4 years ago

Selfie 101 + Instagram Tips + Afterlight vs. VSCO

***Disclaimer*** I’m soliciting mobile photo tips today!   Some of the apps I recommend operate differently depending on the camera phone you own. I use an iPhone.  Most importantly, I’m giving advice, but not to make anyone feel guilty for less-than-professionally peachy pristinely perrrrfect Instagram pics. If you want some helpful tips, read on, but knowing that perfection is an illusion and we are capturing flickers of beauty amidst the imperfect.



Selfies are so hundreds of years ago.

Wait, what?

Yes, my young padawan.
If you’re a noob (hi there!), I’m Carolyn. I like art, I do art, I appreciate art.  Of course I have strong artsy opinions, but I’ll be keeping them to myself for another partay. You’re welcome.

First, I’ll loosely wax art history buffoon –powered by some Wiki-backup– by reminding us:

  • Previous to the camera, we were hiring yon bonnie artiste to draw or (gasp!) paint our portrait, of course.  And that didn’t come cheap, so it was mainly roooyals getting portraits painted, and hey, it don’t run in our blood.  That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
  • The only people doing selfies were the ones who could actually scribble it out, so up until the camera, we only have artist selfies.
  • Cameras weren’t made for mass market until the mid-ish 1930’s and those were your “physically-load-a-roll-of-film, hope-light-doesn’t-leak-and-ruin-the-entire-roll, develop-it-yourself-in-a-darkroom-for-hours-and-hours, or, send-to-a-factory-to-do-it-for-you-while-you-wait-F-O-R-E-V-E-R” things.
  • We didn’t get digital cameras until the 80’s, kids.   THE EIGHTIES.  Our parents were busy changing our diapers. They didn’t have time for that nonsense. Our grandparents were still geeking out over color television, so…
  • Then we got the mobile-camera-phone mashup at the beginning of Y2K, and our parents were either prepping for some freak apocalypse or were fretting over us as we headed off to college, so again, no time for selfies.
  • We didn’t get Facebook until I was a freshman in college.
  • Instagram graced the mobile web only a few years ago.

Now, the grand picture!  No pun intended –really, I didn’t even notice.

What we are seeing here in the glaring screens of our phones and computers, is a sign of our opulence as a culture.

Feel about that as you will, (Vanilla Carolyn won’t delve today) we are just now living an age in which the self portrait, or “SELFIE,” is an easy, quick, and after you —oryourparents– purchase your camera phone, free thing to do and share with the world.

Hundreds of years ago, the s e l f – p o r t r a i t took a long, ardurous journey of drafting, and sketching, and washing, and color mixing, and drying, and reapplying, and finalizing, and sealing, and more drying, and drying, and dryinggg, and framing… etc.

Today, it’s theselfie. Click. share. done. x500.

But essentially, the selfie is old news, get over eet.  (Courbet, though, ^ he really nailed it back then, didn’t he?)

Okay Carolyn- noonereallycares.  Sorry, typed it out already. *shrugs*

Now that we have established a highbrow, intellectual selfie conversation, let us wade to shallower, more Instagrammy waters.

Instagram is a super easy way to microblog the break-neck speed my children are growing and getting into things.  It’s a way to look back at my selfie with a margarita and go, “oh, see? I did find some time to live la vida loca,” even though I further remember that the rest of the story goes along the lines of me realizing I couldn’t finish pictured marg because getting old marginally stinks and hangovers actually become the bite worse than it’s bark.  Pretty pic, though.  There may or may not be a few “desperate woman” selfies in my feed too.

Here are some free tips as a thank you for sticking around and reading my tripe.  It might help to read some of the basic photography tips I dropped at the beginning of this year, right heeyah.


Be your own curator.

In other words, don’t share every photograph you snap. Instead, choose the best you’ve taken that day and share those.  Why not post ALL THE PHOTOS?  I mean, you totally can, if you want to- there’s no law saying you can’t jam up your Instagram feed with 10 of the same but slii i ightly different photos.  I’ve done it. I’ll probably do it again in the near future. But if you’ve made a little effort into taking and editing a solid photograph, you’ll have the essence of the moment captured in one photo– instead of the 10 grainy/blurry fellows.  Also, there’s no law dictating that one must live-gram their photos in order for events to be legit.  (I really fretted over using the short version of legitimate there. Just letting you know.)


