15 Tips for Shooting & Editing Your Cell Phone Photos

15 Tips for Shooting & Editing Your Cell Phone Photos by Caryn Caldwell. These are some of my favorite tips for getting the most out of your phone's camera, whether you're posting to Instagram or another social network, sharing kid pics with your in-laws, or snapping casual photos at a friend's wedding.


By posting this I am not claiming to be an expert. Most everything I know about iphoneography is self-taught via luck, experimentation, and sheer stubbornness. (Laziness, too, since my DSLR is too heavy and bulky to come with me on many of my adventures.) Also, my tips may not apply to every device, since I use an iPhone for all shooting and editing. However, I do get asked frequently about the photos I post on Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, so I wanted a go-to place for my favorite tips. If this is helpful to you, great. If it’s not, then that’s okay, too. And if I left out any important info, please let me know in the comments.

With that out of the way, here are some of my favorite tips for getting the most out of your phone’s camera, whether you’re posting to Instagram or another social network, sharing kid pics with your in-laws, or snapping casual photos at a friend’s wedding.


General Tips


View from a Play Date

View from a play date. Taken on my iPhone 5. Edited with Snapseed.

1. Take a lot of photos and sort them carefully
Let’s be honest: The best way to ensure good photos is to take a lot of pictures and hope a few are salvageable. (I’m talking a hundred or more in a session, unless you’re absolutely positive you’ve already gotten the perfect shot. I once took over seven hundred on a single day up in the mountains.) Since you’re using a digital format, this works as long as you have the phone space and don’t mind sorting through the awful ones to get to the good. Plus the archives provide fodder for the future. (I’m still using those mountain photos all these months later). I try to sort my photos as soon after an outing as I can, immediately deleting those that are blurry or otherwise unusable, and favoriting (currently the heart button at the bottom of the screen on an iPhone) photos I want to examine for possible editing and posting. My phone automatically dumps favorited photos into a file, where they wait — sometimes for weeks or months — for me to choose one to edit. If yours doesn’t have that shortcut, you can likely copy and paste the ones you’d like to edit later into a file of your own creation. It’s a pain, but it saves time in the long run and helps you make more careful choices about which photos to spend your time on. (more…)

How To Plot a Book in 16 Steps

I’ve recently entered the brainstorming stage of my next book. It’s a fun, crazy time. Sometimes my mood is rainbows. Sometimes it’s angst. Right now my mood wants lists (as it often does), so here you go: a step-by-step guide to plotting a book. All you writers out there, this is for you. You’re welcome.

1. Find the most inconvenient time/place. Showers are good. Cars, too. Lying in bed, comfortable, mostly asleep? Perfect.

2. Think about something else.

3. Bolt of lightning crashes above you, singeing little bits of your hair as it sizzles past. Geez, that was close.

4. You’ve got it! THE idea! (By the way, you’re brilliant. Good job.) (more…)

How (Not) to Cook Oatmeal in the Microwave: A Sort-of (But Not Really) Tutorial

"How (Not) to Cook Oatmeal in the Microwave - A Sort of (But Not Really) Tutorial" by Caryn Caldwell

Oatmeal: It’s explosive.

1) Carefully read instructions on oatmeal packet. This time you will do it right. For once, breakfast won’t end in messy defeat.

2) Stir together milk and oatmeal.

3) Set microwave according to directions. Hide pre-victory grin. Whistle. Exude confidence.

4) Watch oatmeal spin on tray, ready to halt all cooking at first sign of boilage. Squint a little. Hold breath. Fear overflow, despite yourself.

5) Stir and check status. (Answer: Oat flakes drifting in warmish milk soup.) (more…)

I Want That Job! (Or, What I Learned About Careers by Watching Movies)

Considering a career change? Need a job for a character in your next novel? No need to ask an actual person for his or her job description. Just watch movies. According to Hollywood, here’s what a variety of different jobs entail:

Subway/Train Conductor:
Look horrified while pulling ineffectively at the brakes.

Random Politician:
Gaze sternly into camera.
Pound podium.
Spray spittle and vitriol.

President of the United States:
Fly around in helicopters.
Make grave speeches.
Walk in step with perky young aide.
Inspire. (more…)

Dieting, Step-by-Step

The Five Phases of a Successful Diet:
1. The Vow
2. The Plan
3. The Drunken Optimism
4. The Sacrifice
5. The Happy Scale

The Five Phases of an Unsuccessful Diet:
1. The Vow
2. The Plan
3. The Drunken Optimism
4. The Sacrifice
5. The Consolation Chocolate

Guerrilla Cleaning for the Time-Crunched

Everything I know about house cleaning could fit in a small mop bucket. Not that I own one, but I’ve seen them, so I have a general sense of the dimensions.

