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Using Your Self Timer to Get In Front of the Lens

April 12, 2012

I’ve got lots of great photos of my children but not a lot of photos of me with my children.  This morning I decided to do something that I have never done before, use my self timer.  My mission was to get some great photos of my daughter and I.  I really  wanted to get some photos that captured emotion and the love that I have for my kids.  Sure, using the self timer is set up but the idea was to recreate everyday moments/ expressions. I intentionally set up the camera to be focussed on me, my expressions and emotions.  I admit that I was a little uncomforatble to do this as it was totally not in my comfort zone.   However, once we got going I actually enjoyed it and found that I was probably more myself than if I had a photographer come and take the photos.  It was just me and my kids (hubby was at work), just like it is pretty much every morning.  That part felt natural and easy, I liked that.

I purchased a tripod back in December and hadn’t got around to using it yet (the purpose was to use the self timer).  So I set my camera settings, moved the couch and let the camera work its magic.  We spent about 25 minutes trying to get some half decent photos.  I found that the most difficult part of using the self timer was getting the camera to focus correctly.  So many of my attempts were out of focus and in others we weren’t positioned correctly.  Overall, I was pretty happy with the outcome of the experience and will definitely do it again sometime soon.  If you don’t have a tripod you could easily prop your camera on a shelf or somewhere sturdy.  Use books to get it to just the right height.  It will be a little more tricky than if you had a tripod, especially since you won’t be able to tilt the camera up or down.  I would suggest giving it a try regardless.

My eldest was curious about what I was doing with the camera and our baby and had to get in on the action.    At one point I tried getting all three kids and myself in a shot, that didn’t turn out too well.  The kids loved seeing the blinking light on the camera, getting into position, waiting for the click and then running  back to the camera to see how the photo turned out.

The expressions on the kids aren’t great on the above photo, but that’s ok. The goal was to all get in the photo together.

I thought I should try a self-portrait while I was at it.  I felt pretty silly but actually kind of like this one.

Playing.  I love playing with our little one like this.  Her smiles are contagious and her giggles get me every time.  She has actually thrown up on me before while playing in this way, so gross.  But I continue to toss her up and play, they’re some of my favourite moments with her.

Canon 50D, 50mm lens: ISO 800, f/2.8, 1/250.

Below is a pull back of where I took my photos.  I turned the couch around to face the window (got to try to get those catchlights).

Now it’s your turn!! It’s time to figure out your self timer (I had to pull out  my manual, no judging) and get in front of the camera.  Feel free to post your best shot on our facebook page.


Taking Pictures of Kids Inside

April 10, 2012

Taking pictures of kids inside the house can sometimes be challenging.   Most people can relate to taking pictures of kids inside, and having the resulting images be blurry or discoloured. Using the pop-up flash on your camera unfortunately can often produce harsh lighting, so many people try avoid it.  One of the keys to taking better indoor photos is to look for indirect natural light.

What I have done in my house to set myself up for more success is to use the natural window light  to my advantage.  I know that my south-facing living room and north-facing dining room both have reasonable natural light close to the windows.  Since I have gotten to know the natural light in my house, I have had more success getting well-exposed pictures of my kids.  I use the natural light to take spontaneous “everyday photos”, and once in a while I also set-up photo opportunities near those spaces.  Having more light means that I can use a faster shutter speed, which means less motion blur.  Better lighting also makes it possible to sometimes get those nice catchlights (reflections of light)  in the eyes.

This picture was taken simply in my living room with my little guy facing the natural night coming in from the window. The black background was just a black piece of fabric draped over the back of an armchair, as you can see in the next "pullback" photos.

This same area of nice light happens to be where my children play frequently as well.

Instead of introducing my little girl to her new tent in the basement playroom (where I would most likely need to use flash), I showed it to her for the first time in our living room where there was a lot of natural light.  Sure I was setting up the situation a little bit, but it didn’t affect the enjoyment that she had in the moment, and I got nicer pictures as well!

It's not feasible to live your life setting up photo opportunities. But if it's a choice, and you have the time to do it, it's nice to set yourself up for success with nice light!

In my living room I slightly rearranged the furniture to make the best of the light I have so that I could take a picture of both of my children.  I have discovered that doing a temporary quick rearrangement of the couch allows me to take a nicer picture of my children together than anywhere else in the house.  Just by moving the couch so that it is facing the window gives a safe, secure location to put my 2.5 year old and 8 month old, and the lighting in their eyes is so much more pleasant than anywhere else I’ve tried.  I checked to see how long it took to rearrange my furniture to get this shot, and it took around 35 seconds.  Not too bad, considering that little step allowed me to take my favourite picture of my children together to date!

Disclaimer: there was bribery involved in getting my 2.5 year old onto the couch for this shot.

