Monday, May 30, 2011

Getting from good to great photos

Hello and happy Memorial Day! I hope you had a wonderful holiday weekend! We got a lot done outside, went to the pool, got a nap in, played in the sprinkler, the Pup got lots of rolling-around-in-the-grass time, and we generally had a beautiful weekend. :)

First up, I need to announce the winner of the Heal My Sole giveaway! The lucky gal is Teresa at teresacline2001(at)yahoo(dot)com – Teresa be sure to email me and I’ll get you hooked up with your winnings! For everyone else, don’t forget all orders of $30 or more will get $5 off through May 31st (Tuesday) using the coupon code “maydays.”

I got my order this week and have only tried the lip balm so far but I LOVE it!

So anyhoo, I’ve been meaning to do this post for awhile cause it’s a topic I get a lot of questions about. I’ve mentioned a few photography tips in the past, but I’ve learned a lot since then.

This photo post will be a bit different than most though, because I still don’t have a clue what I’m doing. Really. :) This isn’t going to be a how-to on how to use your camera.

And you don’t need a fancy schmancy camera to get good shots. For REAL. Up till last September, I used a simple point and shoot:

cyber shot

So all of my pics up till that point are from that cutie. It works GREAT.

Because I enjoy photography and it’s kind of a hobby of mine, I bit the bullet and bought the Canon Rebel:

canon rebel

And I LOVE it. It’s fantastic. I still don’t know how to do everything (anything?)though. I know, it’s ridiculous. I’ve found plenty of great photography sites with how-to’s, and I do have that thing called the manual that has some pretty useful info in it too. ;)

But I just haven’t dedicated the time to it. Someday. I don’t keep it on the automatic setting, so I guess that’s something. All I have down is how to change the aperture setting – beyond that I’m still clueless.

There is one thing I know for SURE in the three years I’ve been blogging. You do NOT need a fancy camera to take great pictures.

You need three things in my opinion – good light (but even that can be corrected), good composition and good editing.

I use Picnik to edit all of my photos and I love it! It’s so easy to use, has some fun tools, and most of them are FREE.

I took a few pictures on a recent trip to the zoo to explain how I take pictures and how I edit them.

My biggest tip is to get. up. on. it.

Most pictures (depending on the subject) look better close up. With my point and shoot, I used the macro setting ALL the time.

Here’s a series of pictures I took far away to close up:


In the first one, you mostly notice the leaves in the background. In the last one, you see the flowers.

Now it’s time to make those flowers POP!

Enter Picnik. My first step is to hit Auto-fix. It brightens, sharpens, adjusts the picture to where it should be. Sometimes it doesn’t change my pics much, sometimes it makes ALL the difference.

Then I go to the Effects tab and hit Vibrance:

picnik tools

You can adjust how much vibrance you want – but even a little bit makes the colors go padow!

I usually do a little “Boost” action as well, which boosts (duh) the colors even more.

And after some zooming a little clicking, I go from this:

To this:

It took about 30 seconds.

I adjust almost every single picture you see on this blog. If anything, I auto-fix as many pics as I can. (Which you can usually do in the photo software that comes with your camera – you don’t need Picnik to do that.)

I used the same process with the next set of pictures:


The first picture is pretty, but you see the not-so-pretty structure in the background. The middle picture is better, but I’m a close up girl, so I went in even further.

This is where the composition comes in – you don’t always have to center your subject. The flower off to the left adds some interest and gives the photo some movement. (Again, in my non-professional, barely know what I’m doing opinion.)

Remember you can simply crop your photos so the subject isn’t centered – you don’t need any special photo takin’ skills to do this.

Again, this one went from this:

To this:

editing photos BOOYAH!

Love it! Isn’t that beautiful?

Sometimes the background is a good thing though – the first photo below was centered, but I noticed the little stream in the background, so I changed my position a bit to give the stream a little more presence:

With the help of Picnik, this is how it turned out:

Frame-worthy people. Frame. worthy. :)

Another example of moving in close and using the surroundings – the one on the left was from further away, but I knew it would be even better close up:


Now lattice behind doesn’t take away from the picture, it enhances it:

lattice flowers


I should mention another big tip – I get loooooow. :) I get down, sometimes all the way on the ground to take pics. You can see above that I was standing up for the first one, and was level with the flowers for the second one.

You can see the before and afters from some of my recent posts – my window boxes from this post:

  brown window boxes 

Before on the left, after on the right. I like to add the “vignette” to some of my pics, which is the dark shadow around the outside. It just adds a little somethin’.

