Taking & Editing Photos for Instagram

Every now and then my older sister likes to send me old pictures of me in my stellar year as a scrawny thirteen year old, for the purpose of reminding me of my humble days before dipbrow. And ignoring how crazy I look as the picture subject, I can’t help but be bemused at how far picture quality has come. On the one hand, I do kind of miss when you could snap a poorly lit selfie and throw it up on your FB page, but as the daughter of an extremely talented photographer I also have an innate appreciation for beautiful images that I can’t shake.

I get a LOT of questions regarding my instagram pictures and how I take and edit them, so I’m going to answer the most frequently asked ones below:

“What camera do you use?”
The Bells are exclusively Canon users,  so I use the Canon EOS Rebel T6 DSLR.
DSLR stands for Digital single-lens reflex. There’s a technological explanation for that, but basically it means that whatever image you see in the viewfinder is the image that shows up on the screen. My kind of camera is also referred to as a point-and-shoot because not a lot goes into actually capturing an image with it. You point....and then...you shoot. Didn’t see that coming did you?



I like my camera not only because of the image quality that it produces but because of its versatility. The multiple settings allow me to capture a good image no matter what the lighting situation is. And it has scene intelligence mode, which means that even if I don’t know instinctively which settings are best for the lighting, background, or subject, the camera does and it adjusts itself accordingly. Which I think makes it perfect for beginners who are not well versed on things like aperture and shutter speed.

Priced at around $600 across marketplaces, this camera is an investment. But stay with me, I’m going to talk later about how I was able to afford to get one + an extra lense , as a college student.

“Mercedes, who do you get to take your pictures”
The answer is anyone and everyone. The Canon T6 has a great feature that allows you to connect your phone to the camera via Bluetooth and take pictures remotely. However I’ve found this to be all but useless because a tripod just can’t capture my angles the way another human can. I also like to take my pictures predominately outdoors, and I’m bold, but I haven’t reached the level of boldness it takes to whip out my tripod in the middle of campus.

So I solicit the help of anyone that I can. I try to find situations where it can be mutually beneficial i.e “I’ll take your pic, you take mine” but everyone works on their own schedule and the arrangement doesn’t always work out. So thankfully I have some great friends who will help me out when they can.

So now let’s get into the fun part: Editing


When I used to shoot with my dad, every now and then he would take a shot, look at his camera and then get really excited and come over to where I was (posing in a bush most likely) and go “look at that. That’s straight out of the camera!”
It wasn’t until I started doing my own amateur editing that I began to really understand his excitement. Getting an image that’s stunning pre-editing means all I have to do is slap a filter on it and brainstorm captions for six hours. But life doesn’t always work out like that, which is where knowing a few key editing tricks really comes through.

I use three apps for editing. Facetune, VSCO, and Lightroom.

On Facetune I use the whiten tool and the patch tool. The whiten tool  is not just for teeth. In fact that’s the least of its uses. I whiten everything that is supposed to be white in any given picture. My shirt? Whiten it. The wall? Whiten it. White sheet? Whiten it. Why? Because the color white often comes out more dull on camera than it would in person. And I think it filters better.  

The patch tool is what I use to remove things out of the background. Sometimes people, but mostly just pesky outlets or sometimes spots off of a wall. It can also be used to remove things out of the foreground like a wet spot on a shirt or a stray hair.  It’s hard to explain how the patch tool works so I tried to demonstrate with a picture. 


Basically you tap on whatever you want removed, and then use the “copy” circle, indicated by a dash in it, to dictate what that area will be replaced with. This tool really only works well on solid backgrounds, unless you want to go through the trouble to makes sure the patterns match up.

Facetune is 4.99 in the App Store, which sounds like a lot for an app but your Starbucks costs more than that.



VSCO and the iPhone version of Lightroom (which is free) basically have the same uses. The only feature that Lightroom has that I can’t use on VSCO is the “whites” tool which allows you to make everything that is white in the picture duller or brighter at once. Since I usually whiten my pictures in Facetune, this tool only comes in handy when I’m batch editing pictures that don’t need their own editing attention.

The desktop version of Lightroom has the same feature but with every color group. It allows you to isolate, blues, reds, yellows etc and adjust them separately from the rest of the picture. The desktop version has other additional features but at the moment I don’t find them beneficial enough to pay for.

To talk about VSCO I’m going to go step by step through how I edited a picture that wasn’t at its full potential “straight out of the camera”


I edited this picture using the following tools

Preset: I follow a theme on my pictures, so I use the same 2 presets on every photo; A9 and HB2. Which one I use depends on how the picture looks raw.


