_MSP1463This summer had a few fun family adventures and location visits. I’m an avid collector of sand, shells, and anything natural that reminds me of the location. I usually keep a little jar filled with a bit of sand, from each trip, but I had the urge to do something different this summer.

As we bring summer vacations to a slow close, I wanted to create something to display the sand/natural elements WITH a picture.  After checking out Pinterest for quite awhile and not finding what I wanted, I decided to go to the craft store to see if that helped spur a creative idea… and it did!

The materials I gathered:

Wood Blocks
4×4 prints
White Paint: Martha Stewart White, Statin
Gold Paint: Martha Steward Gold, Metallic
Jar of Beads
Paint Brushes
Mod Podge
Glue Gun (I already had this)


Step 1: Empty the beads from the container (my daughter was thrilled because I gave them all to her).


Step 2: Paint the lid. Next time, I’d go with lighter coats, but more. I took the quick path and put too much on which made it get a bit lumpier than I’d like.


Step 3: Fill the vial up with sand and paint the wood block white (I also considered staining it with a deep wood stain which would have been good for a rustic feeling!)



Step 4: Choose your which 4×4 print you’d like to use. Paint on a light coat of Mod Podge and adhere to the wood. I placed it a bit higher than center.


Step 5: Print out a page with the location, month, year, etc. Anything you’d like to use as a title for your finished piece. I printed this in 3 different sizes since I wasn’t sure which would work out best after cutting it out. Using a paper cutter kept the lines  nice and straight (I’m terrible with scissors and knew that would turn out less than ideal!).


Step 6: Adhere the cut piece of paper in the same way as the picture, by painting a VERY light coat of Mod Podge on the back.


Step 7: Again, using a light hand, paint Mod Podge over the entire cover of the wood block.  It will appear cloudy at first, which will fade as it dries. Be extra careful when painting over the printer paper as it will may bubble. Attempting to smooth this down with your finger will dirty it up, so continue to use the brush, softly. As it dries some of the bubbles will disappear.


Step 8: After the Mod Podge has dried (takes 30 minutes, tops) hot glue the sandy vial (or other natural memento, like the rocks) onto the bottom of the wood display.


Voila! A unique way to remember your vacation!


I used 4- 3m strips on the back of each wood block, placed on each corner (I actually started only using two, but one of the wood blocks fell, so stick with 4!).


The options with this are quite limitless… and I’m really trying to resist the urge to continue making them with ALL of our previous vacations :).

We are expecting and couldn’t be more excited (especially the kids!!). I’m 19 weeks along. I swore this time would be different… I’d be less anxious, I would have a handle on my morning sickness, I wouldn’t be nervous.  Well, it’s a humbling reminder that I’m not always in control and sometimes I have to relinquish that control and give in. I’ve not only been a nervous wreck, this third time, about every stage, step, muscle ache, etc. but I’ve also added the pressure of knowing I want to document this pregnancy better than my first two.

With my first pregnancy I was not a photographer, though the idea interested me and I bought my DSLR camera, a Nikon D40, two months before she was born. My schedule was still my schedule without kids in the mix. The full time job, teaching elementary school, was still kicking. I wanted to document things to put on my ‘My Space’ account (seems like years ago, hah!) and I shot a few shots of my pregnant here and there, but certainly left out quite a few details.


With my second pregnancy, I was in the thick of photography and trying to do everything ‘perfectly’.  I let quite a few pictures pass me by because of it. If the light wasn’t perfect, if I didn’t look quite right, etc. I even photoshopped the heck out of my belly – because my belly has a road map of stretch marks (that I can now appreciate as beautiful, though I couldn’t then) and hasn’t ever been a smooth and tiny bump. My life is missing from these pictures that I shot, again, for Facebook.  Social media has a way of pushing me to only post the perfection to leave out the reality of my life and if I wasn’t shooting for other’s consumption, then I simply didn’t shoot at all. However, for the sake of this blog post… I’m getting bold and honest. I went back through, chose the unedited versions, and the images that, now, speak to me and that time in my life. I’m SO happy to have them that I can’t even put it into true and honest words. (The first shot is telling our family’s that I was pregnant- they were SHOCKED!).  These are not the most flattering shots of me… and it’s taking quite a bit of guts to share them… but they are what life looks like. Me folding cloth diapers (a snap that my 2 year old daughter took!), my old first pregnancy stretch marks, the extra weight I was carrying around.  The things that make life, life.

