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Shooting in Manual Changes Everything

I wish I would have taken a class like this a few years ago. I learned about photography through a lot of reading and trial and error.  I did take an online course of how to shoot in manual, which I’d heard so much about.  Frankly, even though I learned the mechanics of it and could do it, at the time I really didn’t know why I’d want to do it.  Finally it occurred to me (sadly, a little late in my photography journey) that there were situations that I struggled with nailing the shot in any other mode and that shooting in manual was my ticket to capturing those shots.

I put my camera in manual, struggled a bit, but quickly started jumping in my heart at the range of shots I could now successfully get.

I’ve been teaching Parent Photography Workshops for the last couple years and have LOVED the opportunity to teach people about lighting, composition, emotion and then how to use their d-slr's past auto and take more full control of its capabilities.  It’s been exciting to see many of those people just take off and start getting great shots of their every day live.

It wasn’t long before a few of them asked about a second class, which led to this class on shooting in manual and taking full control of settings.  This class is a little different than my first one as it is just an hour of teaching in class and then three hours of shooting together.  It is SUCH a thrill to see the light go on for each person as they practice getting the shot, possibly the shots that have been eluding them in their other camera settings!

It is a small group, 4-5 people so I can get to everyone. (My hubby was supposed to be a part of this class but he had to stay behind with a sick kiddo this day). After learning we practice on a  model.  I’ve so appreciated how encouraging the class members are in helping each other too.

We practice shooting in almost complete dark without a flash, with window light, with backlighting, with very dramatic lighting contrast.  We shoot with different shutter speeds to show how to create or to nail movement. We talk about flattering angles, how to get catchlights in eyes, placement and they get to see me interact with our model to get the engagement in photos that we want.  We talk about f-stops and how to create portrait blur and when you want most things in focus in a shot.  We also do the same shot with different photo recipes the give correct exposure each time but create totally different effects.

Kaia, our beautiful model, said she learned more in four hours than she did all year in her high school photography class.  I really feel that the practical experience of shooting together  makes all the difference in this class because there is no magic button on your camera….but you can create some magic!

Here were some of the comments after this last week’s class:

It was the best!! I can't thank you enough Cassandra, it really all came together for me!

I had a great time on Saturday. I have practiced a little and will keep plugging away until I can get comfortable:).... Thanks again for the great instruction and enthusiasm! It definitely fuels the fire!

I am so feeling so very grateful today for a lovely lady, CassandraHamilton, who just spent the past 4 hours teaching us about how to shoot in manual! OMG! The lightbulb went on in my head! I am starting to get it!! I am so pumped! Thank you, thank you, thank you Cassandra! Stay tuned for some photos.

Here are a few pictures of the ladies in action and also some favorites of my friend, Kaia, who was the sweetest and most beautiful model we could have asked for! (The one in my hallway with just the kindle lighting her face was to show the class how you can shoot in very low light like restaurants at night, theaters, and bedrooms with sleeping children).

Let me know if you might be interested in my next Shooting in Manual class!



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What We Wore-Thoughts on Clothes Choices

I have people ask me often what to wear for family pictures.  I have written a post on what to wear a while back but today wanted to share what we did for our family photos with Jon and Moch Photography this summer. 

First of all, I was so, so, so excited to have family pictures with all six of us in them.  I am always shooting the kids and Ben with them and will hand off the camera to him to get some of me with the crazies.  However, it’s so very fun to have ones of all six of us together!  I was thrilled to have new friend and fellow photographer, Moch Snyder, take our images.  I love her fresh approach and very clean editing style.  She was fun (super fun!) and engaging and  absolutely took what I had in my head and made it more than a reality with the beautiful images she took.  I was thrilled to the core to get the pictures back and kept looking at them over and over.

After I shot another session at the beach in the morning last June, I decided that was the light I wanted.  It’s not quite as golden as the evening but still was misty and really, both Moch and I were talking about the light and how lucky we were.  I knew we’d have a clean and light beach feel and I wanted us to be very colorful.  Part of it was because I love color and part was because I knew I wanted to hang the images in our family room in some colorful frames and they’d fit in well.  I love how the colors looked.  None of us were matching but the colors worked together cohesively.  Theo pulled the boys’ chevron ties that they wore for Easter out of the closet a couple days before and I decided to use them too. A few different patterns were in the mix but that adds a little visual interest. 

