photo q & a: new camera — now what?

Today I'm introducing a new series called Photo Q & A, which I've created in order to answer some of the frequently asked questions that end up in my inbox, and hopefully help out more people in the process.

A few years ago, I wrote about simple things that had made a big difference for me in my how to be a better photographer post. You can check that out to learn how tips like doing a 365 project, finding mentors and defining what inspires you will transform your work.

I'd like to start this series by addressing a question that I often get after the holidays:

"I just got a new camera... now what?"

If you were lucky enough to receive a new camera as a gift, or scored one during a great holiday sale, that's awesome! Congratulations and welcome to a whole new world of photographic possibilities. As exciting as the acquisition of a new camera (especially a dSLR) can be, it can also be a bit intimidating. You're now the proud owner of a powerful piece of equipment, but aren't sure how all its bells and whistles work.

Let's start with the basics today and I'll share more tips in the next post:

1. Read the manual. Seriously, I know the technical writing within is as dry as a winter day, but it's really important that you crack open your new camera's manual and read it cover to cover. Familiarize yourself with every button and wheel on your camera and its purpose. Take note of anything confusing or any unfamiliar terms along the way and look them up as you go along. Understanding your camera's features will make you a powerful photographer.

2. Take a class. If you finish reading your manual and are still a bit overwhelmed, or if (like me) you learn better from a person than a book, taking a class would be really helpful. Your best option would be to see if photographers in your area are offering workshops. There's nothing better than getting in-person lessons and the opportunity to ask questions and get feedback. Another fantastic option is to check out CreativeLIVE, a company I've deeply loved since its launch. You can watch their courses for free when they're airing live, or purchase them to stream/download after their air date. I've bought about eight of their courses and watched countless others and they have powerfully affected my work. Browse their photo & video section for the full selection, or check out one of their intro courses on Digital Photography Fundamentals (this one is live today, January 23!), Basics of Lenses or even one of their camera-specific courses such as this Canon Rebel T4i/T5i class.

3. Take advantage of free resources. There is so much information available that it's tough to know where to start, but if you can find a few helpful resources that communicate in a way that makes sense to you, you'd be amazed at how much you'll learn in a short period of time. Start by visiting Digital Photography School and subscribing to their newsletter. Once a week, you'll receive a "Photography Tips for your Weekend" email and it will be awesome. I still read this every single week and click on any post that's of interest. Also, browse their site and search for anything in particular you'd like to learn. Photography Concentrate is another fantastic resource. Subscribe to their newsletter too. Just today they shared a great post about road trip photography which I loved. They also sell simple and effective tutorials which you'd find really helpful.

4. Start looking for inspiration. Now, while you're an eager sponge, is a wonderful time to look for some photographers who do work that makes you wonder, "how on earth do they take such heart-stoppingly beautiful images?" Learning whom you admire teaches you a lot about your style, about your potential, and about your vision that will one day take shape once you've mastered the basic skills of photographic self-expression.

5. Just start. Take out your camera and just try taking photos of everyday life. Things you think are interesting or beautiful. Practice every day and try out the new techniques you're learning thanks to steps 1-4.

We'll pick up next time by talking about basic equipment and lens selection. If you have any questions in the meantime, just leave a comment!

what's in my bag? travel purse edition

This year is packed to the brim with travel, and I wouldn't have it any other way! One of the challenges that pops up whenever I prepare for a trip is how on earth I'll fit everything in my bags. While I finally solved one of my major packing puzzles by transferring makeup into palettes, each new trip brings its own packing challenges. As I'm sure many of you can relate, finding a purse/carry-on that can accommodate all your essentials (without making you look like you're heading off on a mountain trek) is half the battle.

A few years back, I finally found the perfect bag. It's sturdy, comfortable, and can hold a hell of a lot of stuff! After our many road trips between Montreal and Toronto over the past seven years, and now our Midwest > Toronto trips, I think I've finally got packing down to an art. You might think I'm a hoarder by the end of this post, but every little thing serves a purpose and my hope is that you might find this helpful for your own adventures. 

Here's a photo of my bag and everything that is in it this week, after just returning from Toronto:

Let's take a closer look:

iPad (in turquoise case): used for navigation, reading, evernote, and tetris.

