January 13, 2015

Framing Ideas

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The bloom has come off the rose of our apartment. To keep from feeling completely cramped and closed in, I’ve taken to thinking of our next home – the place we hope to start look for in a few months and ideally like to live for a few decades – and imaging how I’d like to decorate it.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’d like to frame and hang photos.


Ever since I discovered the waterlouge app I have been in love with the idea of a water color photo print. I’ve been playing with various photos to see what works best and have decided on a beach photo for the girls’ future bathroom.

Nicole (14 months) while visiting relatives in Florida

Of course the photo I will actually use will have both girls in it. Luckily for me there’s a nice beach near by. Watch out Alexis, we’ll be making a visit as soon as you learn to sit!

The one potential hiccup is the humidity. High humidity plus rapid changes in temperature equals condensation, which can get into the frame and damage the photo. I’ve read some home improvement websites that say don’t worry about it, and others that advocate specialized frames. I’d like to save myself the time and cost of reprinting the photo, especially if I end up wanting a print larger than what can be done with a home printer. I got this specialized water resistent frame during a price drop as an experiment. We’re still a few months (at least) from buying, so in the mean time I’ll hang the above photo in our bathroom and see if it suffers any water damage.

Teddy Bear Shelf

I was recently going over old photos and rediscovered this one of Nicki, taken right around the time she turned two.


There’s nothing special about the bear. I can’t even remember where I got it (other than a vague feeling it was once my moms). Yet when I was looking for a stuffed animal for Alexis’ newborn photos, I serendipitously grabbed the same bear. Wouldn’t it be nice to have two photos, one of each of the girls, with the same toy, and the toy itself preserved for posterity?

The Concept

Although I already have photos of Alexis and the bear, I’m thinking about taking a few more with the bear towards camera and Alexis turned away like the above photo (though not the same pose!). Maybe when when she’s around one. I like the idea of Nicole being older in her photo than Alexis in hers, and that way if we have a third child I can extend the concept to include him/her. I’ll be out of luck if we have four or more, but if we have four or more I’m sure I’ll never be able to keep up with these kinds of photos anyway!

The only question is where to put something like this. The laundry room? The guest bed room? (I’m not sure if we’ll have a guestroom, but I allow myself to splurge on a huge house complete with a craftroom, finished basement, and tons and tons of closet space.)

January 10, 2015

Finding Time

“You think you gave up all your free time when you go from no kids to one kid. When you have your second you realize how much free time you still had left.” – Paraphrased wisdom from a friend. I can’t remember who because my memory has turned to swiss cheese as of late.

I often feeling like the end of the day has arrived and I’ve gotten nothing done. I’m roughly halfway through my maternity leave, so time is ticking by. It’s time to get my act together.

After reading advice from happiness and productivity efforts I realized I needed to do several things: (1) Priorities, it’s not possible to do everything all the time; (2) Identify tasks I can do each day to start chipping away at my list; (3) recognize my limits so I don’t paralyze myself with frustration when I can’t do 2.

The first thing I read was to pick no more than five areas to focus on outside the day-to-day needs-to-get-done list. Since I’m out on leave I picked just four areas, leaving space for professional development when I return to work. In no particular order they are:

  • Alexis’ Development, particularly sleep It’s easier, (and tempting!), to get her to nap in the rock n’ play or bouncy seat, but I want to work on getting her to nap in the crib so we can have an easier transition than last time.
  • Quality Time with Nicki Nicki is doing very well with Alexis. She loves to help, whether it be by sitting by Alexis’ side during diaper changes, holding the bottle, or fetching the binky. I think prioritizing special Nicki/Daddy and Nicki/Mommy time is helping stave off any jealousy she might otherwise feel.
  • Getting a handle on our home. It’s a mess, and messes stress me out. We also want to move within the year, and the more picked up and organized we are the easier the move will be.
  • Photography (obviously).