One more note: I’d bought cute swimsuits for the kids and we were going to change halfway through to just play in the water and sand.  However, when Moch was shooting Ben and I, the kids just started running in the water and getting wet in their nice clothes.  We laughed and went for it and I LOVE the way these all turned out.

The final image  here is of my updated family room gallery.  The colors and how unified it looks with all the frames filled with beach images…makes me happy.

And my last thought is though clothes are definitely a consideration, the lighting and the way a family is together makes the picture way more than perfectly thought out duds Smile.

First three images by Jon and Moch Photography.  Thanks, Moch!!!





My First "Shooting in Manual" Class

I've taught seven Parent Photography Workshops in the last 15 months. I have a few seats open for my next one on June 1, more information HERE. This will be the last one until the fall. I've enjoyed it enormously and seeing the lights go on for parents has been so very rewarding. From seeing some of the practical things like how good lighting makes all the difference, to being encouraged to document daily life, to understanding what those settings mean after years of owning a d-slr and only using auto....these parents are putting their skills to work. I have a Parent Photography Growth Group on Facebook for those who have been to one of my classes where I answer questions, people post pictures and I add tutorials that I find which may be helpful. I've been seeing some of the parents really wanting to take their photography to the next level and several of them asked about a "part 2". I thought about it a while and decided to do a "Shooting in Manual" class for those who wanted to really have the most technical and creative control of their cameras. I ended up with a most wonderful little class. I wanted to keep the class small so that we could interact a bunch and travel around together to shoot. We did an hour of class instruction where I showed them the kinds of shots that they could get with manual, which they would struggle with using any other settings. Then we broke down how to get there. After that, we all hopped in my cool minivan and did some shooting for the next several hours in harder conditions. The time went so quickly! We ran through several types of shots in several kinds of settings and they were getting it. It was pretty exciting for me. Our model was a sweet girl named Jocelyn who did whatever we asked for about three and a half hours. Kudos to her! If I was in her place, my smile would have been cheesy in ten minutes but she was engaging and warm the whole time. This group was so encouraging and helpful to each other. It really felt like a fun girlfriends' day out, complete at the end with a nice lunch at a great little Italian spot.

I couldn't have been more pleased with how it went. Here are a few shots that I got of Jocelyn before I scooted out of the way to let the other girls in.



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Project 366- A Photo Each Day in 2012 Plus Some Tips if You Want to Try it in 2013

I am absolutely delighted that I went ahead with this project that I was initially hesitant about. Taking pictures daily has challenged me and caused me to grow as a photographer in a big way. However, I think it's mostly been a way to focus my heart on the wonder that's around me every day. These kids are growing and changing and loving and learning and Ben and I are busy up to our eyeballs with them. Sometimes it feels easy to miss the big picture when we're moving life along for our littles. However, this daily project has made me pay attention to the small stuff, and count my blessings.  

I'd like to thank my wonderful hubby for helping me put together this slideshow of the year 2012! Enjoy!

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I've so appreciated all the cheering on and love that our family has received as I've posted these pictures each day. It's been really fun! What's also been exciting to me is how many people who are considering jumping on the bandwagon for 2013. I have attempted to answer some of your questions on the logistics of this project. Hopefully it helps. I would mostly just encourage you to try, whether on your fancy camera or iphone. Have fun with it and give yourself grace if you miss a day (I explain below how I just slide in another photo when I have missed a day ;) ). Whatever camera you have, whatever skill level you are at, the reality is: only you can document your life and you'll be glad you made whatever effort you can with this project or any other project that documents your life.


How did you decide what to photograph?

This was initially one of my concerns...what if I couldn't come up with ideas? I really found that it was good for me to stretch and get creative. I obviously have a lot going on around her with four children but I didn't want to do every day shooting them with their toys. I tried to think each day: what is different? what are we doing today that's unusual (think school plays, day trips, etc)? Then there were a lot of days that funny stuff cropped up and I went running for my camera. To be honest, some days felt a little stale and flat and that's okay. Other days there were lots of images I could choose from. Not every day needs to be fireworks. After all, sometimes it's the simplest stuff we want to remember.

The sky is the limit: daily routines, cuddles, favorite foods, stores you frequent, places you travel, things you love, things you don't love, books, snack time, your transportation, seasonal activities, chores, timeouts. If you run dry of ideas just google "365 project" or "365 daily photos" and you'll come up with lots of inspiration.

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Fancy camera or iphone?

I want good images so I've opted for my d-slr but if making it easy on yourself with an iphone will keep you going, do it. There's no wrong way to do this!

