When You Don’t Have Your Big Camera

Back in early spring, I had the rare treat of a few days to myself. My husband and kids were up in Michigan and I was left gloriously alone to work and rest.

On the last day of my time alone, I decided to head to our favorite park. We love to hike through the trails and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors.

As much as I enjoy walking with my family, it can also be hard. When I want to walk fast, the kids are slow. When I want to slow down and take pictures, my kids want to run ahead.

So naturally, I was excited to have some time on the trails to myself. I excitedly packed up my camera and a few lenses, ready to capture the beauty at my own pace. It was a beautiful warm spring day and I just knew I would end up with images I loved!

I started down the trail and saw the first dogwoods blooming. Time to pull out the camera.

I set everything up, clicked, and then saw the dreaded warning: NO CF CARD. Oh no.

I had left my memory card at home, having just downloaded images.

So there I was, camera in hand with time alone and my big girl camera was of no use to me. I almost walked right back to my car, but then thought otherwise. Hey, at least I had my phone.

My phone, a Moto X, isn’t exactly known for it’s great picture quality. I love it for the price I get through Republic Wireless, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t envy all of you with your magical iPhone photos. However, the best camera is the one you have, and so I figured something was better than nothing.

During the next few miles, I had to stretch my photographic ability as I dealt with the limitations of my phone. However, I also had fun playing with the differences and options I don’t normally have.


1. Having a wide angle lens makes a big difference. At the time, I didn’t own a wide angle lens for my camera, but my phone offers quite the angle! It was fun to play with the wider field of view.

2. Not being able to manually adjust my aperture was frustrating, especially since I tend to shoot with a very shallow depth of field. However, as I got closer to my subject, I was able to achieve the look I was going for.

3. Having the lens at the corner of my camera meant adjusting the way I normally shoot. It also meant getting some cool angles because when I flip my phone upside down, the lens is at ground level.

4. There were definite focus issues, especially as I tried for shallow depth of field shots. If I was persistent, I could get what I was working for. However, I often gave up and walked away.

5. Editing is much more necessary. With my big camera, I often have to do very little in the way of editing. I usually get crisp and clean images with only slight adjustments made due to the fact I shoot in RAW. But with my phone, I don’t get the contrast and crispness I like and so I had to edit more than I normally would.

I’m glad I didn’t give up and go home. Although not canvas-worthy, I still got some beautiful shots to remember my beautiful day alone.

So what about you? Do you like shooting with your phone camera or do you feel limited? What features do you miss and what features do you prefer?

Turn to the Light

A few years ago, I came across an article that totally changed my photography. Although I knew the mechanics of my camera and I understood how to expose properly, I was completely baffled by the concept of light. My camera I could control. The light around me? I was clueless.

I didn’t understand why sometimes my photos would be great and other times they would be a horrible, shadowed, blueish mess. It all felt like luck was the biggest factor in how my photos turned out.

And then I came across an article about how to “find light.” The post talked about using a marble in your hand and holding it as you turn your hand around. You can see the light change!

That was it! I had needed something visual to help me understand how light affects our photos. You can see in the images above how the light (and therefore shadows and texture) change as we move toward or away from the light source.

It finally started to click!

Soon after, I was at the park with my kids and I wanted to test things. I didn’t have a marble, but I always bring my fist with me and I gave it a try. I just asked my daughter to stand for a photo like I always would have and snapped. And then I used my fist and I turned in a circle, waiting for the light to be most flattering. I then told her to stand there. We didn’t move locations, just directions. Here are the two unedited photos.

See the difference? More light, less shadows. Light and bright eyes instead of black holes. It was at this point that my understanding of photography took a major shift.

Although I still have a lot to learn about light and how to use it to my advantage, I know now that all I need is my fist and about five seconds to measure the light and to know where best to shoot from. When I am doing portraits, I know where to place my subjects. When I am shooting in a photojournalistic style, I know how to move myself to capture the light in the best way.

On Christmas morning two years ago, we stepped outside to take a few pictures of our kids in the jammie pants I had made them. I took a photo of my daughter and saw how dingy it was. It was early morning and the sun was coming up from the other direction. I simply asked her to turn around and took another picture. What a difference!

Give it a try!

The next time you are photographing something, hold your hand or fist up and look at the light. Slowly turn in a circle and watch how the light changes. It is amazing to realize that sometimes the difference between a bad photo and a great one is just a pivot!

