Tutorial: Layered Photo

Here’s the picture I used for my family’s Christmas cards last month: 

It wasn’t actually my original plan, but I ended up liking it better than what I had been thinking!

You can take this idea and run with it. It’s a very easy technique, but it’s a fun look when it’s done.

Here’s what you do:

1. Find a cool location. Go ahead…I’ll wait.

2. Take a picture of just the location.

3. Without changing any settings, bring the first person where you want them to be. Keep your zoom locked where it started (bonus points if you have a tripod. This would have been much easier with one), though you can (should) adjust your focus to your subject.

4. Repeat with other people, one at a time.

You’ll be doing a lot of directing, making sure they’re not standing in the same spot as anyone else.

If you don’t have a tripod and want to be in the picture, have someone else park themselves in exactly the same spot to take your picture!

5. Time to edit! Drive home after brushing all the sand off of everyone, and load your pictures.

Bring your pictures into your editing program. Lighten/edit as needed (mine all needed to be lightened considerably).

Start with your background as your base layer. Cut a rectangle around each subject, and copy them into the background photo window. Move/rotate as needed to line up with the original (again, this would have been easier if I’d brought my tripod.)

6. I put a small drop-shadow under each photo, and then ran an action on the merged photo until it looked the way I wanted.

And done!

Give it a try! I’d love to see your results!  Come to facebook.com/CharmBoxStudios and show off what you’ve done!! I’d love to see!

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Tutorial: Presents Time!

Christmas is such a beautiful, photogenic time. But getting pictures of the kids opening their presents always ends up harder than I thought it would be.

So last year, I tried something new. I was much happier with how the pictures came out!

1. Set up your tripod (or a table to set your camera on) that’s far enough back, and zoomed out enough, that you see as much of the room as possible.

*one of the keys to getting good “scene” shots is to get the WHOLE scene. Sounds obvious, but I needed to be told that outright!

2. Set your camera up one of the following ways:

  • if you camera has a setting to use its timer and take one every ___ minutes, this is a fun time to use it.
  • if you have a remote, using it will make sure there’s a chance that you’ll be in the shot. Not only is it good to see the whole family in shots, but it will make it look like you brought in a photographer for the event!
  • if you don’t have either, just make sure you keep going over and snapping a picture at random (or timed) intervals.

One of the best things about doing this is that people go about their business, and don’t spend their morning holding up pictures with a big ‘CHEESE’ smile!

3. Go through your pictures later, delete the ones that didn’t work, and give them all the same photo treatment. I love turning this kind of picture black-and-white, so the focus is on the whole picture and not the presents or the lights.

4. Find your favorite Storyboard and make a set of the pictures, and together they beautifully capture the feeling of the day!

(Uses my shadows from Shadow Time and paper and elements are from my collab with Sherwood Studios, Traditional Christmas. Template is from Funhouse Storyboards)

5. Share it with me!! Come to facebook.com/CharmBoxStudios and show off what you’ve done!! I’d love to see!

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Tutorial: Fireworks “Flowers”

Want to turn your fireworks pictures into something really cool and funky? How about like this:

Here’s the scoop:

  • Unfortunately this one’s just for SLR cameras. You need to be able to adjust your focus while the picture is being taken.
  • The gist of these pictures is that you’ll start out-of-focus, and as the picture is being exposed, you bring it into focus.
  • You’ll need a tripod.

And here’s what you do:

  • Your shutter speed should be about 1 second. If it’s longer, you may get too many fireworks in the picture and too much smoke.
  • It should show up as being pretty under-exposed. I started out too bright and it took awhile before I realized I could fix that. For the photo above, my settings were: f/5.6 for 1 second with an ISO of 1000.
  • It’s also pretty cool to shoot them all blurry 
  • Start with it out-of-focus, and as the shutter is open, bring it into focus. Since they’re a long ways away, it means bringing it all the way to “infinity,” so it’s not tough to know you’ve gotten there.

You’re going to get a lot of throw-aways, but hopefully if you keep trying, you’ll end up getting some you’re really happy with!


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Tutorial: Christmas Details

With the holidays come beautiful details we want to capture. Fancy cookies and  meaningful ornaments call for close-ups to hold onto their beauty.

The easiest thing to do is to put the camera on macro mode and go to town.

Or stay home and take the picture. Whichever.

(edited using Peachy Keen from Color My World)

The most important thing to remember with this is that the flash shouldn’t go off, so it will take a longer shutter speed. And longer shutter speed means you need to find a way to hold the camera still. That means using a tripod or monopod if you have one, or at the very least setting it on a table or something else sturdy.

Another thing to keep in mind is to be right at the level of whatever you’re shooting. That’s a lot more obvious when the camera is inches from the subject, but don’t forget!

If you want to go completely nuts (which means being like me) and you have an SLR camera, there’s another level of macro you can get to without spending a dime. It’s called the reverse-lens technique, and it’s WAY fun.

What you do is to take your lens off of your camera and turn it 180 degrees, so that the largest glass is facing the camera. I find it works best with my 50mm f/1.8 lens, not my 18-200 zoom.
There’s a little spot on the ring of the lens that the camera uses to control the aperture. When that’s facing out, it’s up to you. On a Canon lens, it will hold its position. On a Nikon, you have to hold it open. (maybe that’s why the 50mm works best, because it’s too hard to hold the huge zoom lens in position AND control the aperture button). It’s not going to break easily but still use caution.

