Guest Post: Moira Wright on Taking Landscape Photos with your Phone Camera

58865_10200415738529998_1781041494_n[1]We are thrilled to welcome Moira Wright to the blog today.  Moira is the Vice President of Public Relations at Holt Renfrew, and the creator of some of the most beautiful landscape photos Instagram has to offer.  She is also family, and when I asked her to share her secret for her amazing photos at a family gathering a few years ago, she said to me, as she says below, with her characteristic grace and humility, that she just uses her phone.  It was that exchange that inspired me to explore the camera function on my own phone, and it is to Moira that I owe the joy that comes from capturing my still lifes.  Armed with her tips below, I’m now ready to try my hand at some landscapes, too.



What I appreciate about Instagram is that it really just illuminates inspiration. Yes, it can be a distracting and sometimes vacuous pursuit, and I am often amused by how our “fake Instagram life” may contrast with our real one. At times I am tempted to post images of the daily domestic mess or less harmonious moments to more authentically represent reality, however, given my role in public relations representing a retail brand, I keep my profile open and my posts are filtered to ensure they are in keeping with my public self. I also find it helpful in moments of feeling overwhelmed to review the peaceful and aesthetically pleasing moments to remind myself of the good times – and anticipate those to come!

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Instagram or any other photo gallery is a reflection of your personal lens – posts reflect what you see and what you are drawn to, and what you spend your time pursuing.

I grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, stayed in the land of living skies until the age of about 30. I am naturally drawn to – and crave – open spaces and landscapes.  I will always run for the hills on the weekend whenever I have a chance, as an antidote to long weeks spent in a windowless office, and a busy and cluttered home shared with 3 boys in a house we jokingly refer to as “the tube” for its row house effect. For me, the ideal weekend involves a family hike along the Bruce Trail, or if I am lucky enough to be near water, on a kayak in Georgian Bay or in Nova Scotia. Snow or rain, sun or not, I crave a vista of nature. In an overscheduled world, I love the family bonding moments we enjoy in nature, discovering interesting animals, birds, flora or fauna. I also appreciate time alone in the woods, fields or on calm water.

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My photo methods are quite simple – all photos are taken with my iPhone 5. Essentially the shot is what I see. The light is of course best in the evening or early morning, and an early mist is also lovely. I will sometimes play with the light settings – just by tapping on different parts of the screen to adjust the light before taking the shot. I do this particularly with sunset shots. When posting to Instagram, I rarely filter or amend the photo – perhaps just brightening an image a little if needed, or playing with the colour saturation a little – always within the Instagram photo editing menu.  The square format of Instagram is sometimes a challenge with landscape, so I do have an additional app called SquareReady that I sometimes use to adjust the image if I want to keep the full latitude visual.

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As my phone battery often has limited life with the camera open, my Mophie is key for extended battery life on a long walk. And having the right apparel for the weather is key – I hike on the most cold days of winter, and love a walk in the rain.  Here are a few posts, with some accompanying notes.

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This was in the rain! The boys were not originally happy to be wet, but then became enthralled with the discovery of caterpillars and a grosbeak. I may have brightened the image a little before posting.


This is a view from the Bruce Trail near Hockley Valley Resort, at sunset. Generally with sunset I may adjust the light settings to focus them off centre (in this case, closer to the left, nearer the setting sun) by tapping on the screen. In this case, I wanted to further illuminate the landscape, which had the trade-off effect of limiting the depth of colour in the sky. You can get very different images of the same moment.

I wanted to keep the full length of the landscape, so I reshaped the image within the app SquareReady before posting in Instagram. It’s very seamless, you simply open the app, go to your photo library, and then click through to open it within Instagram.

Sometimes I might enhance the colour just a little with the saturation setting from the Instagram photo editing menu. (see below as well)



How to Transfer a Photograph Onto Wood: Easy DIY Tutorial


Ever since catching a few photo transfer craft projects online, it’s been on my to do list.  I love natural materials so I focused on transfers to wood blocks. In the spirit of discovery for photography month here at 4 Mothers, I’ve just my first batch delighted to report that I think this is a keeper!  It’s easy (easy enough to do with patient children), takes few materials (fewer than I saw listed in other online tutorials), and makes a memorable and inexpensive keepsake or gift. You do know that Father’s Day is around the corner, right?


