Improve Your Photography {by taking advantage of spring}

Spring is in full force here in North Carolina (my deepest apologies to those of you up north still blanketed in snow!) Our family has already enjoyed a number of hikes and we have soaked in the breathtaking beauty of local gardens. We’ve enjoyed mud puddles and tulips, climbing rocks and watching ducks. Spring—my favorite time of year.

Spring is one of my very favorite times to take pictures. Not only does it feel amazing to be outside again after a long winter, but also it is such a great time to dust off or work on photography skills.

There are many great reasons to love photography in the spring and here are my top five.


Let’s be honest, taking pictures in the winter can be miserable if you are outside for more than a few minutes. Taking photos in the summer can be just as miserable, temperatures raging and sweat dripping on your camera. Practicing photography takes time, often shooting dozens of frames for every image you want to capture. Temperature alone makes spring a great time to get the perfect shot.


When I see the first buds of spring, I get excited (too excited if you ask my kids!) But there is something so magical about the way trees and plants go from looking very dead and then miraculously, sometimes overnight, they come back to life! I find metaphors in most everything in life, but the vibrant colors after the long and dull winter find a lot of parallels in life itself. I love taking my camera out and capturing the quickly changing looks of new life.


Oh spring, how I love thee! I’m fairly new to North Carolina, but one of the things I love most is that there seems to be something new blooming all the time. Just as soon as I start to feel sad that the Bradford Pears are greening over, the cherry trees and Wisteria come out in all their brilliance. The colors of spring flowers call to me—“Take my picture! Take my picture!” The beautiful spring buds won’t last long, so I try to capture them while I still can.


As most students of photography know, the best time to take photographs (especially of people) is during the golden hour: the one hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. This special hour offers beautiful warm light that isn’t too harsh. It’s low in the sky and therefore doesn’t cast awful shadows. I love spring the most during the golden hour. Because the trees aren’t done blooming, they allow a much better view of the sunlight. In the summer, the trees can block the sun altogether. But in the spring, the gorgeous oranges and yellows show through the newly budded trees.


Weird reason, I know. But it’s true…I LOVE green. Almost every photo I have hanging in my house is filled with green. It makes me happy. And the green in spring is a vibrant shade that slowly gives way to the deeper (yet still pretty) darker rich green of summer. The new leaves and needs-to-be-mowed grass this time of year is so cheery, so vibrant. It reminds me so much of the beautiful rice paddies of Indonesia I miss so much. It may not seem like a big deal, but I promise you green is the way to go! As I close, let’s compare a few photos. These are of my sweet daughter Bethany and they were both taken in our yard. The first was in November (hello brown!) and the others were in spring (hello gorgeous!) Now try to tell me green isn’t important!

Go ahead, get out there! Find some flowers willing to pose for you and start snapping. Your photography will benefit and so will your mind and body. Being outdoors does a body good!

So, when is your favorite time to shoot?

Watch Me Edit Mini Class

We had a special contribution to this month’s Digi Files. We have a 6-part series on editing photos in Lightroom. Janet leads us through 6 different photos and how she edits them, the tools she uses and her thought process behind it. Even if you don’t have Lightroom, it’s worth watching! You can make many of the same types of adjustments in Photoshop. But the ease in which you can make them may just make you decide to take the Lightroom plunge.

This mini-class includes OVER AN HOUR of videos and is part of the amazing Digi Files deal you get for only $7.50!

My Lightroom story, for the most part, begins in early 2012. I had used the program a few times before, but only when I was working on editing an entire photo shoot (a few engagements, etc.) I like the ease of which some things could be done (such as copy & paste) and at some point, I decided to make the leap and use Lightroom for ALL of my editing. It was the best decision I have made in my photography journey!

I am definitely still learning the ins and outs of the program (even after four years!), but the things I have learned have helped take my photos to a point where what I feel in my heart is accurately portrayed in my final images.


Let’s take a look at what our team learned from this Teaser Class!

Photo by Katie

I’m an avid Lightroom user and I feel very comfortable with my editing skills in the program so I wasn’t sure if I would learn a lot from these videos. I loved watching Janet’s process and I was surprised at how many little tips and tricks I picked up from watching her work. I have to admit that I haven’t utilized the brush editing tool much in LR until I watched these videos and it makes such a difference when you want to work on areas like eyes or skin without changing the entire photo.

People are definitely the most challenging subject to edit and Janet’s tips really helped me improve those skills!

These videos will be a great resource for the beginner and expert alike. You really can’t beat the kind of learning you gain from watching an expert at work!

Photo by Toria

I loved Janet’s video about using Lightroom for the regular shots. I always thought of Lightroom as something to use when I had my Big Camera Pictures! My husband took this on his iPhone, and it had a lot of noise because of the low light. I surprised we got it at all! My little daughter was having Stranger Danger and I had to pick her up! (Notice the red face?) It’s the only picture I have of us in our homemade Halloween costumes (a bee and a flower) and I think it’s perfect for scrapping now!

