Momtographer Journal: Meet Shawn

 
 

I'm so excited to introduce you all to my sweet friend, Shawn.  She is a mama with a heart for photography who loves documenting her three beautiful girls.  She has generously shared her passion and tips with us today.  I know you'll enjoy learning from her perspective.

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How did You get started with photography?

Well I had a “regular” job for a long time, 13 years actually. I had just had my third child in July and returned back to work in October. Three weeks after I returned from maternity leave I found out that the company I worked for was eliminating my position, there was 17 of us all together, we would stay until December 1st. Of course at first I was devastated, I had no clue what to do really. Then I realized this was actually a blessing.

At that time I had a 5 month old, 3 year old and 14 year old at home and I wanted nothing more than to be home with my girls everyday. My hubby and I discussed it and decided I would take some time off. I had received a severance when I left and with what we would save on daycare we knew we would be ok for a little while.

I also knew I needed to do something outside of being Mamma and Homemaker. Besides having the extra income I am the type of person that needs to have something of my own, something that makes me feel useful, independent, something I enjoy and something that is just mine. This is what my old job was to me, even though it probably wasn’t something I loved doing everyday it was mine and I was good at it. It gave me my independence.

This was my chance to do something I really loved, a fresh start and I had time to really think. I must say that from the very beginning I knew photography was my ultimate dream, something I have been passionate about for most of my life. So after discussing it with my amazing hubby he was completely on board. I started taking classes, received tons of help from my friend who is an amazing photographer herself and practiced and practiced!

So now it’s been almost two years, I am still at home with my babies and enjoying every moment! Aside from taking tons of pics of my family I am so lucky to take pics of other beautiful families as well!

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Could you please share your heart for photography?

So photography for me is so many things. I am a very creative person, I am one of those people that is always doing something, whether it be re-making an old piece of furniture, scrapbooking or taking pics. I love the art of photography, but I also love the memories.

I have a terrible memory, I always have, it’s just something I have been blessed with I guess. But when I look at a pic I can remember everything about that day or event. I remember the feeling, what my kids were doing that day, their reactions, and how I felt. So when my kids look back at those pics I can tell them the story that goes with it. It helps me remember the little details of their childhood. So photography is such a blessing in my life, it really is so very important to me.

What do you do with your photos?  How do you display them around the house?  Albums?  Internet?  Etc?

I use my photos in many ways. I am an avid scrapbooker, have been for years! I do traditional albums and just recently started digital albums which are a great way to showcase your pics in a beautiful way and its quick! I also hang them in my home, I love clusters of pics on a wall, I also have small 4x4 pics that I hang on strands of twinkling lights, this is one of my many ideas from Pinterest that I love, I am able to change the pics out often when I get some new pics I just love and MUST display!

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WHAT’S IN YOUR CAMERA BAG?

The better question is what isn’t in my camera bag! Of course my camera, with my favorite lens, Canon EF 24-70 mm f/2.8. Usually an extra lens Canon EF 50mm f/1.8, couple extra memory cards, batteries, flash, business cards, diapers, wipes, wallet, bath and body works lip gloss in grapefruit, lotion, tissues, pony tail holder, bobby pins, pen, phone, Tylenol and gum!

WHAT EQUIPMENT DO YOU ACTUALLY USE MOST OFTEN?

The lens I use about 97% of the time is the Canon EF 24-70 mm. It’s just that lens that works good for just about everything and when your taking pics of kiddos, especially mine who are sooo over mommy taking their pics, you don’t have time to switch lenses. You just need to go to it and quickly! And honestly I am quickly becoming a huge fan of my camera on my phone. For those days when I’m juggling a new puppy, a 2 year old and a 5 year old (the 16 year old can usually juggle herself) I don’t always have the option of carrying my Canon so it’s either I use my phone or I don’t get that cute pic! So with tons of practice and some editing apps I have really started to embrace and love my phone camera.

DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR BEGINNERS?

My advice for beginners is take tons and tons of pics, take a class and start practicing! Take your camera everywhere and try new angels of the same pic. Move around, many times I’m lying on the ground usually over an ant hole in the grass at the park to get that one great pic of someone’s little kiddo, and its usually worth it! Soon you’ll find your groove, your niche. You’ll develop your own style! And when you get that one great pic, that perfect expression, that sweet glimpse, it will be the best feeling every single time!

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Thank you so much for Shawn for sharing your perspective on motherhood and photography!

 

This post contains affiliate links, which are no extra cost to you. If you make a purchase using one of these links Full Circle Photo Project earns a commission to further its mission of empowering moms behind their cameras.

