Fragrant Christmas Packages

There are only a few days until Christmas and I’m finally wrapping the first gifts to place under our tree! Thankfully most have been purchased (thank you Amazon), but sitting in a closet waiting on my work deadlines to be completed before they could be wrapped. I’m SO behind, but better late than never!

I love everything organically scented. My favorite candles and men’s colognes are the ones that smell like nature. So, why not create packages that also smell fragrant? And you don’t have to wait until Christmas! You can wrap birthday, thank you, wedding, baby and house warming gifts this way all year long. Here’s a quick and easy tip on how to do it. And, please excuse the iphone images. It’s all I had time for before packing and heading out of town for the holidays.

The key is to purchase simple wrapping paper and ribbon. You don’t want the gifts looking too busy. I purchased simple and inexpensive kraft wrapping paper and baker’s twine from Michaels craft store. You can also purchase an array of baker’s twine colors for year ’round gift giving from Etsy. I’m usually not a Christmas red and green kinda girl, but this year, I chose just a touch of red in my baker’s twine since the rest of my house was decorated in all white and greenery. Next year I think I will choose the white baker’s twine just to change it up a little.

Once you have your gifts wrapped, walk out to your yard and clip greenery sprigs such as rosemary, head to the nearest nursery to purchase a small plant, or go to a florist, online resource or Whole Foods for some seeded eucalyptus. Anything that looks pretty and smells fragrant (and also dries well) will be perfect. Keep in mind that it will need to to be used on all sizes of presents, and cut accordingly.

A few years ago, my Mom and I heard a lecture at Birmingham Botanical Gardens,  by Jason Powell, owner of Petals from the Past, about planting fragrant flowers and shrubs near entrances and exits of your home, to give your guests a scented welcome. So, last spring, when we’d only been in our home for a few months, I planted rosemary near my back porch, where we entertain, for fragrance and to use for cooking. For my Christmas packages this year, I clipped several sprigs since it was handy. It’s also a good idea to make sure they are clean and dry, by blotting them with a paper towel, before you place each one on your packages.

Here’s the simple, easy and inexpensive package I’ll be giving to friends and family this year. I chose a more casual look, but you can also do a formal version of this idea by using solid white paper (also available for purchase from Michaels) and gold or silver ribbon.  I hope this post gave you a little bit of inspiration for your own unique gift giving and that your holidays are just perfect, surrounded by the people you love, sharing lots of memories. laughter and good food! Merry Happy Christmas!

XO,
Heather

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Mission-minded Art

Our high school neighbor, babysitter and super creative friend, Sarah, did a collage for her best friend Emily’s birthday and posted the process on her blog and Facebook. Sarah cut out colorful pictures and drawings of all of Emily’s favorite things and made a collage with them. She also added inspirational quotes and sayings she found on Pinterest. When I saw the finished piece I knew I had to have one for my daughter’s room! Unique, personal, inspiring, colorful and cheerful art…perfect for a young girl, tween or teen’s room! I immediately texted Sarah after I saw it and asked her to do one for my daughter Olivia; and she happily agreed, explaining to me that she was earning money for a mission trip to Equador with her church. After she told me that, I decided to spread the word about this mission-minded art to all my friends with daughters, nieces and granddaughters. What a great Christmas gift idea!

I’m including a photo of my daughter’s finished collage below. Oh and shhhhhhhhhhhh! This one for my daughter is a birthday surprise so I’ve hidden it under the bed for a couple of months! I hope I can wait until January to give it to her!

If you are interested in purchasing a collage canvas and helping Sarah go on her mission trip to Equador, you can email Sarah at whistle17@gmail.com. The price for a 16×20 canvas is $100 and a 20×24 canvas is $125. It takes Sarah about 8 hours to lovingly customize each collage to fit her customer’s personality. Love it!

NEW! Christmas Cards for 2012

NEW FOR CHRISTMAS 2012!! I am pleased to announce that I will be offering holiday cards and fine stationary from Stacy Claire Boyd, Little Lamb Designs and more! Once you have purchased your digital photo image or quantity 4×6 prints, you can shop, order and pay for your holiday cards directly from my website. There are modern, whimsical and sophisticated designs with easy online ordering. Click on the link below to start shopping and get your cards done early this year.

