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I Heart Faces – Before & After

When it comes to photography, I’m ashamed to say it…I’m a very slow learner.  My first experience with digital photography came at the end of 1999 when I decided to sell some of my clothes on eBay.  With my film camera, I took a picture of each item and headed off to the store to get the pictures put on CD.  Turns out, you can’t get the CD without buying prints too.  In the midst of this, the eBay bug hit me.  Putting 2 and 2 together, it became clear that I needed to get one of those new-fangled digital cameras.


Even back then, I was big into researching cameras so I bought a low-budget, best-in-its-class Polaroid brand digital camera that produced pictures a whopping 640×480!    I remember taking pictures of things like jeans, and it produced lovely rainbow colors in the denim pattern.  When I wasn’t taking pictures of eBay items, though, I soon discovered the addiction that is digital photography.  After all, you can take a gazillion pictures until you find one you love. 


Eventually, I tried to print some pictures taken with that camera.  If I cropped the photo at all, the pictures were too small to print properly even on a 4×6.  Off I went to buy an Epson camera, and the Polaroid was sold on eBay. :)


I was an addicted photographer.  (Absolutely clueless, but passionate nonetheless.)  Soon I was dubbed the “family photographer”.  Nieces and nephews ran away upon my arrival. 


I really thought I was good.  With my interest in photography still growing, I moved on to the Canon G1.  (Cutting edge stuff, folks!)  I researched extensively trying to get the best camera out there.  I paid a whopping $800+ for that thing.  I knew it had manual controls, but had no clue what that meant.  I just wanted the best.  Auto with flash was my most common setting, never anything on the manual side of the dial.


And this is where I stayed, taking mediocre pictures….one after the other.  I committed every photography sin there was.


Sin #1 – Center every single shot shot.  That’s what composure is all about, baby!




Sin #2 – Make sure that your subject always faces you head on. (like a dear in a headlight)



Sin #3 – Flash, always flash.  Natural light?  Never heard of it!  Shadow monsters are da bomb!

smile_20060804_0221 (Medium)

Sin #4 -  Use the preset B&W.  Who wants contrast?nathantubBath Tub 035

Sin #5 -  Be on the outside looking in.  You wouldn’t want to get close and personal.1.5


Sin #6 -   Take photos in direct sunlight.  Those harsh shadows just help create a mood.4.14 


Sin #7 -  Backlighting.  Huh?  What’s that?



Sin #8 – Kill the picture in your photo editing program.  Vignettes are groovy in any color.  Must.have.one.for.every.picture!



Eventually (I’ll get to this in a bit), my skills started to improve, but that led to sin #9.


Sin #9 – If you have a lens with a wide aperture, you must always, always have that aperture wide open. (Never mind that one eye is always fuzzy.) 



Sin #10 -  Ignore white balance.  What is that anyway?101406_2158a


Sin #11 -  Clutter and pop cans in the background are great.  It just makes things more “real”.

HPIM0110 (Small)


Sin #12 -   Look up here!  It will never occur to me to get on your level.  What a concept that would be for me, as the photographer, to move!easter5


Sin #13 – Automatic is the best choice.  It will figure everything out for me.  If someone has a cool picture, well, they must have doctored it in Photoshop.

(Little history…Allison, a friend of my sister and I, got into photography well before we did.  I started to notice the beautiful bokeh in her photos.  It was killing me to know how she did it.  Since I never had achieved that look with my camera, I assumed she doctored it.  I actually tried to “doctor” a photo of mine and the result is pretty hilarious, even though I thought it was right-on at the time!  Allison later shared a bit about aperture with us, but it sounded like rocket science to me.)

 nathanbikechange copy


Sin #14 -  Create amputees everywhere you go.  (And, while you’re at it, totally be oblivious to red slides and the horrendous pink tone they reflect on a face.)




Oh my goodness!  If I kept thinking about it, I’m sure I could think of a hundred sins.  Luckily, I am no longer stagnant in my photography.  What roused me out of my stupor? 


Who else?  My sister, Angie. 


