Tips for Taking Better Photos

I’ve always loved photography. As a kid, I remember anxiously awaiting the prints from those Kodak disposable cameras, just hoping the photos would turn out. I plastered my high school walls with photo collages and begged my friends to let me take their photos for class projects. I repeated Photography I and II over and over again for credit. I climbed over “no trespassing” signs and crawled into old barns, warehouses (159thand mission anyone? That place was creepy) and buildings out south to find an exciting location. There seemed to be a hundred ways to control the way an image turned with only a few adjustments in the darkroom.

While my high school teacher taught me how to have an eye for a good image, it wasn’t until later that I learned the technical side of photography and how to actually work my camera. My husband, Jeff, graduated with a BFA in Photography from Savannah College of Art and Design and after dabbling in some commercial work, he decided to venture into lifestyle photography after we were married. From the beginning, I had a heart to help in any way I could with the growing business. He patiently showed me how to work my camera and then when he ended up with crutches after an injury, there was no choice but to jump in for him – sink or swim!

Our business grew over the years, as well as my fondness for photography. I actually enjoyed the excited nervousness I would get before photographing a session. The creativity I was able to explore with different locations, lighting and editing was addictive – I was hooked. It was so much fun!

And yet, while I’ve always enjoyed photography, it wasn’t until I become a mother that I fell in love with it. Capturing my children in their element and freezing it in a beautiful token I can keep forever is almost magical. I look back through the images I’ve taken of my daughters and all the time that has transpired instantly vanishes. I can feel those moments with them again. These days of motherhood, they’re flying by and photography has given me something to hold on to. Something to bring a smile to my face and a memory to my heart.

If you’re reading this, whether you’re a mother or not, chances are you have a desire to be able to grow in your photography abilities. Like any skill, it WILL NOT happen overnight. There is nothing that can take the place of experience and practice, but the following are a list of helpful tips to get you started in the right direction:

  1. Invest in a DSLR camera.

I get it – cell phone cameras have come such a long way and are so convenient. They do a great job capturing shots, but if you’re serious about taking your photography to the next level, you’re going to need a better camera than the one in your pocket. A DSLR camera has a full frame sensor, which gives you a much higher quality image than your iPhone. You will also have the capability to use various lenses to create the exact image you desire. You will have so much more control when using a good camera. Right now, it probably seems incredibly intimidating with all those buttons and dials, but you can learn to use that camera and willlove it.

  1. Learn how to work your DSLR camera.

There’s no sense in having a flashy camera if you continually shoot on automatic and never learn to work it. I’ve seen people invest in a gorgeous camera with so much capability, and yet never take the time to master it. We are the microwave generation – we want everything NOW and instead of taking the time to read and learn and practice, we let that expensive camera collect dust and just fall back to using our cell phone cameras. Don’t let this be you. Actually read your camera manual. There are so many awesome charts and tools on Pinterest that will get you started in the right direction. Take some time to learn about ISO, Shutter speed and aperture.

  1. Locate your available lighting.

Lighting is everything to photography. Always know where your light source is. Shooting indoors is tough, so bring your subject close to your light source. When I’m photographing my girls, I’ll bring them straight up to the window or even in front of the front door with the natural light streaming in. Keep your light in front of your subject. Outdoors, I almost always shoot at sunrise or sunset. Photographers even have a pretty title for this magical time – “golden hour”. It’s when the sun is just coming up or going down – it’s soft light, coming in at an angel, filling and spilling and is just enchanting! I avoid shooting in the middle of the day, because you’re going to be dealing with harsh sunlight and harsh shadows all over your subject. If you have to shoot in the harsh sunlight – look for SHADE! Put the sun behind your subject or to the side of your subject, so they’re not squinting into the sun.

  1. Get down on their level.

Angles, angles, angles! You can take the same photo 10 different ways shooting at 10 different angles! This is where you can really get creative. And chances are, you’ve already practiced this trying to get the best Instagram photo of your avocado toast. Next time your photographing your children, try to capture them from five different angles. Try standing on a chair shooting down, squat down to get face to face, or lay on your belly to get down on their level and see what they see. I bet you didn’t know how much yoga there was in photography! Angles can help develop your creativity and find your style and voice in photography.