Each day I set out with one or two goals in mind: a family photo (it’s harder than you might think, get Alexis to nap in the crib for more than 30 minutes, take Nicole to the park, etc. I strive for the sweet spot between reasonable-achievable and feeling-like-I-accomplished-something-big. It can take several attempts to get Alexis to fall asleep and stay asleep in the crib which can easily add up to an extra 90 minutes in my day. The park is a couple hour endeavour.

So far the new approach seems to be helping. I’m certainly taking more photos this time than last time, and Alexis has now had several good naps in the crib. I wish I was making more progress on the house, but I guess that’s why the experts recommend step 3.

January 5, 2015

Breathing Room

When I was counting all the reasons why the timing of Alexis’ birth was just about perfect, I forgot one little detail: I’m obsessed with photography. I not only wanted to get a ton of newborn photos, and family photos (which almost didn’t happen at all), and Alexis’ monthly photos, but also formal Christmas photos of both the girls, all in about a four week time stretch while learning out how to function as a family of four and celebrating the holidays. I took nearly 6,400 photos all totaled, including of both girls and inanimate objects like ornaments on the trees. Needless to say, I was putting a ton of undue pressure on myself. Now that it’s January I no longer feel the pressure to take specific kinds of photos. (Although I’d still love a non holiday themed family photo if I can arrange it. And some more of just the girls.)

I decided early on that the best way to save my sanity was to not try and duplicate my favorite photos between the girls. I have less time to play momtographer as a mother of two. Often my time with the camera is split between the girls on the weekends. Nicole has always enjoyed her time in front of the camera, and I didn’t want her to feel replaced by the baby so I always offer to take photos of her as well. So far the responses are about a 3/1 split between yes/no. Since I’m a mom of 2, there’s less time to be had behind the camera anyway. It would be impossible to duplicate Nicki’s baby book with Alexis. There were times when the book felt like an impossible project as just a mother of one! Getting those photos in the later months took a team effort between Domingo and I. Blocks are very enticing for a mobile baby.

I also have more skill this time around. I’ve been practicing with my camera, and off again on again in auto mode for the past two years. The first photos I took of Alexis are far superior to the first ones I took of Nicole. When I look at some of the early photos of Nicole I can’t help but think of all the ways I would have taken them differently. If I were to take the same style of photo with Alexis as Nicole, it would invite the comparison between photo quality. I already beat myself up enough when I make photography mistakes, no need to keep reminding myself of the previous ones.

So I strive for similar, but unique.

This one is pretty easy to duplicate when home alone on maternity leave.

Speaking of help, I’m sure I would not have been able to take so many photos (or kept my sanity in tact) without it this past month. Between my parents visit, and Domingo taking most of the month of December off, I had a tremendous amount of help. I was able to get some sleep, and spend quality time with both girls, and even enjoy the holiday! Yet in just a few short weeks our home still started looking like a total disaster. I have no idea how other parents manage it.

My goal for the coming month: get the house back in order

January 1, 2015

Newborn Photos by the Tree

Happy New Year! Are you tired of Christmas yet? I’m sure not (although this is probably my last Christmas related posted until next December.) One thing I can’t get enough of is photographing Christmas Trees.

There are two ways of doing tree photos: shallow focus (wide aperture, short exposure) and deep focus (narrow aperture, long exposure). Personally I like the wide aperture when shooting up close. It makes our artificial tree look less artificial, and means I don’t need to use a tripod. When shooting from a distance, however, I just love the way the narrow aperture gives a nice star effect to the tree lights.

Aperture and Christmas Tree Lights

I love Christmas, and I love newborns, so naturally I wanted some newborn Christmas photos by the tree.

