Snap! Even More Photography Tips

By Kate Riley December 28, 2010

Hello hello, hope you all are staying warm amidst the storms!  I hinted in last week’s article about better brighter blog photos that I would be bringing in some friends to back me up in my explanation that you can achieve better interior shots by pulling more light into your lens with the manual functions on your camera.  Well, well, that day has come! 

I gave all four blogger photographers a mini assignment.  Shoot for me the same image 1) with a flash, 2) on Auto with no flash, and then 3) in a Manual Mode, adjusting your aperture or f/stop, shutter speed and/or ISO setting.  (My brief definitions here.) 

Please welcome four of my favorite bloggers, who just so happen to have excellent photography skills, and are here to offer some fabulous tips for you!  Settle in with a hot cup of coffee or tea on this blustery day, and hear what they have to say. 

Mrs. Limestone of A Brooklyn Limestone in Progress:

“If there is one thing I repeat a lot on my blog it’s this: cameras don’t take good photos, people do.  It is essential you get to know your camera and some of what it can do to make great photographs.   It might seem daunting at first but it’s worth the effort.  Let’s use an example of this trio of vintage cameras.  Apropos, no?
The first shot is with the camera set on Auto with the flash turned on. I shudder just thinking about it because if there is ever a way to ruin a photo, it’s with on camera flash.  Take my word for it – never ever  use it and you’re photos will be so much better without doing a thing.

brooklyn limestone 1

See, not so good. So let’s try it again, this time with the flash off.

brooklyn limestone 2


So much better, but not quite right. I will be the first to tell you that the AUTO function (always with flash off) is pretty darn handy.  It makes for lovely photos 7 times out of 10.  That’s because nearly all cameras are quite smart in that they figure out how to get a good photo without any effort on the photographers part.  Particularly wonderful when you are trying to capture an image quickly and don’t have time to fiddle.  But sometimes there are outside influences that fool your camera and that’s when using the manual controls come in.
In this case, the cameras were placed in the middle of the room in front of that tree that just happens to have some bright windows behind it.  So the tree was being better lit than the subject of the photo itself.  If you look closely at the image above, the vintage cameras are a bit darker than they should be.  So I changed the settings to correct the image. 

I upped the exposure a tad to +0.3, brought the aperture up a bit to 6.3, shutter speed to 1/15 and adjusted the white balance to account for the light in the room. 

brooklyn limestone 3

Ah, much better.  

Thanks again to Kate for having me participate.  If you would like to know more about me or see some of my projects, stop over and visit me at my blog Brooklyn Limestone.”

swirl snip

JJ of The Blah Blah Blahger:

I shoot with a Canon 5d Mk2.  It does not have a built-in flash, so I had to mount an external just for Kate’s assignment!  I rarely ever use it unless I’m shooting a wedding because my camera has such amazing low light capabilities.  But for Kate, I did it anyway! 

Flash On,  Aperture on Auto at f/4; Shutter Speed: 1/60 sec;  ISO 400.

jj 1


Auto, no flash.  Aperture: f/1.6, Shutter Speed: 1/30,  ISO 200

jj 2


Manual Mode, no flash.  Aperture: f/1.4 Shutter Speed: 1/320, ISO 2500. 

jj 3

“Here’s what I love about the manual shot: I can control the depth of field with the f/stop and achieve great bokeh [blurred Christmas lights].  I can also control the sharpness (higher shutter speed means no blur), and now this image is something I created.  It’s my work and not the camera making choices for me.” 

Awesome JJ, thank you!!! 

swirl snip

Sarah of Clover Lane:

“I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve shot in Automatic because once you learn Manual it’s SO easy.  Dial UP the ISO and dial down your aperture. Indoors, in my older home, unless it’s a sunny day, I almost always have to shoot with a higher 600 ISO, because of the lack of natural light.  To steady the camera, I have learned to lean on something or set the camera on a table or a pile of books so I can dial my aperture down really low. 

Usually the ideal shutter speed would be around 1/125.  I recommend you use all the light sources you can drum up.  Open those blinds and curtains, turn on all the lights!   Every house has the perfect places for beautiful light, you just have to find it!  In our home, it’s the corner of our dining room in the afternoon or in our big bay window in the morning.” 

Sarah’s shots in Flash and Auto (no flash) mode:

sarahs flash and auto

In Manual Mode with these settings: f/stop 4.0; shutter speed 1/25; ISO 1600.

sarahs manual shot

“I shoot with a Canon Rebel XSi, and use the 5.6 18-55mm lens that came with the camera.  Another great little lens I use for close-ups, and that really pulls the light in during low-light conditions is the Canon 50mm 1.8.  The best thing is that it’s only $100!  It also takes beautiful portrait shots.” 


