Better Pictures Project: Taking pics out and about with Heather B!

The Better Pictures Project

Woohoo! It’s finally happening: the Better Picture Project! Up first is one of my closest online friends, the hilarious, kind and gorgeous Heather. She blogs at Handmade by Heather B, but chances are you also know her (and Froggie!) as KnitNBee on Twitter and Instagram.

This month’s Better Picture Project theme is getting out and about to take pictures in public. I think it’s one of the simplest ways to get more varied and interesting photos – unless, of course, you have a particularly beautiful house or backyard! I’m in an apartment, so nice pics really rely on leaving home. It’s more than a little scary though – but seeing Heather regularly talk about her Sunday morning photo sessions around town really made me feel like I could handle it too. I’ve been trying hard to find secluded parks this summer, but I’m nervous about what I’ll do come winter. Will I dare to take pictures *inside* public spaces??? Heather is here with a pep talk.

early years Collage

(Pictures from 2012, before Heather started taking pics outside. I think we’ve all got shots like this on plenty of posts! Functional, not very inspirational.)

1. Heather, when did you first start taking pics beyond your own yard, and what motivated you? It was late 2013 when I slowly started transitioning from taking pictures in my house or on my back porch.  While I liked the safety of taking picture on my property, neither location was conducive to good quality pictures. It was irksome that all the time and effort I was putting into projects wasn’t showing up well on film. Since I couldn’t get a better camera at the time, I needed to figure out what sort of lighting conditions/backdrops worked the best with my cheap point and shoot.  After some trial and error I was able to figured out that the camera performed best outside where there was plenty of light.  However it helped to photograph in full shade so that I didn’t get harsh shadows or blown out colors. (It also helps my super light sensitive eyes.) 

At the time Desmond was still taking afternoon naps, so I’d sneak next door and use my neighbors fence.  It was always in full shadow in the afternoon and the background was fairly non distracting. That worked for awhile but then the neighbor started catching me taking pictures and was concerned I was going to sue him for something.  My explanation that the pictures were for my sewing blog only seemed to confuse him. After that it seemed wise to branch out to new photo locations. Now I either go downtown and use store fronts in Media as backdrops or go to one of the large public parks that is a short drive from my home.
 

Trusty fence Collage

(Heather’s trusty neighborhood fence location, circa 2013.)

2. It can be seriously awkward taking pics in public. How do you deal with spectators and the bemused public? How do most people react?
I do try to take pictures when foot traffic is not going to be high normally.  My standard photo taking day is Sunday morning.  Most people in my area are either sleeping in, going to church or eating brunch at that time.  I can take photos in most places with very little interaction from others. If Sunday is a wash I try to go out early on a weekday morning.  The upside of this is that I can use some of the pretty local churches as backdrops, which wouldn’t be appropriate on a Sunday.
 
Overtime I’ve also developed a thicker skin about people passing by if they are going about their business.  Most bikers/dog walkers have a mutual, ignore me and I’ll ignore you policy. People in cars also don’t cause too much anxiety because they are zipping past and can’t gawk for long. (I have had people yell compliments out of their vehicle windows several times, but that’s nice.)
Taking photos in high foot traffic areas is still too stressful for me.  Up to a point I can ignore people stopping and staring, but I’ll start to tense up and not get very good photos.  Overall I found that taking photos on the main drag in Media wasn’t worth the effort of dealing with a whole group of onlookers.  Instead I’ll go a few blocks off of the main drag and only get groups of one or two people stopping/asking questions.  I always try to be polite and explain that I’m taking pictures for my sewing blog. Most people don’t know what this means at all but are polite in return.  Some offer me complements on my clothing and then walk away leaving me in continue taking pictures.
 

doorway Collage

(Now we’re talking! I like seeing how Heather reuses her favourite Sunday morning locations. Smart to have a trusty spot where you know the light is good and traffic is thin!)

3. Any funny stories about being “caught” taking pics in public? 
There are two stories that pop into my mind.
The first one happened when photographing my Gertie winter coat in front of one of the local Baptist churches. I had more than one person stop and ask if I was taking pictures to sell the church. This was highly amusing to me since 50% of the pictures taken that day were me twirling around in front of the doors. I’m sure professional realtors do that all the time.
 
