Trying New Photography Techniques in the Downtime

By Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman / 12.27.14


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


Whether you are a full-time/part-time photographer running a business or a photo enthusiast/hobbyist, there comes a time during the year where we all experience downtime.

Personally, I take off the month of December each year to recover from Fall shooting madness, regroup on my business and plan for the year ahead.

It’s also this time I do one of my most treasured things: embrace the downtime for new photography techniques.

I prepare all year to do this so I can spread my creative wings and recharge before the strike of the New Year. Here’s my 4 suggestions to cycle through during your next downtime:


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

Prepare for it.

I have a folder in my browser bar called to read/do. All year when I see interesting articles about a certain technique, or something that makes me want to look into it more, I drag and drop. Even new artists I discover that can be inspiring to look at- anything and everything that interest me.

In an effort to stay focused during the year, it gives me solace to know that folder is waiting for me when I have time to delve in with a good cup of tea and focus on it, versus getting distracted and off track trying to read all about it that instant.

From there I try out new techniques or put into play the tidbits of advice I don’t have time to reflect on during the year.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

Rent new lenses.

There is nothing more ’fun’ than new gear for a photographer. Nothing. Like ‘I’m getting a delivery and I’m not leaving this house for anything’ kind of fun.

I’m a true believer in trying gear before spending your hard earned money on it, so it gives you a chance to try out that funky fish eye or macro lens and decide if you love it or it’s a one shot deal.

Do you shoot with zoom lenses all year? Try your hand at a super wide prime.

Have a fun trip coming up? A fisheye can lend itself to some really cool abstract moments.

Want to explore life close-up? A macro should certainly be on the rental list.

Without any ‘pressures’ of producing, these lenses/camera bodies/lights are a true way to speed your creative wings and perhaps add some more gear to the arsenal.

Personally I rent from They rock.


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

Focus on a personal project.

At the start of the New Year I pick a personal project to do throughout the year, but there’s no reason why a short term personal project wouldn’t work fab too!

Personal projects are limitless and can and should be born out of something that interests you or is a passion of yours: maybe you love dance? A day in the life of a ballet dancer could be an amazing personal project to take on. Like the rawness of street photography? Hit the streets and film your neighborhood or venture out to the nearest urban city.

When you work on a personal project you not only feed your own creative soul, but you expand and push yourself technically and mentally. It’s as rewarding as you are going to get!


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014

Shoot film.

This past year I dusted off an old film camera, took an intensive workshop and learned to appreciate the art of film once again. Dependent upon your age, you may have grown up with a film camera. Film cameras are an excellent way to go back to photography’s roots. I always felt like I was cheating with digital (still do sometimes).

We tend to shoot rapid fire knowing we can go and delete and pick the best ones. With film you have to really think before you fire that shot because every click of the shutter is money. It forces you to slow down. Forces you to really see what’s in frame. And when you slow down and wait for it instead of spraying and praying as they say?

No better skill can be acquired for a photographer in my book.

Hope these tips help you make your next downtime a worthwhile one.

Have an amazing 2015!


© Jennifer Tonetti Spellman 2014


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How To: Create A Day in the Life on Instagram

By Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman / 12.04.14

For any photographer, be it a hobbyist or pro running a business, a Day in the Life project can help you grow tremendously.

To document your day, or a child’s day is an important slice of history as well.

When its the last time you charted a day from start to finish? If you never have, hopefully you will find some inspiration to do so now.

Recently, I charted my own day via Instagram. It was a lot easier than suing my dslr but still challenging enough that when it was done,and that final shot was taken, I went to bed completely exhausted and fulfilled knowing I had created my own time capsule to reflect on in the years to come.

Here are some tips on how to make your Day in the Life come to life!


Tip 1:

Start at the beginning.

Take a shot of your clock when you wake up. Its a great way to kick it off and wrap it up. A nice ‘bookend’ of pictures if you will indicating the start and the end of your day (literally!)




Tip 2:

Create a hashtag. It will be easy for you to find (and anyone else to find) all the images in the series rather then thumbing through your feed when looking to actually do something with them (see Tip 8).



Tip 3:

Forget about how you look and just start shooting.

For me, every day when I wake up, I get on my workout gear and head to my office. After a quick check of emails, and a written to-do list, I set out on my day with a clear head. I know I won’t always do this as life evolves and changes, but it’s my real for now.



 Tip 4:

Throw out the need for perfection.

What you are CAPTURING is perfect as is. Like this shot of my daughter when I got home from my walk with Skip. It was dark, I don’t use flash on any camera, dslr or phone, so light was a challenge but I went with it. And it’s pretty perfect to me.



Tip 5:

Use an app with a self timer. I love Pro Camera (find the most recent edition that is compatible with your level of phone). It lets you adjust focal point/exposure and gives a great count down timer sound which is super helpful so you don’t have to look over to see when it’s about to shoot and mess up the ‘candid feel’ of your shot.



