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Photography FAQ

Q: Did you go to school for photography?

A: No. It’s been a hobby for a long time, and there is still so much I want to learn. I am self-taught but am lucky to know a lot of great photographers including my incredibly talented father-in-law. Having a nice DSLR camera helps, but I still believe that a beautiful image comes far more from a photographer’s eye, passion, an interesting angle and a little bit of good light than formal training and technology. I do what works for me and have found that out by a little bit of reading, a little bit of Googling, but mostly from practicing a ton and playing with my camera.

Q: What kind of camera and lenses do you use?

A: I have a Canon 50D (and a back-up 20D) and use the following lenses (all Canon): 50 mm 1.4, 24-105 mm 4.0L, 16-35 mm 2.8L, 70-300mm 4.5-5.6. My favorite lens for my girls is my 50 mm, and I like to shoot anywhere between 2.8 and 1.4 for the sharpest image possible. I have recently graduated from shooting AP to manual and am loving the change. Sometimes I shoot in RAW, but most of the time, I’m too lazy. And when shooting people, I always focus on the eyes.

Q: What do you use for editing?

A: I primarily use Lightroom 2. I don’t go crazy editing my photos because it’s time consuming and I like a more organic look to them (although every once and awhile I’ll knock myself out with some crazy tweaks), but I have a few main adjustments I make to most of my published photos: exposure, clarity, contrast and sharpening. Sometimes, I use an adjustment brush to brighten/sharpen eyes or enhance single colors in a photo and then sometimes, when I’m really lucky, I leave my photos just the way they came off the camera.

Q: What do you use for lighting?

A: Natural light, baby. The more, the better. I don’t like flash pictures mainly because I haven’t practiced enough with a flash to get a natural look. I love good light and have learned all the places in my house that let in the best natural light and all the best times to get it. My favorite time to shoot outside is an hour before sunset (the golden light). Otherwise, we look for shady spots. If there’s not great light, we crank up our ISO and hope for the best.

Q: How did you do the “photo wall” in your home?

A: The wall photos: 16×20 prints framed in glass “frameless” clip frames. They are available at Ikea for $5 each or you can find them for around $15 at Michael’s or Joann’s.

Q: About those photo books…

A: I design my 12×12 scrapbook pages in an old program called Microsoft Digital Image Suite (version 11.) You can still get it on Ebay last I checked. The pages are easy and fast to make, and I make them gradually throughout the year (I try to have 25 pages done every three months for each kid) and save them in Shutterfly. I don’t use a lot of scrapbook crafty stuff because I like the look of clean pages with a little color and fun text, but there are some great free papers and download kits at Shabby Princess. I find lots of fun free fonts at Scrap Village. Otherwise, I just drop in color blocks and shapes into my pages and intersperse them with photos placed in a graphically pleasing way. I publish my books right before birthdays so one year of life is documented, and I use the 12×12 hardbound Shutterfly book which is amazing for the price. I save all my pages as jpegs and drop them into blank book pages in Shutterfly (I don’t use their layouts). What do these books mean to me? I look at them all the time. And so does everyone else that comes to our house. Best of all, Lainey loves them and will know just how much every moment with her was cherished when she’s all grown up (and Nella too!). And if a hurricane is brewin’ in the gulf, girlfriend’s gonna grab two things before running to take shelter: my babies in one arm and my Shutterfly books in the other.

Q: Are there any good photography resources you use?

A: I’m terrible at reading instruction books and definitely learn best by doing, but I have found any photography book by Scott Kelby to be fantastic. They are easy to follow, things are described in total layman’s terms, and Scott Kelby is kinda funny too. Try his Digital Photography books, volumes 1 and 2.

Q: What inspires your photography?

A: My girls. Feeling completely relaxed at Isle of Capri. Golden light. Color. Anthropologie catalogs. Mornings. Love. Vintage fashion. Small details that no one else notices. Feeling in the moment. Not caring too much. The gratification that comes from knowing the next photo could be the best one I’ve ever taken.

Q: Advice to anyone who wants to take good photos?