So Dreamy
F/16, 15 second exposure, 50mm prime lens, ISO-125

The setup was really simple. I used a pillow on top of one of our storage boxes to raise Alexis high enough that the Christmas tree would fill the entire background. Under the blanket is a water proof sheet, and under that a heating pad. I used Nick Kelsh’s tip of white Christmas tree lights (sans pizza box) to cast a nice soft glow on Alexis. I wanted the Christmas light star effect, so I needed a narrow aperture and long exposure. That meant turning off most of the other lights in our living room, and cranking the ISO way down.

The pull back. Ignore the scattered toys, my home is in perpetual mess state these days.

A long exposure requires a (mostly) still baby. Breathing is obviously okay. No babies should be harmed in the making of this photo! Once I put Alexis down I gave her a good 15 minutes to get into a nice deep sleep. Don’t forget your safety spotter! Even newborns will sometimes roll, especially if the surface their on is uneven.

Once she was asleep I needed to act quick. From start to finish I only had 28 minutes before Alexis was stirring too much for me to continue. In order to ensure I’d end up with some usable frames I made only one adjustment between frames. Between one frame I might straighten out the blanket under Alexis’ head. Before another I might move her hand away from blocking her mouth. That way there’s less risk of her waking enough to stir, and also I’m guaranteed to have some photos to fall back on in the event that she does wake up.

For comparison, here is one of the first photos I took of Alexis and the tree (barely a week old!) with wide aperture. She’s not asleep. One of the nice things about fast shutter speeds, you can catch those eyes closed, fleeting smiles moments!

f/2, 1/50 sec, ISO-1000
(not using Nick Kelsh’s tree light trick)

My favorite photos are always from Christmas time.

December 30, 2014

Alexis at One Month

Dear Alexis,

How did we get here already? It feels like just yesterday we were bringing you home from the hospital. Now you’re up a size in diapers, and clothes, and mommy is already considering removing the newborn insert from your car seat. Don’t you know you’re supposed to stay a newborn forever?!

Mommy’s little goofball. Three weeks old and already so expressive!

Daddy and I agree, you are the perfect addition to our family of three. You are an incredibly mellow and patient with us. These days you mostly only cry when your hungry. I can’t tell you how many times Daddy and I have checked in on you when you were supposed to be napping, only to find you wide-eyed and exploring your world. You woke up with nary a peep! On those occasions that you do cry, you generally stop whenever we reposition you or talk to you. It’s like you understand we’re going to feed you, or change you, or fix whatever else it is that is making you unhappy. I hope we never let you down!

Exploring your world

I have been so amazed with your smiles. You started smiling pretty much as soon as you hit the outside world. We thought it was just gas, or a super strong smile reflex. And at first that’s likely all it was. But little by little it kept feeling like real smiles. You smile at us when we talk to you. You smile when your tired and we start to swaddle you. Even your pediatrician commented about your smiling at your two week appointment. I am convinced that we’ve been seeing real, honest to goodness, happy smiles.


Your sleep has been typical of someone your age, though you did bless us with an eight hour stretch a few days ago, and I couldn’t be more grateful. You really like sleeping on your side, and keep trying to get there when we put you down on your back. Every once in a while you manage it. Daddy is convinced you are going to be an early roller.

Your big sister adores her “baby necklace”, and you seem to adore her! Nicole has given you a bottle (with help) and loves to pat you and tell you “it’s okay” when you’re fussy. You smile the most for your big sister, more than for Daddy or I. You love to watch her play.

Love Always,
Mommy & Daddy

The Photo that Almost Wasn’t

Last night was rough. Alexis slept until 2 am, didn’t fall back asleep until 3:30 and was up again at 5:30. I got her back to bed the second time relatively quickly, but alas, once I’m up I’m up, regardless of how little sleep I’ve had. As I lay in bed trying unsuccessfully to go back to sleep I kept thinking about how I still didn’t have a family photo and my newborn was quickly approaching her one month mark.

My one goal for today was a family photo.