  1. Stay true to YOUR style.

Speaking of style, be YOU! If there’s nothing else you walk away with from this post, I want you to hear this. Please do not set out to be a carbon copy of every other photographer out there, even if it seems everyone is shooting or editing the same way. Find out what style makes YOU passionate. You don’t have to be like everyone else. Remember that photography is art and part of making art is staying true to yourself. I promise you – not EVERYONE will love the way you shoot and not EVERYONE will book with you. That’s okay! Be you and your creativity will SHINE through and set you apart.

  1. Be a stickler about focus.

Perhaps my biggest pet peeve is an out of focus image. Yes, shooting at a low aperture is cool and gives you some awesome depth of field, but if that means your subject is out of focus than it doesn’t matter. You can do a lot in editing – brighten an image, clean things up, but you can’t make things that are out of focus in focus. And there’s nothing worse than thinking you captured an epic image only to bring it up on your computer and realize it’s out of focus. I love to shoot with my f-stop at 2.8, but I typically only shoot that low if there’s one person in my image. Sometimes it works out if there’s two people, but it’s a gamble that you probably won’t win (unless they are in the exact same plane of the photo). If you’re shooting more than one person, kick your f-stop up higher. You don’t want to sacrifice focus for depth of field.

  1. Don’t over edit.

Looking back on my very first sessions, I’m so embarrassed by the amount of editing I did. In my opinion, over-editing takes away from the sincerity of the image. Try your hardest to get all your camera settings correct, so you don’t have to make as many adjustments while editing. I used to love using props and setting up themed sessions, but now my favorite photography is in the moment, real life, natural photography and I love to keep it as natural as I can.

  1. Make sure your photos have emotion.

Photography is art and as such it should say something. It should make you feel something. This is my favorite part of photography – how powerful it is. An image has the power to show and tell. I realized this after traveling to India and documenting precious girls who had been forsaken by their families. Back home, we were able to use those images and video to spread the message of their plight. You may be documenting a wedding or your kids in the backyard, but make sure your photos make you feel something. Can you feel the joy of your child as the wind whips through his hair while he swings in the backyard? Do you remember the anticipation your wife felt each time the baby kicked in her growing belly? Capture those things. Make it last.

  1. Keep your camera close.

Those camera worthy moments (especially if you’re a mom) will not happen on your schedule – I promise. You have to be ready all the time. What does that look like? I keep my camera on a counter and make sure it’s ready with a charged battery and an SD card. I can’t tell you how many times I have literally RUN inside my house and grabbed it to capture something my girls were doing before they moved on or the sunlight changed. In fact, a few nights ago, Jeff had just returned home from work and found a butterfly with a cut wing in the yard. Because of the injured wing, they were able to catch it and Savannah held it in her hand to show her little sister. I cannot tell you how fast I dropped what I was holding and raced inside to grab my camera. If it wasn’t ready I would have never captured that epic moment, which is one of my very favorite photos ever.

  1. KEEP shooting!

Practice, practice, practice, and KEEP practicing! Never stop! You will get better and better the more you shoot. Don’t doubt yourself! Don’t compare yourself to people who have been doing it for years. You will get there. Don’t forget why you started shooting in the first place. Don’t forget your “first love” of photography. It’s such a wonderful skill to have and transferable to so many different paths and careers. You won’t regret all the time you put into mastering your craft. And I’m here for you. I love nothing more than sitting down with new photographers and providing tips and encouragement. I’m here to answer your questions, go on a shoot with you or look over some of your photos.

Oh man, the A-type in me wanted to keep this list to 10 points, but I have to mention ONE MORE thing. Can you tell I could talk about photography forever?

