Tuesday Tips – Setting up a small home studio

So you want to set up a small home studio, but are not sure where to start? Some of it boils down to what type of Photography you wish to create and how much room you have. Julie is lucky and has converted her Garage into a studio, but has terrible natural light. Desley has a much smaller apartment, but with amazing natural light, but not a lot of room…you may fit somewhere in the middle.


Lighting is the key, whether it is a table in front of a window for awesome natural light or studio lighting. Natural light is free, but not always around when you need it, so continuous is probably the way to go to start with, it is cheaper and can be packed up when not required.

These are not pro quality, but if you are just starting out, they are all excellent, Julie started out with the Backdrop Stand and Umbrella kit. These are just some examples, there are lots of others on offer.

20170806_150658Props and Drops – Conceptual and Standard Portraits

This is unlimited, however, a few key pieces can really be all you need to get started. Go to the local Op Shop or Thrift Store or even $2 shop and have a look, a really good look.

  • Bed Sheets, We suggest you start with a black and a white one. If you find something like bright red or a nice blue grab them too, excellent as dresses! on average Julie pays about $1 – $5 for a sheet (Curtains can work too, but are often more expensive).
  • Cape or cloak; a good black or dark colored cape is fantastic and can be used over and over, Julie uses velvet (as it looks so good in photos) AUD $10 – $20 on Ebay or costume stores.
  • An old chair, this can be one you already have, or bought at a garage sale, endless possibilities, personally, we like something a little more beaten up.
  • Other things Julie has added over the years are different colored wigs, different dresses (Op Shop) and props like knives, swords, guns, bird cages etc, etc, etc. Costume shop sales after Halloween are wonderful too.

20597591_10213839836655627_1776181220_oProps and Drops – Still Life and Products

Beware this can become a bottomless pit, so make sure you just get a few things to start with, check your own house first (or friends, Nans etc), you can be amazed at what you can find, but Op Shops are a perfect place to start;


  • A nice teacup and saucer, a plate, a bowl, Grandma’s silverware are awesome!
  • A tray or cutting board, some simple cutlery, Desley has some awesome trays
  • Some simple linen or tea towels, some twine or string
  • Something to use as a backdrop, white/black perspex are terrific but a little expensive (from your hardware store about AUD$50 per sheet), also a mirror (AUD$20), wallpaper samples (faux Marble or timber look great), Contact adhesive, chipboard painted with blackboard (or any other) paint, I have even used wrapping paper! Tin foil can even be used. Using Flat Lay style a simple timber deck or concrete floor can look amazing, and are free.
  • Vinyl Backdrops, these are amazing but can be more on the expensive side
  • A nice simple vase can be good, or elegant glasses; Julie uses Martini glasses a lot
  • Julie loves a simple crate for dark and moody; Op Shops, junk and antique stores
  • Scraps of material, old fence palings……..if you can find it (and store it!) you can make use of it. I have often seen something and thought “Oh that would be heaven”…….but stopped and thought where on earth would I store it, nowhere was the answer, so I walked away.
  • There are also small pop-up mini studio for smaller objects which are brilliant, Desley often uses one, from the smaller ones $25- $35 to 80cm size about $60.00
  • Ask to borrow items in exchange for free photos, terrifying prospect I know, but it can and does work; Pixel Sisters Studio works with Desflora for floral arrangements and floral crowns for workshops
  • And don’t think it all has to be brand new and perfect, chippy China is all the rage right now, as are busted up window panes and scratched up furniture. Especially if you like that wonderful Country feel, timber and natural materials are brilliant. Another option is dying your own cheesecloth. It is quite cheap and easy to do at home, and you can make so many different colors.

~ Julz

P.S. Featured image courtesy Suzanne Balding from our Floral Fantasy Workshop

P.P.S. The above links are only possibly suggestions of what to buy and where to look, Pixel Sisters Studio has no affiliation, nor promotes any e-commerce pages associated.


FlatLay Style #pssTuesdayTips

Hi there – Desley here for our #pssTuesdayTips!

