Monday, October 15, 2018

How To Take Great Instagram Photos on your iPhone



The thing I am complimented on the most, out of EVERYTHING in my life, is my Instagram. I get a lot of positive input from both loved ones & strangers on a virtually daily basis, which is the sweetest and most encouraging thing to hear. I don't have the biggest following and I don't post all that often, but I would definitely still consider it a hobby. I've loved photography ever since I was a kid and I LOVE creating mood boards, vision boards, themed boards etc - so Instagram is the perfect medium as a creative outlet for me. 

90% of the time after I get a compliment on my Instagram, I hear the question "What camera do you use?" and let me tell you friends - it's all iPhone. I own two very fancy and expensive cameras which sit depressingly unused in my electronics drawer because I ultimately cannot be bothered to lug them around. That is the one & only true reason why I don't use them. They're heavy! And cumbersome! And I live in frickin' Ireland where it rains all the time and they can't get wet! I don't even use them for blog photos anymore because I am a truly unbelievably lazy individual who just wants to be cozy (potential title for my autobiography lolol).  

That being said, let me make something very clear: you do NOT need a fancy camera to take great pictures. Some of my favorite Instagramers with hundreds of thousands of followers are iPhone only. And why not! Smart phones these days have crazy good cameras. Will they provide you with the same quality as a DSLR - no. But Instagram isn't really about photo quality, it's about creativity, vision, and palette, none of which you need a fancy camera to produce. However, there are still some general everyday tips & tricks I have to make your iPhone pics as close to professional quality as possible (or just, you know, better then they are now!) A note to Android users: I know nothing about your tech, but I'm sure if you have a good camera on your phone these principals will be relevant to you too! 

A good picture consists of four things: Concept, Composition, Lighting, & Editing. So I'm going to give you tips on all 4 of these matters! Starting with...

Concept

At some point in your life I'm sure you've blurted out something stupid, to which someone probably taught you the lesson of how you should 'think before you speak'. In photography, it's the same - you should always think before you shoot. 

Let's say you come across a pretty flower and want to take a photo of it. Instead of simply taking out your phone and grabbing a quick snap, take a moment to think about what is it about the scene that is attractive. Some questions to ask yourself:

What is the main focal point of this scene? 
Is it a single flower? Is it the entire bed of flowers?

Is there anything distracting in the background? 
Are there people walking around in the background who need to depart before you take the snap? Is there a patch of dead flowers that should be avoided?

What are the colors surrounding the scene? 
Is there an ugly brown bench that is ruining the bright colors of the flower bed? Or is there a cute colorful building in the background that plays off the colors of the flowers?

What is interesting about this scene? 
Why are you taking this picture? Is it for sentimental value, or to simply capture a beautiful moment? This may change the way you want to frame the shot. Always use the main point of interest to guide your creativity!

Now I'm not saying to spend 15 minutes really contemplating these - these questions are more to inspire you to simply ponder what about the scene makes for the best photo. I once saw someone on my Facebook feed post a photo of themselves at The Bean in Chicago. However, I only know they were at The Bean because of the geotag - the photo was an up-close picture of them sitting on the floor in front of The Bean, with nothing but a small sliver of The Bean in the picture. So this person was at one of the coolest, most popular attractions in Chicago and to showcase it they posted a photo of them sitting on the floor. Do you understand my point?

 Here is an example of creating a concept:



I was walking around the Upper West Side in New York when I saw this building and my jaw literally DROPPED. I thought it was absolutely stunning, so naturally I needed to snap a photo. The pic on the left if the first picture I took, very much a "oh wow pretty building let me snap it quickly" shot. But when I took a second to analyze the scene, I realized that not only was the tree above me was causing my photo to be dark, but there were some gorgeous flowers and a vintage lightpost that would look incredible in my shot. Not to mention moving forward meant that the building filled more of my frame, which makes it look much more grand.

