Ali Edwards Capture life. Create art.

May 6, 2008

words + photos : tuesday

I am not a professional photographer. I just like taking photos. I like documenting my life’s experience with photos that reflect the emotions and the relationships and that celebrate everyday life. When I create scrapbook pages I am striving for a complementary balance between words + photos. They are equally important to me in the process.

Today I want you to think about the way in which you take, and deal with, your photos – your own personal process.

  • Do you “see” stories through the lens of your camera?
  • What parts of picture-taking are you struggling with?
  • What parts are you trying to make perfect when in reality everything you are doing is just fine?
  • What, if anything, do you want to learn about photography?
  • In what ways could you simplify your photo-taking, photo-organizing, or working with photos?


My personal photo basics:

  1. I use a Canon Digital Rebel.
  2. My everyday lens is a Canon 28-105 (recommended by Tara who is super smart). I also have a Canon 50mm 1.4 (I used to have the 1.8 which was great until it died + I upgraded).
  3. Handing Chris the camera and letting him go for it is one of the best things I have ever done. One of the results has been that I actually show up in our collection of photos. I am a part of the story too.
  4. Going in with my brother and sister a couple years back to buy my parents a Digital Rebel was also really great in that they supply me with lots + lots of photos.
  5. We all shoot in automatic. My preference is the “running man” or action setting.
  6. Taking photos is a part of my lifestyle. The camera is kept out in our house. Sometimes Chris grabs it, sometimes I do, and Simon is becoming a fan as well. I don’t take it with me everywhere I go, but often enough to capture some pretty cool moments.
  7. I use Photoshop CS3 to resize, adjust, add text to my photos.


What do I think about when taking photos?

  1. I look for emotion. I look for life. I look for connections between people, places, and things. I look for things that will support stories I currently want to tell and others that will spur me on to telling new ones.
  2. I take a ton of photos and then a ton more. I am not overwhelmed by them because I am ruthless in winnowing them down to the best five or less in a series of shots on the same subject. I don’t need 50 photos of Simon playing Star Wars because it is entirely possible that I will take 50 more shots tomorrow. Read more about being ruthless below.
  3. I am conscious of light (the lack of or the excess amounts) but will take the shot even if it doesn’t seem like it will come out because interesting “accidents” occur all the time.
  4. I am conscious of wanting to “be in the moment” as well as “capture the moment.”
  5. I like photographing objects in my environment. I also like the way things connect with one another – the place where the sidewalk meets the grass, etc. Today I will be heading over to our local farmer’s market for my first time this spring and plan to take a bunch of photos.
  6. I am often thinking of the story I may be able to tell with these photos as I am taking them. This often leads me to take different photos than I may have anticipated in the beginning as I allow myself to follow the story.
  7. I move around with the camera. I get close and I move father away. I will walk to one side and then another. Moving around makes it more likely that I will get a shot that will speak to me emotionally.
  8. I am completely happy to not have my subjects looking at the camera. I don’t always need to have them looking straight into the camera to tell a story. My goal is not to invade the environment with my camera but rather to blend right in in the most unobtrusive way possible.


[ iPhoto program ]

How do I deal with my photos?

  1. I use iPhoto for my photo management. Files are labeled with names (for example: Simon On Bike) and I have an external hard drive to archive/backup my photos. I do this at least once a month.
  2. Sometimes I print my photos here at home on my HP Photosmart D7360 or upload and print from either Shutterfly or In general I tend to print at home for the ease of making adjustments as I am creating my projects. When I work on bigger projects (such as a book) I tend to upload photos and have them all printed and work with what comes back. I am currently storing my printed photos in 4×6 card drawers (unorganized as of today) per Stacy Julian’s system (Photo Freedom). As you can tell, I don’t follow it exactly. I take the parts that work for me and run with them.
  3. My older photos (such as the ones of me as a child) are scanned in at 300 dpi and often enlarged. I do as little adjustments to those photos as possible. I love that many of them are off color or grainy. They are authentic representations of the original photos. If I do anything at all I may lighten them up just a bit (using levels or curves).
  4. One of the things I do most often with my photos is crop them in iPhoto or Photoshop, or with my square punch after printing. I often crop with my focal point either to the left or right of center.
  5. I am ruthless when it comes to deleting my photos. As I mentioned above, I don’t need more than five (and probably less than three) from a similar series of shots. I simply delete, delete, delete. It makes for a cleaner folder of photos, less to choose from when I create a page (which can be a good thing), and I think I learn a bit about my self as a photo-taker in the process. Obviously this whole process of deleting depends upon the event and the story you plan to tell.


