Archive of ‘Photography + Travel’ category

Quit Screwing Up Your Pictures

Tips on how to take great pictures | The Champagne Supernova

I’ve wasted a lot of time and money trying to learn how to take great pictures.

This entailed the painstaking hours of learning how to use my digital camera solely in manual, taking photography classes, buying fancy-dancy cameras, lenses, computers, and editing software, bugging my photographer friends for advice, and finding time to learn how to use Lightroom.

The latter is still a work in progress.

I recently attended an awesome mentoring session with the oh-so talented Justin DeMutiis of Justin Demutiis Photography, and learned more in our two hours together than I learned in the last year of “figuring it out on my own.” I learn by doing, and I think it’s important to spend the time with a photographer actually walking you through the steps on how to edit versus reading an instruction manual or relying on Youtube. Maybe I could learn more about Lightroom and photography in general from Geoff a professional helicopter elopement wedding photographer in the Canadian Rockies. His style is different from Justin Demutiis’ so having a range of influences might help me to become a better photographer.

While being able to edit pictures serves as the icing on the cake, no amount of editing will fix a crappy picture that has a bad foundation. If you want professional pictures, then you are better off hiring a professional, like Olga Topchii, instead of risking not getting any good pictures of your special occasion. But if you just want to learn more about photography, then here are some of Justin’s top ten things to avoid if you want a great shot.

Letting the camera do the work. Avoid relying on the camera’s automatic settings. While using aperture priority is very useful and widely used by professional photographers in fast moving situations, by putting the camera on full auto, you relinquish creative control. (My note: I never thought I’d be able to figure out automatic settings, but I did, and it’s easy).
Leaving distracting elements in the frame – This can be odd trees, plants, water bottles, etc. It’s worth the extra few minutes to clear an area before shooting, or a few extra seconds of looking through the viewfinder to create a clean composition. Of course, if the background of a location is taking the focus of the picture off the main subject or people, there are other ways to prevent this. One way of limiting the distracting elements could be to consider purchasing a lens that isolates the background. Purchasing new lenses can be expensive, which is why it’s so important to read reviews beforehand. For example, this zeiss batis 85mm f/1.8 review might be useful to read as this lens is known for being one of the best for portrait shoots.

Putting the subject dead center in the frame. If you hand the average person a cell phone and ask them to take a picture of you and a friend, chances are, your heads will be in the center of the frame. This is much more manageable in the age of Instagram, but for vertical portraits, it is more pleasing for heads and eyes to be in the top third of the frame.

Shooting with a lens that is too wide. Cell phones generally have wide lenses, professional portraits photographer generally shoot with longer and more flattering lenses.

Taking too many images and/or not spending enough time on a single image. With babies and children, it is vital that you know your equipment and never stop shooting. You never know when the perfect moment will happen. With older children who take direction well, you will not feel as much pressure to go on autopilot and put the camera in burst mode. If you have a loose game-plan, a beautiful location and beautiful light, you can take a few additional moments to pay close attention to the details, perfect a pose, and create a overall pleasing image.

Moving slowly with kids. The above being said, it’s important to be prepared to move swiftly with children. If you take too long or give too much direction, it will be very challenging to capture a genuine moment or expression.

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Being unspontaneous. With many great moments, it is necessary to just step back and let the moment happen.

Being unwilling to get up close and personal. Notwithstanding the above, if a newborn baby is sleeping, for example, getting closer can often be better. By simply getting closer, you can often eliminate distractions and emphasize your subject.

Being unreceptive to light. Light is ever changing, but many new photographers do not take the time to learn to “see” the light. When I search for locations to shoot, I first look for the light, then a pleasing background, and lastly I consider the pose. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Light is the first of painters”.

Lack of Patience. With photography, practice really does make perfect. Don’t get frustrated when you don’t like your product and, instead, find ways to improve it. Here are examples of Justin’s work, all of which are being published with his permission:

Tips on how to take great pictures | The Champagne Supernova
Tips on how to take great pictures | The Champagne Supernova
Tips on how to take great pictures | The Champagne Supernova
Tips on how to take great pictures | The Champagne Supernova
Tips on how to take great pictures | The Champagne Supernova
Justin’s first glimpse of becoming a professional photographer came as college freshman. He became one of eight college students in North America to win a scholarship to attend the North American Nature Photography Association’s annual summit, for which he owes his style. Not long after, he found his true calling in wedding photography, a place where all his technical skills seamlessly blend with so many things he loves. To Justin, nothing compares to providing a timeless set of images that tells the story of one of the most important and happiest days of two people’s lives.

If you are interested in a setting up a photo shoot or mentoring session with Justin, please contact him at 813-229-5960.