Using the editing tools just makes the colors pop and brings them to life:

And it takes no time at all! The vibrance tool I use is a “premium” tool through Picnik, but they have a TON of free tools that will help your photos immensely.

I love playing around with photos and seeing all of the possibilities. I used some Picnik options to amp up one of the photos just to show you the fun that can be had. (Each is labeled with the effect I used.):

  lomo picnik


 sepia picnik


 sketch picnik


 texture picnik





Ack! I love them all! Which one is your favorite? (Most of these effects are FREE, by the way.)

So…that’s my secret. Picnik baby – it’s how I get great photos. :) I do try to start with some decent shots, but the editing makes all the difference! And did I mention…fareeeee? :)

(No, Picnik is not paying me to say any of this. They have no idea who I am. I just love them and love to share things that I love.)

Love, me.

**Picnik has now closed down but you can do the exact same edits and looks with PicMonkey now!


I have to give a BIG shout out and lots of love to all of our past, current and future service men and women and their families!

We thank you for your sacrifices!!!


  1. Wow. Thanks for sharing all this info! Heading over to picknik now. My favorite tip was the macro-will be trying that out.


  2. I LOVE picnik too!! I pay a little monthly fee to have access to their touch-up options as well! I love the touch-up options for editing pics of my kids! A little scratch on the problem!! Picnik rocks!!

  3. Thank you! Thank you! I have been struggling to provide decent photos on my blog. I have the exact Sony Cyber Point and Shoot. I was going to ask for a new camera. I can't wait till tomorrow to try editing my photos with the program you have suggested. Your photo examples and instructions were great. Have a great week! Wanda

  4. I have a Cannon as well and I know how to do NOTHING with it. It’s really pathetic. ha! :) I don’t do a single editing either. I should probably take the time and learn... all my pictures are a basic point n’ shoot!

  5. GREAT advice!! thanks!

  6. Love it! Thanks. I am definitely inspired to picnik my Nik's Pics before I post, LOL

  7. WOW your photos are so pretty, great tips. I have made a goal that when I have 0 CC debt I am going to buy a dig SLR. I have kodak now which has some pretty great advanced features for a point and shoot.
    But no matter what kind of camera you have editing software is a must. I love my corel paint shop pro. Has so many great effects.

  8. Beautiful pictures and great photography tips!

  9. You know, I keep thinking, "No, I need a better camera, better skills, take more pictures in daylight..." No matter how many people say it, I keep forgetting about the magic of editing! Dang it!

    Thanks for the tips! :)

    Also, I recall once I commented on your blog and you responded with an email to my blogger address. I don't suppose you could tell me how you did it? Do you just respond to the email?

  10. I too have been thinking I need a better camera. Thanks for showing me that I don't. I am defintely gonna check Picnik out!

  11. Great photos and great tips. Thanks for sharing them.

  12. wow! this is great! Thanks for the info on this helpful new tool! your tutorial is fabulous! I am heading over to right now to try it out!
    wow - nothing to download, nothing to install. and FREE!

  13. Wow, I just checked out picnik, and fluffed around with a photo I took from my phone (inside in a dark room). The results were fantastic. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your unselfish giving of knowledge.

  14. Thanks so much for telling us about Picnik! I just created an account and spent the last hour editing some photos - what fun! I think I have a new addiction.

  15. Thanks so much for the different examples of picnik. I didn't know about them. I love to take pictures with our simple Sony camera (been wanting a better camera just don't know which one is better so I have never gotten one) now I'll have to try them out.
    Last week our local tv showed picture enhancements also. She refered to The Pioneer Woman" blog. She has free downloads and examples of different pic's also. Maybe check her's out also.
    Thanks Paula

  16. Great article! I did buy a spendy camera after struggling for years with a cheaper model. I do agree, you don't need a good one to get great pic's, you just need to know HOW to use the camera you do have.

    I think many people don't realize the potential they have right in their hands.. Many simple cameras have settings that will achieve more complex looking photos, you just have to learn how to use them.

    One thing I recently discovered was that many schools and community colleges offer really reasonably priced adult education programs on things like Digital cameras, photo shop, and even blogging, the internet, etc.. They are usually just an evening or two, or a Saturday class and will give you loads of information in a short period of time!

  17. Thanks for posting that. I have a simple point-and-shoot and I have been strugging to make my pics look GOOD on my blog! Also, it could be great for editing some of my plant shots for some FREE art around my house....:)

  18. Thank you soooo much for that information!!!! I will be trying out picnik today!!!I love, love love your blog!!!

  19. Beautiful! Just beautiful!

    I had no idea about the vibrance tool.