Stop using the Instagram App to take your photos.

Why? Because when I use Instagram to take photos,

  • I’m immediately prompted to continue looking at my phone to edit said photo in the app: pick out a filter, and add a caption, and oh that really wasn’t the greatest pic- let’s do it over again!
  • By using the camera in the Instagram app, I’m spending more time on my phone than I am actually enjoying the moment.  If I use a second party app to snap some photos and pocket my phone, I can come back after an enjoyable day and choose my favorite photos and edit them at my leisure. It makes taking pictures while enjoying life doable, while also ruling-out hastily taken and edited photographs.


Use some good mobile Photo editing Apps.

Alright smarty pants, what do you use to take your photographs?  A few apps:

Regular old iPhone Camera.  Ha. I say that as if it’s crappy.  Sometimes, the absolute quickest way to camera access is to click the Home button on my phone, swipe upward, and there you have your camera, ready to shoot a pic of your son as he giggles hilariously on the swings.

 Afterlight.  The only time I ever use Afterlight App to take photographs is if no one’s around to take a photo and I want to be in the frame– Selfie time. Afterlight app is a pretty good photo editing application which also has a shutter release timer giving you up to 10 whole seconds to get your act together for a non-blurry, non-front screen selfie.

property of C. Svellinger
Taken using Afterlight’s self timer shutter release feature, edited in VSCO Cam.


 VSCO Cam.  My personal favorite. VSCO (Visual Supply Company) saves all of the photos I take in its own in-app library so that I don’t have to take the extra step of accessing my photo library from my iPhone- I just scroll through my shots and edit directly.  When you have three small children, the seconds and clicks you have to make to open different apps and folders really add up and VSCO helps me to do it right meow –opulence, folks. #firstworldprobs.


Learn about the Secret Weapon

Both of the above apps have a secret weapon:  Focus lock + Exposure Lock

Usually, in your regular iPhone Camera app, you tap-to-focus the object on your screen and click away.

But oh ho ho, fancy Afterlight and VSCO Cam have something better.  Instead of using one finger to tap your subject, use two fingers.  You’ll have two separate boxes/circles pop up on your screen.  Move them around and you’ll discover the photograph you’re about to take can change dramatically depending on where you place those little buggers.  Double tap on one of these circles (in Afterlight, the focus lock is a box) and these features will LOCK on the patch of light, or object you’ve chosen.  This is great, because you know those really cool photos of blurry lights? How do they make their photos blurry on purpose? Focus lock.  That’s what’s up.

Here’s a side by side screenshot showing how the seeeecret weapons look from both apps:

Al vs VSCO


Afterlight or VSCO Cam?

Oh, the rivalry apps.

I prefer VSCO Cam.  I say this, however, after previously thinking I liked Afterlight best, and that VSCO seemed archaic and maybe kind of confusing.

I used Afterlight for a few months, but after being continually frustrated with the less than stellar outcome of many of my photos (the filters -oh the many, many filters- never quite had the punch I was seeing in so many other images shared by other Instagrammers I admired), I bit the VSCO bullet and genuinely tried to learn the app, and discovered you don’t have to use a filter every time, if you learn how to manually adjust settings. You can also do this in Afterlight, but here’s a side by side comparison of a pic taken and edited in Afterlight vs. VSCO Cam. …maybe I land slightly on the perfectionist scale, but I notice a difference.  Honestly, though, the differences I see can be a positive depending on what kind of photograph you are trying to achieve.  That’s why, while most of the time I end up editing in VSCO, I do use both.  If you don’t notice a difference, either are great apps! Win-win!

Property of C. Svellinger


Don’t be afraid to combine Apps.

I combine apps, taking my favorite features from each to create THE MASTERPIECE. Behold! ha.