I love Flatlay Photography, particularly product flatlays and I have spent a good amount of time in the last 12 months working on flatlays. It’s such a good feeling when you get a shot that you know is good.

Firstly, it’s important to have good light. This is always important of course. In flatlays, if the light source is from one side, you will get shadows on the other side and this can be detracting and not make for a cohesive shot. I think below it works, but the shadows under the plate are easily fixed in Lightroom.


Also be aware of whether you want warm or cool light. These photos were taken at the same time, but the second one is much warmer than the other and in my opinion, is more inviting.

Most important, is composition. And there are many aspects to that. I find that symmetry is key in a good product flatlay and I can spend quite a long time lining my objects up “just so”. These posts do incredibly well on Instagram.

Finally, there’s the “it just happens to land this way” shot, I call it a lifestyle shot, particularly useful for handbags and purses, to make it look like the contents have tumbled out in that order.


I can tell you, they did not land like that. This shot took a lot of time to get right.

Finally, it can be very useful to leave a decent proportion of blank space (or negative space). This provides a handy spot to place some text – particularly useful if you are advertising something 🙂


Will you try a flatlay shot and share it with us? Just use the #pssTuesdayTips tag and pingback to this post.

Happy Tuesday!

x desleyjane


#PssTuesday’sTips – Fixing Sensor Spots in Lightroom

I have a slightly dirty sensor and I really need to get it professionally cleaned, but I keep putting it off because I can’t bear to be without my camera. …….sound familiar? So what do you do;

  • a) put up with those annoying little spots on your images or
  • b) try to clean them up with the heal tool, but it is a bit of a pain

What if I told you there was another way?

There is something you can do in Lightroom that makes it easier to clean your image up and then you can run a batch and sync all the images together, so you only need clean one image to fix everything else from the same shoot, works magic, especially with landscape photos, portraits alas can still be a little time-consuming.

So import your images into Lightroom as normal and store them in their designated folder. Select the first image in the series and select the Heal Tool and start to fix the spots. Down the bottom, there is a little checkbox you can click to turn it to B&W Silhouette (Visualise Spots), which makes all the sensor spots pop up, making them VERY easy to find and fix. Now go through and heal all them pesky spots (yes this bit can still take time but this method makes them easier to find).  Uncheck the box, just to double-check that there aren’t any strange marks from the healing.

Heal Sync_1Heal Sync_2

Another option you may like to do at the point is a lens calibration, it’s personal preference, but I do like to fix any color aberrations. Now, select all the images in the series and you can select Sync, you can select all or just the things you have just fixed, it will apply the healing and lens correction to every image in that series, voila!

Heal Sync_3Heal Sync_4

Now isn’t that quicker than doing them all one by one? I have also created a Handy Video and placed on Youtube as well

~ Julz

P.S. The other alternative is to actually get your sensor cleaned! 🙂

#pssTuesdayTips – Using Negative Space

Welcome to #pssTuesdayTips.

It’s Desley here this week and today, I want to share with you one of my favourite photographic tools – negative space.

What is Negative Space? Put simply, it’s the space that surrounds your subject in a photograph. It is usually quite “empty” of features and as such allows the eye to be drawn to the subject of the photograph.


To use it effectively, it is often useful to consider “The Rule of Thirds” – that is a simple principle that creates interest and balance in your shot. It’s so easy to do – just place a 3×3 frame over your photo and ensure that the points of interest in your photo are at the intersections of the grid. See below – this shot has his eyes and mouth at the intersecting lines, balanced by the negative space on the left.

rule of thirds-409

Of course, there are certainly times to break all the rules! Here’s a shot that doesn’t use the Rule of Thirds, but instead places the subject smack-bang in the centre of the shot. I’ve used negative space around the bottle, and with the timber grounding it, I think it works well.


The moral of the story?

  • Know the rules
  • Use what works for you
  • Know when to break the rules!

Do you have any comments or questions? We’d love to hear from you.