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How do you keep it organized?

This is a biggie as it could get overwhelming.

  • I usually dump everything off my memory card every day or two but you could even do this every week or so.
  • I then choose one photo from each day to edit (or you don't need to edit if you don't want to).
  • With my photo information, it tells me the date and time I took the shot so I add that with a title.
  • I usually organize my photos by date and event, i.e. "2012.11.21 Making Thanksgiving Pie" but for each month I created a separate album to drop these special pictures into "Project 366- December".
  • I double check at the end of the month that they are in order and that I have one for each day and then I upload them to Shutterfly where I am working on a book.
  • I also every day or every other day or at the end of a trip, would post them to facebook to share.

You don't have to share them or upload them but I do really suggest keeping a collection of them by month somewhere so at the end of the year you aren't hunting all over for April 24.


How do you have your camera around when stuff is happening?

My camera is never tucked far away. I have it accessible to me all the time, though I am very careful to have it out of reach of little hands. If you are going the iphone route this should be particularly easy.

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What if I don't have kids?

What I wouldn't give to have a year of our first year of marriage documented or a year of high school! At whatever stage you are at, I think there is value in documenting your life.

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How do you keep your kids on board?

I really try to fly under the radar with these pictures and not make them a huge deal every day. I make pictures fun. The key to these pictures is to try to not get them to stand and pose but to catch them doing what they are doing.

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How do you date the photos?

I have really found that dating them helped me so much with keeping track of them. I added the date and time and a short title but I have seen just the date as well. Almost all editing softward that I've seen, even the simple stuff comes with some way to add text to the picture, even with iphone editing.

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What if my pictures aren't works of art?

Sometimes the lighting is crummy or my shot is just plain vanilla but that's cool. It's part of the journey. You don't have to be a photographer to do this project, you just need to be present and able to grab a camera. Your kids won't care if you don't follow the rule of thirds but they will be glad that there's a picture of them on the phone with their grandmother. A sense of humor helps too.

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Do you just shoot one photo or lots and choose the best?

Being me, I usually shoot several and choose the best. I often try out some different settings on my camera and angles. However, in the interest of simplicity, you could easily go ka-bam once with your iphone and be done with it.

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How are you in so many of the pictures?

I'm pretty determined to have lots and lots of photographic proof that I am a part of things and I hand off my camera all the time for pictures of me with my kiddos. Sometimes it's me first thing in the morning or with bad hair and that's okay. When Ruby sees this picture, she won't care that it's not a glamorous portrait. She'll be glad that her mom watched girl movies in bed on her kindle with her.

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Horizontal or vertical?

You could do one or the other or a combination. Because of the projects I do with mine, I have chosen to do it horizontally.

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What if I can't keep up with 365 pictures?

I was doubtful that I could keep it up last year when I started but I did, one day at a time. I found that having a system to keep them organized helped me to not be overwhelmed. Also, if I missed a day I did not feel the least bit badly about fudging a bit. Which means, I just took another shot from the day after or day before and added it in, of something that would make sense for that day a favorite food or thing in our home. If Project 365 feels like too much, consider doing a Project 52- a photo each week of your life. Another thing that I do is A Day in the Life. I am currently working on the day I recorded in 2012. Another thing I have done is a family picture each month. Here's one of my Six Times Twelve updates (six Hamiltons times twelve months). And really, if you just do a month or two or six before you peter out, would that be so bad? I would LOVE to see a month's worth of daily pictures from when I was little.

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What do you do to showcase the daily pictures?

Each day I have shared the pictures on Facebook in a special album along with a sentence or two. The one I got the most response to was this one which still makes me laugh.

As much as I adore Tymen, there are times he wears me to a nub. Today I was all over him for chewing on the bottoms of his flipflops, breaking off chunks of foam from his carseat, pulling on the blades of the ceiling fan and breaking the fixture from the top bunk. This was the icing on the cake....a plunger strategically placed over my lemonade. 6:30 bedtime it is.

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I am making a giant collage to print on canvas using Picasa's collage feature...super easy and free. I am very excited about this. I am thinking 30 by 30 should show the pictures big enough. I can't wait to work on this now that I have completed all my days.

The other thing that I have done each month is upload all the pictures to Shutterfly where it's taken me about 15 minutes per month to drag and drop them into a photo book. After I do December, I will order my 12 by 12 book. I put between 1-8 pictures on each page. I'm going to put it on my coffee table for everyone to see :).