Property of C. Svellinger

Guess what?  There’s no magical app law that says you can’t use both or many apps on the same photo, no matter what the hashtag says.  I took my VSCO image, which I think looks sharper, crisper, and cleaner by far, and added the light leak filter from Afterlight. And if I wanted to add a border to make the image square and Instagram-ready, I’d use Afterlight.  Bingo. Bango.  Steal like an artist.

With these tiny tools, your capabilities for better photographs are greatly expanded.



Consider cropping.

I’ve written before that it’s important to physically get in front of your subject, cutting out unnecessary clutter around the story you’re trying to tell.  But sometimes, especially if you’ve got hyperactive pets, or 3 hyperactive toddlers, as soon as you’re in their face, they’re gone and you’ve lost your shot.
So, take what you can, and later when everyone’s in bed for the night and you’ve got a chance, play around with cropping some of your images.  Clipping just the bottom fourth could change the entire feel of your image.  See?

property of C. Svellinger

Bonus tip:

Allow yourself the patience to learn, remembering that perfection is an illusion.

Because we live with the world at our fingertips, we have a tendency toward the pitfall thinking that we should be able to figure things out right away and that it should all look perfect immediately.  No matter how accessible the medium is nor how easy it is to snap a pic in our lifetime, photography is still an art.

I believe that most of your photo editing is done when you take your picture. If you take the time to get a good photograph, you won’t have to edit much later. I believe this can be said for any type of photography.

I hope you learned something!  Come follow and share with me on Instagram!


[Likely linking up with Jen on Friday because it’s too much to think about a separate 7 QT post and because I just wanna. Link to show up soon.]


4 years ago

Lexington’s Birthday Giveaway from Illustrator Al...

Where to begin?



Last week was exciting for the house of Svell.  I had some personal health issues, Craig had an emergency appendectomy, and Lexington had his 5th birthday. Craig’s sudden surgery in the middle of the week halted party plannings, party goings, friend visits, bloggy writings, and birthday and father’s day present shoppings. And my brain crashed, yet the world still turned, so we Aretha Franklin-on.

The biggest drawback so far is Craig not being able to lift and hold our children.  We came home from the hospital and the boys fully expected to wrestle, and climb, and hang on Daddy in usual fashion, but he can barely walk. It’s amazing how much we need our core strength to do such trivial things as putting on socks, or even standing up. doy. Craig’s not supposed to lift over 15lbs for 6 weeks. Each of Craig’s arms is like 15lbs. Our youngest is double that poundage.  No arm lifting. No children juggling. Sadfaces all around.

This makes taking trips out pretty much impossible because not only do we have a one year old who is both super clingy and super approaching the terrible part of being 2 this Autumn, but Emmett, our Autistic wonder, often needs to be held or calmed down during over-sensory tantrums.  I’m not waxing woe to little ol’ us, but simply stating that this is how it is right now, and when we turn down invites for fun summer outings, it’s for the sake of our sanity and because it really just isn’t possible right now and really wouldn’t be “fun” anyway. Fine by the recluse herself.

BUT! My wonderful family pulled together, as they always do, and helped me throw a morning-doughnut-superhero birthday party for Lexington.  A morning party?

While it doesn’t sound ideal to the night owl, it was great to get the boys down for a nap afterward and then have the rest of the day to recoup.  The next day wasn’t nearly as horrid a social hangover it usually is for our family. So a huge thanks to my family who went along with Carolyn’s insane thinking.

Lexington? Oh he was jiggy with it.

Hey, do you have any gum?


Property of C. Svellinger
No, but you can have some PUNCH.

Aside from your typical boy nonsense they like at this age (legos…mumble…HulkSMASH…mumblegrumble…dragons…grumble…Godwillyoupleasegiveusababygirl?), I like to get our boys a book for each occasion of present-giving.  I’m fighting a losing battle, some might say.  Yet I fight on because I hope to instill my love of language and reading into our boys hearts. And wouldn’t you know it, there I was a few weeks ago, audibly swooning in the children’s book aisle, in the middle of Target, as I hugged this darling children’s counting primer, based off of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Instant birthday present for the only little girl in our family, my niece, Sienna.

Longing for more, I went home hoping all hopes that I could find and order something more like— THIS !!! for Lexington’s birthday:

And then, I pre-ordered THIS
–really just for me, because obviously.