[ look for a layout using this photo later this week: notice how it tells a story even without words ]

How do I choose which photos to use?

  1. I look for photos that will complete my story.
  2. If I am going to use more than one photo for my story I often look for contrast between the images: some up close + some far away.
  3. I love enlargements. When choosing photos for a layout that I know will include a bunch of photos I tend to choose at least one to enlarge. I like the resulting contrast in size and the impact that an enlargement can make on the overall feel of the page. Think about the layout with the boots from yesterday’s post – I could have enlarged any of those to use for the focal point but I chose the boots. The boots told a story in and of themselves.
  4. There’s really no right or wrong in deciding which photo(s) to use. Just pick one/some and go for it. Stop worrying about whether it is the “right” photo for your story.


[ 12 x 12 photo enlargement on the left : from Life Artist ]

My favorite things to do with photos on a layout:

  1. Enlarge. I especially love enlarging to 12×12 and using the photo as one whole page in a spread.
  2. Add type directly onto the photo in Photoshop.
  3. Create photo gatherings where a bunch of photos are grouped together without spaces in between (this can be done by hand or in Photoshop).


[ photo gathering : from A Designer's Eye for Scrapbooking ]

Things to think about:

  1. Stop messing with your photos. One of the cool things about the day + age we live in is the advances in digital photography. I know I take a TON more photos than I ever did with film – I am definitely capturing more moments. But what I have found in chatting with people during classes is that people spend way too much time messing with their photos trying to achieve the perfect lighting, perfect color, etc. In many ways it can become another distraction from getting your stories told.
  2. If you can, turn off your flash. I rarely, if ever, use the flash on my camera (this is more challenging to do with a point + shoot vs. a SLR)
  3. Decide how much you want to learn about photography and go for it. One book I love to reference from time to time is called Seeing Creatively: Design, Color & Composition in Photography.
  4. I think I often “see” in stories. The next time you are taking photos, see what sorts of stories you can “see” while shooting. This is just another reason I like to carry a small notebook.
  5. Many of my most favorite photos have come from our everyday life. Don’t feel like it has to be a special occasion to pull out your camera and capture life.


[ The full words + photos series can be found here: monday, tuesday, wednesday, thursday, friday. ]


  • 1.
    Ida said…

    Thanks for sharing Ali. You have no idea how’s you;re inspire me everyday! xoxo Ida

  • 2.
    Tracey Mc. said…

    This is SO VERY AWESOME!!!!
    You’re answering questions I’ve been pondering. For me the pics are the most important. Thank you for letting us know how you do it – what your focus is.

  • 3.
    Jenny A. said…

    I am LOVING all of this! Thanks for all the inspiration.

  • 4.
    Barb said…

    Aeeeeeeeee! This is so perfect. Thank you for your insight into photographing everyday life. I do a few of these things, but I find I need to remind myself to do more. I bought a small Canon Elph to carry around in my purse, to capture the everyday moments even when I don’t have my big Rebel XTi with me.
    I’m loving your designs. My goal in the coming weeks will be to select, print and scrap some multi-photo LOs with cardstock, pen, adhesive, one alpha and one or two decorative products. Thanks for the inspiration, Ali!

