questions & answers / by Ashley Brown

We received some really great, thoughtful questions yesterday... thanks for sending them in! We eliminated the duplicates of the most common questions (i.e. camera recommendations), so here are the resulting questions and answers. We hope that these will provide you with some guidance and tips on creating, storing and enjoying your daily snapshots!

I have a nice Digital SLR that I got about a year ago (to help me capture the speed of my little one!).  It came with a general lens (18 - 105).  What one lens would you say you use the most with your pictures? I'd like to save up for one but don't know what to get right now.  I love to shoot nature so I've thought a macro lens would be nice but don't know if my money would be better spent somewhere else.'

If you have a DSLR, lenses are definitely the best place to invest your money. They'll allow you to get versatility (i.e. every day shots, kids' sports games, nature/landscapes) and therefore get the most out of your camera. Good quality (glass) lenses can be very expensive... many well exceed the cost of even professional camera bodies. However, for every day use, there are a lot of options that work just fine. For portraits, we use wide angle lenses as well as prime (fixed focal length) lenses. For every day purposes, one lens that is well known for being extremely economical and often recommended, is the 50 mm 1.8. The focal length allows you to work both indoors and out, and it is a good option for working in low light situations. Macro lenses are great for specific purposes (like close up nature shots, as you mentioned), but if you are on a budget, I'd recommend seeking out something more all-purpose. Online reviews are a great way to figure out what would work best for your most common usage.

We recently purchased a Canon PowerShot SX40 so that we could capture higher quality (and quantity) pictures without committing to an SLR-level camera. So far we love what it can do, but of course we’d love to hear any advice you have regarding cameras.

Here are some of our burning questions:

  • What software do you use/recommend for editing pictures, storing or backing them up, sharing them with friends/family?
  •  How can we best organize our pictures once they are downloaded?
  • How can we best protect our photos (and videos) with backup procedures?
  • Is it worth printing pictures out like old days and creating photo albums, or are digital archives sufficient? How do you choose and commit to printing out those “special” moments and displaying them artfully in your home?
  • Is there an at-home printer that you recommend for photos, or do you prefer using other sources such as Mpix?

Excellent questions! The "after" part... figuring out what to do with all of your digital snapshots... can be daunting.

  • The best type of software really depends on how much you are looking to do with your images. We use Adobe programs, such as Photoshop, Bridge, and Lightroom. These are large and rather expensive programs, so I wouldn't recommend them for every day use. Adobe does have a smaller program called Photoshop Elements, which I've heard great things about for basic photo editing. If you have a Mac, Apple has programs such as Aperture and iPhoto which are very popular. I recommend keeping your images online, in addition to storing them on your hard drive. Flickr is a popular photo sharing website, and Google has a similar site as well.
  • Different methods work for different people, but my personal method for my daughter's snapshots is pretty simple. I make a folder for each year, and then a subfolder for each month. Then, I create a further subfolder for the original images, one for any images that I've edited, and one for our cell phone snapshots.
  • Backing up your images is SO, SO important. Think about how devastated you would be if you you lost all of your images. Hard drives crash... its not a matter of if, its a matter of when. Don't make the mistake of getting complacent and in turn, losing all of those precious memories. I highly recommend storing your images in three places. (1) On your computer's hard drive. (2) In an offline medium that you can keep in a safe place, such as burning them onto CD's or keeping them on external hard drives. I recommend purchasing an external hard drive for this purpose. They are very inexpensive and come with tons of storage space. (3) With an online back up program. This is a critical part of the equation. God forbid your house burned down, was flooded, etc., your images will be safe off site. Back up companies such as Mozy and Carbonite have very inexpensive back up options and continuously run on your computer. That means you don't have to remember to back up your images... it happens automatically.
  • Yes! With the digital age, so many snapshots sit dormant on computers, never to be seen or enjoyed. That's not to say you have to print every image you take, but try to make the effort to get those day to day memories offline. Prints for around the house are great, but one of the best ways to showcase your images is with books. Websites such as Mpix, Snapfish and Shutterfly are great options, as they offer economical press-printed books that you can make as fun or as simple as you'd like. For my daughter's snapshots, I also use Exposures albums and fill them with 4x6 prints. That is a nice option if you prefer more of a traditional album.
  • I don't know too much about home printers, other than the fact that good quality ones are expensive (as is buying photo paper and the collossal amount of ink required!). With so many online labs nowadays, I recommend printing online. For your daily snapshots, again, websites such as Snapfish or Shutterfly are just fine. When clients purchase digital images through us, we recommend Mpix.

I love taking pictures and we have a pretty good camera and lense (Canon Rebel). I love how natural and vibrant your photos are. Do you edit your photos and if so what program do you use? Any tips on good photo editing? Perhaps you know of a workshop on photo editing?

