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Photography- Keep it simple.

There was a time  a couple years ago when I was contacted by a
magazine publisher in Europe who was interested in using one of my photos 
in one of their magazines.

First-  I almost fell over- because I couldn't believe it.
But Once I took a few moments to chill - I found the photo and sent it and
waited with my fingers crossed that they liked it.
there was the uh-oh
that changed the whole course of what happened next.

The photo wasn't hi-res... 
it was grainy and not exposed correctly
and why was it so small? 
Unfortunately, the magazine couldn't print it.
I was crushed.

But then I kept reading that email
 and instead of running the photo in their pages,
they wanted to send a photographer to shoot a story about our home
and they asked me to be the photo stylist to work with him.

I explained that I wasn't a photo stylist. I was a blogger.
I knew nothing about setting things up for a photo.
She said of course you do- just do what you always do for your blog.

So, I quietly agreed.
Major amounts of performance anxiety ensued and the photo shoot happened
and that grainy iPhone photo led to my little old cottage dining room
 blushing away on the cover of 2 magazines in Europe.

So in this case- it was a blessing that my photo was not up to par
because that would not have happened if it was.
And something else was a blessing that came from that experience as well.

I have had so many of you email me or stop me recently to ask for advice on photography,
working in print or how to get your photos and home published, etc.
And when I shared about the right lens a few months back and about my new tripod-
so many thank you notes.
So sharing a bit more.

First up-my big disclaimer

 I am not a technical photographer.
I would have a hard time explaining things to you
but I could show you if that makes sense.
That is really how I have always worked.

I had several people help me when I first started taking photos with a bigger camera
and they were awesome at explaining a few key things to me.
So I thought I would share what taught me how to fish so to speak.

The magazine publisher took the time to email me and to explain camera settings
 in non technical lingo to help me understand how it works.
So that the next time a magazine came calling- 
I would have photos that would work perfectly for print.

At the time, I was using my newly purchased 
Canon Rebel in the regular 
it does everything for you mode. 
I figured it was the best- the camera knew what it was doing right?
First mistake.
He explained setting the camera to M- which is manual mode. 
That allows you  much more control over what the camera does
and tells the camera just how you want your photo to look.

Then he talked about ISO and how the lower the ISO setting
the more clear the photo when it is larger- the larger works for certain
 settings but not so great for print.

Next was adjusting the amount of focus and light that you want.
And he talked about that little thing called f-stop.

This is what you might find when you google F-stop.

f/1 = \frac{f/1}{(\sqrt{2})^0} f/1.4 = \frac{f/1}{(\sqrt{2})^1} f/2 =  \frac{f/1}{(\sqrt{2})^2} f/2.8 =  \frac{f/1}{(\sqrt{2})^3}  ...

Uh. NO. Stop.
Depth of field vs Ratios = Mathematical equations. 
My head spins just looking at that.

I needed someone to speak to me in non-technical, easy to understand, lingo.
I didn't want to do math-or have to decipher crazy calculations
 I just wanted to take photos.

And he said something simple.

 "Think of a table with flowers on it - 
you focus the camera on the flowers 
and if you set your camera to  4 
the flowers are crisp and the room behind it is blurred. 

At 12, 
the flowers are crisp and more of the room behind it is in focus

At 22,
the whole room and small details are in focus."

I felt like a flood of I can do that filled me.
Having never taken a class or read a book on photography
that simple advice changed how I worked my camera and how I took photos.

So back to that first foot in the door photo.
What was the photo that was THE one that opened that door?
This, my friends,
is the photo of peonies on my dining room table
 that the publisher loved.

And you know what the best thing is about that photo?
The quote on the chalkboard.
It is the quote that I have at the bottom of my About Me page as well.

"The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. 
The oak sleeps in the acorn; the bird waits in the egg;
 and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs.
Dreams are the seedlings of realities."

James Allen

Because, being published in a magazine was a dream of mine for a long time
before I even started this blog and I know it is for so many of you.
It was certainly not something that I imagined would happen because
of a quick iphone photo of peonies-
but it did.

So I want to encourage you to plant those seeds whatever they are about.
You just never know
what will open that next amazing door.


An on another note-
I am going to be sharing a few different than usual type posts soon.
A wee bit nervous- but to be honest, it has been on my mind for awhile.
So, they need to come out.
Oh and they have to do with Winnie the Pooh
so really- how could they not be fun?


Oh and one more thing.
I am giving away 5 copies of The Cottage Journal
European Homes & Style issue
which might include a little feature of mine.

Entering is easy- just click over to Instagram
and Follow French Country Cottage and The Cottage Journal.
and leave me a comment on instagram.

That's it!

Happy Wednesday everyone.

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  1. Courtney, your styling and your photos are always so beautiful and your explanation was great! Thank you!
    love and blessings~
    Lynda @ Gates of Crystal

    1. Thank you so much Lynda! I appreciate you stopping by and saying hello! :)

  2. Your eye for styling is first class! On another note can you share the maker and pattern name for the flatware in the photo?

    1. Thank you Priscilla! Sure- it is Godinger Baroque in silver.

  3. Your photos are always amazing. I yearn to take pictures like that. I need to take the camera off auto. Thanks for the notes on the f stop. I never understood it before.

  4. Thank you for this post, Courtney! You inspired me last year to begin my little blog, French Ethereal. My son helped me get out of the manual mode and into "playing with the light," as I think of it. Amazing things can happen when changing the ISO and the F-stop... :) Now, I don't even think about it.