You can see more of Sarah’s family and photography on her blog Clover Lane !

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Layla and Kevin of The Lettered Cottage:

“Our #1 tip for those who are shooting photos of their homes is to invest in and use a GOOD TRIPOD!  Especially those who have low light situations.  Then, by adjusting your settings in Manual mode, you can take a super-bright photo of a space on even the darkest and dreariest of days! 

When we went tripod shopping, we bought the best pair of legs we could afford, along with the best head we could afford to top it with. We knew we’d want to take both horizontal and vertical shots, so we made sure the one we chose could both ‘pan’ and ‘tilt’ with ease.  After that, we used a quick release plate to attach our camera to our new tripod.

Horizontally_And_Vertically layla

We shoot with both a Canon 30D and a Canon 7D, but it’s not really the make and model that’s important.  It’s really all about your settings once you mount that thing to a good tripod!”


Layla & Kevin’s Manual setting:  F/Stop f/4, shutter speed 0.60s, ISO 200    

layla manual


“With a steady tripod, you can adjust your ISO (lower ISO = a sharper photo, higher ISO without a tripod = a more grainy photo), your aperture and shutter speed to allow a ton of light into the camera, which will create a nice, bright shot.  The photo above would be blurry if you didn’t use a tripod because it would be impossible to hold the camera perfectly still as long as the lens is open at those settings.”

swirl snip

Bravo and and BIG thank you to Mrs. Limestone, JJ, Sarah and Layla for taking the time to share their tips on better interior photography !  I’m so inspired by all four of them, I hope you are too!!   Here are three more of my favorite sites for great photography tips and inspiration:

The Pioneer Woman Photography

My Three Boybarians

Digital Photography School


Isn’t it amazing the difference you can make just by altering your camera’s settings?   For those of you just moving beyond the Auto setting, are you having that ‘Aha!’ moment?  Those of you with experience with manipulating aperture, shutter speed, etc. do you have a tip to share?  Please do !




  1. This is great! I have a point-and-shoot Canon and would love to know if it’s possible to get better photos with it. I’m a casual blogger and don’t want to make a pricey camera investment. Just finding out I needed to turn off the flash made a huge difference. The only problem I have with that now, though, is some of my shots turn out very blurry.

  2. Kate, this is SO helpful! I just got a Canon t2i for graduation from grad school, and I’m learning more and more about photography – and posts like this help a TON!

    And, Vicki, I’m not a pro by any means, but before I got my t2i, I decided to start using the manual settings on my camera to make sure I was willing to mess around with that. Your camera’s manual (which you can find online if you don’t have it anymore or can’t find it) would be a good place to start. On my Canon, turning off flash made the photos too dark most of the time in my house, but using digital macro mode (look for it in your manual – the icon on your camera will probably be a tulip picture) even when I wasn’t taking close shots made my pictures much better in low light settings. I would suggest getting a little knowledge from your manual, and then playing around a bit as you adjust settings. You’ll get some crummy shots along the way, but you’ll learn enough (and gain enough confidence) to get much better shots than you’re currently getting!

  3. I’m just plucking up the courage to turn off the auto mode on my camera. This post has given me more confidence to try it. xx

  4. And I’ve just decided to admit that I don’t dislike the flash shots – especially Mrs. Limestone’s. I always thought that flash killed any atmosphere, but I think that particular shot of the cameras was quite warm. xx

  5. T got me a Nikon DSLR for Christmas, which I am over the moon about. However, words like “aperture,” “ISO,” etc. scare the begeezes out of me. I LOVE my new camera, but I’m scared to mess around with all those dials. I think I’ll be looking into the links you provided to see if they offer any advices for dummies. ;)

  6. This was a great post very helpful and informative. I always thought for a better indoor pic you needed a flash so glad to know you don’t. I have a point and shoot camera but have wanted to take better pictures with it and knowing I can in the manual mode is exciting. I have some playing around to do now with my new camera I got for Christmas. Hopefully my blog will be full of better brighter indoor pictures soon.

  7. Kate, thanks for hosting such an informative post! I have lots to learn, and your timing couldn’t have been better.

  8. Again, thank you. You posts are so much more enjoyable than that boring ‘ol instruction manual! This has really been a big help.