See above for my photo editing program recommendations. As far as tips go... less is more! It's easy to fall into the trap of way over processing your images. All of of our images are post processed, but the key is to getting a perfect image straight out of the camera... you can't salvage a bad image after the fact. Good light and exposure are paramount. I'm not aware of any particular online workshops, although I'm sure there are many! Many of the local towns continuing ed programs, as well as community colleges, have Photoshop classes if you'd like to further delve into that area. For Mac users, the Apple store also offers free classes on using their photo programs.

I keep telling my husband that I need to buy a new camera!!  But I have no clue what to buy.  I obviously don't want to spend a ton of money, but I was hoping for something that could help me get some good images, since I obviously am not a professional!  I know that the camera can't work wonders and that there is a lot that goes into professional images, but if you have any thoughts on some cameras that could help, that would be WONDERFUL!

Both Canon and Nikon have great lines of entry level DSLR cameras. For every day purposes, there is no need to go into debt to get a nice, versatile camera. These entry levels bodies (for example, the Canon EOS Rebel series, one of the most popular options) are really great every day cameras. You can use them as a nicer point and shoot camera on the automatic settings, but have the option to learn and use the more manual settings as well.

Just got my first DSLR camera and already love those everyday photos you described that I've been able to capture way more than my point and shoot.  However, struggling with all the settings.  Which should I be using most often?  Seems like the flash often pops up on most settings but I find my eye liking the shots where there is not a flash.  Another question....how do I avoid getting shadows behind my kids' heads when taking their pics?  Cannot seem to figure out an easy lighting trick.

Congrats on your first DSLR! Learning how to use it to your full advantage can certainly be overwhelming, and its more than I can explain in a quick answer. After you've devoured your camera's manual, I recommend that you check out some books on digital photography, as well as the wealth of information that is online (from tutorials, to workshops, and more). Again, local options such as continuing ed courses are great as well. I know this advice seems pretty simple, but honestly, most people who purchase DSLRs never take the time to learn and end up using them as glorified point and shoot cameras... which is fine, but there is so much out there to learn if you want to take your snapshots up a notch! Practice really makes perfect. My biggest recommendation is to read and familiarize yourself as much as possible with using natural light, so that you can avoid using your flash. On camera flashes make images look, well, flashy (i.e. harsh shadows), so using natural light whenever possible is really ideal.

I would love advice on taking pictures of kids playing indoors in the dead of winter, when it's always dark outside and you don't have any natural light to work with... I feel like those shots always come out yellow and fuzzy if I don't use flash, or really overexposed and flat looking if I do.

Winter is tricky, as we have so few hours of natural light! During the day time, really milk the natural light for all its worth. Place your child in a chair and turn it toward a window, open all of the blinds/curtains, etc. Keep overhead lights off as much as possible. There are times, like when its dark out, when you can't avoid using your flash. Are you using your camera's on board flash? Consider purchasing an off camera flash. Unlike the flash that comes on your camera, you can turn it so that it isn't flashing right in the direction of your subject, and reduce the power so it isn't full blast. When using a flash, make sure to keep your child or the subject as far away from the wall as possible to eliminate shadows.

I would love to have a picture of my huge family-- my parents, their 8 children, 16 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren... how would you tackle that challenge?

Challenge is definitely the correct word! The important thing to remember with large group shots like this is that it doesn't need to be perfect. The important thing is that you have all of your loved ones together in one image! I recommend outdoors during the nicer time of the year, and using a ladder!

Any tips on getting 2 kids (3 & 1) to sit together - nicely?

Like I mentioned in yesterday's post, photographing your own children is a challenge, one that even photographer's face. They are obviously comfortable with you, and therefore it is harder to keep their attention and encourage them to sit still. The best option is capturing them while going about their daily lives, whether it be sitting together doing a puzzle, or running around in the backyard. For those times that you'd like to get them sitting and smiling in the same shot... bribery! Really... I am never above a good bribe. Aside from that, I find it is very helpful to use a "containment device"... whether is be a bench, wagon, or any other place where they can sit and not get out of or off of quickly. Giving them something to hold, especially for kids under 2, is very helpful. Enlist a helper (like dad) to be silly behind you. Funny faces and dances are a great way to keep kids still and guarantee big, genuine smiles. Other things like hand puppets and balancing toys on your head are great tricks as well.

As with anything, learning how to best use your camera and photograph your family is a "practice makes perfect" endeavor. From the technical aspect, read and research as much as you can. And when it comes to the actual documentation, remember that your images don't need to be perfect, and snap away as much as you can. All of those trivial every day moments will amount to beautiful memories for your children, years down the road. Be patient and don't expect your children to sit and smile at every turn. Capturing them doing what they do best... being kids... is not only the easiest method, but it will create images that reflect your lives at any given point. And those are the moments you'll want to remember.