  • 5.
    Sharyn (Torm) said…

    oooh, excellent post – I’m saving the bulk of it for my coffee break

  • 6.
    Kim Garner said…

    I am excited to look at my past photos and my photography from this day forward as a way of telling the story of my life and the life of my family. Thank you for this week of education and inspiration. I can’t wait for Wednesday.

  • 7.
    Martha said…

    THANK YOU ~ this will help me so much! I take TERRIBLE pictures – I have to rely on other peoples phots – I love to use my pictures in altered art projects – I do few layouts because of a limited supply of pictures. It is one of my goals to be a better photographer!! :) Mart

  • 8.
    Molly said…

    fun post. fun series … so very valuable. It is all article-worthy.
    I love enlargements too.

  • 9.
    Cass said…

    Thanks so much for the tips. So many great ideas/thoughts in there, especially your comment about deleting the excess photos. I have a bad habit of keeping too many of the same moment.

  • 10.
    Michele Attaway said…

    Ali – thank you – you rock! Are you still doing the photo workshop in the Bay area this August?

  • 11.
    amanda said…

    wow, these are some great tips, Ali – I’m nodding my head in agreement! Shoot lots, delete lots, and don’t fuss about too much with editing, ‘perfecting’ the shot when it’s done.
    Enjoy your Tuesday! xoxo

  • 12.
    Melissa Blair said…

    this is beyond wonderful ali! thank you for all the work it took to write this. i can’t wait to see more!

  • 13.
    Joanne said…

    I’m loving this series Ali!!! Thanks so much for reminding me what is important.

  • 14.
    Lesley said…

    My question is this…what brand/type of scanner do you have? I have an HP multi function and the scans are kind of pixelated and I don’t like it. They look washed out and no amount of increasing the resolution or modifying settings has helped. I’m probably going to buy a new scanner but wanted to hear from someone who scans a great deal what they prefer or look for.

  • 15.
    Miranda said…

    Wow!!! Thank you so much for sharing all of this. As someone who is still getting started with photography/editing/layouts, this is SUCH helpful information.
    You are so inspiring :)

  • 16.
    Debby Schuh said…

    I love the opportunity that you’re giving us to crawl into your brain and see how you think about this process. You are so generous with your thoughts and I really appreciate it.

  • 17.
    jennifer said…

    I am really enjoying this series. I think I tend to fall into that trap of spending too much time messing with my photos. I’ve been working on the deleting part too (digital photos) and am SLOWLY getting better. Still working on this b/c I definitely don’t want to be buried under a gazillion photos. Over the last year I have begun to simplify my layouts and doing this digitally has made it easier for me to include my photos and type my text right then and there. I used to always leave the journaling until last and well, you know what happens…great insight and looking forward to the rest of the week. Very cool!

  • 18.
    Angi Smith said…

    Wow! That’s an awesome photo of Chris and Simon with the ties. How many of us with sons have seen this very thing and failed to get a picture?!

  • 19.
    sarah said…

    Thank you thank you thank you! This is so great. You’ve answered many of the things I’ve wondered about in the last couple years. One other question. What resolution setting on your camera works best for you? Since you do so many enlargements…Thanks again and I can’t wait to see some more of your useful information. Sarah

  • 20.

    OK, so if you shoot in Automatic . . . how do you turn off your flash? Doesn’t it automatically pop up in low-light situations when you are in an Automatic mode?
    And, thanks for this series . . . I’m looking forward to all I will glean and learn!

  • 21.
    Helene said…

    hello, this is HELPFUL information, and if I do some of these things, taking photos is often a problem for me ( I always have a small digital camera in my bag, as well as a notebook) I’m never satisfied with my pics !LOL !looking forward to next !

  • 22.
    Bree said…

    This is fantastic information Ali. I am so grateful that you take the time to share your expertise with us — for free ;-) Your experience and time are valuable and I appreciate it all!!

