Running from the Law: Photography for Moms - Self-Taught Lessons

Monday, June 23, 2014

Photography for Moms - Self-Taught Lessons

Happy Monday, y'all!  (Ugh.)  Did everyone have a great weekend?  I had one of those weekends where I alternated back and forth from feelings of "oh my gosh, my child is the most amazing/wonderful thing that has ever happened to me" one moment to "why did we ever want to have kids" the next minute.   The terrible twos are seriously no joke. 

Anyway, I'm thrilled to bring you the next installment in the "Photography for Moms" series.  Are you guys still loving this series as much as I am?  I hope so.  I think I have at least 3-4 more guest posters lined up for the summer.  Let me know if there's a topic you'd like us to cover.  

Today's guest poster is Colleen from the awesome blog, Meet the Sullivans.  Colleen has a son (Owen) a little bit older than Mac and I've been following her blog since her pregnancy days.  I really love Colleen's blog, probably because it's what I want my blog to be: a mix of adventures with your kids, recipes, crafts/projects and personal stories, accompanied by beautiful photos and a clean, crisp layout.  Her blog makes me happy.  And what I really admire about Colleen is that all her "photography skills" are self-taught.  She's done an amazing job over the last couple years coming into her own in the photography department - I love the photos she takes of Owen (she really captures his spirit and spunk) and her food/recipe pictures always make me drool.  I'm so glad she agreed to be a part of this series because I know so many of you will get a lot out of her post.  She's here today sharing some of the tips, tricks and advice that she's learned along the way to make her photos stand out from the crowd.  As always, if you have any questions for Colleen, leave them in the comment section below!  Enjoy!

Hello! I'm Colleen and I blog over at Meet the Sullivans. I'm a stay-at-home mom (formerly a Kindergarten teacher) married to my handsome PT husband and mom to our 2 year-old son, Owen. I'm so excited to be here today sharing a bit of what I know about photographing little ones. I don't know a lot, but what I do know is the result of basically teaching myself, and today I want to share with you how I did that and some of the tools I use to make my pictures special.

I really had no idea how to use my dSLR when I first bought it way back in 2008. I had taken a photography class in college, but we spent most of our time learning how to develop film, rather than take pictures. I'm not a professional, I only know what little I do know from reading tutorials I've found on Pinterest (you can see my photography board on Pinterest to see some of my favorites) or from tips from other mommy bloggers (like Erin, Sara and Jenny).

In the beginning I mainly used the auto setting on my camera, which I was pretty happy with... until I started seeing other people's more "professional" looking shots. I knew I was wasting the great camera I had by not learning to use it properly. I would use the auto setting outside or in a low light situation, but depended on the "No Flash" setting as often as I could since I knew flash is a no no and I have never liked the look of pictures I've taken with a flash.

For the first year after buying it I brought my camera out whenever I could to play with. I played with style, the rule of thirds, getting different angles, etc. I didn't know how to mess with Manual settings, so I just left them alone. I was worried I would just have blurry messed up pictures if I tried shooting in Manual and that I would lose the moment I was trying to preserve.

I really began to pick my camera up more once we had Owen, which makes complete sense since that's when I started staying home, so I had more opportunities during the day to break out my camera and mess around. That's an important term here: mess around. That's basically how I learned to use my camera. I just played with it. In different lights, inside or outside, with a mostly stationary object (infant) and an active one (toddler).

When I bought my camera I went home with two lenses a 58mm 75-300 zoom lens and the kit lens I used exclusively until January of this year.

And then this Christmas Keith gave me a 50mm lens f1.8, which is mainly what I use now for about 95% of the pictures I take. It took me a while to get used to not being able to zoom in or out, but the quality of the photos is worth not being able to do that.

While I am not even close to being a professional at this photography thing I do have a few tips I've learned along the way to make my pictures just a little bit better!

Play with your camera as much as possible. Keep it out where you know you'll see it and be drawn to pick it up. I might take 40 photos of Owen doing one thing and only end up using 2-3 on my blog. Most people have to take a lot of pictures before they end up with a great one.

