Workshop Series – Tips From a Professional Photographer

by | Mar 2, 2010 | Photography, Running a Business | 23 comments

Welcome to the workshop series brought to you by Mustard Seed Creations and Funky Junky Interiors!  Before we get started, make sure you check out my 1000 Follower Giveaway as well as the So You Think You Can Decorate Competition.  For this installment, I have another great guest lined up to share her expertise with you.  I “met” Courtney in the blog world a few months ago and I kept going back to her blog to look at her amazing photography.  I knew I wanted to bring a professional photographer in to share some tips and there was no doubt who I was going to ask. 

Once you glean all of the goodness from Courtney’s tips, make sure you check out Donna’s Workshop this week.  She has a guest sharing some simple sewing tips.  Great info!  Without further delay…here’s Courtney!

I’ve been trying to figure out how to best describe myself and I think it might be summed up in the phrase “jack of all trades, master of… maybe 3?” Lately, my most frequently worn hats are mother, wife, photographer, artist, writer, and musician. Usually in that order.

But today I’m happy to talk about one of my loves for Miss Mustard SeedPhotography! I think photographs should play a huge roll in our decor. It is a scientific fact that when you see a picture of someone you love, if gets your endorphins going– a natural high every time you look at a picture!
And I would be crazy if I did not point out that professional photography is an investment worth making.

Not just at the obvious events in life, but the small moments too…

Put aside a little each year (or at least every two) for professional (and professional doesn’t take place at  a mall or in any location with the word “mart” attached–lol) photography– I promise you won’t regret it!

However, every image in our homes does not have to be professional! I have lots of great tips on my website (in the sidebar under “do your photos stink?”) that will give you a push in the right direction on how to take photographs so that they can be used as art in your home.

The biggest mistake I see this time of year concerns white-balance. Such an easy fix in any camera that only takes seconds once you figure out how to do it, but most people are okay with printing pictures of their blue children playing outside because the camera was set to an indoor white-balance after Christmas morning 🙂 It happens! I like to use this gem as an example:
This is from my “pre-knowing-anything-about-photography” days. See how the whites have a blue-ish purple tint? Yeah, that’s not so good 🙂 You can find more info about how to solve this problem in a previous post. Especially if you have a blog or you are trying to sell something online, improving your skills is a MUST. And here’s a properly-balanced photo of my little B just so you can rest your eyes:
Much better! And it also makes the case for just being creative with your camera. Just get out some chalk and let the kids go wild, wouldn’t this be great in her room?

So, strive for the best you can do with your camera because point and shoots can do great things! Second, read more Miss Mustard Seed to learn how to paint and fix up stuff that other people might call junk! All with the goal of incorporating your snapshots as ART into your home. One of my favorite projects was this frame from my daughter’s room:
It is reclaimed barn wood that my husband put together for me. I then painted it.

This one makes me happy every day:
A window I picked up at the Re-Store (do you have something like that where you live? It’s a great resource!). I think windows are my favorite things to paint, play with, and mount pictures inside. This window sits atop this desk:
…which was mine when I was a little girl. I painted it and Mod-Podged it up. I think I would have made Miss Mustard Seed proud 🙂

And as a side note to all those who might share my slight Oz obsession, many of the photographs in the window are taken from when my sister and I made Wicked costumes for our kids for Halloween. I have an article coming out in the Spring/Summer issue of Somerset Digital Studio that outlines more of the art I created around that project. The map on the drawers is of Kansas 🙂

I update my site regularly with tips on how to take better photos and even photoshop advice, so come on over and stay a while (or subscribe!) if you have that urge to dabble! I have advice from the novice to the advanced, so jump right in! I love to answer questions and just talk to “kindred spirits” from all over the globe.

Thanks for this fun opportunity, Marian!
Courtney’s work is so creative, don’t you think?  I took photography classes when I had my 35mm SLR, but I struggled a little bit with translating all of that information to my digital SLR.  After reading her tips, I played around with the white balance on my camera and I can’t wait to experiment with it outside.
Donna, you have given me some good photography tips about lighting pictures indoors.  Can you share some of your tricks with my readers? 
“Ohhhh can I!

I struggle with this one constantly as my house resembles a cave during the daylight hours. It’s very difficult to photograph.

I plan to do a more indepth photo series in my own workshop coming soon, so all these points will be greatly elaborated. However, here are my top basic 5 tips for lighting pictures indoors. I use all of these steps (plus more!) each and every photo shoot I do. It sounds like a lot of work but it becomes second nature pretty fast.

#1. Get extra light into your home.
I use an auto lamp tree. I shine one lamp on the ceiling and one on the floor so the light bounces off each other. NEVER on your subject. This creates deep shadows. Also turn on every light you can (that isn’t IN the picture) and open any door. It all makes a massive difference. The key is to diffuse the light anyway you can.

#2. Get out your camera manual, and learn how to play with the light features.
Cloudy, flourescent, all these settings give different hues to your photos. I have at least 10 options in my point and shoot and they ALL make massive differences in your end result. Learn what they do, play with them and use them. You won’t believe the difference!

#3. Download Picasa (or another online photo enhancing program: they are free!) and enhance each and every photo. Gals, this is a must. I’d never use a photo straight out of my camera. This subject is a post all it’s own and one day I plan to do just that. You’ll thank me later.