If you try any of the tips in this post, please link back to this post so that we can come and take a look. And use the #pssTuesdayTips tag so we can all find you in the Reader.

Happy snapping!

x desleyjane


Tuesday Tips – Finding Inspiration

“Creativity is available for Anyone who has the courage to take it” – Brooke Shaden

Julie here, I am often asked the same question again and again, WHERE do I find my inspiration. It is not quite so simple to answer. I am constantly inspired; movies, books, music, other artists, fairy-tales and stories mostly. I also spend countless hours researching and looking at the work of other artists from around the world. All it can take is a single spark, but you quite often have to train your brain to recognize the spark for what it is, your Muse putting up his/her hand and saying THAT ONE!

So I thought I might put together some tips on finding inspiration and a few exercises to help. I write in a journal, anything, and everything, from scribble drawings to poems and quotes, books or movies, as well as ideas for possible shoots, not necessarily for today, but perhaps someday.

Exercises for finding Inspiration

Write down whatever comes to mind for 30 seconds for each topic below, completely random and unconnected, it does not even need to make sense;

  • Colour (red, green, purple, yellow, white etc)
  • Prop (Rope, leaves, suitcase, ladder, skull, bird cage, lantern etc)
  • Wardrobe (dress, nightgown, cloak, wig, jacket etc)
  • Setting (forest, mountain, beach, bedroom, street etc)
  • Theme (Dark and Moody, fairy-tale, creepy, horror, circus, whimsy etc)
  • Mood (love, hate, sad, angry, funny, romance etc)
  • Time of day (morning, night)
  • Character (Woman, girl, man, dog)

Now take one item from each of them and put it into a story;

  • Woman in forest, on a dark and stormy, scary night, dressed in a white nightgown holding a lantern, looking for something
  • A small red breasted bird escaping a bird cage enjoying the freedom from its same four walls, taking flight into the morning light
  • A man walks along the beach on a Summer day and is struck by a beautiful girl laying on the sand, in a bright red bikini; love at first sight.

You get the idea, right, these simple exercises will help train your mind, do this for awhile and then walk into any room in your house, office, restaurant and just look around for a few minutes and think right I can use; that chair, that person, that lighting…….doesn’t mean you can or will, but it gives you practice in thinking on the spot. It’s amazing what you can come up with, in my opinion, the stranger the better…but that is just me.

Now that you have the backbone, we need to flesh it out.

  • Who are you going to shoot (Model or self)
  • How are you going to shoot it (Location, studio, backyard, natural light or studio lights etc)
  • WHY are you shooting it, shoot with intent, the WHY can be so important, without a reason for doing it, the storyline will vanish.

JuliePowell_Run Down-1

Virtually all of my Conceptual Portraits have a story, sometimes quite complex, and other times quite simple.

A life sized Broken Doll, in a bright red corset and black tutu, run down and broken in the back corner of a dark room, dust motes and smoke in the air, full of mystery. Someone finds it and decides to wind it up…

The story then becomes, who owns the doll, where is it, who finds it, what happens next etc. It has now taken on a life of its own for the viewer. Of course, there was a lot behind the scenes; models, costume, makeup, props (I had to make the giant key), lighting, setting etc. But the premise is the same in all of them.

Now, this can work for pretty much all conceptual work, but you can also break down elements for Still Life, Food and Product Photography as well. Set the Scene for the tone, color, and purpose (Storyline) of an object, a man’s watch for instance probably doesn’t want soft pale muted light and pale pink tones, it would be strong and masculine either all white or all black, and quite possibly very serious, where as a child’s toy could be more bright, colorful and playful, a cupcake could be anything, as could a rose. But story or theme are you trying to convey, that’s what is important. These stories do not have to be novels, often simple is better.

Desley and I both share a love of minimalist, especially with Still Life and Product shoots, Desley adores soft light and bright and cheerful, where as I adore dark and moody, either very strong directional light or very subdued. Desley loves color, I tend to be mostly desaturated with a pop of vibrancy thrown in (as in the red above). Neither is right or wrong, each is perfect, for each of us, we know our own strengths and work to them. Even when we shoot the same scene, we come out with different images. Be honest with what appeals to your inner creativity and don’t be afraid to fully explore it, but don’t forget it can be lots of fun and a valuable learning experience to work in unfamiliar formats and styles.