What you’ll need:

– a block of unfinished wood (from the dollar store, or scrap from the hardware store)

– a photograph printed from a laser printer onto regular copy paper (note: the photo will end up being a mirror image unless you flip it on your computer before you print it.)

– Mod Podge or gel medium

– a sponge brush (or paint brush, which I used)

That’s it!  I went to the art store because I couldn’t find my jar of Mod Podge, and was all ready to buy that and a gel medium. The beautiful thing about art and craft stores is that the people there actually practice these things, and the young salesperson told me that Mod Podge and gel medium basically do the same thing. This fellow earned instant credibility as he had done transferred lots of photos in his time, including onto wood. Loved walking out of the store with just one product and more cash in my wallet.

What You’ll Do

1.  Cut the printed photograph to fit the wood to your liking.

2.  Paint a layer of Mod Podge onto the picture side of the printed photograph.  Be gentle here, especially if using a paintbrush rather than a sponge brush. I thought I was but my brush took off a corner of the picture.


3.  Paint a layer of Mod Podge onto the wood’s surface where you want the photo displayed.

4.  Place the photograph picture side down onto the Mod Podged wood, so that the two Mod Podged surfaces meet.

5.  Smooth out the photograph with a flat sided tool (I used my rewards card from the art store, naturally).

6.  Let dry completely (2 to 3 hours).  (The art guy dries his for 24 hours “to be safe” but I like to walk wild, and just a few hours worked out over here.)

7.  Cover photo paper with a wet rag for a few minutes.

8.  Rub the white of the paper off the wooden block.  You’ll do this with a rag or your fingers by gently massaging the paper in different directions. The key word here is gentle; if you’re even a bit rigorous, you will rub the photograph off too and expose the wood underneath.  The goal is to remove the white surface of the paper while leaving the printed surface intact.  I think a bit of exposure of the wood is okay since the overall look is pretty rustic (I left mine alone), but you could also fill in the spaces with a grey marker as needed.


You’ll probably need to repeat steps 7 and 8, going through the rubbing process more than once.  I thought I was done the first time and was surprised at how cloudy the photo was after it dried, so I had to get back to it.  Do it as many times as you need to until you’re satisfied with the image.

9. Once you’re finished removing all the white paper and the photo is dry, apply a layer or two of Mod Podge to the surface to seal the deal.  (It’s a sealant as well as a glue.)

That’s it!  This is one of those rare craft tutorials that is actually easier than it looks.  Hands on time was much less than an hour, and it’s pretty satisfying work. My son watched with pleasure as I transferred a photo of his first sleepover – this would be an easy sell for crafting with patient kids, and I think it would make a lovely gift from a child to anyone.

You can use any type of wood you like, as long as it’s unfinished so the photograph will stick (some people use sandpaper for extra grit; I didn’t need it), but I used a nice thick block that can easily stand up on its own.

Finally, the glory of this DIY project is that it’s both fun and forgiving. The goal of paper on wood is not to reflect perfection (for the birds, as they say) but beauty, through the people and images you find it in.

How To Take Timeless Family Portraits

BethAnneJones-10_EYears ago I hired a photographer to capture my family. The boys were ages 4, 3 and 1 and I was desperate to hang onto their cuteness . . . and populate a very barren, very large wall.

Family portraits run the gamut from the cheap(er) and cheerful to investment photography. Since I wanted these prints to be enlarged and framed, it was important to me to have a professional whose artistic eye and professionalism I admired. I splurged and hired a high-end photographer who took beautiful photos of my family and years later I still cherish them. These photos are classic in part due to her creative genius but also her guidance on how to create lasting, timeless portraits.

Thinking of capitalizing on the warmer weather and lush greenery, and taking family pictures this summer? Before you do, heed some this advice I compiled by asking photographers for their best tips on creating classic photos.


Take the time to research a photographer. When you’ve narrowed it down, be sure to set a meeting and go through their portfolio. Ask lots of question about their process. Do they prefer to do staged photos or candid? What equipment do they use? How are the photos presented? Are the prints colour corrected and photoshopped as necessary?

Price is something that is best discussed up front. Is there a sitting fee in addition to the proofs? How many proofs are provided? Are photos ordered in packages or a la carte? Know what you plan to do with the photos. This will help to determine the dimensions and overall cost.

Location! Location! Location!

