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The House of Eliott

October 9, 2014

Awhile back I wrote a post lamenting the lack of sewing-related documentaries.  In the comments of that post, you guys repeatedly recommended I check out the BBC costume drama The House of Eliott.

I looked for it on Netflix, but my search came up empty.

I looked for it on YouTube, and I got hopeful when my search produced a link to every episode. I even started dreaming of the fun I’d have hosting a “Watch Along”.  But, every single episode came up as unavailable.

I found it on Amazon, but I wasn’t ready to commit to buying it.

I ended up getting it from my local library (thanks Gina!).

I now want to pass along the recommendation to all of you.  Perhaps you’ll be able to find the episodes online.  If not, don’t forget to check your local library!

Man in Blue

October 1, 2014

Sew Well - Men's button-up shirt made from #moodfabrics

I sometimes wonder what my go-to uniform would be if I were challenged to only wear one silhouette (one week one uniform, anyone?!).  It’s an idea I’m having fun exploring these days, though I haven’t come up with any easy answers so far.  Yet, when it comes to my husband, I know what his uniform would be – a blue button-up shirt and slacks.  And, thanks to this lovely chambray blue cotton poplin from Mood Fabrics and a bit of my sewing time, my husband has yet another blue shirt to add to his daily rotation.

Sew Well - Men's button-up shirt made from #moodfabrics

I’ve made this pattern, vintage Butterick 4712, several times now.  Each time I’ve made it, I’ve tried to create a unique shirt through my choice of fabric:  linen and silk, plaid flannel, solid and striped shirting, and now poplin. This poplin fabric is definitely a favorite, both in color and in feel. It’s described as both ‘cobalt’ and ‘chambray blue’ in color, and I’d say if you thought about a mix between cobalt and chambray, you’d be pretty close to the true color of the fabric.  It’s pretty perfect for someone who likes blue, like my husband.  These photos make the fabric look a little more vibrant than it really is, despite any attempts on my end to enhance the colors.  It has a slightly softer hand than the shirting I used previously, and it doesn’t wrinkle as much as the linen either.  It was my first time sewing with cotton poplin, and everything went so smoothly that I now have my eye on several other Mood poplins (hello polka dots, nice to meet you vibrant purple, how do you do crazy floral?!).

Sew Well - Men's button-up shirt made from #moodfabrics

Also, each time I’ve made this button-up shirt pattern, I’ve had a slightly different experience.  The first couple of times it took me awhile to work my head around the instructions for the front button placket.  Now that I’ve gone through the process several times, I feel confident experimenting with ways to better hide the interfacing and finish the seams, and I’m very pleased with the results here.

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns though.  One little hiccup came with the pocket.  My husband had asked for one pocket on the front left, which was easy enough to agree to make happen.  Since things seemed to be on the up-and-up after the positive placket experience, I decided to step up my pocket game.  After looking at a few of his ready-to-wear shirts and seeing that many of them had pockets with nice, soft, rounded corners, I set out to make a similar style pocket.  I made myself a little template, cut out my fabric, and tried to man handle the rounded corners into submission.  But, it just wasn’t working.  I even tried to see whether gathering the seam allowances using a basting stitch would help.  In the end I gave up, cut off the offending round corners, turned in the now straight edges, and called it a day.  Later I had wondered if starch could have helped.  Any tips out there for getting those neat rounded corners?

Sew Well - Men's button-up shirt made from #moodfabrics

Everything else went pretty smoothly.  I still remember how puzzled I was the first time I sewed together a collar and collar stand.  I was following Peter of Male Pattern BoldnessMen’s Shirt Sew-Along so I was already having my hand held at the time, but I still had to sit down with the instructions and go slowly step-by-step to make sure I understood the process. Now that I’ve gone through the process several times, it’s fun to experiment, try changing up the order of the steps (inspired by Andrea of Four Square Wall‘s tutorial), and trust that I’ll still get great results.

Sew Well - Men's button-up shirt made from #moodfabrics

I used the burrito method to get a nice finish to my yoke, and I used my stitch-in-the-ditch foot with my needle slightly off-center to get nice, even edge stitching.

