Flexing my Photography Muscles

It was almost a year ago that I decided to learn how to use my DSLR in Manual mode.  Manual shooting requires that you set all of your own settings like the ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed.  You can also get more in depth and change your white balance.  Even after a year I am so far from being an expert but I would say I have grown a few muscles in photography compared to where I started (which was at 0 and just using Auto and a bounce flash.)

Before I share some of my more recent favorite photographs I want to express to anyone reading how life changing it can be to switch your dial to M.  I used to longingly gaze at friends’ professional looking photos and wish I could make something that amazing come out of my camera but would quickly dismiss learning how to use my camera as far too complicated.  Plus, I wasn’t trying to be a professional photographer so I should really leave it up to the experts.  I believe it was seeing fellow blogger Jill from Baby Rabies take her photography to the next level and a Black Friday sale on a membership to Clickin’ Moms that gave me the push I needed.  Seeing real visible progress by a real person made so much sense to me and proved that anyone can learn a new skill, including basic photography.

If you are starting out from scratch here are a few of the resources I have visited time and again.  The first was a blog post that finally clicked how the triangle of ISO, Aperture (f. stop), and Shutter Speed work together to properly expose an image.  This is very important and without knowing this you are going to be clicking dials and doing all kinds of crazy things.  You can find this information on Kevin and Amanda.  There is also a handy chart you can reference in that regard as well.  After understanding proper exposure it was time to understand how to “find the light” that you will hear people on photography forums say over and over.  Light is SO important and it really makes a photo.  Anyone who has seen those amazing eyes that sparkle and pop has seen exactly how a photo should be lit.  It’s all in the eyes!  I’ve learned several tricks, one from the forums on Clickin’ Moms on how to find the light using the shadows and your fist and the other is using a marble.  I re-read this post from Paint the Moon to understand lighting and it has served me well.

I’ve already posted about the earliest days of my journey and you can see those images in the post Learning to Love My Manual DSLR- The Why and How which was published in April 2012.  I’ll pick up from there with a few of my favorite images and you can see how my photography has improved.

April 2012

Self Shot Nursing Ev 18 months old- ISO 200 35 mm 4/4.0 1/60

When Everett was 18 months old and a day I wanted to capture a nursing shot. I actually just held the camera out and barely got us in the frame.  I love so much about this photo but especially how his eye really POPS and his chubby fingers. It is one I will truly treasure and wouldn’t have without learning how to use my wireless remote.

May 2012

Oma in the Weeds- ISO 160 35 mm f/ 3.2 1/640

The reason I love this photo is because it is the first image I ever captured of my mother-in-law genuinely smiling. Up to now any photos of her were very forced if she smiled, but in general she just wouldn’t at all. I had her schlep with me to the abandoned development were I saw potential to do family photos. Location scouting…. We were in very high weeds and she was my test subject during “golden hour” when the sun is almost setting and the light is pure golden goodness and perfect for photos. I snapped this as she was moving the weeds back and forth in front of her face. I framed it. Also that day we found what I suspected to be a human femur bone and ran the F out of there never to return.

June 2012

Denny Hall- ISO 1600 16 mm f/ 2.8 1/60

This was an experimental photo in a lot of ways. I normally just shoot pictures of my children but as a gift for my husband and I’s 5 year wedding anniversary I rented a very wide angle lens and took a photo of the exact spot we met. I brought a tripod knowing I would need to have a slow shutter speed indoors with no natural light to avoid a super high ISO and lots of grain. The lens was unfamiliar to me and I could have done much better but with some editing in Lightroom the result was good enough for framing and it hangs above our bed now.

July 2012

The month photography took a back seat to unpacking. We moved to Florida and all of my photos from July are virtually iPhone pics. It was a busy month and for good reason I wasn’t breaking out the DSLR!

August 2012

Freedom Tower- ISO 100 18mm f/5.6 1/1250

I took a business trip for a conference to NYC and brought the Nikon with me. I used it less than I had hoped but I did bring it when we toured Ground Zero and in the BLAZING sun took this image. Notice how low the ISO is and how fast the shutter speed was to avoid over exposing, although there is a spot where it is completely overexposed. I also edited using Lightroom and added a preset that helps with defining clouds. As a novice editor I still use presets in LR and tweak them to my liking most of the time.

