...because home doesn't happen overnight.

When I started writing House*Tweaking over four years ago, I did it because I have an innate passion for writing and all things home. As a child, I was always writing a book or poem or song – usually in my bedroom which I had just rearranged or redecorated. (Do you remember the wallpaper border trend of the 90’s? I totally put one in my bedroom and DIYed a wall clock to match. Classy.) H*T was a medium for merging those two passions and the minute I hit publish I was hooked.

In the beginning, my least favorite part of blogging was taking pictures, uploading pictures, editing pictures and posting mediocre pictures. I used a Canon point and shoot camera to take pictures of my projects and home. There was no thought or skill behind the photography. It was merely a means to an end.

Somewhere along the way my attitude towards photography changed. I was exposed to such beautiful imagery online and it inspired me to improve my own photography skills. Having reached a plateau with my point and shoot, I started doing research on DSLR’s. I purchased a Canon EOS XSi body along with a 50mm f/1.8 lens for macro shooting and a Tamron AF 17-50mm f/2.8 zoom lens for general shooting and I’ve been using them ever since.

first and last photo

The image on the left is the very first photo I ever posted on H*T. The photo on the right is the most recent photo I posted. Many things have changed from that first photo to the current one: my equipment, my home, my style (that’s a whole other post) and my knowledge of and experience with photography.

When we moved into our current home, I was having a difficult time capturing the interior the way I saw it in real life. The open kitchen-living area receives a ton of natural light but whenever I tried taking a photo of the space it always turned out dark and cloudy. Last year I enrolled in Nicole’s Photo 101 e-course. It was a 4-week course and cost $125. It was the best investment I’ve ever made in my photography. Since then, I shoot in manual mode 95% of the time and I’m completely comfortable doing so. Several readers have asked if I bought a new camera because they noticed a difference in my blog photos. No, I didn’t buy a new camera. I finally know how to use the one I bought years ago.

Processed with VSCOcam

This is my normal setup for shooting in my home. (Sorry for the poor photo quality. I had to shoot this with my phone since my camera is in the picture. How ironic is it to include bad photos in a photography post?) It’s the camera I mentioned already along with a high quality tripod, a gift from Steve. I had a cheaper tripod originally but within a year the panhead cracked and it was incredibly flimsy which pretty much voided any reason to use it.

Setting up the tripod always seems like a huge extra effort but, in reality, it only takes a few minutes and allows me to maximize the quality of my photos.

Screen shot 2014-02-06 at 12.23.22 PM

Here’s my dirty little secret…I don’t own or know how to use Photoshop. I know. When I started blogging, I couldn’t justify the expense especially because no amount of editing was going to make my poor photos look great. Over time, I found inexpensive, well, mostly free ways to edit my photos. I used Picnik for a while before it was phased out and then I switched to PicMonkey which is what I use now. I pay a small annual fee for the Royale version. (I use Polyvore to create mood boards and round ups.)

Sometimes I wish I could use Photoshop to mock up DIY / design projects and create better round ups but the cost (of even the most basic version) is still hard for me to swallow. Instead, I focus on taking high quality photos which minimizes the amount of editing I do. Usually, I resize and barely brighten images and that’s it. I crop my photos when I shoot not when I edit. Over-edited photos look so fake to me.

camera bag

When I’m not using my camera, I store it in this camera bag along with my lenses, user manual, memory cards and battery charger. My bag is ~4 years old and looks brand new. It protects my camera and keeps everything in one easy to grab and go place. I went to the Novogratz’s book signing two years ago and Robert complimented me on said bag so, BONUS!, it’s bona fide stylish.

Other than investing in good equipment and an informative e-course, I also regularly take time to study images I’m drawn to online and in print. What is the camera angle? Where is the light coming from? Is it a warm light or a cool light? What is particularly special about the composition? How is the photo styled? Is it a macro or wide angle shot? How is the image naturally cropped? This process might seem like a waste of time but it gives me ideas and leaves me inspired.

To me, photography is a skill that gets better and better with practice. The worst thing I’ve done is sat back and waited for the knowledge to come to me. It didn’t come. I had to go out and find it, learn it then implement it. And keep implementing it. I sometimes study my own images and critique them. What worked? What could I have done better? What can I learn from this and do differently the next time?

My photography has definitely improved since that first photo in 2009 but it isn’t perfect. It’s something I want to be better at. Eventually, I may upgrade my equipment if my skill set ever gets to the place where I think I’ve mastered my current camera. But I’m not there yet. It’s a process! And I haven’t ruled out Photoshop either.

