Posts Tagged ‘Child Photography’

November 16, 2016

My Burst Mode Preference

I’m apologetically a fan of shooting in continuous (burst) mode. For me, a typical photographic moment of a human or animal suggest might consist of:

* A single frame of a moment the instant I decide I want to capture it. It’s usually poorly framed, uninteresting shot from a photography perspective as it’s literally more instinct than thought at this moment. The goal of this frame is to have a record of the moment in case it passes before I have a chance to “get it right”. It’s the I-don’t-want-to-forget-this-spontaneous moment photo.
* A couple frames of the same moment where I’m in the process of moving and re-framing to get a more interesting photo. Each frame is usually progressively better, but there’s always a risk of camera shake ruining the shot since I’m usually moving and shooting at the same time.
* A couple frames when I’ve re-framed the photo as I want it to guard against blinks, shifting gazing or any other quick momentary issues that might otherwise ruin a photo.

The usual result is usually around 4-5 frames. I maintain that anyone who insists that multiple frames should not be necessary does not shoot very young kids often.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on some portrait orientation photos of the kids. My mother-in-law gave me a lovely photo collage frame last Christmas and I it’s beyond time to fill it. I’ve placed a step stool on the floor to keep the girls somewhat contained, but they only stay put for a moment. It’s a game: sit, smile, get up, giggle at Mommy’s reaction, run away, come back and repeat. Fine by me, games make for better expressions.

Here’s frames #1, #2 and #4 from a four frame block of Alexis. Frame #3 is nearly identical to #2, but contains motion blur not noticeable in the thumbnail.


Frame #1 is my least favorite. Her gaze is too high. #2 is the shot I was going for. Frame #4 with that smirk is a keeper from a mom perspective, but not the type of photo I was after for the collage. She’s also leaning forward slightly in #4 because she’s about to spring up from the stool and run off. (That’s probably the origin of the slightly blur to #3). Even in this relatively paused moment there’s still a lot of variation.

The initial shutter lag of my camera is 0.25 seconds, but drops to 0.11 for successive photos in contiguous mode. That’s not including the lag tag for my eyes to communicate what they’re seeing to my brain, and my brain to send the single for my finger to push the button. That may sound pedantic, but the human response time to visual stimuli is about a .25 second. All total, there’s a half second delay from identifying the “perfect moment” and having the shutter react. If I shot a single frame, I’d have just as high a probability of capturing frame #3 as #2.

Since I’m doing formal photos I don’t need to worry about capturing the spontaneous moment, but I still have that first, not quite framed right photo. Had it been the one with the best expression, I would have re-cropped it and kept it for my wall.

I think most of the critics of burst mode are favoring process over results. For a lot of photographers, the idea of shooting in continuous or boost mode is synonymous with “spray and pray”. Spray and pray refers to shooting first and frequently (spraying) without thought in the hopes of getting lucky (praying). Critics of spray and pray point out that it can be a crutch and does have a penalty associated with it. Each extra shutter action does create ware and tare on your camera (although the vast majority of us will never shoot enough for the extra ware and tare to matter.) Each file does take up additional space on your hard drive (if you’re like me and never delete anything ever that’s a significant issue). Finally, it costs you more time to go through each frame to find the best one. I’m guilty of this one too.

For us momtographers it’s not always about learning, or honing your skills. Sometimes you just want to have that beautiful photo for the wall, process be damned.

June 11, 2016

Alexis’ Baby Book

I’m very delighted with how Alexis’ baby book turned out. The additional two and a half years of camera experience made an incrible difference, and the concept was easier to execute this time. Like last time we decided to go with a 24 page book and 12 images, one for each month. Rather than spell her age in the baby blocks, which proved challenging, I wrote her age on the blank left page.













Second Time Leasons Learned

  1. Solid color onesies are the way to go if you’re going to shoot against a white background. I was worried about colored onesies clashing against the blocks, but the white onesies fadded into the background a bit too much. I liked doing a different colored onesie much better. A tan colored bear would have probably been better too.
  2. The bear is easier than the blocks, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. I’m sure any style of photos gets difficult beyond a certain age. I figured going into this project that I’d be able to at least get cute photos of Alexis interacting with her bear even if she wasn’t doing quite what I was hoping for. It turns out if your under one knocking the bear off set is hilarious, especially right after mommy just put it back.

