Tuesday, January 2, 2018

How to Take Better Photos in One Year, and a Quick Reflection on 2017

What a whirlwind, wonderful 2017 it's been!

When I think back, these are some words that come to mind:

Naps, so many naps
Sleep deprivation (*coughJUDEcough*)
Tantrums and limit pushing (*coughJOHNPAULcough*)
Changing diapers
Little house projects (I must write more about this soon!)
Post-partum anxiety
Dairy-free diet
Stronger marriage
Teaching NFP
Post-kids'-bedtime Netflix shows
A new hobby: photography!

It really has been a fantastic year! From meeting Jude in January, to getting to know John Paul better and how to navigate his toddlerhood, to finding new ways of falling in love with my husband, it's been a year filled with awesome family time, and for that I'm incredibly grateful.

On top of that, I worked through my post-partum anxiety and learned how to eat a dairy-free diet after my nursling was diagnosed with a milk protein allergy. The anxiety and diet changes have been challenging, but we've learned to manage them, and now that they're routine, they're manageable and, dare I say, easy! Who knew?!

So overall, my biggest accomplishment this year, by far, has been keeping my three boys (husband included), alive and well and happy. That's really all I can ask for, and more than enough in this life. A joyful family. 

But second biggest accomplishment? . . . 

You may laugh, because it's so teeny tiny compared to taking good care of my family. But I'm super pumped that I finally figured out how to work my DSLR camera!! In manual mode, no less! 

My husband and I purchased our Nikon D3200 three years ago in hopes that we'd take lasting lovely pictures of our kiddos, but then it basically sat and collected dust for two years. I was excited to open the box, but then quickly became overwhelmed by all there was to learn. Aperture this, ISO that, shutter speed blah blah blah.The photography learning curve is STEEP! And I wasn't exactly pleased with how pics were turning out in auto mode. So I basically gave up. We'd take it out on occasion and just deal with mediocre auto-mode photos, but for the most part, it hibernated in its camera bag.

I guess it was Jude who really pushed me to want to take better photos. When Jude was born, John Paul was about 1.5 years old, and I was regretting not getting better pictures when he was younger. So when Jude was nearly due, I decided it was time to buckle down and finally master the DSLR camera. I wasn't going to make the same mistake again!

But when was I supposed to find time, as a full-time mom (and vvv part-time NFP teacher) to take a photography class? Or self-teach by reading through the overwhelming web of internet photography advice blogs? 

Enter: Shoot Along.

Around December last year, my good friend Emily, over at the Mama Holi blog, posted about taking a year-long online DSLR photography course for parents and asked if anyone wanted to join. Perfect timing! I looked into it a bit on my own and decided this was exactly the course I was looking for. So I signed on immediately and now a year later I can confidently say I'm SO happy I did!

First, it was SUCH a joy to take the course with Emily. One of my favorite parts was talking about the different lessons with her and cheering each other on when we took good photos. So much fun!

And second, we both learned and grew so much! I went from knowing nothing about all the bits and bobs and buttons on my camera to being able to confidently take pictures in manual mode. Something I'd always dreamt of, but never had the time to figure out. Shoot Along made it easy and possible. I couldn't be more pleased!

Direct from their website:
Shoot Along includes 52 weeks of photography lessons delivered by email. Learn new concepts, understand how your camera works, and build on your existing skills. A mixture of both creative and technical lessons make it easy to stay motivated. 
We teach photography step-by-step and offer the support you need to step up your photography game. Using your family's life as the classroom, you'll spend the year documenting special occasions, important events, and, perhaps most importantly, those fleeting day-to-day moments you'll someday treasure.

Whether you're a clueless beginner or a seasoned pro, the course offers help and motivation for all participants. They break things down simple enough for even the newest of newbs and then add extra prompts each week for people who have been doing this photography thing a long time. No matter where you are on your DSLR journey, you'll learn and grow plenty with Shoot Along.

One of my absolute favorite parts of the course is their private facebook support group. So after you get a chance to practice the lesson for the week, you can post your pictures to the group, who then offer encouragement and constructive criticism. The feedback was fantastic, and seeing pictures from hundreds of other Shoot Along photographers kept me going through the year. Other participants' photos inspired me to take pictures I would have never thought of framing on my own.

My year with Shoot Along just wrapped up and I now have hundreds, nay, THOUSANDS (!!!) of images from the past year that are leaps and bounds ahead of what I was once taking with my iPhone. My heart is happy every time I go back through them. I feel I've really done the memories of 2017 justice with all these fancy photos of our favorite moments.

I really never thought I'd be capable of capturing high quality photos of my kiddos. I was too intimidated to try. But taking a class that spread the learning over the course of an entire year and was easy to work around my busy mom schedule, finally helped me figure it out. 

I'm so pleased with how far I've come, that I've decided to take the course again! Shoot Along 2018, here I come!

And I'm wondering if there are other moms or dads out there who want to join me? If your DSLR is hibernating somewhere collecting dust, maybe it's time to jump right in and finally pick up that photography hobby you've always dreamt about. :)

Or maybe you don't own a DSLR but have always thought of getting one? Or you don't know what DSLR means but you want to take better pictures? I promise you that a new camera + a Shoot Along subscription = a winning combo and a new favorite hobby!

The course started on January 1st, but no need to worry about that! I started the 2017 course a few weeks into the new year as a latecomer, and it was easy breezy to catch up and get going.

So who's with me? I'd love for you to be my classmate this year! 

2017 really was a blast of a year!! And looking back, I mainly picture myself cooking, cleaning, nursing a baby, and taking a bunch of photos. This new hobby was such a huge part of my year and I loved loved loved that! 

I especially loved that I was able to capture Jude's first year with much higher quality than my iPhone is capable . . . 

Gah! Those newborn details still slay me. <3

And this photo of Jude crying over a dropped cheerio. I die.

As a little experiment, my husband and I took the same picture from the same spot in the same moment, but with different cameras. The first is my husband's picture using his iPhone, the second is my picture using my Nikon D3200 (with a little editing in PhotoShop to brighten).


I know which one I'd like to keep for the baby book. ;) How about you?

Happy new year, my friends! I think of you all often and hope you and your loved ones are well. Here's to a happy, healthy, photo-filled 2018!

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  1. Your pictures are all AMAZING. I have a DSLR and I'm definitely eyeing the course. Do you have multiple lenses? I have put off buying an additional lens instead of the standard one that came with my camera because we're cheap but I feel like it would at least motivate me to use it more...

    1. I *do* have multiple lenses. We have a 35mm and a 50mm, plus the zoom lens that the camera came with. I generally only use the 35mm and I love it! The 50mm is great too! The kit lens definitely does a good job and can take some stellar pics, but you can't beat the low aperture on the 35mm and 50mm lenses. I would definitely recommend investing in another lens when you're ready. They're pretty affordable (as far as photography things go) at $200 a pop and they really step up your photography game. :)

  2. I have been so impressed with your pictures, and now even more so knowing that you are doing it manually. You capture your boys so well, so adorable!

    Your husband's picture is good, but yours is great. And you can't go wrong with a close-up.

  3. I love your pics as well! I love taking pics too but not sure if I would make it a hobby just yet. Hmmm...I have so many pics downloaded I'm thinking about putting some photo books together. I just need more time to put a photo book together...hmmm...time.

    1. Time. The one thing I wish I had waaaaayyyyy more of. Those baby books are so worth it, but take a great effort to put together. If you get around to it, I hope you enjoy the process. :)


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