The second happened when I was taking pictures across the street from some homes. An older gentleman was hanging out on his porch and after about 5 minutes he ran across the street to talk to me.  He said, “I knew it would drive me crazy if I didn’t come find out what you were doing.”  We ended up talking for about 15 minutes because he was just delighted by the fact that I was sewing clothing.

rock the wall Collage (Gotta love a good wall! The red bricks of my apartment building are often a bit too warm for the colours that I sew, but I’d love to find a nice stone wall like Heathers for matching cooler tones!)

4. What do you pack to take with you for a photoshoot?
I’m not always good about remembering everything, but this is my ideal packing list.
1. Camera
2. Camera Card – I have forgotten to grab card and have had to come back to get it. Super annoying.
3. Tri-pod – I have a inexpensive one from Amazon that works well for me.
4. Camera Remote.
5. Sunglass, water, handkerchief. Usually I need this things either for the shoot or in between taking pictures.
6. Lipstick/hand mirror for touch ups.  I don’t always need to touch up during photoshoots, but it has come in handy more than once.
7. Shoes and/or other accessories.  If I’m planning on wearing very high heels for pictures then I pack them separate. It’s easier to drive and explore locations in flat shoes and then switch them out when it’s picture time.
 
5. How do you chose a location?
Even though I’ve upgraded to a Canon DSLR, I still tend to frequent the same photo locations used with my cheap point and shoot. These are all places that have a decent amount of shadow even on a fully sunny day.  The shade means that I don’t have to fiddle with camera settings much and that my eyes won’t start watering after contact with direct sunlight.   I like having a location with a wall or door semi close behind me.  My DSLR does perform better with deeper backgrounds, but there is often issues with it focusing on leaves moving in the distance than my face.

Week 2 a

(I loved this photo spot Heather used for her Me-Made May shots this year – handy to have somewhere right near home but still with an interesting scene and lots of depth.)

6. Any other photo tips that you find helpful?
    • You take the best photos when you are feeling comfortable with yourself.  So try to find locations that aren’t too scary at first.  Bring a friend if that makes you feel more secure.  Go alone if you’d rather not have someone distracting you or yelling unhelpful posing suggestions (I’m a fan of taking photos alone, if you haven’t guessed.) Take some deep breaths to calm down or think of something funny. Often I laugh about stupid things while taking pictures. That particular picture might look like crap, but the good mood carries over to the pictures you take later.
    • Take a lot of pictures, A LOT!  Your odds of having some nice ones goes up significantly.
    • If you do like to take photos by yourself then upgrading to a camera with a remote is worth the money.  I did use a self timer for years and years and years. However it slows the picture taking process down and ruins any photo taking flow you might have gotten into  Having a remote makes my picture taking a lot less stressful.
    • Remember that everyone has bad picture days sometimes. Maybe you’re in a bad mood or there’s too many construction workers weirding you out. Brush it off and try again another day.

derp

(Heather always posts at least one silly shot tagged #Sundaysareforderps on IG… it’s one of this things that makes me feel ok about getting cuckoo shots mixed in!)

Thank you, Heather, for answering all my questions! Here’s my take-away:

  1. Find low-traffic areas and a good time of day.
  2. Go back to the same trusty locations.
  3. Keep experimenting!

And here’s my September homework, for myself and for anyone who wants to join me:

Untitled

Find a new photo location within 5 minutes from home – and use it! A park, a street, a building, a neighbor’s fence… anywhere that would be easy to visit again and again. I’ll be using my new spot (when I find it!😉 for blog pics sometime this month. If you venture out of your comfort zone to take pics, I’d love to see proof. Use the hashtag #betterpicturesproject on social media and tag me as @gilliancrafts, or if you blog about it, leave a link below!

Do you have any questions for Heather about taking pictures out and about? Where would you go nearby to take pics? Tell me all about it!


42 thoughts on “Better Pictures Project: Taking pics out and about with Heather B!