Sew Well - Men's button-up shirt made from #moodfabrics

The sleeve plackets came together well, too.  Or, so I thought until seeing in these photos that this placket’s peak might be slightly off center.  Good thing no one’s grading this shirt for perfection!  My husband isn’t one to care about little things like that, and he certainly hasn’t said anything about the placket peak placement!

Navy buttons and a neatly turned hem complete the shirt.  Speaking of hems, that’s another spot where I’ve tried different methods to see how to best get nice, neat results around all those curves.  I’ve tried folding up a quarter inch twice; serging and then either folding up once or twice (using the serging as a guide to get a nice, even fold); and using bias binding as a hem facing.  I’m curious what other methods for hemming a shirt are out there?  What is your go-to method?

Sew Well - Men's button-up shirt made from #moodfabrics

Finally, it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve made a pattern, I’m still pretty much guaranteed to learn something new with every make.  This time around the lesson was about pre-washing cotton.  I only pre-washed this 100% cotton fabric once, and since it’s now been worn many, many times since it was first finished (see what I’m saying about his ‘uniform’ – he likes blue shirts!) and, thus, washed many, many times since that first pre-washing, it’s now noticeably smaller, particularly in the length.  It still fits, and he can easily roll up the sleeves whenever the missing length starts to bug him, so it’s not a big deal, but in the future I plan to pre-wash my 100% cotton fabrics at least three times before I cut into them.

What about you – what are your big take homes on making shirts, wearing uniforms, or pre-washing cottons?  Any good tips out there?!

This post can also be found on Mood Sewing Network. I used my MSN allowance towards the purchase of the fabric.

Also, since I still think of this blog as a sewing diary of sorts, I’ll confess to having made this shirt last fall in a pregnancy sewing frenzy. I miss those days of sewing freedom, but I also wouldn’t trade my time with baby girl for anything right now.

Photography: Composition

September 19, 2014

Sew Well - Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs. - Review

Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs.  Awesome title, right?!

I’ve been meaning to write one more post in the SOS Photography series, but it’s been a busy month with my parents in town.  Not only have we been tackling projects like reupholstering an ottoman, but we’ve also been making headway on our kitchen renovation.  It’s been busy, but fun…  and dusty.

In the previous weeks I’d talked a bit about smilinglighting, gear, and posing.  In this final post (at least final for now!) I wanted to talk a bit about photo composition.  Much of the time sewing blogging photos are just going to be a fairly simple composition – basically, a person in a new, handmade garment standing in front of a background.  But, that doesn’t mean we can’t try to liven that up a bit if we want.

When I started this series, I lamented having all of my photography books still packed in boxes in the basement.  Laurence King Publishing reached out and asked if I’d like to review a copy of Read This If You Want to Take Great Photographs. by Henry Carroll.  With a title like that, yes please!

The book showed up the week I was planning on writing about posing, and as I read through it that week, it didn’t take me long to wish I’d had it at the beginning of the series, not the end!  This book has sections on light and lenses, two of the topics I’d covered in previous weeks, as well as sections on composition, exposure, and seeing.

The book starts off with Carroll imploring the reader to “start by ignoring everything” – particularly everything that seems complicated about your camera – and focus on the fact that your camera is really just “a box with a hole in it”.  Carroll goes on to say that after reading through this book “you’ll see that taking great pictures is less about technical knowhow and much more about mastering that most valuable piece of kit – your eyes.”  A valuable piece of advice for those of us who are afraid of our cameras.  Following the introduction the book segues into the section on composition.  Since Carroll decided to put composition first and foremost, I figured I’d feature it in today’s post.

Sew Well - Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs. - Review

Within the section on composition there are many individual lessons, each of which is given a page of text and a companion photograph demonstrating the lesson in action.  The lessons include…

  • leading lines
  • landscape or portrait
  • framing
  • foreground interest
  • getting close
  • symmetry
  • the rule of thirds
  • working the frame
  • visual weight
  • breaking the rules

You’ve got to love that last one, right?  As is always with these things, there really are no hard and fast rules, just guidelines.  And, a great photograph can still be taken even when ignoring all the guidelines!