Oh! These little classics, for little people! The illustrations are so darling, I literally would die to have them hanging in our house. The gentlemen! The gowns! The clean, simple illustrations! I found Alison Oliver’s website and swooned some more.  Pride and Prejudice! Moby Dick! Sense and Sensibility! Sherlock Holmes! Romeo & Juliet! Let’s just quickly look at how I would arrange some my favorites :

Alice Prints Alison Oliver

Pride + Eyre print Alison Oliver


I couldn’t stand it any longer, so I contacted the illustrator, Alison Oliver, who has generously agreed to give one of my readers a print from her shop!  AH!  EEE!

Scroll to the bottom for instructions on how to enter this sweet, sugary giveaway. But first, I will leave you all with a few of my favorite conversations which vibrantly depict Lexington’s 5 year old, little powerball self:

Carolyn: *proudly finishes singing Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes in French*
Lexington: That’s great, Mom, but I don’t know how to speak Spanish, and I REALLY don’t know how to speak Betch.

Lexington (as I’m tucking him into bed): MOM. What is Mercy?
Carolyn: *Gives a concise, accurate, and completely relatable definition for a 5 year old, and is proud of her Christian parenting milestone*
Lexington: …Okay. Well… tomorrow there’s a new Octonauts on.

Carolyn: Knock, knock!
Lexington: Who’s there?
Carolyn: Orange.
Lexington: MOM. Oranges can’t walk, and they can’t knock.

Lexington: MOM!  My boys (brothers) are throwing mulch everywhere and it’s getting in my shoes and itching and bitching my feet!

Lexington: MOM. You need to learn how to go to the bathroom standing up like I do and Dad does.

…And my personal favorite, forever:

Carolyn (while driving in the car after Lexington became frustrated with Emmett for not responding to him): You know when Emmett cries and throws a fit when we are at the store, or driving somewhere, or even when we are playing together?  That’s called Autism. Emmett doesn’t know how to use his words.  He doesn’t know how to tell us he’s sad or mad.  Sometimes, Emmett doesn’t understand your words either. That’s Autism.
Lexington: Oh. So that’s Emmett’s superpower, then.
Carolyn: —uhh—
Lexington: You know, like my superpower is helping my bros, and Collin’s superpower is saying “NO.”
Carolyn (blinking back tears): Yes. Autism is Emmett’s superpower.
(I had prepared to describe it as an illness.)


That’s my oldest son for you all, just flipping my world on its head on the daily.

In honor of Lexington’s 5th birthday, please comment below with your favorite print from Alison’s shop, and follow the Rafflecopter prompts to enter for more chances to win this darling giveaway.  Good luck! I sincerely hope you win!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

**USA residents only.**

(pssst! If you’re reading this on Bloglovin or Feedly, you won’t be able to see the Rafflecopter widget.  Click here, to enter puhlease.)

4 years ago

The Right Kind of People

Hi thurr.  Here we are, getting comfortable on my new site. I know you can’t see it, but I designed a sitting space for you (in my head), for when you’re visiting:

Pinterest love.


If you’re not down with that, then you must pick from amongst these sitting items:

Pinterest has a trove of “uncomfortable chairs”. One only needs to spend the morning searching it.

Either way, I hope you like it.

Friday, Svellerella went live.  That was exciting… until I realized how much work I still have to do.  But then my brain smiled, because I like this work.

AND on Friday and Saturday –all in one weekend I say!– I got to visit with two high school girl friends.  That’s a lot of real life face time for this hobbit.

I hadn’t seen Caitlin in 5 (?) years, and I’ve not seen Beth in 11(?!?) years.  A mark of our friendship is how at-ease I felt with both of them, and how comfortably we fell into conversation, as if maybe it’d only been a few weeks since we’d seen each other.
Maybe that’s just how it is when you grow up in a small town with a smaller than average group of people.

But even more special is how inspired and energized I feel in my creative endeavors by speaking with both of these ladies.  Caitlin and Beth are both creatives, as well.