Researching the location is just about as important as the photographer. You’ll want to choose somewhere that is comfortable and maybe even familiar to your family. If walker-bound grandma is going to be in the shoot maybe hiking along a bramble path isn’t the best fit. If wearing stilettos in your photo is a must, a cobble stone street may be great for posed shots but not as natural for candid shots of you chasing around after your toddler.

It’s also worth noting the natural light. Know what time the sunlight is soft as opposed to beating down. Squinty eyes, sweat stains, and shadows don’t make for the best photos. Neither does the dog parade or all you-can-eat rib festival encroaching on your frame. If choosing a public place, ensure there are no events scheduled on the day that might conflict with your plans. Also, permits are required for many locations. A good photographer will know this, but it’s worth checking into so you’re not disappointed.

What To Wear!

imgres-1This is where things can get tricky.   Remember the 80s? Perms and frosted lipstick were the beachy waves and smoky eye of today. Hair and make-up should be simple and natural or else you may find yourself groaning over your look in a few years time.

Clothing can also be a challenge. White can make you look larger and washed out, and black can look severe. Stick with clothing you feel comfortable wearing that reflects your personality but at the same time is not too trendy or flashy and unless you’re being paid to advertise for Gap, keep clothing with logos in the closet.

imgres-1Planning outfits for the entire family is an exercise in patience and good humour. Remember that episode of Modern Family when Claire loses her mind trying to make sure everyone is picture-perfect in their all-white ensembles? You don’t need that stress. Instead, make sure everyone is in the same colour palette but not matchy-matchy. I’ve never understood the appeal of family photos where everyone is wearing jeans and a black top, or khakis and a white-button down. It looks less like a family photo and more like a greeting card from your local Walmart staff.

I love this photo. It pretty much sums up everything not to do if you want to create a timeless photo! Thanks Awkward Family Photosimgres-1.

Be Yourself!

It may sound obvious but be yourself. Take some time with the photographer and take some silly shots to help loosen up or play with your kids with the photographer snapping in the background.

Don’t be afraid of “time and place”.  The night before my family photos my middle son scratched his older brother ALL OVER HIS FACE. It looked liked poor Jack had been locked in a closet with Cujo. He still has the scars to this day. I had a Claire (from Modern Family) moment, and cried to the photographer that the pictures “were ruined” but she calmed my nerves and reminded me that photography is for capturing the now. She graciously photoshopped several of the images but she didn’t do them all, and for that I am actually grateful.

Lastly, speak up! Most photographers shoot with digital so you can preview the shots on-site. If you don’t feel good about the direction of the shoot, you need to say something. Photographers take pictures, they don’t read minds.


How to Take a Still Life with Your Phone Camera

As I mentioned in my post last week, I have been really energized by the practice of carrying my phone along on my walks and trying to capture some of what I see around me.  The fact that I give myself the task of capturing one good image from each walk means that I am looking around me more carefully, and when I see something interesting, I am then thinking about how best to frame it, capture it, translate it.

Here are some of the steps to capturing a great still life in nature.  If you are inspired to go out and take any photos after reading this, please post them and tag us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.  I’d love to see where your walks take you.

1.  Pay Attention.

What moves you?  What brings you a moment of joy?  Pay attention to your surroundings and tune into what’s important to you, what catches your eye.  What has been capturing my attention lately is colour and light.  Who can resist the bright flowers and the crisp greens of spring?  I took this picture on a really bright day, and what caught my attention was the way the leaves cast shadows on each other.



The shadows multiplied the shades of green, and highlighted that really juicy pale green of the young leaves.  I tried it from several angles and distances.

This was too close to capture the feeling of the wide bright sky:

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And this captured the blue sky but not the intensity of the bright light, and the background is too busy:

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I finally realized that I would have to get underneath the tree and shoot towards the sun from an angle only possible from the ground, so I sat down on the sidewalk and got this:

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Now I had the shot that captured what I was seeing: new leaves, green shadows, bright light, blue sky.  This was taken with my iPhone camera with no filters, and it’s pretty close to the final image that I published on Instagram.  I then edited and framed the photo in Phototoaster so that the leaves on the bottom were off centre and in sharp focus, leaving the background foliage blurry, and I made the colour more intense.  These are effects that I added after the fact with my photo editor app: Phototoaster.  I love Phototoaster.  I am not the kind of person who likes to experiment or play with technology because I don’t have the patience, but Phototoaster is the exception.  With this app, you choose a photo from your phone camera album (the original is not changed), and then you have fun and play.  You can add shading, intensify colour, blur the edges, make it black and white or sepia, choose a texture that makes it look like an oil painting or an old photo.  So many possibilities and so much fun.  Taking the picture is really only the beginning; most of the effect comes from using the photo editor.