A: A good camera is the best investment you’ll ever make. (If you’re watching your money, start with a Canon Rebel, a 50 mm 1.4 and work up). Don’t care what other people think. Believe in yourself and let passion and what you love take over. Don’t try too hard and know that you will get better with practice. Trying to know everything right up front will only put pressure on you and take away your passion. Learn from others. Ask questions. Photograph what you love–whether it’s your kids, home decor, food, etc. and don’t forget the little details.

And the coolest inexpensive photos? Download the I-Phone’s Hipstamatic camera app. It takes super cool vintage photos. You can swap out lenses and films for different effects. Totally love this app.


Last night, we swam at dusk. The sky was blue-gray and the clouds still visible behind the crescent moon that glowed a yellow Cheshire cat smile. Lainey is becoming more confident with her swimming abilities, and her deeper almost-four-year-old breaths now allow her to swim long distances underwater. Sometimes she misjudges what she’s capable of swimming, and the last yards of her course have her kicking faster, reaching farther and finally grabbing the edge of the pool wall and emerging with a deep and desperate inhalation. I know that feeling; I’ve been there both literally and figuratively. But then she smiles–and disappears again underwater, like a fish. A happy blonde-headed fish who wants to try again.


I am inspired by my girl. And I’m loving our family night swims. They complete my day.

Thank you for kind words and great suggestions last post (I ordered an amber teething necklace! We’ll see if it works). I am forever grateful for amazing readers, for how you helped raise $103,000 for my girl and her friends in this country, and for making something I already love to do even more rewarding. I am interested in and inspired by the way people connect.

Well, it’s Friday and, for something different, I’ll answer a few of your questions.


I started out in photography taking a lot of bad pictures that I thought were really good. I look back at my old stuff and am half embarrassed and half excited for what I will learn in the next two years. I like when people jump into something they want to know more about, when they aren’t intimidated by technical stuff or by people who are doing fill-in-the-blank better. Many of you have commented that you just bought your first DSLR camera, but that you are not a photographer. Guess what? You are. If you are taking pictures, you are a photographer; if you are writing, you are a writer; if you are hitting “publish post,” you are a blogger. I am not afraid to take bad pictures, to publish fuzzy ones or to write something I might later regret. And I think this is the best advice I could give. Don’t be scared. If you love doing something, do it. Learn it, stand by it, put yourself out there. You will fail. But you will swim again…like a fish.


There are two sides to photography–the art and the technical stuff. I have always been intimidated by the technical stuff, but I have learned/am still learning by doing. The art part of it? It’s like oxygen to me.


I love the challenge of capturing feeling in photos, of finding interesting ways to compose a shot, of taking a picture of a moment that I’ll forever be grateful for capturing. I am not an expert. There are a lot of technically better photographers out there. But I am passionate about people who want to learn. Being intimidated by perfection or someone else’s art should never lessen the value of your own art. And photography is art. I take pictures like how I look at life, and I look at life like how I take pictures. It makes me happy, and if it will make you happy, then I’d love to help.

*My camera is a Canon 50D, and my two favorite lenses are my 50mm, 1.4 and my 16-35mm, 2.8. I only use natural light, and I usually shoot manually, most often between 1.4 and 2.8. Someday I will buy new lenses, maybe upgrade my camera to my 5D dream. But for now, I am content. Good pictures come from the passion and soul in the one who is taking them…not from the equipment.

Proof: I think this picture’s kinda pretty. It was taken with a $2 app phone camera, and it is of the front of a Walmart, Friends. A Walmart parking lot while I stood next to a cart that had a wadded napkin covered in stale ketchup wedged in its plastic lattice. See, you certainly can find beauty in unlikely places.


*Some days I take 10 pictures, some days I take zero pictures, and some days I take 100 pictures. My camera is not a permanent fixture, and I can bang off 50 shots in about two minutes if I want. I don’t put pressure on myself re: how and when I take pictures, and it is in that freedom that I’ve found a comfortable place where art, creativity, documenting, and real life in our family live harmoniously. If the balance is off, we do what everyone else does. We adjust accordingly.


*If I’m in a photo, it’s usually either Brett or Heidi who takes it. Plus, I love the look, the art, and the angle of one of those reach-out-and-take-it-yourself pictures.


I like hiding my smile when Brett picks up the camera and gets all into it–crouching, leaning, contorting his body to get a cool angle and then proudly grinning when he “gets it.” There is an artist within us all.