You NEED to be imperfect in your pictures… FOR YOUR KIDS. This isn’t for us, though in the moment it feels like it is!:)(Although you will probably remark, looking back how young and vibrant you were!)


This time, I’ve come full circle. I want my images to remind me of this precious time in our lives- the good, the bad, the ugly. I want my little one to be transported to what life looked like before they arrived- the full and amazing (though sometimes exhausting) life with my daughter and son. To see how thrilled my daughter is to help me make a quilt for the baby, for my son to hug and kiss my tummy and ask me every time I eat if what I’m eating is “healthy for the baby”.

So- I’ve already gotten in quite a few pictures… to both show the morning sickness and extreme smell aversions– including my poor husband’s deodorant… it was quite the situation. I also got some progression shots in the bathroom mirror. These are all iPhone. Next up, now that I feel good, I’m going to take out the big camera on myself.


I’m more emotional about the feelings a mom feels this time. Anticipating the moment I will see this baby’s face gets me quite misty. This baby, that I’ve known for the entire time I’ve been a mom, that we’ve been missing in our family. I have felt this child and knew I needed it to be a part of us. We don’t know if the baby is a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ and it truly doesn’t matter. I have had girl feelings since the beginning, but these waver here and there – and the surprise of it all leaves me so excited! Life will unfold as it will and I’m letting go of the perfection of the past. This is our story, this time around, and I’m not the puppeteer but instead someone who is a part of the play, happening as it happens!

Here’s my list of what I’d like to shoot throughout the remaining half of this pregnancy– a list not only helps me think through what I want the baby to see, but to keep me on track and photographing:

– the kids walking into one of my Birth Center appointments
– me with each child on their first day of school – since I’ll have my belly in full bloom!
– making the quilt for the baby
– a shot of my bare belly
– the special pillow for sleeping comfort, prenatal yoga items, the hypnobirthing books
– washed gender neutral clothing ready and waiting
– preparations
– images of me, at least monthly
– me trying to give the kid’s their baths with my large tummy
– me trying to wash dishes but having a hard time getting into the sink:)
– the clothes & the breastfeeding prep and items
– some sort of perfected maternity image… I have to think more on it
– Halloween
– Thanksgiving
– Christmas (me in front of the Christmas tree and on Christmas morning with the kids)
– any gifts that we receive before the baby is born

It’s the little details that are a larger part of a bigger story. Some of these can and will be shot with my iPhone, some I will be planned and executed.

In one week the final run of my workshop until next year of “Photographing Your Family’s Everyday, Extraordinary Day and Everything in Between” begins! We will talk about WHAT to shoot and how to tell your family’s story – all of it- from pregnancy to birth, vacations, special family events, holidays, and how to organize it all. I talk about using a speedlight, creating videos, putting together quick and easy family albums… everything to help you document your life, as it is right now, because it’s changing at lightning speed! I’d love to have you join us on August 17th (though the opening threads and Pre-Assignments have already been posted, so you can begin today when you join!)

Shooting a ‘day in the life’ always sounds like a great idea but then I get caught up with the need to shoot every detail and by 11am I’m spent. Instead, I ditched perfection because in the end, I just want my memories. I followed my son around, though loosely, to shoot the highlights of his fourth birthday this past week. It was both fun to do and to document for him because this is the first birthday that he has been truly excited for. He understood each part of it, anticipated the actual day and planned what he’d like for presents (a submarine and a Siberian Husky Mini Hideaway Pet were high on his list). His personality has changed so much within the last six months. He went from a frustrated toddler to a little boy that understands more and is far more patient. This little love bug is an extreme cuddler and always wants to snuggle up to my face. I often have to ask for some space, haha.

For his birthday he woke to a room full of balloons (27 because 3 popped in the process of us blowing them up, though he keeps telling people 70– so we will go with 70 because that makes me a more dedicated mom, right?).  We made a few trips around town, to the pool, to the movies to see Inside Out (have you seen this? We loved it!) and he requested a specific pizza place in town for dinner. Turns out he didn’t even want pizza, he wanted to play the old school ‘PacMan’ game in the front of the restaurant. I don’t think he even took one bite of pizza but we brought along a bag full of quarters for him to play the game (we usually let him think he’s playing, but this time he got to kill himself over and over again for $.25 at a time).  He believed that when he ran into the little goblin things that he was winning. He won. Over and over again.

