Photography tips

Which apps I use to edit my Instagram photos

I've been meaning to write this post for a while now. I always find it fascinating to hear which apps others use to edit their photos on their phones for Instagram, so thought I'd share my preferences. There are 4 apps I use regularly (often in combination), depending on the type of photo I want to edit. I use these both for photos taken on my iPhone itself and for photos taken on my DSLR that I have transferred to my phone over wifi (brilliant for editing speed as it means I don't have to put my computer on!).

  • Snapseed - for landscapes and general use
  • VSCO - for tonal highlighting and finishing touches
  • PS Express - for flatlays and still lifes
  • A Color Story - for lightening and brightening and punchy colourful images

I'm not intending this to be a tutorial as such, but rather an overview of my process and the thinking behind my choices. I'll include some links for some more in depth tutorials in case you are interested.


Snapseed - for landscapes and general use

Snapseed is the app I've used for the longest and it therefore tends to be my default option for some initial edits. It offers a good selection of basic editing options including Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Ambiance, Highlights, Shadows, Warmth and Sharpening as well as the ability to crop, and rotate/straighten. 

I find it works particularly well for landscapes and outdoor shots where you tend to get lots of contrast and the sky is often much brighter than the land or sea. The Ambiance tool is the one I use the most in these circumstances as it simultaneously brightens the shadows and reduces the highlights, balancing out the light in the contrasting areas.

What it lacks, though, is the ability to add tonal highlights or do more creative editing, so I usually use it for an initial edit and then take my edited photo into another app for some final tweaking. It does offer filters, but they've never really been to my taste.

The photo below was taken on my iPhone in low light just after sunset and you can see that the sky is much brighter than the sea and the shore.

 BEFORE - ORIGINAL IMAGE

BEFORE - ORIGINAL IMAGE

 AFTER EDITING IN SNAPSEED

AFTER EDITING IN SNAPSEED

This is what I did to edit it in Snapseed:

  1. Launch Snapseed and tap Open in top left, then Open from device to browse your photostream. Select an image by tapping it and tap Use in top right.
  2. Click the pencil icon on the bottom right to open the editing tools. Then tap on Tune Image. Swipe your finger up and down the photo to see the different editing options available, e.g. Brightness, Contrast etc. and then swipe right or left to increase or decrease the setting you've selected. Once you've finished editing one setting, simply swipe up and down to choose the next setting you want to edit, and swipe left/right again to adjust. I often go back and forth between them, as editing one setting obviously has an effect on the others. Once you've finished, tap the tick icon in the bottom right. This was my recipe:
    • Brightness +65
    • Saturation +12
    • Ambiance +80
  3. Click the pencil again and then Details if you want to add any Sharpening or Structure to your image (Structure seems to work like the Clarity setting you might be familiar with in other applications). This works the same as with Tune Image, so swipe up and down to choose between Sharpening or Structure and swipe left or right to adjust the settings and then tap the tick when you're finished. This was my recipe:
    • Structure +5
    • Sharpening +10
  4. Once you've finished editing, tap SAVE top right. I usually choose the Export option as I rarely come back to re-edit in Snapseed and I like to keep the original image just in case I want to edit it in another application.

Although I'm happy with my edits, the image for me is not yet complete and I've left it purposely under-done as I know I want to edit it further. The next step is to take it into VSCO and apply a filter to add some tonal highlighting (you may have noticed I have a thing for pink highlights!). See below for what I did next.


VSCO - for tonal highlighting and finishing touches

I really like using VSCO for the creative filters it provides, and the ability to refine them. In particular I like to use filters that play with highlight and shadow tones. For me it doesn't work so well for basic editing, as I find the scale on the brightness and saturation options too harsh - I prefer to make subtler adjustments. Hence the reason I usually edit first in another app.

NB. Although VSCO comes with a few filters, most of the filter sets have to be purchased as extra. I think I've now bought most of them, but usually end up using the same old ones!

 AFTER EDITING IN SNAPSEED

AFTER EDITING IN SNAPSEED

 AFTER EDITING IN VSCO

AFTER EDITING IN VSCO

So let me talk you through the adjustments I made to the image above left in VSCO, that I first edited in Snapseed:

  1. From your library in VSCO, tap the + to import an image from your photostream. Once you've selected your image, tap the circle to add it.
  2. With the image you want to edit selected, tap the slider icon (2nd from left) to open the filters and editing options.
  3. Scroll along the bottom to see the filters and tap to apply one. Tap again to show the sliders that allow you to adjust the strength of the filter and tap the circle when you're done.  
    • For this image I used the C3 filter at strength 8.
  4. To refine the settings for the filter you have chosen, tap the upward facing arrow at the bottom, and then tap the slider icon (2nd from left). You can then tap any of the editing tools and then use the slider to adjust their strength. Again, click the circle when you're done editing each one. When you've finished, tap the upward facing arrow and then the circle to return to your library.
    • For this image I increased the Tint to +2 (I love the pink highlights!), the Shadows Save to +1 and the Highlights Save to +1.
  5. To save your image, tap the 3 dots on the right and then choose Save To Camera Roll and Actual Size.

If you'd like to see a more in depth tutorial for using VSCO then have look at the brilliant video from Me and Orla: Instagram Tips: A beginners guide to VSCO.


PS Express - for Flatlays and Still Lifes

Photoshop Express is another brilliant all purpose editing app. I use it for a wide range of photos, but especially for flatlays and still life shots. I have the lovely Cristina Colli to thank for introducing me to this app via her post How I edit my iPhone photos

Whilst it offers filters, I haven't found any I really like, so I use it exclusively for the individual editing tools. One of the features I really like, though, is the ability to save your edits as a custom filter that you can apply to future photos. This saves me a lot of time as I pretty much always brighten my images, so I have a few filters saved that lighten and brighten shadows and add a little tint to varying degrees.

I usually find that editing in PS Express is enough to create a finished image, but sometimes I can't resist a little further tweaking in VSCO (see above) or directly in Instagram (I'm a big fan of applying a little dash of Clarendon - but have to stop myself over editing on occasion - when is enough, enough?!!).

So let me take you through the edits I made to the following image, taken on my iPhone.