Now all that’s left to do is wait for a coupon from MyPublisher. I have no idea what we’ll do if we decide to have a third child. I feel compelled to keep changing it up.


Material Costs:
Bear – $20.

Nicole, stopping to smell the flowers
The 150,821th (literally, I checked) photo captured with my second DSLR. I can’t help but think all this practice has really been paying off!

My new go-to trick with child photography is to turn photo time into game time, and no game is too silly.

We’re well into the period I dub ‘Cheese Face.’ When Nicole sees a camera, she clenches her jaw, pulls back her lips, squints her eyes and gives her best “Cheese.” The end result is kind of like Sheldon Cooper’s Happy-for-Koothrappali/Kill-The-Batman face, just without the big eyes. Cheese face phase a common phase most kids go through when they realize what the camera is for. She’s smiling how she thinks the photographer want her to smile. To get ride of cheese face I need to get her out of her own head and not thinking about smiling.

The best way to get ride of the cheese face, to elicit genuine smiles and giggles, and to turn photo time into game time. I’ll ask Nicole not to smile. I’ll tell her to make a silly/angry/sad face, but no matter what Do. Not. Smile. Small children are just not capable of holding in a smile. She can’t help but burst out into giggles fit while trying to make her not-smile face. That’s the moment I get snap happy!

Another trick is to be decidedly silly. Will sing the ABCs, and instead of L M N and O, I’ll sing El-eme-eme-o (Elmo), or E-I-E-I-Owie. (That latter one was an idea stollen from Alexis who used to always sing Old McDonald that way.)

I’ve been employing a similar trick for poses. Whenever I try and pose her the photo always looks forced. She’s trying to sit still and thinking about how she’s supposed to be posed. She’s not having fun, and it shows. Rather than try and pose her directly, I find a game that will elicit the pose I’m after. Catch Me!, Run Me Over With Your Bike!, I’ll bet you can’t touch that flower with your nose! The trick is finding the right moments in the game to get the perfect expression, and to be in the right spot when it happens. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s magic. The funner the game, the more chances I’ll have to capture gold.

August 22, 2015

Three Year Old Ballerina

Nicki loves ballerinas. She loves them so much she can sit through the nutcracker in it’s entirety. I knew she would love to dress up as a ballerina. Now that she’s three, I was in dire want of some more portraits.



I have to be super quick with the camera these days for these posed photos. She’s happy to get in the pose, but holding it? That’s mommy’s problem. Or more precisely, mommy’s camera’s problem. She was having so much fun twirling and spinning about the room, but my camera couldn’t focus fast enough.



A trick that’s working fairly well these days is to ask her about things. For example “how many feet do you have?” if I want her to look down.

How most of my photos turned out. Happiest. Ballerina. Ever.

Materials Cost:
$30.15 – Leotard (Amazon). A splurg, I admit. Will be used for dress up clothes afterwards
$2.99 – Ribbon (JoAnn’s)
$15.58 – Backdrop (JoAnn’s) Would you believe I didn’t have a simple cream backdrop?! I purchased two yards, but I really need three. Sarah’s rule of thumb 1 yard for each year.
Total Cost – $48.72 fore tax.

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.
Mommy’s Little Monster!
monster dance
Monster Dance!
monster hair whisps
I love those hair wisps Daddy is putting her monster “shoes” on her, which is why she is distracted.

I’m sure the time will come when she tires of “photo time”, but it doesn’t seem appear like that time will be any time soon, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

July 20, 2014

Two Year Old Portraits

Hair Wispies
One of Nicki’s daycare teachers occasionally asks me when I will cut Nicole’s hair. Never. I love those hair wispies!

Last year I didn’t explicitly plan on doing One Year Old Portraits with Nicki. We were already doing the girl with pearls photos, even if I didn’t share them until much later. Between the amazing photographer our daycare hired to do all the kids (they specialized in a vintage theme, and brought all sorts of fun props), and doing the department store (specifically for graduation, but we also got a few of just Nicole) I had a tone of ‘professional’ photos as well.