Heather Durham Photography, 2012 Christmas Cards 

Thunder on the Mountain [Fireworks over Vulcan], Birmingham, AL

As I have done most all of my life on the 4th of July, we went to watch the fireworks show “Thunder on the Mountain” over Vulcan Statue in my hometown of Birmingham, AL. We have watched it from different venues over the years, but this year we chose to go back to our old apartment in Southside where my husband and I lived when we first got married. The apartment building sits right below Vulcan on 21st Street, so you can easily walk up to Warwick Rd to get a great view. I’ve photographed fireworks before, but never with Vulcan in the shots; so I was determined to get the mythical god of fire and Birmingham icon, in my shots this year!

If you are curious how to photograph fireworks, there is definitely a technique in getting them right. You must use a tripod due to the very slow shutter required. Don’t try to cut a corner and shoot them handheld, because all you will get is blurry images and jagged light streams. It is also helpful to use a remote trigger, if you have one, so you don’t cause any camera shake by holding down and releasing the shutter with your finger. These shots were taken on Manual mode with my 24-70 mm lens. Metering was set to Matrix (Nikon’s method of reading light from the entire scene not just one spot), single servo focus and autofocus of the entire scene (solid rectangle on the autofocus dial). I adjusted the shutter based on how bright the colors were in the streams of fireworks and how they were casting light on the Vulcan statue. I chose the aperture of f/16 so that I had good depth of field to get everything in focus. My shutter was set to BULB so that I could completely control the mirror up and down motion. The shutter speed on my shots varied anywhere from 1.0 sec to 8 sec, depending on how long I held down the shutter button before releasing it. The longer you hold the shutter open the more bursts of fireworks you get in one shot/frame. Press the shutter once and hold it open for several bursts then release it to close the shutter. Try to get the bursts at the beginning, otherwise you get more smoke than streams of color. You can find a helpful article on shooting fireworks here. Give it a try! It’s fun!

Hope you enjoy the images I took from this year’s Thunder on the Mountain.

iPhoneography 101 – Tips for taking better photos with your iPhone

Let’s keep it real. Sometimes it’s just not that convenient to lug around the big DSLR wherever we go. And, I’m saying that as a mom and not a professional photographer. Our kids roll their eyes when we bring it with us because they know they are being documented. Sometimes it’s good to go undercover with your iPhone. Our phones are with us ALL THE TIME. It’s a convenient way to sneak photos of your kids without them even suspecting…or anticipating. You can become a quick draw, whipping it out of your pocket and back in before anyone even realizes. And in the meantime, you’ve grabbed a shot you might have otherwise missed because we all know kids are fast! Remember…the best camera is the one you have with you.

For a little personal (and somewhat professional) challenge, I decided to use my iPhone and the Instagram app for our Disney World trip last week. No fancy Nikon camera and lenses to control everything. It was all about fundamental lighting. Oh yes, I did carry my DSLR. Like Linus and his blanket, I needed it for security…just in case I caved. I also borrowed my parents’ point and shoot. (I even flipped through the manual before we left since I’ve never owned one.) I had to warm up to the idea of having way less control over my images on such an important trip. And I admit, I carried the DSLR for a few character shots at Chef Mickey on my son Luke’s birthday and when he was in Jedi training fighting Darth Vader. But, I was also shooting with my iPhone at the same time. The funny thing is that my favorite shot of my son fighting Darth Vader with his light saber was taken with my iPhone! It just happened to be the best action shot. My DSLR shot count was probably 50-100 in only one day, which is nothing short of a miracle. The rest of the trip it stayed in the hotel room. Just one day into our trip and my iPhone and Instagram shots were becoming a fun little shooting adventure for me. I also decided that our Disney book would strictly be all iPhone photos processed with Instagram so they would have that consistent quirky/artsy feel in the more square format. I also kept thinking to myself that shooting, editing and processing is my job, so why not let loose a little on vacation and not have thousands of photos to edit when I got back from my trip. [Insert sigh of relief]

I was able to upload photos from the day to Facebook and Instagram from my phone each night, and friends and clients began following my captures from the trip and commenting. Many of you made comments that you wished your iPhone shots could be better. Are any of my shots perfect? No. They won’t be with an iPhone. But they captured the moment in a fun and creative way for us to enjoy, without Mom always worried about bumping or dropping my good camera, or getting it wet on a ride. It was my attempt to be a more enjoyable and Hands Free Mama on our trip.