 ORIGINAL IMAGE, TAKEN ON MY IPHONE

ORIGINAL IMAGE, TAKEN ON MY IPHONE

 IMAGE EDITED IN PS EXPRESS

IMAGE EDITED IN PS EXPRESS

 FINAL VERSION, TWEAKED IN INSTAGRAM WITH A DASH OF CLARENDON

FINAL VERSION, TWEAKED IN INSTAGRAM WITH A DASH OF CLARENDON

This is how I edited the image in PS Express:

  1. Tap Select Image From > On my iPhone and browse and select the image you want to edit by tapping on it.
  2. At the very bottom of the screen, select the icon with the sliders (third from left) to access the editing tools. You can then tap each of them in turn and adjust the slider to increase or decrease the setting. This is the recipe I used:
    • Clarity +8
    • Sharpen +5
    • Exposure +35
    • Contrast +5
    • Highlights +20
    • Tint +22
    • Vibrance +6
  3. If you want to save your edits as a custom filter to use in future, tap the filters button on the bottom far left and then MY LOOKS. Tap the + in the blue square on the far left to add your "look"/filter and give it a name. When you next edit a photo, you can then tap on the filters button to come back to your filter and even use a slider to adjust the strength you want to apply it at. You can still then click the slider button to access the editing tools for further tweaking.

A Color Story - for lightening and brightening and punchy colourful images 

A Color Story was created by the colour-loving team behind A Beautiful Mess. It's a powerful editing tool and is great for lightening and brightening and creating punchy colourful images with some cool effects. But it's also very easy to over-do it with the filters, which are very contrasty and saturated at full strength. I probably use this the least of all the apps, as I find it can be hit and miss to get the results I want, and requires a lot more fiddling than PS Express. But for some images it has produced results that none of the other apps have been able to (and of course, now I can't remember exactly which images those were!!).

A Color Story allows you to add filters, adjust the strength of them and layer other filters on top without having to save your image and reimport, as you have to do with the other apps. It also offers a range of interesting effects such as sun flare, bokeh, light leaks and colour fog (although most of these you have to buy as extras). And finally, it offers a wide range of editing tools, including Curves, which I haven't seen elsewhere (I found this rather fiddly to use with my clumsy fingers though - very easy to drag the points totally off kilter). Have a browse through the @acolorstory Instagram account to get an idea for the amazing results the app can produce. And if you want to learn more about it, there's a great video tutorial by Xanthe Berkeley and an overview on the A Color Story website.

The creators of the app recommend that you don't edit images before bringing them into the app as the filters do a lot of brightening and have been designed for images straight out of camera.

So first of all let me show you the before and after:

 ORIGINAL IMAGE - TAKEN ON MY IPHONE (far too contrasty and warm - the light was too strong!)

ORIGINAL IMAGE - TAKEN ON MY IPHONE (far too contrasty and warm - the light was too strong!)

 IMAGE EDITED IN A COLOR STORY

IMAGE EDITED IN A COLOR STORY

This is how I edited the image above in A Color Story:

  1. Tap Photos from the home screen to browse and select the photo you want to edit by tapping on it and then press CONTINUE.
  2. Tap FILTERS bottom left to browse the filters you want to apply. Filters are grouped in Sets. Some basic sets are free with the app and then others you have to buy. Tap the filter you want to apply and adjust the slider according to your taste and tap the tick when done. Tap Back to return to the Filters so you can apply more. I used the following:
    • Lite Bright from the Essentials set (free) at 49%
    • Chroma from the Chroma set at 52%
    • Light from the Chroma set at 31%
  3. I then tapped the TOOLS button (the spanner, 3rd from left) to access the individual editing tools. Tap the slider button called ADJUST to edit a range of options. I tweaked the Curves to brighten the shadows and increased the Brightness, Saturation, Tint, Exposure and Contrast.
  4. Finally, I tapped DONE (top right) when I was finished and then SAVE & FINISH. If you like, you can also save your edits to apply to future photos by tapping the green SAVE EDITING STEPS button.

I think the main reason I find using this app more fiddly and time consuming than the others is that there are SO many options and SO many settings you can adjust - I find I rarely get the results I desire from just the filters and then spend ages tweaking the individual settings.


So why don't I edit in Instagram itself?

I tend to use Instagram just for some final tweaks (a dash of the Clarendon filter or a tiny bit extra brightness). I think the main reason is that I prefer to edit and save my images to my photostream before I upload them, so I can compare them to other images I've taken for consistency,  and sometimes to multiple edits of the same image to see which one I like best. I also like to edit photos in advance of posting them, so I usually have a little queue of edited photos ready to post when I have time. I think the editing tools in IG have come a long way, but I'd rather save before I post!


So there you have it - the 4 main apps I use to edit my photos for Instagram. I'd love to hear which apps are your favourites and why? Do let me know if you'd like me to go into any more details with any of the apps in a future post.

How I manage my photos: a monthly process to stay on top of it all

How's your smartphone camera roll looking at the moment? Mine used to be heaving with thousands of images and it was really hard to find what I was looking for and I'm pretty sure I overlooked some lovely images as a result - not to mention hours of wasted time searching. The more photos I took, the more I dreaded downloading and sorting them all. But one rainy day I bit the bullet and started a mammoth sort out. Then I vowed I would never let it get so out of hand again....

NB. I use an iPhone and an iMac with Lightroom - but I think the same principles can apply to whichever platform you use.  

This is my process to stay on top of it all:

  • At the end of every month (or beginning of the new month), I download all the photos from my iPhone to Lightroom and then I delete them all from my phone. Yes that's right, I delete them all! I use Image Capture on my iMac to select and delete them from my phone.
  • In Lightroom, I have a folder for each year, and within that, a folder for each month, for the photos I have taken on my iPhone. This makes it much easier to find things and much easier to do the sorting.
  • I then step through all the images in Lightroom, deleting all the duds and similar shots. For the keepers, I use a colour label (green in my case) to identify all the ones I published to Instagram. This enables me to put a filter on and see my best images quickly at a glance. I then go through any shots I haven't edited and apply a preset to quickly brighten and improve them (see my photography workflow using Lightroom post for more info on creating and using presets in Lightroom). By now, I've usually reduced 500 or so images to 200 or less.
  • If there are any images I've taken that I really like, but haven't had a chance to upload to Instagram yet, then I apply another colour label to these, and export them to a folder on Dropbox. That way I can easily download them back to my phone if I need an image for a rainy day. This often happens with images I've taken towards the end of the month that I haven't had a chance to edit and publish.
  • I also like to export a few favourite images from the month to a folder on my iMac that I sync with my iPhone. That way, I don't worry about deleting everything each month and I have easy access to a lovely curated selection of my favourite images on my phone all the time.

One other big benefit of doing all this, is that it makes it so much easier when I come to put together my annual photobook, as everything is already sorted and edited. You can read a bit more about that process in my post on The modern photo album dilemma.

I also try and apply the same process to photos I've taken on my DSLR. Inevitably, I don't always manage to sort and edit them all in the same month, but I do try. I find things get on top of me really quickly otherwise and it feels like too big a job to even start. I also like sharing photos that are current, rather than spring images in summer - it just doesn't feel right.