Composition 

Now, there are entire textbooks dedicated to photographic composition so we're not going to go too deep with this, but here are some quick tips:

Familiarize yourself with the Rule of Thirds
It's one of the most basic photography principals and will truly change your photos once you master it. To sum it up hastily, the idea is to split up the scene into three sections an then use those sections to frame your photo. You never want the horizon or the floor to be in the middle third, and you never want the main point of interest to be dead center. The Wikipedia article I linked is very thorough and gives great examples! Now in my mind this is just a guide (I've definitely taken photos with artistic merit that do not follow the Rule of Thirds) but it's a great rule of thumb to follow when in doubt.

Ground v. Sky. 
Always check to see if there's too much of either in your photo. For example, let's say you're taking a picture of your friend up against a cool wall (something I find myself doing very often) - the focus is on your friend and the wall, so make sure that the ground or sky aren't making a serious cameo in your photo.


Here are two photos I snapped of my gorgeous BFF Grant while we were roaming around Brooklyn. The photo on the left is a prime example of me fucking up - the photo is supposed to focus on the beautiful colors (& his beautiful bod) and yet I captured quite a bit of the ugly, dirty cemented street. The righthand photo follows the rule of thirds (neither he nor the sky/ground is centered) and I framed him perfectly to amplify the two main interests. 

Now, if the main focus of this photo was on his outfit (which, it very well could have been) then I would have re-shot a different version of the left photo that captures his entire body, but would have framed him better and captured minimal amount of ugly ground floor. 


Try to always shoot with your iPhone in the vertical position. 
I know that some scenes look WAY nicer when the camera is horizontal but if you want to post it on Instagram it will lose its detail since horizontal photos are not optimized for smartphone apps.

If you want to post a photo to your Instagram stories, use your fingers to stretch it out and reformat it in your camera roll and then screenshot it before uploading.
Instagram stories are full screen, whereas iPhone photo are not. If you put an iPhone photo into IG stories, it will auto-zoom so that it's formatted correctly, but that auto-zoom isn't always the best composition for your photo! I like to resize it myself in my photos and then screenshot it so it's already full screen and perfectly aligned. Another IG stories tip is to always take a photo from further away than necessary so that when you reformat it to be full screen, it's not too zoomed in!


Lighting 


Overcast is EVERYTHING.
You would think a dreary, cloudy day would produce dull photos, but on the contrary, it is some of the best lighting out there. Obviously you can't beat golden hour (the perfect time for photos!) but if you have an overcast day the light can be bright and diffused, low and subdued, or dark and dramatic - all amazing settings for great pictures.

If you're shooting indoors, always do so by a window.
Ever notice that your selfies look bomb when you take them in the car? That's because windows diffuse bright light and create a gorgeous softness that is great for portraits.

Generally speaking, you don't want the light to be above you or behind you.
I'm not saying you can't work with this lighting or that this lighting hasn't produced some cool photos, but for everyday life these two lighting styles are often unflattering.

If you find yourself in a situation where the light has to be behind you, be mindful of the shot. 
Being backlit means one of two things: either you are a giant dark shadow with a beautiful background or you are bright and beautiful in the foreground with a blown out background. You can switch between the two by the touch of a finger on your phone screen. Sometimes this situation can't be avoided, and when this happens the best thing to do is determine what is more stark - is the light literally blinding? Or is the darkness way too black? If the brightness is blinding, make sure to focus on the shadows. If the shadows are too dark, take the option where your photo is a little blown out.

Here's an example of this principal:



The photo on the left is an example of a bright foreground but a blown out background. The second is an example of a dark foreground but a well lit background. The third is an example of a perfect balance. If for whatever reason my phone was not able to adjust to create the third photo, I would probably take both of the first two photos and then edit the photos to see if I can darken the highlights on the first one/lighten the shadows on the second one, and then determine which edit looks best.

Which brings me to my FINAL point:

Editing

Editing is both an amazing tool with incredible potential and an evil tool that can have disastrous consequences. Using it wisely is key. But generally speaking, editing is great! Sometimes you can't get the scene you want because you're on the go and don't have time to set up a perfect shot, or you're in a situation with unfortunate lighting, or maybe the moment is quick and fleeting so you had to act fast and accidentally captured someone walking in the background. Situations like these are where editing is your best friend.