September 2012

Everett, PLEASE look at the light. ISO 800 35 mm f/5.6 1/160

After neglecting my camera for a few months I wanted to get a great photo of my boys in the waning sun outside of our new home. I chased them both begging them to tilt their heads up enough to catch the light and look towards the setting sun. We were both frustrated but I managed to take a few photos that didn’t completely suck.  You can tell he isn’t feeling it and has basically decided to only cheese.  Kids…

October 2012

FIL and Helen- ISO 1000 35mm f/ 2.2 1/200

At my Sister-in-Law’s wedding I brought along my camera despite the fact that there would be professionals there. I’m glad I did because while the bridal party was getting photos taken after the wedding the family was hanging around in amazing light! At the gazebo I took several really good photos of the family and even got one of my husband and I in our garb. This one of my Father-in-Law with Helen, an exchange student they hosted last year who flew back from Germany for the wedding, was my favorite. The rest I posted on the blog for the curious. Oh and this was taken with my new Nikon D90, a small step up from the Nikon D80 I used for the previous photos.

November 2012

A rare smile- ISO 1250 35mm f/5.6 1/800

Lets just say I am super proud of this photo where technical skills met a photogenic boy in perfect lighting.  I got this super bokeh (the blurred background thanks to a wider aperture so the focus is JUST on the subject) and his skin tone is super creamy and even in the light.  I took the photo in open shade to avoid harsh shadows.  Fletcher rarely gives real smiles and most of my photos of him are goofy. Here I caught something special and genuine and he is smiling with his whole face, even SMIZING for Tyra fans. You better believe I framed the shiz out of this thing after taking it.

December 2012

Candid Xmas-ISO 2000 35mm f/1.8 1/100

Technically this isn’t something amazing. We were battling poor indoor lighting and the Christmas light glow for the Christmas Card photo, which turned out OK. In this photo I was trying to get the kids to stay still while Steven checked on the camera. He just happened to hit the shutter and this photo was born. We both set up the settings on the camera, my husband also enjoys dabbling in photography, but I’m using this one for December anyhow. I like the composition.

January 2013

Evening Ritual- ISO3200 35mm f/2.2 1/125

For the new year I decided to challenge myself and grow in my photography by taking part in a 52 week “challenge.” Each week is a new theme and the first was to photograph an evening ritual. I chose bath time and captured this moment after Fletcher stuck his head under the running water and looked up, droplets still running down his hair and face. The ISO is cranked up to 3200 and there is certainly a lot of grain but I am trying very hard to listen to the experts when they say “embrace the grain.”

Cuddles- ISO 1000 35mm f/3.2 1/125

Yesterday I saw amazing light pouring into my newly remodeled bedroom and being diffused through my new sheer white curtains. I grabbed my camera, set it on top of my dresser and propped it to angle down using a pair of underwear under the back portion. Next I set it to use my wireless remote. I asked Fletcher to come sit on the bed with me and we had fun taking a few photos. I even let him use the remote and he got good at hiding it in the 3 seconds after pressing. This was one of the shots we made that I really love.

Sweet Imperfection- ISO 1000 35mm f/3.2 1/125

Same day, just a photo I took with both boys. Technically I goofed and the focus is perfect on Fletcher but with a wider aperture Ev and I are not as clear, though not super blurry either. Also Fletcher took the photo with the remote and you CAN SEE IT, yet I happen to like this fact. It was fun to mess around and photograph our crazy life and the imperfections sort of add to the photo. I tell myself this because those little things bug me.


There are a few things you can tell now that you have gone through my favorite images.  One is that I have a favorite lens.  I primarily use the 35mm, which on my Nikon D90 is about the same view as what you would see with the naked eye.  I sometimes use the zoom 18-105mm but the 35mm takes crisper images because it is what they call a prime lens.  I’ve started playing with my 50mm to see what all the fuss is about but due to my style of camera the photos are more zoomed than what you see so to get your subject in the frame you need to back away quite a bit.  The other thing you will notice is that I like to try and take self shots every once in a while of my boys and I.  It is sad to look in my iPhoto library and see how many sweet and candid images I have of my husband and the boys and realize how few of the images I am in with them.  With my husband at work most of the day sometimes I just have to bring the camera out and make photos happen with the wireless remote.  No, they aren’t as special as something another person would take but in a way they are better because I am calling the shots in the settings department and I know a little more than the average person.  They say once you go Manual you never go back and this is very true.  After seeing how photos can really look once you are in control and not the camera you will never switch to Auto again.  When my husband takes over and goes to Auto I lecture him because he knows better!

I’m re-energized about photography after a long break during our move and I’m looking forward to flexing my muscles and spreading my wings as I try to learn more using Clickin’ Moms and a lot of Pinterest finds on new tips and tricks.  For now the camera I have is plenty although I have full-frame camera envy after learning/seeing what it can do.  If you are in possession of a fancy camera and are waiting to take the next step I’m telling you to start looking up guides to the settings on your camera then start practicing.  Just goofing off with a digital camera never hurt anyone!  You can never run out of film and the delete button is mighty handy…

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