I think the effort is in the sorting and deleting - the curating if you will - whatever platform you use. So for me, I think it is time well spent as the rewards are worth it - and it saves me time in the long run. I used to do the sorting and deleting on my iPhone, but I really struggled with it as the screen was so small and I quickly lost the will to live. I found it so much easier to do this on the big screen on my iMac.

Incidentally, I don't use Apple's Photos app or auto-sync my photos between my iPhone, iPad and iMac, as I found it stored all the things I deleted and it became even more impossible to find anything. Plus I didn't like the way it stored everything in separate folders for every date you'd taken photos. I'd be really interested to hear from anyone who has got it to work for them - it may well have moved on since I last used it.

So what do you think? Far too much effort? Or the way forward? I'd love to know what you do to stay on top of things. Any questions, let me know.

Photo tips: capturing autumn / fall colour

Autumn is my absolute favourite time of year to photograph - the landscape turns red and gold, leaves sparkle like jewels in the autumn sunshine, changing colour almost before your eyes. Is there anything more beautiful than watching a swirl of golden leaves spin and float gently down to rest on a scarlet carpet? There is magic everywhere - look up, look down, look all around.

Yet this autumnal magic can be surprisingly hard to capture on camera, so I thought I would share a few tips that have helped me. I should say that I am not about traditional shots or wide vistas of lots of trees. I hate HDR (High Dynamic Range) shots with a passion. My photography is all about softness and simplicity and my macro lens is my autumn lens of choice. So read on if you are interested in capturing autumn the beautiful simplicity way.


1. Position yourself to best catch the light

This is probably the single most important thing you can do. Observe which direction the sun is shining (even when there's lots of cloud cover) and walk around the tree you are photographing to see where the leaves are best illuminated. Sometimes, this means standing underneath the tree to get to the underside of the leaves (but obviously taking great care not to damage it). You will usually find that in one direction the leaves look flat, dull and lifeless, but from the opposite side they are beautifully lit, with strong vivid colours.

If you're lucky enough to have a day with some sunshine, it's worth waiting for the sun to come out and illuminate your shot - it's amazing what a bit of patience can do.

And make sure your flash is turned off - you won't capture that autumn magic with artificial light.


2. Use other trees for background colour

The joy of autumn for me is the beautiful medley of rich colours - definitely a case where the sum is greater than the parts. To take advantage of this, position yourself so that a brightly coloured tree is in the background of your shot, ideally one that is a contrast to the leaf or tree you are focussing on. Sometimes it's the background that makes the shot.


3. Don't shoot against the sky

The sky is usually much brighter than the landscape. If you are trying to focus on some leaves or a tree with lots of sky visible behind them, your camera will struggle to get the exposure right - you'll find your shot will either be far too light (exposed for the leaves) or far too dark (exposed for the sky). Even with lots of post-processing, it's hard to get pleasing results. You would be better to change your angle of view so that you have other trees/leaves in the background instead of the sky.

Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule. If the sun is behind you and the sky is bright blue, you might find your exposure is nicely balanced. And sometimes shooting directly into the sun provides some interesting sunflare - but it can be very hit and miss. As always, the key is to experiment, and check your results.


4. Look for fallen leaves & small details

As well as photographing the leaves whilst they are on the trees, don't forget to look around for other details as well. There is so much richness of colour and texture in the autumn landscape. A few ideas to try:

  • Fallen leaves, perhaps on a branch with some interesting moss, or floating in a stream.
  • Water droplets.
  • Reflections in a puddle or lake.
  • Ask a friend to hold a collection of autumn finds in their hands, or hide behind a leaf bouquet, or make a leaf headdress.
  • Find some colourful leaves for a backdrop for some portraits. Action shots can be fun too - try jumping off a tree stump or throwing some leaves in the air (put your camera into continuous shooting mode for this one, so you can capture as many frames as possible - hopefully one of them will be "the one").
  • Look down at your feet - the autumn carpet can be pretty special. 
  • Bring some props out with you to photograph, such as mini pumpkins/gourds, or in my case, dolls :)
  • Collect some fallen leaves to take home with you and arrange them on a simple background (but work quickly, before they dry and curl).

Don't be afraid to move things around either - I will often collect together some of the most beautiful fallen leaves and place them on a branch or a tree stump and arrange them to look as if they had fallen there. I'll also remove anything that looks dead or diseased from the shot (always without causing damage to anything - always respect your environment).


5. WHICH GEAR TO USE AND WHICH SETTINGS

As I mentioned above, my absolute favourite lens to use for autumn photography is my 100mm f2.8 macro lens. This is because I love to shoot small details, with softness and simplicity. I find you need a longer lens as the trees are often very tall, so it's the only way to get close enough to the leaves. I usually shoot somewhere between f2.8 - f4, trying to find the balance between shallow depth of field and sufficient sharpness of the subject I'm focussing on.

Another lens I like to use is my 24-105mm f4 zoom lens. I will mostly use this fully extended at 105mm with an aperture of f4 to get as much background blur as possible. It's also nice to be able to capture a few wider shots as well.

I also enjoy using my 50mm f1.4 lens. However, you need to be able to get reasonably close to your subject to produce the tight compositions and blurry backgrounds I love, so this has its limitations.

Finally, you might find a monopod or tripod helpful. The light can often be very low at this time of year with shutter speeds quite slow, so having something to steady your camera can be helpful. I have to say, though, that personally I prefer to shoot unencumbered - I'm forever moving around trying to find the perfect angle/light/background, going down low, shooting high. If I had to keep adjusting my tripod, I would be there forever!

Instead, I usually make sure my ISO is set to auto, so my camera can use higher ISO settings if the light is very low. I will most often shoot in Aperture Priority mode, as aperture is the setting I like to adjust most often. My camera will then adjust the shutter speed and ISO automatically, in accordance with the light reading.


6. Beware very shallow depth of field

Whilst I absolutely love shooting with the shallowest depth of field my lens will allow for maximum background blur, you do need to be careful if you are using a macro lens.  Shooting at 100mm focal length with an aperture of f2.8 gives you an extremely small range where your shot will be in focus (just a centimetre or two), if you are standing close to your subject. 

As the light is often low, it can be hard for your camera to focus and you can't be certain exactly where the focus point always is, unless you are shooting with manual focus (something my eyesight doesn't allow). I've come home and reviewed my photos after many an autumn photography session to find that most of them are blurry or the focus point is not in the right place and too much of the shot is out of focus (there's soft and there's blurry). 

I would suggest that you vary your aperture and experiment a bit with different settings, rather than using the absolute shallowest depth of field possible for ALL your shots (I typically work with a range of f2.8-f4, sometimes up to f5.6, if I'm using my 100mm macro lens).