It was not looking promising that I would achieve my goal when mid morning rolled around. Domingo and I have been averaging only a handful of hours of sleep the past few days, with last night being one of the worst. Nicki, too, was acting like she hadn’t slept in days. Even Alexis seemed extra grumpy. As the morning progressed things went downhill. Nicki started acting out and needed a time out right when Alexis was hysterical for her third feeding in about 90 minutes while Domingo’s discovered his sweater had a hole in it, and I still wasn’t dressed. At least three of us cried at varies points this morning. I’ll leave which three as an exercise to the reader.

Ten minutes later I snapped the above picture, which I think is a testament to how much Nicki loves photo time more than anything else.

It got me thinking about realness. A common complaint of social media and the web in general is that it’s not “real.” Take the photo above as an example. It shows a happy, smiling family, which can give someone a false impression of what our lives were like this morning. I think the more apt description is not “complete”. The photo is straight out of the camera, unedited. It shows just one moment, albeit the best moment, from this morning. I can (and did!) post it on social media without any reference to the chaos that preceded it.

As you can probably guess I find this criticism of social media unfair, holding social media to a higher standard than we hold our in person interactions. Even in in-person conversations we rarely share the complete picture of our lives. If I bump into someone on the street who asks how Nicole is adjusting to being a big sister I’m far more likely to share the cute story of her insisting “‘baby necklace‘ comes too” when asked if she wanted to play outside than tell the story of her testing boundaries this morning. Sure, part of the reason is to present myself and my family in a good light, but the bigger reason is that I share the stories I want to remember. Social media is the steel trap for my memories that my sieve mind would otherwise forget. It’s my highlight reel. Incomplete, sure, but real, and the part of my life I want to remember the most. I will go back over my old photos and post posts when I’m feeling low in need of a smile. It’s a pick me up many of us share.

Some years from now I may have forgotten the grief leading up to this photo, or that it was taken on December 28th, three days after Christmas. Or maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll remember that even the roughest of starts can have happy endings. Either way, I’ll be happy I have it.

Santa's List

I love newborns, and I love Christmas, and I especially love newborns at Christmas. I am running on adrenaline right now, averaging only a few hours of sleep a night yet somehow I finished wrapping the presents, the new glider assembled, and the crib reassembled in advance of the holiday. Now I can sit back and enjoy my favorite Holiday with the girls.

We’re having a low key Christmas this year, after the big family event last year. My parents visited us for almost a month leading up to and after Alexis’ birth, so it really didn’t make sense for them to return for Christmas. My in-laws were going to spend the day with us, but have a little cold, so we opted to celebrate Christmas again with them as soon as they feel better. As fun as it would be for another large family affair, there’s something very special about spending the day with just our new family of four, especially given how tired Domingo and I have been.

Nicole has been very excited about Christmas this year. We were surprised in October when, while walking through Target, Nicole pointed out Santa Clause in the holiday decorations section. On a whim, Domingo asked her if she knew what Santa brought. Without skipping a beat she exclaimed “TOYS!” We’re in trouble.

I made the mistake of putting some presents under the tree a week ago. Nicole wanted to open them right away. We told her she had to wait until Christmas/Santa comes. She went and got her chair, put it down next to the tree and exclaimed “I’ll wait!” She notices when new presents arrive, and even when we put a few more balls up on the tree. She knows which stocking is hers and which is Alexis’, and will happily point them out if you ask.

As much as I have been looking forward to this Christmas as a new family of four, I am really hoping to get back into baking next year. And craft projects. And sleep.

December 22, 2014

Surviving Two

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Having two small children has simultaneously been easier and harder than I expected.

Nicki has been great with Alexis. She’s been very accepting of her little sister “necklace” (seriously cutest nickname ever!), and also a little intimidated by her. When we first brought Alexis home from the hospital, Nicki was very curious about her and asked lots of questions. She liked saying goodbye/goodnight whenever she’d leave for daycare or go to bed, and showed Alexis her toys. She’ll also talk to Alexis, but she rarely wanted to get close on her own. This past week she’s been getting a little braver, offering hugs and kisses. Last night she insisted that her teddy bear give Alexis a goodnight hug. I’m very grateful Nicole has been adjusting so well.