Nowadays when the boys are at school and Mabrey is napping, one of my favorite things to do is bust out my camera and tripod and snap away. Which is strange considering it used to be my least favorite part of blogging.

What about you? Have you ever taken a photography class online or in person? Did you find it helpful?

P.S. – I would highly recommend Nicole’s Photo 101 class to anyone wanting to improve their DSLR photo skills whether they’re a blogger or not. The material mainly uses people and stills as examples but the information is easily applicable to interiors, too. This recommendation is not sponsored. I truly feel this way and am currently looking in to the Photo 102 class.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

60 Comments

06.February.2014

Thank you, thank you , thank you for this!! You take beautiful photographs!

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06.February.2014

Your photos are my favorite part of your blog! Well, and your style ;)

I took an intro class to the Adobe suite in college a few years ago and I would have to agree that you’re probably better off without it for now. It can be a challenge to learn all of the tools of photoshop, and what you have goin’ on looks great.

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I love your photography Dana. I was glad to see this post today. Ironically I received the exact same tripod as an anniversary gift this year. It was a complete surprise and at first I was a little upset that Naomi spent so much on it, BUT I absolutely love it. Aside from my prime lens, its the best investment ive received for my photography yet. I also use Pic Monkey for my editing. I use the free version right now bc I wasn’t so sure that the Royale version was worth it, but I may have to give it a try. I took photoshop in design school and I despise it! I could never get comfortable with it and, as you said, I cant justify the price:) Since I began blogging Ive developed a love for photography I never thought I would. When I first upgraded to my DSLR I never allowed myself to use it on auto, so I got comfortable with manual by default. I still have a ton to learn, so thanks for sharing Nicole’s information.

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06.February.2014

I know I can do better but I rarely take the time to use the good camera. It’s really my husbands and I know he would recommend to you that if you are interested in upgrading your equipment and you photography in general that you go with a new lens – he tells everyone this.

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06.February.2014

Great job! Some software to think about that’s extremely cheaper than photoshop and super easy to learn is Lightroom. Seriously it’s all I use even for my photography business. Photoshop does offer more as per what you can add to the photo but has a huge learning curve. Something else is Blogstomp – you can add multiple images together and it will create a collage for you. It lets you save presets and is the easiest way to add and adjust your watermark in images. Keep up the good work, it shows!

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06.February.2014

Thanks for the tip about the camera bag! We have a boring old black thing that doesn’t hold all our equipment, but I’ve never been able to justify the $100+ ones I usually see online. I am definitely adding that etsy one to my wish list!

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06.February.2014

One of the reasons I love reading your blog (among many, including your style and your writing voice” is your photography! I love how natural and unintrusive it is. It feels like a window into your world, not a forced or overly-styled advertisement for your own self-aggrandizement.

Thanks for sharing this! I’ve been despairing over my own lack of photography skills, so it’s nice to know I have hope for getting better.

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06.February.2014

You can get an older version of Photoshop for free from Adobe. I found out from a post by YoungHouseLove a year or so ago. I also enrolled in a class at my library to learn how to use PS.

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06.February.2014

I own a wedding photography company and I could not agree more with this statement, “The worst thing I’ve done is sat back and waited for the knowledge to come to me. It didn’t come. I had to go out and find it, learn it then implement it. And keep implementing it.” It is easy to sit back and think it will get better with time or to be complacent but you always have to keep pushing yourself to get better. I like how natural your photos are. I also agree that overly edited photos look fake (and terrible!)

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06.February.2014

What are your thoughts on bloggers watermarking their photos? If my memory serves you’ve never done it yourself.

Looking forward to a post on the evolution of your style!

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replied on February 6th, 2014

I completely understand why some bloggers use a watermark on their photos. Personally, I prefer reading blogs whose images aren’t watermarked so I choose not to watermark mine. (My blogging motto is “be the blog you want to read.”) Also, non-watermarked images tend to get pinned more than watermarked ones so there’s that. I do credit images to myself at the end of each post so readers know I am the person taking the photos. That’s just my preference.

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06.February.2014

What size camera bag is yours? The small, med. or large? Thanks

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06.February.2014

You can get Photoshop Elements for under $100.

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06.February.2014

Photography is definitely my weakness, and like you used to do, I cringe when I need to take photos. I need to practice, practice, practice. The good news, is that my photos have improved, they’re just not where I want them to be yet.

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06.February.2014

Learning how to properly use my Camera is something I’ve been meaning to do, and your beautiful photos are great inspiration. Just thought I’d mention that there’s a program called GIMP, which is very similar to photoshop but free. Maybe give that a go? Not that you really need it, but I’m sure you’d have some fun!