  1. Nice! These are great tips. I have a lot of varied backdrops around my house, but the lighting is not always ideal, but I do live around the corner from a little pond with lots of places for potential backdrops. It’s pretty secluded except on the weekend when there’s lots of people out running–but then, they don’t seem to pay attention to much. There’s also a park up the hill from me with a little baseball field…I’ve wanted to explore the trees and the dugout there for a while.

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    1. Ooh, dugout pictures would be so cool! Sounds like you have lots of good options nearby! (I went downtown yesterday to take pictures by what I thought was a scenic pond in front of town hall… but it turns out it’s a pond/play pool for kids! I didn’t want to be the creep taking pics near kids in bathing suits, so I quickly headed off again… ;P)

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    1. Oh yes, for sure! Thanks for pointing that out – I should have mentioned it!🙂 I think if you click on the image it should take you to flickr where you can grab it?

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  2. Great plan. I have a really gorgeous park near me which I never take pictures in as I’m always too embarrassed to take pictures of myself in public. Maybe I should give it a go at a time when it’s quiet.

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    1. I’ve only started taking pics in parks this summer, but I have to say – no one has ever stopped and asked me what i was doing! more often they look nervous about walking by and ruining my shot. I do usually go fiddle with the camera or my phone when they get close, so I don’t have to make eye contact!😛 I hope you give it a try!

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  3. Here’s my question for Heather: How long does she spend on a photoshoot, from getting dressed, putting on makeup, traveling to the location, taking photos, traveling home, and putting everything away? Time is always my number one constraint. I know how long it takes me to get somewhat decent shots on my deck, but I wonder how long it takes to get really beautiful shots!

    Great post – looking forward to the rest! 🙂

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    1. That’s a good question – I’m curious to see her answer too! I will say that for me, I can get dressed and take reasonable pics on my balcony in about 15 min… if I drive somewhere, usually take more pics and take longer finding good spots, so I’m often gone for 30-45 min? The benefit for me is that if I get good pics from the camera, I don’t spend any time editing, and I’m more motivated to write the post. If I have mediocre pictures, I edit them and the writing takes long!

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    2. Let me think.🙂 Usually I try to roll the make-up/dressing in between getting Desmond breakfast and other morning tasks. Then it’s not part of my alone picture taking time. It probably takes me a good 30-45 minutes all together to get ready.

      All my locations are about a 5 minute drive and then I spend about an hour on location. Try to get front/back/side full length shots, then a few silly poses. After that I move the camera and take close up shots. I have spent 2 hours or more out somewhere if the location isn’t working or I’m not in a really photogenic mood.
      Sometimes I do bring multiple garments, get changed in the car and photograph all of them. Usually that will take around 45 min each or an hour each if I’m walking to another area of the park or downtown.

      I am lucky to have several hours of time to myself on Sunday mornings because it does take a chuck of your free time.🙂

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  4. I would love to try these tips, but we live in a built-up area with a big populatioty density hence lots of foot traffic all the time – the street outside is never quiet, the beautiful park is always busy, even my backyard is too overlooked… I feel like I’ll never be brave enough to venture outside for photos! Reading this really makes me want to try again, though.

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    1. Ugh, yeah, urban photography is a whole other game! My city is only 100 000, so it feels quite small, and I feel safe enough that the camera won’t get stolen as long as I chose a quiet or upscale area. Maybe your backyard would work though – I mean, what are the chances your neighbours are actually looking outside during the work day? Or maybe the answer is having someone take pics for you? Just pretend it’s a photography project and you are kindly helping them out as model!😉

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  5. I have had my other half snap a couple of photos when we are out and about with my daughter and well meaning people offer to take a family photo – I don’t know what they would think if I then said ‘no thanks, it’s all about me today!’. If anyone asks, I usually say that I sewed my dress and I’m taking pics to send to my Mum!

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  6. These are great tips!! Thanks gals. I have been trying to use new locations lately. Even in my own yard. I live in a rural type area but I’m trying to look at my surroundings from a new perspective.

    I think that husband and I just need to go out on more dates and take pics then😉 to get those cool urban pics.

