3 tips for telling stories with your photography

3 tips for telling stories with your photography

I would argue that every photograph you take tells a story. How well the story is told, however, depends on the skill and creativity of the photographer.

Confused? Take this photo for example:

emmett selfie

This photo was taken by my son, who stole my phone to snap some shots of himself. It was the first time that he had done this, so his skills are a little on the low side, but the point is: can you see the story? I can see it even through the smug look on his face.

How a photo’s story is perceived may also vary from person to person. Look at the picture of this church below.
image source

The story that I see is that that would be a peaceful, quiet place to rest. Others, however, may see it as a lonely, desolate place.

Do all the photos that you take need to have a good, clear message? Not necessarily, I just want you to be aware that images talk (an image worth a thousand words, you know). And the more powerful the message behind the photo, the more compelling and interesting your photography becomes.

So let’s talk about how to take photos with a good clear message. 

  1. Plan. Have an idea for what you are looking for before you start out. If you are going to go to an old desolate barn to take some shots, think about the lighting. Maybe it would be best to take the shots at dawn or dusk so that it gives a more eerie feel. Maybe you want to make the shots black-and-white so that the view is not distracted by color.
  2. Look for emotion. When shooting people (not with guns…) look for emotion. The easiest example is a crowd at a sporting event. If the game is exciting enough, they are often oblivious to what is going on around them and you can get the raw expression on their face.
  3. Don’t forget about composition! It is difficult to tell a good story if the viewer is distracted by poor composition. (Think distracting objects in the background, bad balance, too many objects in the frame, etc.) Just remember to help the viewer focus on the main thing!

So this week, go out and take 3 pictures that tell a story. ANY story. Just as long as your photos are intentional, your story is valid. Keep the tips above in mind ask you shoot!

REMEMBER, your options here are limitless! These could be candid photos, they could be flash photography, maybe it is a still life, perhaps you want to try portraiture. Go have some fun this week!

If you’d like a project outline for Telling a story with photography, click the button below!

5 tips for taking Candid Photos

Taking candid photos

So the last article was all about how to use a flash…well now we are going to throw  all of that out the window! For candid photography, you want to almost be sneaky. Not because you are doing something wrong... no, no, but because you are trying to catch people without them knowing your taking their picture.

People completely change their demeanor when they know that someone is taking their picture. Everyone has different responses (some may put up 2 fingers and smile from ear to ear, others hide their face in their hands or turn away), but you simply can’t get a candid shot when people know you are taking their picture. You can’t see the pure, genuine feelings that are displayed when they know their picture is being taken either. And nothing shouts that you are taking a picture like…a flash!

There are so many different tips for taking candid pictures, but I will try to keep it simple for you. Here are 5 things to keep in mind for beginner candid photography:

  1. Use a phone or a point and shoot camera. These types of cameras are less obtrusive than your DSLRs and you can quickly maneuver them when you need them. Imagine yourself looking at your phone at the dentist office and you see a little kid doing something funny or interesting. How easy would it be to just turn your phone to camera mode, tilt your phone a bit, and snap a quick shot. Nobody need know the wiser!
    camera phone
    Image source


  2. Go to the crowd. When there are a lot of people around, you can “hide in the crowd”. How does the average Joe know that you are not taking pictures of the person behind him? Think sporting events, fairs, lunchroom, mall, etc.
    Image source
  3. Look for people who are “busy”. Look for someone who is so completely absorbed in what they are doing that they couldn’t possibly notice someone quietly taking their picture. Examples? Someone roaring at a basketball game. A child working on a coloring page. Girls talking in a group (nobody can interrupt that!).painting


  4. Take LOTS of pictures. If the camera you are using has a burst mode, turn it on! I preach incessantly to take lots of pictures and candid photography is no different, but in this case, most of the pictures you take of the subject may look pretty similar (no different angles or lighting). When you find an opportunity for a candid photo, lift that camera and push that shutter! (If your camera is in burst mode, it will take pictures continuously.)burst mode


  5. Wait PATIENTLY. Sometimes, if you wait, you can get the PERFECT shot! Get yourself in a good position to observe people, and when the moment arrives, you’re ready! For example, sit on a bench in the mall and observe people. As each person or group of people walk by, you have an opportunity to capture the perfect moment! Or sit in a corner table at the lunchroom and scan the crowd, a moment is bound to present itself you!waiting


REMEMBER! This is just an introduction to candid photography. If you really get into this, there are other ways to go about it. But this will get you started and hopefully spark something creative in you!

If you’d like a project outline for candid photography, click the button below!

