Talk photo to me.


Sometimes I consider putting a FAQ section somewhere, but then I realize what a joke that would be, as “frequently” implies, well, multiplicity and commonality. The reality is just that this is not the sort of blog where I have to spend copious amounts of time responding to inquiries about where I buy my clothes or how I do my hair. This is probably because the stuff I wear comes from very accessible and, dare I say, normal places like, you know, the Gap and stuff. On clearance, every time. No one cares about my lipstick color or accessories, because they are kind of just generic. Occasionally one of you wants to know where to eat fattening foods in DC or Paris (so glad that my expertise is well known) but even then y’all don’t see me as a city guru. I’m ok with that, and not really interested in trying to franchise my life, as seems to happen all too quickly in the blogging world.

Still I did create an email specifically for this blog so that I could respond to any questions that did come in. Usually, I forget to check this address for weeks or months, and then I do and see like three messages and I freak out with excitement and feel like a rockstar for a little while. Seriously y’all, I am just so not a big enough deal to not get excited about messages from random people, even if it freaks James out because he thinks it’s a little creepy and that people might murder us in our sleep.


Perhaps one of the only questions that occurs frequently enough to deserve an answer, is about photography. Specifically, what camera, lens, editing software, etc. do I use. I finally decided to sit down and write it up for anyone who wants to be a slightly-above-average-but-not-overly-serious-photographer. Because the truth is, I have absolutely no clue what I am doing, at least in terms of numbers and specs and whatnot. I hate, hate, HATE anything that smacks of technology, which means that people who want to “talk shop” will find a seriously boring conversation partner in me. I don’t understand all the numbers on my camera, but I do know by feel what works for me. So, after a long study of what I have, here are the quick technical details, followed by some things way more important and interesting.



  • I shoot most photos for this blog using a Nikon d300 camera. However, up until not terribly long ago, I used a Nikon d40 with the kit lens. All the photos on my old Paris blog were taken with that trusty little highly underestimated camera and I would heartily recommend it for anyone who is starting to dabble in photography. In fact, every photo for this post was taken with my old d40 while I awkwardly posed for James in the alley behind our house. No seriously — there are trash cans right out of this shot. I’m so fancy, you already know.
  • I either use a Sigma 24-70mm lens or a 50mm 1.8 prime lens, which is awesome because it is way smaller and makes the camera fit in my purse better. And yes, that is the main reason I started using it. Priorities.
  • I edit with a combination of Photoshop and custom Vsco Film presets that I designed in Lightroom, always with the goal of having the picture look how the moment felt. I shamelessly edit out the occasional zit before I put pictures on here and I am just not even afraid to admit that.

Summer2014-150 Summer2014-155See? The prime lens is SO MUCH SMALLER and means that you can actually carry a normal sized purse. Totally worth learning to use it instead of the regular lens.
Summer2014-156 Summer2014-157Summer2014-178This is my older d40, and you can see that it is a lot smaller and thus lighter than the d300. Plus, it has really great auto settings, so if you hand it to someone who has no knowledge of cameras, they can still take a decent picture of you quickly. Summer2014-179

And here, in a nutshell, is my philosophy on photography:

Better subjects make better pictures. 

Yes, an awesome camera helps. But only if you actually take it with you, figure out how to use it, and take pictures of things that you want to look at. I have seen beautiful pictures created with a point and shoot or phone and terrible ones come out of my camera. I was an artist long before I had a camera, and the two photography classes I took in college really focused not just on the mechanics of photography, but on the art. Good pictures will be ones that are of things you want to look at long after the moment is gone. They will be the ones composed with aesthetics in mind, but also with emotion about what you are looking at. They will not necessarily be ones that everyone else loves or that are technically the best, but that is ok. As I mentioned above, all of these photos were taken with a camera that no one would consider professional, but it was good enough quality to let what I was seeing show up on the memory card, and the rest was up to me.


Here would be my pointers to anyone interested in learning about photography:

  • Figure out how to use whatever camera you have. Yes, you can research things. I call my friend Susannah all the time when I don’t understand what my camera is doing. But mostly, just try turning nobs and playing with it on the manual setting until you understand how it works intuitively. Luckily, going digital allows you to delete a lot of the ensuing mess. Also, photography classes can be really helpful and worthwhile, rather than letting a nice camera sit unused or only break it out while using the auto function. The classes I took in college were especially good because they involved us all submitting images every week, which were then critiqued as a class. This was a great way to share and learn, figuring out our own styles and strengths.
  • Think about the art of the images. One of the better, and easier to understand, series of tutorials I have read on this was the series that Annapolis and Co did on taking better Instagram photos. I encourage you to read her posts on composition, perspective, motion, etc. While they are geared towards iPhone photography, many of the concepts are about basic design and composition and are applicable for regular photography as well.
  • Edit. Delete crappy photos, unless they are so bad that they are funny. Sometimes I see people put up lots of pointless and artless photos on Facebook or wherever and I am just confused as to why. Take the photos you like and enhance them or crop them to capture how the moment felt when you were there. I’m not advocating the curation of a perfect life.* I keep lots of humorous photos or ones that aren’t “great.” I do however delete photos that I don’t feel excited about looking at. Why keep them? And I do believe in editing photos to look how the moment felt, because a camera can sometimes render things lifeless and dull. This doesn’t mean dump a bunch of money on Photoshop. For years, I just used basic iphoto editing and it is non too shabby. I also love the Vsco Cam app that allows you to apply some cool film filters to photos in your phone. You can turn down so your pictures don’t look too fake.
  • Take pictures of moments, people, things, and experiences that matter to you. This is the secret to great photos, the one I already harped on above. Photograph things that matter. These are the things worth capturing to you, and these will be the photos you appreciate having. Not just the big aspects of the moments, like the people and events, but also the little details that make up the moments: the pile of shoes by the door, the way the light looks on the floor, the little details that make big pictures. These things matter.  But a random picture of a detail divorced from a big picture… maybe not so much. Sometimes I think we all take a picture because we have seen someone else take a similar one. We do it without thinking and it is cold and lifelike. I’m not saying I haven’t photographed my share of coffee cups. But those aren’t the ones my children will look at again and again, no matter how beautiful they are.