 

Understanding Light

 
 
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Lighting is arguably the most important factor at making all of your photos better. Once you understand light you can begin seeking out the ‘good’ light for each photo you take - and pretty soon all of your photos will be one step closer to amazing!

There are two different kinds of light of light when it comes to photography - direct light and indirect light. Each serves a unique purpose and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. We’ll chat through the specifics of each type below.

Direct Light

If we were standing out in the yard, or out on the beach, and the sun is shining directly down on us, that is direct light. Direct light comes at your subject from a specific direction and creates a shadow on the ground. Unfortunately, those shadows on the ground can also mean shadows across the face as well. That bright sunshine also often means squinting - definitely not ideal for portraits.

Full sun. Like we just mentioned above, anytime you’re out in the sunshine and it’s shining directly on your subject, creating a shadow on the ground, then you’re in full sun. I’ll be honest with you - full sun is not ideal for photographing in. Period. Even as a seasoned professional wedding photographer, I always do my best to avoid it! But life still happens, so from time to time you’ll find yourself on the beach, embracing harsh shadows. My main tip for this type of light is to either keep your subjects back to the sun, or have them facing full into it. The harsh shadows fall across their faces when the sun is coming from either side of your subject.

Sunset shots. Sometimes direct light can be really beautiful, like at sunset. They call the hour before sunset the “golden hour” because it creates a beautiful golden light color. It’s a great time of day for portraits.

Silhouettes. You can also use direct light for neat shots like silhouettes. You’ll expose your photo for the light, rather than the subject. That may sound complicated, but this is what your camera will automatically do in Auto mode. Play around with these situations and you can get some really creative shots.

**The best way to work with direct light is to put your subject’s back to the sun, so they’re not squinting. Unfortunately, when shooting in Auto Mode, the camera automatically exposes your photo for the bright sunlight and makes your subject much darker than you’d like it to be (similar to what I just mentioned about silhouettes). In order to overcome this, you’ll need to override the Auto settings and expose for your subject’s face instead of the light. I’d love to teach you how to do this, but it’s going to take us a bit more effort. If you're interested, check out the Full Circle Photo School for more info.

 

Indirect Light

Consider our yard/beach situation from above. If direct light is standing out in the yard, then indirect light would be us sitting on the shaded front porch. The sun isn’t shining directly on us, rather is reflecting upon us. This type of reflected light is known as indirect light.

Indirect light comes from all sides and completely illuminates your subject - no harsh shadows, no squinting - just beautiful, even light. This light is ideal for photography. I’m constantly seeking out indirect light to put my subjects in and I would encourage you to do the same. Your photos will totally thank you for it!

Below are some examples of where you can find indirect light and how to harness it for your best photos yet!

Overcast Days. These are the days that are ideal for photography. You don’t have to worry about shadows or harsh sunlight or people squinting. Everything is very evenly lit and you can photograph just about anywhere you’d like.

Shade. When you put your subject in the shade and point your camera towards the shady area, you’ll get beautifully, evenly lit photos. I love finding tree lines or shade from buildings. They provide beautiful backdrops as well as lovely, indirect light.

In the slide example below, you can see the shadow line in the top left corner of the photo. The sun is bright (and direct) outside of the shadow that my subject is playing in. In the swing example, we're hanging out in the shade of the tree line behind us - a fabulous place for photos!

Window Light. I love putting the kids close to an open window or door inside of the house. I put my back to the window/door and let the beautiful, even, indirect light pour onto the kids while they play. I open every blind in the house each morning for this very reason :)

Lighting can seem overwhelming at first, but as you practice more, you’ll start to become more aware of where the light is coming from. I find myself driving down the road and paying attention to the shadows from cars, trees, etc. The more you pay attention to the light, the more you’ll be able to seek out that beautiful, indirect light and get better photos every shot!

 

Where To Get Your Photos Printed

 
 
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I find that for most moms, taking the photos isn't the problem.  We're all great at hoarding photos on our phones, cameras and hard drives.  The problem is getting those special moments off our devices and into our lives!  

The problem with hoarding photos on our devices - or even with just simply sharing them on social media - is that our kids never see them.  And the whole point of taking photos of the kids is to share our family legacies with them.  How are we going to do that if they never get to see all these beautiful images we're taking!?!  

As with most things in life, my motto for printing out photos is, 'done is better than perfect'!  I would rather have some photos printed and in the hands of my kiddos or on the walls of home rather than none at all.  Sure, I could spend months perfectly editing each image or orchestrating the perfect gallery wall, but done is better than perfect!

Below are my top three resources for getting your photos into your life!