I learned a long time ago how hard it is, even among yon artsy fartsies, to find someone willing to share ideas and experiences, willing to show vulnerability, willing to appear as they are, without putting on airs, and without fear that someone will become “better” at the trade than me.

Maybe it’s because my husband took the boys to Costco while I sat at in Starbucks with Caitlin, sipping my second cup of coffee for the day, my attention allowed to focus on our conversation and not the terrorizing-of-the-cream-and-sugar-station by my boys, if they’d been present, but I came away surprised at how energized I felt. Usually, I’m spent for the rest of the day after the daunting travail of socializing. Probably the extra caffeine did the trick. BUT, I’m pretty certain it was something else.

While we are all similar in that we love art, both Caitlin and Beth lead totally different lives from small world momma here.

With permission, by Elizabeth Gilmore

Beth is a freelance graphic designer/photographer for some well-known, fancy-pants brands, and a designer at Facebook HQ in San Fran, and the colors in her portrait film photography project are stunning (keep an eye out, yours truly might be popping up on her page soonly).

We grew up taking art and french classes together, always -always- laughing. She talks fast and has double jointed elbows, which has proved amusing when while out for dinner she were to hand a glass to the waiter.  She was in town to speak at her alma mater university and solo critique some student’s work.  Beth downplayed the whole thing with a roll of her eyes, and it made me love her even more. While she works with some schmancy businesses, she is a champion for mom&pop shops and encourages even this lil’ momma to “Write a book! Seriously, DO IT!”

Beth came to visit me and the boys at our house, and she kept remarking on how well-behaved they are.  They perform very well.  I had to pep-talk Lexington beforehand to refrain from giving Beth the grand tour of EVERY single nook and cranny of the house, because he leaves no dirty pair of underwear unacquainted to visitors, and remember this from last week?

Property of C. Svellinger
clean, albeit chaotic.

Relocated to upstairs.
Beth is such a bright personality, and so willing to help everyone, and I am so glad we got to catch up.   Go follow her on Instagram and have your brain explode from all the colors.


Property of C. Svellinger

Caitlin is a film director in Chi-town.  Her first documentary follows the men who make a living impersonating Abraham Lincoln, as they educate others about a vital time in America’s history.

 I have to chuckle a little because growing up, we constantly created music videos while together at her house, before YouTube was even a thang –you know, by taping headphones from a CD player to a videocamera.  I grimace remembering a particular music video where we drew on our arms and backs with lipstick, donned shower caps and swimming goggles, and paraded in front of the camera to a Cher song, or perhaps Limp Bizkit.  Anything from the first three NOW That’s What I Call Music Albums.

Caitlin, too, speaks en français, and I could point out her handwriting and sketches if you made me pick it out of a hundred random people’s scribbles.  She’s silly and serious, and carries the totally French “pftff” when she speaks that only a francophile would detect, and we both agreed to bid good riddance! to being in our twenties during our last leg of it, while also conceding that turning 30 might as well be 40, and thus goes life.
I have to credit Caitlin for this blog.  She is the one who told me I should try it, many years ago.

Property of C. Svellinger


I came away inspired by their work, their stories, their struggles, and that they chose share them with me.
The older I get, the quieter it seems people around me become, as if hoping their bling and brand names will speak the story they wish everyone to believe, in fear that authenticity will betray them by revealing the regular Joe they’re ashamed they are.

The thing is, there is no such “regular” Joe.  Each person has a different story, full of struggles, some triumphs. If shared with the right kind of people, I believe authenticity will inspire creative thinking and deeper human connection.  The book I’m currently reading, Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown, discusses how we tend to recoil from authenticity out of a fear/shame of not appearing enough to the world around us. Visiting with childhood friends who’ve always stuck out in my mind as examples of an authentic “strong lady force,” as Beth puts it, seems to have come at the right time in combo with reading Brown’s book.

While I blog about the 6 bottles of nailpolish that Collin dappled into last night (–wait, what? Fun clean up, let me tell you.), it’s truly a privilege to know these girls– not only because of the inspiring things they do, but because of how they make me feel.
I hope I make you feel inspired, too.

Now, can someone tell me where to find those brassy mugs from my dream spot above?  Cause L.O.V.E.