Meet the Sullivans: Photography for Moms - My Tips

August 12, 2014

Photography for Moms - My Tips

A little while back I shared some of my novice tips for getting great photos of your children over on Sara's blog, Running From the Law, and I loved participating in the series and writing about how I get some of my favorite photos of O. 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 O 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 O 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 O 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 O 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 O 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 O 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 O 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 O 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 O 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.

BACK THEM UP. This is a lesson I learned a few weeks ago. Back up your photos, because this dummy neglected to do that and lost all of her pictures. My hard drive crashed, which resulted in me losing everything on my computer. It will be a very expensive investment to even try to get them back, so heed my advice and go back up your precious pictures!

I hope some of these little tips that have worked to make my pictures better will help some of you too!


Tawnya Faust said...

I love the 50MM 1.8, it's still my most used lens! My dream lens would be the 50mm 1.2 but it's so expensive! Great tips! :)

Klein Dot Co said...

Totally agree with all your tips! Especially lighting and moving around for different perspectives! Funny how you can go back when editing and see what a deference this makes! We use Lightroom to store and edit and love it! (Though I'm guilty of using the iPhone camera 99% of the time!)

Jess Scott said...

Great tips - you always have such great pictures!!! I am always trying to play with my camera, but I may just end up taking a course through our city's Adult Ed program!!

Unknown said...

These are great tips. I have no idea how to use my camera and I just spend most of my time "playing" with it!

Carolyn said...

These are all awesome tips!! :)

Leah @ Everyday Love said...

I've had learning how to use my camera on my to do list for years! I need to make this a priority! I know my settings are so off and I can see it in the pictures I take. I'm going to have to spend time to really go through this post in detail when the mini goes down!

Ashley Brickner said...

Love these tips - your pics are beautiful!!

Anonymous said...

You take wonderful pictures! I barely take off my 50mm 1.4!

Courtney said...

Great tips!! I have the same lens and it is amazing. I, like you, shot in "no flash" for a year or so. Until my sweet hubby signed me up for a photography class for christmas last year! It was finally the motivation I needed to learn how to shoot in Manual. I haven't switched it out of "M" since. Yay!

Kristy {Seven Graces} said...

Love these tips! I'm still learning how to shoot in Manual. Now I need to mess around with the setting and not be so afraid of trying different things. I'll be looking into the 50 mm lens, too. Thanks for this!

Laura Marie Keenan said...

Love this; it makes me want a big girl camera soo bad! I'm toying with the idea of buying a compact DSLR but they seem a little gadgety....we shall see!