Simple Tip for Better Pics

Posted on March 30, 2017 by April Lahti | 0 comments

Have you ever taken a picture of something beautiful- a scene, person or moment- and then looked at the result and thought “that doesn’t capture it at all!”? This simple tip will lead to dramatic results for your pictures:

Turn off your flash and use natural light whenever possible

Lighting is a huge part of what makes a good photo, but it's often overlooked because people are so focused on capturing the subject. As a result, they end up surrendering creative control of lighting to their camera. I definitely recommend avoiding use of your on-camera flash. The internal flash of cameras and phones tends to create unwanted shadows and dull-looking photos that have a flat quality. When photographing your subject indoors, try to pick a room that’s brightly lit by a window.

These two photos were taken in the same room. In the first one the subject was on the couch on the opposite side of the room from the window. The second photo was taken in the same room only a couple of moments later. All I did was move myself and my subject closer to the window and no flash was necessary. You can see how the quality of the image is better in the second photo. It captures the contours of her face better and makes the photo come alive. It has a much more natural quality. You can always try moving yourself or your subject to get a better lighting angle. You generally want the light to be shining on your subject (from an angle is nice to get those contours). The only exception to this would be when you want to get a silhouette. Then you simply place your subject in front of the light source. Try experimenting with lighting and angles of lighting to get different effects.


This same rule can apply for artificially lit situations. In the following example the camera recommended flash. There wasn’t much natural light coming into this huge building, but it was still decently lit by indoor lighting. The flash was completely inadequate in this large space.  The subjects were somewhat lit, but the background faded into darkness. For the second picture I turned off the flash, which made all the difference. The key was to take advantage of the artificial light in the building.

If there isn’t enough light to get a sharp picture, try increasing the ISO number. This makes your camera more sensitive to available light. If the photo still looks too dark, you can use your exposure compensation to brighten everything up.  I’ll be talking about ISO and exposure compensation in future blog posts.

Posted in lighting tips, photo tips, photography tips, portrait photography

The Roots of Tree Carving

Posted on March 15, 2017 by April Lahti | 0 comments

For hundreds of years, people have been carving names, dates, and even pictures into trees. Not many records of ancient tree carvings have been found because the carvings usually only last as long as the life span of that particular tree.

Carvings like these are known as arborglyphs, and many were created on the bark of aspen trees, which was ideal because it could be scratched even with just a fingernail. Most aspens live to around 100 years, so relics older than that are quite rare.

Many tree carvings were romantic gestures of love, usually with initials or names, dates, and sometimes hearts. Many people would carve a message into a tree as a symbol of everlasting love, and visit it in years to come. Carving sweet messages into trees for loved ones is still common to do today.


Not every arborglyph was a message of love. Some, like this one carved in 1964, were made by lonely immigrant Basque shepherds in the western United States. These sheep herders had a lonesome job that didn’t give them any chances to make contact with people; so they carved names, phrases, and pictures into trees to pass the time and make a record of themselves.  The Basque people carved many messages into trees when they were feeling miserable and lonely, such as “Hurrah for the sheepherders and those who have the guts to stay here.”

Photo taken in Idaho by Greg Harness.

Tree carvings can even tell the stories of soldiers. Messages from WWII soldiers, for example, have been found carved into trees from the places they traveled to. The soldiers wanted to leave something permanent behind, in case they did not come back from the war. The messages on the trees were often of religious script, their own names, dates, or the names of their loved ones. The carvings done by soldiers can reveal a lot about what they were thinking and feeling during the war. Chantel Summerfield studied the effects of WWII on the soldiers, and how they communicated their feelings through tree carvings. Read more about her research here.


The tradition of tree carving is one that has stuck around, and will probably continue to do so. However, cutting into trees can lead to disturbing of the tree’s flow of nutrients that it needs to survive. Below the layer of bark there are cells in the tree that help the tree grow and stay healthy, and destruction of those cells could harm the tree. At Picture It Personal, we preserve your thoughtful sentiments without damaging the trees; every letter and number is digitally created by hand.  If you’re thinking of carving a tree as a romantic gesture, please visit our tree collection for a great alternative- a realistic digital “carving” which you can enjoy throughout the year. We hope to see you soon at Picture It Personal!

Posted in arboglyph, tree carving history

8 Ways to Use Leaves as Portrait Props

Posted on October 02, 2016 by April Lahti | 0 comments

In my part of the world the autumn season brings with it an explosion of color and many photo opportunities. Not only is it a great time to capture nature’s beauty, but it’s also a perfect time to get some very unique portraits. I’m focusing specifically on leaves in this post and I’ve gathered some fun and creative ideas from around the web on how to use these natural beauties in your photography this fall.

