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Ten Questions (plus one!) for Phoblography

Lots of you love including photos in your posts — our weekly photo challenges remain the most popular part of The…

Lots of you love including photos in your posts — our weekly photo challenges remain the most popular part of The Daily Post — so it’s high time we profiled a photoblogger! Meet Shew, the eagle-eyed photographer behind Phoblography, and read on for her tips for capturing the perfect shot, gear recommendations, and why knowing how to use a camera is only 25% of the story.

Photos by Shew - header image

1. What’s your typical process for developing, creating, and publishing a post?

A lot of my blog posts materialize when I’m out taking photos. I’ll think, “hey, this might make a good post!”, so I’ll keep shooting and try to be mindful about taking detail shots as well as wide shots, which help to make a balanced blog post. After I gather up my photos from an outing, I narrow them down, edit the photos, create photo layouts, and upload them to WordPress. The whole process can take up to several days, depending on how many photos I end up using.

bee on flower

When the photos are this lovely, I don’t even mind all the bees.

I do a lot of previewing before I post. I’m convinced that photos on a page can have a good flow or a bad flow. I always try to aim for good. Sometimes I go as far as remaking the layouts, re-editing the photos, or switching the order of the photos until it feels right — this  is probably the perfectionist in me. Finally, after all of that, I pepper the post with some commentary and hit “Publish.” (Many times, adding the commentary is the hardest part! I have a hard time finding the words when all I’ve been concentrating on are the photos.)

2. What does your blogging setup look like? What do you need to be comfortable publishing?

Is it still considered a “setup” if I admit that I’m usually on my couch? In my PJs? With a cat in my lap? I do all of my work on my MacBook Pro laptop, which is, you guessed it, on my lap.

sydney, australia

I can’t imagine forgetting any detail of this stunning view of Sydney Harbor.

I keep all of my files on an external hard drive, so that’s always nearby, along with a mug of green tea in arm’s reach. The television is usually on, but only for background noise. I tend to ignore everything else around me (even my husband, sorry!) when I blog; it requires concentration, and I like to get in the zone.

I also save all of my receipts, travel brochures, pamphlets, and guide books from photo outings and trips so that when I’m ready to blog, I can lay everything in front of me to re-jog my memory and have all the details accessible. There’s nothing more frustrating than forgetting the name of a restaurant or place when you’re trying to describe a photo.

3. Do you do much processing to your photos? Are there photo tools, apps, or software you’d recommend?

I edit all of the photos that I post using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4. When I edit, the big things I touch up on are colors (white balance), tone curves and general exposure. I like ‘em bright and cheery. I try not to over process my photos, but I admit it’s easy to get carried away. That’s why it’s healthy to step back and critique your work.

I really enjoy using Lightroom and highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking for photo editing software. Post processing can really take your photos up a notch. With that said, I do think it’s important to try to get it right in the camera first before editing.

4. What are your top three tips for new/amateur photobloggers?

baby with flower

This is what you get when you’re in the right place at the right time.

  1. Carry your camera on you as much as possible — if you don’t, you won’t take any photos. Don’t just carry it in your car or on your back in a zipped-up bag; carry it around your neck, in your hand, or by your waist so that it’s ready to go when inspiration strikes.
  2. Don’t try to do something that you think people will like. Just do the things you like. I’ve always believed that people gravitate toward folks who love what they’re doing; you can sense it in their work. So find out what makes you happy first. The followers will come later.
  3. Find a balance between looking at other people’s work and looking at your own work. There’s a ton of inspiration out there and a ridiculous number of talented photographers to “photo stalk,” but as a photo blogger, you should devote time to work on your art and your personal style too. Plus, you’ll end up learning a lot more by doing rather than just observing.

5. What photo equipment do you use? What would you recommend for someone who’s ready to move on from a cameraphone or a point-and-shoot camera?

