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A tricky little trick to make instagram photos one million times better

I shared this photo a few days ago on instagram:

We just recently had the walls painted, new trim and carpet installed and things are looking so much fresher upstairs (more on that soon!). We still have trim to caulk and paint, pictures to hang and furniture to arrange but I couldn’t help but bring up a struggling fiddle leaf fig tree into our bedroom.

While walking through the room on Saturday morning, the tree looked so pretty with the light of the window and so I did what I do and stopped to snap a photo and posted it on instagram.

Instagram is a funny thing because while, yes, this is an actual photo I took, it is also teensy bit untrue.

We could talk about this all day long and go super deep into how social media can become just a snippet of the best of the best and leave out the not-so-pretty of everyday life and cause feelings of inadequacy and comparison and ugly things.

I’ll save that conversation for another day.

Today I’m more talking about enhancing reality. Kind of like how makeup enhances our features, I’ve found some tricks that enhance what comes out of my camera.

Let me show you what I mean.

Here’s the photo of the fiddle leaf fig tree straight from my phone:

I promise it looked much lighter and prettier in person, but this is the best my camera could do with the minimal natural light it had to work with.

NOTE: I turn off all artificial lights when taking photos – both with my real camera and iphone camera. It was what the pros did when they photographed our old house for the magazine, so I’ve just followed suit. I do find that photos are much less grainy and true-to-life color without artificial light. It just makes it super tough during our very dark and gray winters/early spring here in the Pacific Northwest to take natural light photographs.

This is where helpful tools come to the rescue.

To get my photo instagram-ready, I do a bit of editing.

After snapping the photo in the regular camera app, I first edit the photo using Afterlight, and then do any retouching using the TouchRetouch app. Both are paid apps (.99 and $1.99, respectively) and worth every dime.

Here’s my process:

Start by opening the photo in Afterlight.

To make edits, click on the second icon over and scroll through to find the appropriate tool.

All photos I post on instagram go through at least an adjustment to the brightness. It makes a huge difference.

For this particular photo, I brightened it twice and reduced the contrast just a bit, then saved. When saving for instagram, be sure your finished size is 800 px or higher for optimal resolution.

I usually stop at this point for most photos, but in this case, I wanted to remove those two uncovered outlets to clean things up a bit and let the tree be the focus.

NOTE: I struggle with this a little bit. I mean, isn’t it totally a misrepresentation to photoshop out outlets, crumbs, cords, spots, etc?! I waffle between LET’S BE COMPLETELY REAL! and ENHANCE IT ALL!

For this photo, though, I decided those outlets were just distracting and was happy to make them go away.

Here’s how that happens:

Rather than opening photoshop on my computer, uploading the photo, editing, saving, air dropping it back to my phone and then posting … I use the TouchRetouch app. It is certainly not as powerful as photoshop, but it does the trick for iphone photos.

Open up the brightened photo and click on the Quick Repair button. With the tap of your finger, you draw over the spot you want to remove and it magically disappears.

It’s seriously so fun. And so easy. The software just clones from a nearby area, so it may take a little bit of trying before it comes out right.

Once you’re done, click to save and you’re set. You can post directly to instagram from this app, or open instagram directly.

Again, here’s the side-by-side:

Kinda crazy, right?! Do you hate me for posting doctored photos?!

I discovered the retouch app while on our road trip and used it a couple of times to clean up some photos.

One was this photo of a random bus sign we parked nearby while getting gas:

The old sign, blue sky and fluffy clouds were just so eye-catching. What wasn’t great was the highway billboard and extra wire running along the bottom and so through the magic of three taps I pulled those out.

Another time the app came to the rescue was when a random kiddo at the pool found his way into our photo with our besties:

With some brightening and retouching, the colors are happier and the lurking boy is gone.

Here’s one more example:

After a full day of sweaty sight-seeing in Savannah, we ate at the most delicious restaurant and felt so grateful for these kids who were such great travel companions. I wanted to document their cuteness, and loved that great boxwood-covered wall and industrial light, but was not so happy with that white thermostat. By removing that and cloning the boxwood out further to the left, the photo becomes cleaner and highlights my little darlings.

I don’t use the retouch app often, but it sure is wonderful when I need it.

I do, however, brighten every single photo I take.

It’s a tricky little trick that makes my instagram photos one million times better.

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how I edit iphone photos for instagram

My iphone is like an extension of my arm – it’s by my side at nearly all times of day (and night). I love it for texting and checking the weather and asking siri important questions like ‘how many days until …?’ (asked by a certain second born who is slightly excited about his upcoming birthday) and watching cute youtube videos like this one and this.

Most of all, I love it for the camera.

Admittedly, an iphone does not take the same quality of photos as a real camera, but the fact that it is always with me, easy to use and quick to capture everyday moments works out just fine for me. It is fun to practice photography with my phone – looking for interesting angles or composition or finding the right light – and sharing those photos on instagram is a favorite, too.

I almost always do some editing before posting to instagram (I like a slightly dreamy, washed out look) and thought I’d show you what that looks like.

raw-and-edited-instagram

We’ll use this photo taken yesterday of a piece of my mom’s blackberry pie (yum).