1. Host everything. Sometimes a little incentive’s necessary, which is why an impending audience is handy for motivating the terminally messy to pick up the pace and get the place clean.

2. Tackle the bathroom first. Nothing says I need a good scrubbing like toothpaste bits and water spots on the mirror. Plus it’s the easiest room in the house to sparklefy, especially if you employ the shower curtain in the manner in which it was intended: to hide a bathtub rim cluttered with shampoos, soaps, razors, and three types of conditioner.

3. Marry well. My husband is more sensitive to mess than I am, which means that he’s more than willing to pitch in and shovel out the clutter whenever necessary. His latest project? Mucking out both of our sheds. I came out one evening last week to find him vacuuming the rafters in the carport shed. When he noticed me watching him in astonishment, he cheerfully pointed out that he had “vacuumed up enough spider silk to make a blouse”. Although I kindly turned down his offer, I can see how cleaning can have other advantages I haven’t yet foreseen.

4. Squirt, leave, return. Household chemicals work so much better when left to settle for a while. A toilet bowl soaked in bleach-infused cleanser for an hour doesn’t even require a good scrubbing — a flush will do. Plus the lovely chemical smell adds to the illusion of a germ-free environment.

5. Mess is obvious; cleanliness is not. No one notices a nice, neat house. It’s not fair. Get used to it.

6. Learn how to apologize for the mess. I’ve honed this one to a fine art, asking people to excuse the mess, even if I’ve spent the last three hours tidying and the visitor in question is selling something and therefore won’t make it through the half-closed front door.

7. Hire someone. If only! Still, one can dream.

As I said — a small mop bucket of info. Other suggestions for the cleaning-impaired?

41 Ways to Conquer Writer’s Block

For the past several years I have volunteered at the local high school, advising a number of very talented students in the creative writing club. This year I mentioned NaNoWriMo to several of them. Word spread, and now we have a large group of students who are all determined to write an entire novel this month. Only problem? Some of them had no idea where to start. Since I’ve dealt with this same issue, I made up the following list for them. Since many of you write — books, term papers, blog entries, thank-you notes — I figured I’d share the list with you as well. Have favorite ways to jump start your writing? Please share!

1. Go back to when everything last worked and to see if you went off-track.

2. Skip ahead to what you do know and write that. Sometimes you’ll find that the scene you agonized over really doesn’t need to be there, or in the meantime you – or your subconscious – could think of a good way to fix it.

3. Think of ways to make your characters’ lives worse, then implement them. It’s hard to have a book if you don’t have conflict.

4. Make a list of all the scenes that have to happen in your book. Good. Now you know where you’re going, and you have a goal. Start figuring out how to get from your current scene to the next one.

5. Read what you’ve already written to get back into the groove. Danger: Don’t let this lead you to edit too much; it’s possible to spend all your time polishing the first three chapters and never get anything else written. You’ll have a great beginning, but you won’t have a book.

6. Write with someone else. This can often be inspiring; when others around you are being creative and productive, it’s hard to keep your own pen off the page.

7. Writer’s block is often caused by fear. It may be fear of writing something imperfect, fear of what others will think, fear of rejection, or even fear of success. What are you afraid of? Sometimes just knowing will help you conquer it.

8.Remind yourself that this is only a first draft. Most books go through many, many revisions, so if it’s not perfect the first time around that’s normal. You don’t have to show anyone until you’re ready.

9. Perhaps you’ve lost sight of your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts. What would your character would do next in order to reach his/her goal? Now prevent him/her from it.

10. Watch a movie or read a book for inspiration. Sometimes the creative well just plain runs dry.

11. Brainstorm with someone.

12. Or, the reverse could be an issue: Perhaps you’ve talked about your book too much and now it doesn’t seem fresh or fun anymore. If that’s the case, try going in a new direction to freshen it up a bit, and keep it all to yourself for now.

13. 90% of all people who begin a novel never finish it. 85% of all those who began NaNoWriMo last year never finished. Beat the odds no matter what, even if means writing utter crap. You can always revise later.

14. Reexamine why you’re doing this in the first place. Write your motivation(s) on a sticky note and post it next to your monitor.

15. Sometimes having too many options can cause a block. For example, should the character be an architect or a plumber? Should his/her parents be divorced or still together? It’s difficult, but make a choice and stick with it. If you still can’t decide, write each choice on a piece of paper, fold up the pieces, throw them in a hat or bowl and draw one.

16. Set a timer and tell yourself you’ll write for this amount of time, no matter what – but that you’re allowed to stop after that if you want to. Anyone can write for 15, 30, or 60 minutes if they put their minds to it. Take a break to eat or do something fun, then set that timer again.

