Photography Gear: What We Use, Love, and Recommend!

ABM Photography Gear Favorites (click through for links)Today I'm here to talk about photography gear. We haven't written a post like this in two years, and a few things have changed in that time (although not as much as you would think—we're still using a LOT of the same equipment). We enjoy having a simple photography gear set up, and we use most of what we own every single day! 

Our goals are simple! We aim to capture clean, clear, bright images for ABM. In this post you'll see all the tools we use to take our photographs. 

A Beautiful Mess photographyIn the interest of organization, I'm going to break these items down into three categories—cameras, lenses, and useful accessories. 

Cameras

Through the years we've used the full range of Canon cameras, and I can honestly say that they are all great. When shopping for your first camera (or an upgrade even), I recommend choosing whichever is the best model you can afford at the time, then investing in lenses as you go. DSLRs are not lifetime purchases. We upgrade every 3-5 years (depending on how much our cameras get used). So don't stress out too much about which model you buy. Any of these cameras are light years better than what people had access to in the past, so count yourself very lucky! 

I have used all of these cameras personally and seen my blogger friends use them to take incredible photos! 

1. Canon EOS 5D Mark III Two years ago we upgraded to our first full frame camera, the 5d Mark III. It's significantly more expensive at around 3k for the camera body. I'll be honest, that price was what kept us from upgrading in the past. I just didn't think that a full frame camera could be three times better than what we were already using, and I assumed that the upgrades were more useful for different types of photographers, but might not be necessary for our purposes, which were mainly blog photos. After we upgraded, I became a true convert, and now this model is what most of us use at ABM. The thing that really converted me was the difference that a full frame camera made for interior photos. In the past I had to use a wide angle lens to photograph rooms, which created a warped perspective. The full frame makes it much easier to fit most rooms into my frame with just a 35mm lens. That sold me, since we photograph rooms often. It's also especially good in low light situations and can handle a higher ISO very well. 

2. Canon EOS 70D This is the category that we've owned the most of. My first camera was a 20d, then I upgraded a few years later to a 40d and then a 60d (that's what we currently have). The newest model is a 70d. I highly recommend this camera for bloggers. It's what we used to write our first book with as well! This model is around 1k for the body. It's a great camera! 

3. Canon Rebel A Rebel is the lowest priced SLR you can get (with models starting in the 300s). It is a little bit smaller and lighter than some of the other bodies. It can take amazing photos and makes a great first camera. If you are new to photography, or on a tight budget, we recommend the Rebel as your first camera. 

Again, all these models are awesome! We have owned and loved them all. We recommend choosing whichever is most comfortable for your budget. Remember that you'll probably end up upgrading in a few years, so it's not that big of a deal! 

Lenses

Lenses are super important and can completely change your camera's abilities to capture light, close ups, and far away shots. Lenses are a big factor in what makes quality photographs! There are infinite choices, but we like to keep things pretty simple around here. Here are the lenses that we use and love! 

4. Canon 35mm f/2 This is our everyday lens. I rarely take it off my camera because it's useful for so many different situations. When traveling, this is the only lens I take with me. So it goes without saying, but this is the lens I would recommend buying first if you only want to invest in one lens. We use this for most DIY photos, food photos, and room tour photos. We use two 35mm lenses at ABM, and this is the one with a friendlier price. :) 

Food photography

5. Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L This lens is incredible for taking portraits. It's nice and crisp, and the quality is unbeatable.

Sister style6. There are two great choices when it comes to a 50mm lens—

50mm f/1.8  This lens is what we call the Nifty Fifty! It's crazy how good this lens is for how affordable it is.

50mm f/1.4 Another 50mm lens that's a little bit more, but the quality is incredible! This is the 50mm lens that we all use around the studio for pretty much everything.

Useful Accessories

7. Wacom Intuos Pen and Touch Small Tablet If handwriting or hand-drawing is your look, then we highly recommend getting a Wacom tablet! There are a bunch of great ones out there for less than $100, such as this one that we use.