Flowers Don’t Care

When people ask me what they can do to improve their photography, I tell them two things:

1) Look at good photography in order to train your eye and


Like anything else in life, your photography won’t improve if you don’t practice. There are so many aspects to a good picture ‚ÄĒ focus, lighting, exposure, angle, lens choice, focal length, post-processing. Each of those things takes work. Sure, you can and should read about them, but your photo skills will improve a lot more with practice. I’ve known photography basics for a long time now and have been shooting in manual mode for seven years. And yet, I still need a lot of practice!

Although I usually take pictures of people, I have found that my children don’t always want to be my practice tool. And so I often use other things to practice on. The flowers don’t care if you make them pose for an hour. The flowers don’t care if you try the same shot over and over and over. The flowers don’t care what you do to them. My kids aren’t as patient ūüôā

I know a lot of people will use stuffed animals or dolls so they can practice focusing on eyes, but I prefer to practice on things outside. And there is no better time to do it than SPRING!

So, the other day, as the dogwoods were finally in bloom, and the kids away for the afternoon, I pushed myself outdoors for some photography practice. I didn’t have much if a plan other than to find a lot of variation in shooting the same subject. I probably shot about 100 photos of the same couple of dogwood blooms. It might seem excessive, but it was great practice!

As I varied my shots, I was trying to look at the same scene in new ways. I got close in. I stood far back. I tried different compositions. I changed my angle. I paid attention to the color in the background. I changed MY position to see how the lighting changed. I got in front of, next to, under, and above the blooms. I even took a bloom out of its natural environment (off the tree) and played around with unusual context.

Because I wasn’t taking pictures for some important moment or because I was trying to capture that “perfect” family shot, I took the time to play around with settings I don’t usually mess with. I changed my focus mode from one shot to AI-Servo which turned out to be great for branches blowing in the wind (AI-Servo locks focus on a subject and then if the subject moves, so does the focus.) I’ve always wanted to try this with fast moving kids, but I didn’t want to be messing around with settings I wasn’t used to. But the flowers don’t care!

Not only did I gain a lot of practice in things like focus and exposure, but also I learned a lot about changing scenes during a shoot. I was reminded how important it is to shoot the same scene from all sorts of directions and heights. It is amazing how much a photo would change just by simple adjustments.

Now the next time I take people out, I will remember how subtle changes can make BIG difference!

How about you? What kinds of things do you like to practice on?

Wait for the Moment

Patience isn’t something that comes naturally for me, but I am improving.

Waiting for anything is hard, whether in be in parenting, in life, or in memory keeping.

When I have my camera out, I often see something in front of me that I want to capture. But it’s more than just a scene I want to capture, it’s a feeling in my heart. My photos aren’t just to record what I see, but also what I feel.

It’s easy for me to get frustrated when the vision in my head and heart don’t match what I see on the back of my camera. However, I am learning that often the missing ingredient is simply waiting.

If I calm down and just wait (with camera ready), the moment usually comes. I snap a lot of photos I will eventually throw away, but as I watch with my eyes and heart ready, I wait for the moment and I click.

Take, for example, the photo above. I was standing in the kitchen watching my one-year-old eat my his oatmeal with a spoon far too big for him. I was looking at him thinking how big he looked and how small he looked at the same time. He’s a big boy now ‚ÄĒ feeding himself and insisting on doing things without help. On the other hand, he’s still a little boy and his large bowl and spoon (which he took from me) made me realize how small he still is.

I wanted so desperately to capture the feeling on my camera. So, I waited. I took a lot of photos, but because I waited and kept snapping, I finally got the image I saw in my heart.

And I got a few others in the process ūüôā

I encourage you to slow down with your photos. Ask yourself, “What is it that I want to remember? What do I feel in my heart? Have I captured it? If not, what could I do to get it? Do I need to wait? Do I need to change my angle?”

Capturing photos you love often takes patience, but the results are worth it!

Supplies: Beary Much by Erica Zame, alpha from Little Boy by Sugary Fancy (both products part of February’s Digi Files). Brush alpha (you love) is Markerific by CD Muckosky.

Make a Picture

In November, after seeing Traci Reed post about her Creative Live classes, I started poking around the Creative Live website. I hadn’t seen it before and I was instantly excited about all the possibilities. With the weather getting colder and the days shorter, I figured it was the perfect time to take a class. Not only would I get to learn something new, but I would finally have something to end the boredom of running on a treadmill. Each morning I would turn on the laptop, start watching, and start running. It was great.

The class I took was called Family Photography: Modern Storytelling. It was excellent for many reasons. One of the things that stuck out from the very beginning was that the teacher, Kirsten Lewis, used a phrase I hadn’t heard before. She kept saying, “make a picture” where we would normally say “take a picture.” She didn’t talk about the phrase, but her regular use of it made it clear that she thought it was important. (And from what I can tell, the phrase is probably taken from a quote by Ansel Adams, “You don’t take a photograph. You make it.”)

