Time to study…

Here I am, “stuck” at home, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. In Pennsylvania, Governor Wolf has closed down much of the state, allowing life-sustaining businesses to continue, but little else. So what is one to do when there’s little work to handle from home? Suddenly there’s time for all the stuff I didn’t have time to do before (or more realistically put off because it’s not “fun”). But here’s a great opportunity to actually study photography and the images being created by others to learn how to improve my own. No one becomes a great photographer overnight. This is an art form. And with any art form, study and a lot of practice will go a long way toward improving your skills.

Thanks to technology, we are continuously bombarded with images: social media, television, magazines, books… photos are everywhere! And they’re easy to take: phones and cameras are likewise everywhere. It’s easy to think that you can quickly make money just by purchasing the latest, greatest camera. Not so fast.

Practice, Practice, Practice

You’re not going to become the next Rembrandt just because you bought a brush and some paints. Likewise, you won’t become the next Ansel Adams or Dorothea Lange because you have the latest, greatest camera and gear. Take the time to learn your equipment: get off of auto, experiment with focus points, use your equipment in different locations, under different lighting conditions, etc. Practice, experiment, look at your results, and take note of the settings you used, both for the images you like and those you don’t.

Lego Triceratops. Photographed with Nikon D500 camera and Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 lens: ISO 200, 1/13 sec, f/2.8, 80 mm.

I gave myself a project of photographing various Lego animals and sets over the winter. I set the camera on a tripod and experimented with different aperture settings. I changed my focal length, sometimes including the entire subject and sometimes zooming in very close. But always experimenting with aperture and focal points. Then I downloaded the images to my computer and took a closer look at the results. Reducing the depth of field worked in some situations and not so much in others. Sometimes there was a big piece of dust I hadn’t noticed before. I learned to slow down and take a better look at the scene before the next set-up.

What are Others Doing?

Study the work of others, as well. Find people taking pictures of similar AND different subjects and look at what they’re producing. What do you like of theirs? How did they compose the image? What time of day is it? Can you get a sense of the settings they used? (Photography magazines often include exposure settings in the caption information.) Where were they standing? How would you have approached the scene differently?


Get feedback on your work. Seek out those who will encourage you and suggest other ways of seeing. I don’t find harsh criticism useful – people who seem to enjoy putting down the work of others. But I appreciate suggestions on cropping, perspective, time of day, timing, and exposure settings. Most of all, keep shooting, experimenting, and reviewing your results!

Find me on Facebook and Instagram and share what you’re doing.

The Magic Moment


Nothing beats being prepared when you’re out with your camera. Knowing your equipment and what settings to use go a long way to not missing the moment when it happens. Take the time to use your equipment, experiment with different settings, and really look at the results BEFORE you go on that once-in-a-lifetime trip. Few things are worse than realizing your shutter speed was too slow or the aperture was too shallow and your subject is blurry.

Review Image Data (EXIF Information)

When you’re browsing through your images, look at the EXIF data (EXIF stands for Exchangeable Image File and refers to all the settings recorded by your camera when you click the shutter button). This includes date/time captured, aperture, shutter, ISO, if the flash fired, white balance, metering mode, focal length, etc. Review this information from photos you like as well as ones you don’t. If you were on Auto, did the camera choose appropriate settings? And if not, what would you change? Did you change a setting or two? I LOVE that my camera captures all this data so I don’t need to remember it all.

Where is the EXIF Data?

On Windows, right-click on the image, choose “Properties” (usually at the bottom), then click the “Details” tab and scroll down to see all of the information. On a Mac, preview the image, then choose “Tools” along the top menu, “Show Inspector,” and click on the “Exif” tab.

With a Little Bit of Luck

When you’re ready with your camera, and you’re in the right place, sometimes it’s just luck that you’re also there at the right time. I like to call this “The Magic Moment.” Sometimes you can predict that it’s coming, but sometimes you can’t. Such is the case with the following image. I worked at Awbury Arboretum in Philadelphia as an environmental educator for many years and brought my camera to work with me on a daily basis. As I arrived one morning, the light was just right and I grabbed my camera to capture the scene. It’s been one of my absolute favorites ever since.

Woodland Halo
EXIF data: aperture: f/4, shutter: 1/135 sec, ISO: 80, focal length:17 mm, metering: center-weighted average.

If I had been much earlier or later, I would have missed the light entirely. And I never saw quite the same scene before or since.

