April 7, 2011

hello cupcake!

Okay, are ya'll ready to talk photography?

I think this time, I'll just grab some of your questions and take it from there. I've edited them down a bit, but for the most part, I think the main questions survived the cut.

Here we go.

Q. The biggest question I have during these gloomy, sunless days of winter is how to take good photos inside when it's light, yet not bright.

A. Well, first off, let's say a word of thanks that I've put off answering these questions so long that it's actually spring now instead of winter. Other than that, I try to keep my subjects as close to a window as possible. The vast majority of my indoor photos are taken in my dining room where the light is usually plentiful. Using a wide aperture is also helpful for low light situations.

Q. Thoughts on composition?

A. Composition. I have to say, I struggle with composition. I like things symmetrical, so my natural tendency is to center my subject. Sometimes that works great, but more often than not, a photo will be more interesting if you shake things up a bit composition wise.
For the most part, the cupcake photos in this post were photographed in a very standard way, but I cropped some of them in photoshop in an effort to make them more visually appealing. Google "rule of thirds" and you'll get tons of information on photography composition.
When I find a photo I fall in love with, I take note of where the subject is placed, the other elements in the photo that I like, elements I don't like and then sometimes I'll set out to create a photo that is similar in look and feel.
Also, background is a huge factor. Huge. In fact, background is almost as important as the subject. For me anyway. If I have the most awesome subject, but no good background, I don't even want to take the picture.
If at all possible, I'll change my angle until I get the very best background for the shot.

Oh, and speak of the devil. Here we have a perfectly centered, symmetrically composed cupcake photo.

This photo makes me sad. I made 24 cupcakes, but at the time that seemed a little gluttonous for just the three of us, so we gave them away to anyone who happened to stop by the house. But now they're all gone. What were we thinking?

Q. I was wondering how you post process your photos.

A. I use Photoshop CS5. I previously used Photoshop Elements, and that was a great program as well. Scott Kelby has a book for every single version of Photoshop and every version of Elements. I highly recommend that you get the book for your version.

Q. What f-stop do you use the most?

A. Hmmm. I'm willy-nilly, here, there and everywhere with my f-stop. I would say I'm in the 2.5-3.5 range the most, but that varies so much with what I'm photographing. The following cupcake photo was shot at 2.5.

In photographing people, I would say that 3.2 is the widest I would ideally want my aperture to be, but I do open up more if I'm losing my light.

Q. Do you shoot in RAW?

A. I do not shoot RAW. We'll just pretend I have some issue in my childhood that is preventing me from shooting in RAW, because there truly is no other valid reason that I'm not shooting in RAW. I don't want to talk about it anymore.

Q. How do I take a half decent picture in my house....after it's dark?

A. I don't take pictures after dark! :) If we have a family gathering and want some photos, my hubby or kids grab their point and shoots and use the flash.

Q. What suggestions do you have for accentuating motion in photography?

A. I don't think I've ever tried to accentuate motion. I've frozen motion (trampoline shots, etc.), but never accentuated it.

Q. I have read online that you MUST MUST MUST shoot with natural light and absolutely never use a flash. But how do I get good pics of my sweet daughter or an interior project or whatever if it's cloudy out? Or what if it's just dark in my house?

A. I choose to use only natural light. But. I don't have sweet little children whose adorableness I need to capture on a moment by moment basis, so I can choose the time of day and the specific (best natural light) location in my house for what I want to photograph.

When I took these photos of Kayla, it was a gross, dark, snowy, gloomy Sunday.

But, we shot at noon and while she wasn't actually facing the light - it was coming from the side - my front room has a window that faces south, so we had enough light to make the gloomy day work for us.

Hey, she matches the cupcakes perfectly! Now I want to re-do the shot and have her eating a cupcake.

Kayla - come back!

Q. Do you always set a custom WB?

A. No. I almost always have my white balance on auto. (Cringe).

Q. Do you change your ISO settings often, or do you rely on Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority?

A. I always, always shoot in manual. I definitely change my ISO as much as I need to in order to keep my aperture and shutter speed where I want them to be.

Q. I'd love to know how to nail pictures shooting wide open (especially children). I love the look, but it always seems that I don't get everything that I want tack sharp while letting everything else fall out of focus. Also, how do you choose your aperture when dealing with multiple subjects?

