In the PressRoom with Susan Toon

Happy PressRoom Wednesday everyone! This week we are featuring the amazingly talented Susan Toon.
Susan’s entire gallery is eye candy! I love how her clean and simple style perfectly complements her stunning photography. To see more of her amazing photography work, visit her photography site, Madison Blvd.

– a little bit about Susan –

program I use to create your layouts – Photoshop CS2 & CS3 (depending on what computer I’m using)

camera – I have a Canon 5D and a Canon 20D. But what makes the camera are the lenses….and I have (what photographers call “Harold”) Canon 70-200 f/2.8, Canon 24-70 f/2.8, Canon 17-40 f/4 Ultra Wide Angle, Canon 50mm f/1.8

I’m a (morning person | night owl | other) – Definitely NOT a morning person. Used to be a night owl til I started feeling the age *giggle* I try to force myself to be a night owl now and then. And found if I can stay up past a certain point I achieve it *giggle*

things that inspire me – I have to say my children inspire me more than anything. They put me in awe everyday. Other photographers inspire me. They help jog my creativity. So many days with such a busy lifestyle, I can have a photo shoot coming up and my mind has this major mental block. So to view other photographers art….WOW can I get inspired. And that inspiration causes me to want to work harder to be the best at what I love.

things that make me happy – Children that are not arguing or whining. Spring & Fall weather. Thunderstorms at night when I’m on the couch in my pj’s watching my favorite shows while scrapbooking. A successful photo shoot and I get home to proof them and wow even myself LOL

favorite technique Photo Blending on textured paper

my scrapping style is “clean”. I like keeping it simple. I like for my photos to take center stage.

I can’t get through the day without hugging my kids and kissin’ on my hubby.

favorite movie? song? artist/band? Favorite Move is Twilight for sure. I’m a Twilight freak. Favorite song….not sure I really have one. Favorite Band. Again not sure I have a favorite but I love The Fray.

favorite vacation destination. Considering we don’t have the opportunity to vacation much. Last year we took my family to my Aunt’s cabin on Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. It was amazing. We all forced ourselves to not use laptops, cell phones, tv….just to ski, layout, relax. WONDERFUL. And my kids were all 4 amazing. Guess there’s a benefit to them not being able to vacation a lot. They really appreciate it when they do have the opportunity to visit fun places.

. . . . . . . . . .
I asked Susan to share some photography tips with us and this is what she drafted:
– photography tips –
written by Susan Toon

You know what took me the longest to understand when I was studying photography? Aperture. They would say to shoot “wide open”…and I would think that meant the larger number….like an 8.0 vs a 2.8. But in reality it’s, the lower the number … the more open your lens is. Confusing huh? I always hated that. But after shooting for years you do grasp it after a while. The lower the number the more light that gets in….but yet less is in focus too. Isn’t that enough to make your head spin? LOL

I used to always shoot at 5.6 because I felt it was a “safe zone” for me. It let in just enough light .. and I got in focus even more than I needed. 2.8 has always scared me….until recently that is. I work with 2.8 a lot more than I used to. When I first started trying to play with that aperture I would get maybe one eye in focus and think…ACK how are so many others using this aperture and getting such nice results. What I found I was doing wrong in shooting at a 2.8 was I would be up too close to the subject.

When I first started I always thought the whole person would have to be very crisp and in focus. But in reality that is not the case….soft in the right areas of an image are good. 2.8 gives a really nice soft affect to skin. If you at least get that eye in focus you’re good. But it’s VERY important that at least the closest eye in the image is in focus.

Now if you have tried learning about aperture you’ve probably already seen images show like these. But I always find them helpful. Take some time and pick a subject. Stand in the same spot with the same focal length on your lens and shoot at 2.8, 5.6, 8.0, and 11.0 and see the dramatic differences in your shots. Then you can even take one subject with the same camera settings and move yourself from different lengths from your subject and see what affects those distances cause. That is the best way to learn … do it. If you’re like me I am a visual, hands on learner. Reading and comprehending is difficult for me. If you do have some photography books…try the settings they use on various images and see your own results.

Below images I shot the first at 2.8, then 5.6, then 8.0, 11.0 and 20.0 See how the trees in the background gradually start to become in focus. But don’t you just love what affect the 2.8 gives. My tree closest to me is the only thing in focus. LOVE IT!

at 2.8

Post Processing
Ok even professional photographers don’t have WOW images straight out of camera. We do our very best to get our settings exact….but just a hint of change in lighting can really screw you up.
When I started out in photography I only did natural lighting. I loved the dramatic affect the shadowing gave. But my coloring was ALWAYS off and one image would be different than the next. Now don’t get me wrong I still love natural lighting and will do it whenever possible. But once I got my studio to where I could set my settings and all images would be right on…..WOWZERS! Talk about less editing. But let’s discuss some editing techniques I use on those images that just …. Need it!

Actions: I LOVE ACTIONS. Who doesn’t. There are so many out there that are free and work great. But I have a lot of money invested in really good ones.
My all-time favorites are Totally RAD. What you have to check out is the Recipes there. They show you how you can use more than one action to create incredible images.

