Photography Tips

40 Spectacular Botanic Gardens, Arboretums, and Conservatories in and around Chicago-land for Photography

Finally, it's photography season! (cue the trumpets!) Time to dust off your lenses and clear off your memory cards. I've spent all winter researching and compiling a list of the places I want to visit this year with my mom (who is a blossoming photographer herself) as a kind of photography/garden bucket list. There are a ton of places in and near Chicago to check out and and many are just a short drive away. There are few a little further away that I haven’t been to yet, like the Rotary Garden in Janesville, Green Bay Botanic Garden, and a few in Indiana that I'm excited to visit. Road Trip!

40 best botanic gardens in the chicago land area


Here's my list of the best botanic gardens, arboretums, and conservatories in and around the Chicago area as well as few out of state that are a short drive away. If you’ve been to any of these places, let me know what you think. Leave a comment in the section below with a link to some of your photos, I would love to see what you captured. 

Chicago area

Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden

Cantigny

Cantigny

 Rockford area (and beyond)

Anderson Japanese Garden

Anderson Japanese Garden

Anderson Japanese Garden

Anderson Japanese Garden

Boerner Botanical Gardens

Boerner Botanical Gardens

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Iowa


Indiana

Michigan

Did I miss any gardens or arboretums that I definitely have to add to my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

 

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My Top 12 favorite Handmade Christmas Gifts for Photographers

Hey Santa! I’ve been a super good girl this year! Oh, you have no idea what to get me? Well, good thing I’ve got a list...

I scoured etsy for the best, coolest, and most useful and fun gifts that you can give to your photographer friends and family. Or, you can just buy them for yourself. I won't judge! (I already bought the velvet camera strap!!!)

Here’s my top 12 handmade Christmas gifts to give to your favorite photographer:

12 Handmade Gifts for Photographers

1. Velvet Camera Strap I actually own this camera strap and I LOVE LOVE LOVE it.

2. 1966 Polaroid Camera Poster- Perfect for those who love to tinker and see how things work.

3. Artsy Sweatshirt- Your photographer needs to be comfortable while making art.

4. Camera Necklace- Such a cute necklace! You can personalize it too!

5. Grey Chevron Camera Bag- Carry camera gear in style. This bag is large enough to carry a DSLR camera with a lens attached, and up to two extra lenses and your accessories.

6. Photographer Coffee Mug- LOVE this. Another personalized gift. Perfect for the photographer who is up all night editing.

Handmade Gifts for Photographers

7. Scarf Camera Strap- Winter is coming and this scarf will keep your photographer warm AND keep her camera ready at hand.

8. Camera Art Print- I LOVE this artist and all of her work! I featured her in an interview here.

9. Vintage Camera Print Set- Beautiful prints of vintage cameras. These would be perfect in my house...

10. Vintage Camera Calendar- A gift your photographer will see and use (and love!) every day.

11. Vintage Camera Print Infinity Scarf- A fun fashion accessory that showcases her passion.

12. Cement Camera Planter- A sweet little camera planter to showcase your photographers love for cameras and her green thumb.

 

What camera/photography related gifts are you drooling over? What gifts are you hoping Santa will bring you (or will buy for yourself!!) Let me know in the comments section below!

 

 

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10 super easy DIY photo gifts you can totally make

We all have tons of photos living on our hard drives and on our phones. I happen to have terabytes of photos sitting on multiple hard drives. I'm always looking for easy DIYs to print out and display my photos. I've found a few that I think are easy and would make great gifts for your friends and loved ones this year.

10 Super Easy DIY Photo Gifts You Can Make
10 DIY ideas for Photo Gifts

5. Photo Gift Box

6. Make Your Own Canvas Portrait

7. DIY Photo Transfer Coasters

8. DIY Photo Ornament

9. Personal Photo Clock

10. Personalized Photo Map (I love this one!)

 

If you're looking for another super easy DIY photo gift project, I recommend my 2016 DIY Calendar templates (shameless plug!) They are a super quick and easy way to print out a calendar with your own custom photos for your family and friends to cherish!

If you want to check out how easy they are, I posted a quick tutorial here: How to use my DIY Calendar Template.

If you find any other awesome DIY photo gift ideas, or if you have tried any of these, be sure to let me know in the comment section below! I'd love to hear how your project turned out and what your friends/family thought of it!

 

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8 New Year's Resolutions for Photographers

Happy New Year! I originally posted this on my other site, and liked it so much that I wanted to share it here too.

8 Photography New Years Resolutions

 

So for this year I have a few new resolutions to go along with the standard "lose weight", "eat better", & "give up coffee" -- resolutions I will actually keep!  (yeah... the "give up coffee resolution" never makes it past 10:00 am on January 1st.) These resolutions are photography related (see! way more fun than working out and sweating! And safer than having me give up coffee...)  I hope they inspire you to get out there and create photos, and most importantly, have fun!

1. Work on a project.

I spend a LOT of time photographing products at work and shooting for A Different Light Photography. I don't often get to photograph just for fun. Photographing a personal project will help you grow as a photographer and keep you inspired.

