With Elle’s birthday yesterday I never got to my Q & A. I have so many good questions waiting to be answered that I don’t want to skip a week. The parenting ones are sure making me think. Some of those are coming next week…

I have a Nikon (D100) and am having some serious trouble when I take pictures of anything white, such as my daughters blessing dress, or even a bright room. The camera seems to think things are too bright and therefore darkens the photo. I know this problem could be solved by switching to manual, but I don’t even know how to do that or what to do once I have switched to manual! Help!

Yes, you need to flip that little switch to manual and discover the new, beautiful world that mode will open up for you! It is true that there are so many amazing things cameras these days can do on automatic settings. You can get some beautiful results. But if you really want to be in control of your images you will love “harnessing the light” in manual settings. I’m sure you could find numerous tutorials if you google them, but I would SO recommend investing in a good camera class. I praise the class I took on a daily basis because it taught me so much.

I’ll tell you what I do for what it’s worth, but if the following sounds like gibberish to you please go invest in a class! You’ll never regret it.

Ok, here are my thoughts: It’s all about balancing the ISO, shutter speed and aperture. I usually start with setting the ISO according to my light. The brighter the light, the lower the ISO number. When I am at the beach I generally have it set on 160. Inside my house I set it to around 320-500 depending on how close I am to a window. In the evening I keep upping it until I can’t get any more light. Sometimes I take photos on 6400 ISO when it gets really dark.

Next I set the aperture. If I’m taking a photo of one person I like to keep my aperture at a 2.8 (the lower the number the wider the opening to create a more shallow depth of field). I love how it blurs out the background and can keep the eyes sharp. (I always toggle my focus exactly on the pupil of the eye.) But if I have a few people in the shot I up the aperture number a few notches unless I want one person in focus and the others blurred out.

Finally, I set the shutter speed while looking through the lens at my subject. I use my thumb-dial to get the light meter right where I want it (usually one or two tiny notches up from the middle on the “+” side).

Just so you feel better about the white balance thing, I had a Nikon D100 that really was horrible with white balance. I thought it was just me and then I upgraded and realized it was actually the camera. So maybe you can forget all that mumbo-jumbo above and just ask for a new camera from Santa…Christmas isn’t too far away, right? (wait, did I just say that?)

Although I shoot in manual mode I almost always leave my white balance setting on auto. If I discover “auto” mode didn’t do it’s job very well when I get to Lightroom I use that little dropper thing to fix it and it is magical.

Hope that helps!

I am wondering how you blur your background. Is that a photo shop thing or do you do that with your camera?

The answer to that is all in the aperture setting. The higher the aperture number the more in focus the entire picture will be over all (good for landscapes and large groups). If you set your aperture to be wide (low, low numbers), you will get more blur in the background and a smaller area in focus (like the eyes…love that).

We bought the 5D Mark ii about a year ago and I finally know all the ins and outs. I’m wondering…do you have certain settings that are your go-to settings to taking your everyday family pictures?? That is my ultimate goal…to take great family pictures. Do you always shoot in manual? What is your favorite aperture to use? Do you use autofocus or do you always adjust your focal points? Do you always change your white balance or do you use AWB? AI Focus vs AI Servo vs one shot? Spot Metering?

Yes, always in manual. Favorite aperture: 2.8 (it would be lower but I am too lazy to switch out to my 50 mm 1.4 more often). I always use auto focus but I always adjust the focal points to be sure the camera’s focus is on the eyes. White balance: auto (see above question). I never change if from the “one shot” setting. I do not use spot metering although I would like to start.

How do you shoot in bright sunlight without over-exposing the white area? Or is this something you fix in editing software? Also, what lens/settings do you use to shoot macro shots with your big camera? I love to do super-close-ups of nature, but they don’t always turn out how I’d like them to.

I think the spot metering would totally fix the over-exposure issue if I took the time to do that in the first place. But in bright sunlight I make sure to meter right on those eyes/faces and most of the time that works like a charm. I like photos to be bright (hence the setting my light meter a couple notches closer to the “+”), but if someone or something happens to get overexposed I can scale down the exposure in Lightroom and also use the “recovery” dial that will pull back some of that information.

As for the nature photos I like to use my 50mm 1.4 lens but I honestly take a lot more of them with my little point-and-shoot (Canon Elph 750) on the “macro” setting. I just always have that camera with me so it makes capturing nature easy as pie.

On a sunny day I often end up with a pictures that have shade and sun on faces and I hate that. As probably every kid, my kids hate having sun in their eyes, so I pose them so they don’t look directly into he sun, but then their faces are half sunny and half not. Is there a way to avoid that? I want some sunny pictures and I keep having this problem!! Can you help???!!