1. Even the youngest of subjects seem to be fascinated by the colors and textures of fall leaves.  Try laying your babies down in the leaves and watch their eyes light up:

2. The belly pose is always a cute shot for kids.  Try getting several kids in a leaf pile together- it will surely bring out those smiles (OK my son's smile is a little fake- he didn't like being sandwiched between his sister and cousin)!

3. Here’s another great angle for littles in the leaves (photo by Dan Zen):

4. Another no fail plan for a great natural shot is to have kids throw  leaves into the air- no forced smiles here (photo by Seth Lemmons)!

5. Once you make sure there isn’t anything nasty or sharp in your freshly raked leaf pile, get some shots of the kids jumping in (photo by Patrick):

6. Use leaves in a portrait to replace the traditional bouquet (photo by Vladimir Pustovit):

7.  Autumn is a great time for family portraits too.  The leaves can provide a stunning backdrop for any family photo:

8. And don't forget to use the colorful boughs to frame your family shots:

If you have other ideas for how to use the autumn leaves as portrait props, please share in the comments below. Enjoy your fall!

Posted in autumn photography, fall photography, portrait photography

Spring Flower Discoveries at Wonder Lake

Posted on June 04, 2016 by April Lahti | 0 comments

One of my favorite places to hike on earth happens to be very close to where I live.  It's a magical little spot called Wonder Lake State Park in Putnam County, New York. 

There are 1133 acres and 9 miles of trails to explore (and of course hunt for new pictures I can personalize for you!). There are many things I love about this place; including the grass-covered understory, the mystery of climbing up in elevation and then discovering a lake (is this why it's called Wonder Lake?), the bird life (we saw the Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, American Redstart, Rufous-Sided Towhee, Pileated Woodpecker and many more), and the  diversity of plant life.  Not only are there many different species of coniferous and deciduous trees, but there were beautiful little spring wildflowers everywhere.  Here are some of the gems you can expect to see here if you visit in late May.


Wild Geranium (this was lining the trail in many places):




Star-of-Bethlehem (lily flowers that open in sun only):


Celandine (in the poppy family):


Starflower (a member of the primrose family:


And my favorite of the day, Wild Columbine:


If you are ever in this area of the world I would highly recommend a visit to Wonder Lake State Park!


Posted in hiking in NY, Spring wildflowers, wildflowers

Fun with the sun on Sanibel Island

Posted on June 04, 2016 by April Lahti | 0 comments

I recently had the pleasure of spending a week with family on Sanibel Island, FL.  Our favorite activities were bike riding, relaxing by the pool, walking the beach hunting for shells, and kayaking.  Of course, photography is always high on the list for me and I was hoping to get some new great beach photos for PictureItPersonal. The weather was perfect and I wasn’t disappointed!

I was eager to try out my new polarizing filter  which I would recommend to anyone with a DSLR shooting in conditions where there is any kind of glare (like what you get from water or ice).  The filter reduces those bright reflections (just like your polarizing sunglasses) and deepens colors.  As you can see in this photo, the reflection on the water is cut down resulting in an exposure that isn’t thrown off as much by the brightness of the sun:


The other challenge of taking a sunset photo is that when you are photographing such a bright object--even with a polarizing filter- you will have areas of the image that are over or underexposed just because of the vast difference in brightness within the same frame. The camera cannot expose properly for both. The only way to correct for this would be a gradient filter (which darkens the sky) or taking two separate exposures and putting them together later in an editing program.  Here I took one shot for the sky, and one for the sand:

Of course, stitching these together would be tricky. Because of the movement of the water, things won’t line up easily.  I’ll let you know if I figure it out!

I had another photo idea while at the beach.  I wrote “love” in the sand with shells and left room above them for your names.  Coming soon to

What do you think?

Posted in beach photography, photo tips

3 Tips for Better Snow Photography

Posted on March 03, 2016 by April Lahti | 0 comments

Have you ever gone out after a snowstorm and marveled at the beauty? Every surface blanketed in pure white and the details of every tree branch emphasized? You take some pictures hoping to capture some of that beauty--but when you look at them later they turn out to be a big disappointment. The snow might look gray, or your subject may be washed out. Here are a few tricks that can greatly improve your results. They don’t involve fancy equipment--just using the tools you probably already have on your camera.