Manual is best, if you know how to use it, so LEARN it. You're not going to learn it in a week. It's a process, and I'm still trying to figure it out. Sometimes I just want to get a few good shots and don't want to bother with my camera too much, so I just switch to one of the preset auto settings like "Sports" or " Av".
18-55mm ISO 400 f/4 1/500
Get on their level. When Owen is playing on the floor, inside or outside, I like to get down on the floor with him and take pictures from his level. It gives the photo a neat perspective and it really captures the moment and expression on their face as they play.
Take lot so of pictures from all different perspectives. I like to get on the floor with Owen and take a few shots on his level, take a few from above and maybe one from far away. Sometimes I focus on his hands as he plays with a toy or just on his face. Each on gives a different feeling. 
 18-55mm ISO 400 f/3.5 1/160
The best light is outside, early in the morning or late in the afternoon, right before the sun goes down. You do not want to shoot in direct sunlight. Shade is best. Shoot in the shade with the sun to your back OR with the light behind you for a cool back lit photo (like the one above). Lighting is king -- there is no coming back from a poorly lit picture. The most you might be able to do is turn it black and white, so know your settings and good light when you see it. I like to take pictures of him outside late in the evening, when the sun is going down, there is more shade and the sun is lower. But if that's not possible I just stick to the shady spots in our front yard, and let the light be behind him as a backdrop.
50mm ISO 100 f/2.5 1/3,200    |    50mm ISO 400 f/3.5 1/500
Get Them Moving! The best pictures I've taken of Owen are always when he's busy doing something he really loves, like playing with his daddy at the beach or rolling around on the floor with his cars. It's fun to see him frozen in motion and with such a genuinely happy smile. The picture on the left was taken in the automatic "sports" setting on my Canon.
50mm ISO 100 f/2.2 1/160
Use the rule of thirds to make a simple picture more interesting to look at. This picture was taken on Mother's Day this year up in San Francisco. The picture is off center with Owen and I in the right third of the photo, which makes it a bit more interesting. I also really like the bright and blurriness of the plants behind us. We were sitting in the shade, Keith (the photographer here) was in the shade too and our background was mostly sunny, which is what gives it that cool bright appearance.

50mm ISO 400 f/2 1/40 
Play with props. You've probably noticed that Owen is almost always holding something in his hands in our pictures. He is just such a busy boy and needs to be doing something fun, otherwise he wants grab the camera from me. This was taken inside in the early afternoon near our very large and long kitchen windows with Owen sitting on the kitchen counter playing with an old camera of mine. He was busy having fun with my old point and shoot camera, and was stuck in one place, since I had him sitting on the counter. For this picture I had to turn the aperture and shutter speed down low to get Owen to be light enough, but he was happy to sit and play with my camera while I figured it all out.
50mm ISO 400 f3.2 1/200
Let it happen naturally. I've thought of some great places for taking pictures of Owen and when we finally get there it doesn't work the way I wanted it to. There is no fun in forcing your child to smile or sit for a photo just to get the perfect shot. I've found it's best to just have my camera with me as much as I can and to let the pictures I take be authentic and not staged (too much!)! His smile is the best and he's most happy when he's playing and having fun doing something HE wants to do, and not what I make him do. For this picture we were playing in the backyard and I was filling his pool up. He wanted to give it a try and I knew this would be a cute picture, so I ran in and grabbed my camera from the kitchen. I told him to try spraying me with the hose (luckily it was on pretty low) and that's how I captured his big smile.

Editing. For my big camera I like to use iPhoto to store my pictures and edit them. I might lighten them up a notch or two, change them to black & white or retouch something small like a blemish or wrinkle (mainly on me!), but I prefer to use them as is. If the picture  needs more work than that and I still don't like it, I just don't use it. To add graphics and letters to my pictures I use the Acorn on my Macbook Pro. It was $50 and it is great for adding extras to my pictures (mainly for blogging). It was pretty easy to learn how to use too. If I'm taking pictures on my iPhone I like using PicTapGo to add light.

I hope some of these little tips that have worked to make my pictures better will help some of you too! Thank you SO much to Sara for letting me be a part of her Photography for Moms series! I am learning so much from what everyone else has to share!

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Photography for Moms Series:
Part 1 - Finding the Light
Part 2 - Step Off and Step In
Part 3 - For the Love of Photos
Part 4 - Aperture Priority

Part 5 - Sibling Shots
Part 6 - Monthly Milestones

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  1. Great tips! I really need to start using my nice camera, it's just that my iPhone is so handy for capturing moments, since I always have it with me.

  2. Yay, I love hearing about others' photography journeys!

  3. Sara thanks SO much for all the sweet things you've said -- I come to your blog for all of the same things you've mentioned! :) Thank you for having me today!

  4. such a great post!! love colleen!!!

  5. Great post, Colleen! I am "self-taught" as well and all of your tips are certainly ringing true with me. All about the "school of life" when it comes to photography :) Loving the series, Sara!

  6. I am hoping to tackle manual mode a bit more when I start maternity leave in a month. I am going to do my own newborn it should be interesting :)

  7. I would agree, Colleen always has great pictures!! Great tips and reminders to get back on my real camera more often!! :)

  8. These photos are so great... As easy as you make it sound, there is some real talent here!!

  9. great post Colleen! I'll have to add acorn to my list of apps to check out! Love that mother's day photo and the hose photo! Alway a great idea to keep their hands busy :)

  10. I simply love this series.

    I'm no superstar photographer, but I do have a small side business, and one thing I would love to talk about is finding the right mix of when to take photos and when to be in the moment with your kids. If you'd be interested, let me know. Here are two recent scenarios where I had to know when to take the shot and when to set the camera down and be in the moment.

  11. great tips! I think the best one is "get out your camera!", where is that thing again! ha!

  12. Such a great post! And so many helpful tips!