This new daycare’s hired photographer is more typical of school photographers, and not nearly as awesome. We probably will do department store photos, but not until I’m further along so we can get some maternity shots as well. I figured I would try for some DIY Two Year Old Portraits.

Side note: I have relaxed some about taking A Bazillion Awesome, Amazaballs Photos (tm). I’m tend to prefer one or two large prints type, rather than gallery walls, so I really only need to luck into a handful of really awesome photos. It takes the pressure off considerably!

I’ve always loved that dreamy, innocent, eyes cast down pose. This was amazing easily to achieve. I just gave Nicki a book to read through.

Those lashes! That button nose!

A good smile was harder to achieve, but that was my fault. We turned on some happy toddler dance music, and Nicki was having a grand time. The problem was we were doing the photos early morning (before our plans to go out) and the sun was not cooperating. My settings were not quite right to accommodate both the less light, and the active dancing toddler. Many of the happy photos ended up being at least a little blurry.

Two Year old Smiles
Perfect little pose. Photo sharpened to an inch of it’s life. Too bad mommy’s camera settings were anything but.

I used the same blue background for the superman photos. I liked the cream outfit Nicki wore, but it doesn’t really work with the blue. I think next time (and there will be a next time since Nicki enjoyed herself and I’d like to get my camera settings right!) I’ll try the peacock colored bed sheet.

I was hoping to discover one go-to trick for toddler photography like I did for baby photography. Alas, I haven’t found one yet. My old trick? It doesn’t work as well these days. These days Nicki isn’t likely to sit still, unless there is a very enticing reason, like cookies.

Admiring the Tree
Nicki admiring the tree. Or is she? She was admiring the tree in much the same pose. I wanted to get a quick photo on my cell phone but kids these days seem to come with smart phone proximity detectors. As soon as I picked up my phone, she forgot about the tree. We faked it by having daddy hold up his cell phone next to the tree, and just off frame. That is what she is looking at. I am an instagram photo fraud.

I need a new strategy. Here’s what’s working for me these days.

Stay put, do not chase. This advice is easier to follow if you are photographing something that can easily be repeated, like swinging. Babies ‘first’ anything? Much harder.

I find if I chase after my toddler most of my photos are of the back of her head. If I’m moving around I’m constantly in a spot that would have made for a good photo a few minutes ago. If you stay on one spot, the action eventually comes to you. You’ll get five killer photos, instead of oodles of ho hum photos.

The spot I picked for the chocolate bunny photos ended up being pretty lame. I was getting very typical (read: boring) kid eating chocolate bunny photos. Then Nicki did something unexpected. She went from the sitting position to flat on her tummy and offered Mommy a bite of the bunny. The end result was pretty magical, even if the depth of field was too shallow for the close up.

Use the camera in no longer than five minute intervals. Nicki loves, loves, loves dress up. She’ll go through her dresser, find her super girl outfit and ask to wear it. Yesterday she asked to wear her swim suit to daycare. While she can be quite the little ham, she will get bored with it eventually. I find that the first five minutes are the best expression wise. Once we hit that point I usually put the camera down and enjoy the rest of our play time without it. No sense getting everyone frustrated with the camera, especially for photos were the smile is no longer as bright.

Putting the camera down also gives me a chance to regroup. I can go through my photos off line to try and figure out where we’re going wrong, and how I can plan to do better next time. (I benefit so much from the chance to do do-overs.)

Strive for fun first, photos second. This one is pretty much a no-brainer. If Nicki enjoys an activity, she’s likely to want to do it again and be just as excited for the activity, which means I’ll have more opportunities for additional photos in the future. Nicki is less likely to be as expressive or cooperate for those future photos if the activity ever becomes not fun. Thus we strive for fun first, and photos second.

Lately I’ve been taking photos of Nicki in the swing. If the swing slows down too much, Daddy gives her a good push, even if that means blocking my shot of her with his hand. No push means no smiles, which makes for a lame photo anyway.

After another 3 weeks photography hiatus, I was finally feeling good enough to both go out this weekend, and take my camera. I was feeling frustrated with myself for slacking these past few months, both from a personal development standpoint (how do I expect to grow if I don’t practice?) and from a family obligations one (Great Grandma looks forward to weekly photos.)

