Photo questions

Lots of people have been asking me about cameras lately. I think it might be because its summer time and everyone is ready to get out and take pics of their kids enjoying life! It might also be because they see that I am completely obsessed with photography, LOL.

I decided to do a post about the usual questions I get.

I think the top two things people say/ask me are A) Your camera takes amazing pics! and B) What camera should I buy? Or a variation of those things…

First I’ll just briefly address the first “compliment”.Usually I just say “thanks!”, but the truth is for every single photo I do the following things / I ask the following questions in my head:

(The very first thing I do is decide which lens to use. Not all lenses are created equally and I use different lenses for different types of photography; wide, macro, portrait, zoom, etc.)

1) Look for my composition, what will my background be? Do I want it blurred out or in focus? What is the purpose of the photo? Is my horizon straight?

2) What is my lighting? Will I need additional light? Where are my shadows? Will I have to do heavy editing to fix “raccoon eyes?” Are there any hot spots on the subjects face? Is there anything distracting in the shot? Am I getting light into the eyes?

3) Then I adjust my ISO (read about that here). Sometimes I adjust this with every shot, but most times I leave it for a series of shots. It depends on what type of photo I am taking; action/indoors/bright light, etc.

4) Then I set my aperture (read more about that here). I choose my aperture by counting the people in the shot (or if it’s a landscape/macro, I decide how much I want in focus). I usually use the rule that 4 people = minimum of f/4 aperture, 8 people I should go with f/8 or higher… this is a loose rule, but one that works for me (I also determine if everyone is on the same focal plane and focus on the front person, to keep the majority of the shot in focus). Now, if I want that blurry background look (or some beautiful bokeh) I keep my aperture pretty wide open. I tend to start with an ap of f/2.2 or so for pics of Addie alone. I could go wider, but I am a wimp and like to keep a tack sharp focus. (Keep in mind the majority of consumer kit lenses (ok, all of them) don’t go that wide. See diagram below, wide open= blurry background, tightly closed = everything is in focus)

5) After that I set my shutter speed (read more about that here). I immediately know that for action I want to choose over 1/640 of a shutter speed (ss). If I am just taking pics of Addie, I can go as low as 1/100 on my 50mm and be ok. I know that with my wide angle, I can go even slower, b/c the odds of having camera shake on a 20mm lens is less than on a heavy long zoom (typically you can double your focal length to get the minimum shutter speed before experiencing camera shake). But, I usually keep it above 1/200 these days, since Addie is walking.

There are other things I do too. Sometimes I set a custom white balance. I almost always check my focus after each shot by zooming in on the eyes of the people in the photo. If it’s not sharp, I toss it (unless it was an awesome once in a lifetime shot). I also shoot in a format called RAW, which basically means that I edit every single photo. I used to not edit at all, but now I really like to play with every photo in Lightroom/Photoshop. 

So when people say “your camera takes awesome pics!” I take it as a compliment and leave out the rambling part about how there is a lot more to it than that. LOL

Last thing, I promise. I shoot 100% in manual mode (not to be confused with manual focus, which I almost never use. I use auto focus, but I CHOOSE my focal points… more about that another day). This is a great article to read about exposure and shooting in manual. I also rec the Bryan Peterson book called “Understanding Exposure“. It’s a must read if you have a desire to move out of AUTO mode.

Manual = the little “M” on top of your camera. The green square is AUTO.
Most dials look something like this:

But, before I say everyone should get a DSLR, I should mention that this is my main hobby/passion, with hopes to make it a career one day, so I am not the typical consumer.

Onto the next set of questions…

What kind of camera should YOU get?
Should you get a point and shoot or a DSLR?

Personally, I think the first thing you should ask yourself is.

1.) Will you actually carry a gigantic camera and multiple lenses around everywhere? Lots of people won’t. I suggest seriously going and holding some cameras before you decide on a DSLR. You might find that a higher end point and shoot is better for you for the convenience factor alone. Sometimes I get sick of the giant camera too.

2) Price. Once you dive into the DSLR world, nothing is cheap. There is a never ending list of stuff to buy. Expect at least $1,000 in the beginning. Everything beyond that gets even more expensive the more obsessed you get. (If you think you might want to buy used, then look at, and

3) Do you actually want to learn how to use a DSLR? If not, then I wouldn’t get one. There are some great p&s out there that can take just as great of photos as a DSLR set to AUTO.

What brand?