I promised I would post a few tips with example images so here goes. Different coloration filters and frames were applied with Instagram.

1. Change your perspective and use prepositions.

Don’t shoot everything and everyone straight on. So many shots would be dramatically better by just a simple change in angle. Remember the list of prepositions you learned in elementary school? Above, across, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, and so on? Use them. Shoot above your child because when they look up at you their eyes capture all the light in the sky, shoot across a bridge to get the long angles of the rails making your subjects the focal point, shoot from behind flowers to get them blurry in your foreground, shoot below your child up into the rope bridge they are playing on to get texture, shoot between tree branches to frame your subject, etc. You get the picture.

Make sure your camera is focused where you want it to be. While looking at your composition on the screen, tap the screen where you want the camera to meter exposure and focus. This will make a huge difference in how your images are exposed and the sharpness of your subject.

Example 1: Shooting beside your subject. While waiting on my husband and daughter who were in line for the Aerosmith Rockin Roller Coaster ride, I watched everyone photographing themselves close up in the smack front and center of the huge guitar that was at the entrance. I’m not making fun. It’s what most people would do. I’m just saying to approach it a little differently. Their shots probably only had the person and a small portion of the guitar section in them. A much better angle was beside the guitar so you could get that curve of the strings that made it’s way overhead. I wish I had taken a photo straight on so you could see the comparison.

Example 2: From below your subject. In the next two shots my kids stood on a short wall and I shot from underneath them making them look larger than life in front of the Epcot ball. (Notice they have on their sunglasses — refer to tip #2)

During one of the afternoon parades, some of the cast members were on stilts. This guy stepped in front of the castle so I shot up at him, making him look larger than life and as tall as the castle.

Example 3: Shooting all around, close up and wide. These shots of Main Street and the castle all have very different perspectives due to one being on the ground, one being from a balcony overhead, and one from being underneath. Also, some are tight, whereas others are wide.

Example 4: Put something directional or interesting in the foreground of your shot. We walked into Hollywood Studios one morning right when it opened and all the store clerks and cast members were waving with Mickey hands. I asked one of the cast members to wave a little further out into the street so I could include it in my shot. It’s Disney World, the happiest place on earth, so of course he happily agreed. I also love that the word “Go” was in my shot. Small details like this help to tell a story in your image.

In this next shot, I put my daughter in the foreground watching the Disney Rocks show because she was so excited about seeing it. The sun was causing a sun flare on her head which also added some interest.

In this last shot, a vendor was carrying Mickey and Minnie balloons on Main Street, so I put them in the foreground of this castle shot.

Example 5: Use reflections, shadows and mirrors for a different perspective. My son got his face painted like a pirate and the woman doing it held up a mirror for him to see. I chose to take the photo of his expression in the mirror so I could get his first reaction.

The second photo is of my daughter and me on our way into one of the parks. The shadows were so fun that we stopped to capture us that way. I asked her to put her hands on her hips to add her arms and a little more interest into the silhouette since I was having to hold the iPhone to get the shot.

2. It’s okay to be a little shady and go undercover.

When possible, shoot in the open shade where sun is indirectly falling on your subject. There are SO many opportunities for this at Disney World because there are overhangs, doorways, umbrellas, pavilions and covered walkways while waiting on rides. There was beautiful filtered and indirect light everywhere! But, when you want your photo taken right in front of Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom or Mickey’s magic hat in Hollywood Studios, there isn’t any cover in the middle of the street and sometimes it just happens to be straight up noon when you get there. Don’t miss the shot waiting on the perfect light. If everyone is squinting in the bright sunlight, whip out the shades. When everyone is wearing sunglasses, no one is obviously squinting.