There are hundreds (maybe thousands!?) of editing tools, but here are the ones I reccomend:

Adobe Lightroom 

At this moment in time, I exclusively use Lightroom. It's $10/month and the creme de la creme of editing tools. Besides the monthly fee, the one downside is this tool is that it's generally not good for beginners as it's not the easiest to use. It's a professional tool that involves a deeper knowledge of photo editing to begin to use. That being said, there are so many courses online you can take to help you. If you're serious about making photography and photo editing a hobby, definitely look into it!


The photo on the left is the original photo, the photo on the right is edited in Lightroom. Truth be told, the right photo is over-edited in that it's a little too saturated and blown out (I edited it super quick to throw it on my Instagram story) but I still feel like it is a perfect illustration of how powerful of an editing tool Lightroom can be!

FaceTune 
Now don't get ahead of yourselves, I do not use FaceTune to thin my face or body. Doing this is almost always noticible so I do not recommend it. If you want to look skinny you need to Photoshop that shit. That being said, FaceTune is wonderful for 3 things:

 1) Smoothing over harsh lines. Sometimes when I edit in Lightroom I find I get some harsh lines from lightening shadows and darkening highlights. A quick smoothing from FaceTune and I'm usually good to go!

 2) Whitening your whites. They have a teeth whitening tool that can be used for SO much more than just giving you pearly whites. If the whites in your photo look yellow or grey, going over them with the whitening tool is incredible.

3) Getting rid of acne. No need to let a bad skin day ruin your portraits. I see no harm in erasing a zit or two!

iPhone 'Edit' 
Honesty, the iPhone Photos in-app editing is really good! Sometimes even after I edit in Lightroom I'll tweak a couple of things before I post. I would HIGHLY recommend this for beginners - play around with it and see what you can create!

Instagram In-App Editing
Truth be told I do find that editing an iPhone photo in Instagram can degrade the quality slightly, but the tools it contains are great. Up until last year I used to use the IG in-app editing a lot!

VSCO
Though I don't personally use VSCO, I see a lot of gorgeous content created from it. Their filters are natural and soft but striking at the same time. They can also help you create a beautiful, cohesive color scheme for your feed.


Some general editing principals to follow:

Don't over saturate or over sharpen/clarify 
The human brain loves bright, sharp scenes so sometimes it's easy to get carried away. Always remember a photo should look as natural as possible without compromising your creativity.

Do not edit your body using a phone app 
I touched on this earlier but for real, phone apps are not Photoshop. Though some people might not notice, it's generally not worth risking.

Experimenting is good! 
Spend a solid amount of time playing around with editing and find what color palettes, textures and lighting speak to you. The most fun part of editing is being creative with it and trying different types of edits! It can lead you to create a beautiful Instagram theme. Do you like dark & moody, bright & playful or serene & muted?



I hope some of you find these tips helpful! And PLEASE remember:

Instagram is supposed to be fun, creative & inspiring. If you find yourself feeling down about yourself because of it, take a break. It makes a great hobby but should not in any way negatively affect your life!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Autumn To-Do List pt.II



Last Autumn I set myself a to-do list and managed to cross almost everything off! I carved pumpkins, went to a drive-in movie, visited my favorite lighthouse, went to a Halloween party, even took a trip to New England - which was on my bucket list for a VERY long time! Needless to say I am incredibly pleased with myself. Living in Ireland means that traditional fall activities aren't readily available to me (apple picking. hay rides, corn mazes and pumpkin patches are unsurprisingly American traditions) so I like to create my own festivities for my favorite season of the year!  

Make a festive breakfast 

I'm talking the works. Chai lattes, pumpkin waffles, smokey bacon and something rustic in a skillet. Probably eggs. Final menu to be determined. 

Lord of the Rings marathon 

Growing up I was absolutely OBSESSED with LOTR. I had convinced myself that Aragorn was the man I was going to marry (the character specifically, not the actor who plays him - obviously). I had the realization earlier this year that I haven't seen the films in so long (10 years?) that I forgot a lot of the plot. Clearly I'm in need of a refresh & autumn is prime-time for film marathons!