This image is almost 19 years old (at the time of posting), taken on January 31, 2001! This was my first digital camera, a Sony Mavica CD1000, 2.1 megapixels, and images were recorded onto mini cds (185 MB capacity). Each one could hold about 150 images. We’ve come such a long way since then: today you can find cameras recording 50 megapixels and media cards that can hold 512 GB, with larger cards coming.

Thank you, Lara Joy!

pinto stallion, Clorox

In May, I took a trip to Utah. Part of that trip included visiting the wild mustangs that live in the Onaqui Herd Management Area, somewhat near Tooele. My tour guide was Lara Joy Brynildssen. Sadly, she passed away unexpectedly last week. Let me tell you about her.

Lara Joy Brynildssen

Buckskin pinto
Chincoteague Pony stallion, Legacy.

I met Lara Joy in December, 2017 on Chincoteague Island, Virginia. We were there as part of a photographers meetup, organized by the Equine Photographers Network. I instantly liked her. She was warm, funny, and happy to talk about her travels far and wide to photograph wild horses. By the time that weekend was over, we were friends on Facebook.

We shared a love of kitties (we both have an orange tabby; she had a total of 3 cats, while I have just the one), horses, and photography. Over the next year, we solidified our friendship through photos and funny posts on both Facebook and Instagram.

Pax and mom
Baby Pax standing by her mom.

When she sent out an invite to join her in Utah to photograph the mustangs, I jumped at the chance. We were joined by another woman she had invited and had one great day out on the range. We met some of her favorite individuals: Clorox, the band stallion; Lucas (the same name as her black and white kitty); the blue-eyed filly; and Old Man, a legend in Onaqui. Near the end of our day, we came upon a dark grey mare with a dark grey baby that turned out to be VERY young. We unknowingly ventured too close and found ourselves running to get out of mom’s way and give them more space. But we got to name the baby, a filly: Pax.

The second day was filled with changeable weather from cloudy to rain to hail and eventually snow. We came close to getting stuck in the mud a few times. Unfortunately that cut our outing rather short. But it gave us an opportunity to edit and learn some post processing techniques.

Throughout our few days together, Lara Joy was incredibly generous with her knowledge of the horses and suggestions for post processing. The three of us bonded over our shared experiences and I am so grateful to have spent that time out on the range with her. I was looking forward to the possibility of returning with her one day.

Donating to American Wild Horse Campaign and Salt River Wild Horse Management Group

Lara Joy was passionate about the Onaqui mustangs in particular, as she made time to visit with them two or three times a year for the last few years. To honor her, for every mustang image/product I sell through the end of October, I will make a donation in Lara Joy’s memory to the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) and the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG). Both organizations work on behalf of America’s wild horses; AWHC is nationwide while SRWHMG works on behalf of the wild horses along the Salt River in Arizona. Their organization has been successfully using PZP to reduce the number of pregnancies and they have a good working relationship with local government organizations. They demonstrate that wild horse management need not depend on regular round-ups.

Fine Art America: Wild Horse Collection

Order prints, greeting cards, tote bags and more!

My images of the mustangs in Utah would not have been possible without Lara Joy. I will be eternally grateful for our friendship. Love and light to all who knew her. Thank you, LJ; I miss you!

Nikon Camera Upgrade

I’ve been the happy owner of a Nikon D3200 since 2012. On the whole, it does what I need, is easy to adjust, and I’ve taken some splendid photos with it.

A few years ago, I bought a used D7000 from a friend (who was upgrading to a D500). Until then, I’d never had 2 SLR bodies, both in good working order. The D7000 is more of a professional-level camera with more focus points and settings available in the menus. Honestly, I didn’t use it much and never got truly comfortable with how to adjust the settings quickly and easily. I use the D3200 regularly in my classes and it’s usually the one I grab when I go out to shoot.

I took both cameras to Hawaii in 2016 and challenged myself to use the D7000 more than the D3200 during the photo workshops I attended. That helped me become more familiar with it. But when it froze during a session on Maui, I was very happy to have the D3200 nearby.

I didn’t give much thought as to WHY it froze at the time. Back at the condo for the evening, I was able to set it right just by pushing the shutter button. It never froze again during that trip. However, the same thing happened in Utah in May, 2019. I unlocked it with the push of the shutter button a minute or so later.

Back at home, I started to research why the camera was freezing. It turns out, I was quickly filling the buffer while shooting RAW in burst mode. The camera couldn’t handle the data fast enough. If I shot in JPG, this wouldn’t be an issue. Or if I shot RAW while not in burst. Maybe it was time for an upgrade.

I asked my friend about his D500 and he suggested I borrow it. We met at a local park about a week later. I brought a lens and attached it to his D500 while he shot with a D850 (full frame sensor). Off we went.