Photo by Toria

I had no idea how to use Lightroom, and I thought these videos were great for me to get over my intimidation factor! I used the the eye dropper to find my white balance, and a little bit of the eye pop brush. I am really happy with the results!

Photos by Wendy

This photo was shot in a dark gymnasium and had a terrible yellow cast to it. I followed Janet’s simple tips in Video 1 on color cast and exposure. Even though the video showed a person, I was still able to get a much better image using the same techniques! And, I loved the vignette tip. I’ll be using that one a lot.

Since Janet was working on a photo with a yellow color cast in Video 3, I decided to make a virtual copy and follow along using the same photo I edited earlier. I ended up preferring the first attempt. It’s good to learn multiple techniques and settings in Lightroom because it puts more tools in your bag to get the photo you are looking for.

My favorite tip overall was actually in the very last seconds of Video 2. Janet showed how to apply sharpening and then mask it to just the edges of the images. I never knew I could apply a mask like that so quickly. Super helpful!


Be sure to check out all of our great Lightroom posts at The Daily Digi! You might just be inspired to learn something new!

“Beautiful” Locations for Taking Photos

It’s that time of year again! The chilly days will start to be outnumbered by the warm spring air. Families who have been huddled inside for months avoiding the winter weather are ready for evenings to be filled with long walks in nothing more than a light jacket. Spring is getting ready to be sprung and I can’t wait! And neither can my camera!

It’s easy to peruse Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest and be in awe of the beautiful photographs we see (especially in April when all the Texans start posting their bluebonnet pictures!) It is also easy to be envious of the gorgeous locations others seem to have when all we have are ugly woods, public parks, and streets strewn with litter.

One thing I have learned over the past few years is that “beautiful locations” for photos depend very little on the location itself and much more on these three things:

1) Being able to see beauty where others cannot. It’s the potential for beauty we need to be able to recognize.

2) Knowing how to work our camera and lens(es) in order to maximize a situation/location

3) Editing that starts before the shutter is even clicked. Having a vision for the final image will help you know how and where to shoot as well as how to edit.

It is my belief that you can take gorgeous photographs almost anywhere!

A few weeks ago, we had an unseasonably warm evening. It was bliss! Our whole family took advantage of the rare evening and we grabbed scooters and ripsticks and bikes and meandered down our street. It felt so good to be outside with my family, enjoying our time together and being with my camera again.

We got to the end of our street and we were preparing the turn around. That part of the road hasn’t been built on and the lots tend to be overgrown and covered in trash. I could see the sun starting to set behind the trees and I knew it was the perfect place to snap a few pictures. Ugly as it first appeared, I saw something beautiful. I asked my seven-year-old to let me take a few pictures. She thought I was crazy, but she agreed. And I was right. Trash and overgrown weeds aside, it was beautiful!

(I’ve included the before and after so you can see the role that editing takes. My goal in editing is to make the final product match the vision I had before I clicked the shutter.)

I did this same thing in the summer of 2014. Someone I know and love had a real habit about complaining about where she lived and how ugly it was. I had always loved her home and street and so I took my camera out one morning to show her that beauty is everywhere, if only we open our eyes to see.

The first photo is the pullback shot, the “ugly” scene we dismiss as unworthy to photograph. The second (and sometimes third) photos are my shots in that exact location.






So as you contemplate getting outside more with your camera, try to see each location with a new set of eyes. You’ll be surprised that with a little know-how and a lot of vision, you can create beautiful images anywhere!

VIDEO TUTORIAL: Using Journaling Cards to Add Text to Your Photos

Last week I shared a post about using journaling cards to add text to your photos. A number of you commented and asked for more information on how to do it. I thought it would be helpful for you to just see me do it, so I have a short video for you. I hope this helps! Your magic wand tool is so useful for scrapping! I used it on almost every layout!

For larger screen quality, you can watch the video HERE.

Back To Real Life

I was sitting with a young mother, her toddlers surrounding her, talking about her upcoming birth of baby number four. We were talking about the beauty of what’s real versus the image we have in our minds of what life “should” look like. We spoke of the real possibility of resenting your entire life if you can’t see the beauty in what’s real.

In my Photo Goals for 2016 post, I shared my desire to get back to taking photos of real life. I love shooting pretty much anything, but the most joy is found in the photos that aren’t planned and aren’t staged. I love taking pictures of our everyday life!

The first week of January was a good reminder of why I love these kinds of photos so much. Ages and stages change, but the photos and the scrapbook pages I create help preserve the moment and the feeling.

I’m so glad to be back to real life.

