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Beginner Photography: Abandoned

Hey folks! We’re back! The theme for the show this week is “abandoned” which is a pretty interesting subject. I love these more abstract topics and seeing the creativity they inspire.

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I knew exactly where I wanted to shoot this week. Philadelphia has no shortage of abandoned buildings, but there’s one in particular that I love and is near my neighborhood. What I wasn’t sure of at first was what I wanted my subject to be. But if you’ve been following my photography journey so far, you’d know that my most successful projects have been creepy and featured my daughter, Eloise. So my idea was to place her in the midst of these ruins, and I’d already made her up to look like a ghost child before, so this time I went with more of an ominous, shrouded figure.

I dressed her in a black lace dress of mine and fastened it at the back, then used a sheer black shirt of mine over her face as a shroud. My husband chauffeured us there and we sprayed our legs with bug spray before venturing into the overgrown space (I grew up in Connecticut, my tick fear is justified.)

I used my borrowed Olympus E-M10 with a Lumix 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 as always. I had my camera on aperture priority at a low f/stop and everything else on auto. I placed Eloise throughout the space in doorways and on a staircase. I wanted her to just be a small part of the space, not necessarily a prominent focal point. 

I converted all the shots to black and white in post. The greenery and the graffiti were too distracting and took away from the eerie quality I wanted in the shots. I adjusted the exposure on them all for the white and black points:

And then used a radial filter to lighten up Eloise in some of the shots where she was a bit lost in the frame. It also gave her a bit of a glow around her. I also added some post-crop vignetting to make the shots look darker even though we were shooting in the daytime. Here’s what I came up with:

f/4, 1/250th, ISO 200


f/4, 1/200th, ISO 200


f/4, 1/250th, ISO 200


f/4, 1/200th, ISO 200


f/3.5, 1/320th, ISO 200


I really enjoyed this shoot. I wish I’d directed Eloise to do some more with her body language, it wasn’t until the end of the shoot that she pointed at something and I realized how good of a creepy pose that was. I’d love to shoot in this space again at the golden hour or the blue hour, but I didn’t want Eloise to have to be out there that late.

How’d I do? What would you have done differently? I can’t wait to see your shots this week.

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Beginner Photography: Night

Night photography! I kind of had to phone it in this week, guys. We had one clear night and I was carless and home with my daughter, so I couldn’t go out when it was properly dark. But I knew of a lovely church within walking distance that I’ve been meaning to shoot for a while, so we trekked out there with my camera and tripod.

I’ve done night photography before, you can see my shots and my process here.

This week I tried to shoot panoramas since I¬†was close to my subject (can’t get too far away without a road and cars in the way) but it proved to be pretty difficult. The tripod I’m working with isn’t the best and I was having a hard time panning smoothly to capture multiple shots in a row. I wound up hand-holding the camera for most of them. I shot on aperture priority with the aperture wide open to gather as much light as possible and at ISO 100, but that left parts of the scene blurry. I didn’t take enough shots of the scene to get the detail I wanted when stacking my images.

Here’s an incredibly helpful video on image stacking and panoramas, which I should have watched before I went out:

I’m not thrilled with how any of my shots came out. I really wish I’d taken more time and captured more shots of each part of the building to stitch them together.

f/3.5, 1/20th, ISO 100


f/3.5, 1/40th, ISO 100

f/3.5, 1/30th, ISO 100


I also chose to center all of these shots to make the building feel as impressive as it is, but none of them are perfectly symmetrical which just makes it feel off.

The first and third shots I made virtual copies¬†of, then edited one to expose for the sky and one to expose for the building, merging them as HDR. I’m afraid I was a bit lazy and have some haloing around the building now that I look at it.¬†

Are any of you shooting on the theme each week? How are you finding it?

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Beginner Photography: Self-Portraits

Man, what is more intimidating that taking self-portraits? I love a good selfie, but it really is a delicate balance between narcissism and¬†self-esteem crushing reality. You want to look good, but you also don’t want to look like you know you look good, but then you have to look at a million pictures of yourself vamping and think “I look like an idiot and also I have terrible skin.” Or is that just me?

