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!:)

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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…

PreAssignment:
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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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

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

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

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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

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

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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)

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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!).

MAIN CAMERA MODES:

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.

In my workshop, Photographing Your Family’s Everyday, during the pre-assignment and first week, I ask students to create a portfolio of personal favorite images – the kind of images that make your heart burst into a million pieces. Not client images, not images you took because you were required to or felt like you should, but the type that make you feel something, regardless of their imperfections.

When I completed the exercise myself, I noticed a few interesting threads. The goal of the portfolio is what I’m aiming for my students to take notice of as well. The shots that make me feel happy and that portrayed my actual life are primarily taken in my home and shot when I had time on my hands.  My emotions and senses were in tune and those parameters aided me in creating my most heart centered photographs. When the kids are engaged, I have time to ponder and daydream. I can watch them.  Unhurried, lacking demands… thats where I, personally, thrive.

What’s more… I learned that while I crave this space, there is nothing that can replace getting your hands dirty and being in the thick of a project to devise strong ideas. All creativity winds together and reflecting on my years teaching, lesson planning was necessary as an outline but couldn’t substitute the alive moments of teaching new topics.  Often it was a passing thought from a student or a question that spurred a rabbit hole of an amazing activity, a project that sitting in front of my computer couldn’t conjure to the surface.

I challenge you to consider this for your own work, career, creative projects, life… photography or not. When I realized where I’m able to shine, I gave myself more space. A weight of stress also lifted with this realization. I’m still ‘creative’ even if I can’t bring that to the surface at every moment, just as you are creative even if it only comes in small spurts. That nudge allowed me to work through this creative block and create a new plan for situations where, perhaps, I wasn’t at my height.

And some images… as a side note… On the Saturday before Easter we dyed our eggs. Both kids were able to participate this year (well, they were last year, too, but unfortunately I had a stomach bug and my husband had to take over… so I missed it!).  We had fun making variations of colors from the back of the food coloring box, double dipping, and scouring Pinterest for adorable egg-face drawings, which we did with permanent markers.

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My next run of Photographing Your Family’s Everyday begins on April 27 and there are still some openings for full participation and study along seats. With a year of teaching this class under my belt, I’ve revamped the materials thanks to all of the wonderful women that have graciously worked, dreamed and shared their work and lives with me. This class is truly a collaboration of different styles, ideas and suggestions for photographing big and small moments, drafting a few manageable on-going projects and keeping your images organized for the future (have you done the math on how many images you will have if you take just 100 per month for the rest of your life?! If I live 50 more years that’s 60,000 images! Let’s hope they are organized!) This class is so close to my heart and I can’t wait to continue growing and learning with all of you.  Won’t you join us?

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January… I talked about how calm and quiet it is before, right? Yeah… well it hasn’t been so quiet.  Work has been abundant which is fabulous.  So what have I been up to? I’ve been taking my pictures every.single.day.  Haven’t missed one! Two days I snuck in iPhone pictures because it described what we were doing, even though my camera wasn’t with me.  I’m up to 93 days of straight shooting.  I’ve had some low moments… a few days that it’s 11pm and I realize I’ve forgotten… some that I haven’t wanted to grab the camera.  However, I did. I usually end up shooting my wine glass on those days.

As for work… I’m not taking photography sessions this year, but I was/am a teaching assistant in some pretty amazing classes (Lightroom Fundamentals and Flash and Continuous Light for the Modern Photographer are two I’m currently finishing up/working on) and just last month the Click Magazine’s Product Blog launched, in which I’m one of the contributors.  Have you seen Click? It’s honestly the prettiest magazine I’ve ever read… and it’s recently been on the shelves in Barnes and Noble!  You certainly don’t have to be a photographer to read it! Want to see some of my posts? Check me out, here!

Enough about that… Here are the pictures from the last 20ish days… I’m just about ready to bust outta this house and play outside. Only a few more weeks, hopefully.  We were promised a blizzard by the weather folks, but they did not deliver.  I secretly love that Mother Nature laughs at us simple little people trying to guess what the clouds will do! There’s been house projects, chalk painting, and mess around the house. I’d love for this post to be a touch more eloquent… but the brain, it’s about full currently!

I do have a post coming about camera settings… and discussing the difference between Aperture Priority/Shutter Priority/Manual/Automatic… it’s written… just needs some pictures… so stay tuned!!:)

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  • February 26, 2015 - 12:40 am

    Danie - It looks like quite a special January!ReplyCancel