Barton, Chris. Shark vs. Train
Beskow, Elsa. Pelle’s New Suit
Billingsley, Franny. Big Bad Bunny
Birdsall, Jeanne. Flora’s Very Windy Day
Dunklee, Annika. My Name is Elizabeth
Fleming, Candace. Boxes for Katje
Fox, Mem. Koala Lou
Freedman, Deborah. Blue Chicken
Fucile, Tony. Let’s Do Nothing
Graham, Bob. How to Heal a Broken Wing
Our favorite reads from this month were: Boxes for Katje, My Name is Elizabeth, Pelle’s New Suit, and Let’s Do Nothing. My Name is Elizabeth made Sam belly laugh just about every time we read it. It’s my new go-to gift for all the little Elizabeths in our life. And Boxes for Katje is now on my personal list of kid lit favorites, it was too long for Peter but Sam really enjoyed it. Such a beautiful story of gratitude and generosity for little ones. And both boys loved Pelle’s New Suit, reminding me much of Charlie Needs a Cloak in how the author shares the step by step process of making new clothes from sheep’s wool.
Over the past few years, I’ve been asked from time to time if I would share some thoughts on how one could develop their photography skills. Well, this is my attempt to do just that. In all honesty, I hesitate in offering these tips. Not because I don’t think they’d be helpful to some, but because I very much consider myself a fellow learner- not an expert- and would not want you to think otherwise.
However, I’ve benefited from some great advice throughout the years and am happy to pass it along. If I could encourage any aspiring photographers out there, then by all means, here are my top ten tips for you (from the cheap seats, of course) that I come back to again and again.
1. Look at Great Photography
If you want to be a great writer, you should read really great writing. Same with photography. If you want to take really great pictures, spend a lot of time looking at beautiful photography. This is not wasted time, I promise. This is far and away one of the best bits of advice I received when I first got started.
Of course a caution is in order here. When you begin to immerse yourself in the work of those who are in the “Big Leagues” so to say, you can feel incredibly tempted to throw in the towel and call it a day. About six years ago, I began following a number of photographers whose talent (to this day) stops me in my tracks. There were moments when I thought to myself, “Forget it. I’m done. I’m not even going to try. There is no way I will ever get there! [tossing camera into trash can]” But truth be told, after six years, I’m still not there. Not even close. But I’ve grown. And that is what’s important.
So my advice? Fight envy and despair with gratitude. This changed everything for me [digging camera out of trash can]. Be grateful for the gifts God has given to others. Be grateful that you can learn from people who are further along than you. And be grateful that you can use your gifts unto the Lord regardless of how advanced you might be.
And one more thing: Let yourself be helped and influenced and inspired by the gifts and creativity of others. Don’t try to be different for the sake of being different. What’s the point of that anyways? This really can be pride pulling one over on you. A very wise man once said, ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’ Not a recipe, not a baby’s name, not a handmade craft, and not a photography shoot that is entirely original and uninfluenced by the world and people around you. In other words, it’s okay (good, even!) to emulate others and to be emulated yourself.
2. Learn How You Learn
Maybe you learn best by taking a class? Maybe you learn best by reading a manual? Or maybe you are a hands-on learner (like me) and learn best by trial and error. Over and over and over again. Fifteen minutes behind the camera does more for me than an hour of reading about photography. Learn how you learn best and dive in!
3. Shoot What You Love
I know myself well enough to know that I would have given up photography long ago if all I had to shoot were trees and buildings. Don’t get me wrong, I love nature and architecture, but those aren’t the things that keep me clicking my camera every day.
Put a newborn baby, an adorable set of twins, a happily engaged couple, or a fun-loving family in front of me and I could snap pictures all day long. Photographing people and their unique personalities and style is so fun for me. It never feels unenjoyable. I think that’s why after so many years of taking pictures, it has yet to get old.
4. Practice all the Time
I’ve written before on the importance of having your camera out and ready to shoot whatever comes your way, but this is doubly important because it reminds you to practice. I have never taken a photography class and I’ve yet to read my camera manual all the way through, but I have put in countless hours practicing. This is the wonderful thing about digital photography, you can shoot as much as you want and delete what you don’t want to keep. In other words, you can practice all the time with little or no cost to yourself (yes, there is wear and tear on your equipment, but you are honing your skills which, in my opinion, is invaluable).
5. Shoot in Every Setting
I lived in a basement for five years before we bought our first home. You can imagine all of the natural light I had to work with underground during the winter. This forced me to learn my camera and the settings I needed to use in order to make the best of my situation. So, my advice? Practice in all kinds of settings (indoor, outdoor, overcast, sunny, etc.) during all different times of day.