Example 1: The future’s so bright you gotta wear shades. There was full sun in the middle of the day for both of these shots. Are we squinting? Absolutely. But you can’t tell because we’re wearing sunglasses. (Notice how much larger the ball looks in the first photo here than it did in the photos above — yep, perspective.)

Another shot in full sun, but we all have on our sunglasses which hides the squinting.

Example 2: Undercover. These next few images worked because of indirect light coming from somewhere other than overhead. In this one, Lightening McQueen was under a shade tent, so the light on my sons’s face was just right.

In the next photos, we were waiting on line for rides, so there was a roof overhead and light was coming in from all sides.

3. Don’t be flashy.

Not sure why I didn’t list this one first. TURN OFF YOUR FLASH. I repeat… TURN OFF YOUR FLASH. I didn’t use my flash the entire time I was at Disney. Honestly, that little straight-on flash that comes out of your camera is death to a good shot. It’s a tiny bright flashlight pointed right into your subjects eyes, which will always be red from using it. It’s also a mood killer. If you are watching the Electric Light Parade in front of Cinderella’s Castle at night and there are all these beautiful colored lights in the dark, WHY would you want to light up the area around you and the people’s heads in front of you, and ruin capturing those vivid colors in the dark? If you need a little light on your subject, try putting them in front of a light source, like underneath a street light or in the beam of headlights. Look around and use the light that is available to you.

Example 1: Use available light to illuminate your subjects instead of flash. This photo would not have captured the 3D movie feel if I had lit up the room with my flash; and I would have lost the projected words on the wall that also happened to be illuminating their 3D glasses.

Example 2. Fireworks are done in the dark, so don’t turn on the lights. Use the ones that are there! If I had turned on my flash here, all I would have done is lit up the people’s heads in front of me and they would have become the focal point. Yuk. Without flash they are nice silhouettes of a crowd watching.

Did I mention to TURN OFF YOUR FLASH? That brings up the next point…

4. Slow and steady gets the shot.

If you are in a low light situation then the iPhone really struggles and your images will have noise (little dots of graininess) in them, especially if you don’t use flash. Any camera that is not built for low light situations just can’t do the job. The key to using your iPhone with the flash turned off is steady hands. Keep the phone as still as you possibly can with your arms close into your body or resting on something to steady it. This will keep you from getting blur from camera shake due to the slow shutter speed. Most of the night parade I sat with my knees up and my hands steadied on my knees holding the iPhone as still as possible. And don’t forget that you can use that top, side button to take the photo, not just the one on the screen. In the horizontal position, this helps you hold it more steady.

Example 2. Capture the magic. Don’t try to create more light in this kind of scene. Again, if I had turned on my flash I would have lit just the back of people’s heads in front of me and it would have ruined the shot.

In this second shot, a little girl in her stroller right beside us was playing with her light up Minnie spinner, so I chose to include it in the foreground.


And speaking of movement…

5. You can’t bust a move in the dark.

The one thing the iPhone just can’t do is capture quick movement in low light without blur. If the light is low, then the shutter speed is slow and movement will register as blur. I tested this the entire week at Disney. Quick head movements and hand gestures were always blurry, whether it was an indoors shot with less than adequate light, or nighttime. It just can’t handle it like a DSLR can. Stopping movement in full sun or sufficient light was no problem.

Example 1: The headless pirate. Here’s a great example of a low light movement disaster. My son looks like he’s carrying his head near his waist. I took this while he was playing around with his pirate’s sword at the Electric Light Parade. Look closely. [Insert theme from Friday the 13th] It’s like something out of a horror film! I cracked up when I saw it. The things you see in the sky are bubbles, but they look like little lines of light because the shutter was too slow to stop the movement.

Example 2: Blur has its benefits. Sometimes this movement blur can be to your benefit and make for a neat shot, like this photo I took of my daughter when we were in the American Idol Experience. I love that you can see the movement from her clapping her hands.

