Getting personal with photography

One of the most important things I strive for when designing any interior space is to have a beautifully designed and functioning room but I also want the home to reflect my client’s unique personality. Often times I look to accomplish this by reusing or re-purposing  beloved family heirlooms, art work, or by displaying a collection that is meaningful to the homeowners. 

Sometimes though, there are no family heirlooms or meaningful collections to work with. In this case, one thing I like to do for my clients is to create something special for them using my photography skills. Today I want to share three different photography projects I did that were very meaningful for my clients yet all three were very simply executed, and might give you an idea for a project in your home.

The first photography project I did was actually for my very first “big” design job back in 2012. I was only about nine months into my business and I was hired to completely furnish a condo for a recently divorced man who was literally bring nothing but his clothes. The dining area of the condo was part of the kitchen and the homeowner had very specific requirements for a dinning table. It had to be of a certain length and width 99% of the time but twice a year had to expand to accommodate a large crowd. After searching for WAY longer than I should have, I finally convinced him we needed to have the table custom made. 

This is where the story gets interesting…and quite long. The short version though is that the furniture maker sourced the wood from the old Birds Eye Freezer factory in Gloucester Ma. This is the very place where flash freezing was invented and produced America’s first frozen vegetables. The factory had been abandoned since the late 40’s and was only weeks away from being raised to make way for a new boutique hotel. The completely freaky part of this story is that unbeknownst to either myself or the furniture maker was that my client had an ancestor who had worked in the factory back in the 1930’s. 

Linda Holt Photo

So, the table shown above sits in a condo by the sea and is made from the wood which once lined the freezer of the Birds Eye Freezer Company (aluminum was eventually used and the wood freezer became obsolete. Here’s where the photography part comes in. Shortly before they knocked the building down I took a series of photos of the decaying factory and chose three to frame and hang next to the table. (I also gave him several unframed ones as well.)

At the time I had no idea I would one day be writing a blog about this so unfortunately I don’t have a better image of the photos themselves. I can report that my client was very moved by my surprise.  He found it so meaningful to own a table made from the wood of such an historic factory, that an ancestor had worked in, and that next to the table are photos of the factory itself…Cool right??

My next photography project was just recently completed. On my first meeting to discuss a new client’s project, the husband pulled out these six books. He said he didn’t know how or if I could incorporate the books into my design but his recently deceased dad was a well known Indian author and had written the series. These kind of family items are gold to me. I placed them all directly on the existing black leather sofa and took a quick iphone photo. These treasured books became the inspiration for my entire design. The colors drove my color scheme and although the books were only small paper back sized, I knew I wanted to bring them to prominence and give them a place of honor in my client’s home.

Client’s book collection written by his dad

Once my design plan was approved, I asked to borrow the set of books. I  took a photo of each book on a white back ground (white construction paper) and had them blown up by one of my favorite companies called Fracture. Fracture prints photos directly on glass and they arrive ready to hang. I enlarged them to a 20″ x 16″ size and the day of the install hung them on a tall thin wall just off the entry. Boy were my client’s both surprised and thrilled!

Fracture glass photos

Photo by Emily O’Brien Photography

My final example is not yet installed so I don’t want to give too much away but I am working with an awesome client/friend on her “piano lounge”. I asked her to give me several of her absolute favorite and most meaningful sheet music cover pages. This is one that she chose as being very meaningful. I especially like the hand written notations as it makes the piece even more personal.

I photographed each sheet cover and then imported the photos into Photoshop. I’m really not a Photoshop expert and I didn’t know exactly what I was even going for but after playing around for awhile I settled on the image below.

sheet music pixelated and colorized

Art work created by Linda Holt

This piece along with two others will be hung above the sofa. Each one is a different color based on the room’s color scheme. I used Fracture to print my images on glass for this project too and at the moment they are sitting in my office waiting for our install day.

Three very different clients, three very different projects and three very different “stories”. That’s what I love most about design. Every client and job is different yet everyone has a family story that is a part of who they are and it’s what makes a house a home. I feel honored I was able to by bring three stories out into the open in my client’s homes through photography.

Would love to hear from you! Which of my three projects is your favorite?



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!!


Downsizing update and how to use Instagram like Pinterest

It’s over. We have now officially downsized and are living in our new apartment. The location is fabulous and we love being so close to everything. I had hoped to post before now but frankly, I have been a bit overwhelmed. There have also been internet problems…as in we had it, lost it, had it, lost it (you get the point).