  1. Don’t fall into the competition trap.

There’s a lot of great photographers out there. And if you’re insecure, that can lead you down the never-ending comparison road. Or, you may be so worried of losing potential clients, that it keeps you from making some wonderful friendships in the photography world. I used to be like that. We used to think the other photographers were all rude and competitive. But, then God placed a wonderful mentor photographer in our lives who shared everything about his business. He was completely open. He shared his strategy, contracts, business plan and more with us. His transparency and kindness changed Jeff and I, and the way we conducted our business. We started introducing ourselves to every single vendor at the weddings we shot and offered complimentary images to them. We went to our next wedding show and decided to try to show kindness. There was a girl a few booths down from us doing her first show and I walked over and asked if I could help. That led to a great friendship. She later documented my growing family and I sent business her way when we moved. To this day, she is one of my FAVORITE wedding photographers and has won a whole slew of awards in Kansas City. I’m so glad I decided to introduce myself and get to know her. Don’t put yourself on an island by yourself. There’s enough clients and business to go around, I promise. And, as a Christian, I believe we should love and support one another.

This post has gone along for far too long. But, let me know who you are and where you are at in your photography journey. Were any of these tips helpful? I’d love to get to know you and follow you and your work on Instagram. Happy shooting!



A letter to my Postpartum self

Dear Jen,

I know you’re awake, laying in the hospital bed long after the lights have gone dark and Jeff has fallen asleep on the plastic couch. I know there’s tears rolling down your face and you’re not sure why. I know every painful movement is a reminder that your perfect birth plan turned out in an unexpected emergency C-section. I know one word keeps echoing in your mind…”failure”. I know you believe you’re somehow less than for not giving birth in the “normal” way. I know you’ll be so apprehensive to share these emotions, even with your closest ally, snoring softly a few feet away.

I know you’ll battle through nursing your baby girl, wondering why it doesn’t come naturally. Instead of a beautiful bonding experience you’ll curl your toes in pain each time, cracked, sore and bleeding. You’ll be so swollen you won’t even be able to pull on your maternity jeans as you leave the hospital. In the weeks to come, you’ll hit a level of sheer exhaustion you never thought was possible as you nurse, rock, bounce, bathe…and do it all over again every few hours. You’ll feel so alone.

You’ll stare at Jeff as he leaves to go back to work, a baby in your arms and fear in your eyes. You’ll google everything and discover that it’s YOU who must get to know your baby and learn the meanings of her cries. But, she’s so… new. You’ll have no idea what she wants, and in those rare moments when she falls asleep in the crook of your elbow, it’ll be just quiet enough to hear the whispers of your heart.

I’m not qualified for this.

 You’ll stare at her perfect little face and worry that there’s been some big mistake. Nine months was not enough preparation time. How can YOU be responsible for HER from here on out? What if you mess up? What if you’re not good enough for her? You’ll scroll through photos of other new moms appearing so happy and natural in their new role of motherhood. You’ll fumble through diaper changes in public, believing every set of eyes is staring at you, because you must be doing something wrong. You’ll drop a massive load of pressure on yourself to do everything perfect. Through tears, you’ll confess to your sister that, you’re “never ever having another baby again”. And, she’ll just laugh, because she knows.

She knows that this newborn stage, it’s simply the grooming stage. God is pruning back every ounce of selfishness in your heart, and when He’s done, you will the gleaming “MOTHER” you always imagined. Right here, right now, you feel like you are completely unprepared to be a Mom. But, one day…one day, Jen, it will be your favorite title. You’ll come to love that C-section scar, because it’s a battle wound. And you’re a warrior. Someday, you won’t even care that you didn’t birth your baby in the “normal way”, because you’ll discover there’s no normal way.

And that little baby – the one that screamed three solid hours every evening for weeks? She will bring SO.MUCH.JOY into your home. Yes, your life will look different, your schedule will change. You will be tested and stretched and pulled in a way you could never imagine. But, she will be your greatest adventure yet. She will light up your heart and bring laughter to your days.