  9. Thank you so much for the tips!! I just got my DSLR camera for my birthday and haven’t really had a chance to play around with the settings. You’ve taken a lot of the fear factor out of it for me. :-)

  10. Great tips and tidbits! The tripod is a MUST! I just got a fun little one for Christmas…called a gorilla pod…it can hang onto things and is bendable! The fun thing with digital, is you can take pics with all different settings and see the rsults immedately…inst learn!

  11. Thank you so much for this very helpful info. One of my goals this year is to learn how to take professional looking photos for my website and to be consistent. These tips are a great place for me to start. I do not have a fancy camera like the ones used for these photos. I wonder if I need one? I guess I will have to sit down and read that manual to see if I have any manual capabilities. Thanks again.

  12. Great post ladies!! I LOVE my tripod and my remote!!

    I have a question though………I shy away from such high ISO’s because of graininess… I can get away with 800, but often that is grainy. How are you guys getting “non-grainy” pics with ISO of 1600 and 2500? I think that is one issue with the entry level cameras verses pro cameras……..hence why I want to upgrade SO bad!!

  13. LOLOL I have been saying this for YEARS!! The fastest way to ruin a picture is to use a flash! I have been shooting pictures for 22 years, and I can’t believe how many photographers use a flash most of the time.

    Thanks for saying it, and to a lot of people so I don’t have to. lol I need a break. :o)

    This post was well done! Kudos to you all!

  14. Thank you so much for this post! I’m really excited to hear more on this subject. I’ve never used the P function on my camera, only Auto & Manuel. To be honest, I don’t look at the ISO though. I just looked inside my camera and followed the bar that you see–flicking it to the left or right to get more light or less light. I’m finding I can get good shots this way, but I’m not sure if this is the “correct” method to use for everyday shooting.

    If you do any follow-up pieces, would you please consider covering outdoor shots? My daughter goes to school on a beach and I take the photos of all the kids. I’m finding it difficult to shoot “moving objects” that jump between shadows and then the bright ocean behind them. When I get home and view my photos, they can be too dark or too bright. Any tips for a general all around outdoor setting would be GREATLY appreciated!!

  15. fabulous lesson! I love the “basic-ness” but really clear advice you’ve all given! I tell this to people all the time who see me with my camera snappin’ away…. my 2 tokens of advice:turn off your flash, for goodness sakes. and: move, (obviously not for this tutorial, but in general for shooting kids or capturing life) move around move up & down & not just shoot from standing position….that way you can find the light & make it work for you!
    nice job ladies! And also helpful because you all shoot with different levels of cameras. If you wanted, adding what lens you shot with would be helpful too :)
    Here’s to flashLESS!

  16. This is one of my all time favorite posts. I haven’t been very brave with my Canon Rebel. I have the same camera as Sarah @ Clover Lane. I am going to shoot my whole house in manual mode and see what I get. Yeah!!!

  17. Thank you so much for these tips! I got a DSLR for Christmas and having been looking for tutes on tabletop photography (not my strong suit.)

  18. Such a great and helpful post!! With a new babes I’m taking more photos then I’ve ever before and just starting to understand how to get a great shot. Now I’m on my way to knowing! thx!!

  19. @TidyMom – the camera definitely impacts the quality of shooting at high ISOs. I bought my 5dmii about a year ago. Prior to that, I was shooting with a 50D for a year. It’s ISO capability was nowhere near what this one is. However, I will say it beat out the Rebel (as it just had more ISO options). Prosumer camera bodies are great, but they still don’t compete with the hardware in the pro bodies, so you will definitely have more noise in your shots. But, if you want to shoot with a tripod, you can keep your ISO a little lower and have a slower shutter speed, while still achieving the look you’re going for!

  20. Is there anyone that has/or is going to start some type of campaign for Edie from Life in Grace??? Would love to help replace things or give money to a fund towards her rebuilding process. That’s what this season is all about….and Lord knows she’s given so much to all of her readers! I don’t have a blog so don’t know where to start, but you are all very powerful ladies with big voices. Let us know and let’s spread the word

  21. Agreed JJ! I do notice my images are compromised if I go beyond 800, but sometimes it’s just necessary so I compensate like you suggested by stabilizing the camera, and even increasing the resolution settings.
    Great conversation here!!


  22. This is so helpful!! Thank you thank you! I have been using my camera for a year and am just beginning to understand what it can do.


  23. Thank you so much for the photography tips and even more, for the actual EXAMPLES and the “average person” explanations. I find it so helpful to visually see what someone is talking about.