I would love to hear from you any ideas or tips or thoughts that you have regarding this project. Can't wait to see the beauty that you capture in your lives!


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Winter 2012 Parent Photography Workshop Information

I really picked up my camera and decided to learn how to use it when I had Ruby. I wanted to learn how to document the events of her life and to do it better and better. I know I am not alone and the parent photography workshops that I started last year (5 in 2012) were a great success. I have been very encouraged by the responses I've had from attendees as they have put into practice both the creative and technical things they have learned. One note I got after the last session really blessed my socks off:

Thank you so much for opening up your home and sharing your secrets in photography. We learned a lot. It was refreshing for us to see someone that not only loves her job, but loves her family so much. We both walked out of your home more joyful about being moms. Thank you for inspiring us in our photography and to cherish our jobs as mommies.

For all of you who just got lovely cameras for Christmas or who want to take better pictures of your families as you embark on Project 365 with me, a photo a day, here's your chance to learn.

Saturday, February 2 from 1-4 p.m.

  • It will be held at my home in Auburn (where I’ll also have donuts, fruit, French press coffee and tea).
  • This class is open to moms and dads but also aunts, uncles and grandparents who pick up their cameras. Really, if you want to photograph people at all, this workshop will help you a lot.
  • The cost is $65.



During this three hour class, we will cover:

  • How to capture your child with genuine emotion in your everyday life.
  • Setting up your shot (perspective, balance, being aware of your environment).
  • Lighting and how to find and work with the best light in given situations.
  • Displaying your photos.
  • Understanding settings on your D-SLR. (We usually have a range of people who shoot from fully automatic to dabbling in manual).
  • We’ll spend the last 45 minutes shooting together using what we’ve learned.

If you are interested, please contact me. Email, or in the contact form of my website or you can call 253.880.1232. Your $65 registration fee mailed in will save your spot. Class size is limited.

I am also opening up one space per class for a "Parent Photography Workshop" alumna :).  My sister took this class twice and she said the second time it really clicked for her, especially the technical part.  I know I go through a ton of information so if you want to hear it again, let me know. My "Alumni" fee is $15...pretty good deal if you want a refresher!

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Thanks for a Great 2012 and Thoughts Regarding 2013

It's a click of my shutter that freezes a moment in time. I am so very grateful for all of you who have allowed me to capture you in front of my camera in 2012. I don't photograph models. I photograph real people and families. Sometimes this involves making time in very busy schedules. It takes pushing away hesitation (sometimes a loathing) to be in front of a camera. It involves valuing being photographed with the ones you love (and even more courage can sometimes be found in being photographed by yourself!). It shows that quality photography is something that you feel is worth your money.

I don't take it lightly when you make the time and effort to meet with me. I know there are a ton of photographers out there with a wide spectrum of skill, style, and price ranges and the fact that you value me and my camera means a lot. A lot.

A big part of the gift of photography is that it gives me a chance to get to know you and in that process the blessing is mine. We've talked and connected and I've even received new friendships. I've tried to work on your portraits as I would want portraits of my own family. I've wiped a few tears as I've edited, prayed for you, and had fun with your kids.

Thank you.

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I have learned and grown a lot this past year. Looking towards the new year, I feel like there are a lot of things that I am anxious to improve upon and do more of:

  • Parent Photography Workshops- I've had great response to the five I did last year and plan on doing quarterly classes this year. The next one is on Saturday, Feb. 2 and more details will be out in the next day :). The mamas and the dads and the grandparents I know are wanting to take better shots of their kids and I LOVE helping them learn how to do it!
  • I want to improve my organization and work flow for editing. My Lightroom 3 has been sitting in a box for a year and it's high time I learn how to use it. I feel like I am about 80% relational and creative with my photography and 20% technical. I need to learn more with that and I'm always itching to learn how to use my camera better.
  • I feel like I have a good balance on how often I shoot and leave the house but can definitely improve in the time that I edit and blog, so that it doesn't creep into time with my dear ones. As with anyone who works for themself, there's always more to do.
  • I'm really hoping to shoot more couples this year, anniversaries and "just because" photos. I really enjoy this! I also LOVE doing individual portraits and am thrilled for the opportunities I have to do these.
  • I want to shoot a bit more this year of families playing together, like maybe part of it be more put together portraits and some of it just be doing an activity together: playing at the beach, experimenting at the children's museum, playing at a park at sunset, going on a donut date, sledding on a wintertime hill. I promise you, if you want to include an activity in your regular session, I'll make it a nice big gallery.