For 98% of the photos on my blog, I used my Nikon D90 DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera. The other 2% are from a Canon point-and-shoot, a PowerShot SD900. I also have a small assortment of lenses for my D90, but for the most part, my 35mm lens lives on my camera.

skipping stones

For folks who are looking to graduate from their point-and-shoot, I’d advise them to do some research, read reviews, compare specs, but most importantly, go to a store where you can handle the cameras and test drive them. There’s something to be said about the weight and feel of a camera in your own hands. Almost all DSLRs take great photos these days, so it’s hard to make a wrong choice; you just need to make a personal choice.

And if you’re really serious about learning the ins and outs of photography, I’d recommend buying a prime lens – a lens that doesn’t zoom – as soon as possible. I learned so much more about the exposure triangle (aperture, ISO and shutter speed) after I picked up my 50mm lens that I didn’t learn with my zoom lens. Having a prime lens simplified the process for me, and eventually everything just clicked (pun intended).

6. How many photos do you think you take for each photo you decide to feature on the site? What’s your process for trying to capture the “perfect” shot?

Hmm, I’d say the ratio is pretty big, maybe 10 to 1? And I always end up with more photos than I know what to do with when I’m traveling (it just can’t be helped). Lately I’ve been trying to show more restraint when I’m shooting because when I really focus and take my time to compose a shot, I end up with better photos. What a concept!

carrots

Eating your vegetables never looked so good.

Capturing the “perfect” shot for me is 75% being there at the right time at the right place, and 25% knowing how to use my camera to achieve my vision. (Rarely am I at the right place at the right time, so the “perfect” shot is actually still eluding me.) Here’s a tip for trying to get a better shot in general — change your angle of attack. Nine times out of ten, you’ll get a more interesting photo just by switching it up. Set your camera on the ground and angle it up or stand on a chair and angle down. Basically, try anything but straight on.

7. Why did you choose WordPress.com for your site?

I chose WordPress.com because it’s loaded with great customization options (I think I’ve tried out every single theme at least once), is easy to use, and I love the way it looks. It’s a triple threat.

8. Tell us five of your daily reads / favorite photography blogs.

In no particular order…

  1. For the Love of Wanderlust 
  2. Roam and Home 
  3. Concrete and Sky 
  4. The Analog Eye 
  5. atsuko & joe 

9. Which of your posts has had the most influence on your readers, and why?

hearst castle

This shot of Hearst Castle has me California dreamin’ on a dreary March day.

Well I’ve been Freshly Pressed three times now (somebody pinch me) and those three posts (Hearst Castle, Sand Harbor State Park, Camden Yards) garnered a lot of attention. I heard from a lot of people who grew up in those areas or have visited those places before, and those comments end up being my favorites. When someone tells you “I’ve lived here all my life and you really brought out the beauty of this place,” then heck, I must’ve done something right. I think in general, readers love being able to relate to your content.

10. What are your favorite things/locations/people to photograph? Is there something you’d never feature on your blog?

I consider myself to be a lifestyle photographer, so whatever life brings me, I’m ready to photograph. I love the challenge of finding something beautiful to photograph in everyday experiences. In the past, I’ve been lucky enough to travel to some amazing places like Italy, London, Australia, and most recently Vancouver, which has given me tons of blog material. What I love most about exploring new places is finding the stuff that makes it unique. What can I photograph here that you can’t find anywhere else?

Something I’d never feature on the blog: glamour shots of myself. Because they don’t exist and never will. For someone who loves to take photos, I am the most awkward version of myself in front of a camera. For that reason alone, I stay behind the lens.

amateur ballerinas

When your photography makes me want to put on a tutu, you’re on to something.

Bonus question! How do you feel about the ubiquity of cameraphones? Do you use one, and when/how do you find it most useful?

Ahh, cameraphones. I think they’re super convenient and you can do crazy creative beautiful things with them, but I don’t think they’ll ever replace the real deal.

I find my cameraphone (an iPhone 4) most useful when I come across a ridiculously beautiful sunset or when I want to brag about what I just ate or cooked (via the Instagram app), or when I see a famous person and have to have my picture taken with him or her (still waiting for that one to happen).

