Common Beginner Photographer Mistakes

Photography By May 19, 2017 Tags: , , , No Comments

Every photographer makes mistakes at the start. It’s the process of learning! However, those beginning mistakes can be frustrating. If you’ve tried to capture special, once-in-a-lifetime moments, only to have the photo look boring or blurry, you know how terrible this can feel. But it’s not too late to learn! These overviews of beginning mistakes will teach you how to improve your photography and avoid common rookie errors.

Dull photos

Many beginner photographers haven’t yet studied and understood types of light. Thus, when they compare their photos to professionals’, their images look dull and boring.

If you’re taking photos of landscapes, you’ll want to focus on the “golden hours”–the hours before and after sunrise and sunset. This gives you soft directional light, which helps your landscapes look amazing.

For portraits and food photography, you’ll want an overcast day with diffused lighting. A perfectly sunny day without a cloud in the sky is terrible for taking portraits. This is because overhead and bright light can throw strange shadows on people’s faces, or make certain angles look far too harsh.

No matter what kinds of photos you’re taking, study lighting for your intended subjects. It may help to look back on your old photos and see what you might have done differently.


Poor focus

One mistake beginners often make is to let their camera take care of the focus. Auto focus, especially on smart phones, may try to zero in on an object completely different from your intended subject. Make sure to take your camera off Auto focus and use manual or selective auto focus for a better image. It’s also wise to use a tripod or other stabilizing surface to prevent camera shake and therefore blurring.

Crooked horizon

A crooked or slanting horizon–even with just a little slant–can ruin the credibility of an otherwise perfect photo. Tripods can help fix this problem. If that’s not an option, take the time to make sure your horizon is straight in your viewfinder. Then remember to snap the photo as you exhale.

Sometimes accidents happen, and your horizon won’t look straight despite your best efforts. In this case, make sure to fix it in Photoshop or Lightroom. It’s an easy fix, and very worthwhile! Potential clients will notice your skewed horizon, so it’s worth taking the time!

Too much noise

New photographers may struggle with making sure their images are sharp enough. This becomes especially hard in low light conditions, which increase photo noise if you aren’t careful. Try raising your ISO in low light conditions. Test out your camera so you’ll know how to manage your noise levels.


Signs of over-editing by a (probably panicking) new photographer include excessive sharpening, over-contrast, too saturated, and too much noise reduction–which results in a too-smooth image. You may also notice bad cropping done in post-production. Ideally, you’ll crop your image when you take your photo. But that can’t always happen. So instead, focus on careful cropping that frames your subject well and tells the whole story of your piece, allowing for context.

As for the others, it will be worth your while to fix errors like saturation and contrast with your camera in the first place, rather than struggling with them later and making amateur mistakes. Be sure to check your camera’s settings, and if you can, take several test shots to see what you need to adjust.

Being unprepared

A common mistake that many photographers have had to learn the hard way is to prepare before going out with your camera. Always make sure your battery is charged, and that you have spare batteries and memory cards. This will save you a lot of regret in the future.


What have you learned since you started photography? Have you noticed anything you wish you would have done as a beginner? We’d love to hear from you!


Tips to Taking Panoramic Photos Using a Smart Phone

Photography By May 12, 2017 Tags: , , , , No Comments

With digital cameras, it’s easy to capture the majesty of a mountain skyline or a spectacular sunset. All you have to do is digitally stitch them together into a panoramic photo. Sounds simple enough, right? Mostly, yes. But even digital panoramic photos can go wrong. Weird exposure differences and strange perspectives can still result from your smart phone. So how do you make your panorama turn out wonderfully using a smart phone?

Use your camera’s panorama mode

If you have a smart phone, chances are you have a Panorama Mode already built into your phone’s camera. These tools make it easy to keep your photos right on your camera, and to use your panoramic options wherever you are. This is useful when you’re in an area without a signal, or if you’re abroad and without mobile internet. Native apps on your phone also often have guides to line up your next shot. However, there are apps you can use if your smart phone does not come with a panorama mode. Try Cycloramic for iOS and Windows, and Photaf Panorama for Android.

Find a focal point before shooting

Picture how your panorama will turn out before just pointing your phone at an interesting horizon. What do you want the focus to be? That will help you decide what pictures of your landscape to take to create the perfect image.

Keep your camera level

Unsteady camera shots can result in a choppy stitch later, or in shaky horizon lines. This is especially true if your app lets you do a continuous shot. Try to hold your smart phone level, or use a tripod or a wall. Plus, some apps like Cycloramic (above) are completely hands-free and can be put on a flat, stable surface to turn your phone on their own.

If you don’t have a tripod, one trick is to hold your smart phone vertically. It may be tempting to turn it on its side to view your panorama in landscape mode. And this is good practice if you’re creating a video. But you’ll be steadier if you keep your phone upright. Another trick: turn on your optical stabilization. This prevents camera shake and its bad effects on your photo.

Pivot around a single small point

In other words, turn your camera but not your body. The smaller your pivot area (i.e. the less you turn your camera), the better your shot will be. Use this for landscapes and large shots without an object in the foreground.

Move if there is an object in the foreground

In contrast, you should take multiple but even shots with some side-to-side movement if there is a large object in the foreground of your panorama. This is not an easy task. But standing on one place while you turn your camera could result in a curving distortion when you stitch your panorama together. Practice moving carefully side to side with the camera level before you begin taking photos. also, remember to snap the photo as you breathe out. You can also use walls and tripods to help keep your phone stable.