(please ignore the fact that I really need to go get the old nail polish off my nails. Not an attractive look!)






You have to control focus on your own for this look. The camera can still control white balance and shutter speed, but everything else is up to you. It means there will be a lot of throw-aways, but that’s one of the joys of digital!

Open the aperture to let in more light and make the depth-of-field even more pronounced…close it and you’ll have more areas in focus but it will be darker (or you’ll have to slow down the shutter speed). Move the camera closer to, or farther away from, the subject to put it in focus.
And shoot! Look, adjust, and shoot again!

(edited using Joy from Fruit of the Spirit)


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Tutorial: Fighting the “Cheese” Factor

We all have them. Pictures with fake smiles.

uses “all that jazz” from Music Puns

Yup, even photographers get kids giving fake smiles.
What’s the difference? A photographer won’t stop at the “cheese” face. I will keep trying until I get a real smile. (or else I’ll put the camera away, if it’s my own kids, without snapping any, and then come back to it later).
Eventually, if I keep trying, I’ll get something more natural:

uses “Kissed by the sun” from Sunshine Actions

It’s tough. A lot of times, kids are used to giving you that fake smile. If you’ve told your kids “say cheese!”, you’re asking them to give you a fake grin. I’m guilty of this too.
But even when you’ve never told them to smile, you’ll still have times when it’s the look they give.

using “I’ll be Bach” from Music Puns

So…what can you do?
…take a trip with me down memory lane. Remember taking a picture of your child at a few months old, when he or she smiled but it wasn’t a guarantee? What did you do? You shook a rattle, said silly words, showed their favorite toy…you did something to get a genuine smile. There was no other way.

That’s what you’re going for here. Minus the rattle. That doesn’t work after a certain point.

Some suggestions:

  • Get them to say something silly.
  • Tell them a dumb joke.
  • Tease them. “don’t smile! I said don’t smile!!”
  • Play games. “I bet I can hold a frown longer than you!”
  • With boys, bodily humor can work. I refuse to use that kind of humor, but most people are fine with it (if you’re taking pictures of someone else, you might want to check with the mom to see what the family’s thoughts are on the topic).
  • Do some serious shots.
  • Get them talking. Those are almost all throw-away shots, but it gets them relaxed and gets their face muscles doing something other than “EEEEE”.

My daughter’s 4th birthday pictures. This first picture was the smile she wanted to give me. Most people would just move on after getting this…it’s kind of a smile, right?



But then I put the camera next to me and started talking to her. Eventually I got her laughing, so I grabbed my camera again and got this gem!



(both edited using Glass Collectibles at 56% opacity and banana split at 47%)

What have you done to get a natural expression?

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Tutorial: Finding Great Light

Photography is all about light. In fact, “photo” is Greek for “light” (graphy is Greek for “drawing,” if you were wondering. So we’re literally drawing light!) That means one of the most valuable things you can learn is how to find, and capture, great light.

1. Golden Hour: The first and last hour of sunlight each day.

(sample uses Nutmeg and Pinch of Salt from Sugar and Spice)

Just as the sun is about to rise, and when it is disappearing behind the horizon, are two of the most magical times to capture photos. Of course, that means it can’t be completely overcast, and you may have to set your alarm (or change your dinner time), but if you make the plans to be out for these brief windows of time, it will be well worth it.

2. Just before a storm.

This light has the potential to be incredibly dramatic and intense. It’s hard to catch it, but if you have the chance, take it!

3. Finding the best possible light indoors

If you’re shooting indoors, you should spend the time finding the best location for light. For those in the Northern hemisphere, a North-facing window is usually your best bet. (and a South-facing window for those South of the Equator). These windows often give you good light, but don’t have direct sunlight coming in to make for severe light.

Here’s a demonstration. This is where I thought I’d do all my pictures, because it’s a big open area.

(all samples in this part use The Stars LR Presets)

(my son is being “me”)

Here’s what I got:

It’s not bad, but her beautiful eyes just don’t sparkle.

So I moved her to a different part of the room.

(again, my son is being me, and I shot looking up so you could see all the different light coming in. Today’s not particularly sunny)

Look how much sparkle her eyes have here! Even with the blinds closed (which were good at keeping the light softer), she still has awesome catchlights.

So even though it’s a pain to move the table for photo shoots, I think I’ve found my spot!

4. Open Shade

Sounds contradictory, doesn’t it? Open shade means finding shade by something nearby (like a building in urban shoots) while having open air above you. This is a fantastic thing to use in the brightest part of the day, as it gets rid of the harshness of sun directly overhead. (see previous tutorial about harsh sun here)

And just because I love you (and because I absolutely can’t keep a secret), here’s a hint for getting pictures to look even more spectacular when the sun is starting to set.

Choose “shade” as your white balance. It will add even more incredible warmth.

Of course, then you could run some warming actions on it, too. (Nutmeg and Cinnamon are two of my favorite warming actions).


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