Running from the Law: Photography for Moms - For the Love of Photos

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Photography for Moms - For the Love of Photos

I am so thrilled to have Julia, from My Life in Transition here blogging today.  Julia is one of my all-time favorite bloggers.  Her posts are always photo-heavy with gorgeous pictures of her adorable kids, so I knew right away that I wanted her to be a part of this "Photography for Moms" series. Today, Julia will be discussing how she captured some of her favorite photos of her kids, how she manages to get real genuine smiles out of them (this might surprise you!), how to store/backup your photos and what to do with your photos (prints, albums, etc.).  Yep, it's a hefty post that tackles a wide variety of photography topics and I love it!  There is SO much good information in this post - I want to print it out and highlight sections so I remember it all.  I hope you enjoy this one!   And feel free to leave Julia a comment or any question you might have!  

Hello, readers of Running from the Law!

I'm Julia and am super excited to post on Sara's blog today for her series on Photography for Moms. I am, in fact, a mom with a DSLR camera who takes an absurd amount of (mediocre) pictures of my children. I have absolutely no desire to 'go pro' as a photographer and am totally content picking up the camera to document our everyday lives with little kids--imperfections and all. I also blog at My Life in Transition and overgram on Instagram as mrsjuliagoolia. Seriously, I take a lot of pictures. The last time I checked I had over 32,000 images on Flickr--my favorite 'third party' photo storage site. And in the two years I've been on Instagram, I've bombarded my followers' feeds with over 1850 pictures of my kids. So be warned, editing down my photos is not my strong suit!
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(photo by my favorite mom photographer and real life friend, Andrea Weiss Photography)

I purchased my first 'nice' camera back in early 2009, pre-kids, post-blog. I vividly remember researching DSLRs and ended up buying the Canon Rebel, falling madly in love with it, and becoming hell bent on learning to shoot entirely in the manual mode. Which meant that I got a LOT of practice taking pictures of our 'first born'---our cockapoo named Henry.

Henry was not a bad subject by any means, but soon enough we added a few human additions to our family. Truman was born in 2010 and Cecelia in 2012. They are quite used to having my camera in their face more often than not. I'm pregnant with baby #3 and due with this baby boy in July, so it's safe to say that little old Henry is in about 1/10,000 of the pictures I take nowadays. Poor guy has slipped quite a bit on the totem pole of life, but don't feel too badly for him. Two young kids = lots of people food on the ground for Henry's taking.

Truman, age 4:

Cecelia, will be 2 in May (thinks she is 22):

Our growing family: this shot isn't my own (obviously) but another one by Andrea:

When I first got my camera and decided that I should really learn to use it in the manual mode, I read the book 'Understanding Exposure' by Bryan Peterson. I always recommend this book to anyone trying to learn Manual. Also: practice, practice, practice! It's the only way to learn and it's a fun excuse to get to know your camera. It's okay if the pictures aren't perfect….life isn't perfect! Just do your best to capture the moment and over time you will start to nail those manual settings. You can't ever take too many in the name of practice! That's one of the best things about living in the age of digital cameras---not wasting a bunch of film, or taking blind shots without being able to review them after. I might take 100 pictures of my kids playing outside and only 5 of them are worth keeping. At least I have 5 good ones instead of 0 if I didn't bother to grab my camera!

Since my beginner days learning manual mode, I have since upgraded the body of my camera to the Canon 60D and I keep my 'nifty fifty' lens (50mm f/1.8) on this baby 99% of the time. Call it laziness if you'd like but I really do love the effects of a prime lens for portraits---which seem to be my favorite type of image to capture with these two sweet baby faces staring into my lens of choice. I never noticed how much I adore a close up shot of my children's faces, with their eyes sharply focused and the background all blurry and dreamy…until I started writing this post. I really do love portraits as evidenced by my 'favorite' images above and below. I also have my kit lens but to save time and capitalize on a really adorable sibling shot, the 50mm stays put for me. It's fantastic for portraits so maybe that's a part of my laziness in never changing my lens. If it's not broken, don't fix it (?).