Her meaning was clear. Photography isn’t only about taking something that is already there and capturing it with the click of a button. While it isn’t less than that, there is so much more than can intentionally be done to capture moments.

I have thought a lot about that phrase and there are a few things I believe that set “taking a picture” and “making a picture” apart. Perhaps they are the same things that set apart a good photographer from the everyday person with a camera.

INTENTION: While I am all for spontaneous moments and working with what you have, there is definitely room for being intentional with your photography. Even if you stumble upon a moment you want to capture (rather than planning the moment), you can still make quick decisions that will affect the outcome of your photo. Angle, camera settings, lens choice, framing and cropping, editing. All of these things change the final product.

In these photos, my daughter was standing in the kitchen, doing what she does best: begging to lick the beaters. The way my kitchen is set up, all of sunlight comes in from one half of the room. When she first started in on her beater, she was facing into the kitchen and there was no light on her face. I simply put my back to the windows and called her name. She turned around, the light hit her beautifully, and I clicked.

STORYTELLING: When you are photographing something, you have many decisions to make in the moment. Like mentioned above, all of those decisions will change the outcome. One thing that is clear in “making a picture” is that you have a chance to tell a story. So, you have to ask yourself, “What is the story I am trying to tell?” When you think in those terms, it affects what you shoot and how you shoot it.

Take this photo, for example. I was photographing a family of eight a few weeks ago. It was warm for a December day and they were thrilled to get some fall-ish pictures when it was clearly not fall anymore. While the mom was talking to one of the younger kids, the oldest daughter was standing on a log. I looked down and noticed her fun toenail polish. In that moment, I knew I wanted to record it. It’s such a “slice of life” photo for a young teenage girl.


People have different ideas about editing and what it should be and what it should not be. For me, editing is a powerful tool. It’s not just a tool to fix mistakes (though it can be used in that way), but it is more to help me recreate the feeling in my heart. What I am photographing, I feel something. It is usually deep within me. I “see” something, not just with my eyes but also with my heart. When I edit, I strive to recreate that feeling. It might not always recreate the exact physical reality, but it recreates the emotional reality.

I love this picture of my oldest daughter. We had a chance to shoot with just her, and I love that we captured this moment in time. My almost-twelve-year-old is looking so beautiful and mature. I was intentional with this photo, choosing the time, location, angle, and more. But editing allowed me to recreate exactly what I saw with my heart. Here is the original photo, complete with an ugly orange cone. Editing allowed me to make a picture rather than just take one.

So what do you think? Do you see difference between taking a photo and making a photo?

Sneaky Photos

I love taking photos of what’s real. Of course that often means pictures of messy dishes and piles of laundry, but it also mean moments of sweetness and tenderness and all that stuff that makes a mama’s heart melt.

I love to sneak in photos of my kids when they aren’t watching. Even though my kids are pretty good around a camera, they still sometimes let the camera get in the way of just being themselves. This is especially true as they get older.

So, I like to tiptoe around, camera in hand, and find little bits of magic when no one knows I am looking.

Here are three simple tips for some great sneaky photos:

1. HAVE A BARRIER. If possible, I try to use something in my photo that helps show that I wasn’t right there with them. It might be a door frame, a window frame, or some other kind of barrier. Even in the photos above and below, I let the camera catch the smallest hint of window frame (that’s why it’s a bit blurry and whitewashed at the bottom).

2. DROP BACK FROM THE ACTION. I noticed a lot on our recent trip that the kids often went ahead of me on trails. That allowed me to watch from behind and capture some sweet memories. And they had no idea!

3. BE QUIET. If you don’t want to be caught, you have to make sure you don’t draw attention to yourself. Tip toe and play like a spy! You never know what treasures you might stumble upon!

Do you like to sneak up on people?

Top 5 Reasons Why I Loved NOT Bringing My dSLR on Vacation

Top 5 Reasons Why I Loved NOT Bringing My dSLR on Vacation

A few weeks ago, my family and I went on a vacation. Our week long adventure included plenty of pool time, visiting family, and a couple of special trips to the Zoo and a theme park.

Being a memory keeper, vacation photos are very important to me. I love the process of taking the photos, editing them, curating a selection for albums, and, of course, scrapbooking them. So when I say that I loved NOT bringing my my dSLR on my vacation, it’s a big deal!

Part of the reason that I decided to go with no dSLR, and rely only on my iPhone, was that I knew I’d be taking most of my photos in the harsh daylight and that most, if not all, of my shots would be documentary snapshots. The iPhone does a great job of taking snaps and I am very happy with the vacation photos I have!