    I hate reading photography books that are slim in the image department and/or use a lot of industry jargon. I find it hard to imagine what they are trying to teach.

    My favourites of these series has to be Layla and Kevin of The Lettered Cottage and JJ of the Blah Blah Blahger. That is exactly my issue with photography. I get off work late and by the time I’m home, I barely have any any light if at all. I usually end up having to deal with the unappealing “soft white” indoor light. The tips from these two bloggers really helped with dealing with those limitations.

    Thanks again and I hope to see more “tip” posts like these! :)


  24. I agree with The Lettered Cottage, a tripod is going to make all the difference in the world! What it really allows you do to is stop down your aperture (make the numbers higher), to make your images sharper, have a greater depth of field, and allow more light in (with a slow shutter speed).

  25. This is brilliant, thank you Kate! I just tried Layla’s settings and I believe those are what I’ll use to shoot inside my house from now on.

  26. Love these posts, Kate! They’re super helpful since I just got my new Canon Rebel T1i. I just love learning and practicing with all the tips you give. Next investment: a tripod!

  27. Thanks for posting this! My husband surprised me with a Canon T1i for Christmas so that I could FINALLY add pictures to my blog on our home-makeover. I was thrilled, but I have NO idea how to use it! Looks like I have some studying to do – and a place to start the learning process. Thanks so much!

  28. Fab post! I need to be better about using my tripod. I have a fabulous Manfrotto one, but I’m often too lazy to use it, so I just dial up the ISO. With shots of my kids, I guess that’s a good thing, but when I’m shooting home details, I surely could use the tripod.

  29. I’m fairly new to your site, but I think I’ve only commented about once so far. I LOVE it here! Can I stay awhile?

    This post was spectacular, and I’m thrilled to have read it! I absolutely adore that Layla, and of course her amazing indoor photos never fail to inspire me. Thank you so much for gathering all of this talent in one place for us!


  30. Thanks for sharing Kate, this is wonderful.
    I do have a question to any of you girls.
    I was influenced buy the salesman that this was the PERFECT camera.
    The only thing that this camera is good for is if I’m on the back of my husband’s motorcycle doing 70mph I can take great pics on auto, other than that I HATE this camera. lol
    I have a Canon Power Shot SX10IS 10 megpix with a non removable lens 20xIS
    5.0-100.0mm 1:2.8-5.7USM, I have no idea what that means. This camera is a wide angle. It is not a DSLR it is a fancy version (salesman term) of a point and shoot.
    So is it the camera or is it me? lol
    Do I need to invest in a DSLR to be able to get the kind of pics that I can’t seem to get with this camera? If so can anyone recommend one that is reasonably priced?
    Thanks so much, Becky

  31. Thank you Kate for putting this together for us. I still get so nervous when I take my camera out of auto and into M…I’ve been doing it more often and having fun with it but so much to learn.
    Hope you have a wonderful New Year!!!

  32. Omigosh kate…thank you, thank you, thank you for the simplest instructional ever. For Christmas, I got a Canon Rebel XS T1i and just now trying to learn to take better photos. That manual though is sooooo intimidating. Thanks for your wonderful and simple tips and because of this, I’m now your newest follower. If you were here in front of you, I’d give you a big big hug!!!

  33. Thank you for the photography lesson! I also have a Canon Rebel Xsi but haven’t ventured into the manual mode much. Now I will definetly be practicing and relearning my camera!

  34. This was such great information! I struggle with taking great pictures of my artwork and I can really use this information! Thanks so much!!


  35. The VERY BEST investment you can make to improve your photos is a sturdy TRIPOD. It’s amazing the difference it will make. The other is a cable release for your camera. Even with a tripod you can cause movement by pushing the button down too hard-you should roll your finger over the button not push down on it. Vicki, your images were soft focus because of the lower shutter speed and camera movement. It is not possible most of the time to prevent camera shake without a tripod unless you are in high light situations using a fast shutter speed. Tripod, tripod, tripod…a sturdy one.

  36. To Becky: That is a gorgeous camera you have and you should be able to take really nice images with it. Here is a review of it:

    Have you sat down and read your book that came with the camera and gone over all the bells and whistles and how they work? A DSLR will only be more complicated than the camera you have. The one you have will give you great pictures when you understand it’s functions and a bit more about photography itself. Once you get the hang of all that I think you will be very happy with your purchase. As I think Kevin mentioned, it is not the camera that creates the shot…it is the photographer behind the camera.