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Such a helpful post, Dana! I have been working on my photography too and I love reading what other bloggers are doing and using.

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06.February.2014

Thank you for posting about this!! I’ve only been blogging for a few months and I keep saying “hey, I don’t want to be a photographer, I just want to have good photos for my blog.” er…it doesn’t exactly work that way! The idea of truly LEARNING how to use my DSLR is so intimidating to me. An online class seems like an affordable and flexible way to learn – thank you for the recommendation!

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I use picmonkey all the time. I have photshop elements for other things, but I tend to go back to pic monkey because it is easier to use.

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06.February.2014

This is one of my favorite posts! I’m not a blogger or an aspiring photographer, but loved to see a little behind-the-scenes. Thanks for always having such an honest, easy-to-relate-to voice.

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06.February.2014

You’re photography is always amazing on your blog. I have a similar set up camera wise, and have loved it so far! It’s always comforting to hear that I don’t need to buy all the bigger and better equipment (as most bloggers do) to get beautiful images like you!

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06.February.2014

Thanks for the great post. I rarely use my own photos because I’m never 100% happy with them. My daughter (who is 13) loves photography and already knows that’s what she wants to go to college to study. We’re thinking about taking Nicole’s Photo 101 class.

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06.February.2014

I love your blog! You don’t need Photoshop, but your life will change for the better if you ever pick up Lightroom. It’s the BEST for organizing and editing photos. There are many pros who use it for the vast majority (or in some cases all) of their photo work. Super affordable too. Like you I prefer not to over-edit photos… Lightroom is ideal for simple, quick edits (although it can be used for much more complex stuff too).

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06.February.2014

Thank you so much for posting about your photography, Dana! I JUST updated to a DSLR and I (naively) thought my photos would just instantly look amazeballs. While they do look soooo much cleaner and crisper, I do have a lot to learn. I also use PicMonkey for free editing but I never thought to look into paying a little extra for the Royal features. I will now :)

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06.February.2014

I’ve learned about some great resources from you, so it makes me happy when I can reciprocate. Allow me to bore you with software talk:

Adobe’s newest software version has changed to a subscription model from the one-time download fee. There are different packages ranging from using one program for one month to all their programs annually. My needs are pretty different from yours so it might not be a good comparison (I’m in the all the programs group), but for me this made their software much more affordable. Here’s the new pricing http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop/buying-guide.html

While you could buy an older version from a reseller, the newer the version, the more helpful features you’ll get. Some probably won’t be of a lot of use to you — look up puppet warp, it’s super fun, but I can’t imagine how you’d use it in your photos — but others might be — these new blur tools made me unreasonably giddy: http://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/using/blur-gallery.html

Lynda.com is a tutorial site that’s also on a subscription model. It’s a good alternative to taking classes if you want to learn methodically but can’t make it out of the house regularly for a class, and if you sign up and find that Photoshop isn’t for you, you could watch tutorials on photography or web design instead to use up your month.

Or, if you want something on the other end of the cost spectrum, gimp is a free raster editor. I’ve never tried it since I’m a photoshop wizard, so I can’t vouch for it, but I’ve read good things.

Hope something in there clicks!

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06.February.2014

That is so key: taking the best photo you can out of the camera to minimize editing is what makes a good photo. It’s something I’m always working on getting better at! And hey, I wanna see that changing style post :)

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06.February.2014

May I suggest a software that is not dependent of the internet? CameraBag. They have sales on their site quite often for their software and I bought mine for $19 a couple years ago. Super user friendly, fast and you can pretty much do anything with it. I’m a photographer and use this as my main editing software. I tried using picnik when I first started off and it took forever to save work. Especially when you have a lot to go through. And I hate that you had to have internet connection to use their slow program.

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06.February.2014

I am not a blogger but a photographer and I really enjoy all the home and fashion blogs, including this one. The photos do draw viewers in..and really nicely done photos help visualize design concepts. I own the Canon 450D/XSi and find it to be an excellent learning camera. I can’t yet justify upgrading to another camera body, even though I am ready. If you keep purchasing great lenses you should be fine with the XSi, and if you find that you have to back up a lot with your nifty fifty to take indoor shots another great prime lens is the 28mm. For those considering online photography lessons try improvephotography.com. They also have 30-day classes and are great instructors.

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replied on February 7th, 2014

Thanks for all the info!

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replied on February 7th, 2014

You’re welcome! Thank you for inspiring me with your design choices, DIY home tips and much more!

