How to train your eye to take better photos

There is a common saying among photographers that the best technical skills in the world will not make a bad photo good. Getting a good photo is more than simply understanding the features of your camera and a knowledge of lighting, exposure, and editing. So the question is, how does one train their eye for “seeing” great photo opportunities? It is the simple practice of shooting as much as possible. Training your eye to “see” photo worthy images is no different than training your muscles for sports, or your brain for higher thinking. Professionals shoot almost daily and each day their “photo eye” gets stronger and better. I call this “photo radar”. I have observed that most amateurs don’t shoot very often, instead they wait until they are on vacation or see something extraordinary like a rainbow or beautiful sun set. 

Once you start to shoot on a regular basis though you will strengthen your photo radar and start seeing photos where you never did before. Since I have been shooting for so long I occasionally have turn off my “photo radar” because I can be so easily distracted with seeing images. Remember that famous line from the movie The Sixth Sense, ” I see dead people”? Well, I see photos…pretty much everywhere. For example, I can see three or four different photo opportunities while walking to the apartment dumpster to throw away the trash! 

Rusting dumpster with rivets: Linda Holt Photo

It certainly wasn’t always like that though. When I first started photography school I used to struggle to find subjects to shoot for my assignments. I’d walk around Boston for hours looking for interesting things to shoot when in reality everything around me was an opportunity to create something interesting. It wasn’t until my photo eye became more developed that it became easier for me to see photos where most don’t.

 In order to train your eye my advice is to shoot everyday. Don’t think you can do that? Challenge yourself to try it for thirty days. Remember, your photos don’t have to be subjects of extraordinary beauty. Sometimes the most mundane things can make interesting photos. Think in terms of creating a photo rather than taking a photo.

One idea is to pick a different theme each day and try and find as many photos that fit into that theme as possible. For example, one day challenge yourself to only shot things that have texture. Another day only shoot things that are in your yard or limit your photos to shoot only subjects that have bright color. These are just suggestions but you get the idea. If you narrow down your “photo radar” to search for something specific it is much easier to find things to photograph. Try and come up with different assignments for yourself. No one will be judging your photos and only you need to see them.  

As I was halfway through writing this post I had to make a quick trip to Whole Foods. I realized it was a perfect opportunity to challenge myself and share my WF store images with you. I didn’t have much time (about 15 mins) but I wanted to find as many photos as I could while also grabbing food for dinner and a Birthday card for a friend. Side note* All these photos were taken with my iphone.

I started off super easy and snapped a few flower shots from the floral section on my way into the store.

Flowers at Whole Foods:Linda Holt Photo

I think it’s almost impossible to take a bad photo of flowers. Just get in close and fill the frame with the color and shapes.

Whole Foods Flowers:Linda Holt Photo

I then grabbed a cart, looked down and noticed the dramatic lighting and grid pattern that was created from the sun coming through the side window.

Whole foods cart:Linda Holt Photo

Onward to the veggie isle. 

Radishes: Linda Holt Photo

I feel the same way about beautiful fresh vegetables as I do flowers. It’s pretty easy to get a great photo as nature has done all the work already.

Then it got a little more challenging because I wanted to find more unexpected images than flowers and veggies. I spotted this display of wine bottles and liked how the back window light was coming through the wine and also the repetitive shapes of the bottles.

Whole foods wine bottles:Linda Holt Photo

I also liked the texture and simple graceful lines of this cropped in tight image of flip flops. What really makes the photo interesting is the string.

Whole Foods flip flops:Linda Holt Photo

My few minutes were up and I thought I was done but then on the way out I saw one last image and it is my favorite one from my self assignment. A bright orange metal chair tucked under a multi colored stained wood table.

Orange metal chair:Linda Holt Photo

Simply by changing the camera’s perspective and shooting down on the chair it became much more interesting than if I had photographed it from straight on. Plus, there were customers sitting at the table eating and they would have been too distracting. Piece of advice… simple is often better.

So I hope you take up my challenge and spend thirty days photographing every single day. I guarantee you will strengthen your photo eye and improve your photo radar. Please let me know if you are up for the challenge or have any questions or comments. Good luck!!

 

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!

 

This is how I did it. Five easy steps

Last week’s blog post was meant to be a lighthearted diversion from all the stress surrounding the election. I had gone to the Massachusetts Orchid Show and shared my iPhone images of the flowers. Now the election is behind us yet based on what I am seeing on the news and reading on social media, it is obvious we have a very long road ahead with lots of anger (on both sides) and wounds to heal.