Something many are guilty of with actions is they run it and if their images looks like doogie doo doo…they don’t use it anymore and think it’s a bad action. But no one action can work the same on all images from various individuals. You have to go in the layers of an action and adjust things to make it work. Exposure I’ve noticed is the one thing that typically needs adjustments. You cannot think that actions are a fix all cure for great images. You have to get in there and play some.

Other actions I recommend are:
Kubota –
Itty Bitty Actions –

Because I shoot in RAW I went from using Camera RAW to Lightroom to help adjust my white balance and exposure. That’s what I used Lightroom for mostly when I got started out in it. But since have found some pretty amazing Lightroom Presets that make things so much easier.
Now a lot of photographers use Lightroom for most all of their editing, because you can do most everything in it. But I still have those must have tools in Photoshop that I use for sharpening eyes, etc. So even to date the most I use Lightroom for is renaming files, adjusting white balance and exposure and then may use a preset before taking into Photoshop.
A great place for learning Lightroom and getting those amazing presets is

Workflow on an image….
Ok here’s my workflow using this image….

As you can see I have some lint on the black backdrop used. I will worry about things of that nature in Photoshop. While I’m in Lightroom I check my exposure. In the top right box is the histogram. There is an arrow to the top left and the top right of that area. The left arrow is your blacks. You click it and you want the blue area on the image to go til just a hint of blue hits the closest eye to you. So you go down to where you see the slider that says Blacks. Take that slider and move it til you get that blue in that eye. Like here…

Ok now click that top left arrow off (by clicking on it again). Doing that the blue in the image goes away. Now move over to the top right arrow and click it. This causes red to go throughout your image. This is your Exposure. You do not want red to show. But sometimes a hint of it is ok so that you have a brighter image. Remember an image has to be ok to YOUR eye. You are the artist. So click that and then you want to not have red showing if at all possible without taking the image too dark. Red means “over exposed” areas. Now because I did this in studio my exposure was ok. So I slide my Exposure slider over to show you what it would look like if it were over exposed. Like here…

For white balance you will see a WB area under the Histogram box. There is a dropper tool in there. You can use that on a gray area of an image but say you don’t have a gray area. What I will do is see where it says “As Shot” next to the WB? Click that and have it do auto. Now auto doesn’t mean it’s right on white balance. We say “it’s a start”. You may have to adjust your temperature to either cool it down or warm it up.

In the image below you can see what that auto did to my image. It made it too cool for my eyes. So I would leave as is or warm up that temperature slider a bit. Now for this particular photo shoot I know that I’m doing this image black and white so I would’ve typically just left it alone.

Now I will export this image back to the original folder I got it from by doing File, Export and locating that folder on my hard drive. Once I do that I will go into Photoshop and do the rest of my editing.

Now I mentioned I shoot RAW. Once I export out of Lightroom it will save it as a jpeg for when I go to open in Photoshop. Now in photoshop I will now use my Patch Tool to remove those lint spots. You can also use the clone tool. Then I will get my burn tool and burn the backdrop so you don’t notice the wrinkles. And here are my results….

Now I have an awesome action for the eyes that I use and I cannot for the life of me remember where I got it. But I run it and just paint over the eyes and it brightens and sharpens. I love it! So I would do that next.

This is also the time I would use my patch tool to any blemishes, acne, etc.
Next I will crop to a 5×7 and the reason I personally do this is because you can get more of the image in an 8×10. So if a customer sees an 8×10 and wants that in a 5×7…chances are an arm or something may get cut off in a 5×7. So I show the 5×7 and then if they want 8×10 they get more of the image in that shot.
After cropping I’ll run an action for a particular look I’m after. In this case I know I want it black and white…and I have a black and white action from my Totally RAD actions sets. So I’ll run that.

Another useful program to have that I use often is…Noiseware. If you took a picture in low light and then you pull into Photoshop and lighten it up…many times you’ll get that grainy look. If you do not like that for a particular image you can run it through there and it’s magical. It’s worth the money! You can get it at


Blog Comments

WoW! I love this post!!! Perfect timing as well since I’ve just got a new camera – Canon 5D! I’ll have so much fun playing with it after this! Thank you!

Thanks so much for all the great info… I am just venturing out of my presets on my DSLR, and trying to go Manual. i’m getting there!

regarding Actions… I really want to use them, but I have Photoshop Elements- do any actions work for that?

thanks again!

Not really sure if actions work in Photoshop Elements. I’ve never used that program. But I’m thinking they do not.

Oh my goodness – a wealth of really great knowledge on aperture! I took a photography class in college, and learned to “deal” with it, but never really admired it…until I got a Canon XTi and started to wonder — what ARE all these buttons?

You’ve inspired me… I’m going home tonight and pulling the camera out…and PLAYING with my aperture!!

Susan – thanks for all the fabulous info! And your pages are gor.geous!

Love your photography tips! I always stumble on using different apperatures too. Thanks for this!

Hi Tanya – Most actions nowadays require Photoshop CS2 and up. Here are some actions that work in elements (I found these links on the Memory Makers Mag Blog);

the original post is here:

Great post!

Fantastic article, Thank you! And yes some actions work in PSE 7…

this is so great! tfs!

Right I’m going to make time this weekend to go out with my camera, what incredible knowledge *sigh* I get lazy and shot on auto a lot of the time but after this I’m resolved to do better LOL!

Great post!

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