Lastly, I want to thank those of you who read my blog, leave comments which greatly encourage me and share my work. I don't pay to advertise anywhere. It's all done through word of mouth and Facebook sharing. Your referrals are a high compliment. Your kind words lift me.

Thank you, dear ones. Happy 2013. I'm looking forward to getting many of you in front of my camera this year!

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Last Parent Photography Workshop of 2012

I've had some people interested in another parent photography workshop so I've decided to offer one this fall. I'm finding that I am LOVING combining my passions for teaching, photography and family. I have been so pleased with the great and positive response to the classes. Then I feel like a proud mother hen when I see the awesome pictures on Facebook that attendees are taking (though they've had great talent before me, of course! :) )

Here are the important details:

  • Saturday, October 6 from 1-4 p.m.
  • It will be held at my home in Auburn (where I'll also have donuts, fruit, French press coffee and tea).
  • I'd like to keep the group from 6-8 people so I can really work with you and answer your questions.
  • This class is open to moms and dads but also aunts, uncles and grandparents who pick up their cameras.
  • The cost is $60.

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During this three hour class, we will cover:

  • How to capture your child with genuine emotion in your everyday life.
  • Setting up your shot (perspective, balance, being aware of your environment).
  • Lighting and how to find and work with the best light in given situations.
  • Displaying your photos.
  • Understanding settings on your D-SLR. (We usually have a range of people who shoot from fully automatic to dabbling in manual).
  • We'll spend the last 45 minutes shooting together using what we've learned.

If you are interested, please contact me. Email, or in the contact form of my website or you can call 253.880.1232. Your $60 registration fee mailed in will save your spot.



How I Fell off the Scrapbooking Wagon and Got on the Photobook One

Many moons ago I would page through the family albums that my dad put together. Long before the "acid free" hoopla, and in true Chris Kasteel fashion, my dad rubber cemented all our photos into paper albums. I loved to look through at pictures of Kelly and I growing up, of the crazy 80's fashions and of Christmases and camping trips. I've always been an album maker too, loving to page back and look at memories. I got caught up in scrapbooking and spent my life savings on paper, glue, brads, paints, stamps, punches, albums and cute stickers. When I'd get to work, there'd be stuff strewn across my room but in the end, a beautiful album.

Then I had Ruby and I doubled my efforts. Then I had Jasper and tripled them. Then Tymen and I quadrupled them. Every one had their own albums and I was creating mulitples of most pages that I made for my albums so that they would have copies of all that applied to them too. I was taking more and more pictures as I was starting to love photography more and more, so there was more and more to scrap. I started sinking....

Friends would come over and I'd see the intimidation on their faces as they observed my albums, color coded for each kid. Then would come the guilty confessions of how "behind" they were.

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When I had Theo, I started to feel so overwhelmed by the huge task I had created for myself. Five albums to make each year. Yikes. The smell of acid free glue began to feel toxic to me and the thought of making a page, let along about forty to fifty each month made me have the dry heaves.

I kept on taking pictures and editing them and blogging them through 2011...but I honestly couldn't find the time or motivation to scrapbook anymore. It was such a huge task.

I knew I wanted books for my kids with their memories and didn't want to just pass along a computer hard drive as family memories. However, I knew whatever I did had to be very efficient, easy to fit in my schedule and simple. I had made small 8 by 8 photo books before for our "Day in the Life" every year and for special vacations and thought long and hard about how I could make these work for the massive amount of pictures I take. I hemmed and hawed for a while and finally got to it for the first couple months this year.

Ha-le-lu-jah! It was the answer for me! It was fast and easy to just upload and then drag and drop. I added text, often easy little memories or things I'd blogged and I am so glad because I love reading all the quirky stuff from years past. It went waaaaay faster than scrapbooking, probably took about a quarter of the time. When I finally ordered the albums, I shouted, "YES!!!!!" as I hit "Quantity: 5" and was done with it!

I wanted to share what I've done because I know there are a lot of mamas out there who have also fallen off the scrapbooking wagon (or who perhaps never got on)! You have hundreds and thousands of pictures on your computers and don't even know where to start. I am going to share how I created mine in the hopes that maybe it will inspire you to do what feels manageable for you. My family albums are 100 pages but perhaps you could just do 20 for the year and be happy with it, or forget about the writing at all. Do whatever feels do-able to you!

Can you hear the angels sing like I did when I opened up that Shutterfly package and found all five albums gleaming?