It all started when she began taking better pictures than me!  Ya, that’s right.  Angie started outdoing the family photographer.  In fact, my family started referring to her as the “family photographer”.   (Oh, the injustice!)  Luckily, family rivalry can be a good thing.


In the midst of this, my sister, who never does anything small, dreamed up I ♥ Faces.  Not only are we sisters but also best friends, so any project of hers becomes my passion too.  By the time I ♥ Faces became a reality, my photography was improving on a much quicker pace.




Here’s some advice based on what I have learned in the past year:


1.  If your blogging template isn’t showcasing your photos, change it.  (I have a tutorial at the top of the page that can help out with that.  It’s also on I ♥ Faces.)  And I’ll also mention for the umpteenth time, the free software LiveWriter is awesome!


2.  Use the Rule of Thirds (and once you learn it, it’s okay to break it sometimes)




3.  Try different viewpoints.  Head on is okay, but sometimes a different angle will be even better!




4.  Learn about metering.  It can save an unavoidable backlighting situation.


5.  Not all B&W conversions are created equal.


b&w 3

b&w 2 

(The first is Element’s default B&W.  The second uses a gradient map layer with a slight amount of chocolate tint.)




6.  Move!  Try different angles.  Get on the ground and look up.  Get up above and look down.  Circle your victim like he’s your prey. :) 



ben 300 dpi 


7.  If at all possible, use natural light.  If the lighting stinks and can’t be changed…if your aperture is wide open, your ISO is way up and the photos still won’t work out, then use flash.  When I’m talking flash, I mean a diffused external flash.  Honestly, the one on the camera is close to worthless.  But, if it’s all you have, use it.  (Better some pictures, than no pictures.) 


In the meantime, stash that spare change away and buy a flash.  One thing I have found out since buying my external flash is that it gives you instant credibility.  I’ve had several people come up to me and mention what a nice camera I have and that I must be REALLY good.  I had the same camera up until I got the flash, and no one ever said that to me.  Something about that flash sends the coolness factor sky rocketing! 


BTW, fill flash can work great outside for getting rid of harsh shadows when the harsh lighting can’t be avoided.

baby (Taken with a softer, kinder flash)




8.  When you think you’re too close, get even closer!



9.  If you haven’t taken the leap yet, do it!  Buy a digital SLR and get yourself a great prime lens like the 50mm 1.4.  (A cheaper and really good alternative is the 50mm 1.8.)  You just can’t beat the beautiful bokeh it achieves!

cousin web


10.  If you have a friend who is good at photography, pick his/her brain.  They can lead you right to what you’re looking for.  (As Allison did when I couldn’t figure out the fuzzy background dilemma.)


11.  Pay attention to focus.  Someone once gave me the hint to focus on the eyes.  I can change focus points now in my sleep.  It really makes a difference.





12.  Open shade is your friend.  Get your subject into a shaded area that is not blotchy.  Those eyes will pop!  What a difference location can make in a picture.  Harsh sun or blotchy shade ruin too many potentially good pictures.

jenna (4)


13.  Better to use Photoshop with a light hand rather than a heavy hand.  I’m still guilty of forgetting this rule, but it is a great rule to keep in mind.


14.  Until you’re comfortable with the settings of your camera, take your photos in RAW as well as jpeg.  The RAW editor covers a multitude of “sins”.


15.  Clear the clutter!  I was at a birthday party the other day and there was a pop can right next to the boy’s cake.  Bossy me went up and moved the pop can.  When it’s that easy to clear the clutter, it’s a crime not to. :)


16. Don’t forget that your telephoto lens can take some awesome close-ups.  If you don’t have a macro lens, a telephoto is the next best thing to choose for close ups.





17.  Devour any information you can get on photography.  I ♥ Faces is a great resource.  Google is awesome for locating information.  YouTube has tons of tutorial videos.  The library has photography books.   There are amazing photographers that show their work online.  Take it all in!  Instead of blaming your camera or lens, learn how to use it to its maximum capacity.  Even point and shoots can produce bokeh if manipulated correctly.  I’ve noticed a few complaints on I ♥ Faces that the playing field isn’t “level”.  I’m glad it isn’t.  With such phenomenal photographers contributing, the inspiration you can gain from the site (and thus improvement of your skills) is astounding. 