More humble photography tips to come.


This post is a great opportunity to explain the presence of sponsors and my attempt at unobtrusively weaving them into our precious family blog. I enjoy writing on this blog but it does require time. It doesn’t always work out in life to get compensated for time, but in this situation it’s a nice bonus. Periodically introducing sponsors is a way I can help support my family, and it’s been very beneficial in helping some stay-at-home moms who make really pretty things amp up their businesses. You will never see ads for car parts or rifles–promise. I choose sponsors who offer things I think you’ll like–things my family likes. I try to keep sponsors and giveaways at the bottom of posts so that when you’re finished reading, you can choose to read on or smile and walk away. I hope you read on for the sake of some excellent businesses trying to stretch their roots. And I wish I could share the story behind a lot of these business owners. I’ve come to know many of them, and the stories of how their businesses got rolling are inspiring.


Heart banner, Lisa Leonard Designs new decor line.

A quote from a past sponsor, Lilian Eve Designs:

To stay true to myself I sponsored Enjoying the Small Things because it has real readers. Readers with heart, soul, understanding, and passion to appreciate the goodness in others’ lives. For me, I had an outpouring of support for my unrelenting creative mind–a mind that never stops whispering new ideas–and the readers embraced me. I distinctly remember, lugging my laptop in with me the day Kelle ran my ad–sitting in the waiting room while my poor nephew, the “bubble boy”, got his numerous allergy tests and my sleepy-eyed niece wanting to know what ‘Nene’ was doing on the ‘puter’. I had no idea if the sale ticker would move but I was ready:)… and it was off…I sat crying… to be accepted, to be wanted- to make things with my hands and create with my mind- and be this eccentric- teacher by day- longgggggggggggging to be mother by night. My sister still reminds me of that day. Perhaps my dreams will soon come true.

Lilian Eve Designs had over a hundred new sales that weekend, and many of you are still sporting Regina’s beautiful crocheted designs. So, thank you for supporting her.

If there’s one thing I like, it’s finding cool stuff for my home, my kids, myself that isn’t the same thing everyone else has, and through the sponsors, I’ve discovered new unique places for gifts and fun splurges. I hope you have too.


My Faith:

Someday, when it falls in place naturally, I will expand on my faith. Faith is very present in my life and yet it has evolved over the years to a more encompassing place of respecting everyone’s beliefs and learning from many different walks of life. I have a very faith-heavy past, and there are both treasured traditions and beliefs from the past I keep as well as pains and misconceptions of God I’ve worked to heal. Faith and religion are two very different things. I am religion-less, but faith–the grounding, comforting belief that I am smaller than someone else, that there is more to my life than my breath and body–is a very purposeful part of my life.



There are a lot of beautiful stories from our past together and from how he has embraced both Lainey and Nella’s presence and personalities. The stories will come in due time…promise. (and the boys too! but they are busy teenagers and not always around like the girls are for picnics in the woods and building block towers. It is a moment of personal victory for me when I capture a moment with the boys, and I’m happy to share them when they happen)



I love words. I love the art of finding good words, stringing them together and digging deep within to recall memories with vivid descriptions. I like a variety of writing styles, many that are different from mine, and reading a broad spectrum of writing genres helps me strengthen my own style. Like photography, there are two components of writing–the art and the technical. Again, the technical (grammar, structure, spelling) can be intimidating. The art though–the voice, humor, and emotion of one’s words–is what is most important. Sometimes, my writing isn’t that good. And sometimes, I love how it comes together. But I still keep writing–as freely and true to myself as I can be, because I do not write to be good, but to be happy. And, as with anyone in any endeavor, I get better at writing the more I practice.

If you want to write, I’d suggest reading Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write. It is incredibly inspiring and empowering.

One of my favorite excerpts:

“…it is the way you are to feel when you are writing–happy, truthful and free, with that wonderful contented absorption of a child stringing beads in kindergarten. With complete self-trust. Because you are a human being all you have to do is to get out truthfully what is in you and it will be interesting, it will be good.”

If you write, if you journal, if you blog…please keep doing it. It is your art, your style, and no one can tell you that it’s not good…no one but yourself, and you don’t have to listen.