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The first thing that I was delighted with was the size! I could fit five albums on the shelf with the same space that I did one big scrapbooking album before. Hello! (Next time I will put the title and year on the spine, totally forgot about that).

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I love, LOVE these. These pages are filled with events, funny times, portraits, daytrips and the every day moments that I cherish.

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Here are some things that I love about these albums:

  • I did these through and though the images don't look quite as amazing as prints, I think their image quality in their photobooks is very good overall.
  • I love that I could work on these albums a bit at a time and they were saved in "My Projects".
  • The 12 by 12 format works great for some big pictures and also a ton of little ones.
  • You can customize these books quite a bit, from choosing layouts and numbers of pictures, to changing sizes of pictures, adding text, deleting spaces. Their format feels very user friendly to me.
  • It took a fraction of the time to put together than I used to spend developing pictures, cutting, gluing, adding paper and words and text. Seriously, I think it took about a quarter of the time and was far less messy.
  • These books are way easier and less cumbersome for the kids to pick up and read and they LOVE seeing themselves (positive re-enforcement for more pictures!).
  • I used to scrap all my good pictures but this hundred page limit for the year forced me to choose the very best images and truly, 100 pages is enough.
  • Just ordering several copies was SUCH a time saver in place of the multiple albums I was doing before. It's also a great gift for grandparents...we gave a copy to my parents as part of our thank-you for watching the crazies while we were in Paris.

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I am definitely doing this again this year and though I created last year's album in free time during a few months, I have decided to work on our 2012 album month by month. It takes me just about an hour to drop pictures in pages and add text. An hour a month I can do!!

Here are the steps that work for me:

  • I empty my memory card regularly and edit my favorites as I go. I always keep the originals of the ones I love and I delete extras and crummy ones. If you don't edit or keep it simple that's even easier.
  • Once a month, I upload my favorite pictures from the month to Shutterfly. May 2011. Using the highest image quality to upload is recommended.
  • I have chosen the "Custom Path" so I can create my own album instead of Shutterfly just dropping in images by date.
  • 100 pages divided by 12 months gives me about 8 pages per month. This makes me choose the best ones and I really try to group subjects and days. I do very simple and clean photobooks. There are a lot of colors and styles and bells and whistles available in the templates but I choose a simple one and make the focus the images and text. I don't want to date my albums with cheesy stuff either. I do my pages, add some text and sometimes the dates. I try to vary the layouts. (If writing isn't your thing...don't do it :) ).
  • I save my pages and then just leave it for the next month.
  • I do separate albums for really big vacations (like Paris) but most trips I can add in a few pages, especially with the pages being so big.

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Once I completed and proofread the album, I waited until Shutterfly had a 50% off photo book sale plus free shipping. Each of my hundred page albums ended up being $95 including tax. At first I thought it was so much but then when I went back and calculated how much I used to spend on scrapbooking albums, paper, pens, glue, page covers, and (especially) printing of photos it was way, way more than $100 each. I think it just wasn't such a sticker shock back then because I did several smaller purchases. What I have decided to do is to set aside a certain amount per month so that at the end of the year I'll have enough to buy all five albums easily. Obviously, this would be way less if you only ordered two or three or did a smaller album size or less pages.

Here's a couple more album ideas. I've done an art book every three or so years for Ruby. I have kept a file with some of our favorite pieces of art which are dated but really, who is going to look through all that?

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Instead, I photograph her art and then create a photo book (8 x 11, 25 pages). I don't put in every piece of art done but document some of the progression of her art and writing.

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She loves looking through this!

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I do a "Day in the Life" 8 by 8 book each year. This year's edition is still to come. I LOVE these and our lives change so much each year.

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This is the very best part of it, communicating value and love in this special way to my kids. What a treasure these books and memories are to me and hopefully to them (and their children)!

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If a 100 page, yearly book seems like way too much for you...don't do it :). However, I would encourage you to get your photos into a format for viewing in some way. Maybe you could do a smaller, shorter book. Perhaps a book with two pages dedicated to every month would feel more feasible and affordable. If you have years and years and years of pictures, maybe work backwards and just start with last year.

I know that overwhelming feeling that comes with feeling so behind and this project may seem like an elephant in size...but you can eat an elephant one bite at a time. Start by setting aside an hour to check out a photo book site and see if it may be something that you'd like to do.

I'd love to hear from you if you have done or do this type of project. I am SO happy that I did, and that this is a sustainable option for me to record our memories with our busy, crazy, happy family!