Okay, so while most of you are probably not striving to take a photograph for the ages, Carroll’s tips on composition can enhance basic sewing blogging photography as well.  Let’s take “leading lines” for example.  If you wanted to show off a certain feature of a garment, say a neckline for example, you could touch it with your hand.  The line of your arm will visually lead your reader to that feature.

While this photograph of mine isn’t going to win any awards, it’s hard to miss the silk on the underside of my husband’s collar.  This photo also uses “the rule of thirds”.  While my husband’s collar is in the center of the frame, his face is at the one-third mark.

Landscape or portrait is all about how you take the photo – horizontal or vertical.  Carroll says, “Horizontal pictures (or landscape format) encourage our eyes to move from side to side.  Vertical pictures (or portrait format) make them move up and down.”  Now, I bet we can all agree that we typically want our reader to move their eyes up and down when they’re looking at full body shots of us, right?  Vertical format pictures are called “portrait” after all!  So, think about that next time you’re setting up your camera and tripod.  Tip the camera vertically when you’re trying to capture a Sartorialist-esque photo of you in your new garment.  But, don’t necessarily take all of your photos that way!  Sometimes you might want to encourage your readers to look from side to side.

We all love detail shots, right?  Well, that’s basically what “getting close” is all about.  Make your new dress fill the frame.  Carroll suggests you try to get close when you take the image, instead of just cropping it later, so that you really get the feeling your going after.

The rest of the book is pretty great, too.  Shutter speed (movement), aperture (focus), ISO (sensitivity), and exposure compensation are all explained in an easy to understand way on a handy diagram as well as in detail in the text. I also love the section on “seeing”.  Carroll definitely seems to suggest that sometimes you’ll need to take a bunch of photographs, constantly tweaking each one as you go, before you’ll find the right one.  I can relate when it comes to the number of photos I take versus the number I actually use to show off a finished garment!

If you’re interested at all in furthering your photography, I would highly recommend this book.  It breaks down a really complex topic in a very approachable way, with a lot of great photographic examples throughout.  Win-win!

Okay, so that’s a wrap on this SOS Photography series.  Hopefully you’ve learned a thing or two.  I know I have!  If you’d like to add your own go-to tips on composition (or anything really!), please let us all know.  Or, if you have questions about photography (or anything really!), ask away!  It can be fodder for future series!

The Making of a Gold Zebra Ottoman

September 12, 2014

Yes, you read that right – a gold zebra ottoman!

Sew Well - Ottoman reupholstery project with Mood Fabrics

This month I have an extra MSN project to share – a home dec project in celebration of Mood Fabric’s new space dedicated to home dec fabrics.  If you live in or near the NYC area, hopefully you’ve already had a chance to pop in and see it in its full glory.  Sadly, since I live 3000 miles away, I’ve only been to Mood’s online home dec shop.  The online store is pretty impressive on its own though with thousands of fabrics to choose from.

When Mood approached me about doing a home dec project, my only hesitation was time.  I have very little of it these days!  But, my little family and I recently bought our very first home, and I knew our old, hand-me-down, slip-covered furniture could use a little sprucing up to aid in our transition from students living-in-the-cheapest-apartment-possible to home owners.  I figured it couldn’t hurt to try to recover our ottoman at the very least.

Sew Well - Ottoman reupholstery project with Mood Fabrics

I’ll admit I was a wee bit overwhelmed trying to play decorator.  All of our slip covers are beige.  All of the walls in our new house are a dark beige-y neutral as well.  For the ottoman I wanted to pick a fun fabric that would make a statement while not being too over the top by itself in the sea of beige.  I also was hoping to find a fabric that would grow with our family as we continue to decorate.  While a solid seemed the easiest choice, after years and years of solid-colored slip covers, I really wanted to try some sort of print.  I started paying attention to ottomans in magazines and online, and I started noticing pops of zebra here and there.  Crazy, right?  We’re pretty much a household of vegetarians, so going full-on black-and-white zebra pelt felt a little bit much for us, but a crazy mythical zebra print?  Sure, why not?!  After lots of hemming and hawing, I ended up choosing a gold zebra print brocade.  It calls itself ‘dijon’, but it’s hard to deny its gold bling when you see it in person.