Here it is straight from the camera: Continue Reading →

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the number one way to make your photos better

Note: It feels strange and kinda bossy to tell you how to take good pictures coming from a girl who doesn’t even know how to shoot manually. My camera is old-ish and I only have the one lens it came with, but after four years of playing and learning and trying, my photographs have vastly improved (just look at some of the early blog posts – like this one – and you’ll notice a big difference in the quality of images). So I’m not coming to you as an photography expert, but rather someone who hacks her way through to deliver the best quality I can. Creating an attractive blog depends greatly on good images, so I do the best I can with the tools and knowledge and skills I have …

and I always follow this very important tip:

turn-off-the-lights

It seems so counter-intuitive –  you’d think you need as much light as possible to get a bright photo and turning on the lights makes more sense. But when taking indoor photos, the opposite is true.

When my office was photographed last year for Better Homes & Gardens, they shot in the middle of winter, with gray skies and very little natural light. And still, they turned off the lights. Every single one in the house.

IMG_9738

(BHG stylist & photographers working with only natural light – december 2012)

I learned a lot watching the professionals work their magic and have since adopted the turn off the lights strategy for blog photos. It has made such a difference in the quality of images I post.

Here’s an example from yesterday. The sun was not out and it was actually quite dark and dreary outside:

office-lighting

The photo on the left was taken with overhead and task lights on. The photo on the right was taken with all lights off.

The photo with only natural light looks brighter and clearer and the colors are truer to real life. It’s still a little bit dark so that is where just a few simple photoshop edits come in.  For all of my blog post photos I use Pioneer Woman’s free photoshop actions. First I run slight lighten and then define and sharpen, adjusting the opacity as needed. Then, the photo is ready for posting:

desk-edited

You would never know from the photo that it was actually a gray, dark day.

Here’s another example:

tulip-lighting

This one is in our kitchen – on the left with overhead lights and lamps on, on the right with only the window as a source of light.

Again, I run the photo through the same actions and the photo turns out crisp and bright:

tulips-edited

I’m so glad for simple tips and free tools to help us non-professionals!

A few things I’ve learned about taking photos in natural light:

:: turn off all adjacent lights

If you are taking a photo in the living room, make sure the lights are off in the entry and hallway, too (or any other adjacent rooms). It keeps the lighting consistent.

:: open curtains and blinds to allow maximum light

When I take product or tutorial photos, I sit right below a window in my office for the best light and pull the blinds all the way up.

:: take photos when your home is the brightest, with filtered indirect light

Our house gets the best light before noon and I really can’t get a good photo after 4pm. Our winters are dark and gray so there are days that taking photos is just not going to work.  Take advantage of light when you have it!

:: use a tripod

With limited light, your camera’s shutter speed will be slow and any slight movement will cause photos to be blurry. A tripod will stabilize your camera and even with a super slow shutter speed, you’ll get a clear photo.  Most of the time I do not use a tripod, but it definitely does make a difference when I do.

:: play with your camera settings

I use a canon DSLR and shoot in the AV setting. It is probably not the right way to take photos, but it is what I know and I’ve figured out the settings that work for the look I’m going for.  Someday I’ll learn how to photograph manually, but for now I just play around with the ISO and aperture numbers.

It’s pretty fun playing stylist and photographer – I hope these tips are helpful to you, too!

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enjoying the lovliness of nature

It’s instafriday on Life Rearranged and so I thought I’d link up once again.

I have had my iphone for just about two months now and I’m pretty much in love. Mostly because the camera is so. darn. good. And super easy.  It is fun to snap photos in an instant of things that catch my eye.

What catches my eye the most lately is the amazing show that the springtime in the pacific northwest is putting on for us.  I suppose this happens every year, but as I get older, I appreciate the beauty of nature so much more.

Here are some of my favorites taken this week:

{amazingly ruffled tulip}

{euphorbia – one of my favorite perenials}

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family photos {before & after}

One of the things I love best about christmastime {other than the pretty decorations, the family memories, the holiday treats} is receiving christmas cards from our friends and family.  The card designs are fun to enjoy, but the best part is always the family photos.  We put them up on our fridge for the season and we all enjoy seeing the faces of our favorite people each day.

And so, of course, I wanted to have a new family photo taken for our christmas card this year.  My new dad is a great photographer, so he agreed to take ours. Let me just break to say that I don’t really like the term new dad. But I like step dad and my mom’s husband even less. My personal favorite is sugar daddy – which is what I call the wonderful and amazing Walt in real life, but I don’t know how appropriate it would to say “my sugar daddy took our family photos”. Do you see my dilema?!

Anyway … moving on … my mom and Walt met up with us after church at the University of Washington on a surprisingly beautiful fall day and we did a whirlwind of photo taking. The kids did as well as can be expected {although it was still quite challenging to get them all looking at the camera at the same time, let alone smiling}.

The photos in their raw state are pretty good, but don’t you know I love an artistically edited photo! I did this post on using actions to edit your photos with a few helpful resources and I have another for you today.

Maria from Bloom & Grow photography has developed a set of actions for editing photos beautifully and simply using photoshop or photoshop elements.

Using the Bloom & Grow Basics set, here are a few before and afters from our family photo shoot.

Kind of amazing difference, right?

The next photo cracks me up. It was such a great concept, but look at poor Audrey-girl. She wanted nothing to do with this.

And this next one is okay – but has way too many shadows. It reminds me of just a regular snapshot you can get of your family. Without editing, it is fine, but with some editing, it turned out great.

I love how easy it is to turn your own photo into a much better photo with just a few clicks in photoshop.

If you would like to win a free set of Bloom & Grow actions, please leave a comment below.

I will select a random winner and will post it on the JDC Facebook page on tuesday. Good luck!

*** THE CONTEST IS NOW OVER. TO FIND OUT WHO WON, CLICK HERE ***

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