6. Ask for Feedback
My former boss at Desiring God, Bill Walsh, is an incredible photographer. He played a big role in helping Joe pick out my first Digital SLR Camera. I’ve always considered him my photography mentor and welcome his feedback and critique any time he will offer it. I also have other photographer friends that I will seek out for feedback. Find some people in your life that are further along than you and ask them if they wouldn’t mind taking a look at your work. It’s so helpful.
7. Invest in Good Equipment
One helpful bit of advice I received early on was this: Invest in new equipment, once you’ve outgrown your old. This means, if you are no longer being challenged by your point and shoot camera, it might be time to upgrade to an SLR. If you are frustrated that your lens can’t do what you want it to do, it might be time to invest in a better lens.
I don’t say this flippantly. I am keenly aware of how much photography equipment costs. I shot with a simple Sony point and shoot camera for over ten years before I got my first DSLR. I then shot for another three years before investing in an expensive lens. So yes, make sure you really do love photography before making such a hefty investment, but if you’re sure, know that it’s an investment worth making!
8. Rent Lenses
This bit of advice is for those of you with an SLR camera. If you can’t afford to purchase a nice lens but still desire to gain experience (and some nice shots!), I would definitely recommend renting lenses (or other photography equipment). I rented lenses for over a year before we bought an additional lens. I rent from a place in Minneapolis that allows me to keep the lens(es) from Friday until Monday and only charges me for one day! Renting is also a great way to settle on a piece of equipment before making a big purchase.
Fun fact: I was nine months pregnant with Peter (dilated to 3 cm) and having painful contractions in the car on the way to the hospital. On our way, we stopped at the lens shop where I waddled my larger-than-life self inside to pick out the lens I wanted to rent for our son’s birth. The pictures we took of our sweet boy in those early days will forever be family favorites.
9. Volunteer to Shoot for Free
Offering to take pictures for others (for free) is one of the best ways to gain some great experience. They get free pictures and you get the training (And you get the training without the pressure or expectations that come along with a paid shoot)! When I first got my camera, I began asking family and close friends if I could take pictures of them- just to practice. They happily obliged and what I learned during those shoots really helped me to improve.
Photography is now a wonderful side job for me, but it took a long time before I felt confident enough to charge for my work. The income is a blessing and it helps to cover the costs of the equipment I need in order to grow as a photographer.
10. Take a Break
Every winter I go into a bit of a photography hibernation. We are inside most of the time and it gets dark very early leaving me little time to shoot. I still try to take pictures at least weekly, but nothing like the three other seasons of the year. I find that this break is so refreshing and it makes me even more excited to start shooting again in the spring. So, take a break from time to time for the sake of developing your skills and preventing burnout.
Alright fellow photographers, anything you would add to this list?
I’ll never forget the day your mom called to tell us that the ultrasound predicted a little girl. Today you turn three years old, and again, we are celebrating your life many miles away.
You are a sweet gift to our family, Rylee Jordan, and it has been a joy to watch you grow from the teensy-tiny baby that you were into a beautiful young girl.
You’ve wrapped your Daddy around your finger and are ever the Mommy’s Girl. You are the constant side-kick to your big brother and the sweetest little friend to your two boy cousins. You bring laughter and silliness and pink and personality to our lives and we are so grateful for you.
Today, on your third birthday, our prayer for you remains the same. That you will belong wholly to the Lord and love Him with all of your heart all of your days.
Happy Birthday, sweet niece of ours. We love you through and through.
I’ve been in bed all day long sipping on ice cold coke through a straw and munching slowly on buttered toast. This stomach bug thing that’s been swarming around the states landed in our home last week. First Peter, then Joe, and now me.
I thought I’d take this lazy day of resting to catch up on the many moments I’ve passed up blogging about in the past few months.
I could write about Joe’s 30th birthday parties, but that was in November and he is almost 31 now, right? I could write about Christmas with both families in Texas, but we are gearing up for Valentine’s Day around here and Christmas just feels very two months ago. I could write about the books I’m reading or the thoughts I’m thinking, but I have the mental energy of buttered toast.
Instead, I’m going to write about a very recent development in my life. One that I fear might provoke envy in some of you when I share it, but for the sake of your own soul, I’m asking that you fight the good fight and do not succumb to the temptations of comparison or self-pity. Remember, comparison is the thief of all joy, okay?
I’ve been given the very special opportunity that some are only given once in a lifetime, but very few are ever given it twice. Are you ready?
I’m getting braces.
Dear reader, I know that you, too, wish you could channel the Jr.High version of yourself in your thirties, with just the prayer of getting to wear a headgear at night, but not everyone can have everything they want in life. No. No they cannot. Only a certain few.
Friend, not everyone can have what is called a “traumatic bite” which causes their top teeth and their bottom teeth to sit directly on top of each other. Not everyone gets to cause damage to their teeth, jaw bone, and gum line just by smiling or chewing their food. No, dear friend, only the special ones get to have braces in 8th and 25th grade.