The shot below was taken at f2.8 and I just about get away with it, but if you look closely, very little of the shot is in focus. This would have benefitted from increasing the aperture to f4. As the background is quite a distance away, this would still have allowed plenty of background blur.


For more information about aperture and depth of field, and the relationship to focal length and the distance from your subject/background, please see my How to get background blur in your photographs post.


7. Review often

This point goes hand in hand with the one above. To avoid disappointment, make sure you sit down at some point and review the photographs you have taken. Zoom in and check to see if they are sharp and if the focus point is where you want it. Is the exposure looking OK? You then still have time to re-shoot and correct any problems and try any other shots you want. It's also the perfect opportunity for a nice cup of tea :)


So there you have my top tips for capturing autumn colour, the beautiful simplicity way. If you'd like to see more photos, have a look at my Autumn Glory album on Flickr - I've amassed rather a lot of shots over the years!

Let me know if you have any questions and I'll do my best to help. What are your top tips? 


5 ways to improve your photography by forward planning and intention setting

How many times have you grabbed your camera on the way out of the door and spent the day snapping what's in front of you? I'm certainly guilty as charged. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with doing that, in fact it can be hugely pleasurable to wander along with no specific plan, observing and reacting to your surroundings. However, I've come home on many an occasion very disappointed with the photos I've taken - they're just not "me" or not particularly creative.

So, if you can relate to the above or feel like your photographic mojo has taken a little wander, why not try a little planning in advance and intention setting before you head out with some of the tips below and see if this helps? 


1. Time of day / weather / tide / Location research

If you are planning on doing some outdoors photography, have a think about what time of day would be best for the light you want to capture: do you want to avoid mid-day shadows? Are you after the golden-hour glow? Do you want to capture a scene when it is busy or empty?

Similarly, check the weather forecast before you go. Cloud cover might be perfect for some portraiture or macro photography, but it might not make for interesting landscape shots. Don't necessarily rule out rainy days - very changeable weather can provide a lot of drama in the skies and interesting light.

And if you are intending to photograph coastal areas, check the tide times! I can't tell you how many times I've turned up at a beach to find it's high tide and there's no beach to be seen - or it's a super low tide and the sea is miles away.

Finally, doing some location research in advance can be very helpful. I like to search on Flickr or 500px and Pinterest for photos of a particular place I'm going to shoot (that's how we tend to plan our holidays!). I look for interesting landmarks such as rocks or pretty walls or beach huts, and information on where exactly they are so I can find them, and where I can park.

When the right time, weather, tide and location come together, it can make for some magical photography. The shot below was taken just after sunset as the tide was coming in and washing over some striking rocks (providing a focal point), with just enough clouds to add interest to the sky. I used a tripod and some filters to slow the exposure down so I could capture the movement of the water.

I definitely need to get out and do more sunrise and sunset photography!


2. Choose a Style and mood

Have a think about what style of photos you would like to capture and what kind of mood you want to convey. Light and airy with shallow depth of field? Dark and gritty with moody light? Happy? Angry? Tender? Lots of detail? Then plan the lenses and settings you want to experiment with to achieve your mood and style.

For example, my style is all about beautiful simplicity (the clue is in the name of my blog!), which to me means light, bright, airy, pretty, soft. I therefore like to shoot with lenses that have a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of field, and a blurred, softer background (see my How to get background blur in your photographs post for more information about aperture and depth of field).

Sometimes it can help to take a look through your favourite photos or create a moodboard on Pinterest, and spend some time thinking what it is about the photo(s) that most appeals to you. This can really help you to develop your own style. Capturing the same style of photos can really help to unify diverse subject matter and provide a cohesive feel to your photostream or galleries.

If you're not sure what settings you need to use on your camera to achieve the style of images you love, it can help to take a look at the meta data behind the photographs. Flickr now displays some key settings information underneath each photo (although not all photographers permit this to be displayed). The meta data on the right is for the image below and shows what camera and lens I used, along with the aperture (f-stop), shutter speed, focal length and ISO.

Now keep your intended style/mood firmly in mind as you go out and shoot. Maybe even write it down and carry a notebook around with you.


3. Try using a prime lens of fixed focal length

If I'm stuck in a bit of a rut, I find it can be really helpful to leave my zoom lens behind and go out and shoot with one of my prime lenses. The only zooming you can do is with your feet, so it forces you to focus on your composition. By stripping away the distraction of zooming, you are less tempted to feel you have to capture everything about a scene and can stick to the intention you went out with.

For example, the bluebell photo below was taken on my 85mm f1.8 lens. I wanted to capture softness and a dreamy quality, with a very shallow depth of field, and avoid too much detail.


4. Pick a Subject or theme: tell a story

Sometimes it can help to set out with a specific subject or theme in mind. This can help your photographs relate to each other and collectively tell a story, and stop you getting distracted by everything else. For example:

  • patterns or shapes
  • a specific object
  • reflections
  • shadows
  • a colour
  • abstract
  • long exposure
  • movement
  • seasons
  • take a prop out with you to photograph, e.g. a mirror or a balloon

The possibilities are quite literally endless, so choose something that you are excited by. If you are stuck for ideas, you could follow along with the themes/challenges suggested by various Instagram accounts such as @its_my_week or follow the main @instagram account for the weekend hashtag projects. It's fascinating to see how diversely other people interpret the theme.

Recently I went out with the intention of shooting images that are suitable for text, for me to use as part of a new series of inspirational quotes/words that I'm working on. This caused me to shoot in a very different way, as the images I was capturing needed to be secondary, more about colour and mood, with the focus very much to the side, to leave plenty of space for text. It's definitely still a work in progress. 


5. Mid point review

It's really worth stopping during your photography session to review what you've captured. It's best to do this inside, away from glare. It's the ideal time to stop for a cup of tea or coffee and revisit your list of intentions. Have you captured what you set out to? Has something not worked? Do you need to go out and shoot it again, in a slightly different way? There's nothing worse then getting home and downloading your photos only to realise that something's not sharp or the shot that was most important to you hasn't worked.


So what do you think? Do you forward plan - or prefer to wing it? What are your favourite ways to get out of a photo rut?

How to get background blur in your photos

This guide is aimed at beginners, or those relatively new to DSLR photography. I am going to explain the main elements that all contribute to background blur in your photographs in non-technical language, and recommend my favourite lenses to help you achieve beautiful blurry backgrounds. 


So what is background blur?

Background blur is caused by a very shallow depth of field, whereby only a small part of your image is in focus, and the rest is out of focus. Using a shallow depth of field allows you to isolate your subject from its background and create a soft, dreamy quality to your images.