My New Camera..a Few Thoughts

I am totally not one who needs the latest and greatest when it comes to technology. I don't text, because I have a seventy year old cellphone and I won't let Ben spend the money to upgrade me. You'd never find me setting up new stuff at our house...I just look helpless until Ben does it....then I reward him with grateful kisses. I will never be the one standing in line for the latest release. It's just not how I roll. I read some great advice when I first started photography. The equipment doesn't make you a better photographer, your technique and vision alone can do that. So don't buy a certain lens because you think it will make your photos better. Our rule of thumb is that we only buy new equipment when we get to the point that we can't accomplish our vision with what we already have. Alison Tyler Jones and Donna Smylie

So that's what I've done, I've worked on developing my technique and vision. I've made a ton of mistakes and learned from them. Occasionally, I've done it right and remembered what I've done to repeat it. I've worked my 40D pretty hard and have learned a lot, a lot, a lot in the past few years...about my camera, about people, about how to draw them out to be themselves in front of it. It's still a great camera and I will continue to use it for backup.

However, I was finding low lighting situations very challenging, even with the right settings and the right lenses. The capabilities of the Canon 5d Mark ii completely won me over and after eyeing it for about two years, Ben gave me the push, found a great deal, and placed the order before I had a chance to change my mind (to hem and haw a while longer).

I am thrilled, THRILLED with it. Once I got over the initial hesitation and actually started playing around, I have been so happy!

Here is my warm baby boy in a very, very dim light last night.(Shot at 4000 ISO!) It was all I could do not to snatch him up and munch on his legs.

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When I first was studying to teach, I observed and student taught under some master teachers (Cherrie, Penny and Alisha). They had their rooms of kids working like clockwork, learning, growing....and adoring them because of how warm and full of high expectations they were. It was exciting and also a little overwhelming because I didn't know exactly how to be like them. I soon realized, with their encouragement and prodding, to stretch out and really be the best teacher that I could be, in my own way.

I feel much the same about photography. I have been inspired, challenged, pushed, and learned from many "mentors" (almost all of who don't even know me but I have read their blogs religiously). And in the end, I love what they do, but I know that I love what I do too...and want to be a better ME!

My new camera is wonderful but just a tool as I keep on learning and growing. So many thanks to all of you who read my blog, those who comment now and again (or a lot :) ), who show up with your hearts to let me photograph you. This is such a fun part of my life right now....the creative part that I find so rewarding. Thank you!!

Now to buckle down and read my manual. I have a LOT to learn!!



Take Better Pictures of Your Kids ! Part 2: Change Your Perspective

Last month I posted my first installment of taking better pictures of your children when I talked about GETTING GENUINE EXPRESSIONS FROM YOUR KIDS. One of the other questions that I have heard is regarding doing more than a police lineup type picture....and getting creative. I think that I am always looking for ways to get a different look, angle and perspective on children. When I go to the park or zoo, I am always watching parents stand there and shoot down at their children doing their activities and often all the pictures that are the outcome are from that one angle. It can quickly get a little boring.

Switch it up. Try something new. Here are some ideas. Some of you might not feel super creative, but I will promise you that trying some new approaches will surprise you at what you can capture.


I do it all the time. I am always laying on my the grass...on the floor. It's a great way to shoot creeping babies, toddlers playing and feet (which I admittedly have a weakness for).

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While I was down shooting low, I saw my boys' boots, which I love and are symbolic of the mess they make right now. Look around for some interesting items that represent your kids' lives while you are on the ground.

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I would have completely missed their expressions had I just been standing and shooting down.

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It's a whole other thing you see from a bird's eye view. Here are my boys in the tub and I love seeing the way they are sitting and completely engaged in their toys.


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Straight down into a crib, focusing on the mobile but with a clear picture of how wee this little peanut is in her big bed.

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This is a fun perspective to see what the objects of your photography are engaged with. Here my boys are into their pie.

These parents are loving up their daughter.

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These pictures of Tymen were taken seconds apart but say very different things. This closeup is all about his expression, how much he's loving his sugar, and how cute he is in those great little glasses.

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Far away reminds me that my little guy is a small dude sitting on that big chair at Starbucks.

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Getting close up and focusing on just bits and pieces can be so interesting too. Here are Ruby's hands knitting. What are the bits and pieces of your child that you love...the back of a head? dimply knees? a laughing mouth?

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Like I mentioned before, I just love little feet.