I know it might be challenging, but please find it in your heart to be happy for me. And if you really want, I can call you “Brace Face ” from time to time just to soften the blow.
Last January, I deactivated my Facebook account for almost a full year. When a few of my friends asked me if I missed it, I mentioned to them that the only thing I missed was not seeing the pictures of my out-of-town family and friends (and their growing kids!).
My friends reminded me of this fun little app (which I thought for years was simply a photo editing tool) and it sounded right up my alley. A photo-editing app in which I can share with and see pictures of my friends. I love that it’s very simple and easy to use. It’s like Facebook without all the extra noise.
My favorite thing about Instagram is the spontaneous, in-the-moment pictures that I’ve captured while out and about with my boys (without having to lug my heavy camera around with me everywhere I go). They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here a few thousand words capturing the hilarious personality of our little Sam.
Big brother happy to take charge and escort little brother into the library…
Sam, just a tad skeptical of the man in the suit…
Sam says to me, “Mom, look! It’s Jesus waving ‘Hello!”, I’m going to wave back, okay!”
I hear from the back of the van, “Hey, Momma! Look at this new way to wear my hat!”
“Hey, Momma, do you see something in my nose?!?!”
Two of Sam’s favorites: his cousin Rylee and donuts.
While in Rockport last summer, I asked Sam to go put on his shoes and hop in the van. I found him wearing two koozies.
He said, “Look, Mom! They’re my slippers!
If given the freedom, Sam would wear shorts every day of the year regardless of weather.
When he has to wear pants, we sometimes find him walking around with them rolled up to his knees.
It’s never awkward.
Jumping on leaf piles during a typical Minnesotan Fall.
It has been the perfect month to curl up on the couch with a big stack of books and read to our hearts content. Both boys have been battling a long bout of sickness (along with the rest of the country, apparently) and we’ve had a few stretches of some really steep drops in temperature leaving us at home almost every day. We’ve not been able to visit the library, but we’ve had plenty of time to pull out some of our old and new favorite reads, many of which were gifts for the boys’ library this past Christmas. We’ve been reading a few of our poetry books (almost daily) to the boys and I love that even little Peter seems to like these books the best.
Bently, Peter & Helen Oxenbury. King Jack and the Dragon
Brown, Marcia. Stone Soup
Brumbeau, Jeff. The Quiltmaker’s Gift
Carlstrom, Nancy. Jesse Bear What Will You Wear?
Emberley, Barbara. Drummer Hoff
Groce, Mandy. What is the Church?
Hall, Donald. Ox-Cart Man
Hoberman, Mary Ann. The Cozy Book
Hoberman, Mary Ann. A House is A House for Me
Hoberman, Mary Ann. The Llama Who had No Pajama: 100 Favorite Poems
Hoberman, Mary Ann. The Seven Silly Eaters
Hughes, Shirley. The Big Alfie and Annie Rose Storybook
Hughes, Shirley. Rhymes for Annie Rose
Leaf, Munro. The Story of Ferdinand
Scanlon, Liz Garton. All the World
Silverstein, Shel. The Giving Tree
Spinelli, Eileen. Silly Tilly
Willems, Mo. Should I Share my Ice Cream?
We read lots of Hoberman and Hughes this month (two of my very favorite authors) and pulled out some old favorites that we can’t stay away from too long. The most requested read-aloud was King Jack and the Dragon, which came as no surprise to me. Both boys have always really enjoyed this book and I can be sure to get lots of requests for fort-building as soon as we finish the last page. A new book we enjoyed this month (and recommend as well!) was What is the Church? I first heard about this little gem from my friend, Haley, who reviewed it on her blog. I think we’ll be pulling this book out again and again throughout the years as the boys’ understanding of the church deepens. My personal favorite from this month (and will continue to be for a lifetime, I’m sure) was The Quiltmaker’s Gift. I really can’t say enough wonderful things about this book. I found myself completely engrossed in the story and amazed by the beautiful and intricate illustrations. Even after the boys were down for their naps, I pulled it out again to enjoy. I now have another book to add to my list of gifts to give. Read it soon if you haven’t before.
For a complete list of our read-aloud booklists, hop on over here.
It’s been 18 months since you first arrived on the scene, dear one. And we love you more today than we did a week ago, a month ago, and a year and a half ago when we saw your face for the first time. It always amazes me when I think about how you’ve been with us for only eighteen months. What was life like before you were in our family?! You have brought us so much joy.
Your Daddy and I thank Jesus for the gift of your life; for the way you light up a room when you come bouncing in, for how you keep our family laughing and your big brother on his toes. For how you talk with such conviction while we try and decode the words. And for how you never fail to make us feel as though we’ve hung the moon in your little world. We treasure each day with you, Peter, and we receive them as good gifts from our Father in Heaven.
Happy 18 month birthday, to you! We are so happy to be your parents.