Thanks, Shew — now we’ll open the floor. Who’s got questions?

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  1. This was so helpful!
    As an untaught photographer, I always thought I must be pretty bad to need 10 shots for each post, but now I see, it’s all about what I affectionately call “triage”. What a confidence booster this input has been for me! Thanks very much!

  2. Fabulous photos here. Thanks for all the tips.

    When I travel my camera never leaves my hand. I’m actually trying to learn to use it less so that it doesn’t get between me and my travel experience. However, when I’m at home I rarely have it with me on an average day. I think I need a new pocket point and shoot so I’ll be more inclined to carry one. Because I don’t carry it at home, I’m scrambling more to find the killer shots to accompany my blog posts. Need to get a new habit.

    1. Julie, I’ve totally been there too where it’s hard for me to put the camera down and enjoy the moment. I usually feel guilty if I’m not taking photos! Thanks for the comment and happy shooting!

  3. That 10:1 ratio shocks me! I feel I am quite lazy as 3:1 in itself makes me impatient and tired. And thanks for the tip on taking photos from ground up or above down or anything but straight on. That tip will help a lot of armatures like me :)

    In this page, somehow, I find the photo of the carrots the most impressive. I wonder how a normal everyday vegetable can be shown so impressively! Kudos to your efforts (and post-processing?) :)

    1. When I was deciding what photos to feature in this post, I kept coming back to the carrots. I thought, “Am I really going to pick a photo of carrots over stunning landscapes and cherubic babies? Yes, yes I am.” There’s just something about them!

  4. Love your work. Plus I applaud the fact you kept the blog going for over 2 years and you still keep it going. Most bloggers fizzle out after three months. What kept you blogging over the years?

    1. That’s a great question. I’ve definitely had slow months where I felt the fizzle coming on, but usually something would pop up (or I’d go looking for something) to take photos of, and I’d blog about that. I also don’t blog every day or even every week. It’s important to set realistic expectations of yourself when you’re a blogger and to pace yourself!

  5. What a great article… and Phoblography is such a terrific blog! I am relatively new to photography, but I completely agree with Shew about the value in getting a prime lens early in the game. I think I’ve learned so much about composition since switching to prime lenses. I’m really loving my Minolta 35mm manual focus lens (which actually works as 52.5mm lens on my camera), and it seems to be on my camera most of the time these days.

    1. Thank you! I have a soft spot for prime lenses too – they can really make you work for a photo when you no longer have the ability to zoom in or out. Happy shooting. (<–only a photographer can say that and not get in trouble.)

  6. First time I have seen this blog. I ultimately blog for my self but treasure the friends I have made through commenting back and forth, not discounting the friends that I have in the flesh. Sigh, I may just follow you and some of the others that commented here because I can always learn more and enjoy what I am seeing.I sigh because it takes time to look and read and I wonder when I will reach my saturation level? I find for myself and others it is important to keep on topic and keep it simple-easy to read and look at, although I will stop and study some blogs because they are thoughtful like this post.. I do like the variety of your photos and your personal comments.
    Thank you.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. In my opinion, I think you should follow folks who inspire you to be a better photographer. That way, you have something to look forward to reading. :)

  7. Great interview! And great work Shew! I am always impressed with your skill and the fun you have doing what you love. Keep up the great work!

  8. I just got a digital SLR for my birthday and haven’t had a chance to figure it out yet because I’ve been so busy and it is SO different than my old, non-digital SLR was. Right now I take my iPad everywhere (bought a shoulder bag for it) because it has a marvelous camera and also allows me to go online anywhere there’s a connection. I’m not thrilled with WP on it, but it’s improving. I love photography and use lots of (my) photos on my blog.

    Thanks for an excellent article.

    janet

    1. I’ve always been impressed with the iPad and iPhone cameras…they make it so easy to take a good pic! I hope one day you’ll learn how to use your new camera; it’s very rewarding even though you have to work a little harder to get what you want. Happy shooting!