 This photo was taken on my Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens at f2.8

This photo was taken on my Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens at f2.8

There are several different factors that all contribute to background blur / shallow depth of field:


1. Aperture

Aperture controls how much light reaches your camera's sensor. It is measured in f-stops. The lower the number of your f-stop,  the shallower the depth of field (and the more light is allowed in; you might hear it referred to as "shooting wide open"). A high f-stop number will cause more of your image to be in focus.

If you want to achieve a shallow depth of field/blurry background, it is probably best to shoot in Aperture Priority mode on your camera (AV mode), and to choose the lowest number f-stop available to you for the lens you are using. Each lens will have a different range of f-stops. I usually shoot somewhere between f1.4 and f2.8 when I'm after a shallow depth of field, but it depends on the other elements below.

You should also be aware that some camera lenses have a tendency to be very soft and not sharp enough when you shoot at the lowest f-stop number. I would recommend taking the same shot using a few different f-stop numbers and then comparing the results afterwards. There is nothing worse than getting home and downloading your photos and realising that NONE of them are sharp enough (yes, it has happened to me!).

 This photo was taken on my Canon 85mm f1.8 lens at f1.8

This photo was taken on my Canon 85mm f1.8 lens at f1.8


2. Focal Length 

The focal length of your lens (measured in millimetres) governs the field/angle of view and the magnification of your subject. The shorter the focal length, the wider your view; the longer the focal length, the greater the magnification.

Depth of field gets shallower as focal length increases. Conversely, depth of field increases (so more is in focus) as focal length gets shorter.

So, to achieve blurry backgrounds, choose a longer focal length (and a low f-stop number). For example, I would achieve a very shallow depth of field if I was using my 100mm macro lens at f2.8 or my 50mm lens at f1.4. Whereas if I was taking a landscape photo where I wanted everything to be in focus, I would use my wide angle 17-40mm lens at something like f11.

 This photo was taken on my Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens at f2.8. You can see that the depth of field is very shallow, as the back part of the butterfly is not in focus.

This photo was taken on my Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens at f2.8. You can see that the depth of field is very shallow, as the back part of the butterfly is not in focus.


3. Distance between the Camera and the subject

The closer you are to your subject, the shallower the depth of field will be (and the blurrier your background). The further away you get from your subject, the greater the depth of field (and more of your image will be in focus).

All lenses will have a minimum focussing distance, so it is important to check what this is. If you get closer than your minimum focussing distance, your camera will not be able to focus.

 This photo was taken on my Canon 85mm f1.8 lens at f1.8

This photo was taken on my Canon 85mm f1.8 lens at f1.8


4. Distance between the subject and the background

The further away your background is from your subject, the blurrier it will be (as depth of field is describing what depth of the image is in focus; so if the depth is say 10cm, anything further away than that will be out of focus). The closer your background is to your subject, the more of it will be in focus. 

You might also want to consider how busy/contrasting your background is. Even if busy backgrounds are out of focus, they can be very distracting. I have found that the simplest backgrounds work best for shallow depth of field photographs, where you want the subject to shine. At home, you could use a plain piece of card or a piece of (ironed) fabric. If you are out in nature, try moving yourself around to change the background (or move your subject if it's portable), and look for complementary colours. You can sometimes find that the background makes the photo, as with the colours in the image below.

 This photo was taken on my Canon 50mm f1.4 lens at f1.6

This photo was taken on my Canon 50mm f1.4 lens at f1.6


5. Camera body / sensor

Very simply speaking, the larger the sensor that your camera has, the greater the background blur. There are huge variations between camera sensors and I am certainly no expert on these. But I thought it was worth mentioning here all the same.  The type of sensor that the iPhone camera has, for example, is very different to that of a compact zoom camera, or a DSLR. So, with an iPhone, although you may be shooting at f2.2, the focal length is very short/wide, and the sensor is so different, that it is hard to get any background blur. Compact zoom cameras tend not to offer low number f-stops, unless they are very high end, but even then it is hard to incorporate the kind of glass required in such a small frame; they also have small(er) sensors.

To achieve significant background blur, you really need to use a DSLR or micro four thirds camera with interchangeable lenses. With DSLRs, you will achieve more background blur with a full frame camera which has a bigger sensor (such as the Canon 5d or 6d), than the crop frame sensor cameras (such as the Canon 70d or 700d). However, all DSLRs will produce significant background blur when paired with the right lens.

Further reading:


WHich lens should I choose? 

A great lens to start out with is the 50mm f1.8 or f1.4, depending on your budget. It is probably the cheapest lens you can buy to achieve beautiful blurry backgrounds. It is of course a prime lens, of fixed focal length, so there is no zoom, other than your feet! It is probably the lens most often used by bloggers.

 This photo was taken on my Canon 50mm f1.4 lens at f1.4. I was standing very close to the leaf.

This photo was taken on my Canon 50mm f1.4 lens at f1.4. I was standing very close to the leaf.

If you want to take close-up images of flowers, you will need a longer lens. My favourite is the 100mm f2.8 macro lens. This allows you to focus very close to your subject for an extremely shallow depth of field. It is heavy, though.

 This photo was taken using my Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens at f2.8. I was standing very close to the Astrantias, which are a tiny flower.

This photo was taken using my Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens at f2.8. I was standing very close to the Astrantias, which are a tiny flower.

Another lovely lens for background blur is the 85mm f1.8 lens. This works well for portraits (as does the 50mm), although it has a longer focussing distance, so you can't get super close to your subject.  I like to use it for creative landscape shots too (like the one below). In fact, I think all the bluebell photos in my Why I photograph & the magic of bluebells post were taken using the 85mm lens. 

 This photo was taken on my Canon 85mm f1.8 lens at f1.8.

This photo was taken on my Canon 85mm f1.8 lens at f1.8.

You will notice that none of these recommendations include zoom lenses. You can buy zoom lenses with low f-stop numbers that produce very beautiful blurry backgrounds, but they are very expensive and very heavy. The 24-70mm f2.8 and 70-200mm f2.8 have been on my wish list for a very long time. That said, it is possible to achieve some background blur with a zoom lens at a long focal length and a not-quite-so-small aperture. The shot below was taken on my Canon 24-105mm lens at 105mm and f4. Because the trees in the background were a long way away, they are out of focus.

 This photo was taken on my Canon 24-105mm f4 lens at 105mm and f4.

This photo was taken on my Canon 24-105mm f4 lens at 105mm and f4.


Summary

So, to achieve background blur in your photos, you need to:

  • Use a low f-stop number (ideally f1.4-2.8)
  • Use a lens with a long focal length (approx. 50mm and upwards)
  • Stand close to your subject
  • Position your background as far away from your subject as possible (and keep it simple)
  • Use a DSLR or micro four thirds camera

I hope that was helpful. Do let me know if you have any questions and I'll do my best to answer them.