T&C have a bunch of free portrait tutorials here that are super helpful. Especially this one on using natural light:

Being aware of your light source is probably the most important part of self-portraits. Face the light, understand how it casts shadows.

Anyway, here’s what I did. Put on¬†basic makeup and a black dress,¬†the simpler styling the better. I decided to take my shots in my bedroom as it has good natural light and simple decor. I tried a few different spots in the room and so many different moods.¬†

I set my Olympus E-M10 up on a tripod and used Olympus’ mobile app to control it from my phone, which is so incredibly useful. I shot in aperture priority with the lowest aperture to blur the background, but that made it pretty hard to nail focus on my eye. I also set my ISO to the lowest I could because my shots always end up noisy, but that wound up making my shutter speeds pretty slow which I didn’t realize until looking at them now. I really need to pay more attention to my settings.

f/4.2, 1/3 sec, ISO 100


f/3.5, 1/6th, ISO 100


Who would I be if I didn’t go spooky?

f/3.5, 1/6th, ISO 100


f/3.5, 1/60th, ISO 100

Real talk: I did quite a bit of post-processing on these. My makeup was a mess and my skin was looking rough, so I did quite a bit of smoothing, you can probably tell. This page of Lightroom tutorials is integral. 

So I don’t know how “creative” these self-portraits are, but they’re mostly non-traditional. I think the last one with the backlighting is my favorite. Whattya think?

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Beginner Photography: Landscapes

I HATE SHOOTING LANDSCAPES. There, I said it. It’s probably only because I’m bad at it, but I cannot for the life of me capture a compelling landscape. I feel like I did better with cityscapes, but even then I have a really hard time finding a focal point.

This week I went out shooting at a park I’d never been to, and I felt pretty good about it while I was shooting (which is rare) and then when I got them onto my computer I was so disappointed. Just so much green, and not much interest. I even got a shot of an urban cowboy and couldn’t make it compelling!¬†

I tried to capture some moving water in a stream, but every shot wound up wildly overexposed. I guess I need a neutral density filter :-/

As always, I was using my borrowed Olympus E-M10 with a Lumix 14-42 f/3.5-5.6. I shoot mostly aperture priority and often shot with the highest f/stop to get the whole scene in focus. Unfortunately that meant that I didn’t nail focus when I came across a man riding a horse. They were moving a bit too fast for me to capture, but I recovered it as well as I could in post.

I do all of my editing in Lightroom, mostly adjusting the crop, white and black points, and some luminance.

f/7.1, 1/400th, ISO 200


f/3.5, 1/1250th, ISO 200


f/22, 1/20th, ISO 100


f/20, 1/60th, ISO 250


I’m really kicking myself for not adjusting my aperture when that cowboy showed up. It could have been such an incredible capture but I really missed the mark. I’ll have to go back there and hope to see them again, there were quite a few people out riding. I’d also like to go back during the golden hour which would help with the lack of color variation in all the shots.


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Beginner Photography: Nature

Schedule change this week! We’re having the live show tonight since Tony and Chelsea will be traveling on Thursday, so I’m also posting my blog today. Our theme this week is “nature.” While we don’t have a ton of it in the city, all the flowers in our neighborhood have started blooming, so that’s what I went with.

Honestly, nature shots don’t do a whole lot for me, so I don’t have much faith in my skills as a nature photographer. But at the very least I captured some light and color.

Nature certainly encompasses a lot, from landscapes to macro. T&C have a great video on shooting macro here:

I did end up shooting a bee this week, but I didn’t plan for it. I also wish I’d remembered this focus stacking video!

Then again, there are a lot of distractions in the city, and shooting flowers in front of people’s houses, you don’t really want to get much more than a flower or two in focus. So I was shooting with a low aperture. Here’s what I came up with:

f/4.5, 1/160th, ISO 200


f/4.6, 1/1600th, ISO 200


f/5.6, 1/160th, ISO 200


f/5.3, 1/640th, ISO 200


So that’s some nature! I dunno, none of these thrilled me. I adjusted the exposure on all of them, bumped the luminance a bit, and cropped of course. Do any of these do it for you?¬†

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Beginner Photography: Color

Color! The possibilities for this topic are endless. I had grand ideas of what I wanted to do, but limited resources. I had visions of bold lipstick, bold nails and a white background. Unfortunately I don’t have a studio to work with and I was my own model, so that limited my ideas a bit. But I was reminded of a shot I took for my food¬†project of a clementine on a teal plate.¬†

I decided to work with the same color palette and more fruit. I painted my nails teal and found the most aesthetically pleasing clementine and lemon in our fruit bowl and took them into my back yard for the natural light. Harsh light is good for fruit because you want the specular highlights, not the flat light that you may want for portraits.