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    1. I want the street pics too – I guess all those “street style” pics on Instagram have finally gotten to me! Plus, really, some clothes call for a more urban background than flowers or grass, right?

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  7. Oh this is helpful! The thing I am most unhappy about with my photos is backdrops. I find it so distracting to have a busy or too-blank background. We have quite a big backyard but everywhere I can take photos has too much going on in the background. Maybe I’ll try my front yard, which is totally open to the street but at least the street is quiet. This post is making me feel like it’s possible to be brave enough to go out in public!

    I have a question for Heather (or anyone else). I often find that pictures I think look fine turn out to be rubbish, once they’re on my computer and I can see them bigger. I do try to take a lot of photos to increase the odds of a good one. But how often do you find you need to reshoot?

    Because it’s winter here and I work full time, and have a long commute, I only have limited daylight hours on the weekend, which are of course the hours when I’m trying to do everything else that needs daylight, like laundry and gardening. And sleeping in… We do have a school opposite our house, with ovals and playgrounds, that I’ve thought about using. But at the moment, all my free-time-with-daylight coincides with kids sports!

    I’ve gotten so frustrated with having to wait up to a month to blog something, because getting photos is so hard. I’ve started to just take them in my sewing room because at least then I get SOMETHING.

    Actually the other thing I need to work on is my face.😄 I seem to be unable to do anything but make frowny faces. Any time I try to smile etc I seem to only get the moment that makes me look totally unhinged! Need to work on having better facial expressions…

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    1. What an epic comment! Thank you for taking the time to write!
      I can sympathise with a lot of what you are saying. The winter season is photo-kryptonite, and working 9-5 makes that even harder. I’m often not home at all during daylight in the depths of winter. Is there any chance of getting a coworker to help you take pics at lunch hour, or maybe squeezing them in on the weekend? I agree though, that any pictures are better than no pictures, so sometimes grainy indoor shots are the best any of us can manage.
      As for more natural facial expressions… OMG, the horrifically unflattering pics I get! I just make sure I take so many pics that some of them will be fine. And don’t be shy about taking the same expressions/poses every time once you find something that works… I do try to experiment, but I always go for the classics just in case!
      Are you going to try looking for a local photo spot? Maybe the school has a nice wall or hedge or something. Keep me posted on how it goes!!!

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    2. Hey Kate,
      Winter is a total pain in the butt when it comes to taking photos, that’s for sure! I do have the luxury of not having to fit photo time in between office hours so that does take a bit of the sting out of it. (Freezing your butt off however is never fun.)

      Semi-often I have somewhat poor outings where most of the shots didn’t thrill me but there were 4 or so that were good enough to blog. Total garbage photo shoots are pretty rare for me. I think it’s only happened about 5 times since starting to take pictures outside. The last one was the lemon dress where I had to take to 3 different locations to get some good pictures. Reusing photo locations did cut down on bad photos for me. If I’m having a lot of trouble I’ll default to the park location with the white door and patio. The lighting always seems to be good there in the morning.

      But like you said, sometimes you do just have to take some photos in your house to get that stuff blogged!

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      1. Sorry, I can’t seem to make concise comments!😛 I do try. But I guess I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

        I probably could ask someone at work – a coworker sews her own clothes and had a blog (I think maybe it’s non active now) and would understand. But I would probably be self-conscious, and we work right in the city so there are some great locations but… also lots of people. Maybe I’ll work my way up. I have asked my boyfriend to take photos which results in much better faces but also photos that don’t really show the outfits. To be frank, I like having control over the photos!

        I think I just have to practice more, with the face thing. I have lately started to get ones with less dead eye in them… unfortunately that’s because they’re all derps! But I’m going to count that as progress.

        I did a quick scout yesterday and I think I can try a few spots in my front yard, and I think there are a few spots at the school that are worth checking out, too. We do also live near a super scenic beach with an amazing red cliff… perhaps I’ll brave that. Homework for the weekend is to try out at least two new places to take photos in. I will report back!

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        1. Truth be told, I’d be really awkward about taking pics near work, too – I hate feeling like I”m imposing on someone! Your front lawn and the school sound promising, as does SCENIC BEACH AND RED CLIFF??? I want to go there just to hang out – sounds amazing! (I”m from a very landlocked area, and I miss the sea!)
          Good luck!!!