Road trip through the Scottish Highlands 

I have this vision of Joey and I driving through the highlands, seeing the beautiful colors of the changing leaves, taking photos and stopping to pet highland cows. I am (very) determined to make it a reality. 

Finally finish the stack of books on my bedside table 

I (very) shamefully have 3 books that I started early this year that I have yet to complete. Ultimately it comes down to the fact that when I have downtime I generally choose other activities, but in the chillier months I definitely find myself reading more. I have made a vow that by the end of the year they will be complete!

Visit the Harvest Display @ The Botanical Gardens 

Every year the National Botanic Gardens make an incredible display with different squashes and gourds and this year I MUST go.

Kayak 

Honestly this has been on every to-do list since the first time I kayaked in 2016 and I truly don't understand why I haven't done it.

Start A fresh notebook 

I have this dream of being the type of person who carries around a perfectly curated notebook everywhere I go, with pressed flowers and beautiful penmanship in it. Reality: I scribble, make lists I never cross off and usually end up making ugly doodles in the margins. But it never hurts to try! 

Take a walk in the woods 

Something I've been itching to do for a while, especially because this cute little coffee truck is always settled in the mountains, a prime location for a coffee & an autumnal stroll!


Friday, August 3, 2018

Finn Lough


Joey's birthday was in June. Being my handsome suitor,  I knew I wanted to treat him to something special. He loves camping and isn't afraid to rough it. I on the other hand am unfortunately a littttttle too high maintenance to truly thrive in outdoor living. I wanted to find an amicable alternative to camping that we could both enjoy, so when I found Finn Lough I knew we were DESTINED to visit!

If you're like "uhhh what is Finn Low" - let me explain. It's a resort in Northern Ireland. It's actually pronounced "Finn Lock". It's located on an island on a lake (lough means lake in Irish), and the resort owns the whole space. On the island are different types of vacation rentals, the most famous of them being the Bubble Domes. 



I'm sure many of you have seen things like this on Instagram. Most of them are in Finland, Iceland, Norway - places where you can see the Northern Lights. In Ireland the chance of seeing the Northern Lights is very slim, so to make up for it they plopped these bad boys smack dab in the middle of the forest. Therefore, I was able to give Joey the outdoor living he desired while staying indoors, in a big cushy bed, with a working bathroom, shower, bathtub and electricity. 

Bless. 







There's no WiFi and no TV, but there's a lot of sweet touches and amenities. They had a coffee machine, a record player, a heater (plus heated floors and an electric blanket) and my favorite touch, an instant camera filled with film & a photo album for you to fill with pics to take home.



Staying in the Bubble was lovely, but I wouldn't recommend it for more than two nights. First, the bubble intensifies whatever weather is outside. Though they're clearly prepared for cold weather, they're not prepared  for hot weather and the bubble can BOIL in the late afternoon during the summer. Also - once the sun is up, you're up. There is (obviously) no curtains. They do provide you with sleep masks but ultimately it is pretty blinding up in there. That being said, it was truly a wonderful experience. Just not somewhere I'd want to stay for say for an extended period of time, ya know?

In the end, the bubble wasn't even my favorite part of the resort. It has SO much to offer beyond the bubble!



First off, it has gorgeous trails and nature to explore. You can have a good walk, or use their complimentary bikes to explore the premises and search for fairies/leprechauns/etc.



They also have the cutest little lakeside bar where you can enjoy a drink and watch the sun go down.




Seriously, how cute is that?



If you pay a little extra, they will set up a campfire for you in front of the lake with some snacks and drinks. I splurged on this because I love all things campfire related and honestly it was incredible. We read books, drank hot chocolate and feasted on nuts and s'mores.



PROPER campfire s'mores.

And once the sun went down, well...



It was perfect. Having a campfire in front of a lake is such a simple thing to do but honestly it was one of my favorite things I've done this year. I wish I could do it every night!



We ended our campfire with a G&T nightcap from the lakeside bar, then head back to the bubble to sleep. 

We woke up naturally at like, 6am. If you know me, you know I NEVER wake up early, so this was a true anomaly. 