Looking back, it’s really been a wild six months. It was January 1st that we made the radical decision to sell our large family home and move into a 1,100 sq. ft apartment that is within walking distance to my husband’s job. Thirty five years worth of collecting, inheriting and accumulating had to be dealt with in less than four months. 

We are far from settled and we still have a full storage locker to deal with, but right now I am focusing on trying to make our small white box feel like home. There are so many challenges, one of which is that our furniture is really not appropriate for the space. It’s the wrong scale and when your living room, dining room and kitchen are all one room, things need to work together and what we currently own falls short. Buying all new is not an option so I am doing my best to figure it all out creatively. I will share photos of our new space as soon as it gets out of the “hot mess” state.

Having finally arrived on the other side of the downsizing process I can report that we are slowly adjusting to our “new normal” and I can once again focus on my blog and design business.

Today I want to share with you a new feature that Instagram recently implemented. IG has now made it easy to save photos and keep them in inspiration folders similar to Pinterest and Houzz. This is how it works.

OPTION #1. If you want to save a photo, simply tap your finger on the inverted flag on the bottom right of the photo you wish to save. 

House Beautiful IG photo

The image will then be saved into a collection of all other images you choose to save. They will be saved in the order in which you saved them. To see all your saved photos simply go to your own profile page and touch the inverted flag.

My saved images on my Instagram

OPTION #2. If you would rather be more organized and have your saved photos in style specific folders then you can do that too. Simply hold your finger on the same upside down flag for 2-3 seconds.  A window will appear with a Plus symbol in the upper right. Just hit the + symbol and give your folder any name you choose. 

My Folders on Instagram

You can set up as many folders as you like and save the image in the appropriate folder. This is so handy for finding inspiration photos later. I have only recently started saving images now that the craziness of the move is behind me. I need to start a folder for small living because once we are a bit more organized it’s time to start getting creative with design.

 I hope you found this helpful. Did you know about this new IG feature?



Shockingly bad photos and why I had to look at them

Our house finally went on the market…YEAH!! We had our first Open House on Sunday and we have high hopes of getting it sold ASAP. I will go on record and say that downsizing is not for the faint of heart…in fact, it sucks! However, one storage unit and five truck loads of charity donations later we are done. The feeling is one of relief although as soon as we get settled in our new place we need to address the storage unit. I just couldn’t do all the purging at once without having a breakdown. 

As far as our next home, my husband and I have decided that we will sit out the housing market for a year or so. We have rented a small apartment that is a stones throw from his job and within walking distance to restaurants, coffee shops, and grocery stores. It will be such a huge life style change for us after living in the country for the past twelve years. However, before we decided that an apartment was the way to go, I spent hours upon hours searching for a smaller house closer to Boston. Talk about DEPRESSING!!  Boston is currently the third most expensive real estate market in the US,  just behind San Francisco and New York City. Prices in Boston proper average $1,000/sq. ft.

It’s not that much better five to ten miles outside the city either. What were once very affordable and even sketchy towns are now “hot” and prices have sky rocketed 50% or more just within the past few years. Buyers often end up in a feeding frenzy with well priced homes in halfway decent condition selling WAY over asking price with multiple offers. I heard of one house just outside the city selling for $70K over asking with 17 offers the first day it went on the market….and the house hadn’t been updated in over 30 years! 

What is even more shocking to me though than the prices are some of the listing photos! Between all the pretty images I see daily on Instagram and Pinterest my eyes are not accustomed to viewing such shockingly bad photos. I just don’t get it. What are people thinking when they are listing their biggest asset (presumably) yet they don’t take the time to get a decent photo?

Here is an sampling of some of my favorite shockingly bad real estate photos. Keep in mind these are actual photos I pulled directly from the MLS listings. I did not edit them in any way and all of these photos are from homes priced between $500,000 and $650,000 just outside Boston. 

Poorly lit photos seem to the number one problem with bad real estate photos. This room might not be appealing even with the lights on but it’s hard to tell by this photo.

Bad and poorly lit real estate photo.

Not sure what the seller had in mind when posting this one. It’s hard to know if this house has been on the market since Christmas or the owner just likes a fully lit Christmas tree in their dark living room year round.

Bad real estate photo

I don’t know what is going on with that shinny textured pink wall but that roll of paper towels sure looks inviting on the leather chair. Also, for some reason there is a lamp on a lamp. Maybe they should have turned them both on before they took the photo.

bad real estate photo dark room

Pets in real estate photos are always a big no no but many sellers don’t get the memo. I don’t know what kind of hump back animal that is scurrying across that sofa but it looks like some nocturnal creature from the Outback.