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  8. Great tips! I feel like I’m in a total rut with taking photos and hence haven’t taken any in absolutely ages, I always use the hedge just outside of my sewing shed but its so boring!
    I did notice a park just up the road from us the other day that would make for a great background – that’s this weekends challenge🙂

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    1. DO IT!!! Have you sewn anything since your Runway contest? Whip up something simple so you’ve got a project to photograph! (Err, that’s a reasonable reason to sew, right? Um, maybe not.😉

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      1. Lol, yeah I have 3 items just sitting there waiting for me to get organised and get some photos! This weekend is photo time😉

        And totally off topic here – but my daughter flew out this morning for Japan (student exchange for 3 weeks!), I always love it when you mention anything about living over there – she’s going to be in Okayama🙂

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        1. Wow, how amazing for her!!! She’ll be SO well taken care of. I did 4 months in Venezuela with a host family when I was 16, volunteering every day at an orphanage… And looking back, I have to wonder how I was ever brave enough and just what my parents thought they were sending me to do! But Japan, that’s the ideal spot for teens. No drugs, no theft, just really cool people. I’m totally envious!🙂

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  9. I love Heather’s suggestion about finding a good spot and reusing it; what a sensible idea! Gah, I waste so much time trying to think of new locations…

    Thank you Heather for sharing your thoughts and tips with us here!

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    1. I”m so glad you found her advice helpful and practical! I wanted to start with Heather because she’s really been my own inspiration to improve – it’s nice to see that anyone can work on better pictures, even if they don’t have, I don’t know, a secret background in photography! (Heather does have a secret background in fashion at collage, but that’s another story!🙂

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  10. This is all great advice! I always attempt outdoor photos then get totally freaked out by people and give up. But I am so over taking photos in my backyard. They are so repetitive. Challenge accepted! I might have to take a drive around and see what I can stake out for my next makes blog post.

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  11. Great advice! There is a wall opposite our house that I’ve used a couple of times, but I don’t have a tripod, so need to have my hubby take the photos – which he hates doing. I really need to get a tripod and remote. When I take photos of myself in our garden, I actually take the ironing board outside, and prop my camera on my gorilla grip on top. Not particularly conducive to taking photos in the neighbourhood!🙂

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    1. I hope you can pick up a cheap tripod! (I was going to suggest taking a chair with you across the street, but really, for $25, a tripod is probably the way to go!😉

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  12. Thank you so much for getting me excited about taking photos of my sewing projects. I see photos as a chore when I’d rather spend time sewing. Since I want (an enjoy having) a blog, I have to get over that. Actually, I have a neighbor who uses the fountain in my front yard as a photo backdrop for her artistic projects. I never thought about using it myself. Isn’t that silly? It’s about a 5 minute walk down my long driveway so that should qualify for my September homework. I’ll look for other places also so, hopefully, photo shoots can be fun – all by myself! “Better Pictures” may not come this month for me. I’ll get there eventually with the support of this group. Thank you for doing this project!

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    1. Rose, thank you for the lovely comment! I felt a little silly turning my own quest for better pics into something public, since by definition I don’t have expertise to offer… but I’m really glad it’s been motivating for you. Your fountain sounds lovely! Does that mean you are in the country? I bet you’ll pass all kinds of great spots in your 5 min walk! Keep me posted on how it goes!!!

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      1. Oh, and I wanted to add – It’s surprised me to realise lately that I really love taking blog pics! Photography is like a whole hobby of it’s own, not stealing from my sewing time but a fun way to stop and enjoy what I’ve made. I like taking the time to try on different ways to style whatever I’ve made, so that when i’m getting dressed early some morning, I know already what will match! Maybe you’ll start to enjoy it more too?!

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  13. You guys are so brave. I attempted taking photos on the sidewalk in front of my house once and that gave me the heebee jeebees. I do not like people watching me, especially with the tripod and remote! Thanks for sharing all the helpful tips though, you are both inspiring me to try and get over my anxiety!

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