8.  Reflector Set We definitely recommend having a reflector around, especially if you're shooting a lot of portraits or working in harsh light or shadows. This 5-in-1 reflector is just one of many different kinds, and they allow you to really up your photo game for around $20.

9. Canon RC-6 Wireless Remote Controller All SLR cameras come with a self-timer function, but this remote makes it even quicker and easier to capture tons of "selfies" without running back and forth to trigger the self-timer. We use ours often. 

10. Tripod Sarah recommended this tripod and has used for it for 10+ years! It's an incredible quality, and it has a middle-of-the-road price point that is well worth it for the durability. 

11. Photoshop and Lightroom Actions We use actions every day to speed up our editing process and produce consistent images. We highly recommend finding a set of actions you love to invest in! 

Actions by A Beautiful Mess

12. If you're interested in learning to use your DSLR or Photoshop program, I suggest looking into the e-courses we have available! 

DSLR BasicsDSLR Basics / Photoshop for Bloggers / Discounted rate for both courses

I hope this has been helpful! I am here to answer any questions you may have in the comments. Investing in photography gear can be intimidating, but they're some of the best purchases I have ever made. We're here to help! xx- Elsie 

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150 New Additions to the #ABeautifulMess App!

Made with A beautiful Mess AppWe're super excited to share that today there is a new update available in the iTunes store with lots of fun additions for the A Beautiful Mess app. We've observed what users are really using the app on a daily basis and added some awesome new packs that will make sharing photos of the most special parts of life even easier! We had a lot of fun working on this update, and we are so happy it's finally time to share it with you! 

Here's what the update includes: 

9 new packs and 150 new items added to the app! We're adding a little texture to the new options available in the A Beautiful Mess App. 

5 NEW PHRASES PACKS
• The Painted pack has 10 FREE new phrases that have a hand-painted texture

Oh you• There are also 4 new packs to help you chronicle the most exciting moments in your life:

Made with A beautiful Mess App  - Wedding Pack ($0.99)

Made with A beautiful Mess App      - Pregnancy Pack ($0.99)

Made with A beautiful Mess App       - First Year Pack ($0.99)

Made with A beautiful Mess App     - Travel Pack ($0.99)

NEW BACKGROUNDS
• Four new backgrounds were added to the Essentials Pack (FREE)
• There are also 2 new backgrounds packs available:

Made with A beautiful Mess App Sunny Day Pack ($0.99)

Made with A beautiful Mess App   Breezy Day Pack ($0.99)

NEW DOODLES
• Two speech bubble doodles with the hand-painted texture were added to the Essentials pack (FREE)
• There's a whole new FREE pack of Emoji Stamps, which offer a stamped texture take on all your favorite emojis!

Made with A beautiful Mess App    Free emojis in A Beautiful Mess AppSo fun! 

NEW BORDERS
• Two new simple square borders have been added to the essentials pack (FREE)!

New free border in A Beautiful Mess appAndroid status update: 

Android users have probably noticed there hasn't been an update since the end of last year. You might assume that it's because it wasn't a profitable endeavor for us, so we chose not to update. However this isn't true at all. We had plans to continue to make investments in it (updates) to give it the best chance we could in the ever-changing app marketplace. 

We are unable to update the Android app for a reason that is beyond our control. The short version of the story is this: Google issues a unique file (keystore file) that it cannot replicate to app developers when creating new apps. Think of it like the key to get into/update your app. Our former Android developers lost this file when a hard drive failed because they did not back it up. 

As a result, we are locked out of updating our Android app permanently. Our only option would be to delete the existing app from Google Play and upload a new one, and that would mean all existing users would have to re-purchase the app and all their in-app purchases because there is no way to give all the current users a new free app. We've spent hours and hours going back and forth with Android developer support, but they just reiterated that was all we could do. So since we don't want to take anything away from our current Android users, we have chosen to leave the app as is and not delete it. It's the best we can do with a less-than-ideal set of options. 

So that's where we are today. We are devastated that this happened to our app! Sorry for the long story, but we wanted to be transparent on why we cannot update the Android App now or in the future. We care very much about our Android users and are sad that the potential of our Android app was cut short. We're filing that one under crazy biz stories for our memoir because what else can you do? 