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07.February.2014

what’s pretty funny is that I found your blog through the picture on the left!!! i thought it was so creative to use a front closet as a seating/storage area and have been hooked on H*T ever since!!! great progress on the photos!!! also thanks for being honest about your editing… i use pic monkey all the time! i think their collages and editing format is so user friendly you really can’t go wrong! Can’t wait to see what your photos will look like in the next few years!!!

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07.February.2014

Love hearing your view and that there is no “right” way in the struggle for beautiful photos. So many good points in this article!
I am going to sign up for Nicole’s Photo 101 TODAY! I have been blogging for about six months and also find the photos can the most difficult part. Sometimes they come out beautifully sometimes, not so much… and for and interior design blogger I know the images are sometimes the most important part. I am somewhat skilled in Photoshop but I must admit, like you, that I often use less sophisticated editing software like Picmonkey and even the per-installed photo manager on my computer to make my life simpler. I but am definitely willing to learn a better way if it is out there. Can’t wait to make some improvements…

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07.February.2014

I have a similar photography experience. I didn’t start out dreading taking photos though, my (at the time crappy) photos was what got me into blogging in the first place when I was “discovered” on Flickr by AT among others and prompted to start a blog to share my organizing abilities. I sure wasn’t getting praise for my skills as a photographer but what I was photographing (read messy drawers turned in to organized ones). I got by for quite a while having no clue about white balancing, f-stops, depth of field etc while being amazed at how crisp and clean “everybody else’s” photos came out. So after a good while I started reading up on the subject, both on Google and actually reading the camera manual word for word and trying everything out on the camera while I read it. It’s made a world of difference. I could totally do a side by side like yours and it’s hopefully hard to tell it’s the same person taking the photos. As for editing, I’ve tried going down the Photoshop route but it’s too much to learn when you have limited time. I am learning RAW though (via a CD course) and if you do get Photoshop I recommend RAW for editing. It’s much more straightforward than the whole PS. For everyday quick editing I use Photoscape which is free. I LOVE IT. Unfortunately it’s only for PC but I love it so much that I have Parallells so I can run Windows on my Mac. That’s love for ya! As far as cameras go I’ve upgraded twice since I started my blog. Started out with a Canon point and shoot, went on from there to a Canon Rebel and on to Canon Mark II. What can I say, I’m a Canon girl. Every upgrade has brought with it new inspiration and new knowledge and I love that I now white balance without thinking about it and shoot manual mode most of the time. The blog is no longer being updated but I’m still shooting away daily :).

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replied on February 7th, 2014

I have always LOVED your photography, Benita. It’s so clean and simple. You have such a great eye. I am so glad you are on IG so I can still get a dose of your lovely photos!

I’ve done some reading on RAW but, I have to admit, I’m intimidated. (I’m intimidated by anything new.) And I remember when you upgraded to your current camera. The difference was quite noticeable which is why I won’t ever rule out upgrading my equipment at some point. I think I still have a lot to learn on my current camera though.

Isn’t white balance the bomb?! For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why my photos were so dingy. White balance!

Thanks for sharing your personal experience with photography. xo

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07.February.2014

Is that a fiddle leaf fig plant in your most recent photo? If so I am jealous because I have been on the hunt for one the last six months and cannot find anyone in my area that has one!..

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replied on February 7th, 2014

Sure is! See it here…

http://www.housetweaking.com/2014/02/04/the-cheapest-most-loved-fiddle-leaf-fig/

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replied on February 7th, 2014

OMG! Somehow I missed the fiddle leaf fig blog…..I loved it!! It made me laugh. “He” looks beautiful.

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07.February.2014

As a person who does photography for a living, I’ve “attended” a bunch of creativeLIVE courses online. That’s helped me grow in my abilities a lot too. If you watch it online live, it’s free, but you can also purchase the courses to have as a reference. :)

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07.February.2014

This post is right on time for me! I recently broke my camera lens (and I’m searching for a used replacement at the moment), but I always look at the photos I post and think they absolutely suck and look dingy! [White balance, huh?] I’m known to be hard on myself, but I have so much to learn and not a lot of free time to do it. Thanks for suggesting Nicole’s class. I’m definitely going to check it out based on your recommendation and your lovely photos!

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07.February.2014

Wow what an improvement! I used to blog, but just didn’t find time for it, so I stopped. I still like to read about the process though!

Nicole B.

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07.February.2014

I know what I want for my birthday, Nicole’s class! I might have to treat myself sooner. Informative post and for some reason it goes down easier when it’s not sponsored… sad but true.

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07.February.2014

Just echoing what everyone else has said, but thanks so much for the information and the recommendation for Nicole’s class! I bought my DSLR a year ago and still have a very limited knowledge. I know I want to learn more, but wasn’t sure exactly how. This class is definitely going at the top of my want list!