Bonding this past weekend.

Alexis, for her part, has been an extremely mellow baby. She cries during diaper changes (although not as often any more), and when she’s hungry. She’s very content to be put down in her bouncy seat or the rock and play. After putting her down I’ve checked in on her only to discover she’s wide eyed, studying the blinds, quiet as a mouse.

Domingo and I got extremely lucky with both girls. I don’t think we could have asked for anything more from either of them.

One of the challenges right now is our living situation. We already felt cramped in our apartment before, but now it feels almost unbearable. There’s no out of the way place for Alexis to sleep where she won’t be woken up by the typical sounds of toddlers playing, and no easy place for me to rock her. Alexis’ crying will also just as easily wake up Nicki, which means we’ve had some rocky nights where it felt like the girls were tag teaming against Domingo and I.

Alexis is currently sleeping in our room, but in a few months will move to the office which will then become her room. Her future room is right next to Nicole’s. If the rocking chair was in her room, we’d have to walk a crying, hungry newborn right past Nicole’s door multiple times per night. We avoided that problem by having the rocking chair in the living room, but then there’s no way to shut the door and have a quite space for trying to get Alexis to nap in the middle of the day. We finally caved and decided to buy a second rocker (a stork craft glider). Pros: it was easy to assemble. Cons: it’s not as nice as our previous rocking chair (which cost 3x as much so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.) Now we have a rocker in both locations. It seems a little over kill to have two rockers, but if I can get even just 30 minutes more sleep a day, it’ll be worth it.

Another life savor has been our toy closet. We keep all manor of special toys there: play-doh, one of those pop up tunnels with towers, a bubble gun, etc. We started keeping these toys separate because they required more adult supervision. The fact that they’re not freely available adds to their appeal, and so they work wonders at keeping Nicki occupied before we had the second rocker.

The last thing that seems to have helped is making sure we have special Mommy/Nicole only time. Last Sunday I made sure to wake up early enough to pump before Nicole. We spent the morning together while Domingo and Alexis slept in, and in the afternoon Nicole and I visited Santa. Before our special day, Nicole was acting out and testing boundaries a little more than usual. Afterwards she was back to her usual well mannered self. I’m sure it will be a balancing act. Nicole has always had a very special bond with Domingo, so she’ll want special daddy time as well. We’re thinking Domingo may take her out to a pancake dinner after daycare someday soon.

The last thing that I think helped was the big sister books, especially this one by Joanna Cole. We’ve been emphasizing all the fun things Nicki can do that Alexis can’t do yet by reciting the verse about the baby being too little. It helps keep a positive spin on things when Alexis needs extra attention.

When I first picked up my camera to take newborn photographs of Nicole, I was convinced I had missed my chance. It was already well passed the golden 10 day mark, and I had never done it before. I was worried I wouldn’t get her to fall asleep, or ball up so nicely in that quintessential newborn pose. As luck would have it, I’d continue to be able to get “newborn” photos all the way up to 6 weeks.

This time around I was determined to start early, so that I could film Alexis in that golden period that photographers rave about. And boy did I start early – at just 3 days old!

Babies change so incredibly fast! I mean, “duh!”, but I didn’t see it before because I wasn’t taking as many photos. This time I have some photos of Alexis in nearly the same pose from different days and I see it!

Alexis at 1 week
One Week

Alexis at 2 weeks
Two Weeks

Look at that head growth! And to think, she started out in the 96th percentile for head size, just like her big sister did.

As fast as they grow, you can still make an older baby look tiny

I couldn’t figure it out with Nicki. I had photos of her as a sleeping “newborn” at 6 weeks were she looked smaller than at 2 weeks.