Tip 6:

Use apps that reflect your editing style. I love clean editing, nothing that looks too ‘filtered’ and the film look. VSCO presets are awesome for all of the above.

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Tip 7:

Record it all. Even the mundane. Because there is great beauty in the mundane.

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Tip 8:

DO something with these images. Don’t just let them live in the virtual world.


I’m honestly frightened for our historical documentation with so many people using only phones to take pictures of important moments and milestones in their lives. If you don’t get the images off the phone, quite honestly, they are useless.

There are many companies making albums these days right off your phone. You can also check out Pinhole Press for options like magnets for your refrigerator.

In the end though, it doesn’t matter how you print them/display just make sure they come to life so you can touch and hold pieces of your own history, and even more important, pass them down the line for generations to come.



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A Holiday Housewarming Throwback

By Kim Vargo / 11.24.14

It’s been almost a year and a half since Scott and I moved into our big, bad fixer upper of a house. As every month goes by, we say, this will be the month we throw a housewarming party! We get excited over the details, and then we remember that this is the same month we’re renovating the guest room – or home studio! Maybe we still need to paint the walls, or maybe we’re about to embark on a big kitchen overhaul, but when we stopped to think about it, we quickly realized that we’ll working on this house for years to come.

So, no more excuses! There will always be something to do, but we agreed that those tasks wouldn’t hold us back from celebrating this home with our friends any longer. Better yet, we decided to roll our housewarming fiesta into a holiday theme, and our Holiday Housewarming Party was born.

Next up? The invites! In such a digital world, we wanted to embrace a throwback to a time when invites were mailed. It’s personal, more meaningful, and it would allow us to have fun with the imagery and feel we’d be looking to achieve for the party itself. It took us all of 5 seconds to decide that our two pups, Jack and CC, would be the stars of the show:


We had foolishly thought we could snag one great shot of both dogs together under the mistletoe, but how silly we were! The excitement of a mini photo shoot combined with their curious personalities was pure chaos, and so with Scott’s help, I worked with Jack and CC individually against the green wall of our reading room. Through computer magic, I was then able to merge 3 images into 1:


Once we had our winning snapshot, we browsed through the catalog of Pinhole Press cards, ultimately landing on this one. We loved the simplicity of the font, and the berry color was the perfect complement to our gray-green backdrop – a subtle holiday nod. Uploading our photo was a breeze, and then it was simply a matter of coming up with the verbiage. For RSVPs, we created a Gmail address and kept everything else straight up and to the point. (Our address was removed from the below, but they were on the invites as well.)

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However, we didn’t stop there! Jack and CC are camera hams, and we had a handful of cute and funny outtakes from the photo shoot. We chose a favorite for each, and we added a couple packs of coasters to our order. Once our guests arrive to the Holiday Housewarming, these B-reel photos will tie everything together:

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Having ordered Thank You cards from Pinhole in the past, we continue to be really impressed with the quality of these invites! They have an excellent weight and smooth feel, although sadly, I can’t say that CC noticed:

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We even went so far as to create custom address labels using Jack’s outtake, which we hope will give our friends and family a chuckle at the mailbox. The majority of our invites have since been dropped off at the post office, but a small pile was set aside for hand delivery. I sealed those with a YAY! stamp in bold black ink to keep things light-hearted.

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As the RSVPs roll in, we find ourselves counting down the days, going over an appetizer menu and brainstorming fizzy party drinks. Our housewarming has been long overdue, and what better way to celebrate than during the most wonderful time of the year!

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Holiday Card Family Fashion: Olive Juice, Pinhole Press and PLAYFUL Holiday giveaway

By Merrilee Liddiard / 11.18.14

I’m beyond thrilled to share this killer giveaway (enter here) I have in store for you! I’ve teamed up with Olive Juice and Pinhole Press to bring you a REALLY REALLY great Christmas giveaway!

Finding just the right card and wardrobe for your little ones for this year’s Christmas card has never been sweeter! Because not only is Pinhole Press giving one lucky winner $150 toward their holiday cards but Olive Juice Kids is also giving away $150 in clothing for you to pick from for your little ones! How completely cool is that?!!! (I say it’s peppermint ice cool). And to make things that much more merry, I’ve decided to throw in a signed copy of my book PLAYFUL! And who knows maybe you’ll make your own twig crown or cardboard brownstone house for your family photo shoot too!


I’ve been a long time fan of the simple and utterly lovely design that Pinhole Press brings to the table of personalized cards and gifts. I love so many of their Holiday card designs that we just couldn’t settle on one! This JOY card design caught my eye. But I’m also really fond of this Red Accordion design.








The photos from our shoot, taken by photographer Jesse Draper, work so well with the cards too. He captured so many special moments that I’ll forever treasure.

But let’s talk about the cutest kids clothing you’ve ever seen shall we? I’ve loved Olive Juice Kids for a long time and often hoped I’d have a little girl to dress up in their perfect little frocks. I’m more than happy to now have a little doll of my own to dress up in classic dresses such as this festive red corduroy Becca Dress, but who knew that I didn’t have to wait until I had a girl to enjoy what Olive Juice Kids has to offer?!


