3 Things You Can Do Right Now for Better Interior Photos

By Kim Vargo / 02.10.15

I take a lot of photos for our blog, Yellow Brick Home. A lot. Alongside my husband, Scott, we document the ins and outs of renovating our almost 130-year-old house in Chicago, and we spend just as much time getting our DIY hands dirty as I do snapping the shutter on my camera to share the process with our friends and family. Luckily, I not only have a degree in photography, but I have an immense love for it, too, ever since my first experience in a darkroom.


All that to say, a question I hear often is this: What can I do to make my photos better?

When it comes to interior photography (my number one subject matter!), I’m happy to say that there are a few steps requiring very little effort that will take your snapshots to the next level. Whether you’re looking to share your latest living room makeover, bathroom renovation or newly tiled laundry room, here are three things that will have you taking better interior photos right now.


Dust off your tripod and use it.

Tripods come in especially handy for low-lit rooms, but I use my tripod even in the brightest spaces. A tripod will not only allow you to shoot at a lower shutter speed for a clear, concise photo, but it will also force you to carefully set up your shot. I shoot all of my photos in manual mode, something I recommend as a way to better understand your camera, and in lower light situations, this goes hand-in-hand with my tripod. If this scares you, I encourage you to give your manual setting a workout by simply playing with those dials; take a photo, adjust your controls and keep shooting. For extra credit, check out Ken Rockwell tutorials – he takes the fear out of your camera.


Kim Vargo


Get low.

If someone asks you to take a photo of them, how do you do it? Typically, you’d take a few steps back, look through the lens and shoot. In interior photography, however, get low. More often than not, your home’s furnishings don’t stand as tall as you do! Standing tall at your own height and shooting downward on a room is the easiest way to make furniture look small and awkward, so set your tripod to a level that will have you crouching to look through the viewfinder. The photos below were taken at torso/chest height (and I’m 5’4”), which allow your eyes to flow across the room. Now, you’re taking in those small details along the way. You’re no longer staring down at the stuff on my coffee table, no, you’re seeing the furniture that makes the space – everything from the artwork on the walls to the pillows on the couch to our adorable napping kitty.



Take 1 minute to remove clutter and set the stage.

Your camera is secure on the tripod and you’ve gotten it into a position that’s below eye level. Now what? I encourage you to look through that viewfinder and scan through the details that make up your room. Could your pillows use a fluffing? Can you take away those hand-me-down coasters? Force yourself to crop and edit within the frame! If your end table would look better floating away from the wall, do it. Sometimes what looks stunning in person can get lost in translation on film, so to speak.

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These three easy steps are not only effective at producing better interior shots, but they’re things you can do right now that’ll cost you nothing more than a moment of patience and, maybe, a tripod. (And if you don’t own a tripod, $20-30 will go far!) I’ll be back soon with a peek into my camera bag, how I use the small amount of equipment I have, and what a difference those lenses can make. Until then, happy shooting!


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Valentine Oatmeal Chip Cookies

By Bree Hester / 02.04.15


I love a personalized Valentine. So many things come home from the school Valentine’s Day party, but the personal ones really stand out. How could you not want to be his Valentine with his adorable little face on a bag full of homemade cookies?


My 6 year old absolutely loved seeing his picture on these labels and even more than that, putting them on his goodie bags by himself. As a mom, I want to give my kids a special holiday but I don’t want it to be a ton of work. These labels are simple, adorable, and most importantly – all of my kids loved them.


Clay and I made a double batch of our family’s favorite Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies and added some valentine colored M&Ms to make them colorful and festive. He packed the bags all by himself and added the labels. And they were perfectly imperfect.



These oatmeal cookies are one of our favorites. They are very easy to customize. You could add nuts, different kinds of chocolate chips, cranberries, whatever you like, just make it a total 3 cups of add-ins. These also freeze very well so you could bake them when you have some time and pack them the night before your Valentine’s party.



Valentine Oatmeal Chip Cookies

½ cup butter, room temperature 2 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups old fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups milk chocolate chips 1 ½ cups Valentine M&Ms

Preheat oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cream butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer for 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.

Slowly add flour, oats, baking soda, and salt. Mix until combined. Stir in chocolate chips and M&Ms.

Drop cookies by the tablespoonful onto a baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Let stand for 2 minutes on baking sheet and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.




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A Year (or Two) in Review: 2015 Day Planner

By Kim Vargo / 12.30.14

Every December, I enjoy perusing the next year’s day planners – whether it be at my local bookstore or favorite online shopping haunts. My goal is to always add something to my desk that’s not only nice to look at, but that makes sense for my planning purposes! This year, I opted for the Hardcover 2015 Day Planner from Pinhole Press, knowing it would allow me to inject personality and happiness into my monthly reminders.

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My original thought was to look back at this past year and choose a favorite photo from each month; this proved to be much harder than I imagined! By the time I was done selecting photos, I had close to 50 images to narrow down, some of which went back to 2013 and beyond. Because this is my first personalized planner, I decided to run with it and go back in time as far as I liked – with the intention of making a new planner every year from here on out.

Scott and I don’t necessarily pepper photos of us and our small family of four pets around the home, so including my favorite memories of us in my personal planner felt right. Once I had my best-of-the-best snaps down to a manageable amount, I titled the files by month, and I uploaded everything to Pinhole Press to create that perfectly personal year-in-review calendar.


In the end, I had a fun and nostalgic mix of tidbits, covering everything from our pup’s bath time (April showers!), yearly travels (corresponding with the months they happened), everyday snippets from Instagram, pumpkin patch frolicking and kissing under the iconic Art Institute of Chicago lions.

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Some of our favorite photos of us have been taken on our mini instant camera. This little guy goes everywhere with us, and it has covered moments in time from New York City, Paris and the amazing day we adopted our second Pit Bull. I scanned a handful of favorites so they could be included as well!


You might have noticed that the cover looks as though it’s covered in cloth, but it’s not! I had recently received a batch of wallpaper samples, and I chose a textured grasscloth, scanned it, and saved it as a digital file on my computer. It’s such an unexpected alternative to a photo – not to mention, it cuts down on the stress of which photo is The One to make the cut!

I’ve already begun filling the planner with important upcoming dates for 2015 – weddings, family vacations and work meetings – and it will be so nice to see those reminders next to a wonderful memory.

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Here’s to a thrilling 2015 ahead; may it be filled with love, excitement and accomplishment!

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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 borrowlenses.com. 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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