Picture {Not} Perfect: Photography Tips

On occasion, people ask me for tips because I am “such a great photographer!”  Which is incredibly flattering, however completely inaccurate.  Maybe not completely….by definition a photographer is “one who takes photographs, or practices photography…”, and I certainly do that.  But I have way too much respect for the education, experience, and skill of professional photographers to lump myself into that crowd.

Summer Babes
Truly, I’m a picture taker.  I have invested in a DSLR and some lenses, and I have basic editing software, yes.  But I am just recently scratching the surface when it comes to really knowing how to use my equipment in its full capacity.  I’ve done some research on basic camera settings, on different techniques, I have pinned quick tips to improve this or that, but I struggle remembering on the fly exactly which settings are best for different situations.
Bed Snuggles
I usually have a grasp of what I want an image to catch already in my mind when I draw my camera up and look through the lens…I do my best to seek out that image….and then CLICK!  I do take composition into consideration, and I do occasionally screw around in manual mode, adjusting for aperture, ISO, and shutter speed.

But mostly, I’m just pulling out my camera A LOT.

Playing Outside

Beach Girl

Hilton Head Dinner
I take my camera outside when they play.  I take my camera when we go to the beach, when we go to dinner, when we stay home. Seriously…it’s in my bag when we go to the grocery store.
Grocery Store
I love the everyday. The messy hair. The stained shirt. The sleepy head. The dirty face.  The expressions that are so fleeting they are rarely caught with my cell phone, and certainly can’t be guaranteed in our annual family photo session with a professional.  I want to get their raw emotions, and their reality.  So I document our family in the everyday.
Messy Hair

Dirty Faces

Fall Beach Day
They aren’t perfect quality photos by any stretch, and occasionally Jeff will ask me (lovingly) to come out from behind the camera…but we both know how quickly life flies by, and having images that capture our life over time is something we care about.

Playground Boy
Dancing QueenThe thing is, I can tell you for each one of these photographs what I was feeling, what we were talking about, and what was going on just out of frame.  I can tell you what they were saying, and I remember what it sounded like.  Most importantly, I can remember what that moment FELT like.  It’s why I pull my camera out every single day.  I hadn’t thought about that trip to Hilton Head in a long time…but looking at the photos brought me right back to that trip, conjuring up memories that took place in the moments I snapped the photos AND all the moments in between.  And that is what I aim to do.

Hilton Head Pics

Painted Faces
My point with this particular post, is to say that I don’t have a ton of photography knowledge, but I do have some non-techy, non-professional things I personally take into account.  So here’s my eight cents:

1.  Pull out your camera, no matter what kind you have, and just start shooting!  Try to carry it with you.  They are more durable than you think.  The more you use it, the more comfortable you will get with it clunking around in your bag or around your neck.

2.  If it is capable, set your camera shooting mode to CONTINUOUS SHOOTING.  This will allow you to hold the trigger and take lots of frames super fast.  You end up with lots of duplicate or close to duplicate shots, but with a moving subject (kids tend to do that) one of those frames will capture that exact moment you were looking for!  Once you have more practice with your settings, you won’t need to do this as often.

3.  Take a second and play with the settings on your dial…  Get familiar with what they are there for.  You don’t even have to get into the “fancy” settings (P, Tv, Av, M) to get great photos….but getting off of Auto and getting a feel for what else your camera presets can offer you is helpful, and you’re more likely to produce an image you like a little more.  Everyyyybody loves Av though, subject is in focus and the background is blurry.

4. Try not to use flash, rely on natural light.  For me, flash tends to be….harsh.  (This is most likely an operator issue….I don’t hold anything against a flash, I just don’t know how to work with it well.)  So I prefer not to use it whenever possible.  Of course, in low light you will most likely need to, or your subjects may be blurry or soft.  In that case, editing can help to soften the photo, and pull up the shadows in the background to balance. (See number 8.)

5.  Find a cheat sheet that works for you, and save it on your phone.  Find my favorites here.

6.  Move.  Move yourself so that you see more of your subject at different angles.  Move your subject to face the sun, instead of you shooting into it.  Move your camera just off kilter, sometimes with the subject to the left or right, or hold your camera so the frame is diagonal.  For me, I like it when the photo isn’t always perfectly centered.

7.  Stay still.  I know, I just said MOVE, but reducing camera shake is the number one way to get cleaner, crisper images.  I mean keep your camera still when you pull the trigger.