There are several personal projects I'd like to work on this year. One project I have in mind is to go to the Chicago Botanic Garden and shoot only with my 50mm 1.8 lens. It's currently my least favorite lens and I never ever shoot with it. (I resolve to learn to LOVE that lens!) Another cool project I've been thinking about for this year is to photograph a certain tree/landmark/object from the Garden once a month and show the progression of this item during the year. How fun would that be?

Here are several fun projects ideas to get you started:

  • Project 365- This might be the hardest, but most rewarding. To do a project 365, you commit to take a photo every day for a year. Sounds simple enough, right? This project will force you to be creative and stretch your boundaries!
  • Project 52- A little less intense than taking a photo every day. With Project 52, you take a photo once a week.
  • Project 12- This project features monthly themed photography. This way, you have a month to think about and plan out your photo.
  • 100 Strangers-- Gather 100 portraits of complete strangers after getting their consent. A great way to overcome your shyness and to meet new people! (if you're doing this, or have done it, please let me know! i'd love to hear about your experience with this project!)
  • Themed projects- Picking a single thing to focus on like macro, street photography, or shooting with only one lens will help improve your skills.
  • ABC project- Find nature and man made objects that create letters of the alphabet. Or, photograph items only that being with the particular letter. This would be really fun and challenging (better keep yours eyes open for those xylophones and x-rays!)
  • Choose one theme to shoot every day for a week. Maybe this week you photograph anything that is red. Next week it'll be all sorts of different doors.

Really, there are no rules. There is no pressure to finish a particular project. Bored of doing a 365? Then go right ahead and start taking photos once a week, or whatever works for you. These projects are meant to inspire and motivate you to get out there and create photographs and practice your skills.

 

2. Learn something new. 

Even though I've been taking photos for years, there are still a TON of things I want to learn! Like how to master off camera flash, how to create those cool double exposure photos, and how to style and photograph food.

The internet has a treasure trove of resources that can help you learn nearly ANYTHING! Become BFF's with YouTube. The possibilities are endless! Want to learn how to use your brand new DLSR you got for Christmas? There's a video for that. Want to learn how to take photos of newborns, or how to make your background blurry? There's a video for that.  Anything you want to learn, there is a video for it.

Here are just a few channels and websites to get you started:

 

3. Learn to edit your photos.

I've been working in Photoshop for years, but there are still a ton of secrets and shortcuts I have yet to learn (i still have trouble fully understanding masks....)  I recently started using Lightroom to edit my personal photos and photos for A Different Light Photography and I LOVE it. It's amazing. But I only really know the basics.  I would love to uncover what this baby can really do! Only have Photoshop Elements or even Gimp? No problem! There are a TON of tutorials for those too!!!

Again, Google and YouTube will be your best friends in finding resources to help you learn.



4. Organize. Organize. Organize.

You guys, I have a confession to make. I'm a digital hoarder. For real. I don't ever delete images, even the blurry and non-focused ones.  (I'm not kidding. I have images taken with my first digital camera from waaaaay back in 2005. ALL. OF. THEM.) As a result, I have a several hard drives that are FULL of photos. This year, I resolve to delete the obviously less than stellar images & organize the rest in a more meaningful fashion.
This might take some time, but it'll be worth it in the end (my poor computer and hard drives will thank me!)

Check out these easy to follow tips for organizing your photos:

 


5. Be in the photos.

I can't stress this enough!! As the photographer of the family I bet you're always the one taking the photos, but never in them (me too!)  As nice as it is to be able to capture those special moments of your family, think about how much more meaningful it is for your children (and future grandchildren!) if there are photos of you too! Don't worry if you gained a little weight over the Christmas holidays, or that you don't have a "perfect body" or you're having a bad hair day. Your kids won't even notice. What they will notice is how happy and loved they were when they see you with them. Make it a point to have professional family photos taken of you and your children every few years (your family will treasure these!) You can also DIY--  set up the tripod and self-timer on your camera. Even selfies count!

 

6. Print your photos.

Another resolution I can't stress enough! Your photos aren't doing anyone any good living in your computer!  What good are all those family photos you have taken if you and your family can't enjoy them? Print out photo books for each year/milestone and have them displayed on your coffee table or bookcase and send them to all the grandparents.  Create a photo display wall in your home of all your favorites to be the focal point of a room. Print out photos for frames and decorate your home and office with them! Send grandma a cell phone case or a tote bag with photos of the grandkids on it (She'd love that!) There are a ton of very good quality places that print photos and won't cost you an arm and a leg.

Only take photos with your smart phone? Not a problem--there are places that will print out your instagram photos.


7. Read and gather inspiration from unlikely sources.

Read/look through a ton of different magazines. Photography magazines, home decor magazines, Culinary magazines, travel magazines, etc.  Look for what sort of photos catch your eye. Perhaps your next project idea will come from there. Study how the model was posed, or how she was lit. Look at how the food was arranged and what sort of table setting was used. Check out how to group lanterns and use them in your next stylized photo session. You will begin to train your eye and feed your brain!