18.  Edit and save your photos in sRGB mode.  (sRGB works for printing too!)  If you find that your photos don’t look as vibrant as they did when you edited them, you are probably working in RGB mode.  There’s a tutorial on I ♥ Faces about this.


jordyn4 rgb jordyn4

(The first is in RGB; the second is in sRGB.)


19.  Buy Photoshop and learn it.  Okay, I’m a bit biased there.  I own Elements, and it was the best $100 I’ve spent.  Yes, there are great free programs out there, but most of them come with a cost whether it be extra time getting to the things you want, lack of functions, having to upload pictures to an online site, etc.  To me, it’s worth it to invest a little in a photo program.  (Save money and buy an older version on eBay!) Did you know college students can buy one full version of Photoshop for around $200?  Know a college student?  Did you know that most could care less about owning their own copy and would be more than willing to pick one up for you?  I know, probably not “legal” but…


Before ever using actions, get to know the program.  I think it’s important to discover what the program can do before you start relying on actions.  I have some basic actions I use here and there, but mainly I use a levels adjustment, unsharp mask and very rarely brightness and contrast.  I’m working on learning color curves better. 


Once you start using actions, it’s important to know that most of the time, the opacity needs to be adjusted on each layer.


20.  Say goodbye to “cheese” forever!  Seriously.  I kind of get disappointed when I’m trying to photograph a child who has been “trained” to give an instant cheesy smile.  I’d much rather have a grouchy true expression than a forced smile any day!  I’m a candid kind of gal.  It brings me great joy to capture life as it happens.



21.  Calibrate your monitor.  Okay, I know nothing about this except that I know my monitor needs calibrated.  This is clearly evident to me because my prints do not always turn out like what I see on the screen.  If you’re going pro, I think this is a good investment to make.  If you don’t have a monitor calibrator and you are selling prints, pay a little extra to have a photo company color correct. Also, calibrate as best as you can using free online tools. 


22.  Practice any chance you get.  Go out on photography trips with your friends.  Do compare your photos with theirs with an attitude to learn from each other.

jenna (2)

23.  Finally, don’t jump the gun.  Online, I’ve seen so many people go “pro” after just buying their first SLR camera.  A camera does not make a person a pro.  (Even though a pro does need a good camera.)  Experience, a critical eye and practice is what it takes. Those things take time.  


With all the advice I gave, do I think I’m a pro?    NO WAY! 


I have so far to go before I’d ever even venture into photography as a business.  I still make some of the same old mistakes.  My artistic eye for photography is nowhere near adequately developed.  There is so much to learn. 


If you decide to go pro, make sure the photos you are taking now will be ones you will still be proud of ten years down the road.  If you still have doubts or haven’t developed your knowledge of your camera, keep learning and save the business for later. 


Above all, remember:quote

  • Emily - Wow, so much great info here. The first half was LOL hilarious…so much I can relate to and so much I know I'm probably guilty of. The second half with all the tips was wonderful…I learned so much in just this one post. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience (trials and errors too), it really is encouraging. I always love your pics and how you photo edit with Elements too. I've got a lot of work to do. :-)ReplyCancel

  • Brooke - Fabulous, fabulous post. I took so many notes and have so many things to look up still. Thank you for sharing!ReplyCancel

  • jen@odbt - Great post. I thought I was improving but then I was nodding yes after each of your sins. Guilty. Thanks for sharing your lessons.ReplyCancel

  • wenderful - So guilty of #9!
    That is all awesome advice! I can relate on so many levels. I love all of your examples.