Sew Well - Ottoman reupholstery project with Mood Fabrics

I used the Upholstery Basics book from the Singer Sewing Reference Library to guide me through the process of reupholstering.  All in all, it was much easier that I expected.  It was so easy that I’m now dreaming of recovering the wing backs…  It’s all just stretching fabric and using a staple gun!  The only time I had to turn on my sewing machine or make precise fabric cuts was for the piping!

First I took a bit of time to spruce up the legs.  A screw needed replacing and some of the stain needed touching up.  My dad is in town, and he used a furniture scratch remover marker to get rid of all the blemishes that had developed over the years.

Sew Well - Ottoman reupholstery project with Mood Fabrics

Next we had to remove what felt like a million staples.  First up was a layer of cambric that was stapled at approximately one inch intervals around the entire bottom edge of the ottoman.  Then there was a tack strip, then piping, and finally the main upholstery fabric – again, all staped at one inch intervals.  Once I freed each piece, I set it aside I could so that I could eventually reuse it. If I’d been planning to recover the ottoman exactly as it was, then I could have also saved the old fabric to use as a pattern.  But, I wanted to do away with the pillow top look, so only the piping could be saved.

Sew Well - Ottoman reupholstery project with Mood Fabrics

The original ottoman cushion was made of two pieces since the top was actually a separate pillow piece.  To transform it into a single piece, I stretched an extra layer of batting over both pieces and stapled it down to the sides.  I hope the tightly stretched batting will help the separate top pillow piece stay put.  From what I could gather from the upholstery book, cushions are typically glued to the base of this sort of ottoman, but glue was too committal for me at the time since I was still uncertain how well the resulting ottoman would turn out.

Sew Well - Ottoman reupholstery project with Mood Fabrics

Next up was stapling, stapling, stapling.  I’d borrowed my brother’s electric staple gun, and it took me a few tries before I got even a single successful staple.  I used hundreds of staples in this project – many of which are now in the trash, not in the ottoman!  To cover the ottoman, I stretched the fabric across the ottoman and staple basted (Yes! The instructions are to staple baste – same idea as in sewing!) once in the center of each of the four sides.  Then I pulled out the staple from one of the sides, pulled the fabric really taut, stapled again in the center, and then stapled towards one of the legs at approximately one-inch intervals until I got around three inches from the leg, all the while continuing to pull the fabric taut.  I then stapled from the center to the other leg.  This process was repeated for the opposite side, and then finally for each of the remaining two sides.

Sew Well - Ottoman reupholstery project with Mood Fabrics

The corners were a bit trickier.  Loosely following an example in the upholstery book, I decided to fold out the excess fabric, tuck it neatly inside the pleat, and then staple it in place.

Sew Well - Ottoman reupholstery project with Mood Fabrics

Everything was neatened with a bit of piping around the bottom edge.  To get around the leg, I carefully cut off the seam allowance and stretched it around to the other side.  The only thing holding it in place are the staples on either side of the leg!  Just like the main fabric, the piping was also stapled at approximately one-inch intervals.

The upholstery book actually suggested just butting the two ends of the piping together after folding the fabric in a bit to cover up the raw edges. I had assumed it would be a lot more complicated, but who am I to argue?! Reusing the tack strip was probably a bit silly since that stuff is pretty cheap, but I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I wasn’t stopping for another trip to the store!

Sew Well - Ottoman reupholstery project with Mood Fabrics

Finally, with a few more staples to put the cambric back in place, the ottoman was finished!

Sew Well - Ottoman reupholstery project with Mood Fabrics

I’m still debating whether it needs a row of upholstery tacks along the bottom, just above the piping.  But, since those will leave holes in the fabric, I’m trying out the ottoman without them for now.