    If I don't get the shot I like, I play some more until "it works." Thanks again for always being real!!!
    Barb :)

    1. That is so neat Barbara! Thank you for telling me and congratulations on your blog! And yes, playing with settings is half the fun! :)

  5. This is such valuable information for me, with my Canon Rebel. I took a one night intro to photography course a couple of years ago and the guy just rattled off enough information to make my head spin, without any hands-on demonstration. Your post is definitely the encouragement I need to get my camera back out, as I hope to be blogging much more in the future. Thanks!

    1. I hear you! Sometimes when someone understands how to do something- they speak to you like everyone understands how to do it and it goes right over your head. Glad I could help Robin! :)

  6. You take lovely photos, Courtney and I love dreams do come true stories! You give me hope to keep working on my own. Looking forward to Pooh! ;)

  7. I love this post! That is all.

  8. Wonderful post, Courtney! I'm thrilled for you that your home was featured. The fact that it was featured in an international magazine is very impressive. Your style is admired far and wide!
    Would love to have a copy of that magazine with your feature. I'll head over now.

  9. Love, love, love this post Courtney....I am learning my camera via "You Tube" I am a visual person and the manual drives me crazy with the "equations"....and I love "Pooh" looking forward to what you have in store for us!

  10. What wonderful words ..soulful

  11. Wow, I am speechless! Well, not reeaallly speechless but wow. I feel exactly the same way about photography! I am not a math person (English major in college) and I've always felt that photography was really about math. Some people think I'm crazy when I say that but you get it! I've taken two full-on photography classes and all I wanted was for the guy to say what that guy said to you! Thank you! And yes, your photos are always gorgeous. I always wonder how you get it to look so bright without making things looked washed out. It's something I've always wondered about...anyway, thank you so much for that little photography tidbit!

  12. Hej Courtney,
    i like the photos and the meaning, the *soul* of them... not everbody can see with their eyes what you can see ;)
    btw the inspiration that i ll found here is amazing!
    thx for sharing this wonderfull post`s

    in my country we loved this fab magazine. and they will do right, if anyone has been in this magazine, than your wonderfull paeonies picture :v

    hope to see more... nice wishes from the North Coast of Germany, Silvi

  13. It is your talent and your "eye" that makes the photos as beautiful as they are. I have been studying photography and technique and they say a good photographer can take a point and shoot and make art. I believe you are of that category. I'm heading over to Instagram. :-)

  14. Hi My dear,
    First of all you are the sweetest person. I love that you did this post. I use my canon rebel and adore it but yes F stop and iso and settings make me crazy. The manual weighs a ton and I couldn't have enough chocolate or coffee that would make me want to read it and figure it out so I alwasy take photos with a hope and a prayer. So I'm actually cutting and pasting certain parts of your post on my desk top to remember always. I wish to congratualte you Courtney, you are so gifted and talented and yes your dream is coming true and I am so happy for you. As much as we love bloggin and it begins as a hobby, each blog takes shape and becomes a vessel, a way to communicate, to vent and to create. Each one has a different meaning for each of us. And for lack of a better word they become our platforms in a way to be heard or to make an indentation in this vast planet of ours.
    The second thing about this post for me is that it came at the most perfect time. I had received another rejection from an agent that really discouraged me. This post gave me energy again to continue my quest for the right literary agent. I am a published writer of The Shoebox but I did that with a self pub agency so my second book I am looking for a more traditional way of getting published as I work on my third. So thanks for the inspiration, class and always magical journey through your stunning photography. God bless.

  15. Also would love a copy of the cottage journal so add me to the drawing please.
    Thank you so much and Congrats again.

  16. Thank you Courtney! You are such an inspiration! I use a Nikon 5200 and love it! Though I'm still getting use to it it's fairly new.
    I'm trying to get my blog noticed. I started it about 3 years ago only posting now and then. The past year I've stepped it up and have been working on it non stop. It seems like a long and winding road...though I hope it starts to work soon. It's a lot of money and time involved with no returns...a least not yet! Thank you for your creative example and honesty! ;)

  17. What a great story! I love how serendipity can play such a strong part in people's success. Using a camera is nothing magical - it is totally mechanical - the big part is learning the exposure triangle - once you get that it is easy. The magic of a good photo is the creative person behind it. I think you have the creativity to make a good photo, just at the point where your house was featured in the magazine, you didn't have the technical ability. A photo that is technically great can be incredibly boring - you need creative ideas to make it great!

  18. Great tips. I have a Nikon which I love but have s difficult time understanding the settings. I will put your tips to good use. I have always admired your photography. It is perfection.

    Thank you for this post.


  19. Some great advice here, told in a way that is actually comprehensible for those of us who are deaf to numbers. Thank you!

  20. Thanks for the great photography tips. I'm inspired by your lovely photos every time I visit.

  21. Thanks for the f stop ans ISO tips. I always love your photos, and the peonies were beautiful as always.
    Thank you for sharing your story and the encouragement it spoke to my heart. Thank you.
    Be blessed

  22. I found your blog just today and I am delighted! When I get home this evening I'm going to write that quote on our own chalkboard and plant the seeds of inspiration in my children. So glad that you have an Instagram for me to follow.

  23. Congratulations! It looks like you have learned a lot about photography on your own. Your photos look great :-) Of course, your house looks great too :-D

  24. Thank You for the post, I was looking for the post for a long time.visit here now

  25. Courtney,
    It was so fun to find your article in the German Maison Chic Magazine my daughter sent me! I felt like, "HEY, LOOK!! That's my Blogfriends house!!!!"
    Such fun! you do a beautiful job! your blog has grown and changed and evolved and you ARE a photographer NOW!!!
    Beautiful work, my dear!