A. I would suggest bumping up your f-stop a bit. I've had that same situation. I used to shoot people wide open, but not anymore. I want their whole face....eyes, nose, etc. in focus, so these days, I would say 3.2 is as low as I'd ideally like to go. (I break that self-imposed rule all the time though!!) You'll still get beautiful background blur at 3.2.
Choosing aperture for multiple subjects? I. don't. know. I try desperately not to shoot multiple subjects! I did, however, just shoot six handsome high school fellas in a group. They were on stairs, at different levels and distances, so I shot at 7.0. I knew I'd have my hands full with their .... ummm, shall we say vibrant personalities? ... and I didn't want to have to worry about my depth of field. I just crossed my fingers hoping 7.0 would be enough, and thankfully it was.

Q. I have a 28-135mm lens. I'd like one that will do macro photography - real close up. Any recommendations?

A. I have yet to take the macro plunge. One day! Macro opens up a whole different world, doesn't it?

Q. Would you say most photos are pretty good straight outta the gate, or is it best to edit them? Maybe a simple question, but I'd love to know what percentage of pictures you edit (beyond cropping) as opposed to just letting them be what they are.


Q. Can you let us know if your pics are SOOC (straight out of camera) or do you do any post-editing on them (even minor color saturation tweaks.)

A. I always, always do at least a little tweaking, and sometimes I do a lot of tweaking. At the very minimum, I bump up the contrast a little. I like to use an action called Daily Multi-Vitamin on my people shots, and I use The Pioneer Woman's Boost action on my stills and landscapes. (But never at 100%). With the exception of Daily Multi-Vitamin, I don't think I ever use any action without fiddling around with the different layers at least a little bit.

Action sets I love:

Itty Bitty Actions - from the ultra-awesome JinkyArt
Totally Rad Actions
Pioneer Woman's Actions - these are free - whoo-hoo!
Flora-Bella Collection - so, so fun. Love these. LOVE.
Kubota Image Tools

Q. Have you noticed that there is snow on the ground at your house this morning?

A. Why yes, yes I did notice that lovely little gift from mother nature.

Q. Did you, within the last 24 hours, spend a rather large amount of time looking for real estate in both Florida and Arizona?

A. Yes again! Wow, I don't know who you are, but it's like you're living my life right along with me! Spooky.

Okay, so there you have it. Hope this helps, and if I missed anything just give me a shout out in the comments. Remember, it's a journey. I'm in a totally different place than I was this time last year, and I certainly hope to be in a totally different place this time next year.

Have a great day, and if you happen to live in a place where it's warm and sunny today, please pick up a local real estate guide for me and pop it in the mail, okay?


  1. the model (kayla), she is a beauty,those cupcakes look really delicious and most importantly, your pictures are awesome.

    i enjoy reading your blog.you are totally gifted with photography.=)

  2. Beautiful!
    Love those gorgeous cupcakes!
    And Kayla looks so beautiful...you take lovely shots!!
    I love the question and answer part in this post! So helpful!!

    Deborah xoxo

  3. I really enjoy your photography posts. I had a question about contrast. I tend to increase contrast on almost all my photos, but have heard that it increases noise also? I don't think my photos are grainy, but then again my eyesight isn't as crisp as it used to be. Is there a rule of thumb of when to increase the contrast and when to leave it alone?

  4. Big snort of laughter for your cringe about white balance on auto! :-) This is such an informative post - in particular about the actions sets. Now I'm going to email you with additional nosey photo questions because You Asked For It. Thanks!

  5. I barely know how to pick up the camera ...thats what daughters are for...but I have tried so I will bookmark this for a day when I go @ it again!...Thanks for the tutorial & those cupcakes look good enough to eat!

  6. Forward that real estate guide will you? Much needed sun here in the PacNorthwest. I have a camera. Now to understand all the lingo people who know photography speak. Love your photography, the color and subjects are beautiful and I appreciate your sharing your expertise.

  7. Thanks for this. I love reading how others shoot.

    Real Estate guide in the mail! It's 73 degrees right now.

  8. Thank you for your wonderful informative post. I am always needing help and you say it in just a way that my simple mind can understand.

    Thank you and hope your day it blessed.

  9. The cup cakes and the picture of the cupcakes looks good enough to eat!! Good post for the photo bugs.

  10. I really don't know beans about cameras. I just put it on automatic and point and shoot (without Flash of course!) I send my photos into Photoshop, hit Automatic there as well (I'm just an Automatic gal), perhaps crop. And that's all I do.

