You’ve probably noticed that I’m a little into photos. I love capturing beautiful scenes and moments. Sometimes I feel like that obnoxious mom-parazzi, but for me, capturing the moments actually gets me into the scene in my own way.
I’m not a photography expert, despite classes in middle school and high school. But, I have learned my way around my camera. I can shoot in full manual mode, but often don’t on vacations, at parties, and for quick photos. I do shoot in manual and aperture priority (AV) often when taking planned & staged photos of my kids and can take more time. I think that everyone should learn the ins and outs of their cameras, especially since there are so many great tutorials out there where you can focus on one skill at a time or several. But, if you’re a busy parent like me, you also need a camera that you can grab and go. That’s when I shoot in “no flash” or “sport” mode (those kid move fast, y’all.)
Friends often assume that I have amazing equipment, but (shhhh) I totally don’t. I use a run-of-the-mill, sold everywhere, out-of-date camera. Seriously.
So what do I have?
Pay attention here if a camera is on your Christmas list!
I use a Canon Rebel T2i. It came out forever ago and has since been replaced with subsequent models including the Canon Rebel T5i. It’s the same basic camera with general improvements in the mechanics, software, and features. There are Canon households and there are Nikon households, but the differences between Canon and Nikon are truly minimal. It’s more about which camera is easier for you to use because they have different layouts, software, menus, etc. Don’t get hung up on this forever. My most favorite of favorite lenses is made for many brand-cameras so you’re covered!
Here’s my big secret: I skipped the kit/bundle lens! It’s that simple, buy the camera body only and puck a sense better suited for your needs.
That’s the big secret to cameras… you need a great lens and the bundle lens is just OK. You’ll get great results outside in ideal conditions with plenty of indirect light, but you’re often inside with your kiddos, right? You need a sense with a larger aperture than most (smaller f-number) to capture those soft indoor photos with the perfectly blurred background (that lower f-number does this, y’all).
So what lenses do I use?
90% of the time, I use a budget-friendly Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8-4.5 SLD Aspherical DC Optical Stabilized (OS) Lens with Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) for Canon Digital SLR Cameras. You can also pick up this lens for your Nikon, Sigma, Sony, or Pentax camera. This is what I grab for vacations (it’s what I took to Disney, stay tuned for that update!), it’s what I grab for birthday parties, I use it for holidays at relative’s home with ambient lighting, it’s my go-to. It works great in auto mode (I prefer no-flash auto over the regular green square) as well as sport mode, and gets great results in manual modes as well. Canon does have a pricier version with a lower f-stop, but since I’m not blowing my photos up to three-story prints, this is the perfect lens for my day-to-day photos. If I could only have 1 lens, this would be it.
An architectural lens: Also in my arsenal… a super wide-angle lens for architectural photography. Most people won’t get a lot of use out of this lens, but since I photograph homes several times a year, this was a worth-while investment for me. I do hire a professional photographer when I list homes, but I take “before” shots as well as progress shots of our project homes often. For wide-angle, architectural photography, I use a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM SLR Lens for EOS Digital SLRs.
A Bokeh lens: This one is more of a toy that I used a lot more before my kids became mobile. I shoot a lot more action shots these days, but when my kiddos were young enough to sit in one place without being in constant motion, I got some amazing shots with my non-zoomable, ultra-low f-stop lens. That blurred background and foreground effect is called “booked” and you get it from a wide-open aperture (low f-number). Kit/bundle lenses won’t do this to the extreme that you see above, you need a specialized lens. My Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Standard & Medium Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras lens gives me the crispest, clearest photos but is also the trickiest to work with. It does not zoom in and out, rather it has a single, stable “zoom” so it takes some getting used to since you, the photographer, have to move instead of moving the lens. You also need to be familiar with the focus settings on your camera because the focal depth (how much of the photo will be in focus) is super small with this lens since it has such a large (small f-#) aperture. At the same time, I’ve taken some of my most amazing photos with this lens. The photo above is completely un-touched, un-processed, & un-messed with so you can see the true results.
And how do I get the best results?
I’m not afraid to tinker with my camera and you shouldn’t be either. The photos are digital so just erase your test shots. Don’t be afraid to take horrible test photos and don’t be afraid to let a random object sit in for your kids while you’re tweaking the settings.
But, here are the top pointers whether you are shooting in a manual or automatic mode:
- Use natural light. Don’t be afraid to relocate the photo to a spot where light streams in from a window. Pull the curtains back, open the blinds, maybe even open a door or window. I know many bloggers who set up shots in their foyers and open the front door for amazing light. Want your subject’s eyes to light up? Get some natural light on them and BAM, there they’ll be.
- Turn off that flash. When I don’t want to tinker with settings, I use the no-flash mode or sport mode (depending on lighting & how fast thing are moving). Outdoors on a sunny day, no-flash mode will work nearly all of the time. If someone is blurry or you are shooting kids playing indoors (with the camera, y’all), sport mode will quickly make sure that your shutter speed is fast and will open up your aperture to let more light in to compensate (so your photos aren’t super dark). It may sound counter intuitive, but built-in flashes are crap and good flashes are cumbersome.
- Learn photography basics. It doesn’t matter how you learn best, but find a way to learn your way around your camera. You may have a friend willing to help, online tutorials may be your thing, or youtube videos are great for visual learners. Just take the time to learn how and why you’d want to change your aperture, shutter speed, focus points, ISO, etc and you’ll save yourself a ton of time and frustration later. You’ll have a lot more fun taking photos when you know what those buttons mean.
- Quickly de-clutter. If you have toys, laundry, etc in the background, it really takes away from whatever you are photographing. You don’t have to keep your house totally clean, just take 5 seconds to move the junk out of the shot.
- Turn the lights on. You’ll get the best results with great natural lights because it’s soft, full, and beautiful. Usually, you’ll get better results if the lights are turned on as well. Cameras are little machines that pick up light. The more light, the more than have to work with. The less light, the less they have to work with. That’s why dark photos are typically grainy as well. The camera simply didn’t have enough light to work right.