After my last hiatus I was really disappointing with my photography when I did finally pick up the camera Easter weekend. I feel back into my old crutches, and kept setting my F-Stop way to large. We were at the park and I ended up setting my aperture to it’s largest setting thinking that meant I would get a shallow depth of field. It wasn’t until we were packing it up that I realized my mistake. I’ll blame my pregnancy brain on that one.

From Easter. It’s not a “good” photo technically speaking. The aperture is too wide, which is really noticeable by how blurry the arms are even in this thumbnail sized version. What makes this photo worth sharing is the adorable subject enjoying her first Chocolate bunny.

I was really pleased when this weekend not only did I get the F-Stop right (yay!) but I actually went off aperture priority mode into full auto and was happy with the results.

Love this pose! Super toddler is just missing her cape.

Now I’m feeling more confident and more eager to pick up my camera. Hopefully this will help get me out of my photography funk! Great Grandma will appreciate that.

This has been one of my most ambitious photography projects, and also one of the hardest secrets to keep. Now that each of the grandparents have received their baby book Christmas gift, I wanted to share this project with you!

For Nicole’s baby book we purchased a 24 page photo book, using 12 whole page images.

1 Month

2 Months

3 Months

4 Months

5 Months

6 Months

7 Months

8 Months

9 Months

10 Months

11 Months

12 Months

I had been reading a fair number of ‘mommy blogs’ when I was pregnant with Nicole, and wanted to do an age progression baby book. I thought I’d be different and use baby blocks instead of the typical tummy stickers. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen anyone else use baby blocks before. It seemed like such an obvious idea. Turns out there’s a reason the stickers are so popular. The first couple of months with the blocks were easy, but once she realized she could reach those blocks, everything got a whole lot harder.

My intention was for each month to represent a different milestone: smiling, sitting, clapping, first tooth, etc. I also had this grand vision of the baby blocks neatly aligned, a big smile on Nicole’s face as she looked straight into the camera. Ahh Naive Sarah, so Naive.

Lessons Learned:

  1. While cute in concept, the milestone idea was the most difficult aspect to execute. I gave up at seven months. I was having too hard coming up with milestone ideas, and an even harder time convincing Nicki to show off the desired milestones. Instead I repeating some poses (on her back for 2 & 8 month photos, on her tummy for 3 & 9). It worked out for the better. I think the repeated posses really emphasized how much she had changed. I only wish I had given up on the milestone idea sooner. Her five month milestone is holding a block, but in reality she was able to hold much sooner, and the 5 month photo feels so different because of it.
  2. Variety is key. Once I’d given up on the milestone idea, I started doing multiple different posses each month: sitting, lying down, to the left of the blocks, right, etc. This gave me more flexibility, so if the only good 9 month photo was of her lying down, I could use her 8 month sitting photo and not have the same pose back to back.
  3. Consistency is hard (and it’s noticeable when things aren’t consistent.) I accidentally used a different lens on month 6, and with the difficult winter lighting the photo looks different from the rest. Even with the same lens and same camera body, the camera settings will need to change. As Nicki grews and became more mobile, the depth of field necessary to keep her in focus as well as the shutter speed needed to freeze the motion changed. Add the changing lighting conditions and it’s easy for photos to start having minor differences in the amount of shadow, brightness, etc. Next time I plan to print out the previous month’s photos so I can immediately compare them with the current set. I hope that makes it easier to achieve a consistent look.
  4. Photo editing can save your sanity. A number of the above photos were off center, or had the backdrop edge in the photo. Hey, it’s HARD to get everything lined up perfectly with a squirmy child! For the 10 month old photo she’s staring right at the camera and smiling. It was the only one where she was in focus, smiling at the camera. The problem? Almost half that background wasn’t a backdrop at all. I ended up shooting at a slightly different angle than anticipated and the backdrop wasn’t wide enough. Indeed the raw photo contains the door and some of the hall way. Since retaking the photo isn’t always a practical idea (go ahead, try and ask a ten month old to pose the same way again), it’s worth spending a little time learning how to clone the background and fix those minor issues.

Material Costs
Uncle Goose ABC Blocks: $30
Extra block(s), one block was damaged due to teething, and we needed an extra letter: $4
Total costs: $34

Older Posts »