6. Don’t get fired up, keep your cool.

White Balance can make or break a photo. It’s the temperature of light. Have you ever noticed your shots being really warm (yellow) in the sun or really cold (blue) looking in the shade? It can make a huge difference in skin tones. If you have iPhoto, use the slider that adjusts temperature and see how it affects your photos. You will be amazed. You can also download the Photoshop Express app that allows you to make white balance adjustments as well as exposure, cropping, etc. I don’t worry as much about white balance using Instagram, because the filters apply interesting color tints and it’s just part of the look. I only adjust them in the Photoshop Express app if it looks extremely bad. Again, Instagram images aren’t about everything being spot on color correct. They’re quirky and artsy.

7. HDR and you’ll go far.

For landscapes and city shots without people in them, try turning on the HDR feature. HDR takes three exposures of the same composed image and merges them to get the best dynamic range and detail. You can turn it off and on on your screen just like you can the flash. Here are two examples of images I took using HDR.

8. Supersize your fries, not your iPhone pics.

iPhone shots don’t enlarge well. Stick to printing them up to size 5×7 or using them in a book. After all, I can’t give you so many tips that you don’t need me anymore, right? Save your crisp, clear and perfectly color correct 8×10 prints and larger for a professional. Don’t leave your portraits and special events in the hands of an iPhone or point and shoot. 😉

Give me a shout by leaving a comment on my Facebook page if you want me to do a blog post with tips specific to using Instagram and how to print Instagram books. And, thanks for your interest in my work! I try to return the love with helpful tips like these so check back often.

For now I’ll leave you with more images from our trip…



And if you aren’t tired of reading yet, check out this article on the handy little Joby Gorillapod tripod for the iPhone (pictured below). Wish I had brought one for this trip. I have a Gorillapod for another camera and it is such a great gadget because it will wrap around anything to steady the camera or so that everyone can get in the shot! I’ve even wrapped mine on the top of a lamp shade to do hands free videoing of everyone opening their Christmas gifts. Here’s a few pictures of the Joby gadget. Retail price $39.95 and here is where you can buy one.

6/26/15 Update: Since this original post was in 2012, there are definitely some new apps for iPhone photo editing. Some of my recent favorites are Pic Tap Go, VSCOcam, Afterlight, Facetune, PhotoGrid and Snapseed. Check them out and enjoy playing around with your images!

Jackie Bee’s Stairwell Gallery

Jackie Bee and I met and have gotten to know each other through a mutual friend. While we were all at the lake over Labor Day weekend, she scheduled a session with me and knew exactly what she wanted. (I love it when a client has a specific idea and wants me to shoot towards that! It’s a fun challenge!) She told me she wanted large close-ups featuring her kids’ faces in black and white for her stairwell. So, later that month we met at the studio with this focus. When her proofing gallery was ready to view online, I went over to Jackie Bee’s house to look at her stairwell so we could talk about how she would hang them and what sizes she needed for the space. The result was an amazing staircase gallery!

Jackie Bee just got the images hung yesterday, and since I had a print order ready for her, I asked her if I could drop them by so I could take a few shots of her stairwell. I needed an extreme wide angle lens to get all of the images in the tightness of the stairwell space, but I don’t have one of those because I rarely have the need for one. So, I had to do the best I could with the wide angle I do have. These photos of the space don’t quite do it justice but I wanted to share them with you anyway for two reasons…1) to show you that you can really make an empty stairwell have that “wow” factor with a photo gallery and 2) to show you that you need to print the photos large (or groupings of smaller images), otherwise they look like postage stamps and won’t fill the area. All four of these images are 20×24 then matted and framed. I love the clean-lined, simple frames Jackie Bee chose so that the focus remains on the photographs of her precious children.
I also appreciate her letting me share these images with you. Maybe they will help you define a space in your home for a photo gallery.

You can also view an older post of my personal stairwell gallery here, which shows how to use smaller candid groupings of photographs to fill the space.

