Handmade Gifts...

Merry Christmas!

By the time this posts (love that scheduled posting feature!), my Mom should have received these new bands for the Stirling Cloche I knitted her for her birthday! This was her handmade Christmas gift this year...

And.... here is the latest collage based on the hymn,

This Is My Father's World

11"x14" Mixed Media Collage - Watercolor, Acrylic Ink, and Ephemera on Arches 140lb CP Paper

My Dad is getting a copy of this today, to go along with the other hymn collages that he has in his office. (I'm giving quite a few folks framed prints of some of my artwork this year... I love handmade gifts - they're so personal!) I have some exciting news about what will be happening with this original piece... but you're going to have to wait for it! I will let you know soon.... :)

I hope you're having a wonderful day,
celebrating the birth of our Savior - the greatest Gift of all!
Merry Christmas!


Crafty Christmas Craziness


I don't know about your house, but things are crazy busy over here... I finally got my house cleaned up this morning, so it no longer looks like a bomb went off in a wrapping paper factory. The presents are wrapped, decorations are up, the floor is vacuumed, and I'm down to a few final projects for Christmas. Whew! It came fast this year! I love it though.

I wanted to show you my latest knitting project - I finished this up last weekend when a nasty sinus infection confined me to the couch for a day.... (I'm sure you wanted to know that). This is the same pattern that I made for my Mom, which I showed you in a previous post. Read it to learn more about a great knitting and crocheting site, Ravelry.com.

I made two different flower bands, so that I can change the colors out for different outfits. I may have to make some more of these - quick and easy, and they make the hat much more versatile!

Now that I'm caught up with all of my Christmas preparations, I will be starting another piece for the collaged hymn series that I have been working on lately. Check back soon for pics! I will also have an exciting announcement regarding this piece.... (whoo... mysterious!)

I have been doing a few other crafty little things, but I can't show them to you yet... it might ruin someone's Christmas surprise! So check back Christmas day (or after) to see what else I've been working on!

I probably won't be doing much more posting this week (I may possibly give you a work-in-progress shot of the collage - if I have a chance), so I hope you and yours have a very Merry Christmas, celebrating the TRUE Reason for the season...

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God,
The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
Isaiah 9:6-7

He came once as a lamb...
He's coming back as a lion.

Merry Christmas!


Moravian Stars

Once a month or so, I teach art lessons to some of my nephews and one other little girl from our church, who are home schooled.

This month, we made Moravian stars out of strips of paper, then added glitter and a ribbon to create ornaments. I thought I would share the instructions with you. You will need four strips of paper measuring 1/2" x 17" for each star.

Thread a needle with a narrow ribbon or string of your choice, and poke through one of the star's points to form a hanger.
To add the glitter, simply spray the finished stars with spray-on adhesive, and dust with glitter. Allow to dry, then add it to your tree!

Wise men still seek Him...
Hope you're having a lovely Christmastime...


My Best Photo Portrait Tips

Well, howdy folks. No, I didn't drop off the face of the earth! We've been quite busy with family, friends, and all of the busyness that December inevitably brings.

Today, I'm going to share with you some photos from a portrait session I did with my husband's sister's family.

While I'm at it, I'm going to give you some of my favorite photography tips that may help you when you're taking your own photos. With a few simple tricks, you can take professional-looking photographs of your family without having to pay someone else to do it, or invest in a lot of expensive equipment.

The following pictures were taken with a Nikon D80 Digital SLR Camera. It's a couple of years old - here is the D90, with even more features:

Now, that camera's a bit pricey and has lots of bells and whistles for the gadget-crazy, so if you're not that type, you may want something a little more basic. This is my other camera, a point and shoot:

It's a nice little camera, has lots of cool features (including taking short videos!), and is much more affordable and portable.

You might find this book helpful too - it doesn't have a lot of technical information for your camera, but it does help you know what to do in many different situations to improve your photographs. It has a lot of good examples and photos in it too.
At any rate, here we go:

My Best Photo Portrait Tips

1. Read your camera manual. This should be a no-brainer, but I suppose it's like stopping to ask for directions -some people just won't do it. But this should be your first stop. Read through your manual while holding your camera, and explore all of the features as it explains them. The more familiar you are with your camera and its features and settings, the more prepared you will be when the perfect photo op comes along. There's nothing worse than missing an important moment because you can't figure out where the right button is.... OK, well, there are many things worse than that, but you know what I mean.

2. Turn off the flash. In my opinion, this is the tip that separates the professionals from the amateurs. This would be my number 1 tip, but if you haven't read your manual, you won't know how to do this. I cannot begin to tell you how much I despise the effects of flash on a photograph. It flattens everything out, eliminates all shadows (except for the GIANT one directly behind the subject on the wall - not flattering at all), removes all atmosphere and feeling from the photo, and gives people that deer-in-the-headlights look. Not to mention red-eye. Ick.

Flash photographs scream "snapshot." Now there's nothing wrong with snapshots, and sometimes you are forced to use flash if you're in very low light or are trying to stop movement. But if you're setting up a portrait, TURN OFF YOUR FLASH! You'll be amazed at the results from doing this one, simple thing.

3. Use side-lighting whenever possible. Positioning your subject next to an open door or a window gives BEAUTIFUL lighting. When light is coming from the side, it sculpts the subject's face and gives it a 3D quality that head-on lighting (such as a FLASH) eliminates. You can set up your own little studio in your home - next to an open garage door on a sunny day is perfect! Simply add a backdrop, and you're ready to roll! The photos below were taken by an open garage door with a simple black sheet draped across some shelves for the backdrop.