2.  Get Close.  Really Close.  Closer!

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I lost some of the resolution by using the zoom to get so close to this tiny lilac blossom, but I still like the final effect.  Get as close as you can without using the zoom to get the best resolution, and then play with the zoom when you edit.

3. Compose.

I did not want that lilac flower to be in the centre of the square photo, so I composed the photo with it off-centre, and the eye travels from bottom left to top right with the movement of the stalks.  Figure out where you want the eye to go.  Do you want symmetry or asymmetry?  Do you want attention all in the foreground, or do you want to keep details from the background?

4. Crop.

I do all my cropping in Phototoaster so that my original is not changed.  It’s a really important step that allows you to cut out any extraneous “noise.”

5. Edit.

This is the really fun part!  I have so much fun taking a photo through different incarnations.  When I took this photo, I wanted to capture my sense that the poppies were on fire.  Something about the early morning light shining through those fragile, feathery petals looked like flame.  This is as shot:

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And then to intensify the colour I played around with focus until I got the best impression of fire that I could.  I actually had a hard time deciding between these.

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6. Frame.

It’s the final step to making your image pop.

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When There’s No Photo Opp

Exactly one week ago, I arrived home one night to find my three kids buzzing and awake way past bedtime and my husband busying himself in and around the bathroom. I immediately looked inside the clawfoot tub for the prize: three tiny kittens in a furry heap. Ooo, they were cute!  Instinctively I turned to get my camera: what a photo opp!

My husband gently took my arm before I left the bathroom.  “Carol,” he said quietly, “they warned us that the kittens may not survive.”

I didn’t get the camera. Instead, I returned to the tub and took closer look. The orphaned kittens were only 3 or 4 weeks old, far too young to be on their own. With no mother to care for and teach them, they were thin and vulnerable. They were also sick – my husband had discovered worms in their diarrhea. This was our first inkling that as newbie foster parents, perhaps we were unprepared.

Six days later, I had been to veterinary hospitals across the city as many times. The rescue organization has relationships with certain clinics and to keep costs down, these are the ones I was asked to go to.  The three kittens had: roundworm, upper respiratory infections, Calicivirus, and Giardia. At different times, two became hypoglycemic to the point of collapse and required emergency runs to the vet hospital.

In the meantime, I could not great a straight or consistent answer about the risk of contagion of the parasitic worms to my children, and continue to worry about it. I also had to explain to them that the kittens may not make it. In an attempt to contextualize the situation, I explained that sometimes orphaned animals are so sick or their lives so difficult that they can be put down. This was,how shall I say, not as helpful as I hoped it would be.

I did not decide to foster kittens on a whim. My husband and I discussed it at length, and we thought for various reasons it was a good idea. It’s humbling, I find, to make missteps even when trying to tread carefully.

I was trying my best for these little kittens, but it’s no exaggeration that yesterday when I was told to take all three to a clinic where they would stay for treatment until Saturday, I felt pretty much nothing but relief. I had devoted every moment of spare time and many moments of stolen time to these kittens for a week, and I both wanted and needed the time back. I hope when they return to us that they will be reasonably healthy.

I’ll follow this project to the end, but I don’t want to foster rescued kittens again, not now anyway. I’m not sure I even want to have a pet now, although I’ve certainly gone and put the idea more concretely than ever in my children’s minds. And I’m sure it will be a barrel of laughs when my boys watch me hand over the kittens to their permanent adoptive parents in a few weeks.

I like my camera. I love a beautiful photo. But at the moment I have no shots of the kittens, because they’d look adorable in the snap, and that’s not what this experience has been.  The little things are struggling to get off death’s doorstep, and I’ve been struggling to help them, my kids are struggling to understand, and the rescue organization is overwhelmed. Sometimes life isn’t a photo opp.

Maybe later, when the happen ending comes.  Fingers crossed.