Did that hit any photo questions? Would a series (I feel so squeamish about proposing things like that because I am so not a pro, but whatever) on important concepts of photography, both artistic and mechanical, be something people wanted? Any photo tips from the rest of you photographers? Give me your feedback, O ye internet.

*PS: For every one of these pics, where I was whipping my hair back and forth like nothing else, there were also a couple like this.  And I’m sharing this one, because I always see posts like this on people’s blogs where there are all those perfectly styled, hair whipping, magically product highlighting pictures and I wonder, do these people ever take awkward shots?  How do they do the most awkward things ever — POSE FOR PHOTOS — and look so smooth??? Keeping it real over here on the blog. Reality check, and how did my eyes get so tiny?Summer2014-149

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24 Responses to Talk photo to me.

  1. Anya says:

    Your freckles are beautiful and so are you.

    • Hannah says:

      Ahh -thanks! Every time my mom sees me she reminds me that they are “adorable skin damage” and gives me a lecture about skin cancer and sunscreen. So now I am trying to cover up more… but I just love freckles!

  2. Jess says:

    I was telling my sister the other day that I wanted to go to DC and that I have to see my friend “Hannah” next time I visit. She asked how I knew a Hannah in DC and I replied, “the internet…” She’s convinced that you’re a made up person who is probably going to kill me at some point in time.

  3. K Anderson says:

    Yes please! I want to learn to use my basic cameras better. I don’t ever expect or want to be pro, but a little info might help me practice. Also, I still love to look at the photos from the engagement shoot you did for me and Ike. They still make me smile and feel all fuzzy after two years. You are an artist Hannah; don’t underestimate your talent too much :-).

    • Hannah says:

      You are too sweet! Those were so fun to take… still sad I had to miss the wedding! I will see what sort of tutorial I can [eventually] whip up!

  4. elliedu says:

    Yeeees! You do take some lovely photographs. 🙂

    Also, on a completely unrelated note, I got pants just like those today.

  5. Maria says:

    I love your blog! I smile every time I see a new post in my mailbox. Thank you for inspiring me to take out my Nikon …..which I have not used in a while. Oh, and you have great hair too!!

    • Hannah says:

      Yay- that’s the goal!!! Get that camera out and start snapping away! And thanks — it is in BAD need of a cut, but the nappy ends are thankfully not visible in this post.

  6. Laura says:

    This was an awesome post! Thank you for your tips – now I just need to get out there with my Canon and practice more.

  7. This is a fantastic post. I’ve been reading up on the Nikon d40 and it seems like a great (and well-priced) starter DSLR, I had never heard of the VSCO Cam app before today and every post is made better when peppered with hip hop lyrics. I’m sure this wasn’t as fun to write as a post about Paris but we out here in the Internet ether appreciate that you took the time.

    • Hannah says:

      It is the BEST camera for beginners, or really anyone. I still use it sometimes when I just can’t bear to drag the big heavy one with me. And the app is sooooo good!

      And most of all, thanks for the lyric love. Maybe I thought I was the funniest person ever and was a little crush that no one was dying laughing along with me. I should confess though that sometimes I try to sing “Fancy” in my head and accidentally get trapped in singing it to the tune of Mandy Moore’s “Candy.” And that reference just super dated me and made me wayyyy less cool.

  8. Fran says:

    Pinned this, to keep for always.

    Which VSCO film pack did you buy for Lightroom? I have it on my one-day wish list to purchase but am not sure which to invest in.


    • Laura says:

      Totally pinned it too. Going back to read it again and again later!

    • Hannah says:

      Truly, I am honored. : ) I think I bought pack 2…. or whichever one Suze told me to buy when I called her. I basically take her advice without question. I will say, it took me a LONG time to figure out how to actually use them. I finally mastered developing my own presets using all of their editing options and now I love them.

      THIS NEEDS TO HAPPEN. My big new plan is for James and I to move to Cincinnati some day, so we can hope.

  9. Pingback: Photos that stop time. | The Art in Life

  10. Quincy says:

    I look forward to reading each of your posts (and have for going on two years) and I don’t comment nearly enough (ok I think I’ve commented once). I have no idea why. Just want you to know how much I love and appreciate your writing. You’ve made me laugh countless times and you’ve even made me cry. I find you incredibly genuine and relatable. I’m commenting on this post because it helped me make a decision about my very first camera. When I worked for a photography studio, I was using the best of the best equipment, but five years later I didn’t know where to start with something I could afford. I’ve come back to this post so many times and we finally made a decision. I am ecstatic. Your photos are gorgeous and I can’t wait to finally have a camera of my own so that I can document life and love and all that good stuff as you do. Thank you for sharing your life in this little corner of the cyber world– it is sincerely appreciated.

  11. Pingback: Memory-making, photo-taking, and artifact-creating. | The Art in Life

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