Olive Juice has a “Little Brother” section filled with classic looks for little boys and I love everything they have. Little O was thrilled to learn that they had red Bailey Overalls. He immediately felt like he was “fire Mario” when wearing them and was happy as a clam.




I’m over the moon about this Wonderland Jumper in Crème brûlée. And this little polka dot version of the Becca dress on Miss M is just dreamy.


For boys we’re loving the following: 1) Wonderland Jumper in Creme Brulee  2) Bailey Overall in Bittersweet 3) Playtime Hoodie in the red stripe (super soft!) 4) Apache Brogue shoes 5) V-Neck Classic Cardigan in Canary 6) Playhouse Pant in Charcoal


Some of our favorite dresses: 1) Becca dress in Bittersweet 2) Holiday Trapeze Dress in Navy 3) Holiday Classic Tie dress in British Tan 4) Becca dress in Taupe Anouk Dot 5) Holiday Birdie Velvet Dress   6) Holiday Classic Tie dress in Teal



Little A wore the softest Playtime Hoodie over a cute pair of grey Bailey overalls. He loves how snuggly the hoodie is and wants to wear it constantly.



And if you can’t pick just one photo from your shoot, you can always go with this Merry Christmas Collage card that makes it possible to enjoy bunches of photos fun.



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Give Your Guests a Home Away From Home

By Kim Vargo / 11.05.14

Fires are crackling, lights are twinkling, and before you know it, turkeys will be roasting and shiny paper will be peeled away, revealing thoughtful gifts and curiosities. All that to say, it’s that time of year in which friends and family come together, and chances are – to put it quite bluntly! – they’ll need a warm place to stay. Our calendar is already filling up with out-of-towners, which has been a great push to get our spare room up to snuff! We’ve been working on gathering all the guest room essentials, browsing inspiration photos and hard at work installing shelves, closet systems and whimsical wallpaper. Along the way, we’ve been focusing on all those things that make your guest room a warm and welcoming place to stay, and I’d like to share some of those checklist items with you, too.


Let there be light – or not.

You know that feeling of sleeping in at a hotel, and you have those blackout shades to thank? The same should go in this room as well! Layer blinds and curtains, which will not only afford your guest privacy from close neighbors, but will give them the freedom to sleep in or wake up with the sun. At the same time, even artificial light should come with options. A dimmer to control the harsh overhead light and a sconce on either side of the bed will make them feel more at home.


Photo Credit: Better Homes & Gardens


Give them a place to work in peace.

More often than not, our guests have been known to travel with laptops, tablets and various electronics. Rather than have them use your dining or coffee tables as a landing zone, provide them with their own desk, in their own room. A side table will do in a small space, but be sure to place the mini office next to an electrical outlet. Stash a notepad and pen nearby, provide a task lamp (if there’s room), an additional phone charger and your wi-fi password. Your guest will appreciate the task area, whether they’re checking emails late into the night or simply reading their favorite blogs. Below, we re-purposed a vintage school desk!



Pack the room with travel essentials.

While the first question your guest may ask is what’s your wi-fi password?, there are other (perhaps more important) items that they’ll likely need during their stay. Put yourself two steps ahead and fill a decorative box or vase with miniature sized items that may not have made it into their suitcase – toothpaste, shampoo and a disposable razor. Have towels, washcloths and a bar of soap ready to go on those freshly washed sheets, and tuck a bottle of water and a few snacks on a bedside table.


 Photo Credit:  A Beautiful Mess


 Go the extra mile.

With the essentials handled (look at you go!), there are a few more things you can do to make their visit a memorable one. I recently visited my mom, and she had a new pair of slippers by the guest bed for my personal use; it was amazingly thoughtful! I made a mental note to step up my game for her next visit to Chicago, but there are other ways to kick it up a notch. Fold extra blankets into a basket, stack current magazine issues on a table, display a fresh bundle of flowers and tuck a thank-you note on their pillow. A cushy rug for their toes in the morning won’t go unnoticed, and a traditional alarm clock is a nice alternative to their cell phone. A tabletop fan will help those that need white noise, and empty hangers in the closet will keep their clothes wrinkle-free. These are small but welcome gestures that’ll keep your friends and family rested and ready to face a day of adventure with you!


Photo Credit: Victoria Pearson via Style by Emily Henderson


Have them sign off!

For fun, leave a travel log for your guests to sign. We customized this modern Pinhole book, which not only includes photos of our favorite haunts around our Chicago hometown, but close to 100 blank pages waiting to be filled. We’ll be encouraging our loved ones to share their favorite brunch spot, Windy City must-dos or how far they’ve travelled. This will not only be a unique way for our future guests to gather ideas, but a great memento to have of our loved ones visits.


We’re still putting the final touches on our own guest room, and we’re looking forward to our first friends’ stay at Hotel Vargo. Are there any other must-haves you’ve put into practice or would like to see as a guest yourself?


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