What about you? How did your first week of the new year go? Are you making progress in your memory keeping goals?

Photo Goals for 2016

At the end of 2014, I wrote this post: Photo Goals for the New Year. Writing that post helped me clarify my view of my photography and what I find most important.

And then 2015 kicked my behind!

It was a hard year personally, which is why I didn’t do photo-a-day for the first time in six years. It was the right choice for 2015, but 2016 has brought with it lots of inspiration, ideas, and dreams. I’ll be picking up my camera again in a more intentional way. With that said, here are my 2016 photo goals:

1. MORE PHOTOS OF ME. I am not vain and I do not necessarily like having my picture taken. However, I do want my kids to see that I was a part of their lives. I want to be able to look back on my life—my years as a mother especially—and see the small ins and outs of a life well-lived. With six children, I will spend almost THIRTY years taking care of children on a day-to-day basis. I want photos of what will probably amount to almost a third of my life. I am not looking for posed photos, but of real photos of me doing what I do all day long: the routines, the hobbies, the work, the snuggles. Look for more of this in a post to come!

2. MORE PHOTOS OF FOOD: This may seem silly, but food is such a big part of my life! I cook for eight people every day and often for guests. I love to cook and I love to make food pretty. It’s one of the things I want to remember and I want my children to remember. I want to take more photos of food preparation, of eating, and also of the finished product. I have to ask myself, “How many hours of my life do I spend in the kitchen? Is this proportional to the number of photos I have?”

3. BACK TO PHOTO-A-DAY: I started Photo-a-day back in 2009. I did it for SIX years. Those photos and the little captions that went with them are one of my most precious possessions. In those six years, I captured our real life. The good, the bad, the silly, the sweet, the real, the messy, the joy. I LOVE them. For personal reasons, I chose to step away from the project in 2015. It was a good choice for the year. I still took photos, but not nearly to the extent I usually do. I miss the photos of everyday life and so I have restarted for 2016. Now to get back to remembering to do it! For many years, I barely had to think about it. Now some days I have to spend ten minutes just looking for my camera! Things need to change!

4. CAPTURING THE REAL LIVES OF OTHERS: Like I mentioned above, I love the “real life” photos I have of my family. Those photos will always be more precious to me than the posed images. Traditional portraits have their place and purpose, but it is the “life as it is” that really gets me excited. I want to work toward capturing that beauty and joy for others this year. I don’t do a lot of photography for others, but I want to be more intentional about only saying yes to those people who will allow me to capture the real moments rather than the posed ones.

5. TEACHING OTHERS: Photography has been such a gift to me. It fills my heart and soul in a way that I can’t quite explain. It has taught me gratitude and with gratitude comes joy. Why wouldn’t I want that for others? I plan to find ways to teach other about photography and editing. I want others to be able to pick up their camera (whether a phone or a DSLR), and capture the beauty that is right in front of them. Many people are intimidated when it comes to learning to take better photos. It doesn’t have to be that way. I want to help.

So there you have it. My photo goals for 2016. What about you? Do you have any goals?

Some Things Don’t Change: Photographing Christmas

This post was originally published in 2009. As I was sitting down to write a post about photographing the holidays, I remembered I had written one quite some time ago. As I read through that post, I realized that my thoughts and tips for taking pictures of this special time of year haven’t changed. What I said six years ago is what I would still say today. Some things just don’t change! Well, except my kids. They have sure changed!

Documenting Christmas — one of the most amazing times of the year — is important. Christmas is a time of family, food, and fun. It is filled with decorations, traditions, and a sense of awe and wonder (and perhaps stress!) Feeling the wonder is one thing…capturing it on {digital} film is another! I want to share with you a few tips for photographing your Christmas.


1. Details, Details! Christmas is filled with so many little details that make the season SO BIG. Don’t forget to include them in your photos.



2. Don’t expect perfection: I know most of us are hoping for that “perfect” Christmas photo. But the reality is, perfection is overrated. Reality is priceless.


3. Enjoy the day! The worst thing we can do as a mom-with-a-camera is to be so busy taking pictures that we miss ENJOYING the season with our family. Last year, I bought a remote timer and set it up in our living room. It took one picture every minute and it allowed me to be part of the special day. Read more about the remote HERE.

4. Don’t feel like you have to scrap it all! Just because you take 600 pictures of Christmas, it does NOT mean that you have to scrap them all! Find your favorites, capture the feel of the season, and then let it go. Read more about scrapping big events HERE. As I was looking for photos for this post, I was tempted to go back and scrap some old pictures. And then I saw my layout for last years Christmas and I thought, “Nope. That layout about captures it all.”


And here are some holiday things that you should remember to photograph




For this photo I used these settings (with the camera on a tripod!)