Large Moleskine sketchbook + pens: for ideas, drawing, and other notes

Movie stubs: I've been collecting them since I was 12, so there's always at least a small wad of them building up at the bottom of any bag. Brian and I love to see movies when we're travelling. It's always a relaxing break from all the hustle, and when you're visiting a hot place, it's often one of the (literally) coolest places to chill out.

Passport: very important, particularly because it now contains my visa.

Dream cities list: Brian and I made this long list (it's folded several times) of cities where we'd like to live (and those where we'd rather not move). We created it over beers when we first moved to Madison, and I keep it in my purse for quick reference when calls for applications open up in Brian's field and he has to put an application together while we're on the road.

Crosswords: a great way to pass the time while you're waiting for something or someone, which happens a lot when you travel, of course.

Floss: because, you know.

Liquid Advil: I keep a bunch of these wrapped in saran wrap (to avoid the rattly purse sound) in case of migraines.

Two wallets: one for cash and cards, the other for receipts (helps you stay organized for tax season as a small business owner).

Small camera: reserved for the few moments when I don't want to bring my dSLR.

Two phones (though only one pictured): one for the US, one for Canada. I feel like a drug dealer.

Glasses and sunglasses: for driving and watching movies, and bright days.

Sleeping mask: a must! You never know when you'll need to catch some shut eye and the room will be bizarrely bright. I have a plain black one to use on planes, as this one is too much of a "conversation starter" and you don't want strangers talking to you while you're trying to sleep, right?

Foundation: the best way to freshen up your look.

Travel hairspray and comb: for big hair on the go.

Small notebook: for writing down to-do lists.

Body moisturizer and face oil: keep your skin hydrated on the road. Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Concentrate is my trick for staying up very, very late and not looking like a zombie the next day.

Lipgloss and balm: NARS Chihuahua and Kiehl's #1 are always in my purse.

Travel-size perfume: Kate Walsh Boyfriend.

Various hair accessories: packing a variety of these small items (including the bun donut, bottom right) can help you whip yourself into looking fancier, even in a gas station washroom.

Travel size shampoo and conditioner, hair oil, skin luminizer, and nail polish: they're so tiny and hardly take up any space, so why not bring them in case of emergencies, or for any time when you're crashing on a friend's couch?

Fancy Sharpies: for signing cards and other special occasions

USB key: for transferring files in a pinch

Lock: because you never know!

Pearls: make you look slightly classier at a moment's notice.

In conclusion, I'm not a hoarder, I just pack a lot! What are your must-have travel items? Anything I'm missing?

tools of the trade

You might not want to read today's post if you aren't even a little bit of a geek, or have a personality that is not Type A. We'll be getting into some serious organizational nerdiness here. If you're into that, stay along for the ride!

A while back, I told you about what's in my bag, but that's only part of the picture. While I definitely couldn't run my business without camera equipment and other hardware, there are many other tools of the trade that keep things running smoothly from behind the scenes. Today I'd like to pull back the curtain a bit and tell you about a few tools that I've found to be immensely helpful. Many of these programs have apps as well, so if you are running a biz off your phone, you might want to check those versions out as well.


I'm going to start with Showit because it has been the most transformative tool for me so far this year. It has a great interface, which my friend/designer Jordan used to develop my new website. After he created the design, it was easy for me to go in and make any changes to the text, or to upload new pictures as my portfolio is updated. I pay for this site once a year, and the cost is very reasonable and a necessary investment.


After learning about Evernote from a former colleague, I immediately took to it. I love the simple interface and the intuitive way it helps you organize thoughts and ideas. This is where I keep the editorial calendar for my blog (pictured above) and countless other snippets of information. Evernote also has a handy web clipper tool that you can install in your toolbar and save articles right to your evernote account for later reading. You can can even categorize and tag each note as you clip it. I have a lot of ideas and thoughts swirling around, and I have to keep them organized somehow. This tool has proven to be a really effective way for me to keep my creativity neatly organized so I don't lose track of anything. Also, if you're very goal-oriented, it helps you keep on top of what you set out to do.

