The Enthusiast’s Guide

New Book! Enthusiast
Great news for shutter bugs everywhere, my good friends at Rockynook publishing have put together a series of books specifically for beginning photographers called The Enthusiast’s Guide. It includes books on creating multi-shot techniques by Alan Hess, a guide to portraiture by Jarod Fosters, and a book on composition from yours truly. The series will be released this October. Good things to come!

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Join Me at Creative Live in Seattle!

Beginning Photographers Crash Course
If you’ll be in the Seattle area July 11th, you could join me in the Creative Live studio for the Beginner Photographer’s Crash Course! We’ll be covering everything you need to know to feel more comfortable poking around your camera settings to achieve consistently better results. Together, we’ll show your camera who’s boss. Let’s do this!

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Behind the Shot: Halloween

In celebration of Zé’s first Halloween and the lumberjack hat/beard I crocheted for him, I put together the above graphic and thought it’d be fun to share how I made it.

To accomplish the clean white background, normally I would shoot on white seamless (lit to delicious pure white perfection), but my studio gear is currently packed in moving boxes (yes, still), and I didn’t want to mess with setting up hot shoe flashes, so I put together this low-tech and super easy solution using only available light (and set-up took all of 30 seconds!).

I photographed him on 30×40 white foam board (sold in a 10-pack which is GREAT because they are handy for so many things!), sitting about where you see the dragon in the photo below. I used one piece for him to sit on, another behind him (propped up by a basket), and a third piece opposite the window to bounce the light and fill in some of the shadows. You can see the set-up in the photo below.


The photo below is the result straight out of camera (SOOC). Because I was using only available window light coming from the front/left, I wasn’t able to blow out the background by over exposing it the way you easily could in the studio. Thus, we can see the seam where the floor board meets the background board, requiring a small adjustment. (And, that’s our wood floor peeking out from below the foam board at the bottom of the photo.)


I used the Dodge Tool (O) to clean up the background, paying special attention to the seam where the two boards come together. To fix the floor, I used the Eye Dropper (I) to sample the white near the bottom of the foam board and the Paint Brush (B) to simply paint over the wood floor.


Working with white backgrounds can be tricky when you’re not shooting them in the studio. Dodging can make things appear to be in order, but if you view the image on various screens from certain angles, you might see your brush strokes. To prevent this, I like to add a temporary Levels Adjustment Layer which I purposely destroy with a severely exaggerated midtone adjustment, which shows me any spots I may have missed with the Dodge Tool, as seen below. To fix any errant background information, I simply dodge the background layer while the Levels Adjustment Layer is still active, effectively checking my work as I go. When I’m finished, I drag the adjustment layer to the trash.

Once the background was cleaned up, I used the Eye Dropper Tool and Option/Alt clicked to load the white background color as my active background swatch. Then, I switched to the crop tool to resize the whole image. (You can leave the settings blank and just drag from the corner to visually adjust the canvas area, or enter specific dimensions if you know what size you want the final piece to be.) Photoshop will fill in the canvas area with whatever color you sampled for your background swatch when you Option/Alt clicked with the Eye Dropper. This makes it possible to use the crop tool to essentially reformat the image and extend the background, creating room for our design. If you did a good job of cleaning up the background area, it should appear seamless.


To create a more organic feel, I opted to add some paper texture to the design. You can use any kind of texture file you want. I used paper48.jpg from this Give Me Some Papers Quick texture collection by Nicky Laatz. After making sure the texture file was sized appropriately for my image, I dragged it into the composition and changed the layer’s Blend Mode to Multiply.


Next, I added two text layers using Monster and Rockwell typefaces and used the Eye Dropper Tool (I) to select the text colors from within the image itself. Finally, I added the spider web graphic (again, changing the layer Blend Mode to Multiply) to finish the design.

And that’s it—frightfully simple!

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Crooze Photography Aruba - Great work! Thank you for showing how it’s done!

Down the Aisle: Megan + Ben

Congrats to Megan & Ben who tied the knot this past Friday! Two big cheers for Friday fall weddings in Nebraska!


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Weekly Pregnancy Album Template

This InDesign template features a fully editable design that includes 40+ weeks (86 pages), a graphic icon library file, and a quick-start guide.Pregnancy Album Template

As baby and I officially hit the 34 week mark, I finally sat down to layout the pregnancy diary I’ve been putting together. When I posted the results, I was asked to release it as a template, and happily—I obliged! The result is this 86 page template for a 7×7 hardcover (image wrap) Blurb Book. Here are the key features:

    • Totally editable! Add/subtract pages, edit fonts/colors/layouts—whatever!
    • Don’t want to use Blurb? Just adjust the specs to fit whatever vendor you want and get to it already!
    • 86 drool-worthy pages including an intro/outro, birthday spread, and a full-spread per week (x 40 weeks)—but don’t feel like you have to fill in every week! Feel free to edit as needed! (See tip #1 below.)
    • THIS IS AN INDESIGN TEMPLATE. It is saved as an .idml file, so it can be opened with versions as far back as InDesign CS4. (If you’re looking for a Photoshop template, stop and ask yourself, “Why would I design an 86 page document in Photoshop? That’d be crazy! I should know better than to even consider that!” Then, return to your senses and proceed with InDesign. Please don’t ask me about creating a PS template for you—it’s not the way these things are properly done. Check out this free 30-day trial of InDesign to get you started.)
    • With purchase, you also receive an InDesign Library file with all the icons for each week making it super easy to rearrange/add/remove pages and drag-and-drop design elements as needed. (Instructions included!)

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Tips for Super Crazy Easy (NO STRESS) Diary Keeping:

  1. Write as much (or as little) and as often (or as infrequently) as You Feel Like. Just because a template (this template) includes a spread for each of 40 weeks—doesn’t mean you have to make an entry every week! I found pregnancy to be the most challenging thing I’ve ever put myself through, and as such, if I had tried to force myself to journal every week, it would’ve been a recipe for failure. I didn’t even make my first journal entry until week 13 after we heard the heart beat, and that’s totally ok. From that point on, I only made entries when I felt like I had something worth sharing with baby. Sometimes that was several times per week, other times there were 4 or 5 weeks between entries. Do what works for you and add/subtract pages as needed. (My diary actually only mentions 13 weeks so far, and I’m 34 weeks along…)
  2. Keep it Real. You don’t have to fill the diary with flowery prose about rainbows, unicorns, and perceived pregnancy bliss (because let’s face it, pregnancy can be hard). Write about the day-to-day happenings, how the plans for the nursery are coming along, or even current events that are on your mind. (In my pregnancy diary, I filled two spreads with current events that will make for fascinating reading material when baby gets older.) Sometimes I wrote a lot (if we had a particularly productive weekend assembling IKEA furniture for the nursery, for example), and other times my entries were short but sweet, “You got your first piece of mail today—baby booties from Michelle!”
  3. Use Tools That Make it Easy. Maybe you’ll want to make your entries directly into the template in InDesign. Or maybe you want to get it out first, before worrying about making it pretty (that’s what I did). I used Google Docs to make my entries (even adding small images to remind me what images I wanted to include), letting them pile up for months before I transferred (copy and pasted) everything to InDesign.

And that’s it. Keep it simple, pregnancy can be hard enough on its own. Hang in there mama!

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