8.  Edit.  Not a TON…okay, sometimes a ton.  I just recently purchased Adobe Photoshop CC, which includes Lightroom.  I use Photoshop to compile photo and product collages for this blog, but haven’t even attempted editing photos with it.  In my experience, Lightroom is much more user friendly.  But even before that, I used the basic Windows Photo Gallery tools to edit.  Super simple stuff, adding saturation or cooling down a photo temperature, correcting red eye, and cropping.  It may take a minute or two, but I almost always tweak a photo before I feel like it’s finished.

As for equipment, I am partial to Canon, only because it was touted as the most user friendly and had the best reviews for my price point.  I started with a Canon Rebel xsi about six years ago, and when I dropped it (whaaaaaaa?????) on the Thursday before Easter this year I went straight to the store and bought the same camera in it’s newest version, the Canon Rebel SL1.  In addition to the 18-55mm lens which comes with the camera, I have purchased a few lenses.  One for catching details at a distance (Canon 55-250mm), and one for super wide angles to catch interiors and architecture (Canon 10-22mm).  My go to purchase was a hood for each lens, they help to shield the light flooding into the lens, which tends to blow out images taken in broad day light.

I’m actually dedicating some time to improve my camera skillzzzz now that the school year is back in session.  I’m so grateful to some professional photographer friends who are pointing me in the right direction.  It’s amazing when someone wants to share their passion and skills with others!  I want to really focus on how to produce more clear shots INSIDE…where there is less light.  It’s a monster yall.  I fight to find balance between crisp photos that are bright and having too much grain (noise) degrading the quality.  But like with anything else worth doing, it will take time and practice.  If I ever get a good hang of it I’ll be sure to share!

There’s a million little stories that happen every day, some special days and some every days.  If you’re like me you’ll want to remember all of them.  The picture does not have to be perfect, it just has to be taken.  So go grab your camera and capture yours!  Cheers yall!

Tea Party Birthday: {Re}Collected Moments Series

We do most of the prep and planning for the little people’s birthday parties in the summer because they are three weeks apart…in the fall….when there are about a gajillion other things we have going on.  Although neither kid has settled on a firm idea for this year, it’s definitely on the brain.  So it’s the perfect time to {re}collect a past party moment for this series!

Tea Party Birthday
R wanted to celebrate her fifth birthday with “just girls” and asked for a Tea Party at home.  I pitched her the idea of sitting together with five of her friends in little white gloves, dripping with pearls and wearing their favorite dresses, sipping on “tea” from delicate tea cups and eating little tea sandwiches with their pinkies in the air.  She approved of my proposal and promptly set me about making it happen.

The party decorations were simple, I found the perfect little tea party printables from Designed by Maria on Etsy.  Maria was amazing to work with and customized R’s banner for me, as well as made minor tweaks to color and font.  I made tissue paper garland, used lace for the sweet pennant flags, and of lots of roses of course!  (If you missed it, here are my tips for flowers.)

Tea Party Birthday Decor
As her guests arrived, they decorated porcelain tea cups and saucers with markers.  I baked them in the oven at 350 degrees for thirty minutes for the color to set, and had them cool during the party so they were ready to take home with each guest.

Tea Party Birthday, Tea Cup Decorating
They made jewelry and decorated little hand bag totes.  I found all the supplies at Michaels and AC Moore.

Tea Party Birthday Activity
I made each girl a little feather and flower hair piece, then gathered hand fans, rings, necklaces, bracelets and gloves for each little lady.

Tea Party Birthday Dress Up
Once they were all dressed and ready for tea time, they sat like big girls drinking “tea” (strawberry or chocolate milk) from mismatched teacups and saucers I found for a steal on Ebay.  They jabbered on while nibbling sugar laden goodies from macarons to jam filled tea sandwiches off of dessert plates passed down from Jeff’s grandparents.  They consumed so much sugar I was genuinely surprised they stayed seated as long as they did.  I can still hear their sugar induced little giggles!

Tea Party Birthday Table Reduced
They moved on to cake time, and her cake was exactly as I’d pictured it – simple and sweet and girly and pink. And the various size cupcakes with roses on top were equally enjoyed as part of the decor as well as a delicious treat.

Tea Party Birthday Cake
Such a sweet time she and her little friends had. And such a sweet moment to {re}collect!

Tea Party Birthday Hugs
Cheers you guys…pinkies out of course!