In my ideal photography world, I would have both of my children all dressed up in adorable outfits, sitting in our backyard in the summer with beautiful back-lighting, smiling and hugging and being generally perfect photography subjects. I have, in fact, snapped a few 'frame-worthy' shots of my kids in similar settings. Oh, the glory.


For real, though. Here are some of my favorite outdoor pictures of Truman I've taken over the years. None of these photos are edited or near perfect, since as you will read below, I'm WAY too lazy to edit anything anymore. What you see is what you get, straight out of the camera:


And my favorite ones of Cecelia outdoors:

In the real world, in imperfect conditions for photographs, I'm capturing the back of their heads indoors during the longest winter ever. Sometimes I will call them 'artsy candids' showing the chaos of real life, lots of action, and usually not fantastic portraits. I never use a flash so if I don't have enough natural light coming through the windows in our house, I either have to bump up my ISO on the nice camera (which is nice with the 60D versus the Rebel!) or usually I will just settle for a semi-blurry iPhone picture. Again, call me lazy, but I will save up for my favorite type of outdoor pictures once the temperatures get above 20 degrees here in Wisconsin. I suppose I have lucked out and snapped a few nice indoor pictures over the past few years, though.

Favorites of Truman inside:

And favorites of Cecelia inside:

My secret to get those (occasional) genuine smiles? Candy. I'm serious, if I want to do an actual photo shoot with my kids I will come armed with a bag of edible goodies. My favorites: fruit snacks, conversation hearts, suckers...anything but chocolate, as I learned the hard way after some unfortunate brown drool made it's way onto Cecelia's pretty dress one day. Pure bribery works wonders, a lot of high pitched 'mommy talk' that is probably wildly inappropriate for a four year old at this point. But it works! "Smile and you will get a fruit snack," will ensure that I get a least one image of Truman and Cecelia both looking longingly into my camera. I have to act quickly since the novelty of candy as a reward wears off quickly and the sugar high that ensues doesn't allow for eye contact in my pictures. But even just a few nice frames with genuine smiles are enough for me.

I do well with a focused topic for blog posts, lest I fall into the pit of rambling that results in a painfully lengthy post (might still happen). So I told Sara I would tackle the topic of photo storage. Otherwise known as 'What in the heck do I do with all of these pictures now that I've taken them?'

I wrote a fairly detailed blog post all about this back in November, and I could just link it here and continue to show you pictures of my cute children. But instead I will elaborate and boil it down for this new post and hopefully it can help you get a handle on you might have floating around the interwebs/on your phone/computer.

Like I wrote in my original post, I use two back-up methods for my thousands of iPhone and DSLR pictures/videos: Flickr and an external hard drive. Every evening I try to upload all of the new pictures and videos from my phone onto Flickr, and have found that the 'Flickr Stackr' app is the speediest for large batches of uploads. I need to get better about deleting the original photos and videos from my phone immediately. But I tend to wait on that until my phone gives me a warning about almost exploding from lack of storage. Ideally, I would just delete everything after I upload to Flickr.

I hope this doesn't seem too daunting because it's really not! I can select the images, upload them using the Flickr Stackr app, and walk away from my phone. I'm also told you can choose to automatically upload every image you take directly to Flickr---haven't gone down that path just yet, since I do like to delete some of my blurry images before storing them for eternity. But that is certainly an easy option, too!

Flickr Stackr at work:

For my DSLR, I upload every image to iPhoto on our desktop computer first and then delete them off my memory card. I go through iPhoto and select the pictures that are actually in focus and upload those to Flickr as well. I will also pull my nice images onto our external hard drive every few months as an extra back up, in case Flickr dies (nooooo!) to ease my mind a bit about lost photos. Uploading from my desktop to Flickr and from my desktop to the hard drive isn't too terribly time consuming since I use my actual camera so much less than my iPhone.