Pregnancy pack in A Beautiful Mess AppThank you so much for your support! We are so incredibly thankful for those of you who use and love the A Beautiful Mess app! We hope these new features are very useful to you! xx- Elsie, Trey, and the ABM Team

P.S. For those of you who've already updated and might've had a little trouble getting purchases to go through, give it another shot. Apple was still processing the new packs when the update launched, but it should be all good now! If you have any questions, you can email us at support AT redvelvetart DOT com.

Credits: All photos edited with A Beautiful Mess App. Photos by @AshleeGadd @SmileandWave @BuenoBrandi @LaTonyaYvette

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Try This: Illustrated Tree Slices

Turn the pages of a well loved book into art for your walls!Decorating a nursery can be a lot of fun, especially where DIY projects are concerned! I must admit, while I am rather crafty and handy with power tools, I certainly am not talented in the area of illustration. Which is kind of a bummer, because illustrations make for great nursery decor, and I just so happen to be decorating a nursery right now. But it's okay! There are plenty of beautiful and inexpensive illustrations right at our fingertips. Just look inside some of your favorite children's books!

Dahlov Ipcar is one of my favorite children's book illustrators, and while looking at her books is quite the treat for the eyes, I decided to take things to the next level and turn her illustrations into art for the nursery. I ordered an extra copy of the beautiful book I Like Animals for the sake of turning the pages into art, but boy was it ever hard to cut into! If you're against using books for art, you might want to find a damaged old book you could use for this project on Etsy or at a local thrift or antique shop.

Turn the pages of a well loved book into art for your walls!Supplies:
-illustrated book (I used I Like Animals and The Cat at Night.)
-tree slice (I found mine at Michaels.)
-spray adhesive (I recommend Scotch Super 77 for a lasting hold.)
-scissors
-pencil

Turn the pages of a well loved book into art for your walls!Step One: Create a template for your tree slice. I made mine by photocopying the tree slice and cutting out the inside area of the copy. If you don't have a copier, you can trace the outline of your tree slice and cut away a little margin around it.

Step Two: Remove the page you want to use from the book (I used an X-Acto for this). Then, using a window or a light table, hold your template over the backlit illustration so you can see what portion of the illustration will make it onto your tree slice. This can be tricky if both sides of the page are illustrated, but even so, I've found using the light is very helpful in composing the scene that will decorate your tree slice. When you get it positioned how you like it, trace around the template.

Turn the pages of a well loved book into art for your walls!Step Three: Cut out the illustration, making sure the pencil lines are on the scrap edge of the paper.

Step Four: Spray the back of the illustration with an even coat of spray adhesive.

Turn the pages of a well loved book into art for your walls!Step Five: Hold the sticky side of the illustration slightly away from the tree slice while you make sure the illustration is properly positioned. When you have it positioned just so, place the sticky side all the way onto the tree slice and use the back side of your hand to smooth the illustration, adhering it to the tree slice.

Turn the pages of a well loved book into art for your walls!Use picture hangers or adhesive strips to hang your tree slices on the wall. I placed mine in our kiddo's nursery, but these little guys would be perfectly acceptable in other rooms of the house too! -Mandi

Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson. Photos edited with Stella from the Signature Collection.

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Talk to Us? (Reader survey time!)

Reader surveyHi, friends! Today we want to invite you to take our reader survey. This is your opportunity to weigh in and help us learn more about who you are, why you read ABM, and what you would be interested in for the future. 

But first I want to open up to you about how we're doing and what our intentions are for the new year. 2014 was a weird, wonderful, and definitely challenging year. Our company has grown so much in such a short amount of time. And with that growth has come heavy responsibility. Emma and I individually became burned out in very different ways. We processed it differently, and recently we have been working out a game plan for the future. 

We continue to love our work and want to move forward as a team, but beyond that, we have had a difficult time envisioning what we really dream of for the long term. Several times we have set out to create a five year plan together, but to be honest, it is still unclear. We are still searching. 