My photography workflow using Lightroom

A few people have asked me recently how I organise the photos taken on my DSLR, what tools I use to edit them and and what processes I use,  so I thought I would share my workflow here in case it is of wider interest. I hope to do a series of posts on photography, so do let me know in the comments if there's anything you'd like me to cover.

I use Adobe Lightroom 5 to organise and browse my photos, do most of my editing and publishing/exporting/printing, and Photoshop CS6 for some selective creative editing.

This is not intended as a Lightroom tutorial as such, but rather a walk through of my processes, highlighting a few tips that have helped me along the way.


1. Importing and organising Photos

I pretty much always apply a develop preset when I import my photos. This is because I always shoot in RAW format and find that my unprocessed RAW files are rather dark. The develop preset I use brightens them and applies some basic adjustments, including the "Lens Profile Correction" to correct distortions and remove vignetting. This means that when I come to review them, I have a better idea of their potential (instead of having to imagine what they would look like if they were brighter etc.) and a good baseline to work from, saving me lots of time.

To do this, you need to create a preset in advance. You can do this by taking a photo into develop mode, making whatever adjustments you would like to get the exposure correct, brighten shadows, adjust tones and vibrancy etc. and then clicking the + next to Presets to name and save your develop preset. If you want to add in a lens profile correction (only necessary for RAW files), you will find this under "Lens Corrections", near the bottom on the right hand side.

I would suggest trying it out on a number of different photos taken under different lighting conditions before you apply it to all your photos during an import, to make sure it has the desired effect (if you hover over the presets in Develop mode you can see what effect they will have on your photo(s); simply click on the preset with a photo selected to apply it). You will probably need to adjust it several times (just repeat the process above to save a new preset; if you give it the same name it will overwrite your old one). It is near impossible to get one preset that works perfectly with all photos, so I tend to keep the adjustments fairly small and just use them as a baseline edit (you can obviously edit photos individually afterwards and choose other presets if necessary).

Once you've got a preset that you're happy with, and you want to apply it to your photos during import, go to the Apply During Import box on the right hand side of the import screen and select your preset from the list of User Presets under Develop Settings (in this example, mine is called Landscape basics). NB you can choose a different preset for each import, so you may prefer to create a range of presets for different lighting conditions.

At this stage, I add any keywords that apply to all of my photos and then select the Destination - the folder I want to import my photos to. My photos are organised broadly by place, and then by date within that. So, for example, I have a folder for "Cornwall" and then a sub-folder for each date I have taken photos. I usually create a sub-folder for each import by selecting the relevant parent folder (e.g. Cornwall) and ticking the "into subfolder" box under Destination and typing in the date or whatever name I want to give it. When you've finished, click the Import button to import your photos, create your folder(s) and apply your develop presets. Now you are ready to start sorting...


2. Sorting (colours and flags)

I tend to take a LOT of photos, so the sorting stage is crucial for me. I'm my own worst enemy and make a lot of work for myself as I can't help taking multiple photos of the same scene (especially waves!) to make sure I get the best one.

There are lots of ways to sort and flag your photos, so you need to find one that works for you. I use colour labels. I step through my photos in Library mode one by one and delete any obvious duds. At the same time, I apply a YELLOW colour label to those photos I want to edit and think are worthy of publishing. Later on I use RED to indicate photos that have been edited and are ready to publish, and change this to PURPLE once they have been published (on Flickr).

This way, by applying a colour filter, I can quickly see at a glance which photos I need to edit, are ready to publish, or have been published (really useful when I'm looking for final versions of photos in a rush).

If you want to use colour labels, make sure you have the Colour Labels showing at the bottom of your screen (click the small arrow at the bottom right of the centre panel and tick Colour Label). When you have one or more photos selected you can then click on a colour label to apply it to your photo(s).

To view and filter your photos by colour label you'll need to show the filter bar at the top of the centre panel (View > Filter bar) and then click Attribute to see and click on the colours you want to filter by.

You can of course use the star rating system and/or the flags as well as, or instead of, the colour labels.

Once I've finished going through my photos, I apply the yellow filter and have a quick check to make sure I've got the right photos selected - I might add a few more at this stage or remove a few if I've got lots of very similar shots. I'm now ready to start editing.... 


3. Editing

I won't go into detail here about editing or this post will never end. Instead I'll just pick out a few tips:

  • Create and apply presets to save time (see above for how to do this). This works particularly well when you have a group of photos that have been taken under similar lighting conditions. To apply a preset, have a photo open in Develop mode and click on the preset; if you hover over the presets you can see the effect they will have on your photo in the thumbnail in the top left.
  • If you want to apply the same edits you just made to one photo to your next photo, click the "Previous" button at the bottom of the right-hand panel in Develop mode.
  • If you want to experiment with a few different edits/styles/crops to the same photo, you can make virtual copies of it first. To do this, right-click a photo in Library mode and select "Create Virtual Copy". You can then edit away to your heart's content and compare all the different versions.
  • When I want to do some more creative edits, or where I need to clone out an object from the background, I will take the photo into Photoshop. You can do this directly from Lightroom by right-clicking your photo and selecting Edit in > Edit in Adobe Photoshop. I'm a big fan of the time-saving Florabella Photoshop Actions. Once you've finished editing your photo in Photoshop, if you press Save, it will create a virtual copy in Lightroom and save it as a .tiff file. These files tend to be huge in size, so instead I tend to do File > Save As and save it as a .jpeg file in the same folder. I then go back into Lightroom and import the .jpeg. This way,  I have all my edited photos together. 

4. Titles, tags and other meta data

Once I've finished editing my photos and I've applied the Red colour label to those I want to publish, I will then go through and add titles and tags to each of them in Library mode. You can multi select photos to add the same tags. I publish my photos to Flickr, so tags are a great way to get my photos found by other users and search engines.

You can also search your own photos by tag in Lightroom if you can't remember where you saved something. Go to the Library Filter bar at the top of the screen and click on Text (if you can't see the Filter bar,  click on View > Filter bar to show it). You can then search by tag or title. 


5. Publishing / exporting / Watermarks

I have set-up the built-in publishing service to publish my photos directly from Lightroom to Flickr at the click of a button. All the meta data I enter in Lightroom (including titles, captions and tags) is taken over to Flickr. 

To set-up the Flickr publishing service (there is one for Facebook as well), click the + next to Publish Services at the bottom left of your screen and choose "Go to Publishing Manager..."  click Add, select Flickr and complete the relevant boxes.