Using a SPEEDLIGHT flash in your photography

How to use a SPEEDLIGHT

As promised, now we are going to talk about using an external flash on your DSLR camera. Scroll to the end of this post for a FREE project outline about using your speedlight.

There are SO MANY resources on how to use a speedlight (or external) flash, but I am going to give you some quick tips for using your external flash when you are just starting out.

This post is going to focus on how to use a speedlight as it sits on the top of your camera. NOT mounted on a side stand. 

This week try to use your flash to direct the light in your image. We are going to BOUNCE the light from the different surfaces in your environment. Give these tips a try and explore using that speedlight!

  1. Straight on flash light. Just stick that speedlight on the top of your camera and shoot your brains out! This is a quick fix for you if you are in a place with little light, but it’s…well, not usually desired or flattering, especially for portrait photography. See how the light completely washes out all of the features of the face? We want to redistribute the light so that it is more appealing.straight on


  2. Bounced from the side. Depending on your ambient light (the light that exists in the room or area you are shooting pictures), a side light may be the answer to your problem. Take your picture next to a blank (and preferably) light colored wall. Turn your speedlight to the side and bounce the light off this wall and onto the subject. It will brighten up some of the shadows which would be present without the flash, but not completely wash the subject out (as would happen on the straight on flash light).from side


  3. Bounced light from above. If you have a light colored ceiling, you can tilt your speedlight upward and bounce that light off the ceiling. This could be helpful if you have ample light coming from the sides and need a bit more coming from above. If you have a bounce card (which is built in to many newer models including the one I use) you may want to pull it up to pull more light forward toward your subject.from ceiling


REMEMBER: You can increase or decrease the amount of light coming from your speedlight (with most models) so keep that in mind as you shoot.

If you’d like a project outline for speedlight flash photography, click below! (Note that you will be added to my email list. No spamming, I promise!)





How to use your built in flash without making it look "amateurish"

Built in flash

In past blog posts, I praise the use of natural light in photography. But what if there is just not enough light? 

Yes, a flash would be required. (And it’s not a bad word. Despite the fact that I usually avoid it at all costs…)

When you are first starting out, you should avoid using flash because it creates an extra element that you have to factor into your photography (you know, on top of aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, and just a few other things :). But after you have your feet wet in the world of photography, you can dip your toe into the world of flash photography.

One reason why you should not use a flash when you are first starting out, is that you need to understand how important light is when you are taking pictures. You need to understand how to change the direction of the light and know that usually, light coming directly from the camera doesn’t work very well. And where does light come from when you use the built in flash on your camera?  Directly from the camera!

For this blog post, I will only explore the built-in flash on your camera. I’ll discuss some tips that you can use to make the most of your flash whether it is on a DSLR or a point and shoot camera. 

So, down to business!  I don’t generally suggest that you use the built-in camera flash, but sometimes, you just can’t help it. If you are in a situation where there isn’t a lot of light, you need a flash! So here are two quick tips for using the built in flash:

  1. The first photo was taken at short range with the flash blaring in poor Zander's face. You see that the light quality is rather poor and that there is a black rim covering the lower portion of the picture. This is caused by the camera lens.Photo 1


  2. So, back away from your subject as much as you can. This will eliminate the harsh light on the face and the shadow that might appear from the flash itself. Photo 2


  3. In post editing, consider removing red eye (or green eye in the case of my dog). If you have a picture of a person, you may need to remove shiny spots on the face and other imperfections that the flash may highlight. (I also pulled my dog away from the wall so that he wasn’t right up against the white trim; it made him stand out a little bit.) Photo 3


And that’s it! Easy right? The quality of light may not be absolutely fantastic, but it’s better than dark shadows on the face and indistinct details!

If you’d like a project outline for using the built in flash on your camera, click the button below! (Note that you will be added to my email list. No spamming, I promise!)




Where is the light coming from?!

Light Direction in photography

One of the ways that you can excel in your photography skills is to study what others have done.

Sometimes just perusing some professionals is helpful to gain some inspiration and to study good photography. (I love to just peruse to find some inspiration sometimes!)

Start by asking some technical questions:

  1. What kind of light is it? - Hard or soft? (For a full explanation of hard and soft light, click this link:
  2. Where is the light coming from? - Front? Side? Back? Overhead? Below? Is it coming from multiple directions?
  3. Is there a catchlight? (If you are taking a picture of a person, that would be the light that reflects in their eyes)
  4. What do you think the aperture size is? - is it a shallow or deep depth of field? (For an extensive unit on aperture, click this link:
  5. What time of day might it be? Sunset? Noon? Is it cloudy? Sunny?  - This will effect how the light falls on the subject.

After you have answered these questions, you can get an idea for the conditions in which the photographer was taking the image.