We finished up his birthday by singing him ‘Jingle Bells’, at his request, instead of ‘Happy Birthday’ while he blew out his candles. My parents were there and my in laws FaceTimed us for the candle blowing and we sang the best rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’ we could. I even made the announcement that he is a big brother because of the sweet little baby I’m growing in my tummy!:)


Many of the locations we visited during the day didn’t have the best light or the perfect conditions, but I shot anyway. The final shot of him and I (and my belly!) as well as the PacMan image were shot with my iPhone. Documenting the small moments and the large ones are so very important. Challenge yourself to shoot more and to shoot items that seem almost silly. Those are the moments that will matter one, ten, twenty years down the line when his birthday looks completely different!

Want to learn more and shoot more intentionally? My 4 week online workshop, Photographing Your Family’s Everyday begins August 17th and it’s truly for all levels of photographers. Are you new to photography and still using auto mode? That’s ok- this course is going to help show you what to shoot. Are you a seasoned photographer? I’m going to help you let go of some of the ‘perfection’ we are taught when learning photography. Let’s take a look at your life and your moments, together! Learn more about my workshop. This will be the final workshop for 2015 and the next won’t be until at least Spring 2016.

Have any questions? I love to chat! Shoot me an email melissastottmann@gmail.com

Yes, it’s April… and here I am bringing up the past snowy winter!  However, since I know the snow is done (or at least it BETTER be) I could finally stomach going through the videos. I started shooting footage during the first snow and the final ones are from the last melt… complete with Valentine’s Day and some added fun thrown in here and there.  I’m still working on my shakiness with the camera. Who knew I was so bumpy?!

In my online workshop starting on April 27th, Photographing Your Family’s Everyday, in Week 4 I’ll be giving tips and tricks for shooting video on both your iPhone & your DSLR.  Then, I share a video of me editing a film!

Without further ado… winter! Opening with “You are my sunshine” sung by my little guy! It was a video that I taped with my iPhone while I was putting him to bed one night.  iMovie makes it super easy to separate the voice/noise from the video (I didn’t use the actual video of him singing, just the sound).

 See more of my films, here 

winter from Melissa LaCroix Stottmann on Vimeo.

Here’s what else I cover in my workshop…

Create a portfolio of the images that make your heart leap with joy!

Week 1
Reading: “Everyday Photography” The genres of family photography are discovered, discussed, and broken down. Learn to find the details in your photos that matter, decide which moments in your life you want to remember, and photograph your family in a manner that makes your heart sing.
Assignment: Shoot an ordinary moment in multiple ways
Extra Materials: Video “Editing for Impact”

Week 2
Reading: “Extraordinary Days” Discuss shooting during the holidays, vacations, birthday parties, and small adventures of your life. Transcend simply photographing these events (and discuss apprehension you may have about shooting in public) but also how to enjoy them and tell a story without constantly being attached to your camera.
Assignment: Shooting something extraordinary in your life by using a customized list to capture the important moments.
Extra Materials: Video on creating collages with included templates for Photoshop and Lightroom
Week 3
Reading: “Getting in the Frame & Family Portraits” You are shooting for the future, not OF your family but FOR your family. You need to be in the pictures. Look for creative ways to get you in the every day and extraordinary day images, both physically and symbolically. The second half of the PDF is about posing for portraits and loving family images. Discussion and examples will be given for posing an individual, small groupings, your family, and other families.
Assignment: Shooting an image of yourself with your family in a creative way or in a way that represents you
Extra Materials: Mini-PDF to get you started with a speedlight

Week 4
Reading: “Photographing the Passage of Time” Personal projects come in many forms and this week will explore ways to include your family within your personal projects. To wrap up, we will look at image printing and organization to create to help plan for the future.
Assignment: Assess original family gallery to monitor your progress with memory keeping and begin a small or large scale project of your family
Extra Materials: Video- Creating a growing family photo album quickly and easily
Mini-PDF- Shooting Video (DSLR)
Video- Putting together video footage for a short film (mobile videos & DSLR)

Welcome to Post 3 in the “So You Wanna…” series.