Exposure: Exposure may be my favorite tool. Due to having darker skin, I can’t allow a picture to be dark by nature or I will look like a shadow, which just isn’t a good look for me. I usually raise the exposure on all of my pictures but I lowered it on this one to combat the “ashiness” - for lack a of a better term - of this photo.


Contrast: Again, to help get rid of the hazy look of this picture I raised the contrast.


Saturation: Saturation is my second favorite tool. After adding my filter, some of the life was taken out of the picture. Saturation adds that life back into it. And that’s the best way I can explain how I use this tool


White Balance: Under white balance there’s tint and temperature. I never touch tint, but as illustrated below it controls the green-ness or the pink-ness of the image. Temperature controls how “warm” (brown) or “cold” (blue) the image is. I only use this for theme purposes. I drop the temperature slightly on all of my pictures to use blue as apart of my underlying color scheme.


Those are all the tools I used on this picture, and the most I use ever. Not every picture requires this much tweaking.



VSCO has several other features that I have never found necessary personally, but that can add really cool effects. Every now and then I use the grain filter if I want a picture to have less clarity on purpose.  

VSCO is free for the basics, and allows you to purchase presets in sets and at a very low price.

Before I wrap up I have a few tips and tricks for photo taking.
1. Always! Always! Always! take pictures facing the light. Taking a picture with your back to the light, artificial or natural, will result in you, as the picture’s subject, being shadowed.


2. Figure out what poses work best for your body type. I am already tall so for the most part I do not take my pictures from a low angle. This angle lengthens the body. There’s a wealth of tricks on the internet for posing for different body types

3. Take no less than 300 pictures (note: this is hyperbole). The more you take, the more you have to choose from and more often than not the best picture is not the one that you posed for or saw in your head.

And finally I want to talk about how I got my camera. I found a package deal on www.hsn.com that included my camera, my standard lense which is 18-55 mm and an additional lense for wider shots, as well as the camera bag, a battery charger and an SD card as a bundle deal for right at $700 after sales tax. The great part is that this website allows you to break your purchases into four or five monthly payments WITHOUT the use of a social security number. So that means your credit is not involved, and there is no interest rate.

It sounds way to be good to be true but I’ve done it so I can attest to it being 100% legitimate. At the moment, they are not selling the exact package that I got but I will  link one here for one that is a little under $500.00 for the camera and one lense.


I hope this answered most, if not all, of the questions that I’ve been asked.

Happy Instagramming!





Everyday Skincare Routine

I am not the best judge of trends since I really only see what’s going on in my own internet bubble, but it feels like the internet is going through a skincare wave much like the makeup wave that it went through not long ago. Not coincidentally, I’ve moved from being a makeup product junkie to being a skincare junkie right along with Instagram and twitter. In all honesty, getting into makeup made me realize just how badly I was treating my skin, and then when I actually got good at makeup -because yes, those were two separate time frames - I had an even stronger desire to make sure my no makeup face looked just as good.

Through some trial and error, experimentation, and a small phase of thinking coconut oil would solve all problems (it was a small phase because, consequently, too much coconut oil makes me breakout), I've developed a solid skincare routine that addresses all the important aspects of skincare and consists of predominantly natural products. Below I will detail what products I use, what I use them for, in what order I use them, and where I get them.

This post may contain affiliate links, so that should you choose to click on them and purchase the product, I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.  


Step 0.5: Makeup Removal

Obviously this step depends on whether or not you’re wearing makeup, but for the days/nights where you are, how you take it off sets the tone for the rest of the routine. I have found the best makeup remover to be coconut or olive oil. Really any natural oil will work, but those two are the least expensive to acquire in bigger quantities. I have never encountered a makeup remover, or makeup wipe that will breakdown makeup particles the way oils will, not to mention that coconut and olive oil are completely natural and lack the chemicals that makeup removers have. The only downside to this method is that it has to be followed my using a soap or cleanser so I advise keeping some cheap makeup remover wipes on hand for the nights where you absolutely cannot be bothered.  

Disclaimer: Coconut oil has been found to clog pores, but as it is being washed off almost immediately I have not found using it in this way to be harmful. 