I also chose to put my daughter’s little table close to the north-facing window in our dining room.  My daughter colours, plays with  play-dough, eats many snacks and meals all in that spot.  I  don’t have to fight to get a decent shot, because she is sitting where I can see her and where the light is natural and pleasing.   If I remember, I often turn the overhead lights off, so that there isn’t an orangey glow shining on her opposite the window light.

I encourage you to taken inventory of your house.  Which windows have nice, indirect light?  Are there spaces near those windows that allow you to pose your children once in a while,  or set up their play area in?  Once you know what lighting works for you and you start taking advantage of it, you will find that your photos of your children indoors will start looking a lot better!

And when your child isn’t near the window and they’re doing something you want to document?  Just take that picture, no matter what the lighting!  When you look back at your pictures, no matter the quality, you’ll be glad you did!

The lighting for this shot was dismal, but I wasn't about to let the moment pass. I was able to brighten and colour-correct a bit with editing. I love this picture just the way it is, because it captured a fleeting moment!

Colouring Easter Eggs

April 4, 2012

With Easter just around the corner, we decided to colour eggs.  The idea of having a two and almost four year old use dye can be a little overwhelming.  However, I’ve never been one to shy away from messy experiences.  My mom was over for most of the day, so the extra help was wonderful.  As a child I always loved colouring eggs at Easter and hope to continue this tradition with my own children.  Not to mention that these experiences provide great photo opportunities!

When setting up, I was trying to think of how to protect the table and chairs not to mention the kids clothing.  The photo lover in me was also thinking about how to make the whole thing look visually appealing.  A table covered in garbage bags and kids wearing old ugly clothes don’t make for great photos.  We didn’t have any newspapers or plastic table cloths, so I put some carpet samples on the table.  It was all that I could find and it did the job.  For the kids clothes, I dug up some hand me downs that weren’t in great shape but didn’t look bad (Sarah’s shirt is missing 3 of the 5 buttons).  In the end it seemed to work out ok.  I’ve been learning that next to the technical aspects of photography and lighting, the little things like clothing and backgrounds can really make or break a photo.

I just used regular food colouring, hot water and vinegar to colour the eggs. However, you can use Kool Aid mix or many other natural dyes.  Like most experiences with kids, I try to keep my expectations low and just try to have fun! An idea that I saw AFTER we did this was to put the egg in a whisk, making it easier for kids to move the egg around and therefore less mess.

One of my goals this year is to take more photos of our children with their grandparents.  Holidays and family traditions provide great experiences to get these kind of photos.  I much prefer natural moments like these that show love rather than posed shots.

Sarah took egg colouring pretty seriously.  It turns out that two and four year olds can colour Easter eggs with success, just make sure to have an extra set of hands to make the job easier.  Next year I need to remember to pick up some yellow food colouring.  Oh well.

Last but not least, a family tradition, paska.  I use the Mennonite Girls can Cook recipe, get it here Paska Recipe.  Our family is looking forward to celebrating Easter this year.  He is Risen!

Photos taken with my Canon 50D, 50 mm lens

Posted by Shari (MWAC Host)

Taking Pictures of Kids in the Rain

April 2, 2012

Taking pictures of kids outside with umbrellas is a great way to turn a rainy day into a beautiful photo opportunity!  Get your child(ren) all dressed up in their rain jacket and boots, and get ready to get a bit wet yourself. Going in the rain with my camera was a bit scary for me, so I actually held an umbrella over me while I took photos during the hard rain.  Luckily for me, it started just sprinkling shortly after we went outside, so I wasn’t shooting one-handed for long!

Before I went outside with my daughter, I got my camera settings ready.  I knew that I was going to be outside with a decent amount of light, so I set my ISO at 200.  I chose a small aperture number (fairly wide open) because I knew that I wanted to blur out the background (I didn’t want our neighbours’ houses to show up too clearly).  I also wanted to make sure to freeze the action, so I choose 1/200 of second.   Then we went outside and I gave my daughter her umbrella. I capitalized on the fact that she had never gotten to hold an umbrella before, so she was really excited and interested in it.

As she walked out to the backyard I took a few test shots.  My purpose was not to necessarily get “keeper shots,” but just to check my exposure.  I wanted my camera to be ready for when I was “in position.”  Even so, with editing,  some of the tester shots are fun memories and worth keeping, even if they aren’t technically great.

Because the umbrella I have is bright red, I had to be aware of the red colour cast that reflected onto her face.  From certain directions, the light made the colour cast really strong.  I walked around her in a circle until I found the angle that was the best.  I also paid attention to angles where I would be able to see some catchlights in her eyes.