8. Make friends and share your photos!

Join a community! Make friends with other photographers! Go ahead-- we don't bite! There are soooo many offline and online communities that you can be a part of. Not only will you meet new people and make friends, but they will help you grow as a photographer. They will push you to go beyond your comfort zone, be there to encourage you, and they are a treasure trove of inspiration and information! 


Here are some great online communities:

  • Flickr (I was an early adopter back in 2005. I've made several valuable and lasting friendships because of this community, and it's still my favorite.)
  • Clickin Moms (I LOVE this community! So many really wonderful and friendly people here)
  • Click it up a notch
  • 500px
  • Google + (yes! there are a ton of photographers and groups here!)
  • Instagram

 
Here are a few offline community ideas:

  • Meetups. I bet you can find several different photography meetups in or near your city!
  • Photo Walks
  • Community Colleges
  • Your local botanic garden or other park district might even offer photography tours.


 

Are you making any photography related resolutions? I'd love to hear them! Let me know in the comments section below!

 

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6 Photography New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year! I love this time of year, not because it's January and it's the middle of winter here in Chicago but because it's a new year! A clean slate! Anything can happen! 

New Years Resolutions for Photographers

 

So this year, I have a few new resolutions to go along with "lose weight", "eat better", & "give up coffee" -- New Year's Resolutions I will actually keep!  These new resolutions are photography related (see! way more fun than working out and sweating!)

1. Learn something new.

I will be learning about off camera flash this year.  I prefer natural light photography so learning and actually using off camera flashes will be way out of my comfort zone.

The internet has a treasure trove of resources that can help you learn nearly ANYTHING! Become friends with YouTube. The possibilities are endless! Want to learn how to use your brand new DLSR you got for Christmas? There's a video for that. Want to learn how to take photos of food, or how to take long exposure photos? There's a video for that.  Anything you want to learn, there is a video for it. 


Here are just a few channels to get you started:



2. Work on a project.

I spend a LOT of time photographing products at work, and shooting for A Different Light Photography. I don't often get to photograph just for fun. Photographing a personal project will help you grow as a photographer and keep you inspired. 

One of my personal projects to to go to the Chicago Botanic Garden and shoot only with my 50mm 1.8 lens. I resolve to learn to LOVE that lens! I would also like to photograph a certain tree/landmark/object from the Garden once a month and show the progression of this item during the year. 

Here are several fun projects ideas to get you started:

Project 365 - This might be the hardest, but most rewarding. To do a project 365, you commit to take a photo every day for a year. Sounds simple enough, right? This project will force you to be creative and stretch your boundaries!

Project 52- A little less intense than taking a photo every day. With Project 52, you take a photo once a week.

Project 12- This project features monthly themed photography. This way, you have a month to think about and plan out your photo.

100 Strangers- Gather 100 portraits of complete strangers after getting their consent. A great way to overcome your shyness and to meet new people!

328 Photography Themes- Not sure what theme to shoot? This website has 328 to choose from! Close your eyes and pick one!



3. Organize your photos.


I have a problem. A Serious problem. I'm a digital hoarder. I don't ever delete images. Even the blurry and non-focused images. As a result, I have a several hard drives that are FULL of photos. This year, I resolve to delete the obviously less than stellar images & organize the rest in a more meaningful fashion.

This might take some time, but it'll be worth it in the end!

Check out these easy to follow tips for organizing your photos:

How to organize your Photos, the easy way

 

4. Learn to edit photos.

I spend most of my days at my real job in Photoshop. I think I have that covered. That being said, there are still a ton of secrets and shortcuts I can learn. I recently bought Lightroom and have been using it to edit my personal photos and my Portrait photos and I LOVE it. It's amazing. But I only know the super basics. I would love to uncover what this baby can really do! Only have Photoshop Elements? No problem! There are a TON of tutorials for that too!!! 


Again, Google and Youtube will be your best friends in finding resources to help you learn. 

Adobe Photoshop YouTube Channel

Layers Magazine

Photoshop Elements

 

5. PRINT YOUR PHOTOS! 

I moved into my town house a little over four years ago. Can you believe I have no family photos hanging up anywhere? Not even our wedding photos. This year, I'm going to fix that. What good are all those family photos you have taken if you and your family can't enjoy them? Print out photo books for each year/milestone and have them displayed on your coffee table or bookcase. Send them to all the grandparents. There are very good quality places that don't cost an arm and a leg. Create a photo display wall in your home to be the focal point of a room. Print out photos for frames and decorate your home and office with them! Looking for other ideas? Check out my photo display idea board for a ton of cool inspiration.

 

6. Be in the photos.

As the photographer of the family, I'm always behind the lens. I'm sure you are in the same boat. As nice as it is to be bale to caputre those special moments of your family, think about how much more meaningful it is for your children (and future grandchildren!) if there are photos of you too. Make it a point to have professional family photos taken of you and your children. You can also set up the good 'ol tripod (or selfie stick!) and take photos that way. The point is to be in the photo once in a while.

 

 

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