PRINTS / STAND OUTS / CARDS

Mpix.com

This is hands down my favorite site for printing basic prints (4x6, 5x7, 8x10, etc.).  They are the consumer grade subsidiary of the professional print lab that I use for my clients and I couldn't be happier with their products.  As you spend more time investing in your photos (editing them, etc.) you'll begin to see a major difference in the quality of prints.  Sure, it's super convenient to upload your images to one hour photo at Wal-Mart or Walgreens, but the quality you get is what you pay for.  And for not much more you could get beautiful prints from MPix.  I highly recommend!

I also LOVE MPix for making photo cards - from Christmas to thank you cards.  It's such a fun, personalized way to send greetings to friends and family.

They also have a great app that allows you to print great quality photos directly from your phone. It's called Tap To Print and I love it!

FAMILY YEARBOOKS

Blurb.com

Each year I make a family yearbook of all of our family photos.  Blurb makes this process so much fun and I LOVE getting the finished product in the mail!  I love the quality and price of the books I get from Blurb and I love that I can squeeze so many pages in them.  They offer options to create your book via their album design tool, or to upload your Adobe InDesign files - both super simple and easy to use!  

CANVAS WALL PRINTS

CG Pro Prints

This is my favorite place to have canvases printed for around our house.  They are super professional looking and great quality, but for a fraction of the price of canvases elsewhere!  

 

Whatever you do, just get some photos printed!  Your kids will love having photos in their life and they may even be more inclined to willingly participate for you the next time your camera is out!  

 

This post contains affiliate links, which are no extra cost to you. If you make a purchase using one of these links Full Circle Photo Project earns a commission to further its mission of empowering moms behind their cameras.

 

Getting Natural Smiles + Expressions From Your Kids

 
 
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I don’t know about you, but when it comes to me taking photos of my own kids, asking them to sit still and smile pretty is pretty much a joke.  It ain’t never gonna happen! But over the years I've learned to adjust my approach - and sometimes my expectations - in order to get authentic photos of my kids. I hope you can learn a thing or two from my mistakes to keep a positive relationship between your kids and your camera :)

Always have your camera ready 

On a shelf in your kitchen, in a basket in the living room, wherever you spend most of your time is where you camera should be. Keeping your camera ready to go - with a fully charged battery and memory card space - means it's ready to go whenever your kids are. Nothing is more annoying (to you or your kids) than missing a moment and then asking them to recreate it once your camera is ready.

I always hear from moms that they’re afraid of damaging their cameras. One of the most common misconceptions about DSLR cameras is that they're fragile.  After four years of motherhood I can assure you that couldn't be farther from the truth!  Sure, you don't want to go dropping them on the regular, but they can certainly be thrown in the diaper bag and they'll handle just fine.  I totally understand that you've spent a lot of money on your camera and the last thing you want is for something bad to happen to it.  The problem is, if you don't ever take it with you, then you're missing out on the whole reason why you bought it in the first place - to document LIFE.  For more tips on how to protect your camera on the go, check out this post.

Choose their best time of day

If it’s after a nap or first thing when they wake up in the morning - go with it! This is especially true if you want ‘looking at the camera while smiling’ portraits. Those are always the most challenging with kiddos, so set them up for success during their happiest time of day.

Let them play

Consider setting up activities for them to do.  There is no shame in choosing an activity you know they’ll love, just so you can get great photos.

Turn on some music in the background and have a dance party, or just let it set the tone that it’s ok to play and be silly.

Get down on their level

This is especially important if you sneak into where they're playing. Rather than barging in with your camera asking them to pose or smile, just come in quietly and get onto their level. You can either take photos without interrupting them, or join in on the play and pick up the camera intermittently while playing. This is one of my favorite aspects of photography. It really encourages me to engage with my kids on their level. So often we’re in a position where we're looking down on them and telling them what to do. But my camera encourages me to get down on the floor and let them guide me in what to do next.

Get them to talk to you

Ask questions about things or people that make them happy. My son thinks his grandpa is hilarious, so all I have to do is mention Pa and I'll get a real smile!

Ask them to laugh (or roar) as loud as they can. This actually works for adults, too! The first laugh is pretty fake, but it feels so silly that it's most often followed by a genuine one, or at least a genuine smile.

Give them a break!

Nobody likes having a camera in their face all the time - and this is especially true for our kids! When you can tell they're starting to get annoyed with the camera, don’t push them. Just put down the camera for a few minutes. Try being silly along with them for a few minutes, or just doing something else altogether.

You could also try taking the focus off of them by taking photos of something else nearby - the dog, a flower, dad, etc. - sometimes taking the attention off of them actually makes them want the attention back :)

Keep in mind that our kids attention spans are SHORT. Sometimes it's easy for us to get caught up in our cameras and time flies, but for our kids, they moved on 10 minutes ago! When it comes to kids, we have limited time to get the shots we want. We just have to learn to work quickly :)

Show them the photos

There are two main ways I like to do this.  Obviously you can show them the back of the screen and let the see what you just got.  It's a great way to get them involved.  My son will often come up with new ideas or suggestions for me to take photos of him doing something after he's seen himself on my little preview screen.