4. Learn how to use your digital photo editing software. There's no substitute for taking a technically-perfect photograph in the first place, but occasionally, even the best photographers meet a tricky situation that requires a little editing back in the lab or on the computer. The digital world has made it possible for anyone with a home computer to edit their own photos and even create some neat special effects, all without access to a darkroom! My favorite editing program is:

Or, the scaled-down version for non-professional use (all you really need):

One of my favorite features is being able to convert photos to black and white or sepia...

But edit judiciously. I think the photo below loses a lot by being converted to black and white - you don't see those beautiful blue eyes or that stunning red dress!

5. Look for quality-light. The best lighting by far is natural daylight. It gives the most natural colors and is the most flattering. Second best is tungsten (the traditional lightbulb). Tungsten gives a warm, golden glow that is generally flattering, warm, and homey-looking. Then you have fluorescent... in a word, ghastly. And those horrendous corkscrew-looking energy-efficient bulbs??? Also ghastly. Do yourself a favor and get rid of them (they contain toxic mercury anyway - so much for the environment!) - they're making you look seasick in your photos! If you need to use extra lighting inside, position a lamp (with a tungsten bulb in it!) to one side of your subject, turn off your flash, and use a tripod.

And now... the most fantastic lighting secret known to man....
"The Golden Hour"
Twice a day, on pretty days, God sends photographers a special gift - what I like to call the "Golden Hour." It's a brief period of time shortly after sunrise or before sunset when the sun is low on the horizon, and it "side-lights" the world - absolutely beautiful! I call it the Golden Hour because it casts a golden glow on the landscape (or your subject), and long, beautiful shadows. While it's wonderful for landscape or architectural photography, it can be a little harsh for portraits (squinty eyes and such). However, it can give you some beautiful "atmospheric" portraits-in-landscapes, such as the photo below from Williamsburg, VA.

Notice how everything looks as if it's glowing and warm, and the man's shadow is stretched all the way across the yard? That's all from the lighting! Taking photos either in early morning or late afternoon will give you this effect. (Incidentally, prints from this photo and the painting it inspired are available for purchase on my website, click here to shop.)

6. Capture your subject's personality. There are a number of ways you can do this. The first is just to be patient, talk with them and joke around so that they're comfortable and begin to relax (this should be easy if you already know them well, in the case of a family member), and wait for great things to happen:

My niece posed herself this way when we told her to act like a princess. See the foot-pop? Priceless!
Adding a family pet into the portrait can help your subjects be more relaxed and spontaneous too.
With kids, just let them be themselves in some of the pictures.

Adding a favorite toy or dress-up prop can also add a lot to the portrait and can capture some great memories of current interests and hobbies.

And sometimes, even "bloopers" can be fun memories... in this case, of my allergy-plagued nephew who has a propensity towards sneezing fits...

Don't feel as though the subject always has to be looking at the camera either.
7. Pay attention to backgrounds. Look for simple, uncluttered backgrounds. Doors work well, since they are often simple, have interesting textures, and also place the subject in ideal lighting when opened. The photos below were taken in front of an open old wooden door in a historic log cabin.

You can also look for natural "frames" for your subject.

There's always the sheet option as well - it eliminates everything but your subjects. A dark color like black adds a dramatic, painterly "chiaroscuro" effect, which I love...

8. Fill the frame. This is especially important if you're photographing kids, babies, or anything else that's small. People want to see faces, not a tiny little speck of a person in a large, distracting background. Get in close, focus in on the face, hands, feet or other details, and let your subject shine.

9. Take a lot of photos. And then, take some more. And, along with this is ...

10. Know when everybody's "done," and stop then. The beauty of digital photography is that you can shoot and shoot and shoot without the expense of rolls of film or paying to have "unknown" pictures developed, only to be disappointed when you get them back. By shooting lots of pictures, you stand a better chance of having a few really great shots turn out - especially if you're taking a group shot. Inevitably, someone will blink, one of the kids will have their finger up their nose, someone will be out in outer space or on the verge of a meltdown, a parent will be correcting a child or trying to get them to pay attention, someone will decide to eat a leaf, a bird will fly over and distract somebody - there's ALWAYS something. And there's ALWAYS a ham who decides to make a "funny" face in what might have been a perfect family portrait. (I can't say much about that though - I was that kid. Still am sometimes.)  
But temper your shutter-happy tendencies with the realization that every subject has a point when they are "done." When the shoot ceases to be a fun experience for everyone, you might as well stop. You need happy campers to make good photos.
I hope you've found these tips helpful! Happy shooting!
If you are interested in scheduling a photo session with me, please e-mail me. Thanks!

Don't forget, you can still get 15% off in my online store by using the coupon code "bethlehem" at checkout. And there's always 10% off on orders over $150! Finish your Christmas shopping today!


Super Savings and Shameless Self-Promotion

Well, if you're like most people, you're probably already caught up in the frenzy of frantic Christmas shopping. Or maybe you're one of those irritating people who already have all of yours done. Or maybe you're like me and haven't even begun yet - ack! At any rate, your wildest dreams have just come true!

From now until December 20th, you can receive 15% off all orders via my website! Oh yeah!

Prints make wonderful Christmas gifts, especially for those hard-to-shop-for people who already have everything they need and go out and buy everything they want. Betcha they don't have one of my prints yet, though....they're unique. Yep.

To receive your discount, simply place an order through my online shop before December 20th, and use the coupon code "bethlehem" when you check out!  Wow, so simple! (Please note, this discount works only in the Beth Stone Studio shop, not in my Etsy shop.)

So, don't waste any more time - hop on over to my website, and finish your Christmas shopping! There's such a variety there, you're sure to find something for anyone on your list!

Merry Christmas!