In the deep pit of exhaustion, remember this is just the beginning. When you look at way your body has changed and the new wrinkles, I want you to close your eyes and envision a future with your precious daughter. God has stewarded YOU the very greatest gift and one day she will exceed every single expectation you have for her. Get ready, because your heart is going to double in size. Oh, and as, for never ever having another baby? Well…sisters are pretty cute.


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a season begins

tfcvsmu__55It’s the beginning of the season. Forty young men have already shown up, eager to prove themselves to my husband. And my husband now shoulders the enormous responsibility to lead those men both on and off the field. Over fifty times, they will take the field, first as strangers, but in the end, as family. They will experience joy and possible heartbreak together. They will sweat, bleed and even cry together.

And through it all, I will be there, up on the hill, watching. I will load and unload my car dozens of times. I will be there with our two little girls, just to let him know he is not alone. We’ll huddle together in layers of clothing shivering against the wind in January, and we will sweat in the glaring sun in May. We’ll watch through the soaking rain, shoes cakes in mud.

I’ll encourage him through the losses and share in his joy over the wins. We’ll win games we didn’t believe were possible to win. I’ll stand tall knowing some parents second guess the decisions he will make. I’ll lay in bed late at night in the darkness worrying over his safety as he drives the bus home after a double header, miles away from home. We’ll be like ships passing in the night, as I vaguely recall him kissing me goodbye while it’s still dark on game day. I’ll reheat his dinner for him when he gets home late from practice. I’ll deal with fevers and sick babies at home while he’s out of town for another game. I’ll hold down the fort at home.

I’ll be beside him as he shows his players what a healthy, God-centered marriage looks like. He’ll be a father figure to those young men who have never had a Dad. He’ll teach them a lot about success, but even more about failure. And when their baseball careers have long been over, we’ll be there as they get married, start jobs and have children of their own. He’ll pray with them and for them, and sometimes he’ll sit next to them in the doctor’s office when they receive the daunting diagnosis.

This coaching life isn’t for the faint of heart. He will bring his work home with him every single day. And I’ll be there, behind him, encouraging him and holding up his arms when he doesn’t have the strength to do it alone. I’ll be his fellow warrior, even if it means I do most my fighting at home, on my knees.



An Invitation

cmas 18_6.jpgIf I had one Christmas wish, it would be to bottle up my four-year old’s giggles and keep it forever. It’s a rolling laughter, infecting everyone close with joy and bringing an onslaught of hiccups in the aftermath. Tonight, the car was dark, so I couldn’t see her face, but I didn’t need any light to know that her dimples were in full view. We were driving through our local park viewing the Christmas light display and for whatever reason, she found every illuminated character absolutely hilarious.

There’s nothing more magical than experiencing the Christmas season through your child’s eyes. Nothing can compare to the ecstatic shrieks when Savannah saw Santa and the way she tries so hard to pick up all her toys and be extra nice to her sister just to stay on the “nice list”. We drink hot chocolate and marshmallows until our tummies protest and our tree has become a strobe light ever since the toddler found the button that turns it on and off. We’ve made our own popsicle ornaments and sang songs about baby Jesus in the manger. It may sound cliché, but it truly is the best time of the year.

However in the midst of all the memory making I have found myself burdened to do ALL.THE.THINGS. The to-do list never ends. Presents to buy. Lists to write. Desserts to make. Cards to send out. Gifts to wrap. Stockings to hang. Gingerbread houses to decorate. Caroling. Family photos. Christmas Parties. Advent Calendars. There’s only two more weeks until Christmas and there’s so much to DO! Should we stay home or travel on Christmas? Give them only what they need or spoil them rotten on Christmas morning? Are we focusing too much on Santa and not enough on Jesus? And then, all it takes is one quick scroll through social media to be reminded of all the seasonal things we haven’t done yet that everyone else seems to be doing.

Really, just typing all this out has elevated my blood pressure and brought a tightness to my chest.  And I feel this overwhelming burden to facilitate the very BEST Christmas for my daughters, because they deserve it.