The orchid show was packed with people and it was easy to spot the “real photographers” with their big camera bag, DSLR camera, macro lens and flash ring. All I could think of was how I am so over that hassle. My neck was hurting just looking at all that gear and one guy near me was loudly scolded for hitting one of the plants with his gear bag.

I however had my iPhone and was happily moving in and out taking pictures without bothering anyone. As I shared in my previous post, the orchids at the show were on tables that looked like this. There were ribbons and tags and lots of distracting back ground “noise”.

How the displayed looked

How the displayed looked

Yet, the orchid photos I posted looked like this.

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

As promised, I said I would share I how I achieved my iPhone photos of the orchids and this is how I did it.

1.Get in close.The first thing I did to eliminate as much of the distracting background as possible was to  get in close…really close. Since the iPhone has such a wide angle lens, I was only inches away from the flowers.

2.Set the Auto Focus Lock. The closer you get to your subject the harder it is to maintain focus. This is where you want to use the iPhone auto lock feature. Simply hold your finger on the screen in the exact spot you want in focus for a few seconds (I picked the center of the flower in most cases). A yellow box will appear where your finger is placed and a yellow highlighted rectangle that shows AE/AF LOCK will appear at the top of the image. The yellow box will begin to “blink” as you continue to hold your finger in the spot. Keep you finger in the same spot until the yellow box stops “blinking”. The camera focus is now locked. Here is an example of what the screen will look like once the auto lock is set.

AF-lock is set on iPhone camera

AF-lock is set on iPhone camera

See how sharp the image is where I locked the focus? I was less than 2 inches away from the flower yet even my slight movements kept the image in focus.

3. Use an editing app. If you only learn to use ONE editing app I recommend Snapseed. Even though there are thousands of editing apps for the iPhone, I used Snapseed for this tutorial because it is both free and easy to use. For every image of my orchids I used only two tools on Snapseed, the healing tool and the brush tool. This what the Snapseed app looks like when open. You can see the healing and brush tool on the right.

Snapseed editing window

Snapseed editing window

Note: I made a short video at the end of this post showing what I did but I want to “talk” through it first.

4. Get rid of unwanted distractions.The first thing I did was to use the healing tool to get rid of as much distracting background as possible. I will be completely honest, there are much better apps for this (TouchRetouch for one) but they cost money and are not as easy to master. With the healing tool you simply run your finger over what you want to remove and in “most” cases it will disappear into the surrounding background. You might have to zoom in on your screen to remove only the part you want.

5. Darken the background. Lastly, I used the brush tool to darken the background and isolate the flower in order to make it pop. The brush tool can either be used to Dodge and Burn the image. For those of you who never did your own printing with film you won’t understand the terms but to Dodge an image is to make it lighter, and to Burn and image is to make it darker. Using my finger I rubbed the background with the minus 10 brush (burning the image) over and over until it was as dark as I wanted. Some images took longer to darken than others but in general I didn’t spend more than 5 minutes on each image.

Here is the image I started with before the edits.

Orchid before edits

Orchid before edits

and here is the after

Orchid after edits

Orchid after edits

Here is a short video my husband took with his cellphone of me first using the healing tool to remove some things I didn’t want in the image, and then the brush tool to darken the background. To save each step you will see I hit the check mark over on the right hand side of the screen.

And that is how I did it!

If you have any iPhone camera questions you would like answered in a blog post please let me know in the comment section below. Until then, keep on shooting!

My election day gift to lower your stress level

Let’s face it, the 2016 election has been a nightmare. The animosity, hatred and immature bullying has reached a sad new low. The process has so divided and polarized our nation that many Americans, myself included, are stressed and worried about the future of our country. I happen to catch 60 Minutes on Sunday night and they reported that 82 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with BOTH candidates. It’s hard to make sense of how we ended up with two candidates that the majority of Americans either distrust or down right hate.

What I do when I get really stressed is take my camera, or these days my iPhone, and escape. I get out in nature, go to a museum or stroll through a city or a previously unexplored part of town. My stress level is lowered as I focus on my environment and on creating an image. Yesterday I took my iPhone and headed to the Massachusetts Orchid Show. Flowers are universally appealing and no matter which candidate you are voting for or against, my gift to you are these calming orchids.

Take a few deep breaths, relax and focus on the beauty of these amazing creations of nature.  (All images were taken with my iPhone)

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

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Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

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Linda Holt Photo

fullsizerender-30

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

img_0181

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Now I know many of you are wondering how I took these photos. The reality is that the orchid show was crowded with people and there were tags and prize ribbons hanging from most of the orchids.This is what the orchids actually looked like.