  11. What??? Florida and Arizona, is there a move in your future? And you are not looking at Charleston too?! LOL, inquiring minds need to know!
    I was required to take several photog. classes in college and learned all of this and I think I have forgotten 99% of it! Back then I had a Minolta that had to have everything set manually but I loved it and it took the most amazing pictures. Sigh, I've gotten so lazy over the last 20 years with point and shoots. Thanks for all the wonderful info, you have me yearning for a DSLR!!!

  12. Well, I can't help with the warm part, but I'm good for sunny! Your photo tips are bound to be a great help to a lot of people. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Um...I know NOTHING about photography. But, I do know a lot about cupcakes and you sure took some good pictures of them dearie! OH YUM!! You are helping my sister with her new fancy smanchy camera and for that I am very grateful. Even if you are speaking in a language I don't understand. :)

  14. Love this post, my friend, and you completely make me giggle...AND you KNOW my feelings on this crummy weather!

  15. Oh, I agree. You should be looking in Charleston. We lived there (actually Mt. Pleasant) for 15 years. Hubby sold real estate there. You would find everything there: food, culture, and the beach! As always, loved your pictures in this post. I'm just learning about all this photography stuff. Thanks for delivering your tips in such a creative way!

  16. Teresa, I have yet to read my manual so sometimes you're speaking a foreign language here. I need to start carrying it on the plane. I hope you don't look too closely at my pictures! Did I hear you say Arizona???? That made me sit up and pay attention! There's no snow here and we are having perfect weather, until summer that is. You would love it and you could hang out in my garden and work your magic. Just saying!

  17. I can only hope that one day this information will mean something to me. Also, making me look at pictures of yummy cupcakes first thing in the morning is mean. Did you just hear my tummy growl all the way from Indiana? I think I'm gonna have to head to the coffee shop soon.

  18. Good information, it's always fun to hear what other people do with their camera (and you do it well!). Are you familiar with the Digital Photography School website? (www.digital-photography-school.com). I get their posts by email and it's always informative - their site is a great source for photographers. Thanks for sharing, as usual your cupcake photos are gorgeous!

  19. Thanks for all your answer, Teresa, especially about lighting! You are confirming what I've always believed, that natural light is the best light. However, I don't know if I could get the pictures you get! You must have a fabulous camera :) And now I will finally break down and finish editing the last set I shot, which for some reason I have been putting off.

  20. I have another question. I just hopped over to Jinky Art, which reminded me of this conundrum. What time of day do you shoot? I always see these lovely pictures of nicely lit faces in front of nicely lit SUNNY backdrops, and I never get that. Am I shooting at the wrong time of day, or do you use some sort of something to make it all even out?

  21. I'll have to come back and read the Q & A when I'm not so hungry. I'm oogling at the cupcakes and not concentrating on anything else. :)

  22. What BEAUTIFUL cupcakes! I have SO much to learn about photograph, I love cooking, I love writing - but the photograhpy - OH DEAR! Anyway, I also love your blog and so enjoy your news. Thanks so much for sharing.

  23. Like I have said before....I just want to come follow you around for a day and watch you with your camera. You are amazing!!!!
    The next most fun thing is your choice of colors...fabulous!!! Love the pastels.

  24. Such a great post Teresa!......you know I love pull backs lol
    Would love to know what tips you used on those gorgeous cupcakes ?

  25. I would so love it if you moved to Arizona. It is quite a beautiful state!! Let me know if you have any questions about it!! Oh, and I have two beautiful kids that I would let model for you any day!!

  26. Thank you for the post!! That was my question about capturing my baby girl. I have tried SO many times to capture using natural light and she is just too fast!! I guess I still need to make some adjustments. I'm hoping to dig that manual out of the box and read through it this summer....plenty of sunlight then for going manual!

    And I agree with everyone else...posting those cupcake photos is just mean if you don't intend to ship them to us for taste testing. :)

  27. Now that I've started shooting in
    manual mode, I think I'm beginning to understand aperature and shutter speed (thanks PW). What is ISO and f stop? I know these must be duh? questions...

  28. Such pretty colors in those cupcake pictures!
    Beautiful photographs!

  29. I know how you feel. I struggle myself to take good pictures in the dark winter days. I find using incandescent lights helps a lot because they are a lot like sunlight.