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07.February.2014

[…] you for the tips on photography tools and Photoshop, House*Tweaking and Deuce Cities […]

I’m a graphic designer by trade so I know Photoshop inside out, but I don’t use it for editing my blog photos anymore. A while back (maybe 18 months ago) I started shooting in RAW and editing in Lightroom. Hands down the best thing I have ever done for my photography. It made a massive difference overnight, even more so than buying a new lens.

Your beautiful, natural photography is one of the things that keeps me coming back to H*T. Keep up the great work.

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08.February.2014

Dana, thanks for sharing your photography journey! Cameras intimidate me as much as computers do:-). Your photography is gorgeous and I agree you don’t need photoshop to edit your photos they are beautiful how the are! I got the newest version photoshop elements for Christmas for only $70. At first it felt like a different language but after viewing several free online tutorials I feel a lot more confident with it and am having tons of fun with it. I use it more for web design then for editing pictures as I am trying to customize my blog myself. I just wanted to share my experience because who knows maybe your love for photoshop will grow like it did for photography. And hopefully with some education I can get over my fear of taking pictures in manual. :-)

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Dana, what a relief to know that you don’t need photoshop to have beautiful pictures! I’ve been debating whether to pay for photoshop but in the back of mind I kept thinking that picmonkey is enough for now :o)

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10.February.2014

I wanted to add another voice in suggesting you give GIMP a try. I never could get the hang of Photoshop since I rarely used it, but I find GIMP more intuitive. And it’s hard to complain about “free”! Additionally I am in love with LightRoom for my Photography needs and it’s a fraction of the cost. I love the comparison of your first and most recent photos.

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[…] a big bust. But…thankfully, instead of grading papers today, I procrastinated and read this blog post by my girl* Dana from House*Tweaking. I love it when the stars align and the universe paves a […]

10.February.2014

It’s so nice to hear you found the nicole’s photo class worthwhile. I love the look of their website (is that a weird way to choose an online course?)& have been contemplating taking one of their classes. Might be time to bite the bullet.

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11.February.2014

You know you can get Photoshop for free….
http://www.adobe.com/downloads/cs2_downloads/index.html
An early version admittedly but it should do all that you need it to. The internet is awash with free tutorials too, so very easy to pick up. or you can get the latest version by paying a small monthly fee rather than shelling out the big bucks to buy the program.
http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop.html

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11.February.2014

This is the third post I’ve read this week that is sending me a message that it’s time to get over my fear of taking photos and learn how to do it. The first post (via Blog chicks) reminded me that I shouldn’t be using other people’s photos, even if I do credit them. The second post (thanks to wordpress) provided free e-lessons for beginner photographers. Now yours which shows impressive improvement and some resource ideas to get me going. Thank you!

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11.February.2014

If you wouldn’t mind, could you share the measurements of your camera bag? I went to the link, but there are 3 sizes. Thank you!!

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replied on February 11th, 2014

There was only one size available when I purchased my bag. It’s ~11x5x7. Hope that helps!

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17.February.2014

Dana, thanks for the push to take a photo class! I always like one “out of work” activity and Nicole’s classes look perfect. Did you purchase the textbook as well? Wondering if it is worth the price tag. Thanks in advance, really love your photos!!

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replied on February 17th, 2014

When I took the class, a handbook came free with the purchase of the Photo 101 class. Not sure if that’s still the case but the handbook is nice. It’s little enough to tote around in my camera bag and brief enough to remind me of helpful tips.

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[…] my camera now works beautifully! And after picking up a few tips on white balance in the comments here, I decided to take advantage of a quiet house and set up an impromptu photo shoot to practice. And […]

07.March.2014

Hi Dana,

Quick question, did you stick with the lens it came with? If yes, is it a wide angle lens? I always have problems fitting the entire room in the picture! Also, I think you said you didn’t, but you don’t shoot on raw? My daughter does photography and she knows most of the ins and outs, unfortunately, she is going off to college next year, so I need to get my own stuff and learn how to shoot fast!!! =) I absolutely love reading your gorgeous blog!

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replied on March 7th, 2014

I use this lens for shooting interior rooms…

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000EXR0SI/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B000EXR0SI&linkCode=as2&tag=houstwea-20

I have yet to shoot in raw but would love to give it a go!

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11.April.2014

Thanks for the info on the camera bag – just ordered an identical one tonight based on your comments. :)

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09.January.2015

Love this camera bag, but it’s no longer available on Etsy. Any chance you remember the name of the shop so I can follow up with them? The link just takes me to an “unavailable” link without taking me to the shop itself. Many thanks!

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