  37. I enjoyed reading your posts.You shared information that is valuable to me and some other readers. In my city, the old cameras is more expensive than the new one. The old camera is used more as a collection for the famous photographer in Bali. Keep posting as I will be visiting this page from now on. Cheers.

  38. This was an awesome learning lesson! I had NO clue that this was how bloggers got such great photos on their websites. I have a Sony Cybershot and changed whatever I could on it because my shots were turning out so grainy. I’m going to play around with the new settings and my tripod tomorrow…I’m excited! Thanks a bunch!

  39. i am a beginner at photography so even the flash bit was a HUGE ah-ha moment for me. This was a really great educational read and I loved the photos side by side to really demonstrate flash vs no flash vs. manual effects.

  40. I don’t get why people hate flash. In my opinion pictures are never very clear with out it. I have read countless posts where people say LEAVE THE FLASH OFF. No thanks. I like my flash just fine.

  41. Kate!
    Love this! Thank you so much to everyone who participated!
    I am desperately trying to learn how to take better shots. I will do it!!! :)
    Happy New Year!

  42. wow!!! such great information here.

    odd question: i noticed layla & kevin mentioned “A good tripod” what would a good one be?

    i have one. i got it out to take pics on christmas day…noticed 2 screws have fallen out. no where to be found.

    if i ordered one like off of amazon, what would you all recommend?

  43. I’ve been doing most of things in your post, but am still looking for a good, light weight tri-pod. Does that exist?

  44. I love this! Followed Layla’s link from The Lettered Cottage. I have a Canon Rebel Xsi, as well, and the only flash I have is the one that came attached – I HATE it! Once I learned how to shoot manual – I never looked back. Love seeing the comparison shots – but I have to say, with Mrs. Limestone’s shots, I almost prefer the top shot – WITH the flash! It’s seems darker and more in focus/sharper, maybe?

  45. To Rosemary, Thanks so much for answering my question. I have had this camera for a few months and have not yet figured it out, and this statement is true for me.
    It is not the camera that creates the shot…it is the photographer behind the camera. I’m not a photographer lol.
    I have been told that I have the wrong lens to do most shots, people, close-ups, rooms and so on. I’m very confused. If you would like to contact me I’m at [email protected]
    Thanks again, Becky

  46. Thank you so much for these amazing photography tips!! Taking great photos is one of the hardest parts of blogging, for me anyway. I can’t wait to try all these suggestions. :)

  47. Thank you for this! I am using a Nikon DX and barely know how to use it! This post is just so helpful, thank you again.

  48. I just wanted to send you a big hug and thank you for these photography posts. I never used the manual on my camera ever! Because of your early post, I just took some great photos for my blog! I didn’t understand all of it but enough to take pictures without having to photoshop the heck out of them. Wow! It saves me so much time. Thanks again.

  49. @AP a good tripod to use is bogen. I LOVE mine and use it for night photography as well as some still life.

    You may want to try putting things in front of the flash like white tissue paper (poormans softbox)
    Velum sometimes works too. Even scotch tape will diffuse the flash a bit. I like shooting with flash and do only manual settings on camera. I have several different flashes and the one that does the best job is a metzflash…it’s old..

    In post production you could add a bit of yellow to correct some of the bluish color that some cheaper flashes put off. With a higher power (off-camera) flash you get better you can hold it where you want..

    I LOVE this site!

  50. I’ve had your original photography tips post bookmarked for a couple of weeks and I finally sat down today to review settings that I use as compared to this post and your previous one – thanks so much Kate for the excellent advice!! This was just the post I’ve been looking for…

  51. This is so helpful! Thank you. I have a question: do you usually use a tripod when shooting inside at such a slow shutter speed?

  52. “If you look closely at the image above, the vintage cameras are a bit darker than they should be. So I changed the settings to correct the image.”

    With most digital cameras, you can fool the Automatic mode into compensating for a bright background for you, so you don’t wreck the next batch of pictures by forgetting to set the camera back to normal.

    1 – Focus the camera on your object or scene and manually set the zoom you want.

    2 – Aim the camera at the floor, the ground or whatever has similar lighting to the target of the picture – in your example at the tray – and partially depress the shutter button.

    3 – Without releasing the button, aim at the original target and press the shutter button the rest of the way.

    You should have an overexposed light background and a properly exposed subject.

  53. And if you are on a budget … tripods from thrift stores and garage sales are CHEAP!

    I have one in the car permanently, and one in the house. Total cost was under $5.

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