Once set-up, all you need to do to publish photos to Flickr, is drag and drop them into the Flickr photo stream under Publish Services (you can drag and drop them to reorder if you like) and then click Publish.

For exporting files to my hard drive, I don't use the plug-in manager/publish service, as the size/quality and location I want to export to changes all the time. I have, however, set-up a watermark that I optionally apply to photos as I export them, depending on context. To set this up, select the files you want to export and do File > Export, scroll down to Watermarking, tick the box and then select Edit Watermarks and play around with the settings until you are happy. You can just uncheck the Watermarks box when you don't want to apply it. 

Screenshot 2015-06-11 15.07.15.png

6. Deleting

This is the final stage of my sorting and a very important one! Once I've got a good crop of photos that I've edited and am happy with, I go back through my photos and delete anything that doesn't have a colour label applied. I feel happier deleting at this stage (rather than earlier) as I know I'm very unlikely to come back to my photos looking for alternatives. I also format my SD card in my camera, ready for the next use (this is a quick way to delete all the files on it).


7. Backing Up

I know this isn't the most exciting of topics, but it is a really important one. I have two back-ups:

  1. I use an iMac so make use of Time Machine for an easy back-up of all my files to an external hard drive. It runs away in the background and I never have to think about it. 
  2. I also use an online service called Crash Plan which also runs quietly in the background and backs up the files I select to the cloud. This is for the worst-case scenario of my computer/back-up drive being stolen, or the house burning down. I would be devastated if I lost a lifetime's worth of photographs. I decided it was something I cared enough about to warrant a paid-for service. It took a long time to back-up my files initially (about a month), but didn't interfere with me using my computer as it uses a limited amount of processor power. So far I haven't had cause to use it in anger (thankfully), but I'm glad to know it's there.

 


So, that was a bit of a monster post! I'd love to know what you thought - would you prefer smaller bite sized tips? Or more detail? Do you have any questions? I'd also love to hear any of your favourite Lightroom tips - I'm sure there's so much more I could be doing with it....

The modern photo album dilemma

Do you make photo albums?

Back in the day, life seemed much simpler. I'd shoot 24 or 36 photos on a roll of film, get it developed and printed, and then choose the best prints to put in an album. And maybe even hand write a few captions. As I moved over to digital, I carried on with the same approach until I couldn't handle the increased volume of photos (which ones to choose?), or the backlog of editing that inevitably built up. I went through a phase of printing photos I was particularly proud of on my inkjet printer at A4 in size and lovingly filled pretty cloth covered albums. Soon, my shelves were bursting at the seams.

Then I discovered the likes of Photobox and Blurb for designing and making beautifully bound and printed photobooks that were much more economical on space. The perfect modern day photo album. Except that they take quite some significant effort to make. I used to make a photo album for each holiday we went on. But as time went by, I struggled to keep up, and before I knew it, a year or so had gone by and then it all seemed a bit pointless....and I felt that I was missing so many moments and adventures that happened in-between the holidays....

So my new approach is to create a photobook for each year, to capture the pretty holiday highlights AND all the everyday important moments in-between. They have become a blend of iPhone snaps (the best photo diary I have) and beautifully edited high resolution photos taken on my "big camera" and I love it that way. I also decided to add in a list of highlights and happenings for each month, to help us remember what we did when - and this has turned out to be really useful (a page per month). It also means that I don't then need to worry about captions for individual photos.

But surely that's a mammoth task I hear you ask? Well, yes, it's not insignificant, but I have found a way to streamline it and make it manageable, and as it's only once a year it feels more doable. Plus, I absolutely LOVE the end result - I still much prefer to leaf through a carefully edited book of treasured images, than trawl through countless folders of unsorted images on my computer.

My supplier of choice is Blurb (although I've only ever tried Photobox as an alternative). I love the quality of Blurb's books, the prices are reasonable (I usually go for the standard landscape version), and I like the tools they provide to layout the books, including the fact that you can make them all off-line and that you can create custom layouts. I hate tools that auto-generate content for you and force you to use fixed themes - I want to control which images go where, in which order, and which fonts and colours to use (major control freak!). That said, I did encounter a major issue with my last Blurb project, which I'm sharing below in the hope it may save you some time and frustration :)

My Process for creating a yearly photo album

  1. At the start of each year I create a Google doc called Key Dates with a heading for each month. At the end of every month, I quickly jot down the things we did, places we visited and the things I want to remember for that month, alongside the date they happened. It only takes a few minutes if you cross reference your calendar and your phone's photo roll and is SUCH a massive help at the end of the year (I'm hopeless at remembering dates!).
  2.  At the end of every month, I download all my iPhone photos to my computer and delete them from my phone. I then go through them and sort and edit them pretty ruthlessly (I've got 500ish photos on my camera roll so far this month to give you an idea of scale!). This step is so important and is the only way I can keep on top of things. (I also try to go through the photos I've taken on my "big camera" too at the end of the month, although this is a bigger job and harder to stick to - but more on that another time).
  3. At the end of the year (or rather, beginning of the new year), I create a folder on my computer for the yearly photo album and a folder within that for each month. Using my Key Dates doc as a guide, I can quickly locate the photos I took each month and select and export my favourite photos. I try to be very selective, as I have a large number of photos. Before I begin I have a rough idea of how many pages my photobook will have, and how many pages I want to dedicate to each month. Some months will inevitably have more photos than others, as you will probably take lots more photos in the summer, say, than the colder, darker winter months. For my 2014 photobooks, I used about 240 pages in total.
  4. Now I'm ready to start making my photobook. For my last book, I used Blurb's BookWright application (Blurb offer a variety of different tools, so worth checking them out before you start).  It is worth mentioning here a key fact that Blurb doesn't seem to display anywhere and I didn't find out until it was too late: BookWright has a file size limit of 4.29GB. If you hit this limit, it grinds to a halt and you can no longer save your project. So, when you are exporting your photos to use in the book, I would recommend not exporting them at full size/resolution if you have a decent DSLR. The advice I received from Blurb is to use "images that are sized near their image container at 300 dpi". The problem with this advice is that I didn't know whether I was going to use an image for a full page layout or 4 to a page until I started to lay the book out.... But next time I'll export them at, say, 90% quality, with the long edge sized at 3,600 pixels, which should reduce the file size significantly, whilst still being reasonable quality. The key thing to do before you start is to check the total size of all the images you plan to use and make sure it's less than 4.29GB.
  5. I won't provide a step by step guide here to using BookWright as Blurb provide lots of great help materials. But my one piece of advice (apart from file size!) is to load in one month's worth of photos into the application at a time. That way, it's much easier to manage and see what you have and which ones you still need to use. Any photos I didn't use in that month's layout, I deleted, so I didn't get confused from month to month. Very helpful if you are working with large volumes of photos. The application allows you to drag and drop your photos onto the page, and to choose from pre-selected layouts, or create your own. I used lots of 4 to a page layouts. Oh and I copied and pasted my key dates from my document too, and regularly referred to this to make sure I got the order right!
  6. Once you've finished laying out your book and have checked it using the preview and built in tools, you simply upload and order it. I opted for a PDF version as well as the print book, so I could look at a copy on a computer or my iPad if I wanted. It's worth signing up to Blurb's mailing list before you order as they seem to regularly run promotions with money off.