  • 23.
    Mary said…

    so much to think about…

  • 24.

    This was as a photography lesson to me, thank you Ali! Last sunday my mother in law was taking a look to all my daughter’s pictures, and I told her that those photos ment “just beautiful photos of my daughter” to her… but to me, those photos mean different stories about my daughter’s life, and as I watched everyone I was remembering every little special moment. Thank you for sharing this with us!
    Regards from México!

  • 25.
    Alana M said…

    CUTE! I’m doing a LO of the father tying the tie on the son as well. I love my photo too!

  • 26.
    Becky in VA said…

    Can’t wait for my lunch break to re-read all of this. I am so in love with this week. I have recently been pairing down by scrap stuff to focus just on the story and the pictures. This is GREAT.
    Love your blog as always and thanks as always.

  • 27.
    Karina K. said…

    Thanks Ali! Do you have a point + shoot camera you use? My main problem is with night shots.

  • 28.
    Jeannine Douglas said…

    This was an awesome posting. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us.

  • 29.
    noell said…

    I am loving your weekly feature. These photos are wonderful.
    Have you considered using Aperture, which is an Apple program? It is both a photo manager and editor and I found the process of going through my photos a millions times faster, easier, and better when I stopped using iPhoto+Photoshop and started using Apreture, reserving Photoshop only for special features like words and collages.
    Aperture allows you to edit photos right where you manage them so you’re not wasting time switching pages.
    It has most of the editing features of Photoshop so you’re not wasting time waiting for Photoshop’s horribly slow process (OH.My.Gosh! Photoshop is SO SLOW!)!!!
    And you don’t have to name or save your files. Aperture saves all your editing as instructions as you do it, while keeping the original forever (unless you decide to delete it).
    Plus, Aperture has an immediate color enhancement feature when you load your photos so you have less editing desires in the first place.
    To me, the most important two things I ever did for my photography was to buy a Cannon Rebel and Aperture. I can edit a whole series of photos in the time it use to take me to do one using iPhoto+Photoshop. Plus, my photos look 10x’s better now.
    In case you’re interested, here are two articles I wrote on it:
    Please let me know what you think if you look into Aperture.

  • 30.
    Melissa said…

    Hi Ali,
    I’m new to scrap booking, so this is helping me so much! I love photos, but I am finding it hard to not become overwhelmed with all that I need to do to get caught up to the present. This is helping me find a place to begin, imperfectly, but just to start. Thanks! I also think your book Life Artist might be a good starting place. What do you think? Is it for more experienced scrappers or would it help a new-be like me?

  • 31.
    rachel carlson said…

    this is so REFRESHING, just what i needed! thanks for all the details, thoughts and inspiration, i’ll be looking through my lens with a new eye now. hugs, rachel

  • 32.
    Tona said…

    Wow! This is such a wealth of GREAT information. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • 33.
    Dawn said…

    Thank you thank you thank you….for the reminder to just print and not perfect!!
    It truly is taking time away from telling my stories. Looking forward to the rest of the series!

  • 34.
    Tracy Anderson said…

    This was a fabulous post, Ali.
    You ROCK.
    In every way :)

  • 35.
    Leslie said…

    Hey Ali,
    Do you know how cool you are? Seriously. I hope that you do. I love checking your blog everyday for your inspiring words and calmness that oozes out of you. Love. Love. Love it. I hope you’re having a terrific day!

  • 36.
    denitza said…

    You are a constant inspiration! Love, love all your work! Thanks for sharing all that info-very, very helpful! Have a great day!

  • 37.
    Lisa said…

    Great post , with awesome tips. Thanks so much for keeping us focused and grounded and remind us not to think so much ! We just need to be present and live ( and take a few pics now and then ) ;)
    I think the more present we , the more that will come out in our picture taking and scrapping.