The photo below is even stranger. It appears to be some kind of tiny animal house but it looks too small for a cat. Whatever or whoever it’s for, it’s obviously important since the seller went to great pains to place it just so at the foot of the bed. There is even a larger one against the wall for when whatever it is grows up.

Besides pets, there are never ending photos of rooms filled with odd objects. If I had to guess, maybe a disassembled pipe organ? The exercise bike on the braided rug is a nice touch don’t you think?

The next photo is half way decent as far as lighting goes but the garden hoe leaning against the cabinet spoils it for me. On the plus side, I’m so busy wondering why there is a garden hoe in the kitchen that I am distracted from the too busy back splash fighting with the speckled granite.

Really??? The seller couldn’t take two seconds to close the lid before taking the photo? Although maybe they wanted to show that they cleaned the toilet for the first time ever!bad real estate photo

If you want to see some of the ugliest painted rooms look no further than the online real estate photos. Nothing says a restful bedroom more than neon red walls, or maybe they are orange, it’s hard to tell.

Bad angles of rooms are another problem. The way this photo was taken it appears as if those beams are 4 feet off the ground. Hopefully that’s not the case or the buyer pool will be severely limited.bad real estate photosI especially like the photo below. I can just imagine the mom saying to her teenage son, “now pick up all those jerseys before the photographer gets here”. Too bad the room has no closet and they have to be hung on the drapery rod…or maybe those are the drapes?

Bad real estate photo

This next photo is probably my favorite. The home looked beautiful online and was already under agreement after one day but it looks like the seller forgot to measure the windows before they went out and bought drapes for the photos.

Too long drapes

Or maybe they just got a really good deal on 150″ long drapery. Every room had ridiculously long drapes pooling on the floor.

too long drapes

Now that we have decided to rent I no longer have to subject myself to viewing these terrible images. Too bad they didn’t read any of my blog posts on how to take better cell phone photos since these all look to be taken with a phone camera.

I hope these photos have added a little comic relief to what has been a stressful news week. 

How about you? Have you seen some shockingly bad real estate photos lately?

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!


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.


Five tips for better holiday photos using the iPhone

First off, a huge thank you to all who entered to win the Domino Book Giveaway. My husband drew Claire Cuevas’s name from all the entries. You can see the video on my Instagram of the drawing but I had problems posting it here on the blog. Now, on to today’s post.

The holidays are here and that means most of us will be taking lots of photos. In order to get the best photos possible I have five quick and easy tips for better holiday photos using your iPhone or other cell phone camera.

  1. Check battery and storage. Okay, I know this sounds like a no brainer but I have been with friends twice in the last couple of weeks who either had a dying phone battery or saw the dreaded “Cannot Take Photo” window pop up on their screen.

img_7148So before you head out to the party or celebration take a minute to check your available storage in settings. If you are running low then delete some old photos to make room for new. Don’t forget there are two steps to free up storage and you can read about the two steps HERE.

2.  Turn off the flash. Nothing kills a good photo faster than a harsh unflattering flash. Turn on the room lights (even if only for a minute), get near a window or do whatever it takes but do not use the in-camera flash.

3. Move in close. Don’t be timid. Cell phone cameras have a very wide angle lens so to get great shots move right in and get up close. Decide what the subject of your photo is and then move in as close as possible to fill the frame with your subject. For example if you are taking a photo of someone opening a gift it’s not important to see the sofa they are sitting on or the room they are in or much of anything else expect the gift and the expression on their face as they open the gift. Remember too…never use your two fingers and pinch to get in close. Zoom with your feet not with your fingers.

4. Get the correct exposure and focus before you shoot. If you are using an iPhone and the image looks either too dark to too light then manually adjust the expose until it looks good.


Simply place your finger on the screen until a yellow box appears with a little sun icon to the right. Then move your finger either up or down the screen to lighten or darken as desired. You can read about it in more detail Here.

5. Take lots of photos! One of the biggest differences between an amateur and a professional photographer is the number of photos they take. A professional will take multiple shots of the same photo. They will try different angles, move things around,and look at the screen to see what might be distracting in the back ground or how the photo can be improved. An amateur however takes one maybe two shots then wonders why their images don’t look that great….which brings us back to tip number one!


I want to wish you all a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year. I am grateful beyond words for each and every one of you who take time out of your busy lives to read my blog. I’ll be taking a short break over Christmas and New Years but back in early January with plenty more design inspiration and iPhone photography tips.

May 2017 bring you Peace, good health and prosperity.




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