I really don't edit my photos anymore (no time! Lazy!) but used to use Photoshop quite a bit. I also loved the Pioneer Woman free action sets back in the day. Now I will sometimes adjust the levels directly in iPhoto to correct for an underexposed or overexposed picture. Good enough for me!

iPhoto organization:

Editing in iPhoto:

Within Flickr, I could probably stand to organize a little bit better but right now I just create sets based on the month and the year. IPhone pictures have their own set for the month, and nicer pictures do, too. For example, I will have a set for 'iPhone April 2014', an 'April 2014' that holds my DSLR photos, and then a 'videos of kids Spring 2014'. I just don't take a ton of videos, I guess. If it's a special occasion like a birthday party or a vacation or something very specific with a lot of images, I will just make a new set solely for that topic outside of the month/year category. I find Flickr to be very user friendly and will often flip back through my hundreds of sets to find the ONE image that I'm thinking about using for a blog post;) It's really easy to download the original file from Flickr so if my images were ever lost on the external hard drive, I think I could survive. I have it set for my mom and good friends to be allowed downloading rights through Flickr, so if my mom wants a 4x6 print for a frame at her house? Go for it! She orders it directly through Flickr or can download the file to her desktop and go from there.
That covers the extremely fun 'storage' part of this topic, but what about actually using the images for something other than blog posts, Instagram, or Facebook? Maybe I'm a little bit old school but I love having our memories in print, especially in albums, so I can physically pull out books and page through when I feel like reminiscing. I'm a little bit more modern than my 25 year old self who would use pretty papers, stickers, and actual 4x6" prints in her albums. Today I use Blurb as my album company of choice, and their Booksmart software that will design my pages all digitally. I find that Blurb and Booksmart are very user friendly and love the quality of the books for the price.

I wrote a lot about this process in my previously linked post, but basically I try to do a yearly album for each child through year two. That includes all of my weekly/monthly blog posts I dedicate to the child and a crazy amount of pictures. I also make a 'pregnancy' album for each child complete with pictures and blog posts leading up to their birth. You can't ever take too many belly pictures during pregnancy, ladies! After all of my kids are beyond the age of two, I hope to do a general 'family' album again. I wonder if I will be averaging about 2 pictures per year at that point in my life? It would sure make the daunting task of creating a family album that much easier. I used to do a 'family album' each year pre-kids but found that now doing a 'kids yearly album' is just as thorough. I also used Blurb to make a simple Instagram album for 2012 and am thinking about doing that again for 2013. That way my favorite iPhone pictures make it to print and we have an album that isn't 100% comprised of our kids (maybe 90%?)

My best advice on how to get started on a digital photo album? Take your time, tackle the project in small chunks of time, and don't let yourself get too overwhelmed at the prospect of capturing it all. The first thing I will do when starting an album is sort through my pictures by the month and edit down to a 'bare minimum' of what I feel needs to be represented in our album. Yes, this part sort of sucks. But if you just focus on 1-2 months in a sitting it will be much more pleasant to accomplish. This is why I really like arranging my photos by the month in Flickr, too---it's very easy to go through each set for my albums.

As you are putting your book together, remember that you don't have to be super creative, and you don't even need text at all. Sometimes less is more. I personally like to add my blog posts into the books for reference, or at least the date/ages of the kids. But letting the images speak for themselves is also a great way to complete a simple book. You can do it and you might even have fun while putting it all together! I love the process but it's always incredibly daunting to get started, for sure. Even if my kids don't appreciate all of the effort I've made for these albums over the years, I know I will love reading back over our memories as a young family. It goes too quickly and these albums help me feel like time is frozen in the images and my words describing them. Yes, album design gets really deep for me, apparently;)

My prized possessions/labors of love:

Aside from digital albums, I also love hanging pictures on our walls. What's the point of having thousands of pictures if you can't look at some of your favorites every day and personalize your home with family faces? I think we have about four 'gallery walls' going on in our home right now: one with six giant canvases (printed from CG Pro Prints), one with eight 11x14" black and white prints (printed from Mpix), and then a ton of random wooden frames along our stairs, plus a rainbow-colored gallery in my kids' shared bedroom. So yes, not only do I take a lot of pictures but we also do a fair number of professional photo shoots with my good friend Andrea. And I have a lot of pictures hanging on our walls. ;)