Missed the first two posts?
Post 1 – Purchasing A Camera
Post 2- Purchasing A Lens


Here’s where we get to it and you need to really need to read and practice.  You’ve got your camera, you’ve got a lens.  Now… we have to talk about actual photography and images.  This post is going to have lots of external links because this is a loaded topic and one that will take time and, perhaps, more information than just this post can provide.  I’m absolutely giving you the bare minimum and going fast through big topics – but there are A LOT of resources in this post and I’d recommend going through each one and taking your time.  Feel free to ask questions in the comments or email me if you have something you can’t figure out (melissastottmann@gmail.com). Others may be having the same issue and I can add more to this post!

We can’t talk about the camera without talking first about EXPOSURE and what that is.  Exposure, in it’s simplest terms, refers to the brightness or darkness in an image.  Too bright? Just right? Too dark?

This image, below, is overexposed.  There are “blown” areas which are too bright and have lost detail.


This image is properly exposed.  His skin has detail and none of the areas are pure black.


This image is too dark. There are “clipped” areas which are too dark and have lost detail.


There are exceptions.   Typically (and this is overgeneralizing and open for interpretation) you want the skin to be properly exposed.  That’s the most important portion of an image.  Bright areas can often be “blown” and in a case like this, it’s considered “correct”.  This image also has lots of very dark areas that are “clipped” and too dark.  However, it still works.



Notice how I’m using quotes around the word “correct”.  There is a lot of room for judgment in photography.  Photography is a creative exercise and you are expressing your vision.  However, learning all of the rules and getting things “correct”, first, is important.  To consciously make your decisions about each image and know why you did something (not just convincing yourself you did something on purpose… which I have done!) is the ultimate goal.  This takes practice.  Lots.  I’m still learning.  I will ALWAYS be learning.  The hardest part is allowing yourself to feel the frustration and then walking away from the camera for a bit and coming back refreshed.

Ok – so now that I’ve explained exposure… how in the world do we make the decisions? How does one get an image from their mind into their camera?   You change, create, and fix exposure using three items – Aperture, & Shutter Speed, ISO.

First we will discuss Aperture. We talked for a minute about aperture back when we were discussing lenses.  The lower the number the more wide open and more light you can get into your camera.  This is a good thing.  Think of it like a pupil – to let more light in you want a wide open pupil.  On a sunny day when you need less light you want a smaller pupil.

When you buy a lens that can go to f/1.8, f/2.0, f/2.8 you can let in more light because the opening is larger- even though the number is smaller.  Alternatively, if you use a smaller aperture (larger number f/5.6, f/11 and higher) you will let less light into your lens – imagine a smaller pupil. I know it seems backwards… you’d think that a higher number would equal more light, but alas, it’s not.

To recap ….

LARGE pupil for lots of light – aperture opening f/1.8, f/2.0, f/2.8
SMALL pupil for a little bit of light- aperture opening f/5.6, f/11
(remember our lens discuss… most kit lenses that come with cameras have apertures that start at f/4.0 or f/5.6…)

Aperture is the reason that I ended up picking up a camera.  I love the look  of a beautifully blurry background… and this is how you achieve that background.  The post, “Aperture- The Basics” on Click It Up A Notch does a fabulous job of explaining this concept.

Here’s my trusty uninterested assistant… Make a note: when my aperture changes, my other settings change, too (more on this in a moment)

Image Below is at f/1.8 (notice the blurriness behind her) Other image settings Shutter Speed 1/250  ISO 200


Image Below is at f/5.6 (less blurry behind her) — Other image settings Shutter Speed 1/125  ISO 1600


Image Below is at f/11 (even less blurry behind her) — Other image settings Shutter Speed 1/125  ISO 4000


Next up is Shutter Speed.  This is most important when you have a moving subject.  If your image is blurry, shutter speed is most often the culprit.  When the kids are moving around I need a fast shutter speed to freeze their action.  Slow shutter speeds are used to show intentional movement, like in this post on Clickin Moms, Slow Shutter Speed by Allison Zercher.  When I am hand holding my camera I typically keep my shutter speed at 1/125 of a second (will show as 125 on the camera) or faster (1/250, 1/400, and up).  If I go below 1/125 of a second there will absolutely be camera shake from my hands and the image will be blurry.  If my subject is moving at all, I try to keep my shutter speed at around 1/400 of a second and faster.