    OK, that story you shared with me is hilarious! Seriously. That gives me hope for my own photography. At least I knew my telephoto lens could telescope. Even if I still only used it in auto mode.
    I promise not to give her a hard time. :)ReplyCancel

  • Jennifer - So very helpful! Thank you very much! And your pictures are beautiful.ReplyCancel

  • Little Lovables - amazing post! thank you, I will have to link to this oneReplyCancel

  • Pam D - Nowhere in there did you mention where to find the TIME to do all of that! (the learning.. the editing.. etc, etc). I obviously am a time-waster. Or just hopelessly clueless! I do wish I could come to Dallas, but I'm on our PTA board and we have Fall Festival that weekend. Oh–THAT'S where my time goes? ahhhh…. now I get it! Great tutorial..ReplyCancel

  • Adrienne in Ohio - Wow, I learned a lot from the second half of that post, Drew. Your photos are beautiful!ReplyCancel

  • way outnumbered - What a Fabulous post!!! This one post could help EVERY photographer:) Thanks so much for taking the time to put it together and reminding us all the stuff we "know" but need to put into action! Love the new blog set-up…you're motivating me to spruce up my own blog.ReplyCancel

  • way outnumbered - I just read your wish list…we have similar desires!!! I love the shootsac…and desperately wanting cs4 so I can ignore my kids even more and spend hours I don't have learning that!ReplyCancel

  • Monica Dyke - This post was so great! The time you took to get in so many cool points, wow. I have done every no no there is too and I still make plenty of mistakes. Those after pictures are so lovely! So funny, with the cheese. I told a boy, "O.K., that's enough with the cheeses, just pretend I am not here." Thanks so much for such an awesome post!ReplyCancel

  • heidiannie - Great pictures, advice and post! I didn't understand half of it- I'm so glad I have good photographers around me, because I'm never going to be more than a snapshot-to-add-to-my-blog sort of picture taker – but I loved your humor and honesty!ReplyCancel

  • Angie - theArthurClan - Okay – this is so going to be a tutorial on I ♥ Faces. I laughed myself silly through the first half (yes – I've done all those "sins" too) and then nodded my head through the second half. What a great, positive reminder to everyone! Loved it!!ReplyCancel

  • Plattner Ranch - How about a tutorial on Getting Past "Auto with Flash" for DUMMIES! AND what IS SLR? Point and shoot ~ THIS I know! :)

    We really need a good book that starts at what typically beginners are photographing and take it through one step at a time. I have a nice beginner camera with manual settings, really want to learn it. My bro-in-law has same camera and gets awesome pics! He lives in Jamaica, a little too far to be a tutor. I have a sis-in-law that is great too, in fact, starting to write tutorials on her blog! Wanna stow away with mom and dad for a week?

    Know of any great paper books to help a girl get started?ReplyCancel

  • Plattner Ranch - BTW, we told Jesse we would get him a used digital for his b-day. Any old point in shoot on hand you'd like to sell for around $40? If you know of any let me know.ReplyCancel

  • Jess - Wow, great info. Thanks for taking the time to share. You are so funny. I have broken all the rules. I'm slowly starting to get it though.ReplyCancel

  • Becca - this might be my favorite post EVER. I LOVED the first half – totally cracked me up and looked like pretty much all my pictures! haha

    and the second half? so helpful — your photography is beautiful and I love you and your blog! :-)ReplyCancel

  • Dot O - Drew, this is truly just the BEST POST. I see my sins so very clearly now. I am saving my change for that external flash so people will think I am cool just like you are!

    Seriously, I will be rereading this post in my off-work time so I can digest more. I hope to do my before/after post but seriously do not think that I'm that much better, enough to produce the "oh wow has she improved" type of response like you are getting.

    I'm headed out to Ohio and will follow on the heals of you and Angie for the next oh, maybe year or so.ReplyCancel

  • Stephanie - You are sooooo brillant! I just wish you could download everything into my brain :)ReplyCancel

  • Julie Rivera Photography - Are you a teacher? I think you should be a teacher. You can just dissect things so well! And the sinful pictures were quite funny!ReplyCancel

  • Plattner Ranch - I will answer the last question about being a teacher for Andrea, just in case she is too modest.