    I am not a premium Picnik member - but maybe I should be...

    Wondering if Photoshop elements has something similar.

    Thank you for the tip.

  20. Great tips! There is also adobe lightroom, in which you have a lot of options and filters and it's easy to use. You have to buy it, but you can download a free trial. I think most important is how you compose your pictures, makes such a difference!

    “The camera doesn’t make a bit of difference. All of them can record what you are seeing. But, you have to see.”

    ...and buying a Nikon doesn't make you take good pictures, it makes you a Nikon owner;-)

    Great post!!

  21. Thank you so much for sharing. I am now using picnik and loving them. I just loving checking in with you and your beautiful pics. Thanks again for sharing :)

  22. Thank you so much. I also have a blog ( and thought that I took decent pictures. They looked good on the camera screen, but AACK they were terrible on the computer screen! I'm sure that this will help a lot. I also love your watermark. Do you mind if I ask how you add that to your pics?
    Thanks again,

  23. Lightroom is awesome! I love it! Also, reading the owners manual of camera helps a great deal too!

  24. You sold me on the Vibrance feature!! I usually use Picasa, but there's a new feature that lets you click over directly to Picnik, which is pretty cool.

    I got a Nikon D3000 for Christmas, and I haven't learned to do too much with it yet either. :s I even bought "Nikon D3000 for Dummies" and haven't read through it either. :s

    Neat post, Sarah!

  25. I love Picnik!

    However, with your Canon, as you learn more about it, you might find it's not quite enough. I have the same camera (and love it!) but I've been shooting in RAW a lot, mainly because you have a lot more freedom to play around with exposure when you're shooting in low light situations. And RAW needs to be processed before you can start playing around with it in JPG form. You should have gotten some software with your camera that does a pretty good job of that, but I have just recently learned that Picasa 3.8 (also free!) now processes RAW files.

    Someday, someday, I'll invest in Lightroom. Until then, free software and Picnik are good enough for me!

    Have fun learning your new camera!

  26. Thank you! Photos have always been my biggest problem with blogging- my pictures always looked so blah!

  27. I love the new camera and the pictures are're gonna have lots of fun this summer. I have to say as pretty as all these pics are, none can hold a candle to your twitter drowned rat picture! LOL! Classic!
    Have a great day!

  28. These tips are awesome! I have used picnik before but I didn't know what everything was. Thank you so much for sharing! I have some photo editing to do :-)

  29. Awesome tips...Thanks for to try picnik now....

  30. I am so glad you are enjoying your Rebel! Aren't they fun! The shutter speed alone makes me happy! ;D

    Ad I am glad you had a great Memorial Day!!

  31. Thanks for sharing your insider tips with us. I am about to bite the bullet myself and get the same camera. I have had a great Canon point and shoot for the 5 years now and it is about to go on to a better life. I can't wait to learn more about SLR's and capture some great moments with it! Your pictures look great!

  32. WOW! That is some difference.

    I love the sketch. It reminds me of art class when I was younger.


  33. But Piknik can degrade quality. When I am in picasa and go into Piknik, then bring it back, it says "your image will be reduced" or something to that affect. And it isn't all the time. My friend tried to make a grad announcement using one of their templates, adding text, etc and she sent it to get printed and the quality (pixilated) was poor. I have used piknik to edit without problem but sometimes it says the quality is reduced. I just haven't used it enough to know the rhyme and reason. I am considering upgrading to premium hoping that it will help with this, in addition to extra features.

  34. LOVE Picnik, love Picasa too-thanks for the info.

  35. Meredith, when you save your pics, Picnik saves them at what they consider to be a good, workable size. You can adjust that to whatever size you want before clicking save. Good luck!

  36. I will have to try this, thanks for the idea! I really loved the 'sketch' setting:)
    Picasa is also a nice free tool for editing photos.

  37. LOVE Picnik! I won't bite the bullet and do the monthly charge, but the free tools they do have are great! I started out downloading Picasa, and they have a button for editing on Picnik if you can't get what you want on there!! I do all my editing on there now!

  38. Great post! I love my Canon Rebel, too. Thanks for the tip on Picnic. I typically use Photoshop but I'm going to try Picnic, after seeing your beautiful shots.


  39. Thanks for the tips - I have a crappy point and shoot, and now I know I just need picnik! :)

    Also just got my pinterest invite from you - thanks!!