Breakfast is included, so we trekked over to the main house for a feast. 


Food was delish. They offer dinner as well, which we passed on for the campfire, but I'd imagine that their dinner is also delightful. 

Now, friends, post-breakfast we embarked on our greatest experience yet. We indulged ourselves at the crown jewel of Finn Lough - the Elements Trail.







Truth be told, they tell you not to bring your phone with you, but I wanted to share this with you guys SO bad that I broke the rules. Oops.

The Elements Trail is their spa experience, but it's not a traditional spa. You basically follow a trail in the forest that leads you to different experiences (saunas, hot tubs, outdoor showers, etc) and let me tell you, this ALONE is worth the trek to Finn Lough. You don't need to stay at the hotel to use the spa! You get two hours of spa time (roughly 20 minutes in each experience) and by the end of it you have reached a new plane of existence. Best part: you don't share the spa with anyone else except who you want to share it with. It's all private!


If spas and campfires aren't your thing, worry not. Finn Lough also offers kayaking, fishing, boat rental, and an 'adult playroom' which sounds dirty but is really a room where you can go when the traditional Irish weather comes rolling in. They have a theater, wine tasting, afternoon tea, etc. I would happily stay here even when it's frosty outside. Couldn't recommend this place more, I can confidently say it's tied with Skellig Michael as the best thing I've done in Ireland (and definitely the best thing I've done in Northern Ireland!) 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

My Favorite Things To Do In Paris


Here's a fun fact for you: 6 years ago I moved to Paris for a month with my best friend. I had DREAMED of Paris for years (we're talking posters on my walls, Eiffel Tower iPhone background, the works) so I knew I wanted to spend a solid amount of time there in my 20s. We rented a cute apartment walking distance to the Eiffel Tower, fully expecting to live our best lives - and I hated it. Though the city was as beautiful as I'd imagined it to be, the frigid November weather coupled with horrible neighbors and generally rude Parisians had me thinking I'd never return. That being said, there were lots of bits I did love. I even had some incredible memorable times with some of my favorite people. Plus let's be real, there is NO denying the food in France is spectacular.

So, over the last 6 years, while living and Europe and watching all my friends visit and return with incredible photos, stories, & restaurant recommendations, my curiosity was peaked. Springtime is supposed to be Paris at it's finest, and apparently it's the most romantic city in the world (6 years ago I was newly single, now I am very much attached) so when the opportunity to visit presented itself, I said hey - everyone deserves a second chance, right? 


Well, I'm happy to report that this time round I had a MUCH more pleasant time. Spring in Paris is stunning, and the warm weather seemed to warm up the locals attitudes. Being with the love of my life also helped, as I was definitely able to pick up on the romance this time round. 

So, in honor of my rekindled flame for the city of lights, here is a list of my favorite things to do in Paris - some I discovered while I lived there, and some from this last trip! 


Eat, eat, eat & eat some more

When someone asks what your favorite food is, most people name a geographic cuisine - Italian, Mexican, Thai, etc. I rarely hear people say French, which is I N S A N E because French food is honestly the best. Croissants, baguettes, macarons, pastries galore. Not to mention croque madame (a personal favorite), duck confit, soup a l'oignon, even escargot (it's delicious, I swear!) So needless to say eating my way around Paris is always a top priority. My favorite cafe to pop into is Cafe de Flore in Saint Germain. Violently overpriced, but you can't beat the food, ambiance, and amazing history (the likes of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and many other famous writers and philosophers frequented back in the 1920s, making it a popular haunt with incredible energy!)




Museums Galore

Paris is home to the broadest collection of art in the whole world, and holds THE most famous museum in the whole world (hello, Louvre) so going to Paris and not splashing out on visiting the museums is a serious travesty. Pictured above, myself checking out Monet at Musée de L'Orangerie, which was jaw dropping. I also recommend Versailles, which is definitely my favorite museum in Paris!




Listen to the choir in Notre Dame

I'm not a cathedral girl. I don't particularly seek them our or look forward to visiting them, but Notre Dame was a game changer for me. The first time I walked inside I was speechless. If you can go during a choral performance, it is seriously such an incredible, uplifting experience. 