ISO 100 F22 SS: 20 seconds



New and old favorites



Any crafting you (or the kids!) have done





Food is such a big part of the holiday season! Make sure you get pictures!










(and the wrapping of them!)








Enjoy photographing your Christmas!


Photography is the Only Language

I read this quote a while back and it has stayed with me. It is oh so true! I love to communicate in words, but my photographs allow me to communicate without words, in a way that anyone can understand. This begs the question,

“What do we want our photographs to communicate?”

Look at these photos from Flickr (

These photos were taken all over the world. And yet, we can understand them. We can draw inspiration, meaning, and emotion from them. They communicate.

This makes me think deeply about my photos, even just the simple snapshots of our daily life. What do they communicate? What do I want them to communicate? If they don’t communicate what I want them to, what could I do differently?

What about you?

My Secret Weapon

Supplies are from Oh Snap! by Shawna Clingerman and Libby Pritchett

One of the questions I am asked most is how I get my kids to cooperate for the camera. Many people lament, “My kids just won’t do what I want them to do!”

I get it. I really do. But my kids are usually willing to work with me for pictures without too much trouble. Here are some of the ways I make it work.

1. My kids are used to the camera. I have it out all of the time and it is just a part of our daily life. If that isn’t the case for you, it might take a while for them to get used to it.

2. I rarely ask them to pose for me. I want pictures of my kids just being themselves. I know that when I am old and grey, I won’t want to remember the posed and “perfect” photos nearly as much as I want to remember the real and spontaneous. I don’t make my kids say cheese.

3. I don’t (usually) get upset with them, stressing them out with, “Say cheese! Turn this way! Turn that way! No, not like that!” Who would want to have their photo taken if that was what they were going to get?

4. My secret weapon: “If we get one like mom wants, we can do photos any way YOU want.”

(note: this works best with the ten and under crowd!)

Occasionally, I do want a traditional photo with them looking at the camera. Sometimes this is because I just want a photo of them and sometimes it is because I am practicing a certain skill/technique with my camera and I really need someone to model for me. If I want to work on getting tack-sharp eyes, I need a child willing to cooperate long enough and sit still enough for me to practice! So this is what I do:

I tell the child that once I get the photo or two I really want, I will take any photos of them they want. And I mean it! They often drag me all sorts of places and make all sorts of silly faces and poses. But they love it! They know that if they give me a minute or two of cooperation, they will get me for as long as they want. They love having control over the situation and they are thrilled that I would take pictures of all their silly antics!

Here are some examples from a few weeks ago:

1. I asked my seven-year-old to stand/sit in the woods while I played with the sun and sun-flare. She wasn’t thrilled (Her siblings were rip-sticking) but I told her we could do anything she wanted afterward. I got these:

And then, for some only-a-seven-year-old-would-understand reason, she wanted me to take a picture of her drinking her root beer (a rare treat in our family). Done.

I wanted a sweet picture of my four year old because I loved the new dress she was wearing. I told her once I got a good picture of her actually looking at me and smiling, she could make whatever silly faces she wanted. Win-win.

Learning well from his sisters, after asking my little man to take a picture of him on the picnic table (jn all his messy-faced glory), he then wanted me to take “more pictures!” I was happy to oblige!

Letting kids have some control over the pictures really goes a long way in helping them cooperate. And I have sneaking feeling that the ones the kids direct just might turn out to be your favorites!

Real Life in Black & White

Real life is messy. I mean this in the metaphorical sense, but I also mean it in a very real sense. Life is messy. My house gets messy. The kids leave their stuff strewn all over creation. Pretty rooms with well-appointed furniture become covered with toys you know you told your kids to leave outside. Clothes you spent a small fortune on, imagining how cute the kids will look in them, get covered in spaghetti sauce and are paired with colors that should have never met. Yes, life is messy.

Sometimes I will admit to not wanting to take pictures due to how utterly imperfect ridiculous things/people look. And yet, you know I am all for capturing real life moments. Even if they aren’t perfect, they are real. And I want to remember real.

However, sometimes all of the crazy and color and mess can be very distracting from the photo. When you eye has to decide between competing colors and backgrounds, the moment you saw in your heart worth capturing can be easily lost.

That’s why sometimes, it’s best to do real life in black & white.

This past year we were living in a house that was fully furnished. It wasn’t my style and it didn’t have colors I liked. I found myself often not wanting to take pictures because I didn’t see the beauty. I had to keep reminding myself that the moments with my kids are where the beauty is. And so I would click, click, click. And then…I would turn my photos black and white.

When I removed the distracting and crazy colors, I was left with real life moments I truly wanted to remember. I am so thankful I live in a time when getting a black and white photo is as simple as clicking a preset in Lightroom. I can shoot in color and convert as desired. Problems solved.

What about you? Do you let the crazy keep you from capturing the moment?