The challenge this week is to see if you can recreate an image from an image you admire with the same light. Note that you will not likely get it to look exactly the same, but by getting an idea for how that photographer used light in the image, you can learn how to take better pictures!

Click the button below to get a FREE project outline for learning light directions in photography. (Note that you will be added to my email list. No spamming, I promise!)




How to give EXTRA CREDIT without seeming like a pushover!

Giving extra credit in a photography class

How many times have you heard: “How can I get extra credit in your class?”

Usually, at least in my experience, this question comes 2 days before the end of term from a student who is 2% away from the next letter grade and is desperately trying to raise it just enough to make the grade or even to pass my class.

So here’s how I handle it: I say, “Yes! Absolutely! Go take some pictures at some school events…though I’m not sure how many school events are planned for the next 2 days.”

I can say this because at the beginning of the school year, I have already given them this opportunity. I allow them to take pictures at school events throughout the whole semester (and turn in pictures up to 10 times).

This way, I don’t have to dread the question, because before it leaves their lips, it has already been answered!

I don’t care what they take pictures, as long as it gets them out at school games, meets, dances, etc. I have even accepted a cool class science project before.

Of course, don’t just accept any picture. The images they turn in still have to be quality images and display good composition as we have discussed in class. 

As I have always said in class, “There is no reason you should fail this class. All you have to do is TAKE PICTURES! After all, you are in a photography class!” (But that doesn’t stop some of them…)

If you are interested in a FREE project outline for Extra Credit Photos, click the checkbox below! (Note that you will be added to my email list. No spamming, I promise!)




Alphabet photography

Alphabet photography photo assignment

Have you ever seen those abstract letter photos? They’ve been around for a while, but they are still a fun unique gift. So how do you take cool photos like that? Well, I’m so glad you asked!

Alphabet photography are really just macro-mode photos. (Here is a link to my macro-mode blog post)

Here are some tips for making some really cool alphabet photos of your own:

  1. Get in close! Use that macrocode setting. (It’s the one that usually looks like a flower on your camera dial) Get in even closer than you think you do, it makes for less post-editing.
  2. Look intentionally. You may look a little strange to your friends as you lean in uncomfortably close to a fence post or the little pin on the fire extinguisher…but if you aren’t looking for letters, then you won’t find them!
  3. Stay outside. It is just better lighting, and since you will be getting in close to objects, it will make it easier for your camera to focus.

Join me for an Alphabet photo challenge next week (September 24, 2018)! For each day (on week days) I am going to post a new letter (in alphabetical order). I'll be posting on facebook and instagram. I hope you'll consider joining me!

Anyone who completes the photo challenge from start to finish (abiding by the guidelines below) will receive 40% off any subscription plan!

And of those who finish the challenge, I will enter their names into a drawing for ONE FREE MONTH subscription! 

That is up to $60 in savings! Just post your photos either to instagram or my facebook page with #alphabetphotochallenge. Tag me when you finish the challenge, I'll be looking for you!

So pull out those cameras and start finding some letters! But here are a few guidelines to get you started:

  1. As much as you can, try to get a good shot with enough light
  2. Make it easy to see the letter in question, avoid distracting backgrounds that interfere with the letter
  3. Don't "create" letters with objects (so don't get sticks and form the letter or get your kids to bend their bodies to a letter, etc)
  4. Don't take pictures of letters that already exist (so no billboard or graffiti letters)
  5. Only post on weekdays and post each letter on it's appointed day (give yourself a rest on weekends :)
  6. Oh, and HAVE FUN!!! 

Thats it for this one, it’s pretty straight forward. If you want a project sheet that lists all this plus some post editing tips, click below! (Note that you will be added to my email list. No spamming, I promise!)




Advanced Photography Photo Assignments for high schoolers

Advanced Photography Photo Assignments

Do you have difficulty getting students to take photos? I never understood why it was so difficult to get kids to do this. It seems like it would be easy…you just have to take pictures! Even if they aren’t very good, at least bring in something!

But no, week after week, I would have students not bring in photos. I think I have it figured out: laziness and lack of imagination. Not that they don’t have an imagination, they just don’t get the opportunity to exercise it often enough.

So, how do you spark the imagination of an unmotivated high school student? If I had the answer to that, I am quite certain that I would be an millionaire. But I do have a few ideas that seem to help at least some of my kiddos:

  1. Remind them OFTEN. Every day is good, maybe even at the beginning and end of class. Say something like, “Has anyone come up with any ideas for your photo assignment? Care to share?”
  2. Keep it simple. Kids seem to get nervous when they have too many steps. It’s like me and a new recipe; if there are too many steps, I’m looking for a different recipe.
  3. Do it with them. It seems like this tip works really well to challenge them and show them that it is possible to do the project without too much fuss. After all, if YOU can do it with your busy schedule, surely THEY can get it done too…

Of course, these aren’t guaranteed wins, but they will help some of your students stay on top of photo assignments. It is specifically important to try to keep them motivated at the beginning of the school year, because once they’re behind, it’s hard to get them motivated to jump back in and get started again.