Sew Well - Ottoman reupholstery project with Mood Fabrics

I think the gold zebra is pretty fun.  It makes a statement without being too shocking against the beige.  And, while I hope this fabric will in fact continue to blend nicely as we decorate our new house, if it doesn’t, I’ve now learned that reupholstering is no big deal.  How about you – would you ever consider reupholstering to bring a bit of new life into an old piece of furniture?

Sew Well - Ottoman reupholstery project with Mood Fabrics

This post can also be found on Mood Sewing Network. I used my MSN allowance towards the purchase of the fabric.

Photography: Posing for the Camera

August 29, 2014

What a great month for me to run an SOS Photography series.  It seems photography has been on so many others’ minds as well!  I mentioned Jenny of Cashmerette‘s tips earlier in this series, and then this week I’ve seen posts from Oonabaloona suggesting we have fun and get low with our shots and Heather Lou of Closet Case Files dishing on how to edit and format photos for our blogs.  There was even a recent post on A Beautiful Mess that shared many, many tips for taking photos.  I also really enjoyed this other recent post of their’s on Emma’s food photography journey over the years.  It’s refreshing to hear that she didn’t just start out knowing what to do – she had to make a conscious effort to work on her skills.  We’ll all get there with our sewing blog photography, right?!

Sew Well - Shingle Dress

Okay, so far the photography-related topics I’ve covered include smiling, lighting, and gear. Today I wanted to talk about posing for the camera.  Unfortunately, since I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing, I am far from qualified to suggest what we all should be doing!  But, that’s what these SOS posts are all about.  Identifying something I don’t know much about, and then putting in the research to learn more.  Since my books are still packed away, I figured I’d instead point you to blog posts from others in the know.

Rebecca of Cup + Penny spent the summer modeling for Zulily, and they taught her quite a few tips on posing, which she summarized here (in a companion post she wrote what she learned about styling a photo shoot here).  I picked the photo above since I think it captures a few of her pointers:  look at the light source; don’t forget to smile; one hand on hip, the other hanging; asymmetry with my hips; etc.  Check out her post if you want to read more!

Rachel of House of Pinheiro posted a fifteen minute vlog dedicated to her thoughts on posing. If you check out the date, you’ll see she posted it over a year ago, but it left such an impression on me that I still remember it.

In the comments of my post earlier this week on body shape flattery, Angela of Collected Yarns directed me to Imogene of Inside Out Style.  When I was searching around the new-to-me style blog, I found a post Imogene wrote on her six posing pointers:  gaps are good for making you look narrower, angles make for good composition (Cashmerette suggests the same), whatever’s closest to the camera will look biggest, knowing your best side can help downplay asymmetries, stretching the neck out minimizes double chins, and the trick to touching your face in a photo is to only lightly touch it.

(Also, as a total aside, Imogene’s body shape classifications include both an H and an I.  While I would have guessed they were fairly similar types, I found it very interesting that she suggests very different types of clothes for both.  So, now I’m left wondering – which am I?  An H or an I?)

All of the photography for Rochelle of Lucky Lucille seems very well planned.  Here she writes about how she tries to tell a story in her photos by taking advantage of props and location.  She even uses a stand in to help explain to her photographer how to capture just the right image.  My take home here is that Rochelle spends time thinking about how to best show off her outfit before even setting up the camera, which includes thinking about different ways that she’ll pose.

Carolyn from Allspice Abounds has also shared her photography tips here, which are specifically geared to sewing blogging photography.  She asks us to show our “garment from all angles”, let our “garment be the focus”, make our photos big (Closet Case Files suggests the same), “capture the details”, and edit to “overcome challenges” like capturing a dark fabric.  Most of these aren’t really about posing, but I liked how they bring the topic back to reality.  We can contort ourselves into all kinds of crazy angles while holding all kinds of crazy props, but it does help if we make sure our focus is on our newly sewn garment.