      1. Heh… somewhere for me to stick my nose in. I was going to wait until I had read all of the comments then send you a nice message. I am probably still going to do that :)

        The Blackberry Playbook is also an excellent photography platform. It takes amazing shots. I’ve a cousin who has gotten pictures he took with his Playbook used as front page photos for a couple of camera magazines. Impressive or what?

  9. Photoblography, what a great name for what we do :-) lots of what you say sounds just like me when I’m putting a pst together, and I definitely agree that taking shots of what you love is the best way forwards! I hadn’t seen your blog before, and I always love to find new photo blogs!

  10. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience. I love to take nature shots and have “gotten lucky” with a few. Your tips will certainly help me in the future. Thanks!

  11. Thank you for all the tips ! at the moment I’m in the proces of figuring out what I want to do with my (photography) blog :-)

  12. I agree with everything you have written. I have been a pro photographer for many years, I am slowly winding down due to illness and disability. What does disturbs me is the amount of untrained enthusiasts becoming ‘professional’ photographers I spent a lot of years, a lot of street pounding, unruly children, pouting models, spoilt brides and annoying mothers of the brides. I have writtn essays, burnt my fingers on bulbs, upset lecturers and even had 10, 000 volts up my arm from a flash gun.
    Photography is a skill we evolve in, you can only learn so much the rest comes from what you wish to portray. I occasionally get calls from photography students who wish me to help them or if they could shadow me and apart from two I have always said no. Why? bcause all they will learn is my style, as a photographer you have to hve your own style, learn different ways of taking a photograph.
    What I am seeing is ‘professional’ photographer who are ruining wedding days, spoiling family photographs and many other events.

    Its very easy to point Digital camera on A or P wait for the beep of autofocus and carrying on. If you want to be a good photographer, don’t play safe, switch the camera to manual, turn off autofocus and get out there and learn, learn what your camera can do, learn what your lenses can do, find your style. If you don’t have dslr, a point and shoot or a bridge, no excuse. Then when you have taken your image, learn the software, Photoshop, Gimp which is free to download and use or Sumo paint, which you can use free online. All come with instructions and can be just as much fun as capturing the image. But as I tell my students I teach photography to at one of the local school, if its not fun or stops being fun, find something else to occupy your time, also crawl before walking and walk before running or you will fall flat on your face.

    1. I was an enamored amateur photographer when I was in my early 20′s. I still have, although it no longer functions, a Minolta XG-1. It was the first camera I ever purchased with my own money.

      I learned a lot with that camera. It came with a fast lens, and I always took advantage of that. I tried shooting from every angle, often trying to get my less than enthusiastic model (my wife at the time) to jump, run, sit very still, and also to try and see photo ops. I may have missed.

      I got some neat shots too… my favorite from that period was a black and white shot taken at a concrete pipe storage yard. There were 100′s of pipes, of all diameters, and I shot them from every distance and angle I could. Yes… I took a lot of pictures back then because I usually shot B&W and developed the negatives myself. I’d do a contact sheet and then only print the ones I thought deserved to be printed.

      Over the years, I stopped taking pictures. The Minolta shutter curtain slowly but surely disintegrated over the years until I could no longer use it. And I didn’t have the money to buy a replacement camera.

      I ended up purchasing a HP point and shoot, which I still have, which still works (!), after using it for a while, I became frustrated with the lack of options available to me. I got a Cannon A720is after that. What a great camera! It is still used for about 33% of my shots.

      Recently I purchased a Fujifilm 500EXR, mainly for the increased optical zoom ability. It also fits in a pocket for easy shots in a hurry.

      I still consider myself a halfway decent amateur, I still take *many* shots (digital film stock being the price it is, why not?), I sort them out and process them using Adobe products (I have an Adobe Creative Cloud membership… I can use any product I want. Very cool.)

      After I’m happy with them, I post them online. I also post shots from my little point and shoot that have had no processing done other than resizing for the blog I have here.