One of the first things I tested was burst and RAW. The subject didn’t matter. I quickly got 10+ photos of a robin in the grass. No seizing issues and the sound of that fast shutter click instantly made me giddy. I love that shutter noise in burst. And when there’s a whole group of photographers shooting at once — heaven to my ears!

It didn’t take long to convince me that I needed this camera. By the end of the week I asked my local camera store to order one for me (they don’t carry pro equipment). And a week later, it had arrived.

Let me be clear that this level of camera equipment really isn’t needed by all photographers. If I shot strictly landscape and never used burst mode, I would never have encountered a problem. I admit that going from 13 focus points on the D3200 to 153 with the D500 is a welcome change, too.

These are a few photos I took at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, near the Philadelphia International Airport. I was playing around with a Nikon 200-500mm lens. (Click the images to enlarge.)

I’m still learning how to use the camera and will likely notice other differences between my two cameras as I experiment.

Happy shooting!

Have You Tried Moo?

I love moo.com; I won’t use anyone else for my business cards. Why? They use something they call “printfinity” that allows up to 50 different designs on one side of their products. That means one side of my business cards is all the same: with my name, phone number, email address, and website. But the other side has one of my images and they’re not all the same. While I don’t generally choose 50 different images, I’ll probably choose 12-15. It’s great for anyone who has a portfolio of some kind to share, whether it’s art, design, quotes, whatever…

Self-adhesive magnets, order from AmazonAnd business cards make great magnets. They make excellent gifts and are an inexpensive way to bring some art into your life. I purchase business card-sized self-adhesive magnets, peel off the paper, and attach the business card. Voila! A simple photo gift.

Postcards have a variety of uses, too. I use 5×7 postcards in sets of 10 greeting cards. Each set has a theme: flowers, trees, winter trees, waterfalls, etc. One side of the postcard is about me and the other side shows the images included in the set.

Moo postcards

There are round stickers and square stickers (with rounded edges). I use the square ones on the back of my magnets that say “Photo by Nicki Toizer” but they have different background colors. I’ll use the round stickers soon – I just haven’t decided how yet.

You can design your own and upload it or use one of their templates, or design them online.

I haven’t ordered flyers or letterhead from Moo, but I’m sure they are just as wonderful as everything else.

So give them a try, and save 20% off your first order.

Lulu.com for Self-Publishing

I have used Lulu.com for several self-publishing projects over the past several years. I consistently use them for a yearly calendar that I produce as gifts and for sale. Since I tend to order 20 or less, the price is reasonable and they often run a sale in early fall to bring the price down further. They have several themes available to use, each with a few layout options. I choose the simplest one, with captions. You can include the most common holidays and add your own (such as birthdays and anniversaries).

Lulu calendar themes  More Lulu calendar templates

However, if you’re interested in printing a book, Lulu does that, too, with options for hardback or paperback. There are a variety of sizes, too. While you can choose to print and distribute the book through places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, I don’t generally recommend them for the distribution part. Their website doesn’t prepare you for pricing until it’s too late. You’ll need to set a price and create a barcode before you get to the page that calculates your income from selling your book through Amazon and other sites. [Other companies have a calculator you can use to experiment with different amounts before you need to commit to a final price.]

Lulu book options   More Lulu book options

I think Lulu is perfect for creating  a travel journal, a story written by your child, or a compendium of family stories. When you need a few copies to share amongst friends/family and you don’t need to distribute to the entire world through Amazon or any other bookstore, Lulu prints a very nice quality book at a reasonable price.

For people who are comfortable using programs such as InDesign(R) and PhotoShop(R), it’s relatively easy to set up your file with their recommendations for page size and margins. If you’re including any images, remember that print uses a different color space than your digital camera: you’ll need to convert everything to CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) from your original RGB (red, green, blue) images. Lulu has a cover generator program or you can create your own. You’ll need to know how many pages the book is so that Lulu can provide the correct dimensions, including where the spine begins and ends.

Lulu accepts pdf files – one for the interior and another for the cover, if you created your own. You can save some money by getting your ISBN for free from Lulu. They will be listed as the publisher and you won’t be able to publish the same book with another company later unless you get another ISBN (either provided by the other company, or purchased through Bowker in the US). When you’re ready to get your book printed, you’ll upload the files, provide some information like keywords, a short description of the book, set the price, and order a proof copy to make sure it all looks good. If you want/need to make any changes, update the file and re-upload to Lulu. I recommend ordering another proof, just to be sure everything looks great before ordering multiple copies to give away or sell.

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