I look forward to rotating older prints out and changing up the frames over time, so that my walls don't seem too outdated or stagnant. I truly enjoy selecting the 'chosen images' for frames in our house, picking a few 'big moments' and a few 'growing kids' snapshots along the way. Printed memories make me smile....even if I do have more nail holes in our 1920s wall plaster than I care to patch. Just like my love for photo albums, I think my love for framed prints probably comes from my mother. She has both TONS of albums (old school paper and glue!) and numerous framed pictures in their house, too. It's one of the many things my mom and I have in common, I suppose.

What else can I throw at you today? Oh, the way I get so many pictures into collages for blog posts like these? I bought an app for my desktop computer called BlogStomp and love it. Super easy for me to condense a lot of pictures into a more manageable grouping for blog posts/social media. You can pick rounded edges and different 'frames' so it's kind of fun to play around with this app.

Thank you so much for having me, Sara! I hope this post was helpful because it sure was fun for me to write while hunting for my favorite pictures of the kids. Let me know if you have questions in the comments and happy photo organizing/album designing!

Photography for Moms
Part 1 - Finding the Light
Part 2 - Step Off and Step In


  1. Thanks for having me, Sara!! Such a fun series, glad to be a part of it.

  2. Loved this post! My goal is to take better photos this year and to take some photography classes and this post was very helpful! Especially about backing up photos! Love this photography series!

  3. Yay! Always love Julia's photo posts and of course pictures of her kids :)

  4. This was a great post! I learned quite a bit, and I will definitely check out Blurb and BlogStomp. Thank you so much!

  5. Great post and tips, Julia! You know I love Flickr :) OMG I just looked and I have 69,261 photos. Clearly I have a problem. I even do delete the bad ones!! Also thankful that I have a tech nerd husband who wrote a program to backup all of our flickr photos (we were a little nervous that the iPhone ones weren't on the computer) to our external hard drive!

  6. LOVED this post, Julia!! I wrote down that book you referenced - I will have to check it out, as I have not taken the time to really learn how to use my nice camera and it's shameful!

    I have always been the picture-taker in my family and group of friends, though, since I was pretty young - I just love capturing the moments of life! Photo books ARE daunting, but the finished products are so worth it. And I've been meaning to add more photos to our walls for the longest time - you've inspired me to hopefully get my butt in gear there.

    So thankful to live in the age of iPhones and Flickr and photo books and Instagram. :)

  7. I think you just sold me on Flickr. And reminded me that even though I don't have a fancy DSLR that I really need to pick up the real camera every once in awhile and take an actual picture beyond my iPhone.

  8. I too usually only have my nifty 50 lens on my camera. My husband hates it because it's a prime lens - but let's be serious I am the one taking photos here! I need to get better about backup which is why I need to convince David I need an iMac :)

  9. I love Julia's tips for both photography and also storage and organizing. So many great tips for practical shooting. She's awesome and so inspiring.

  10. So much great advice here, Julia! I love "Understanding Exposure" too!

    I will admit that I'm *terrible* at backing up photos. I really need to get better about that!

  11. Great advice!! I'm just using an external hard drive, I need to try out flickr! I also need to read my manual!

  12. This might be my favorite Photography for Moms post so far! I've been trying to decide how to back up my photos besides my external hard drive & I love all the other tips!

  13. nice check out mine just getting started feedback needed

  14. super great advice! thanks for the series sara, and for the post julia! do you have thoughts on good places to buy frames? i used to just buy ikea frames because they're cheap and simple (letting the photos speak for themselves), but they've recently switched to plastic instead of glass and i'm NOT having it :). anyway...we just moved and i'm looking to form a more cohesive display of photos around our home. thanks in advance!

    1. Piper--I like a lot of the simple frames at Michaels, that is where our gallery of 6 came from. But if money were no option, I'd get all Pottery Barn frames. Talk about holding up well and easy to hang! Or Crate and Barrel. I'm usually too cheap for those unless it's a 'special' print, though;)