If you need some ideas on photo assignments, feel free to get this free download which includes a list of photo assignments that I have used with my advanced students. As the fall semester ensues, I will be highlighting each photo assignment with helpful examples and definitions. The document attached currently does not have the articles ready because they haven’t been posted yet! But stay posted and I’ll be presenting them for you weekly!

Here's what I'm afraid to tell you...

Stay at home mom blog

Has school started!? Summer sure went by fast…as usual…(why is it always surprising when school starts? It’s not like it’s unexpected, yet every year it seems to creep up on me…)

Are you ready? I think I must be, I’ve been having all sorts of weird dreams about teaching. Everything from having a completely different room to getting to school and realizing that I forgot to get dressed! (Yes, I actually had that dream.) If you need a little boost in your digital art planning, I’ve got a sale going on right now: 30% off ANY subscription plan, just click this link to get started.

The weirdest thing of all is (and I am a little afraid to tell you this), I am not returning to school this year. I just had my 3rd child and I am staying home this year. I am SO EXCITED to embark on this new adventure and I hope you will not think less of me because I am not teaching. I still have 7 years of teaching under my belt and I plan to continue making top notch lesson plans for you!

Actually, I think the strangest thing of all is that I sent my Kindergartener to school yesterday…and I stayed home. So weird. I wasn’t really emotional about it, but the house was a little lacking without him.

Usually by this time I would be in school, listening to new policies that have been implemented or major budget items that have been decided on or…whatever educational jargon that my administration had decided was important for that year. All of that is important, I know. But I also know that every single teacher in that room is really thinking about what they should be doing to get ready for students to return in a couple of days.

So whether you have already sat through those meetings or are still looking forward to them, here are some tips for getting through the dreaded (I mean…very important) inservice days:

  • Bring paper and doodle. BUT, make sure that you look up occasionally so that it looks like you are really engaged in the topic. This one always worked for me.
  • Should you choose to daydream, pick a spot behind the presenter to stare at, that way it looks like you are really paying attention. Just try to make sure that you don’t drool…
  • Bring coffee! An absolute must! Bring the biggest cup you’ve got and drink slowly…

That’s all I’ve got for you on that score. If you are needing some ideas for your graphic design or digital photography class, I’ve got a sale going on NOW until the end of August. You can get 30% off ANY subscription plan. Simply click this link and you’ll be ready to go! Cut down on the planning you need to do and spend your time on something else! Like going to inservice meetings…

Digital Art Teacher 2018 FALL SALE!

August 30% off SALE!

Digital Art Teacher August Sale!
Digital Art Teacher 2018 FALL SALE!

Hey! If you don’t know me, my name is Chelsea and I am the founder of I sell Graphic Design and Digital Photography curriculum for high school art teachers. I strive to make planning and presenting digital art EASY so that you can stress less and teach more.

Tell me if this sounds familiar to you: School is about to start in 2 weeks and you have a completely foreign or at least a highly unfamiliar subject or two that you will be teaching…Graphic Design and Digital Photography. You think, “It’s ok, I’ve got 2 weeks before school, I can just look up a bunch of tutorials and piece together something that will work.”

A week goes by and you have completed exactly zero tutorials and you have skimmed through about 100 blog posts trying to figure out what you will teach. Panic starts to set in. “What should I do?!” At this point, you might think it would be nice if someone could just tell you what to teach…Well, that is what I am here for!

Most units include a lesson plan, presentation with multiple pictures (because face it, most of us are visual learners!), easy to follow one page assignment and/or project outlines, project files, finished examples, and more! Currently, I have 3 full semesters of digital curriculum. 2 semesters of Graphic Design and 1 semester of Digital Photography.

This fall I am going to be introducing a second semester for Digital Photography. It will be an advanced set of lessons and units focused on bringing out the creativity of each individual. For the remainder of August you can get 30% off ANY subscription plan! Thats up to $55 in savings! Go to to pick up your subscription today!

If you have any questions feel free to connect with me through my facebook page at or shoot an email to I would love to chat and see if there is anything I can do to help you start your year with the least amount of stress possible. 

P.S. My annual August sale has begun! From now until the end of August, get ANY SUBSCRIPTION PLAN for 30% OFF!