I shot in aperture priority with a low aperture to blur the background as well as I could, and took a bunch of shots of my hand holding the fruit. Some in front of the wood decking and some in front of the ivy. 

f/3.6, 1/3200th, ISO 200


f/3.6, 1/3200th, ISO 200


Next I wanted to shoot my lips in a bright color with the green background and teal nails. This was a bit more challenging, but I finally downloaded the Olympus app for my phone so that I could control my camera from in front of it. Compared to Canon and Nikon’s apps, this one is great. I was able to focus and shoot myself from my phone while my camera was on the tripod in front of me.

f/4.5, 1/800th, ISO 200


f/4.5, 1/640th, ISO 200


f/4.5, 1/800th, ISO 200


For all of these images I tweaked the colors so that they were more saturated and complementary to each other. I edit my skin a ton because it looked terrible, and lightened it a bit so the colors would pop more.

Chelsea has a great tutorial on changing colors in Photoshop here that might help you out, although I did all my edits in Lightroom:

Do these work for you to convey color? I think the fruit shots do for sure, but I’m not sure about the self portraits. This was a really fun project for me, and I’m feeling more inspired than I have in a while.¬†

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Beginner Photography: Abstract

Man, this project was a roller coaster. I decided to try out Tony and Chelsea’s abstract impressionist concept that they teach here:

Unfortunately I don’t live near a beach or any expanse of land, really, so I attempted it on a much smaller scale. I literally just walked around my tiny yard and through my neighborhood looking for anything I could shoot with a long exposure while moving my camera. And I was certain that I got nothing usable. They all looked either too recognizable to call abstract or just so bland. But that’s why we have post-processing, right?¬†

First, the shooting process. I shot manual so I could set a low ISO, a high f/stop and adjust my shutter speed to taste. I made sure that the shutter was open enough to gather light but not over expose the images too bad, but still gave me enough time to move the camera while it was open. Since I wasn’t shooting a vast landscape though, it was much harder to move the camera and keep even horizontals and not have them curve. So after a while I just went with that, moving the camera in different ways to find good shapes. It really just took a whole lot of shooting crappy images and trying repeatedly.

So once I brought my shots into Lightroom I picked out a few that I thought might have potential. I looked for interesting shapes and color. Once I found that, I adjusted my exposure and contrast and then just experimented with color. I used split toning to adjust the color of shadow and highlights. Since the project was abstract, there was no reason to worry about the colors looking realistic, they just needed to be pleasing! It wound up being a really fun experiment.


f/22, 1/2 sec, ISO 200


f/22, 1/2 sec, ISO 200


f/22, 1/2 sec, ISO 200


f/22, 0.8 sec, ISO 200


While there are recognizable shapes in each image, they are moved to the point of being surreal. The third shot is my favorite, the motion wound up looking like waves. The last shot of the fence turned out looking very sinister to me which I liked, so I leaned the colors towards red and black to add to the mood.

I think as a whole these were more successful than my first attempt at abstract last year.

What do you think? Are these visually appealing or do they just look accidental? I had a lot of fun with these in post, even though while I was shooting I felt like it was all a loss. I can’t wait to see what everyone else comes up with for the live show this week.

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Beginner Photography: Long Exposures

Happy Spring for those of you in this part of the world! It doesn’t feel like it yet, but I can’t wait for it to get warmer and drier so I am motivated to get out and shoot more.

This week’s live show topic is long exposures, which I really hadn’t attempted¬†before. But a month or so back we had a party for my stepson’s birthday and our friends brought sparklers. I thought it would be a great time to try out some impromptu light painting. These wound up being abstracts, which I love, not the intentional kind of light painting that you generally see. Those are a bit more complex and you can learn multiple ways to do it from Tony’s video here:

I think my kids would love to try those as well, so maybe we’ll attempt them in the future.