We didn't start A Beautiful Mess with a business plan. We didn't know we needed one. And now that ABM is very much a real company on which families rely—it's just so different from when we started. There are many things about ABM that we consider fun, but it's definitely not "just for fun" anymore, and we take those responsibilities seriously.

At the same time, the heart of our content is homemade living. Decor, recipes, fashion, gift giving, and creating an inspired life. These things are fun. VERY fun. And so we're constantly trying to protect that side of things as well. I feel like it's very obvious when a writer loves the post they are working on. We desperately want to protect the passionate, hobby side of what we do. I'll be honest, it's a difficult balance. And I won't pretend that we have it all figured out. But after seven years of blogging, I do feel like there is always a way to evolve and keep the spark alive, if you will. So we're always looking for that. 

In addition to our personal feelings, there are undeniable changes happening in the blog world. When we started blogging there were absolutely no industry standards, no "blog trends". I feel like back then it would have been more funny than serious to even label blogging as an "industry". Things have changed. There are far more opportunities and with that comes more competition and more of a business world to learn and survive within. 

When Young House Love (one of our favorite blogs) decided to stop blogging this year, it shook us a little. Maybe not in the way you're thinking though. We're not thinking of quitting blogging at all. But we did empathize with them. Their choice caused us to begin to ask the bigger questions, like is this what we want to do long term? If not, how can we improve our choices to make it a long term career. How can we support and network with other bloggers? How can we help support healthy business practices within our growing industry? How can we stay inspired, grow, and evolve? What do blog readers even want to read? What should we cut out and move on from? Where should we invest more time, money, energy.  Etc., etc., etc... We've had many long conversations on these topics. 

I could talk about this all day, but I'll go ahead and skip to my point now. 

We want to evolve. We realize the importance of staying inspired and challenged. There is no room for "mailing it in" here. If we slack off and fall into a boring routine, it sucks for us, it sucks for you, and ultimately it will not achieve any of our goals. So we aren't going to do that. We're going to move forward, and we need your help! 

There are really two factors that determine where we go as a business. The first is our inspiration. We have to love what we blog about. We have to continue learning and feeling that challenge that pushes us to be better. The second factor is what you love. We want to write a blog that our readers enjoy and get a lot out of. We want ABM to be useful, encouraging, and inspiring. When it comes to DIY projects and recipes, we judge their success not by how many page views they get, but by how many of you actually MAKE the projects and recipes. That's why we do what we do. We want ABM to feel like a community, a place where you can make friends and learn things that make everyday life better. 

With that said, please take the time to complete our survey, linked below. Please be honest and candid with your answers. All surveys are anonymous because we want you to feel comfortable giving honest feedback. However, please also remember that Emma and I are humans with feelings. We will be reading the surveys, so please try to be constructive in how you word your critiques. It's so much easier to learn from a constructive critique. 

THANKS FOR ALL YOUR RESPONSES! (survey now closed)

Comments are closed on this post, because we built in a comments section on the survey and want to capture all your feedback in one place. Thanks so much! Elsie + Emma 

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Reno Update at our HFHS House Project

Habitat house inspirationLast month we shared some updates about our Habitat for Humanity house project renovation planning and some details on the overall budget (you can read all about it here). We are nearing completion on all the contractor renovations, so I thought we'd share an update on the house with you. Also, I thought it would be fun to show you a few inspiration images throughout this post to try give you some idea of what we're planning to do. I don't want to spoil all the surprises—but a few inspiration images never hurt, right? 

One thing I love about the above two images (linked in the credits below) are the simple, pared down color schemes. Elsie and I LOVE color, to say the least, but in this home we don't want to go overboard as we don't know the future family's preferences, and we don't want to leave them with a rainbow bright house they don't love. So, we're looking to create spaces that feel open, clean, and feel interesting but not overdone.

A Beautiful Mess and Habitat for HumanityHere's what you see when you walk through the front door. Still pretty rough, right? But I promise this is what progress looks like! Let's take a closer look. First let's head back to the kitchen.