I don’t really suggest brands or cameras. There are lots of amazing cameras out there. Canon and Nikon are the two main brands for DSLR’s, but go to the store and try them all out for yourself.

What specific camera should I buy?

I am going to suggest doing your own research. I tend to be an over-researcher, which means I love researching stuff for other people, but at the end of the day, it’s your purchase and you should know what you are getting yourself into. 🙂

Read these articles to learn some stuff before making your purchase:

Is a DSLR better than a P&S? (I agree with him on all points except the macro thing. What a load of poo. Dedicated macro lenses on a DSLR will outshine a p&s anyday, but they don’t come cheap… read #2 above. LOL)

Why do DSLR’s have better image quality (hint: bigger sensor)

Why megapixels don’t matter

How do I make my photos look “professional”?

If you do end up buying a DSLR, proceed to buy the book I recomended above and read it. Then once you are done with that and want to move out of AUTO mode (hey stick with AUTO while you learn, no shame in that!) Follow these 12 lessons (free!):

12 Weeks to Better Photography!

What if I have a p&s? Can I still take good pics?

If you don’t have a DSLR, then don’t worry, that book above is still a great read. Lots of cameras offer some manual functions. Read your cameras instruction manual and learn it inside and out.

Some more tips:
– Watch your light (choose shade over bright sun), look for light in your subjects eyes, watch for harsh shadows.

– Shoot just before sunset or just after sunrise for the softest light outdoors.

– Turn off your flash when you are at an aquarium (just an example) and if you are trying to shoot something far away (like fireworks or a choir concert). An onboard flash only has a range of about 10-15 feet, or less. It can’t light up something very far away.  

– Turn off your flash when taking pics of your kids (unless you really need it indoors)

– Declutter your house when taking pics of your kids. Watch your backgrounds.

– Keep a steady hand. I used to hold my breath when using a point and shoot in dimly lit rooms. It kept me from moving the camera at all.


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  1. Mama Fee says:

    I have a DSLR and I want to learn more about it before the baby arrives. Your bog post was amazingly helpful and I am THANKFUL I stalk your blog! 🙂 Thanks for all of the great advice!

  2. Mrs. W says:

    Awesome post! Thank you! I follow your blog regularly but rarely, if ever, comment! I love taking pictures (although I am terrible at it) but I really appreciate those who do take incredible photos (like yourself). I’ve often wondered all of these questions and this post has really taught me a lot about photography. My hubby and I are expecting our first baby this Christmas and I have been dying to learn more about cameras and photography so I can get some great shots of my child(dren) as they grow.
    Thanks so much!! You are very talented!!

  3. Barb says:

    GREAT post! 😉

  4. Francis says:

    you are so helpful!!! This was a great post! Im still learning so I have it on auto but hopefully will go to maunal soon. I have a Cannon Rebel T1I

  5. Mrs. G says:

    This is totally off topic, but are you still in Texas? And if so, are you loving the weather here? (please note sarcasm) Alexa’s birthday party is this Saturday at a pool and I’m hoping the rain will let up by then!

  6. Ashley says:

    Thank you so much for posting all of this! I really, really want a DSLR & this helped a ton!

    And thanks for giving me a blog award! I’ll forever be known as the dessert girl 😉 which I’m totally ok with! Ha!

  7. Care says:

    Mrs. G! Yes, I’m in TX and the rain is OK. I just hope it passes quickly. We are going to Galveston this weekend. Have a fun birthday party! Hope it doesn’t rain!

  8. Leah says:

    This post is exactly what I was looking for. I have been playing with my dad’s older DSLR and I refused to buy a newer one for myself until I knew how to use it. I am going to use your tips to play with it again and pick up that book. I have been looking all week for a book to help me figure this whole camera out. And your pictures always do turn out great!

  9. Mrs. G says:

    Hopefully the icky weather will be gone by the weekend! Have fun!

  10. Love your blog! I just became a follower!

    Beautiful photos and family. Thanks for these tips. I will be reading this again w/ camera in hand.

  11. Hi there. Thanks for posting about DSLR’s. I got one for Christmas and still for the life of me cannot figure it out! I am also expecting, due in October and would love to take some beautiful pictures of my baby girl. I know you mentioned that you weren’t likely to reccomend certain brands or types of cameras, but a few photographers have done a “what’s in my bag” post showing thier most frequently used equipment, as well as what photos they captured with which type of lenses. This would be a great learning experience for us newby’s! Love to see beautiful Miss Addie and keep up on the blogging! 🙂

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