  • 38.
    Nicky Anderson said…

    Love it all – I tend to set my camera in manual focus and speed shooting so that I get multiple pictures and then choose the ones that I am happiest with. Loved going to digital SLR last year from my old manual SLR (that I was sad died after 25 years) but it gave me reason to go digital.
    Still much to learn on it – so this is all very very helpful.

  • 39.
    alyssa said…

    I am really enjoying the series and the chance to think more deliberately about the how and why of my photo-taking.
    I generally like my photos, which is especially nice since I have yet to invest in photo editing software. I just don’t take enough. I’ve started to carry my camera with me *a lot*. It doesn’t just open my eyes more, it somehow gives me a sense of freedom that I just love.
    The one thing I struggle with is taking candid people photos. I’ve got lots of posed people shots, and lots of shots of all kinds of objects, but still working on how to do the everyday people stuff. Process is good, but I wish I was a little farther along on this part of the process.
    Thanks for sharing so much of your perspective, insight. And photos. :)

  • 40.
    Zorina Mercado said…

    Thank you for being such an inspiration to the world of scrapbooking. Capturing LIFE and EMOTIONS, that is so true. I’ve been wanting to learn how to be a good photographer, with your write-up today it was very helpful! Love it and would be coming back and read again and again at my lunch time. You’re so cool!

  • 41.
    Rhiain said…

    hi. really interesting to read what you said about photos + words, especially the idea of doing a lo with very little else. i get quite frustrated with not having the time to sit down, get all the stuff out + make a ‘perfect’ looking page. So the other week i decided to do a quick digi lo that was just photos and words! it probably looks a bit rubbish to most people but now i’ve read your post i’m glad i did it cos it tells the story like you said and i can now put the lo in my album knowing that I have a record of it even if no one else gets it!
    it’s a lo of my dog who my boyfriend and i say ‘steals’ baths cos she jumps in while they’re running!

  • 42.

    Well said; well demonstrated. Be well.

  • 43.
    Rhiain said…

    the link didn’t work so try this:

  • 44.
    elizabeth said…

    Hi Ali, I tried to go online to the ck website to download your free font as featured in the back of a recent ck issue, but could not find it for anything. Anyway you can help out with a link or file email or anything?

  • 45.
    Mary M. said…

    Hi Ali; I am really loving this!
    Thanks for all your suggestions and ideas.
    Mary M>

  • 46.
    Tara said…

    Thanks for the inspiration and ideas, Ali! I need to work on being more “ruthless” in order to manage the ton of photos I have…thanks for your tips on that matter :)

  • 47.
    Lauren said…

    Thank you for this… wow!
    So… can you convince CK that they should consider things like this!?!?!
    Seriously though… it is SOOOO encouraging to have a wonderful, talented designer who is DOWN to EARTH.
    I know products “have” to get pushed… but I’m in it for the stories and pix!
    So, thank yoU!

  • 48.
    Alexa said…

    Ali, thank you so much for telling me NOT to mess with my photos, because I never do and always feel a little bit guilty! I am so overwhelmed by the amazing results that people come up with in photoshop but I never have the time to play around myself. (and i’m ok with that!).

  • 49.
    {vic} said…

    I’m still stuck in the film age–just can’t let go. My BIGGEST PROBLEM IS RED EYE. Any suggestions on that?
    I really want to go digital. I take LOTS of action shots. (My son plays sports) Sounds like the camera you use would work for me too?
    I also need to ZOOM in alot (school plays, etc where my son is in a crowd of kids) Is your camera good for that too?
    Do you print your 12×12 enlargements at home?
    My whole purpose of having digital is to be able to print at home and everyone I talk to say “I just go to walmart” BUT that’s not what I want to do.
    Thanks for all your suggestions/ideas/advice!!

  • 50.
    katy said…

    wow wow wow. This is just…awesome. so inspiring and helpful. I’ve just made the switch to a mac so i’m working on getting the hang of iPhoto. I’m in need of some serious research.
    I’m really really REALLY enjoying this series. Thanks so much!

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