Watch for moving cars or people

Before you press Shoot, be sure to wait out things like cars and people. Nothing’s more obvious in a panorama than when tourists change position during your shots, or someone dives off a rock into the sea.

Make sure the lighting is consistent

This will be difficult to edit out later, though it is possible. Better to get it right the first time! Your lighting may change in each shot, even if you’re outside. Regular photos can handle this as long as the photographer knows how to utilize the light source with their subject. In panoramas, though, it can be hard to manage. Check each photo for consistent lighting, especially if you are indoors or if it’s a cloudy day. You may need to turn off automatic settings on your smart phone, or take a few test shots.

Make multiple passes

Don’t be afraid to go over the same area more than once! This helps you get overlap, and can help you have other options should your exposure turn out not quite right. Also, be sure to get passes that include a little more of the area above and below your intended shot. That way, you can be sure to capture an even amount of the sky and ground for when you stitch your photos together. You can crop this out later.

Take vertical panoramas

Many times, we just think to capture horizontal landscapes. But when taking panoramas, don’t forget the vertical view! This can be great for a sky or sunset over mountains that you want to capture. It’s also good for visualizing the height of towers, waterfalls, and other tall, stunning views.


DNA Testing and Your Genealogy

Family History By May 5, 2017 Tags: , , , , No Comments

Over the years, genealogy sites have come out with an amazing array of new genealogy tools. One such tool, DNA testing, helps both casual researchers and experienced genealogists find their ancestors in a way you can’t find with simple records. DNA testing also has the great research benefit for people studying regional groups and migration patterns, or tracking down members of a diaspora.

For you, though, DNA is another great way to learn who you are genetically. It won’t connect you to direct names and ancestors; however, it can tell you where you’re from in the world, which is a great way to get going if your records don’t exist or have gone missing. It can also help you connect with unknown relatives with DNA matches! Imagine being able to connect with your family, whether they immigrated or they’re in your ancestral homeland.

DNA testing is easy to do at home. All it takes is a cheek swab, a cup of saliva, or sometimes even just chewed gum. It depends on the company–but whatever the method, it’s easy to do at your leisure.

Types of tests

Before you get tested, check what kind of test you’ll be taking. Some DNA analysis only tests the Y-chromosome, and can only be taken by a male to view paternal lineage. Others test mitochondrial DNA, which only shows your direct maternal ancestry, even though anyone can take it. These tests do not find your ethnicity estimate, but instead locate your haplogroup–a group of genes associated with an ethnic group or region.

If you want your whole ancestry analyzed, look for an autosomal DNA test (like the one AncestryDNA) that accomplishes this. These can provide your ethnicity estimate–or percentages showing which regions your DNA matches. These rely on companies keeping their estimates updated to be accurate on specific, rather than continental, levels. Your ethnicity estimate may also change when companies update their data.

Who Does DNA Testing Benefit?


Since pre-Civil War records might not exist for your family tree, DNA testing might be able to show you which region or ethnic group in Africa your ancestors came from. Take note: historical events such as migration may cloud the accuracy. Certain tests also may lead to Europe rather than Africa; about 58% of African Americans have at least 12.5 percent of European ancestry.

Melungeon Americans

This group of people refers to “tri-racial isolate” groups in the Southeastern United States, which have migrated up through Virginia and Kentucky. Their ethnic origins are often mythical or wrapped in speculation, due to these families having a different physical appearance in the 19th century. DNA testing, however, mostly points to their ethnicity being a mixture of European, African, and sometimes Native American. If you’re part of this group, you may be able to determine where exactly your family came from!

Native Americans and First Nation

People desiring to know if their ancestry includes Native Americans can have their mitochondrial DNA tested to establish whether their direct female line belongs to a canonical Native American haplogroup. If your DNA belongs to hapogroups A, B, C, D, or X, you may be Native American–in whole or part. However, if these tests come back positive, you will need to apply to individual tribes for membership and enrollment, since tribes are political entities with their own requirements.


Apocryphal or speculative origins passed down through oral histories may tell one story. But DNA can tell another. Even for people who think they know their genealogy, a DNA test may have a few surprises–especially if one of your ancestors was adopted, or their records aren’t written down.


DNA tests do have some limitations. Sometimes, you may hit a blind spot or get unexpected surprises. Your ancestors’ records may not be what’s in your DNA. For example, there could be unusual mutations in the gene, false paternity (in other words, the biological father is not the father on the birth certificate), or unmarked adoptions.


Have you tried DNA testing to help with your genealogy research? We’d love to hear your stories!


Identifying Unknown Family Photos

Family History By April 25, 2017 Tags: , , , No Comments

Not all of our ancestors were diligent about labeling their photographs. And sometimes, we have to face the difficult task of deciding and deducing who that is next to our great-grandma. But identifying unknown family members in your photos doesn’t have to be such a chore. It may not be the easiest job, but putting in the time can be highly rewarding!


Making Sense of Old Handwriting

Family History By April 7, 2017 Tags: , No Comments

There’s something special about seeing records with your ancestors’ handwriting on them. It’s easy to feel a wonderful connection to them, just by seeing or handling an object they once touched. But all too often, you may find yourself struggling to read the handwriting. This is especially frustrating if you’re indexing records, or if this is your only source. While reading old handwriting can be complicated enough to fill an entire college course, here are some of the basics.


MyCanvas Products Lineup and Pricing

MyCanvas Products By March 31, 2017 Tags: , , , , , No Comments

This week, we’re giving you an overview of all our MyCanvas products. We want to help you create the best products for your home and to give away as gifts. Below, we’ll show you more about what you can create on our website, whether it’s for ancestry or to preserve your own memories.