Please Stay On Path


A couple of snapshots from the theme park…

So, with that in mind, here are the Top Five Reasons Why I Love NOT Bringing My dSLR on Vacation:

Reason 1: There was no gear to carry and secure

My dSLR bag is heavy and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Even if I pared down to just a mid-range zoom and a wide-angle prime and an external flash, the camera bag is still a noticeable weight, especially by the end of a big day of sight-seeing.

I was also worried about the possibility of theft because I would have to stow my pricey dSLR gear in a locker to go on rides at the theme park.

By going with just my iPhone, I was able to use this little neck pouch to hold it and some ID and cash. That meant I didn’t even need a purse at the theme park. So freeing!


Reason 2: Sharing photos with my husband meant we had a complete album

Each night when we were back at the hotel, I used airdrop to take my husband’s photos and add them to my iPhone camera roll.

He and I set up a shared photo stream through iCloud. After I edited the photos, I added them to that album and then we both had instant access to them.

polar bear

Reason 3: Editing photos on phone apps was a time-saver and fun!

Sharing a hotel room with kids is tricky. They go to bed so much earlier than Mom and Dad, so we’re left sitting awake in a dark room! But, since I had all of my photos on my iPhone, I passed the time going through the pictures and choosing my favourite ones to edit.

I mostly stuck with PicTapGo for photo editing. I like that app because I can create favourite editing “recipes” and then just apply that recipe to all my photos. It is such a time-saver!


Canada Day

I also used the Instaweather to make fun images like this one to show the weather we were having while on vacation.


Reason 4: Sharing photos was easy

Because the photos were already on my phone, it was easy to send them to Facebook and to share them with family.

Here’s a photo of my husband and 8 year old daughter after they rode the roller coaster in the background. She’s elated and he is…never doing that again! I had to send this picture to our family right away – it was too good not to share!


Reason 5: The photos were ready to scrapbook as soon as I was home!

By the time we got home, I had selected all of my favourite pictures and edited them. So, I was able to take fun shots like this one of a lion at feeding time:


…and quickly and easily scrapbook a page about our trip!

Zoo Day

Have you (or would you) ever take a vacation with only a camera-phone?

How To Take A Photograph From A Moving Car

When you find yourself in the car for hours and the license plate game has been played out, it’s time to grab your camera. Of course, I’m assuming you aren’t driving!

How can you take photos worth keeping when you are moving at 70 miles per hour (or whatever is reasonable and prudent for the road conditions). Keep a few things in mind and you can create beautiful images while you entertain yourself.

Adjust your settings

Using a dSRL? Set your camera to shutter priority (TV or S) or Manual Mode witha fast shutter speed (around 1/1000th of a second) to avoid motion blur.

If you want to avoid messing with shutter speeds, shoot in the running man setting (the sports mode).

Place your camera close to the window

The closer you place your camera to the window the less reflection you will capture. You’ll also avoid photographing the bugs or other droppings that might collect on your windshield.

Hold your camera steady

The car’s motion is already working against you, so you want your camera to be as steady as possible.Use two hands to keep your camera from wiggling.

Anticipate your shot

You are moving quickly, so look ahead of the car to anticipate your shot. Have your finger on the shutter ready to shoot as you get to your subject. Shoot before it arrives and…keep reading!

Think in thirds

Think in thirds when you shoot, moving your camera to a position to place the road edge at the bottom of the frame. I think one third foreground, one third subject, one third sky.

Take more than one shot

Whatever camera you may be using, hold your shutter down to take a series of photos. If you are shooting with a dSLR set your drive mode to continuous in order to take multiple shots.

Have fun and stop occassionaly

Use an app or an old school map to anticipate sites and locations to photograph. I love the app Roadside America. It shows nearby sites along your path with tips for viewing.

Whether you are taking a multiple day road trip or just out for a few hours, remember to stop for breaks. Look for fun Vista Points and monuments. They make great photo opportunities!

I’m on the road as I write this and will be for another week. You can follow my adventures and see more out the window shots on my instagram account.

Get more travel photography tips here and here.

Do you love taking photos from your car, or am I the only weird one around here?

A Lesson About Exposure

Understanding how exposure works in a camera is one of the hardest things for new photographers to understand. Their eyes see a beautiful scene in front of them and they want to capture it. The problem is, our eyes don’t work the same way a camera does…our eyes are much more powerful.

I’m sure you have all seen one…a photo of a beautiful sky and people so dark you can hardly see them. Check out this beauty from 2003. Montana is known for its big, beautiful skies, but this isn’t quite what I had in mind for a sweet photo.