So that's it! I hope that's been helpful. Let me know if you have any questions about using BookWright and I'll do my best to help. I'd love to know of any other photobook suppliers or methods you've used that you would recommend, especially if they provide you with lots of control over page layout etc.

NB. This is NOT a sponsored post, just my experiences and opinions of using Blurb.


Why I photograph & the magic of bluebells

The lovely Melanie of Geoffery and Grace asked me a little while ago why I photograph? A wonderful question. You can read Melanie's answer in her why I take photographs blog post. For my part, I think these beautiful bluebells do a good job of answering the question.

Quite simply, I love to capture and share the beauty around me. I think our world is pretty amazing. The strapline of my blog is "beautiful simplicity" and I think that sums up my photographic style nicely. I love to seek out special places and try and capture some essence of their magic and beauty to inspire and uplift. I'm not one for darkness and gritty reality (I think we all deal with enough of that in our day to day lives!), so many of my photos will be light and bright, full of space, with a soft, dreamy quality. I love to shoot wide open with a very shallow depth of field and often intentionally blow the highlights to try and recreate the same quality of light that only our eyes can see. A friend once said the sun always shines on Zoë's side of the beach :)

Photography is a compulsion for me. I have a strong urge to create and photography is one of my favourite outlets. I get twitchy if I haven't taken a photo for a while! I'm constantly seeing photo opportunities wherever I go. I don't think it stops me being present, in some ways I think it enhances my senses, as I try and take in and feel all that is around me. I totally lose myself in it. I guess it's that feeling that I try to capture in my photos, not a realistic copy of what was there, but my impression of what I saw and felt. The world through Zoë's rose tinted, dreamy spectacles.

I also think that capturing memories is a big part of why I photograph. I have a terrible memory and find so much slips away from me so easily. I love to look back through photo albums and remember happy times - often it's a small detail that sparks something off. I've been making a huge effort recently to organise my photos and my memories (whilst I still have them!) into some yearly photobooks. I've just completed the 2014 version and will share more about it in another post.

The photos above were taken on the Arlington Bluebell Walk on Bank Holiday Monday. It was my first visit and SUCH a magical place. I wish you could hear the birds singing and feel the sun on your face. The sight of those bluebell carpets, dotted with white wood anemones, glistening in the sunshine really does lift the spirits. The woodland was so well cared for and surrounded by countryside and it was so lovely to see so many people out and about enjoying our wonderful world (although I'm glad we got there early when the paths were quieter!).

Why do YOU photograph?

My tips for taking better photos on Bibelot Magazine

Hello lovelies! Hope you've all had a smashing Easter break. I'm just popping in to let you know that I've shared some tips for taking better photos over on the Bibelot Magazine blog. They are all just as applicable to iPhone / mobile photography as to DSLR photography (and I've shared my favourite iPhone photo editing tools too). So hop on over if you fancy a read - and while you're at it, why not have a browse round the rest of the site - there are lots of interesting interviews, tutorials, recipes and other thoughts to inspire.

Florabella's Photoshop Actions and Textures

It's Friiiiday! Hope you all have some lovely weekend plans - we've got some friends visiting, so are going to swap the DIY for some much needed fresh sea air - hurrah!

Today I thought I'd share one of my photo editing secrets. I often hear comments like "my photos never look like that!" - well, neither do mine until I edit them. Sure it's good to get as much right as possible in camera, but in my humble opinion, every photo can be improved with some editing. For images taken on my Canon DSLR (I have the Canon 6D and I love it!) I use Lightroom to organise my images and do the majority of my editing, and Photoshop for more selective, creative edits.

In Photoshop, you can use Actions to speed up the editing process and get a more consistent look and feel across a bunch of images. An Action is a bit like a Macro in Microsoft Word or Excel - it's essentially a pre-recorded series of edits, and when you press play on the Action, it whizzes through and completes every edit in turn. Once it's finished, you can then usually adjust each of the individual edits, giving you plenty of control. My absolute favourite Actions are designed by Florabella, who also takes the most divine, dreamy images.

Below are some before and afters of my images. The before shows the RAW image, straight out of camera, and the after, with all my Lightroom and Photoshop edits, using Florabella's Classic Workflow Actions (plus the odd texture or too). RAW files are like undeveloped negatives and always need some work; I prefer shooting RAW rather than JPEG as the files allow you to make more adjustments. I often do some basic editing in Lightroom to get the exposure correct and apply lens profile corrections before I take the image into Photoshop (I usually do this by applying a Preset I have created in Lightroom as I import my photos - but more of this another time).

My favourite Actions of Florabella's are her Classic Workflow - I come back to them time and time again. I think they work especially well with skin tones (or plastic doll tones in my case!!). Florabella also provides some video tutorials showing how to use her Actions - well worth a look.

As well as Photoshop Actions, Florabella also creates a beautiful range of textures. Textures are an additional image that you overlay to create some creative effects - often with scratches for an aged look, vignetting, different tones, light flares, the list goes on and on. I often like to add a texture or two to my floral images for some added interest and a more painterly feel (you can layer as many as you like, and adjust the opacity and blending mode of each - you can easily lose hours experimenting and adjusting!). You can be as subtle or as bold as you like. One of my favourites has to be 'Cream Canvas" from the Florabella Textures III Collection. See below for some examples of my photos I've applied textures to. You can see more photos in my Textured Album on Flickr.

Another favourite set of Actions that Florabella offers are her Color Matte Actions. These allow you to add bars of colour to the left, right, above or below your images, and to optionally overlay some patterns and textures. I love them! They come in handy for making a portrait image square, which works better on a blog. And I love the colour picker that allows you to choose a colour for the bar from your image for complete co-ordination. See below for some examples of how I have used them - you can tell I'm rather fond of the damask pattern! You can view a greater selection in my Florabella Color Matte Actions Album on Flickr. And of course, see more in Florabella's beautiful gallery.

I hope this has been helpful. NB this isn't a sponsored post - I'm just sharing some of the things I love and have found helpful. Florabella does regular giveaways via her Facebook page, so worth following along if you are interested.