      I didn’t go through the tortures of the children or other unruly subjects as you did, but I did get a lot of good pictures.

      I learned, as you say everyone should, how to take photographs the old-fashioned manual way. And I think I benefited from it.

      I enjoyed reading your comment here… what you said spoke to the young man in me, with my camera, prowling around, looking for good subjects.

      Thanks for bringing those memories back to me!

      1. Your welcome Catmandue, I am currently waiting for the return of my camera is being repaired, I think I wore it out. I have Fuji as well but they are pro cameras, the on waiting for is the celebrated S5, my back up is my faithful S2 which must be 10 year old now. Have fun keep it live. :D

    2. Pete, you give great advice as well. I agree that personal style is very important, especially when it comes to something as creative as photography.

      1. Thank you that means a lot, the trouble with me and a lot of photographers is doubt about ability, I always say ask your worse critic and if they like it, be happy with it, to find my worse critic I take a look in the mirror. If I like it then that all that matters. If not then only you can change it. enjoy :D

  13. Great information here. One thing that helps me with travel photography is to jot down a shot list as I come across ideas that inspire future blog posts. For instance, I just returned from China where I saw a pattern of older men with bird cages. Then, I saw a construction worker unloading bird cages from his front-end loader. I quickly formulated a shot list that included some close-ups of birds, and I captured some audio with my camera to use for the blogs. Just having the shot list in my head turned the trip into a photo scavenger hunt of sorts.

  14. Really interesting read. I only have access to a Canon point ‘n’ shoot (will get a grown up camera when I can afford it) so was thrilled to read you use one as well. I also shoot what I like, and that is what my blog is – very local & nature shots predominate. Thanks for all you said. :-)

  15. What an interesting article, certainly learned a lot today.

    “7. Why did you choose WordPress.com for your site?
    I chose WordPress.com because it’s loaded with great customization options (I think I’ve tried out every single theme at least once), is easy to use, and I love the way it looks. It’s a triple threat.”

    So I’m not unusual after all. I think being a perfectionist myself, I can’t seem to get myself to stop thinking that another theme could be more suitable and more pleasing to the eyes. Good to know I’m not alone. Cheers!

    1. I am new (well… not new actually, I used to have a blog here) to the amazing powers of the adjustable theme.

      I picked one out the day I set up the blog I now have here… I like black themed blogs. I played with the limited (to me) options until I got it just how I wanted it.

      Then I ran into a column width problem, and also a color problem. So I paid the $30.00 to unlock the theme (and all the other ones that I have never even looked at) so I could adjust that column width, and set that color scheme up just the way I wanted it.

      I am also a (left-handed, Virgo) perfectionist. Not everyone agrees with my vision, but hey, it’d be a dull world if we all saw thing all the time.

      You are not unusual at all… there are legions of us out there in the wild. And many of us somehow find our way here. Probably because we recognize each other, and can chat and write comments and replies.

      I love it when something comes together… and WordPress provides the environment to make that happen!

      1. I’m a virgo myself! I guess that explains a lot?

        I actually bought the custom design as well just to change the font. I have no background on CSS so the only features I can use from that purchase was the color and font.

        I have also bought 2 themes in WordPress just because I think the new one which I’m using right now is so much better. I know it may seem impractical to the others but the happiness I get from having a well put up theme outweighs the cost. I tried to delay it for a week but I couldn’t help it – I just had to purchase the theme I fell in love with when it was released as a new theme by WordPress.

        And yes, I love how WordPress has created this positive environment for us to interact and communicate and to make us understand one another.

  16. Wow photosbyshew… I am at the end already!

    But that’s okay, I did leave a couple of replies to comments on the way here, so it’s all good.

    I suffer from a self-diagnosed disease. It causes me to really get right into something until I am satisfied I have gotten as good at is as I am ever likely to be.

    All of my hobbies have evolved that way, for better and worse. I learn new material at an astonishing rate. I read voraciously… In one Winter in Winnipeg, I read over 200 works of fiction by Issac Asimov… his entire catalog at the time.