Holiday Photography Tip: Your Home (and Life) All Aglow

Ever wonder why you can’t capture the “feeling” of the warmth of your home in pictures when it’s illuminated for Christmas? Turn OFF your flash. Most cameras in auto mode shoot this type of scene with the flash popped up because it recognizes that the scene is very dimly lit. When the flash pops up, it lights up the entire room and you lose that twinkle of the lights…the glow…and ultimately the mood.

This holiday season, when you want to capture the beauty of your home all aglow, set your camera to “A” (aperture preferred) mode and set your aperture to about f/2.8 or f.4, depending on how much of the room you want to be in focus. Then, in your menu, set your ISO to 400 (ISO determines available light sensitivity) and your camera will determine the shutter speed for you. Given the low light, the shutter speed will be slow, so you will need to be on a tripod or steady your camera on a flat surface to avoid blurred images caused by camera shake. (To go even a step further to avoid camera shake, I actually used a remote trigger with the mirror up for the images I shot below.) Then, as a final tweak, if you are using iPhoto or another more advanced photo editing software, adjust the white balance to tungsten because your images SOOC (straight out of the camera) will be too warm and have a distinct yellow cast. Adjusting the white balance will correct this.

This method works also if you sit your children in front of the Christmas tree with their backs towards you and have them be very still. You will get the tree all aglow and they will be somewhat silhouetted except for where the light from the tree is illuminating the front of their faces. I don’t have an example of this shot to post tonight, but I’ll try to post one before Christmas.

My husband started a fire tonight, so I thought it was the perfect time to light the candles and take a few example shots for this post which I have included below. I hope you find these tips helpful when you are trying to capture your precious memories this year.

And one last thought…

I love light and I love the challenge of capturing it in my camera. The most incredible thing about light is that God created it on the very first day he created the earth.  “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.” — Genesis 1:3,4  And on Christmas when Jesus the Savior was born, a light, a star, is what led the shepherds and the wisemen to Him to worship Him. ” I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” — John 8:12.  This verse and a Christmas song by Third Day was my inspiration for how I shot the images for our Christmas card this year.

Every time I pick up my camera, I am celebrating the light that God created and all the amazing beauty it brings to the world and joy to those who witness its glory. Think about the way light brings out the color in your children’s eyes and the glow in their hair when the sunlight hits it just right. Think about sunrises and sunsets at the beach, your shadows in the sand, rainbows after a rainstorm and moonlit nights on the porch. I know I am getting a little flowery here, but light is a fascinating and inspiring thing to me.

Since Jesus is the light of the world and whoever follows Him will have the light of life, how much more amazing will our lives be for ourselves and for others if we follow Him and let our lives be illuminated by the light of Christ in us. That’s my focus this Christmas – for my heart, my home and my business to be aglow with the Light of World, and I pray it will continue to be my focus in the coming New Year.

No presents under the tree...I know! I know! You guys are keeping me busy, so they might not get wrapped until Christmas Eve! And plain jain too? Yep! I let the kids decorate with all of our special ornaments every year. Even though there isn't a lot of "design" to our tree, there sure are a lot of memories on there! Just the way I like it! Oh! And of course, a photo ornament, for every year we've been our little family. 🙂

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Since you guys are keeping me so busy with all of your fall and Christmas card sessions (thank you!), I’m spending a lot of time in my office editing and putting together your orders when I’m not shooting. So, I decided to go ahead and do a little Christmas tree in here to get me in the festive spirit and share this simple holiday decorating tip with you.

A Year of Memories Tree: Print out your own photos from throughout the year as wallet or business card size and place them on a small tree in your home to remember what a great year it has been as you prepare to ring in a new one! I’m including a photo of the Christmas tree I just did in my office. The photos on my tree are some that I have taken of clients’ children this year. And, while shopping with my kids on Friday when they were out of school for Veteran’s Day, I just happened upon the cute glass vintage camera ornament!

So, as I sit down at my computer to edit the five sessions I did last week, I am enjoying the twinkle of white lights, your kids’ sweet faces smiling back at me, and the classic voice of Frank Sinatra singing holiday tunes. Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!