After that, all I could do was wait for the right moments.  I probably snapped around 20-30 pictures in around 5 minutes in the backyard.  Out of those, some were blurry and some were just not interesting.  But all that matters is that a few of them turned out, and I have a fun memory of my daughter being excited about being outside in the rain and using an umbrella for the first time.

In fact, she was so excited, that she cried when we went back inside!  So,  we ended up going for a walk around the block to check out the rain puddles.  And it was on that part of our outing that I managed to snap my favourite pictures of the day while she was interacting with a fire hydrant.

Living where we do, we get a lot of rain.  I was getting tired of photographing my children inside, so I’m glad I took the opportunity to embrace the rain, and we had a lot of fun doing it!

~Sonja (MWAC host)

Taking better Bubble Bath Photos

March 27, 2012

My kids love bubble baths! I really wanted to get some bubble bath photos that I love, however the lack of good lighting, cream coloured tub and walls made the task more difficult than I expected. I had tried a couple of times in the past and was unhappy with my results, so it was time to trouble shoot and try again.  I find that regular bubble bath doesn’t really make enough bubbles, so I added a little Ivory dish washing soap and voila, lots of bubbles! The kids were so… excited!  My kids are especially wild in the tub, they actually try to swim in the tub.  There is always water everywhere and it’s almost always totally crazy.  I had so much fun with my kids this evening.  My daughter doesn’t seem to mind getting bubbles in her eyes or pretty much anywhere, on the other hand my son will cry at the smallest bubble getting on his face.  Anyways, they had me laughing pretty hard.  I’m so glad I got these pics as they remind me of those happy moments at the end of a long day.  That’s what I love about photos, especially those of my family, they take me back to times and places, moments that I don’t want to forget.

At the beginning of each week Sonja and I are going to attempt to post a thematic blog post.  Photos from regular life with kids, from bubble baths, Easter egg decorating, colouring, to swimming at the beach.  We hope the posts give you some easy ideas and inspire you on your photography journey.

I took these photos a few weeks back when the days were especially long and dark.  It was evening and therefore there was no light from outside, just the bathroom lights above the mirror.    I put my ISO up to 800 and turned off my flash.  Due to the lack of light I went wide open and set my aperture to f/2.2 and my shutter speed to 160 s (Canon 50D with 50mm lense).   I could have used my flash, but the harsh glare was so bad and I try to avoid flash at all costs.  My shutter speed was a little slow for my active toddlers but I made it work, if I had increased it I would have had to bump my ISO as well.  Keep in mind that when you adjust one aspect of the exposure triangle, you have to keep in mind the other components as well.  I  took the photos in RAW and developed them in Photoshop CS5 (Lightroom would also work great).

I shot only in jpeg mode for the longest time but once I discovered the forgiving nature of RAW format I was hooked.  I always set my camera to RAW and Jpeg mode to give myself the most flexibility.  RAW files are digital negatives and allow you to adjust your exposure manually while post processing.  This is especially great in tricky lighting conditions.  We’ll talk more about editing and RAW later, however I thought I should mention it since I couldn’t have got these images if I hadn’t taken them in RAW format.  You may notice a little “noise” in the photos as well, this is due to the higher ISO setting.  I try to not go above 600 when setting my ISO, however, if I had gone any lower than 800 the images would have been really dark.  Sometimes I have to compromise with some noise.  I actually kind of like it in some photos, seems to add a bit of an artistic element.

I had fun playing with focus, trying to feature the bubbles.  Don’t forget detail shots.  I love these pics of my son’s hands and feet.  He was actually trying to climb out of the tub at this moment which provided a great photo opportunity.  I love how his fingers are becoming little “prunes.” Then it was “get back in the tub, it’s almost time for a rinse.”

My daughter was right in my face for the above photo. It isn’t as sharp as I would like, however her eyes are in focus (with small catch lights) and I love her expression.  Sometimes I have to remind myself that some photos are keepers even if there are some “issues” with the photo since the image captures an emotion or memory that I love.

Try different angles.  Our bathroom is pretty limiting due to size and the glass sliding door attached to the tub but there are still a few options.  For the above shot I stood on the bathroom counter and shot down.  I like how it captures a different mood and the idea of play.

This is my daughter at the end of bath time.  I’m not sure what she was singing but the whole scene was pretty hilarious.  Life with kids is busy, fun and crazy at times.  For me, it’s important to capture all of these moments, after all it’s real life.  These photos make me smile.  I like that.

What is a “Kit” Lens?

March 20, 2012

When you buy a DSLR, it often comes with something called a “kit lens.”  It’s an entry-level zoom lens that has a variable aperture. For example, my Canon T1i came with a 18-55 f/3.5-5.6.  The kit lens is a totally fine lens, but it does have some limitations. The “variable aperture” means that as you zoom in and out, the maximum aperture changes.