~ Julz, xo


#pssTuesdayTips – Shooting a Frame Within a Frame

Compositionally, it can be very striking to frame your shot with an actual frame around the subject. 

Most commonly, we find frames in front of our subject but it can also look great with the frames behind the subject. 

This chef at MoVida in Melbourne’s Hosier Lane is nicely framed by the graffiti-covered wall. 

The frame helps to draw your eye to the subject, while adding an interesting extra something to the shot. Try to use a narrow aperture to capture focus throughout the shot. 

In this example below, another restaurant, the framing draws the eye down the aisle of the store, conveying and enhancing the depth in the field of view. For this kind of shot, it helps to have your focus on the subject that’s within the frame. 

Another example is this sculpture in Perth, at Cottlesloe Beach. It’s an obvious choice for a frame-within-the-frame shot, but I was lucky to catch the shot at sunset. At first, I was annoyed that this gentleman decided to take a seat when I was about to shoot, but afterwards I actually really liked the way it turned out. He added another element to my shot. 

This week, try to find a frame-within-frame. It could even be a window or doorway (as shown below in this quick iPhone snap that I got at an art gallery) or something natural, such as trees or shrubs around the subject. 

Or maybe, a cheeky side-mirror-shot. From a parked car, of course! In this one, I had to pull over to capture that dark storm behind us. 

Happy shooting! 

– Desley & Julz. 

Tuesday Tips; Back Button Focus, what is it and why should you try it?

For many of you, (I included once upon a time), you would compose your shot, depress the shutter button part way and then fully press and take the shot, right? Easy……but what if there was another way, possibly a better, more convenient way?

What is Back Button Focus (BBF)

Traditionally your camera focuses when the shutter button is pressed halfway, and then you take a picture when the button is pressed in fully.  BBF makes it so the shutter button doesn’t control the focus activation at all, but instead assigns another button on the back of the camera (hence the name) to activate focusing on the camera.

Why is this a good thing? Well if you are working in the exceptional low light you do not want your camera refocusing every shot, you set it once and forget, often focusing and then switching the camera to manual mode to prevent it from trying to refocus next shot. Same with studio shoots for portrait or still life, you only need to focus once, as long as the distance between you and your subject does not move. The best reason is for high-speed action, animals, kids, sport you can hold the BBF with your thumb while taking multiple shots, always keeping your subject in focus.

A little confusing at first? Yes…….but once you get a handle on it, it is amazing and you will wonder how you got along without it.

How does it work?

Most DSLR cameras have three types of focus, Manual, Single and Continuous, by using BBF you get all three;

Manual: Take your thumb off the back button and focus by rotating your lens barrel. (Note: do not do this if your lens doesn’t have an “M/A” focus setting. If it is in full autofocus you will be forcing the gears)

Single: Press your thumb on the back button until your camera is in focus, and then lift your thumb up to keep the focus locked until you press the button again.

Continuous: Hold your thumb on the back button as long as you want, forcing your camera to continually adjust the focus until you take a picture. (Note: you must be using Continuous focus mode for this to work).

Why should I try it?

Because this is a game changer, using Servo Mode (Or Continuous Shutter) greatly improves your focusing accuracy according to many people in the know, but manufacturers leave it turned off for fear of confusing new users. If you enjoy photographing kids, animals or sport, even things in low light like Fireworks or Light Painting, this can really change your shooting style, I know it certainly did mine.

How do you set up BFF?

Each manufacturer is slightly different, and each model has a different way to set it up. Check your User Manual for Back Button Focusing or Google “How to set the Back button focusing on my [insert model here]”. It won’t take long to find written instructions, blog posts and video tutorials on how to set it up and how to use it with confidence.

~ Desley & Julz, xox