Stroll on the Isle de Saint Louis

For some reason I find the Isle de Saint Louis to be the most magical area of Paris. Every corner is picturesque, from the beautiful buildings to the river views to the ice cream at Berthillon. It's a living portrait of what I imagined Paris would be when I was younger. 




Hunt for Treasure

I've never found better second hand shops then I have in Paris. They are EVERYWHERE, and the treasures you can find are truly unrivaled. I also enjoy walking through the Marche de Saint Ouen (the Paris flea) where I snapped the photo above. 


Gallerie Vivienne 

This is a new discovery, but somewhere I will be going back to. It's essentially a tiny shopping mall, but not in the traditional sense. It is STUNNING, filled with beautiful specialty shops and cafes and really gives you a *pinch me* Parisian moment when you're walking through. 




Disneyland

I fully realize this isn't everyones bag, but Disneyland is my favorite place EVER so whenever I'm in a city that holds one, it's a must visit. Truthfully, Disneyland Paris isn't the most impressive Disney, but it is beautiful and NEVER crowded - 45 minutes would be a SUPER long wait time there (as opposed to 2+ hours at Disneyland California!) Plus Space Mountain and Phantom Manor are MUST rides for Disney fans - they are far superior to their American counterparts! 




Montmartre

Montmartre stole my heart from the minute I stepped foot into it 6 years ago. It's a bit rough around the edges, which is refreshing in a city known for its pretension. It's also chock full of incredible history and has the best views in Paris (and some of the best second hand shops, too!) 




Visit Cafe Kitsune and sit in the Palais Royale

This place is a blogger favorite, and now that I've been it's easy to see why. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but the coffee is great (one of the only places we went that served more than just espresso) and it is RIGHT on the Palais Royale, so it's wonderful to have your coffee, sit amongst the gardens and people watch. 



Picnic @ the Eiffel Tower 


Going to the top of the Eiffel Tower is fun, and definitely something to put on the bucket list, but once you've done it once (or twice in my case, once at night and once during the day!) the beautiful stretch of green in front of it becomes more appealing. I love picnics, I love French food, and I love nice views, so a picnic on the Champ du Mars marries all 3 of those things perfectly. Picnic recommendations: baguette, brie, hummus, carrots, salmon pate, madeleines, macarons & lemonade. The dream. 



Just writing these things out is making me want to go hop on the next plane. I think my Parisian hatred may be cured for good. I'll definitely be back! 


Thursday, May 24, 2018

Wisteria Hysteria


I occasionally have 'basic bitch' tendencies. For example, I love taking photos of my food. Anything unicorn themed or rainbow colored I want immediately. I own a pair of Ugg slippers (not boots, okay. SLIPPERS.) And I LOVE, love love love love, wisteria. 


Every year around this time I wait for it to start popping up and I pretty much freak out whenever I see it. My ultimate dream is to own a house absolutely covered in it. But this wisteria in particular is my favorite in all of Ireland. Not only is it appropriately drenched over the School of Botany on the Trinity College campus, but it's SO bushy and full and well groomed (I'm assuming because the Botany students know what's UP) 


Since the beginning of April, I've made sure to walk through the Trinity campus as much as I could in order to monitor the progress of this beauty. It's truly ridiculous how quickly it comes up once its finally time for it to bloom. 

Some fun facts: wisteria is in the legume family (so like, it's related to beans, lol wut) but it's SUPER toxic so don't try to eat it. It also is notoriously difficult to grow, and can take anywhere from three to TWENTY years to actually bloom once it's planted. Pretty much the definition of "all good things take time." It's native to Japan, so if you google "wisteria Japan" you will see the exactly how stunning this stuff is.

Anyway, I fully realize this blog post is about a bunch of flowers which is totally random, but I forced Joey to have a photoshoot with me and I'm SO happy with how the photos came out that I just wanted to share!


This handsome ass man only made handsomer surrounded by Wisteria (enter heart faced emoji here)




Mark my words, one day I will have a blog post up chock full of photos of me being majestic in Japan under a Wisteria tunnel. Major bucket list item!