1. SHOOTING TIMES AND CONDITIONS. Shoot in overcast conditions, or early or late in the day. The clouds act as a diffuser and soften harsh shadows. Shooting early or late in the day means that the sun's rays aren’t as harsh, their color is warmer, and they won’t cause those dark shadows where detail is lost in your photo. When you have extreme blacks and whites in your frame, the camera cannot expose properly for them both. You will end up with either gray snow or washed out dark subjects and shadows. Even lighting and tones within your frame will result in a better chance of your subject and the snow looking like you want them to.

2. EXPOSURE COMPENSATION.  If you are shooting in “auto” mode, use your exposure compensation tool.  Most cameras have them--either as an external button or as part of the shooting menu. Think of the camera in auto mode as wanting to expose everything as a medium gray tone. This is why when the majority of the scene you are trying to capture is bright (snow), you need to increase the brightness (exposure). Usually dialing in +1.5 or +2 does the trick. But you should keep experimenting until you feel that the snow looks bright enough.


3. STOP ACTION. If snow is falling during your photo shoot, use a fast shutter speed to stop the snowflake action. You will wind up with pretty little white wintry dots instead of blurry streaks that can get between you and your subject. Most cameras have a “shutter priority” mode. Set it to this mode and use a shutter speed of at least 1/500 seconds, but still experiment with different speeds. If you are using a compact camera without shutter priority mode, your camera probably still has a “sports mode” which also uses high shutter speeds to stop action. 

Posted in photo tips, snow photography, winter photography

What To Do With All Those Pics?

Posted on January 11, 2016 by April Lahti | 0 comments

The holidays are over and hopefully you have some wonderful memories and some fantastic holiday photos.  But maybe you are like me and unless you actually look back through your camera you won't see any of them.  This seems to be the case with most everyone I know.  The digital age has brought us the ability to take more photos than ever before, but most of us actually have fewer photos to look at because we don't keep photo albums on the shelf anymore.  Our cameras and computers hold thousands of images and it seems like a difficult task to find a way to enjoy them. Viewing our pictures is an important part of preserving memories. Here I'll explore some easy ways to share and view some of those precious images.


One way we can share our pics is within online spaces like Flickr, Facebook, and Photobucket.  Commercial image hosting sites like Kodak EasyShare Gallery,  Snapfish and Shutterfly,  as well as software linked sites like Picasa Web Albums have tools to create galleries, photo blogs and slideshows, and you can specify who is able to gain access.


Our computer screensavers at home are set to display photos from folders on our computers.  So whenever we aren't using our computers we get to enjoy a slideshow. 

Make a DVD

DVDs allow you to break up all those thousands of memories into more manageable sized chunks.  You can create a DVD for one year, holiday or event. These DVDs also make a much appreciated gift for the holidays for extended family.  Programs included with many computers you may already own that can help you create a DVD complete with music, effects, and video clips include Windows Movie Maker and iMovie.  Other options available online are Wondershare,  Smilebox and Photodex

TV Slide Show

A popular way to share your favorite images with family and friends is the TV slide show.  You can burn a slideshow you have created to a DVD and play it on your DVD player.  Or you can directly connect your computer, camera, or smartphone to your tv and play images directly.  You can find a simple guide explaining how to do this here. The TV slideshow is an interesting and fun backdrop during family gatherings or parties.

Photo Book

I gave a photo book to my husband this year for Christmas.  It displays the highlights of our family trips and memories of 2015.  He said it was probably his favorite Christmas gift of all time and has been showing it to everyone who visits and even taking it with us when we visit family.  I also gave one to my Mom that showcased pictures from vacations to Florida that I have taken with her and my sister.  There is something about a photo book that is very appealing- a nicely bound hardcover book that you can personalize in so many ways including text and stylistic themes. It is something you can hold in your hand, flip through the pages and take as much time as you like which is so refreshing in this digital age. I created mine through Shutterfly and there are many other sites that provide this service.  They make it very simple to upload pics and design your book.

Photo E-book

An e-book is similar to the above photo book but you don't print it.  Instead you publish and share it electronically as a PDF.  Advantages include complete creative control, cost, and being able to link to it in social media platforms or blogs.  Popular tools for creating a photo e-book include Adobe InDesign and Scribus (Free).  Digital Photography School gives a great introduction to photo e-books here.


Digital Photo Frame

Of course we must mention the ever popular digital photo frame with sizes ranging from 1.5 inch to 17 inches.  Pictured here is the new "Cube" which is a photo frame device that when connected to WiFi streams pictures from your social media platforms- including those of your friends, family and followers.  As well as making it easy to view your pics, photo frames make terrific gifts for parents and grandparents- especially if you include a memory card filled with family photos. You can find a guide to the top frames here.

How do you like to view or display your photos? Please share your ideas in the comments section below!




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