I leave you with another excerpt from Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write:

“…when you write, if it is to be any good at all, you must feel free–free and not anxious. …I hate orthodox criticism. I don’t mean great criticism, like that of Matthew Arnold and others, but the usual small niggling, fussy-mussy criticism, which thinks it can improve people by telling them where they are wrong, and results only in putting them in straightjackets of hesitancy and self-consciousness, and weazening all vision and bravery. I hate it not so much on my own account, for I have learned at last not to let it balk me. But I hate it because of the potentially shining, gentle, gifted people of all ages, that it snuffs out every year. It is a murderer of talent.”

Don’t be snuffed out. Whatever it is you desire to do, find a way to do it. Write, create, take pictures, craft, mother, bake, dance, run…and do it happily, truthfully, and freely.


Monday’s back to regular posting.

Looking forward to sunshine this weekend.

8 Tips to Taking Better Instagram Photos


It’s been a long time since I’ve done a post on taking pictures, and I started working on one–collecting tips from everything from editing to printing–but it got very lengthy. So I figured I’d break these up and start with a handful of tips that work for me when I’m in a rut with photography inspiration, and I’ll share more tips in future posts as we go. While I do post both iPhone and regular camera photos to Instagram, all these tips work with just a camera phone.

If you’ve been a reader here for a while, you know photography is one of my love languages. It’s a little bit like yoga in that the more you practice it, the more natural it is for you to achieve the desired outcome. Sometimes taking photos for me relies on more thought–about composition, colors, lines, where the light’s coming from–and sometimes, when I’m really lucky, the magic of a “heart” moment lands in my lap and without even thinking about how I’m going to capture it, I just snap, and everything I was feeling at the moment lands in the frame. Those are usually my favorite photos. Like the one below. I remember everything about this moment.

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Ultimately, that’s the stamp of a good photo to me–that it makes me feel something–peace, comfort, happiness, sadness, someone else’s story, the wonder of childhood, the joy of motherhood, the desire to slow down, get out and explore, twirl in a field of daisies, grab my kids and kiss their cheeks, anything. I like when photographs awaken some little tiny part of me. At this point in motherhood and with the subject of a lot of my photos, the feeling I aim to capture is often simply delight.

But I also like to challenge myself to keep my photos interesting and have fun with changing things up. Photography can be so much fun, especially when you start playing with angles and light. It’s always a thrill when you look in the frame and see this little story right there in one shot. Click. You captured it. A moment between sisters. The twirl of a dress. A head tipped back in laughter. A hug. A sleeping baby. A tear rolling down a cheek. A page from the book of your life.

Like practicing yoga, again, there are some days when taking photos feels a little clunky for me or like I’ve forgotten everything I know about taking good pictures. On days like those, I’ll come back to these tips to reignite some creativity and get me out of a boring rut.

1. Find the light.
Photo means, simply, light, and you cannot create a picture without it. Natural light creates the most beautiful photos, but there are so many things you can do with light besides just stand in it. The best way to get a good, clear picture is go to the light. If you’re taking photos in your house, take them near windows. Study the light patterns in your home. I know that in the morning, Dash’s room is simply magic with the light that floods in; that mid-afternoon, the girl’s room has soft beautiful shadows, and that early evening our dining room practically turns into a studio with the golden light of the setting sun.

A foolproof tip for a beautiful photo: Use a side light source. Stand so that the light is coming in from either side of you, and position your subject to face the light. Every one of the photos below was taken this way, and the result is magic.

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2. Manipulate light.
You may already know this, but it’s worth mentioning because I’ve had far too many people who’ve seen me “move the sun” in camera mode on my phone stop me with, “Wait–what? You can change the light?!?” When you’re taking a picture with your iPhone, you can tap the screen in any place to focus on that area, and a little sun will pop up that lets you add more light or take it away. This is especially handy in backlit situations as, depending on how you take the photo, you can create a dark silhouette effect against the light or a light-flooded image.

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3. Change your perspective.
If all your pictures look the same (typically straight on), the easiest way to get creative and play around with telling a different story is to change the angle at which you normally take photos. Try an overhead shot, get down low (yes, lay down on the ground!) or move really close to zoom in on one element of the photo. Within one minute, I took four different pictures of Dash playing with blocks in front of our front door, and each one tells a different story.

