say to my clients, “nothing dates a kitchen faster than a statement back splash”. The vendors at KBIS though embraced the statement back splash it in all it’s busy glory! Similar to the mind set of no more all white kitchens, I think this is a revolt against the ubiquitous subway tiles. In looking at my examples below there is not one back splash I would want to live with for more than a few months (okay weeks).


KBIS 2017:Linda Holt Photo

5.Black finishes: Black was very on trend last year at the show and I saw even more of it this year. Matt black faucets, hardware and even sinks.

Black finishes at KBIS: Linda Holt Photo

Black finishes at KBIS: Linda Holt Photo

6. Organized kitchens and baths: It seems all of North America is on the decluttering and get organized band wagon…I mean EVERYONE! We are stressed and pressed for time and having a well organized kitchen and bath with a place for everything is a luxury we are willing to spend on.


KBIS 2017:Linda Holt Photo

Drawer insides that resemble jewelry boxes and pull out shelves that eliminate the need to fumble around inside the cabinet for pots and pans. Clutter has become a dirty word and the trend in kitchens and baths is to have a place for everything and clear clutter free counter tops.

7. Wall mounted vanities and toilets.This trend was impossible to miss. I have never seen so many wall mounted vanities and toilets.

KBIS 2017: Linda Holt Photo

KBIS 2017: Linda Holt Photo

Getting the vanity and toilet off the floor allows for a more open feeling and with the trend toward living in smaller homes, more visible floor space gives the illusion of a bigger space. (Note too the black toilet, sink and fixtures in the bottom right photo)

KBIS 2017: Linda Holt Photo

KBIS 2017: Linda Holt Photo

So there you have it my friends. A summary of seven trends I spotted in the day and a half I was at the show.

What’s your favorite or least favorite trend?


What is HDR and when to use it

A couple weeks ago I received this question from a reader.

“Hi Linda, 

Can you please write a post about HDR is and when to use it? I thought it was suppose to make my photos look better but I often don’t see any difference at all and sometimes they even look blurry.” Kate D.

Hi Kate,  here is the scoop about HDR and when to use it.

HDR stands for HIGH DYNAMIC RANGE which in simple terms is the ratio of light to dark in a photo. HDR works to balance the highlights and shadows in the photo so that neither is dominant. Before I get into when to use it, let me first explain how to turn the HDR on. The photo below shows the iphone camera screen. At the top of the screen just to the right of the Flash symbol is the HDR symbol. The slash through it means it is turned off (photo on left).


iphone camera screen

To turn on the HDR just tap the HDR symbol. You will then see three options; ON, OFF or AUTO. The auto setting lets the camera decide when it should be put into use. I prefer to control it myself because I have found the camera is not always accurate as to when it should be used.

To activate the HDR, simply touch the ON button and a yellow HDR box will appear. It is now activated (photo on right).  When HDR is activated the camera takes three images instead of one and then combines all three to make one photo. When using the HDR it is very important the camera is held in a very steady hand or on a tripod because the longer exposure time to take three separate images can often result in a blurry image.

So when should HDR be used?  HDR is best used when you want to balance high contrast lighting situations.

1.Landscapes are usually a good candidate for HDR because there is often a wide range between the highlights  and the shadows. This is a test out my back window very early morning to show you the difference.

Non HDR and HDR comparison

Non HDR and HDR comparison

The photo on the left is the native camera app with no editing and without the HDR activated. The photo on the right is also with no editing but with the HDR turned on. The difference is slight but you can see in the photo on the LEFT that the sky and trees are a little washed out as the camera light sensor was doing it’s best to expose for the snow and bright sky as well as the darker woods. The image on the RIGHT with the HDR turned on has more detail in the shadow areas and the sky appears more saturated and bluer which is more true to how it actually looked when I took the photo.

2. Backlite or high contrast lighting situations are also a good time to use HDR.

Here is an example of an interior shot in a high contrast situation. The photo below was taken without the HDR activated.

interior with HDR not activated

interior with HDR not activated

This is one of the toughest lighting situations for any camera. The bright highlights, in this case the window, causes the rest of the photo to be too dark. This photo is unedited and appears exactly as the camera took the photo without the HDR activated. The photo below is the exact same image also unedited with the HDR activated.

photo taken with HDR activated

photo taken with HDR activated

See the difference? Although this photo would certainly benefit from editing it is overall a better image with the HDR activated. The window now shows some outside detail and the chest which was in deep shadow and underexposed in the top photo has more detail and better color.

So when should you NOT use HDR?

1.You should never use HDR with any kind of photos involving movement. Even if the camera is on a tripod there will be blur due to the longer exposure time when HDR is activated.

2. When there is low contrast in the lighting you will see little to no difference using the HDR.

3. In situations with very vivid colors. Sometimes the HDR function causes highly saturated colors to appear washed out such as in a sunset or sunrise. It really depends though on the specific situation so when in doubt, take your photo both with and without the HDR activated.

Most phone cameras allow you the option of taking both the HDR image as well as an origional without HDR even when the HDR is activated. Simply go into Settings and tap on “Photos & Camera”. Scroll all the way down to the bottom and turn on the “Keep Normal Photo” feature.

Camera and Photo screen in Settings

Photos and Camera screen in Settings

This option does eat up more storage but it allows you to see which image you prefer and then you can delete the other.

I’m in Orlando this week at the 2017 Kitchen and Bath Show so be sure to follow me on Instagram to see live updates of the best products I spot at the show.






What are the new kitchen and bath trends for 2017?

Next week I will be in Orlando Florida attending the US luxury Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, or as the insiders call it, KBIS. For the past two years I was a sponsored guest at the show courtesy of Modenus and fabulous vendors such as Thermador, Mr. Steam, Top Knobs, Wilsonart, Toto, and more. This year I am on my own but equally excited.

I can’t wait to see the all the new innovative products for 2017 and see if I can spot any new trends. Here are a few of the things I will be on the look out for so that I can share my discoveries with you.

KBIS 2016 Linda Holt Photo

KBIS 2016 Linda Holt Photo

What are the 2017 color trends? Will black still be making a strong presence for both fixtures and cabinetry?Will open shelving still be trending? Are 3-D tiles still hot? What about statement back splash tiles?

KBIS 2016 Linda Holt Photo

KBIS 2016 Linda Holt Photo

Is there one particular product that generates lot’s of buzz? Last year it was La Cornue’s  pink range by Suzanne Kasler. Show goers were actually standing in line to get a photo of themselves in front of it. Now that must be every vendors dream come true!

What is new for storage and for customization? What is new in green design and automation this year?

As I pack my suitcase today my head is spinning and my iPhone storage is plenty. I hope you will follow me on Instagram to see all the  fabulous products that I spot. You can also follow everyone’s favorite products by using the official hashtag #KBIS2017.

Please let me know by commenting on this post if there is anything in particular you want me to check out at the show and I will photograph it and tag you.

Quick note: Even though I will be at the show next Tuesday on my regular blog posting day, I have already prepared a helpful iPhone camera post for you called “What is HDR and when to use it”.

Have a great weekend everyone and I’ll be following up after my trip with a KBIS trend round up as soon as I return.


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