So, say you are in aperture priority mode (Av/A) for example, and you have decided that you want a blurry background. Because you want a blurry background, you’ve chosen a wide aperture (small f/number) like f/3.5. Well, if you zoom in the lens because you want to frame your subject differently, or because you want your subject to be bigger in the frame, your aperture on a variable aperture lens changes! Even though you dialed in f/3.5, as you zoom it changes! If you zoomed all the way into 55mm (as far as that kit lens zooms) your maximum aperture would now be f/5.6 instead of f/3.5.

Why is that an issue? Well, as your aperture gets smaller (bigger f/number) the amount of light entering your camera gets less. To compensate, the camera is going to choose a slower shutter speed. Sometimes it’s too slow of a shutter speed, and you’ll get blur as a result. (This is especially true inside, where the light isn’t as plentiful).

Additionally, if you are shooting in manual mode zooming in and out with the kit lens (or any variable aperture lens) you will have to continually adjust your settings to account for the fact that your aperture is changing.

How can you avoid that? You can dial in an aperture of f/5.6 (which is the widest the lens opens when zoomed all the way in). Now when you zoom in and out the aperture won’t change, it’ll just stay at 5.6.

The beauty of DSLR cameras is that the lenses detach, so you can use different lenses for different purposes.  For a beginner, the kit lens can be an affordable way to have a zoom lens!  Over time, if you decide that you want more flexibility out of your camera, you can upgrade to a higher quality lens!

Posted by Sonja and Shari (MWAC hosts)

Nifty Fifty: A great portrait lens on a budget

March 19, 2012

What is the best lens to buy for taking pictures of your kids?  A very common way to go is the 50/1.8, also known as the “nifty fifty”.

The beauty of DSLR cameras is that the lenses detach, so you can use different lenses for different purposes.  Lenses vary greatly in price and quality.  A DSLR and the 50mm f/1.8 lens is an awesome combo that will help you take better photos.

The 50/1.8 is a very common first lens upgrade for a number of reasons:
1) it is very affordable. You can buy this lens for around $120-$140 which is a very reasonable price
2) the focal length of 50 mm is nice for portraits
3) the wide maximum aperture of f/1.8 allows in a lot of light, which means you can take pictures in lower light situations
4) the wide maximum aperture of f/1.8 means that you can get some really nice bokeh (blurry background)

The "Nifty Fifty" 50/1.8 lens

Some things to note:
1) the 50/1.8 is a fixed focal length lens, also known as a prime lens. This means that you can NOT zoom the lens in and out. When I first heard about that, I thought that it would be so limiting.  But really, you just get good at “zooming with your feet.” Just change your position, and you change your framing.
2) the 50 mm focal length can sometimes be tricky in small spaces, because your subject will really fill up the frame if you don’t have enough room to back up.  Therefore it’s great for taking photos of one or two people but is not as ideal for taking a photo of a group (especially indoors).

Here are some quick comparison pictures I took to show the differences between my Canon kit lens (18-55 f/3.5-5.6) and the Canon 50 f/1.8.  For all three of these next photos I was sitting in the same spot.

Here is the kit lens zoomed all the way out at 18mm. You can see a lot of the room even though I’m only sitting a few feet away from the chair. It’s really nice to be able to get a wide angle shot sometimes!

Here I zoomed all the way in with the kit lens:

Kit lens, ISO 3200, 55 mm, f/5.6, 1/100 second

The picture is decent , but you can see that I had to crank up my ISO really high (which if you look closely, created a lot of “noise”), and I had to slow down my shutter speed.  If she was moving, she may have been blurry.

Here I used my 50/1.8:

50/1.8, ISO 800, 50 mm, f/1.8, 1/160 second

With the 50/1.8 I was able to use a lower ISO (800) which creates a lot less grain than the previous example, and my shutter speed was fast enough that even though she may have been moving, there is no motion blur.  The background is creamier and brighter.  Also, the clarity is better.  We love this lens!  If you purchase just one lens for your camera we highly suggest the 50/1.8.  If you purchase, make sure you get the proper one for your camera, the Canon 50/1.8 or the Nikon 50/1.8, etc.

Since getting my 50/1.8, it stays on my camera around 95% of the time.  I only use my kit lens if I need a wider angle, like for a landscape or I simply want to be able to include more of the space in my image.

*Just a side-note.  Just because a lens opens up to f/1.8 doesn’t mean you should always shoot at 1.8!  If you always keep your aperture at f/1.8 you may end up with a lot of blurry photos.  Each lens seems to have a “sweet spot” that’s about 2 full stops up.  For example, even if your lens opens up to f/1.8, an aperture of  f/4 might be the clearest.  However.  I often use f/2.2-f/2.8 for  a nice balance between a really blurry background and a clear, sharp subject!  We hope this helps!

Posted by Sonja (MWAC host)