Straight on:

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From overhead:

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Moving outside and taking it through the door:

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And zooming in on one element, his feet (if the iPhone doesn’t focus right away on what you’re trying to zoom in on, tap what you want in focus and give the camera a second to adjust):

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I love overhead shots, like the ones below. They allow so many details to shine that would otherwise be overlooked–the patterns in the fabric, the bath toys against the white bubbles, even random toys on the floor that make their way into the shot.

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4. Play with shadows.
I’m always on the lookout for good shadows from palm tree fronds to perfect profiles on the wall. When I see a good shadow, I’m all “Wait! Stop! Don’t move! Let me get my camera!” Even my kids are on the lookout for them. In the photo of Lainey below, she’s the one who spotted that tree shadow and said, “I bet you want to take a picture there.” I love the two of me and Brett below because our actual bodies aren’t even in the photo, but the sun and shadows were so perfect in D.C. that day, it created a great way to capture a moment of the two of us. I normally don’t like direct harsh sunlight for photos, but creates great shadows that can be fun to layer into a photo–like the one of Lainey and Nella walking with their ice cream cones.

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5. Get away from always centering your subject, and use negative space.
While it’s a totally breakable rule, if you don’t know the rule of thirds in photography, it basically says that photos are most interesting if subjects are placed in one of the intersecting points of where an image would be broken up into thirds. If you’re not used to thinking about composition when taking photos, you’re probably inclined to center your subject. Try putting them in a corner though and expanding your shot to include negative space. The four photos below could have all been taken by centering the subject but tell much more interesting stories by scooting them over and leaving space.


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6. Make your photos POP with contrast.
Think juxtaposition–a tiny nook of light in a dark room or a pop of color in an otherwise dull landscape. Just as in nature–like a red cardinal flying against a snowy backdrop–photos that include great contrast make viewers stop and take notice. A pair of bright red shoes on a gray sidewalk, a rainbow kite flying against a muted sky, a yellow dandelion emerging in a field of green–I don’t know if it’s from taking photos or just from loving these contrasts in general, but I notice them more and more.

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7. Crop it like it’s hot.
Don’t give the whole story away…just give a teeny tiny part. Cropping is such a fun way to play with telling a story through a photo and can completely change an image from ordinary to you-have-my-attention-tell-me-more. In the photo on the left, I had taken several shots of the girls backstage at Lainey’s recital. The images weren’t that special or evocative except one–the image that included just a line of tutus and legs. Cropping is a good place to break the rules too–cut off heads (right in the middle, if you wish), tops of bodies, half an image–whatever you like. The photos become little clues to the rest of the story out of frame.

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8. Add effects.
Here’s where it gets fun. Post processing. And it’s amazing how much you can do with apps on your phone these days. My current favorite app that I use for almost all of my Instagram photos now is A Color Story. It’s super user friendly, and there are so many fun packages (most run $1.99) you can add for effects like sun flare and light leaks. I don’t use a lot of filters, but I brighten, add contrast, adjust the temperature and sometimes change the angle of my photos a bit if the lines aren’t straight. My favorite effect lately is sun flare. I’m going to run through a photo and show you how I changed it within a matter of seconds. I took this photo of Lainey overhead in the pool, and though I loved the composition and the color pop, I wanted to make it a little more interesting by adding sun ripples on the water. First, I opened the photo in the Color Story app and tapped “Effects” on the bottom which opened a menu of different effects.

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From there, I tapped “Flare & Bokeh” which opened a new menu of 17 different sun flares.

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I chose “Flare 2″, moved it to where I wanted it, hit the check mark to put it in place and then went through that process one more time, layering another round of “Flare 2″ and positioning it in a different place so that the sun spots were well dispersed. The dappled light in the final image makes me happy.

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It takes some practicing to the get the most natural effect, but the sun flares are super fun to play with in shots with window light or outdoor sun, and they add some nice oomph to images that feel a little flat.

The most important part of taking photos is to have fun with it. Photography has made me so much more aware of little things I used to overlook–colors and contrasts, architecture with character, magical slivers of light, shadows and foliage, and all these aspects of childhood I’m so grateful to have preserved from skinned knees and scuffed tennis shoes to all the wisps of hair that excape from a braid at the end of the day.

Weekend’s coming…get your cameras.

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