But tonight, instead of wrapping more gifts or packing for the upcoming trip or going over what still needs to be done, I found myself drawn to the quiet. The Holy Spirit was beckoning. And so, I followed. And in the silence, I was reminded of my Savior’s words from so long ago.


Come unto me…” Come away from the busyness. Away from the expectations. Away from the pressure. Away from the stress. Away from the overwhelming strain to be everything and buy everything and do everything. Spurgeon says that “come” was Jesus’ favorite word. He bids us all to come and drives none of us away.

Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy burdened…” When He originally spoke those words, He was talking with group of very religious people who spent their whole beings constantly trying to follow all the rules and be good enough for God. And yet their efforts were as futile as my daughter’s attempts to stay on the nice list. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t help but occasionally revert back to her 4-year-old ways. Trying to be “good enough” is simply…exhausting. And Jesus isn’t beckoning those perfect people, because they don’t exist. Instead, He is inviting those of us who are honest enough to admit that as hard as we try…we will simply never quite measure up. He wants the screw ups and the misfits. The ones who are just not quite good enough.

But, what I love most about this invitation is that I don’t believe it only applies to those who are exhausted spiritually. I think it applies to any of us who are weary. The single moms who are physically exhausted from working extra shifts to provide for their children. To the brand-new mom who wonders if she’ll ever sleep again. He invites those who are mentally weary – the student athletes who are studying for finals, hoping to make the grade to keep themselves eligible. He invites those who are emotionally exhausted from preparing to be around relatives who never seem to get along. Or to those who are experiencing a very different kind of Christmas after the loss of a loved one. And tonight, I find Him whispering an invitation to me, a simple mom who feels burdened to give her family the very best Christmas.

Spurgeon writes, “laborers and loaded ones constitute the great mass of mankind—and the Lord Jesus invites them all without exception—high or low, learned or illiterate, moral or depraved, old or young”. Do you see that no one is excluded?

Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you REST.” During this busy, stressful season, there could be no greater gift than that of rest. Rest that penetrates to the deepest level of our being. A rest that brings peace. A peace that requires us to do absolutely nothing but accept His gentle invitation.

Are you, like me, overwhelmed, burdened or just tired? Your Savior is beckoning you to come into His arms where the yoke is easy and the burden is light. May we remember that the very first Christmas was a quiet one and very few stopped long enough to even recognize that it had arrived. Tonight, I will remember what Christmas is really all about and silence all the things coaxing my attention from the true Prince of Peace.

it starts today

Yesterday I lied to my husband. Maybe that’s normal for you, but we typically don’t make a practice of being dishonest in our marriage. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The other day I was scrolling through Amazon, Christmas shopping for my little girls. Listed right under “previously viewed items” was a beautiful, expensive, white, shiny microphone. My heart skipped a beat and I swallowed hard. I could almost feel the smooth, cold metal in my hand. Before I could even take a second look, I closed the ap. Call it coincidence or perhaps my husband’s lack of creative hiding spots, but I have a terrible habit of accidentally discovering my husband’s gifts for me. He’d obviously been searching for a microphone for me. He’s been listening to me mull over an idea the past year – a podcast just for coach’s wives. Ever the thoughtful, encouraging husband he is, he was probably going to gift it for me for Christmas.

But, you know what I did?

I called him yesterday and nonchalantly said, “Oh hey, let’s maybe not buy each other anything for Christmas. I would kind of rather spend our money on the girls.”

The truth is, I don’t care about spending money on each other. I love receiving his gifts. The real reason I couldn’t possibly receive that microphone is that I am scared to death of it. What if not one coach’s wife agreed to be on my podcast? What if no one listened to the podcast? Or even worse…what if that gorgeous microphone simply sat in its box for years, a horrible $220 reminder of a dream unfulfilled; a dream I’ll get to this summer…or next fall…or when the girls start school.

If you’re knowledgeable about the enneagram, you may have guessed I’m a #3, “The Achiever” – valuing myself only for my list of successes or accomplishments, with a deep fear of failure and feeling worthless. I’m scared of my dreams, because I am scared of failing at them. But, even more than that, I’m scared of never even attempting to try to make my dreams a reality.