Step 1: Cleansing

I use Black African Soap as a face wash. Listing all the benefits of this product would be extensive so I will stick with the ones that I find to be most important. It has been found to fade dark spots (which I have found to be true as well) and discoloration. It is a gentle cleanser, devoid of harsh chemicals found in a typical soap, Black African soap is ideal for pretty much all skin types, though a skin test is always advised. One of its best ingredients is plantain extract which has antibacterial properties ideal for cleansing and also found to help treat acne. I get mine exclusively from amazon because I've never seen it sold anywhere else. It is supposed to look raw and lumpy, that is the real stuff. Any pitch black perfectly shaped bar of soap you see that says black african soap is lying. Do NOT buy that.   

Pro Tip: When washing your makeup off wash your face twice. Once to remove the makeup, and then again to give your bare skin some love.

Step 2. Toning

I´m going to take a second to talk about why toning is important in the first place because a few months ago I really didn't get it. Simply put, toning is a second cleanse.  Not only will it remove remaining oil and debris that cleansing didn´t, certain toners can help to restore a healthy pH balance to the skin. Toning can also give you a good idea of how good of a job you did washing your face. There shouldn't be excessive makeup left on the cotton round (what I use to apply the toner). So without further ado, I use a mix of rose water and witch hazel to tone. I make my own mix with, but there is a witch Hazel that Thayers makes that has rose water and aloe in it, that many people swear by, and you can also use either one by themselves . I just can't choose between the two.  


BeFunky Collage.jpg

Step 3. Face masks

Again, this will not be a daily step, but it is very important. Ideally face masks, depending on their harshness should be done at least two times a week. I won't claim to stick to that but it is recommended by people who know more about skin care than me. For me, I like my masks to feel like their sucking my soul out through my face. Those nice sheet masks that you do with your girlfriends while you sip wine are nice, but if I can't feel the impurities being vacuumed out of my skin, I don't want it. That being said, The Aztec Secrets Indian Healing Clay face mask is the best mask ever. You can quote me on that. The product itself is 100% calcium bentonite clay. MIxed with apple cider vinegar, this mask will literally deep clean your pores. It also helps draw blood flow toward your cheeks and t-zones. It's also completely customizable. For something less aggressive it can easily be mixed with water. You can also add a drop or two of your favorite Essential oils

Step 4. Problem Treatment

Speaking of essential oils, I want to introduce you guys to my best friend, Tea Tree oil. The two problems I face the most are breakouts and scarring from picking at said breakouts. Tea tree oil solves both of those issues. Personally, I am not acne prone so I cannot speak to how effective it is at treating serious conditions. But for pimples, blackheads, and other three dimensional demons tea tree oil is their worst enemy.

I have found that if I apply tea tree oil to a pimple that is still forming (that sounds gross but it be like that sometimes), at night and sleep on it, it will halt the growth of blemish and then in another couple of days it will be gone. On the other hand, if there's already a fully formed growth on my face, generous application of tea tree oil for a couple of days will dry it out and I can either safely pick it off or it will just kind of shrivel up and disappear on its own. In addition to black African soap, tea tree oil has also done a great deal to fade scarring I have on my face.


Step 5. Moisturizing

I have oily skin, and a common belief among other oily skin people is that heavily moisturizing will only make the problem worse. This could not be more true. That excessive oil on your face is not good. It needs to be washed off and replaced with healthy moisture. My two favorite all natural moisturizers are raw shea butter and rosehip oil. Shea butter is extremely thick so I apply it at night, because it needs all night to fully sink into my skin. However, instead of waking up with my face feeling tight and crusty, It feels like I just moisturized a few minutes prior. On the other hand, rosehip oil is a lot lighter and ideal for application after a morning face wash, and it gives an amazing fresh faced glow.

Those are the main aspects of my skincare routine, and my go to products. In addition there are few tools that are important as well. I highly recommend investing a spinbrush for exfoliating the skin and for a deeper cleanse during the face wash process. I cannot speak about the effectiveness of the really expensive ones that you see advertised all of the time, but this one that my mom got me for christmas does everything that I need it to do for a fraction of the price. Cotton rounds, and Q-tips are also great to have on hand. And a tip I picked up from @beautifulbrownbabydoll on youtube that I swear by now, is to use paper towels to dry your face after washing. Since they are disposable you do not have to worry about constantly washing them, and with a washcloth or towel you run the risk of applying old dirt and bacteria back to your now clean face.  

With the knowledge that everyone´s skin is different and has different needs, I hope that you all found this helpful or at least piqued your curiosity about some new products and methods. I´m always on the lookout for new products to try. Let me know in the comments what your favorite products are.