The other way I do this is by actually printing my photos!  Revolutionary idea, I know :)  But something about your kids seeing your photos around the house and in their lives makes them value the camera all the more.  They recognize that the photos are special and they want to do whatever it takes to make sure there are more photos and photo books around the house.

Carefully Consider Bribery

I've learned this one the hard way over the years. As soon as I offer bribery everything becomes about that stinking piece of candy. Every smile becomes fake and between each shot I get asked about said candy 10 times. It quickly becomes miserable for everyone and I'm incredibly unlikely to end up with genuine smiles. Plus, the next time I get out my camera I'm likely to be asked for another piece of candy.

If you're going to use ‘bribery’ I would recommend using it solely as a surprise reward for a good portrait session. A fun, unexpected treat for patiently dealing with my camera for a couple of minutes is fun for everyone. And I always love rewarding good behavior when no reward is expected.

What I've learned is that the ultimate goal is to only let my camera be associated with positive things. As momtographers, we're trying to maintain a healthy balance between kids and camera so that they don't run every time we get it out. You know your kids best - pick and choose the tips that work for your kids and leave the rest. Just remember, there is no shame in trying again later - or another day altogether.

Happy photographing mamas!

 

Why Auto Mode Isn't Getting Better Photos Of Your Kids

 
 
 

So you’ve purchased a lovely new camera, but all you’ve been able to do so far with it is shoot in AUTO mode.  The only problem is, your photos just don’t look that great.  The truth is, if you only ever use your DSLR in the automatic mode you may as well have just stuck with your iPhone, because you’re really missing out on all your DSLR has to offer. Sure, you may luck out and get a good photo from time to time, but more often than not you’re going to get just OK images that lack any real pizazz.

The following are the most common complaints I hear from mamas shooting in AUTO mode.

My photos are blurry

When you use your camera on AUTO mode, you're relying on an algorithm inside of the camera to determine what you want in your photo. The problem is that the algorithm had no idea what you want from your photo. It's just trying to make a decent exposure based on the sensors it has built in.

When it comes to blurry photos, your camera didn't know that your subject was a kid who never sits still - it just knew it needed to let more light on, so it used a slower shutter speed. If you were in control of your camera, you would know your subject is a crazy running kiddo and you would prioritize your shutter speed to keep your photo from being blurry.

All the professional photos have beautiful, blurry backgrounds.  Mine don’t :(

Again with the camera's AUTO algorithm assuming what you want. It's just assuming that you want everything in the frame in focus, so it's using a much higher aperture than you would want if you were in charge of your camera. By choosing your own aperture, or f-stop number, you get to determine how blurry your background will be.

The wrong thing is in focus all the time

When you shoot in auto mode the camera gets to decide what is the most important thing to focus on in each image - often whatever is closest to the lens.  The problem is that whatever is closest to the lens isn’t necessarily the subject.  And it’s pretty hard to tell a story with your photos when your intended subject isn’t in focus.

One of the major advantages of shooting in manual is that you get to choose where you focus - opening up a whole new world of creativity with your shots.

My flash keeps popping up when I don’t want it to!

You’re at the beach or out in the middle of the yard and the sun is blaring - how could you possibly need a flash right now!? Well, when your camera is in auto mode, it may think that you need ‘fill light’ to properly light your subject.  Not necessary.  

Or it’s your kiddos birthday and there’s a cake full of candles right in front of his face.  You want to capture the excitement on his face and the flickering candles, but that pesky flash pops up and ruins the moment!  So not necessary!

When you know how to expose for your subject, you don’t have to worry about your flash popping up and getting washed out, flashy images. You’ll know how to properly expose for each situation without letting that obnoxious flash ruin things.

If you’re sick of feeling the same way about the photos you take in AUTO mode, then it’s time you take over your camera settings.  Let’s learn to capture life the way you see it - not the way some random algorithm on your camera sees it.  It's only when you abandon AUTO and take FULL control over your camera that you will get consistently good images that look the way you want them to.

So how do you go from all the AUTO functions on your camera to images that you can be proud of? What if all of the above solutions sound like jibberish to you? That is just the reason why I created the Full Circle Photo School.  It’s an online, self-paced course designed for busy mom's, just like you, to learn everything they need to take their DSLRs from AUTO to manual mode.  No more dark, blurry, flashy images for you - just beautiful photos of your kids, exactly the way you envisioned them!