Kitchen inspirationHere are a few inspirational images of kitchen spaces we love (linked in the credits below). 

I truly love the layout of the kitchen in our project house. It's not a huge space, but the layout is great. I like how much counter space there is and with the addition of a few bar stools (or chairs) it can do double duty as seating/eating area! I know we'll be looking to add some storage options in this kitchen as we move forward so the future family will have space for pantry items, dishes, cups, cookware, etc. Storage in small spaces can make a world of difference in keeping everything feeling organized and uncluttered.

Kitchen counter progressKitchen wallpaperOne update you haven't seen before is the new white tile backsplash! Wahoo! I love tile backsplashes as they are SO easy to clean, wish I had one in my house. :) You can't really see it in these photos, but the peeling linoleum has also all been removed from the floor, the broken counter top removed and updated (though not completed), and we started painting the cabinets. We still have some wallpaper to remove, walls to paint, floors to polish, light fixtures to update, and storage solutions planned for this space. It's a long way from being done, but it's shaping up nicely. 

Next let's talk about the bathroom. Wanna take a walk down memory lane with me?Original bathroomA little dingy, no? The linoleum was in three pieces and coming apart, the window had moisture damage, the shower was... well, you can see for yourself (which I think contributed to the moisture damage in the window). Overall the space felt dirty and wasn't being utilized to its full potential. It's certainly not the smallest bathroom I've ever been in, but it felt crowded and cluttered. This is the only bathroom in the house, so we want it to feel clean and as spacious as possible.

Bathroom tileBathroom floor peek
Here's a few sneak peeks at the bathroom updates so far. Lots of white subway tile on the walls. But we're doing something just a little unique with the bathroom floor tile. The room will be mostly white when we're done, but with a few pops of black to add a little contrast. I love a lot of white in a bathroom, makes it feel so fresh. 

Original bedroomSecond bedroom progressNot a ton has changed in the bedrooms yet. Mainly we've just rip up carpet and cleaned up the floors some, although they still need some work. You can also see the wallpaper border has been removed. We are prepping for painting already. :)

Laundry room missing floorRemember the surprise we encountered in the laundry room? If not, click here. Last time we updated you, this is what the laundry room floor looked like. We had to basically remove the entire floor because of rot, then new subfloor needed to be installed along with some updates to the foundation in that part of the house (it's an add-on room to the original house).

The laundry room has a floorYay! The laundry room has rot-free floors! We're not done though... we have some tiling in our future still. :)

A few other updates.... remember the front door?Front doorYes, this front door.

The front door is fixedIt's gotten a lot better. Could probably still use some paint though...

Living room light fixtureDining room light fixture update timeAt the moment we are thinking about light fixtures. Should we update them, donate & replace, turn a blind eye, keep talking about them but never really do anything... so many options. Just kidding. Basically it's a choice between updating what we already have or replacing them. We'll likely do a combination of both. We will for sure be perusing our local Habitat for Humanity Restore in the next couple of weeks in case they have any good ones that fit our space. Have you ever shopped at a Restore? It's a pretty rad place plus it (obviously) benefits HFH, so that's pretty awesome too.

Contractor to-do listHere you can see our contractor's to-do list. It's almost all marked out!!!

Just FYI we are working on creating some kind of landing page for our HFHS project. We want to make sure you guys will have easy access to all the posts we do about this project as well as links to help you learn more about Habitat for Humanity. Also, one reader had requested we share a layout of the house so you will have a better idea of the spaces as we move forward with these posts. Great idea! You guys are too smart! We are working on that as well.

Thanks for letting us share a small update with you! xo. Emma + The ABM Team 

Credits // Author: Emma Chapman, Photography: Emma Chapman and Sarah Rhodes. Inspiration Image Sources: Blue Door Room, Black and White Room, Mint Chair Kitchen, Pegboard*Habitat homes are sold to qualifying families at a reduced price with a zero-interest loan. Mortgage payments then go into a revolving fund that allows Habitat to build additional homes for families in need.  To learn more about Habitat for Humanity or to make a donation, visit habitat.org

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