So all it took to capture these photos¬†was some experimenting with the shutter speed.¬†I took some of just the firecrackers burning, but I didn’t find those too compelling. The ones I liked the best had the eerie ghosting of the kids moving through the frame around the light. Others, I chose to pivot myself while the shutter was open to create light trails.¬†

f/3.6, 5 sec, ISO 640


f/3.6, 3.2 sec, ISO 320


F/3.6, 5 sec, ISO 1000


The first two images I converted to black and white in Lightroom and adjusted the exposure. The colors in the shots weren’t very pleasing and didn’t add anything to them. In the last shot however, I adjusted the white balance to make the yellow lights more blue and thought the abstract look of the whole thing was beautiful.

I thought these were really fun to shoot and I look forward to trying it again, a bit more intentionally next time. 

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Beginner Photography: Lines

Hey folks! This week’s topic was a fun one: lines. I like these abstract topics, partially because I’m lazy and partially because I just like abstract photography. Not that these images had to be abstract, but that’s what I tend to when shooting something simple.

The problem I came across with almost all of these shots was a lack of focal point. So some of these wound up being more like location scouting for when I have a model (most likely my daughter) to put in the scene at a later date. I actually love simple, stark shots of man-made structures especially. I think it’s something about finding a rare blank space in the city.

As usual, I shot in aperture priority at my lowest aperture. Some of these shots were of repeating patterns, so it makes the most sense to choose a small focal point and let the rest of the image blur. It helps to eliminate background distractions and your brain fills in the rest of the pattern for itself.

I walked around my neighborhood looking for lines and patterns. I first went to the train tracks, but where I live they are just in a straight line, which doesn’t give a very interesting leading line. Those shots wound up being unsuccessful. The sun was high in the sky, though, which made for lots of nice shadows. I sought out a few staircases that I thought would serve as a good subject. There were also a number of stone railings I liked. I converted all the shots to black and white since the pattern and texture were the focus.

This was actually an old shot from my phone that I loved but found no use for.

There is a person sitting at the end, but I wish they were larger in the frame.


This is a spot I’ve shot before, in my post on architecture. I think this crop works a bit better.

f/3.5, 1/800th for some reason, ISO 200.


This spot you’ll recognize from my “spooky” shots here. It could certainly use a focal point, but I love the zig-zag shadows on the stairs.

f/4, 1/640th, ISO 200.


Another old shot from when I was in San Francisco. Pup prints.

f/9, 1/200th, ISO 200.


So, there’s lines! I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone’s interpretations for the live show this week. What do you think of my shots? At all compelling, or just boring?¬†

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Beginner Photography: Street Pets

Ok, so this one is a¬†cheat. I didn’t go out shooting this week, we don’t have a live show and I couldn’t come up with a subject. So I decided to go through old shots and edit some, and turned up a bunch of street photos of dogs that I never had any use for.¬†

I was shooting street photography in San Francisco at the time, so I had my Olympus E-M10 with me, using live view on the flip-out back screen to conspicuously take shots. But you don’t really have to be conspicuous with dogs, because they have no shame. So when possible, I got down at their eye level to shoot them. Like standard street photography, I tried to get some context to their surroundings and often went black and white to eliminate distractions.¬†

Here’s a great video from T&C on shooting street photography:

I realized editing these shots how far I’ve come over the past few months. I had NO idea what I was doing when I shot these. My settings are insane and the shots came out noisy even though I was out in natural light. My f/stop and ISO could¬†have been much lower.

And here are some pups:

Sadly, I cut off his front feet which is a no-no, but look at that face! 

f/5.6, 1/80th, ISO 800


I love their bodies pointing different directions but looking the same way, and the cool owner leaning against his car.

f/6.5, 1/250th, ISO 200


It is hard to expose for a white ball of fluff, and to focus on it’s eyes.

f/4, 1/50th, ISO 200


So there’s some dogs! Do they make up for me not shooting this week? Maybe.¬†

Next week’s topic is “lines” which I’m excited for. I love abstract topics and I look forward to seeing how everyone interprets it, myself included.¬†