Perception of size is influenced by relative head size to body size. Newborn heads are about 1/3rd their body. How the head is positioned next to the body can make it seem larger or smaller. In this pose Nicki’s body is turned away from the camera, making her body look smaller relative to her head. When her body is parallel to the camera, it looks the longest, making her appear like an older baby.

Props are also incredibly helpful for size comparisons, especially when shooting against a simplified background.

Just because they’re young, sleepy and flexible doesn’t mean they’ll pose the way you want them to! As much as Alexis likes to have her arms swaddled, she likes to stretch those legs. I have tried time and time again to get her to curl up for a photo. No dice if she’s awake, and even asleep she’ll stretch out those legs and stick her butt up in the air.

While I have yet to get her in my favorite balled up pose, she has rewarded my patience with some incredible expressions. I’m getting so many smiles that I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not just the smile reflex or gas, but actual smiles. Crazy talk, I know.

6 days old going on 3 months?

As much as I’d love to have a balled up baby pose, I do enjoy having different photos of the girls to put on my wall. They are, after all, different people.

Lesson learned: shoot early, shoot often, but don’t sweat it if you miss some days or even a week or two. They are darn cute at any age!

I have often read that the biggest difference between an average photographer and one that can go pro is the ability to critique one’s own work. Once you cross that barrier and can identify the flaws in a photo, you’re one step closer to eliminating them from your work. So in that spirit, I’ve been trying to take a more critical eye with my own photography. I find a few small details can really distinguish the Pros from the Average Joes.

The Eyes

The face, and especially the eyes, need to be visible and clear. If there’s one thing all pros can do it’s a perfectly in focus eye where you easily identify the eye color. This is partially because professionals tend to get in close with the subject, so the eye is bigger in the frame. The biggest factor, however, is proper lighting. Professionals tend to be masters of lighting. They can shoot in natural light, but also often have the right equipment: reflectors, external lighting, diffuses, etc.

A very determined Nicki at the pumpkin patch
Verdict: Average Joe

The problem here is the direct, bright sunlight from above (it’s early afternoon). Direct sun tends to have harsh shadows. In this case you see a very harsh shadow under the chin, arm, pumpkin skin, and under the brow bridge. Either a flash or a catch light could have helped lesson the shadows and could have brought out the eyes.

Of course, that’s a lot of camera equipment for a simple trip to a pumpkin patch, and my primary philosophy is not let the camera interfere in the activity or Nicki’s fun, least she lose interest in the camera.

Pensive Nicki with better eye focus.
Verdict: Passable Pro (at least for the eyes)

This one was taken in the shadow of the check out tent, out of the harsh direct sunlight. Nicki’s eyes are more open, which certainly helps. Since the light is more diffused you also don’t get those harsh brow ridge shadows hiding her eyes!

Hands and Feet

Artistic blur is awesome, but blur can also be a sign of improper settings. Many professional photographers like the effects of prime lenses, which often have shallow depth of fields. Background blur, like that caused by a shallow depth of field) is great for emphasizing the subject. Blur can also occur when the subject moves fast enough for the motion to be caught on frame. This is called motion blur.

Sure motion blur can be artistic. Just like with brightness there are times when the rules are meant to be broken. In these cases it’s often obvious that the professional intended to break the rule, by the effect the broken rule has on the photo.

Baby Smiles! What’s with that fist near the bottom of the frame – depth of field issue or motion blur?
Verdict: Average Joe
I have multiple frames thanks to continuous mode shooting, so I can confirm that Alexis is not moving and this is shallow depth of field, however, you cannot tell that from this photograph alone, so it gets a sub par rating for photographer skill.

When looking at photographs of kids I always go to the hands and the feet. Kids always seem to have their limbs in constant motion, even when sitting. If there’s blur in the extremities, I tend to lean towards Average Joe.

Adorable baby foot
Verdict: Passable Pro
Sure much of the foot isn’t in focus, but not in a way that can be explained by motion blur. Thus this blur appears intentional.

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