#4. Take some subjects outside to photograph if you can.
You won’t believe the difference. Natural light is the very best, but ensure it’s a cloudy day OR a shaded/diffused area. My fav place to photograph is my outdoor patio as the sunlight is diffused by the plastic corrugated roofing. The light is always perfect.

#5. Remember to work down for lighting too.
If you’re taking a full shot of your kitchen table, you’ll get dark shadows underneath. Shine an extra light for that area. It’ll really brighten up the chair seats and show your floor nicely. Lightness is your best friend when shooting indoors.

But honestly? The MOST IMPORTANT feature of all is, no movement.
Get your camera on something solid. I’m married to my tripod, but sometimes it’s not quite right, so I grab a box, can, cup or anything that won’t move. I also lean, clasp my elbows against my body, I do ANYTHING to get that extra support so the camera will not wobble. EXHALE, relax, hold your breath and click.”

Those are some awesome tips, Donna.  So, what if you don’t have an awesome camera? That’s ok. I took a series of pictures to show you the different looks I get with two different cameras. One is my Nikon D50 SLR (about $700, with accessories) and the other is a Canon digital point and shoot (about $150 camera.) All of these pictures were taken of the same subject, in the same light, on the same day, in the same location.

Nikon D50 with Speedlight Flash.
This is how I take almost all of my pictures. I was very anti-flash (and you’ll see why in the pictures below), but then I e-mailed with my brother’s friend, Blake Gardner, who is a professional photographer, and he gave me some tips on using a flash correctly. I use a diffuser and also “bounce” the flash off the ceiling and it creates this great light. (It’s not bad to get photography advice from one of the best head shot photographers in LA, huh?)
Nikon D50 without flash
I also take a lot of pictures using this method, but the problem is that I have to wait for a sunny day and the right light to get a great photograph. On a gray day like this, the picture looks a little blah.
Nikon D50 with camera flash
Can you understand, now, why I am anti-flash? the flash casts weird shadows, the light looks unnatural, and the background is dark.

Canon digital point and shoot with camera flash
Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse… So, this just emphasizes that you can take bad pictures with a cheap camera as well as a good one.

Canon digital point and shoot without flash
So, we’re getting better, here. Already the picture is improved by turning the flash off. If this was taken on a sunny day, the picture would’ve been really nice.

Same exact picture as above, but I have adjusted the fill flash, saturation, brightness and contrast using Adobe Photoshop Elements.
This shows you that you can do wonders with an inexpensive point and shoot camera and some free photo editing software.  (This series of photos is from an old post and I was busted for the tray being crooked in every picture, so understand these pictures were more about the lighting.)

Other photography tips
1.) Stage your pictures. Think of having a “photo session” with your craft, furniture piece, or room. Try different arrangements, pull things from other rooms and pick a nice back drop.
2.) Just like Donna said, take your pictures in your brightest room at the best time of day. You’ll want your subject to have lots of indirect sunlight.
3.) Take tight close-ups and get a lot of different angles. Sometimes a piece looks totally different when you look at it sideways or from over head.

Next week, I’m going to introduce my next series – Painting and Refinishing Furniture.  I am really hoping the weather starts to improve in my neck of the woods, so I can take you step-by-step through some projects.  I’ll take a little break from that subject on March 10th for a guest post from a blogger who has one of the fastest growing blogs I’ve ever seen (and she’s popular for good reason.)  You won’t want to miss what she has to share!

Miss Mustard Seed


  1. Dreamy Whites

    Thank YOu Marian for having Courtney as a guest on your blog! These are great tips & now I have found another great blog to join! I have been wanting to learn more about photography, Courtney thank you for sharing this very valuable information with us.
    Take Care,

  2. Anonymous

    Hello. And Bye.

  3. Dreams of Perfection

    I loved this POST! Anyone who just skims over it is losing so much good info!! Thaks so much…REALLY :o)

  4. Dayka (Life +Style)

    this was really great! i really need to find the manual to my point and shoot so i can better capture my furniture makeovers. they all look so "blah" on film!

  5. Magic Brush

    Man do I need to step my photos up a notch.

  6. Courtney Price

    Thanks for including me Miss Mustard Seed 🙂 I seriously love "blogland" so much 🙂 I love hearing from you all!

  7. Holly Lefevre

    GREAT post! I knew a few tricks, but just recently, as I want…strive to have nice photos on my blog, I am finding I need to know a lot more about photography! THANKS! I don't know how I never made it over here before…I'm a new follower!
    504 Main

  8. Laurie at Turner Farm

    Great information, Thank you for sharing. I have had challenges with my photos and you answered or directed me as to where to find the answers.

  9. SueAnn

    Super post!! I loved all the photography tips! My problem is I always get in a hurry instead of slowing down and thinking about my subject and how I want it to look. Thanks for all the tips

  10. Marianne@Songbird

    Thank you Donna and Miss Mustard Seed for your great tips. Can I just add that If you do have a DSLR shooting everything in RAW format solves a lot of the lighting problems because you can change the light balance and the exposure afterwards.

  11. Kim @ Cheap Chic Home

    I didn't know my camera had a white adjustment. I just took some pictures using it. Thank you so much for the help – better pictures are ahead!

  12. Ellen

    Great advice…no one ever felt they had too many photos….or photos that were too good…..smiles.

  13. Rustique Gal

    This is just what I needed! My indoor pictures can be pretty yucky. I try too hard with lighting. Will use these pointers! Thanks, Sherry

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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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