But, that stops today.

Over thanksgiving break my Dad pulled me aside and told me, “You have to write Jeni. You have a gift.” And my eye sockets turned into waterfalls.

“I want to Dad, but I just can’t find the time. I’m up at 5 to work out, I’m taking care of babies all day and after I put them to bed, I fall on the couch exhausted, with not one working brain cell left in my head.”

A slow smile broke onto his face and he said, “Just five minutes – five minutes every day. In fact you don’t have to write the book or the blog you want to. Just write ABOUT writing. You’ll figure it out.”

So today, I opened to a fresh page in my notebook and wrote down two thoughts. Maybe they’ll turn into blog posts or maybe not. But today, my dreams stop living in my head. Today, I’m telling you about them. Today, my husband is going to read about the microphone I found out he wants to get me.

Today, let’s take step one on the path to our dreams. Don’t let your dream live only in your mind until you’re “serious” or until the “time is right”. Tell someone today. Fear comes from the enemy. The Word tells us in 1 Timothy 1:7, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power”.

And, with the Lord’s help I will write that blog and that book, maybe with a baby bouncing on my knee closing my laptop every five seconds like this morning. I will figure out how to be a completely PRESENT mother while pursuing my dreams, even if its baby steps. I will write that blog. I will write that novel. I will start that podcast. I will gear my photography business towards stylized sports photos.

So there I said it. And now you all know. And you’ll know if I fail. But you’ll also know if I succeed…

Comment below and tell me what your dream is.

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a field of wonders

The sun beat down on us through a cloudless, blue sky and our boots crunched the autumn leaves as we made our way through the field. We were searching for the perfect prize – an impeccable round, shiny, orange pumpkin. We passed all the asymmetrical pumpkins, dusted off the muddy ones, and abstained from the rotten ones. I was on a mission, but mid-search you lost interest. I saw your towhead pause and you bent down; with hands on knees, you captivatingly stared at one of the vines. You were transfixed by a brilliant yellow flower. In its center were two bees, busily working away. A smile crept on my face as I watched you squeal with delight and point, yelling “Mommy a bee! What is it doing?”

Perhaps one of the greatest treasures of parenthood is viewing the world through little eyes. Through your eyes, I’ve fallen in love with God’s creation again. I’ve looked up from my iPhone long enough to notice that the crescent moon does indeed look like a banana, that springtime is filled with an abundance of fuzzy caterpillars and what I might consider a bunch of unlovely weeds are actually in disguise, a crown of flowers fit only for a backyard princess.

I’ve taught you that it was God who created everything in the beginning and yesterday, you discovered another one of His great gems. I tried to explain pollination in elementary terms that I’m positive you did not grasp. Maybe one day I will explain how our ecosystem depends on bees and what hardworking creatures they are. I will tell you how the Designer’s fingerprints can be found all over its hive, composed of hexagons, which mathematicians have proven is the best way to divide a surface by equal sections with the least total perimeter.

God created the bee with a perfect purpose in mind. He fashioned it to complete its job in just a few short weeks, producing only 1/12 teaspoon of honey. Insignificant? Never! Because, joined together, its colony flies 55,000 miles (or 2.2 times around the world), producing 60 pounds of honey! Whether it’s the stars in the heavens or the bees in their hives, whispers of the Designer echo throughout the Universe. He created with order and with purpose. And you, my daughter, have also been created with a specific purpose. You are worth far more to Him than the sparrows or the bees. He has numbered the very hairs on your head and knows all your days.

We did find our pumpkin, but we too, were reminded of our Creator and the amazing world He gave us. I promise to try and show you its beauty. And perhaps, I can learn something from the drone bees, who may seem worthless, spending all their time feeding baby bees instead of making honey. I won’t swallow the lie the world has spread, that I am just a mom. Instead I will embrace this season and my wonderful job as your mother to feed you both physically and spiritually.