After rereading all of these tips for this post, I’ve decided that before I shoot my next finished garment I’ll spend five minutes in front of a full-length mirror thinking about how to best show off the garment while trying out wild body angles and silly faces.  If I find one or two things that work, I’ll try to reproduce them for the camera.  We’ll see how the experiment goes!  I’m sure at least my husband will get a kick out of it!

Pondering Body Shape Flattery

August 27, 2014

Sew Well - Pondering Body Shape Flattery

Do you ever pay attention to those little shapes on the back of Vogue patterns that denote which body shapes a pattern will best flatter?  I consider myself to be of the rectangle/tube/athletic/straight/H/column/whatever-you-want-to-call-it-if-you-don’t-have-much-of-a-defined-waist shape, and I swear that little rectangle is so hard to find.  And, many of the Vogue patterns I have found that have the little rectangle in the third box down also have all of the other shapes in their respective boxes, which I have begun to realize is actually an indication that the pattern is more of the shape-less variety rather than the magical, truly-flatter-all-shapes variety.

What’s your opinion on the whole body-shape figure-flattery thing?

I’ve been thinking more about it for the past year (it was one of my 2014 resewlutions), and I have particularly tried to be more conscious of it in my sewing this year as my body has (mostly) come back into its own after giving birth.

Sew Well Mariska Skirt

My ruffle-bottom Mariska skirt was in part due to a Pinterest pin that I found awhile back similar to this one that had “printed ruffle” skirts in their list of “best skirts for a rectangle shape”.  Mine was much less pencil-y than the example – maybe a BHL Charlotte would have been a better place to start?

Sew Well - StyleArc Dotty in #MoodFabrics silk crepe de chine

Likewise with all of the loose wrap tops (Dotty blouse, Yaletown dress) I’ve been sewing this summer (example pin here).  I’m going to have to try the Dotty again without the over-zealous top stitching and with a fabric that wrinkles a bit less!

Anyway, I’ve got a long way to go before I can naturally spot something that’s ideal for my shape, but I’m hoping that by being a bit more conscious about what I know already works for me and experimenting with what I can glean from others on the inter webs, I’ll end up being able to focus my limited sewing time on garments that I’ll reach for and feel great in every day.

By the way, is there a way to search by shape when you’re looking through the Vogue Patterns site?  And, are there other pattern companies that promote the same sort of shape-flattery system (besides, of course, the indies that are targeted to one particular type, like Sewaholic)?

Photography: Camera Gear

August 22, 2014

Sew Well - Photography - Fancy Gear - Camera Remote

If I’m going to do an SOS series on photography, it’s hard not to talk about the behind-the-scenes gear.  We can try to have more fun in the right lighting when we take our blog photos, but we have to take them with something.  The camera gear you use is a matter of both budget and preference.  I can’t tell you what you should use, only what I choose to use and why.

First off, to take photos you have to have a camera, and the range out there is huge.  Thankfully, prices are coming down, and it seems like pretty nice cameras are being integrated into cell phones and other small portable devices these days, so it’s fairly easy to get your hands on something that will work.

I use a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, which is a fairly pricey full-frame DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera.  Canon now makes a Mark III version, so my camera is already “old”, despite not having lost too much of its price tag.

Why did I choose this camera?  First, it’s a Canon.  I don’t really have any brand loyalty or preferences, but back in high school when I was really into photography, I was given a Canon Rebel SLR and a couple of lenses.  I still have those lenses, and they work perfectly with this camera.  Also, my dad gave me a bunch of his old Nikon lenses (the real deal from back before there was auto-focus!), and I can also use them on this camera thanks to this little Nikon-to-Canon adaptor. So, in my case this particular camera came with a bunch of lenses!