You see, your camera has a problem. It cannot expose properly for BOTH the sky (which is big and super bright) and the people (who are dark compared to the sky). A camera must decide (or you decide for it).

This is the premise for silhouette photos. By exposing for a beautiful sky, your people turn into black shapes.

Which would you rather have? A beautiful sky or beautiful people? You camera can’t capture both at the same time.

I know that this is hard for people to grasp. Your eyes can see BOTH a beautiful sky AND beautiful people. But your camera just isn’t that smart. If you don’t choose for your camera, your camera will choose for you. And it doesn’t always make the best choice.

As I try to explain this to people, though, I can tell they are still confused. Let me try to help with a few photos from my walk.

As I was talking my walk this morning, I had my phone with me and I was taking some photos. One of the things I love about my MotoX is that I have some exposure control. It’s nothing like my dSLR, but even having a little bit of power makes me happy. And I was shooting, I realized my photos could help further explain how a camera “sees” light.

In these screen shots, you can the exposure issue playing out. The green circle shows where I told the camera to expose. I can move it around to any portion of the photo and the camera will expose THAT area properly.

In this first photo, I exposed for the early morning sky. The sun was coming up and it was still fairly dark outside.

In this next photo, taken just seconds later, I moved my exposure control to expose for the street. Look what happens.

And in this third shot, I exposed partway in between.

And then I turned around.

Here, exposed for the sky.

Next, I exposed for the road.

And that’s why taking control of your exposure is so important.

When I first got my dSLR, back in 2006, I was convinced it was broken. I had saved my pennies and bought and expensive camera and I couldn’t understand why my photos weren’t beautiful like the photographers I stalked. I spent hours reading forums about underexposed photos, convinced I got a dud.

And then, two years later, I finally learned about how a camera works and what it means to expose properly. After much trepidation, I made the jump. I decided to take control of my camera by learning to shoot in manual mode. I wanted to be the one to decide what needed to be properly exposed. I no longer wanted my camera to decide for me.

Until our cameras catch up with our eyes, exposure control needs to be in our power.

Lightroom Features I Love: Before & After

About two and a half years ago, I made the big switch to Lightroom for my photo editing. Up until that point, I only used Lighroom if I needed to process a lot of photos from one shoot. Lightroom’s batch processing capabilities put my open-one-photo-a-a-time Photoshop Elements to shame.

But in January 2012, I decided to take my photography to the next level and I knew that meant I needed a better workflow for my photo editing. As much as I love Photoshop Elements and believe it is a great program for both photo editing and digital scrapbooking, I had to admit that my photo and editing skills were starting to surpass what I could do in Elements. And so I made the switch.

And I couldn’t be happier. In fact, since I made the switch, EVERY PHOTO I HAVE BEYOND JANUARY 2012 IS EDITED AND READY TO BE PRINTED, SHARED, OR SCRAPPED! Lightroom just makes is SO fast and SO easy.

And so, I thought I would start a series of posts of specific features of Lightroom that I love. There are the things that make me cringe at the thought of having to ever edit any other way. These are the things I do EVERY SINGLE TIME I import photos to my computer.

They’re that good and they’re meant to be shared.

And for today…BEFORE & AFTER viewing.

I love, love, love this (I will probably say this about every feature I write about…I am quite smitten with LR!)

When you are working on a photo and you are editing away, it’s easy to forget what the photo looked like in the first place. Editing can be taken way too far and without a good-but-unprocessed photo to compare it to, it’s easy to let things get out of hand. Also, sometimes you aren’t sure what a photo needs so you need the original to compare it to. Lightroom makes it easy!

When you have a photo open in the Develop Module, all you have to do is click the small double rectangle in the bottom left corner

There is a tiny triangle just to the right of the split rectangle. If you click that, you have choices of how to view the before and after

Here are the different options (obviously, some options are better for horizontal and some for vertical)

Before/After Left/Right

Before/After Left/Right Split

Before/After Top/Bottom

Before/After Top/Bottom Split

I love looking at my before and after in order to check my editing and also to remind myself that:

1. It’s better to have a good photo out of camera than to try and fix a bad photo (like the example above).

2. Editing is powerful. I love seeing the results of my work behind the camera and with my editing program! Sometimes the results are subtle and sometimes they are intense. But either way, editing allows me to recreate a feeling in my heart…and that is powerful.

Here are some more examples where you can see just how powerful editing can be…exposure, white balance, cropping, brightness, contrast, and more!

So what about you? How do you edit your photos? Have you tried Lightroom? Do you love it?