How the displayed looked

How the displayed looked

and this is how most of the orchids looked as I moved my iPhone in close to photograph them. In almost every case there was a distracting back ground that took away from the beauty of the flower.

img_7640

Next week I will share with you the exact steps I took to create the Orchid images above.

Lastly, hang in there everyone. The US election will soon be over (and may be over by the time you are reading this post) and no matter what the outcome we must remember we are all in this together. We all care about our our country and our children and grand children’s future and we somehow must find a way to work together as American’s and stop the hatred that is tearing our country apart.

 

Friday’s Photo: Sleeping with the family

One of my favorite things about going to High Point Market and visiting the different show rooms is seeing how the rooms are styled. The designers are so creative and I always see something unexpected and unique. Continuing last Friday’s Photo theme of wall murals I spotted this idea at Universal Furniture.

wallpaper family portraits

portrait wallpaper at Universal Furniture

I know it’s not for everyone but I thought it was a cute idea for a child’s room. It would be hard to feel lonely when the family is watching over while you sleep. Having the actual wallpaper made would be a huge commitment but another idea would be to cover the wall with either cork board or foam core. Then using adhesive spray (for the foam core) or pins (for the cork board) attach the images. When the fun had run it’s course just remove the foam core or cork board and the walls are back to the origional state.

Have a good weekend!

Friday’s Photo: Do you like this hot new trend?

I posted a photo on Instagram this week that got over a hundred likes. That photo as well as the one below, show one of the hottest new trends in design…murals. Wall murals are big, bold and a fun way to make a statement.

Wesley Hall-Linda Holt Photo

Wesley Hall-Linda Holt Photo

I know it’s not for everyone but if you have a big blank wall and no artwork to display a giant mural could be great fun. Talk about adding personality to your space! There are several online companies where you can create your own mural by uploading any image of your choice. Just Google “create your own wall mural” and you will have several to choose from. Imagine a Caribbean beach scene in your bed room or the New York skyline in your dining room. I’m thinking an underwater oasis on the wall my desk faces would be amazing!

What do you think? Love it or not?

Quick note* Be sure to check back on Tuesday for my upcoming post on the one thing you can do today to eliminate crappy cell phone photos.

Happy Weekend!

A brilliant new way to print and display your photos

It seems today everyone is a photographer. The cameras, even cell phone cameras, take AMAZING photos so we all look like professionals. We post our best on Facebook or Instagram but then we move on. The images live in the cloud, on the computer or on the phone, but they are more or less forgotten. I am completely guilty of this as well. I rarely do anything with my photos once they are posted.

If you read this blog on a regular basis you know that last Spring I made the trip of a lifetime to Italy. I took some beautiful photos, posted them on social media and then I forgot about them. I kept thinking about my trip though and wanted to enlarge some of my favorite images so that I could have a daily reminder of my trip and be filled with that same joy I had while I was there.

I remembered I had seen a new product from one of the vendors at the Design Bloggers Conference. The company is Fracture and they print photos directly onto glass. It’s the picture frame and mount all in one and their photo display was gorgeous. They had an almost luminous quality and the rep asked me if I would like would try them out. Ummm, yes please! I chose the images I wanted to enlarge and sent them off.

The glass printed images arrived last week and I could not be happier. They came safely embedded in sturdy cardboard with a screw attached for the embedded mounting hole on the back. (They are very lightweight so I ended up using a simple nail rather than the screw).

fractured detail3

They easily pop out of the card board protector and are ready to hang. Below is a close up of the glass and the black backing.

fractured3

These blog photos do not convey how beautiful the images are but they appear to glow. I could not be happier. Below is a close up of two of my pictures.

Photos mounted on glass

Linda Holt

The photos are hung on a wall adjacent to my kitchen so I see them everyday and it brings me joy remembering my trip. The price point is also good so if I tire of looking at them I have no issue with replacing them with something else. The best part is that I didn’t have to frame them which as you know, is usually more expensive than enlarging them in the first place.

Photos printed on glass

Linda Holt Interiors

If you are interested in printing some of your photos with Fracture, here is the link. I chose to print my vacation photos but any image can be upload and printed. It could be your kids artwork, a cherished letter, a sheet of music, anything that can be photographed can be printed onto the glass. Fractured also sells ready made images on glass if you want to purchase something unique or you can choose something from one of their artists.

As you can tell, I am a fan. I have already told one of my clients about it as she was complaining about how expensive it was going to be to frame her images that she plans to enlarged.

My experience got me thinking though, do you print and display your photos or let them live in the cloud?

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