17. Develop a writing routine – light a candle, write at the same time each day, choose a special writing chair, etc. Just going through those motions can tell your brain that it’s time to write.

18. Shake up your writing routine. Write at a different time or place.

19. Allow yourself some awful first sentences each time you begin a new writing session. After all, quite often the hardest part is just getting started. Once you’ve warmed up, it usually becomes much easier.

20. Next time you write, try stopping in the middle of a sentence, paragraph, or scene. This way you’ll know where to begin when you come back to it.

21. Write daily. Make it a habit. Often the longer you go between writing sessions, the harder it can be to get back into it, and the more time you’ll have to psych yourself out.

22. Tell everyone your goal so that you are held accountable. Then you have no choice but to get something down.

23. Start with success: Do something important but easy, such as finding a good last name for your character or doing some simple research. This gets you back into your story, and the success is often motivating.

24. Sometimes you just have to get yourself out of your own way. Take a shower, do the dishes, knit a scarf, take a long drive, play a computer game, hike, run, swim…Do something that keeps your hands and body occupied but your mind free. Then assign your brain the task of thinking about what to write next.

25. Disconnect your internet, so if you’re ever tempted to conduct another email check you have to get up and walk over to the modem to plug it back in. Quite often your willpower will return before you set aside your laptop or notebook.

26. Think of what you could be doing that you want to do even less – homework, cleaning house, writing that thank-you note to your Great Aunt Pearl, whatever.

27. Give yourself silly goals such as finding random words in the dictionary and having to use them, or starting the first sentence with the letter A, the next with B, the following with C, etc. The challenge can help get your mind off your fear and spark your creativity.

28. Open a new document or turn to a clean page in your notebook. Anything goes when you’re starting fresh. If you like what you come up with, you can always add it in later. Sounds silly, but it’s actually one of my favorite — and most effective — methods.

29. Type with your eyes closed. This can remove inhibitions.

30. Begin a free-write with, “I don’t know what to write,” and go from there, writing whatever comes to mind but slowly working your way into examining your book and then, perhaps, starting to write it again.

31. Interview your main character, or write a monologue from his/her P.O.V.

32. Keep a notebook by your bedside, in your car, in the bathroom – wherever you’re likely to get an idea. When one comes to you, take a moment to (safely!) write it down. Next time you’re stuck with your writing, look through your notebook for ideas.

33. Maybe you’ve gone the obvious route with your writing, and you’ve ended up boring yourself. Throw something big into the works to change things radically: someone new (dead or alive) turns up, your character finds out a devastating secret or is suddenly faced with what s/he most fears, the hero fails at an important task.

34. Make a list of 20 things that could happen next. Cross out the first 10-15 since those are often the more obvious choices, then consider implementing the last few.

35. Let your subconscious do the work. Long before you sit down to write, give yourself a problem that needs to be solved, anywhere from “What should I write next?” to “How should my protagonist react when s/he finds the dead body?” Think about it from time to time. By the time you write, a solution will often present itself with minimal effort.

36. Eat, go to the bathroom, and do any urgent business before writing. That way you have no reason to get up from the keyboard once you start. Just make sure you don’t put writing dead last, or you may never get to it.

37. Whatever you do, don’t delete! If you really don’t think it’s worthwhile, cut it from the manuscript and paste it in a new one so you can put it back in or use it in something else. Sometimes all you need is a little perspective, and that can take time and distance. If you’re stuck, go through your file of deleted scenes for inspiration.

38. What do you like about certain books/movies? How can you incorporate that into your own work in a creative way? What do you hate about particular books/movies? How can you write it better, and with your own creative twist?

39. Work on something else for a while. Ever have several books going at a time, reading whichever one interests you right then? The same can work with writing.

40. Remember that writing is hard. Just because it doesn’t always flow, it doesn’t mean you’re blocked. So realize that it might not be easy, and work through it. After all, things that are worth it rarely come easily.

41. Examine your attitude before you go into it. Are you expecting to have a fun, productive writing session, or are you expecting pain and blockage? Your brain often delivers what you expect.

How to Use a “Resealable” Bag

Oh, dear. You’ve really done it, haven’t you? You just fell prey to one of consumerism’s biggest myths — the resealable bag — and now you’re staring at your new purchase, wondering how to get the thing open. What was it? Cheese? Cereal? Doggie treats? Come on, you can confide in me.