    I have been reading since I was just a boy, starting with comic books, magazines and finally to books loaned to me by whatever library was closest to me. I still read like a mad-man, but it’s mostly online now.

    My hobbies seem to rotate from whatever I’m currently doing to something else, never with any clearly defined reason.

    But… blogging is something I know how to do. I am starting to remember custom .css code I wrote for things like drop caps at the beginning of paragraphs.

    Photography is something I know how to do, at least at the level I’m at.

    Both of those hobbies, combined with a unfulfilled, but burning desire to be a writer have led me here.

    My blog is 1 part personal blog, 1 part photo-blog, and 1 part autobiographical. That’s the parts that are easy to see. I’m sure there are other bits I don’t see (because they are right in front of me no doubt), and probably a little bit that thinks, “I don’t care… I like the way it looks!”.

    I enjoyed your article, and the comments, replies, and the opportunity for me to run my digital mouth for ages here.

    Thanks for all!

    1. Rob, I envy your curiosity to learn new things. In fact, I think we could all use a little more curiosity in our lives and in blogging. Thanks for writing; I’m really glad you enjoyed the article.

      1. I’m glad I was able to write something you enjoyed.

        As mentioned in my comment, having a blog here is like Heaven on Earth for me.

        Thanks again!

  17. This makes me think…If I want to level up my travel blog…then maybe I should learn how to take good pictures from the places I’ve been. Hmmm! But it’s so hard to be just behind the camera. :( Do you have any advise for a reluctant photographer who wants to have good pictures on her blog?!

    -Kring at http://thewanderfulllife.wordpress.com/

    1. Kring, I struggle with this myself, and I think you have to find a balance that makes you happy at the end of the day. For me, I’d always regret not taking more photos on our trips, so I take a lot more now. It’s definitely a tradeoff though. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help; good luck!

      1. No problem Shew. :)

        I hope to find that balance soon…not that I’m unhappy in my current state now…I was just thinking that maybe if I could pick a side of the camera, in front or behind then I could focus my energy into it. Hehe!

      2. Do you mind if i suggest something. When I used to shoot in film, film was precious, so you made every shot count, I mean who wants to spent hours in a dark room to developed rubbish. So now we have digital we are spoilt. Here is a challenged, go out with your camera take 20 frames using your eyes and do not look at the images until all 20 images are taken, not even a peek. You can switched off the post shot display so your not tempted and then find the best ones and take a look at the EXIF details, this shows the settings, camrea type with date/time stamp. You can find this in Windows by right clicking on your image, left click properties and then you can click advance and you should see the list. You can also download free EXIF viewers for free, just Google EXIF viewer. Anyway once you have found the details write them in a note book with a small image, then next time you want to photograph the same type of image you should know the settings, you will get to the point were you will know the settings for the conditions, result better shots, less images and trust in yourself and your developing skills. Good luck, have fun. :D

      3. Wow that is some challenge! Copied your comment on my evernote. Haha! This got me excited. Thinking about when I’d do this. I’ll keep you posted. :)

      4. Thank you, look forward in seeing the results and you will see what its like old school and you will learn a new way of taking photographs, the urge to look can be so hard to ignore lol Enjoy :)

  18. Thank you for all your excellent advice. You have encouraged and inspired me in many ways. I also take photos of everyday life and events. I started with photographing things in my city, then branched out to where I traveled. Loving what you do means a lot.

    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

  19. browsing through your favorite blogs was such a pleasure! Thanks for sharing, along with your advises. Always learning through the blog world, evolution everywhere.

  20. A very good article…love it… We’re making life as a photographer, capturing moments down into an art, is our main concern whenever we shoot. We prefer light touch up, as its more “real” looking… NO doubt with the latest plug in software, viewers will mostly say: WOW…but somehow, we think that it’s sort of hard, and we’ll get bored looking at it after sometime… Feel free to visit out site and comment which will helps us improve.
    Best regards, Four Seasons Bridal (http://fourseasonbridal.wordpress.com/)