Second, it’s full frame.  All my photography books are still packed away so I can’t quote specifics, but my take on what full-frame means is that the digital sensor inside the camera takes full advantage of the lens, and, honestly, the lens is what it’s all about.  I’ve heard that a 50 mm lens comes closest to capturing a scene exactly as our eyes see it.  Any lens with a lower value (such as a 35 mm lens) will zoom out from the scene (which is why they’re often used in landscape photography), and any lens with a higher value (such as a 100 mm lens) will zoom in on the scene (which is why they’re often used for close up, macro photography).  A 50 mm lens is a 50 mm lens on a full-frame camera.  If a camera is not full frame, then its smaller sensor means a 50 mm lens is effectively a 75 mm lens or so.  It’s zoomed in a bit on the scene since the smaller sensor can’t quite capture everything that the lens sees.  Not really a big deal, but it was something that pushed us into the higher price range.  My husband and I enjoy taking pictures of everything, not just blog things, so we figured having a nice camera would be useful to both of us.  We actually bought our camera before I started a sewing blog!  We’d just gotten married and knew a trip to the Alps was in our future, and we wanted to be able to take those seriously wide-angle zoomed-out landscape photos that are only really possible with a full-frame camera.

If my husband and I weren’t into taking fancy photos, then I don’t think we could have justified getting the full-frame camera. There are lots of crop-frame cameras out there with much, much, much lower price tags that work just as well.  Especially with the right lenses!

Speaking of lenses, my three indispensable add-ons to the camera are a 50 mm f/1.8 lens, a tripod, and a remote (the latter is capturing baby girl’s attention in the above photo).  My husband and I debated about whether the fancier 50 mm f/1.4 lens was worth it, but we figured the number of times we’d take advantage of the greater aperture range was pretty small compared to the price jump. Basically, the lower the f number, the wider the aperture – the iris of the lens – can open.  So, an f/1.4 lens can open really wide since it can go all the way down to 1.4, while an f/1.8 lens can only go down to 1.8.  That said, 1.8 is still a really wide open aperture!  And, in turn, the wider the aperture, the more light a lens can let in.  If you’re taking photos in really, really low light, then an f/1.4 lens is fantastic.

Also, specifically for bloggy blog photos, the wider the aperture, the smaller the focal depth, meaning the fuzzier everything except exactly what you’re focusing on will be. Taking photos at a lower f number will make you really pop from your background in your blog photos since you’ll be sharply in focus but the background will be blurry and out of focus.  But, you can go too far.  There have been times when my garment was in focus but my face was out of focus because the focal depth was too small to capture both. I once asked a professional model photographer what his favorite f setting was, and he said that if he had to set his camera at a fixed aperture, he’d use f/2.8. Now, I don’t know for certain whether all photographers think that, but I do know that I can easily reach f/2.8 with my cheaper lens!  The f/1.8 lens is pretty much all plastic though, and we’ve already had to replace it once in our four years of owning the camera.  But, two of those lenses are still half the price of one of the f/1.4 lenses!

If you already have a crop-frame camera and you want to invest in a fancy lens, you might consider thinking about a 35 mm lens with a low f.  The crop frame turns the 35 mm lens into what is essentially a 50 mm lens.  Actually, I just looked at the price for the Canon 35 mm f/2 lens, and I might reconsider my advice and actually suggest still sticking with the (albeit plastic) 50 mm f/1.8 instead!

As for the remote, I can’t imagine taking blog photos by myself without it.  But, I’ve never had to try anything else since I bought the remote early on, mostly because I wanted to make sure there were photos of my husband and me together when we were on vacation. The remote has a permanent home in a tiny little case on my camera strap, so it’s always there when we need it. Mine cost around $20, but there are now knock offs out there for under $10!  If you don’t have a Canon, there still might be a remote out there that will work for your camera. There are also apps that turn your smart phone into a camera remote!  Crazy, right?!

What would I have chosen if none of those things were considerations?  Honestly, probably a Sony NEX-6, which is essentially a point-and-shoot camera with fancy lenses.  My brother has the older NEX-5, and it takes great photos without the heft, massive size, or complexity of a DSLR. The NEX-6 won’t break your budget quite as much, coming in at a mere $500, and you can get a remote for it as well!  The downside is that you still have to buy another lens if you want 50 mm f/1.8 capabilities.

Okay, so that is well more than my two cents!  I’m curious what you use and how well you think it works for you.

Also of note, Jenny of Cashmerette posted her tips for getting great blog photos on her blog this week.  Go check them out!


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