Well, no matter what it was, let me tell you a little secret. You are not alone. Those so-called easy-open/easy-close bags? Yeah. They aren’t. And the directions? Ignore them; they encompass only a fraction of the steps you’ll have to take in order to use your product. But I’ll tell you what. I like you, I really do. And so I’ll give you a hand. I’ve been duped, too, after all. I understand. And so, for your tutelage, I will provide sample package directions, followed by the actual steps for opening, and then closing, such bags. Advanced users may wish to skip to steps seven and ten, respectively. Oh, and one more thing, from me to you: next time don’t believe the hype. Okay? No more buying products just because of the package’s ingenious engineering.

What the directions say:

1. To open bag, tear along dotted line.

What the directions mean:

1. Search in vain for mythological pre-torn notch said to enhance tearing power.
2. Give up. Use force in attempt to create notch.
3. Bandage bleeding finger.
4. Attempt to break into bag with teeth.
5. Make appointment with dentist to have chipped tooth repaired.
6. Study bag, looking once more for notorious notch or tear strip. NOTE: The red dashed line along the top is not a clue. It is only there to taunt you.
7. Use scissors.
8. Pull bag open.
9. Perform victory dance.

What the directions say:

1. To seal bag, press closed.

What the directions mean:

1. Clear seal strip of any obstructions, such as product residue, fingers, and air.
2. Line up both sides of strip.
3. Press strip closed.
4. Tug package opening gently to ensure that seal worked.
5. Repeat steps 1-4
6. Vow not to let a simple plastic bag defeat you.
7. Line up both sides of strip.
8. In surge of pragmatism (or is it despair?) press along just two inches of strip, so you haven’t wasted energy when seal continues not to function.
9. Test to ensure seal.*
10. Give up and tape, staple, or clothespin the @&*% thing closed.

*In the unlikely event that the seal works on the smaller section, continue as follows: Finish pressing along strip. Test seal. Realize you forgot to squeeze out all the air. Attempt to open only a small section of strip. Fail. Pick up spilled cheese, cereal, dog treats, etc. Discard. Squeeze air out of bag and begin again from step one above. Repeat as necessary until bag is sealed. NOTE: You may wish to simply skip to step ten.

Building the Adequate Blog Post: A Step-by-Step Guide

I love blogging. I love playing with words, and reading comments, and especially connecting with other bloggers, both on their sites and on mine. Like most worthwhile pursuits, however, it isn’t always easy. You see, I’m a perfectionist, which means that almost every new entry goes through each of the steps outlined below (yes, including this one). Sometimes the slow learners even get to repeat a few. And since I’m the helpful sort, I’ll now share with you this handy-dandy guide to creating an adequate blog post, Book Lady style. (Yes, adequate. I said I was a perfectionist, not that I’m perfect. You want perfection? Find another blog.)

Okay, here goes…

1. Write post. Revise obsessively. Publish.

2. Ping search engines, Feedburner, Technorati, and RSS feed readers.

3. Revise post again, wishing you’d caught now-obvious errors before letting God and everybody know you’d written something new.

4. Agonize. Post isn’t good enough. Doesn’t fit theme/voice/sense of humor. Or it fits too well, making it redundant and therefore boring. Everyone will be disappointed and unsubscribe from your feed and remove you from their blogrolls.

5. Avoid removing post from site through sheer will and other diversionary tactics.

6. First comments trickle in. Read and respond.

7. Bask in relief. The post isn’t perfect, but it’s up and it’s been read, so it’s too late to take it down now.

8. Wait one day, again reading and responding to any comments.

9. Begin to think about next post. Should put up something soon, but what? Not to worry. There’s some time.

10. Still some time, but not as much.

11. Cripes! It’s been two (or, okay, three…or maybe four…) days, and still nothing new. Ummm. What to write about? Spend whole day mining every experience, every thought, every conversation for a topic.

12. Fail.

13. Look through the land of half-finished blog entries, searching desperately for a phrase or idea that can be suddenly spun into the perfect post.

14. Fail.

15. Take a shower. Compose new entry entirely in head. Exultations abound — it’s the most brilliant post you’ve ever written. You’re a genius!

16. Towel off, grab the handy notebook you stashed in the bathroom for occasions such as this, and realize you’ve already forgotten entire post.

17. Dress and shuffle to computer. Browse your archives, wondering if anyone would really notice if you reposted an ancient entry, but with a different title.

18. Inspiration strikes! Or you strike it, preferably with something blunt and heavy.

19. Write post. Revise obsessively. Publish.

20. Repeat steps 2-20.

Yeah, I know it’s just a blog, but did I mention I’m a perfectionist? Anyway, I want only the best for my readers. All, like, three of you…

So, how’s blogging go for you? Easy? Difficult? Agonizing?

Update: I posted this exactly six minutes ago and am already on step four. I work fast! Let’s see if the post is still here in the morning…