    Andrea is a Special Ed Teacher! I don't know from experience, but it seems to me that you would have to be a teacher of teachers to deal with special ed issues! :)ReplyCancel

  • Life with Kaishon - I just love this post Drew : ) Such great advice. And so fun to see how your photo journey has grown. Wowza : ) You inspire me. You make me want to learn more. I am very, very thanful for you and your great ideas! Super post!ReplyCancel

  • SKELLER - awesome post, Drew!! I can so relate to your hilarious "sin" list. I've made all those mistakes myself!!ReplyCancel

  • Kelly - oh my goodness…i think i'm going to have to go back and read all of this wonderful information about 20 more times! i am learning soooooo much! you are a fantastic teacher and it helps to have advice from someone who puts it in simple terms and who is learning too! thanks for all of this information! okay…i'm gonna go back and read this again and again and again and again…ReplyCancel

  • Kelly - okay…so i read again (see, i told ya i would!)…and i want to know…how do you keep BOTH eyes in focus? even when i put my AF on the eye (i would love two little dots for both eyes) i only can focus on one eye and hope the other one comes in focus. hmmmmmmm….it's something just lately that has be frazzled!!!!ReplyCancel

  • drewmark19 - Usually when one eye is fuzzy and the other is sharp, it's because the aperture is set wide open (such as 1.4 or 1.8). Keep decreasing the aperture (which actually means choosing a higher number like 2.2), and check those eyes. Once you have the right setting, both will be in focus. The reason why 1.4 produces one fuzzy eye is because it has such a shallow depth of field. One eye being slightly further away from the camera is enough to make it fuzzy due to the depth of field.ReplyCancel

  • KazVik - Drew,

    Wow — that was wonderful! First, I read this then I re-read it with my husband. Your illustrations did a great job of explaining what to do and what not to do. I must confess the same sins you mentioned that I still struggle with. I even have a few "Photoshop bokeh" photos from my early digital days. Ouch! Thanks for the ideas, the encouragement, and the beautiful story you shared!


  • Jennifer - "Instead of blaming your camera or lens, learn how to use it to its maximum capacity"

    LOVE that! & everything else you wrote.. I jumped to your blog.. cause #1 its late & I am tired.. #2 the name on it was Drew.. and I just posted my first I heart faces post about my lil' guy Drew.. so I figured I would check it out.. and WOW.. I am glad I read that!ReplyCancel

  • Lauren - this was great fun to read, and also very helpful! thanks so much for sharing!ReplyCancel

  • Carisa - This post was not only helpful, it made me laugh so hard!!! Looks like we began photography at similar times, and I SO remember much of what you wrote about in the first half!
    😉 CarisaReplyCancel

  • Suki - Drew, this posy was wonderful and just showed how much we can learn from the people participating at I Heart Faces or some who are interested in photography.
    I consider myself not getting pro at any chance. This may take a little more time.
    It was really fun to read and reminds me of the mistakes I used to make :)
    Great post. Thank you for sharing.ReplyCancel

  • sheila - Wow, there is so much I could say, I to am a slow learner & feel like I am never going to get the hang of it. These are mistakes we all make. Thanks for the info.ReplyCancel

  • Marla - I love this post! Thanks for all the great advice.ReplyCancel

  • Jessica - so what camera woudl you sugest to a rookie just starting out?ReplyCancel

  • Drew - Jessica,

    At this point and time, I think the Canon T2i is the best starter dSLR out there. It's packs quite a punch for the price. (Big points for me are the great ISO and excellent movie quality)ReplyCancel

  • Twyla Gariepy - Thats probably the coolest post about photos re: how-to I've seen yet; esp for someone to whom camera settings mean less that gobbledy-gook. As an e-geek … camera settings are something that I am ashamed that I just have never been able to … dig them, ifykwim. Also, the grandma photos rawk, fyi; I so wish *lol and while this means nothing to you as I wrote this I distinctly remember the xmas when my grandma made the rum sauce (from one of those little sample bottles) for the bread pudding and drank all the rum instead and just made brown sugar sauce :0) – oh how we teased her. Its years later now and we all still bring it up at family gatherings. I'm sorry, I know I don't seem to ever make sense and am sorry you had to get the brunt of it.ReplyCancel

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