June is Photography Month

The advice to busy people these days is to make time to unplug and to remove yourself from the constant tug of email and social media.  Mindfulness and technology, so the conventional wisdom goes, are incompatible.  Our phones have become extensions of ourselves in so many ways, but mostly they are our conduits to all the benefits and drawbacks of a technological life.  The flexibility and mobility that the smartphone allows us can quickly turn into a tether that will not release us from work or social obligations or from the twitchy need to check, check, check our social media feeds.

I heartily endorse time spent unplugged, but, ironically, not while I am exercising (one of the times in our day when we are bidden to be mindfully unplugged).  One of the ironies of my time spent on my brisk long walks is that, far from being unplugged, I am plugged in in multiple ways, and being plugged in is nothing but enriching.  I listen to my favourite podcasts, and often they will keep me walking for longer (and reaping the benefits of more exercise) because I don’t want to stop listening.  I am also constantly on the lookout for interesting things to photograph while I walk, and taking my #photofrommydailywalk for our Instagram feed has become a precious creative outlet.  I am amazed at what I can do with a phone camera.

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A dear friend recently suggested that I keep a gratitude journal as a way to counteract stress, and I have begun one, but I will often forget to write in it for a few days and have to backdate it.  I recently realized, though, that the exercise of taking, editing and selecting (just one of?!) my daily photos is a form of a gratitude journal.  I am capturing images of things that give me joy or strike me as worthy of recording, and I am editing those images in the same way I would craft a narrative of gratitude in a journal.   My #photosfrommydailywalk are also a way to be more mindful of my surroundings.  It is true that I am not hearing all the sounds of nature as I walk Toronto’s streets, parks and ravines, but I am all the more visually attentive.  I am also much more likely to stop and smell the roses–well the peonies and the lilacs lately–because I am so captivated by the challenge of how to photograph them in interesting ways.


And that’s what this month is all about.  June is photography month here at 4Mothers, and we are really excited about the posts we have coming up.  This week, we will have a round-up of gift ideas for teachers and our reviews of kids’ books we’ve loved lately.  Later in the month, we will have a week of How-To posts on all things photographic: photo crafts with kids, how to take great portraits of kids with your phone camera, how to take and edit still life photos, and more.  We will have a week of photos that illustrate words unique to our families, and to round out the month, we will be discussing The Self and The Selfie for At Issue.

Hockey Nook DIY

I am a hockey mom.  It’s not all I am, of course, but with three boys in competitive hockey it sometimes really does feel like hockey fills every nook and cranny of our lives.  I took that feeling to its literal extreme this week with this hockey DIY project, and in less than 15 minutes, I filled a tiny corner of Middlest’s room with a hockey vignette.

My project began with a trip to Blacks.  We were invited to visit the store on Yonge at Eglinton to experience their Playground for Photography, and I was inspired the minute I walked through the doors.  We were introduced to a myriad of ideas for taking photos to the next level, from pillow cases, to phone covers to bound books, but I was most captivated by the gallery wall.  Humble instagram photos really came to life grouped together and mounted on interesting surfaces.  (I will be writing about my own gallery of photos from my daily walks for our Photography Month in June!)

Blacks kindly offered us a sample of a mounted photo, and I chose one of Middlest right after he had scored a goal.  Here is the original, taken with my iPhone in less than ideal conditions through plexiglass and with him in motion.  I mention this because you really do not need to begin with a perfect photo for this to work.

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I mistakenly shot the photo with a filter on my phone camera, but it was a fortuitous mistake.  I then cropped the picture and added shading to the corners and deep focus to blur the edges with Phototoaster.

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This is the image I gave to Blacks, and I chose to mount it on a metal plate that really complimented the tone and texture of the image.  Metal wall art begins at $34.99 for an image that measures 8 x 8, which is the size that I had.

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I love the mounted image, and I was so excited to find a place to hang it.  The photo is small, but I wanted to give it pride of place, so I knew that it would have to be part of a vignette, and the wall by Middlest’s bed was the perfect spot for it.

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Books are as big a part of our lives as hockey, and they really fill every nook and cranny of this house, so it made sense to include books in the vignette, too.  I put up an invisible book shelf from Umbra to ground the vignette with a stack of hockey books.

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Then I set one of the many, many hockey trophies this boy has already collected on top of the books.  And voila!  A quick and simple project to honour the ways we fill our days (and nights, and weekends, and holidays, and….)

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