I kinda like the half sunny/half not look for for a dramatic effect sometimes, but most of the time I opt for more of a back-lit picture. If the sun is behind my subjects I make sure to up my shutter speed a little to get a little more light in for exposure (bump up the light meter closer to the “+”). Am I making any sense?

What tips do you have for photographing young kids (around age 1–2 years)? They are SO wiggly and it’s hard to get them told still.

I basically make a complete fool of myself behind the camera. I play peek-a-boo while trying my darnedest to hold the camera still. I make every kind of animal noise imaginable. I get my other kids or husband to stand behind me and clap or coo or make the silliest faces they can. I follow kids around and let them do what they want to do…that way I tend to get more natural shots.

So what DO you do with all the pictures of your kids? You don’t scrapbook. I have 5 kids too and think it would almost be impossible to keep up on that many scrapbooks anyway, but how do you plan to be able to “hand over” pictures of them to them? Do you do photo books like Blurb or something? Do you plan on attacking that later? I take a lot of pictures of my kids as well, and I feel a little sick wondering how to preserve them in a meaningful way.

Oh my word I wish I had a magical answer for this. In my dream world I would do a blurb book every year and a yearly digital book of images of each child for a gift for them each Christmas like some of my friends do. But instead I have thousands upon thousands of pictures just sitting on my computer that I don’t even have an external back-up for. It scares me to death. As of last week I just completed my third summer failing on my serious goal to get busy on that stuff. Please help!

How do you make your own header on your blog – I love the collage of photos.


I was just wondering if you know how your daughter, Elle, made the personalized header at the top of her blog? {see here} Did she use a specific program such as Picasa?

Elle and I both used Photoshop for our headers. I love Photoshop for stuff like that. But it does take time and you have to know Photoshop relatively well. I know that my friend Sarah has an awesome tutorial here about making a blog banner in Picasa. (I love Sarah.)

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  1. Thanks for the great info – wondering what you favorite, go to lens is for taking shots of your family. Also – do you use any actions to edit in Photoshop? You pictures are so bright and colorful. Thanks

  2. STOP right now & go buy an external heard drive. Backing up your pictures is the easiest thing in the world and you will soooooooooo regret not having done it the day you go to your computer and all you see is the blue screen of death. Hard drives are by nature unstable and can fail at ANY time! Please, please, please back up those pics. Believe me on this – I learned the hard way.

  3. oops, I have to clarify that I do have an external drive (I love "time machine" for backing up), but I feel like I need to external back-up on the internet or something that is not right in our home. If something happened here everything would be lost. Still trying to figure that out.

    Leigh, I almost always have my 24-70 2.8 lens on my camera so that's my favorite. I don't use actions in Photoshop…I rarely use Photoshop for editing pictures. Most of the time I just make sure the exposure is the way I like it and adjust the "blacks" and "contrasts" in Lightroom to how I like them. I know there are great "actions" but I just don't make the time to figure them out.

  4. I love shutterfly….I make a book every time I adopt a kiddo, after about 5 years I made one for my dauhgter…I am hoping to do a grade school and high school book, but then I also do a yearly book and one of any major trips we have done…..plus calendars from the previous year of things we did. I have an external hard drive to backup all of my photos…I just need to remember to put them on there…

    I love seeing your blog everyday…keep up the great work. =)

  5. Where did you take your photography class? I am looking for a good class to take so that I can learn how to take better pictures. Also what kind of camera do you have?

  6. shawni– everyone's back up system for photos is different. Your situation sounds a lot like mine with thousands of photos not in books (sigh, if there were only enough hours in the day) and still in my computer. I got serious about backing up about a year ago. Did a lot of research and now this is what I do:

    -time machine backup to an external (I can access deleted files if needed, etc)

    -carbon copy cloner backup to an external (this creates a "clone" of my machine which I could boot up from, if needed. no down time if the hard drive crashes)

    -crashplan back up to the cloud (online in case of a disaster at home. I did use carbonite, but switched because I have a few old externals with client photos, older family photos, etc. that I wanted backed up too. crashplan is one of the only services that will backup exernals too.)

    I feel safe now and really never think about backing up. it all happens in the background.

    hope that helps!

  7. Thanks for all of your tips on this. I have a question for your future Q&A posts – I read in your Mothers Book of Secrets book that you read a different Christmas story each night during the month of December. Can you recommend any good books? I'm expecting a baby around that time, so trying to organise myself now and love the sound of this tradition. My kids are pre-schoolers/toddlers right now, so any recommendations you can give I would love! Thank you for taking the time to always do these posts – they are great!