  40. I am a new Picnik freak too!!! I love editing my pictures using it. I would love to use more textures though,,,does anyone know if you can download more textures through picnik, or all most of these great texture pics I see on blogs edited in Photoshop??? Hope you will stop by the country sometime :)

  41. I just love your blog. It is so uplifting and inspiring. I was wondering if you had any pointers on how to run a successful blog, get sponsors, etc. I am working on improving my own blog, but I don't know how to get started. Can you offer any advice?

  42. Thanks so much for the great ideas and tips! I am just getting started with my blog and have been using picnik to do all my photo editing:)
    I really appreciate your insight!

    If you get a chance,
    come check me out at:

    :) Adriane@fruitfulhomejournal

  43. Wow! Thanks so much for sharing this- I tried it out today and It worked amazingly!!

  44. Thank you so much for sharing!! I've been dying for photoshop, but I don't want to shell out the cash for it. I've been playing on Picnik all evening, and I LOVE it!!

  45. Out of all the posts you have blogged that I have LOVED, this one might be the most useful one I've ever read. Thank you for posting about this site!!

  46. you are amazing and i love you for writing this post!! thank you! GREAT pictures!

  47. I have GOT to learn how to use my photoshop!

  48. I love the texture option--I hope that is faree as well, I'll be checking it out. What great tips, Sarah, I also use a cheapy camera that I can usually do pretty well with. I'm constantly fighting with lighting, sometimes I don't want to wait or 'make it happen'.

  49. You're the second blogger to post about photo taking today! Not that I couldn't use the help.

    I have to say though, you inspired me when you did just use your point-and-shoot! I thought your pics were still great.

    With a little knowledge and a photo editing program, my pics aren't too bad for not having an SLR!

    Thanks for your pointers! :)

    Suzanne's blog ~ as for me and my house…

  50. Thank you for such great tips! I've been in love with the photo apps on my phone and finally just tried out Picnik. Great features and sooo easy to use. You're photos are always amazing!

    Quick question… how do you get such great clear shots with blurry backgrounds? I have not been very successful trying to do this.

  51. I recently discovered this too and LOVE LOVE LOVE IT!! It def takes a little more time but its really worth it! Love your photos, gorg!!!

  52. Thanks! Beautiful pics by the way! :)

  53. I love picnic too! It makes my very amateur photos look professional! Wish I had the time to put all of my photos through the editing process!

  54. You just took my pics from zero to one hundred in less than the five minutes it took to read this post - Thank You! Can't wait to get back on Picnik and do some magic.

  55. Thanks for the wonderful advice. I have been using Picasa, but now I will check out Picnik.
    I have the same camera, and just like you, I have not spent the time learning all I can do with it. That's one of my goals for the summer.

  56. I had a Canon Rebel film camera and knew how to use all the manual settings, but since I've had my Canon Rebel digital, I haven't figured it all out. You'd think it would be the same, but everything is moved around. Anyway ... I have pretty low natural light in my house, so I've been trying to use a tripod. Have much to learn on the photo editing front, but thanks for showing us what Picnik can do!

  57. I sorta played around with this one day only I am going to have to get more serious with it now that I see what a difference it makes!

  58. This is one of the reasons why I keep on coming back to your site Sarah - you have amazing photos esp with your DIY projects.

    Having an excellent camera is a good investment. Although it's a little bit expensive, DSLR is the way to go if you want to have great looking photos. Moreover, aside from the stunning pictures, DSLR cam, such as the one you have (the Canon Rebel), is full of features.

  59. This is by far my favorite posting on this blog! Thanks so much! I'll have to give it a try.

  60. Thanks for a great article. I am new to blogging, digital cameras, and photo editing. I need all the help I can get. I will be studying this. Found you from a link at You are in her Friday Favorites this week.

  61. Thanks for the tips! Very helpful!

  62. We just took the kids to a local garden for pictures and I have some editing to do. This will come in handy!

    Thanks for posting.

  63. I love me some Photoshop, but this Picnik stuff is looking good. Is that how you get the rounded edges for your photos? I envy them. Siiigh. If you have a secret, please share!

  64. Thanks so much for the great tips! I have been wanting to know how to take better pics with my point and shoot...heading to Picnik!

  65. Thank you so very much I just came across this post. I actually subscribed to Picnik 2 months ago but really had no idea of all the cool stuff it does. I'm going to go there now an try some "stuff" thanks again and more posts like this would be great.

  66. You're my new hero!! This site is GREAT for photos!! Thanks so much!


I LOVE your comments, thank you! (I read every single one.)

If you have a specific question I will do my best to answer you back here! Be sure to check out the FAQs tab at the top of the site and my Projects page for paint colors and DIY projects as well.

THANKS so much for reading!