Tips on how to take great pictures | The Champagne Supernova


    Bachelorette Parties in Vegas when You’re a Mom and Over 30


    As the self-proclaimed “head honcho” in the bridal party for my younger sister’s upcoming wedding, I had only one stipulation: that she could never refer to me as the “Matron of Honor.” I don’t care that I’ve been married for five years and have two kids, I don’t want to ever be referred to as a Matron. It’s geriatric, grotesque, and carries a connotation that makes me think of a lonely spinster, sitting in a rocking chair, holding a cat. Given that stipulation, I had to agree to accommodate her wishes of planning her bachelorette party in Vegas. “Oh hey… I have a full time job, two kids, a husband, and live on the opposite side of the country… THIS SHOULD BE EASY TO PLAN.” Well… with the help of her amazing friends and some eager-beaver club promoters, it was a BLAST. Who doesn’t immediately think of casinos when Las Vegas is mentioned? I know I sure do. I’ve never actually experienced a real casino, I’ve only ever used the online ones. I love it because it feels so much safer, especially with all the bonuses that can be used online from places like Anyway, I need to brush up somewhat on how all the various games worked and so I found resorting back to online casinos useful for doing this and getting some practice in before hitting the real casino floors. You can do the same by clicking here. Walking into one of Vegas’ wide selection of casinos armed with a little bit of online experience is sure to increase your enjoyment when you hit the table for real. If you’re in the process of planning one, don’t forget the party favors for bachelorettes! Here are some of the highlights.


    Me and the Bride-to-Be.


    The girls on Night 1 at Hakkasan for dinner.

    Vegas4Steve Aoki was the guest DJ at Hakkasan night club… I never heard of him before, but apparently his trademark is to throw cakes in peoples’ faces. He switched to champagne.


    The ladies on Night 2 at Blue Ribbon Sushi inside our hotel at The Cosmopolitan. This was after a wild day at Lavo for the Party Brunch. This is a must-do for any bachelorette party in Vegas.

    If you ever want to feel like an incredible dancer, come dance next to me. After all, what happens in Vegas goes on the internet:


    In terms of recommendations, the only place I wasn’t crazy about was Blue Ribbon Sushi. The waiter forgot about my wine order and the staff was slow. We were originally supposed to have dinner at Tao but switched our reservation when we arrived at the hotel at 6pm after brunch and didn’t want to trek back across the strip to The Venetian for dinner.

    Another BIG bachelorette party recommendation is to not go to Vegas with a group of more than 8 people. We had 8 and were maxxed out in terms of filling the hotel rooms, being able to get reservations at a restaurant, getting taxis, and getting into the clubs. Adding even one more person to the mix would have complicated things. Eighteen people came to New Orleans for my bachelorette party and that was ten too many. Everyone ended up getting divided into groups (college friends, high school friends, law school friends, etc.), and because of the size, I couldn’t get to have “quality” time with very many of them. Lesson learned for my next bachelorette party (haha). When it came to hitting the casinos, it definitely paid off getting a bit of experience from the website, or one similar. I knew how to play most of the table games before I arrived!

    What are your recommendations for Vegas? Do you have any favorite places?

      Girlfriend Traditions

      I love my college girlfriends. They are the ones who have seen me at my best and worst, and still choose to be my friend anyway. I met a core group of college girlfriends through a combination of living in the dorms and my sorority pledge class. These are the girls who ironed my hair- literally with an iron- before I discovered the Helen of Troy straightener (even before there was Chi). We lived together, went on Spring Break together, and were in each other’s weddings. Unfortunately, we all live far away and found it hard to get together once we started our careers, got married, and had children.

      Melissa lives in San Francisco, has two children, and works in sales.
      Stephanie lives in Washington, D.C. and juggles her career as a research consultant with her packed social calendar.
      Emily lives in Orlando, has a toddler, and is an elementary school teacher.
      Amanda lives in Fort Lauderdale, has two children, and is a physician’s assistant.

      In 2010, we started the tradition of meeting in a different city for an annual girls’ trip. In 2013, we made an exception and had a family trip, which included children and significant others. We canned that idea the following year because it was difficult to have meaningful “girl time” when we were busy changing diapers and trying to prevent our toddlers from drowning in the pool. So far, we have gone to Newport, Boston, Dallas, Sarasota, and Orlando. My favorite location has been Newport because it’s a historic and “walkable” city where you don’t need a taxi to get around. There were plenty of restaurants and shops within walking distance from the Bed and Breakfast where we stayed. Our inner nerds convinced us to tour Rough Point, one of Newport’s many mansions, and the former home of philanthropist and tobacco heiress, Doris Duke. This mansion tour was the inspiration behind my daughter’s name. The first time I ever heard the name Arden was when the tour guide said it was the name of Doris Duke’s only daughter, and I loved it so much that it became my first daughter’s name (beating out Harper and Channing, but I digress…)

      The Girls (and a guy friend) in Newport in 2010.

      The Girls in Boston in 2011. I was five months pregnant with my first daughter.

      The Girls in Dallas in 2012. Melissa couldn’t travel because of pregnancy complications and it wasn’t the same without her.

      The Girls in Winter Park, Florida, in 2014.

      What are your favorite traditions with friends who live far away? How do you make time for your friends once you get busy with life’s obligations?

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