The image below is shot at shutter speed 1/30 of a second — other settings aperture f/10 ISO200


The image below is shot at shutter speed 1/400 of a second — other settings aperture f/2.2 ISO400


Finally there is ISO.  For whatever reason this was the hardest concept for me to wrap my head around.  I confused it with a pixelated image (which just means that the image isn’t big enough).  ISO is the little bits of grain in an image and goes back to the film shooting days.  Film is purchased by the ISO (also referred to as ASA) rating.  A rating of around 800 or 1600 was usually for indoors whereas you’d use 200 or 400 for outdoors.  You can set the ISO in your camera and it serves as a cushion when you don’t want your shutter speed to be slower or your aperture to be any more open.  In return, it introduces more and more grain as the number getting higher (and digital cameras can go high!) Here is a post from Click It Up A Notch demonstrating ISO even more.

Minimal Noise (cooresponds with Low ISO)

_MAS0977-4Lots of Noise (cooresponds with High ISO)_MAS0977-5


So now that we know what everything IS… how can we use ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed to create an image? These three are called “The Exposure Triangle“.  All of them have to work together to create an image in your camera.  Cameras have a lot of bells and whistles – but really it all comes down to these three things and how they work together.

So let’s talk about your camera modes, now (don’t confuse these with “Manual and Auto” on your lens – keep that one Auto, especially for now!).


Automatic (could be a green square… or “Auto” on cameras)
PROS: Automatic mode chooses everything for you – the ISO, the Aperture, the Shutter Speed.  It surveys the scene and makes it’s best guess.  You are able to set it and forget it.
CONS:   This can leave you frustrated because your control is minimal.

Aperture Priority (also called Av & A on cameras)
PROS: Aperture Priority allows you to choose your Aperture setting keeping control over how much blur behind your subject exists.  The camera will choose your ISO and Shutter Speed.  This is great when you want a blurry background (apertures like f/1.8, f/2.8) or you choose to have everything in sharp focus (apertures such as f/11).
CONS: You aren’t controlling your shutter speed and can often end up with blurry images because your shutter speed is too slow.

Shutter Priority (also called Tv & S on cameras)
PROS: Shutter Priority allows you to choose the Shutter Speed.  The camera will choose your ISO and Aperture.  This is great for sports or freezing motion.
CONS: The camera may give you a very high ISO or an aperture that isn’t quite what you would have chosen.

Manual (also called M on cameras)
PROS: Manual allows you to choose the Shutter Speed, the ISO, and the Aperture so you have complete control over your image and making it just as you want it.
CONS: You have to understand how everything works together and be able to switch things up quickly, sometimes.

So you know what the terms mean, you know what the modes mean.  How do you put them into action? Read your camera manual to learn how to change your ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture.  You can often even set-up special buttons to allow you to do it faster than going into your menu, too.

I shoot in manual mode – all the time, though I suggest starting in Aperture Priority.  This will help you to assess how the other settings change when you change your aperture.  I can honestly say that I haven’t ever worked in Shutter Priority – but my kids aren’t in sports yet and I usually shoot when they aren’t moving and running around so I’ve never really needed it.  I jumped in head first back in 2009 and went straight to manual mode while learning the concepts.  My first few pictures were black. Totally black.  I had no idea how to make them not black.  I’m going to cover shooting in Manual in another post, however.  Here is a hint if you want to get started on shooting in manual. When you looking into your viewfinder, you will see some dashes. That’s your meter. Your goal is for your meter to be in the center.  Again, more on that in the next post.

I learned how to achieve proper exposure and how to understand how ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed work together by reading the book, “Understanding Exposure” by Bryan Peterson.  It’s an amazing first step and he explains everything with images, shares settings and I found it to be so comprehensive.

Need more and want to be held accountable? Try Amy Lucy Lockheart’s 3 week workshop, “First Steps With A DSLR“.  I am slightly biased because Amy was and is my own mentor.  Her work is gorgeous and she is a wonderful teacher. If you haven’t taken a workshop with Clickin Moms before, I highly recommend them because they are thorough, you get regular feedback and you work with a group of women learning the same thing as you.  You certainly can learn on your own, but man, if you can swing it… I learned so much faster with a dedicated teacher.