  8. in regards to your piles of photos…what we do at my house seems to work pretty well. I "scrapbook" (I put it in quotations because it's not nearly as involved as real scrapbooking. Mostly I just choose a color of paper for borders and a different color for the background, etc). Anyway, I do one album per year of the entire family. Pretty much it is a compilation of all of our family activities and outings, etc, although there are plenty of individual portraits, family photos, etc. Whatever doesn't make it into the family album is boxed by child in photo boxes. Some day, that will be their property. Right now, I guard those photos with my life. Of course, I print all of my pictures out from mpix so the photos are already on hand. Both sides of the extended family do a yearly Christmas photo book from mpix or shutterbug to gift to my parents and in-laws which is a nice record to keep of the siblings/cousins, too. I always buy myself a copy of those for family history purposes.

  9. Thank you Shawni! And DO NOT feel bad about not scrapbooking…it takes a lot (a TON!) of time…even the things that sound simple/easy and a lot of energ-and I constantly question (especially with 4 boys!) if they will even look at these things when I am done with them. These kids of ours have so many pictures taken of them anyways, they might be sick of looking at themselves! πŸ™‚ (I think I have about 3 dozen photos from birth to graduation of myself!)

  10. okay. so i commented on your blog earlier, but i have been reading more and more of it tonight, and i am in awe of you. i can't believe what an amazing mom and wife you are. i was reading your posts about things that are important to your family..the one where you talked about lunch dates and late nights and how you spend time with your kids. oh my heck. it got me so excited to do some of those things in the future. i just have one little boy right now, but the things you do as a family are just amazing. i feel like i'm rambling, but i just can't say enough how great i think you are. your family is beautiful, and it makes me want to have a whole bunch of kids (not that 5 is a crazy number. i come from a family of 5. i just mean it seems like a lot compared to my 1). i just think the traditions you have and the time you spend together looks so amazing. your blog is truly inspiring, and i am grateful to have found it!

  11. Shawni, You don't know me but I absolutely love your blog and how you run your sweet family. I was fortunate to be able to hear you and your mom speak at a time out for women a year ago and loved it. I also own several of your parents books and follow them on power of moms. I have the most random question you have probably ever received! πŸ™‚ Does you mom ever do phone call "counseling" for parenting issues? Or even better 'Nanny 911" visits? I am in a deep rut with my 7 year old, twin 4 year olds, and 1 year old. I have read ever book out there and my big thought is "what if your kids don't respond the way the book says they will..then what?" I have always felt my kids, especially my 7 year old is in a league of his own as far as difficult parenting. I was an elementary education teacher and feel like I somewhat know or should know what I am doing and whatever I am doing is NOT working. Anyway, just curious if your mom or dad for that matter who has such experience with that would ever let me pay a "counseling fee" for a phone consult. Or fly to Vegas and magically whip my family into shape! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ I have tried several times to make it to the retreats they do but with my 4 kids, my husbands schedule, I am the Stake YW Pres. in my stake, and life I can never work it out to come. So I'm moving to plan B!

  12. I always love your pictures. They are beautiful. I have got to stop being lazy with my picture taking and push myself a little more! I am an AV Mode junkie on my Canon 7D even though I know better so thanks for the little nudge.

    I have thought a lot about the whole scrapbooking thing because for about 3 years I scrapbooked for a wealthy client as my main source of income. I haven't really scrapbooked much since, but because of a book that I read during the time I was scrapbooking 20 hours a week, I am excited to scrapbook/make the MyPublisher books (my favorite book publisher) once I have time to do it, rather than feeling guilty about "being behind". I think that "being behind" on scrapbooking shouldn't belong on anyone's list of things we feel guilty about! We all have enough to worry about without that on our list! It's not to say I don't feel a bit envious when I see the stack of beautiful books my sister has made sitting on her piano, but, I'm OK with it and love looking through her beautiful photo books and scheming ideas for my future books. (Emily is my sister I am talking about, she and her family were up at Bear Lake with Saren a few weeks ago with you guys)

    The book that I love about scrapbooking is called photofreedom by Stacy Julian. I love that she teaches how we can focus on preserving the memories that are the most important and not get caught up with everything being in chronological order. I love how her albums rather than being chronological are labeled: People We Love, Places We Go, Things We Do, All About Us, etc… It took me a minute to wrap my head around the non-chronological thing, but then when I think how much more fun and interesting it would be to have a spread showing my children's different Halloween costumes 4 years in a row rather than just 4 different spreads spread throughout different books, I kind of got it. I love her view point.

  13. Mozy.com is cheap, easy to backup (you pick the folders/files, it backs up automatically), and easy to restore files when you ever need them. Love it!!

  14. HI Shawni,
    I am trying to register my son for Joy School and plan to start in September. For some reason the code you have provided "shawni" doesn't work when I enter it.
    Do you know weather it is on my end or if the code just isn't valid anymore?
    Allison Rowe

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