Google Drive

What's great about Evernote, and other programs like Google Drive, is that they help you have a mobile workspace. This year involves a lot of travel for me, and I switch between computers often. I used to kick myself for leaving files on the wrong computer, and it was affecting my ability to communicate quickly and efficiently with clients and friends alike. With the exception of my images, I try to store most of my commonly accessed documents in cloud-based places, so I can access them from anywhere. Of course, sensitive or confidential documents are still kept locally. Oh, and in case you're wondering, Jaimie is my awesome accountant.


Dropbox is a great way to share files. I use it to send images (by saving them to a folder, then sharing the folder with the recipient) and I also use it to be able to quickly access my files and templates from anywhere. I also use it in conjunction with signnow to be able to sign and send documents right from my iPad.


I kind of feel like an idiot for waiting so long to get Blogstomp. Up until two months ago, I manually formatted everything for my blog using Photoshop. With this program, I simply drag all the photos for a post into it, pair up the ones I want to go together, and "stomp" them. It takes a bit of initial setup to set up the "stomping" templates to match your specifications, but once that's done, you're good to go. This is a huge time-saver for me.


As I'm sure many of you know, Google Reader will be shutting down as of July 1st this year. Like many others, I migrated to Bloglovin' after this announcement was made. It doesn't appear to allow the same nifty keyboard shortcuts that Google Reader did, but other than that it's pretty much perfect. I really like how easily you can organize your blogs into themed groups. I read a lot of blogs every day for fun, and for inspiration.


Last but not least is Pinterest. I've been a faithful pinner for years, and this fun website has been helpful to my business in myriad ways. Not only is it a great source of inspiration, it's also a wonderful tool for visual communication. I use it to send ideas to clients, and I love it when they send me their own boards before their portrait session or wedding. It's an instant way to get a grasp of someone's aesthetic, and it shapes they way I approach my work with them, allowing me to understand what they find beautiful and important.

If you haven't drifted off to sleep by now, I hope you found this useful!

I'd love to know: what are your favourite tools of the trade? Is there anything I'm missing?

playing with VSCO Film 02

Oh hey there! I've been having some fun playing around with a new toy today, my recently acquired VSCO Film 02 Lightroom presets. Essentially, this is a collection of presets designed to emulate the look of classic film. Dreamy, right? At first glance, I'm big fan, but I do have some considerations for those of you who might be interested in this kit. I've created examples below to show how the presets can be used to enhance your photos. For each image, I've indicated which preset was used.

What are presets?

Essentially, presets (like Photoshop actions) are saved actions/workflows/adjustments that can be accessed in one click within the develop module of Lightroom. You can make them yourself by saving your favourite adjustments, or you can purchase them from companies or other photographers. For example, if you always tend to slightly brighten your photos, pop up the darks, then you can create a preset that does those two things so you don't have to manually make the same adjustments to each and every photo.

Presets work to save you time, and do the heavy lifting. They allow you to apply a similar look to a group of like photos, which helps create consistency and also save you from having to make the same manual adjustments over and over again.

It's important to note that once you apply the preset, you should not quit there. I customize each preset to fit my own taste. Often a preset shows up too bright or dark, or too warm or cool, so it's important to learn your way around Lightroom so you can adjust accordingly.

The best part about VSCO 2 presets is the lovely, aged, filmic look they help create. I think they are the perfect tool for photographers who a good amount of experience shooting with film, and a knowledge of different film types and their uses. If you choose to shoot digital as I do, but also love and understand film photography, these presets will help you bridge the gap between the two formats.

I would not necessarily recommend these presets for photographers who just want to age their photos or hit the presets and be done with processing. Without an understanding of film, it might be difficult to choose the appropriate presets, and straight outta the box, I did find many of the presets veered strongly towards the overexposed and yellowed side of things. If left as-is, they might make your photos look a bit too try hard "vintage." That being said, if you are really good with Lightroom, then even without a knowledge of film, you could find way to adjust the presets to your liking.

As for me, I am really enjoying the presets and how they work with my style. I look forward to sussing them down a bit so I can incorporate them into my processing style. The higher ISO film settings (800-3200) are my favourites, as I think VSCO has done a great job at emulating grain in a way that doesn't look fake.

These photos are outtakes from a beauty shoot I did for, featuring model Adriane from Folio Montreal.