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This is a great way to get their expressions and to see the world from their perspectives. While I am towering at the donut counter, here's Jasper's outlook as he searches for the perfect one.

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We are tempted to always get people smack dab in the middle of the picture, but it is much more visually interesting to mix it up and get people off center sometimes too.

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Okay, I'd love to hear about any of these new approaches that you try. Grab your camera and lay on the floor while your son is playing cars. Sneak up behind your homework do-er or color-er and shoot their work from behind. Decide on a favorite bit or part of each child that you want to photograph.  Mix it up.  Have fun.  Drink really good coffee.  That always fuels my creativity :) .



Take Better Pictures of Your Kids! Part One: Getting Past the Cheese

In preparing for this little class I am teaching for moms this Wednesday about taking great pictures of their kids, I posed the question on my facebook page, asking what my mom friends would like to learn. In less than thirty seconds came my first two responses: How do I get them to focus? How do I get a genuine smile out of them? Very good questions and issues that I have considered greatly. I will be talking about it on Wednesday but I had several peeps who live in other places and who can't come and who want the info. too so I decided to share a few of these questions and my thoughts on the answers in some blog posts. First of all, I play, play, play when I am taking photos of kids.

Two year old twin girls. Do you think that if I said, "Okay, girls, SMILE! Say CHEESE!" that I would get these expressions? Never! They would take off or look away or look at me cross eyed. Instead I had a puppet elephant on my hand, who kissed and hugged them. They smiled. Then the elephant said, "You girls are so nice! I am nice too! I am a monkey!" They both giggled and said, "NOOOOO!" and giggled some more. Then I snapped this picture. Then the elephant gave them high fives. Real smiles. Genuine.

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This little dolly sat down and gave me her little "camera smile". You know the one. The one that causes moms to say, "No, NO!! Give me a real smile!" Saying that doesn't usually produce the real deal. I said, "Boy, you are so pretty. I just love your big brown eyes." Then her little posed smile turned into the real deal. Isn't she lovely?

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Secondly, I keep things moving.

Confession: I am an impatient person. Draggy meetings drive me nuts. Blah, blah, blah over nothing makes me crazy. I totally understand kids getting bored during pictures so I keep things moving along. We play. I follow.

Luke is an awesome little dude but at two, he wasn't about to just sit in one spot and grin at me. He was two for goodness' sake! Two year olds move....and if I want a good shot of him, I need to keep moving too! We jumped off logs, played in the sand, raced a little, and along the way, he gave me some awesome peeks of who he is. (Happy me: he's bringing his parents for one of my spring mini sessions next month :) ).

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Thirdly, I am completely great with looks from kids that are not smiling.

I will always try to get a grin out of kids. However, I also adore all their other looks too. Here is beautiful Olivia gazing at me with her amazing eyes. No smile but she is completely engaging and I would have totally missed it if I had been waiting for a smile. We don't smile all the time, do we? Try to get some shots of your kids with other expressions that are totally them too.

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Not every person needs to be looking in every shot.

I intentionally stir the pot with groups of siblings sometimes and ask questions like: who gets in the most trouble? Who is the loudest? I am trying to get a reaction and to capture some of the interactions that are there. This group started clowning around and cracking up and I love this shot WAY more than if I had everyone's perfectly trained smiles at me.

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There is a different kind of portrait that can be captured when a subject is giving attention somewhere else.

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Let them play.

I love getting shots of kids who are having a good time and are genuinely enjoying their activities. I am so very fine with kids who are not sitting neatly with their hands folded on their laps.

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The more kids in a shot, the crazier.

Whenever I do group shots I take lots and lots of images to get the one I am looking for. Sometimes I use props to get them to focus. Just love everyone getting intent on their ice cream here. To me, I love this WAY more than everyone looking and saying, "CHEESE!" Forget the cheese! Give them ice cream!

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Here Ben was messing around behind me, making the kids laugh. Love this shot. I will share this session soon. I took probably twenty five to get the one I wanted with everyone engaged, no one blinking, etc.

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With older kids, use conversations.

Talk about friends. Ask them what is the goofiest thing their mom does. Ask them what they will do on vacation. It keeps the look from getting stiff and keeps it fun and fresh.

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Positive re-enforcement, Baby!

If they have had fun, had some treats, played and known that they have done a great job, they will be much more prone to being engaged with pictures next time. Bribe, if necessary too!

Alrighty, was that helpful? Give ME some positive re-enforcement too :) . Tell me what you learned or liked or what else you would like to know.