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DSLR - Is it worth it?

Has anyone been stocking up on memory cards or clearing off phone space in anticipation of all the sweet pictures that you’ll be taking of your kiddos in the next coming months? 🙋

I can’t tell you guys how many times I hear from clients/family/friends “I have a ‘big’ camera, but my pictures don’t look like your’s; what am I doing wrong?” or “How do I get my photos to look more professional?” or “do I really need to spend a crazy amount of money on a camera to get better pictures?” or “what settings do you use?”

I have one answer to all of these questions…"It depends."

So, there you go. End of post, have a great week!

I kid.

But really, it does depend on so many factors. To try to shed some insight on this aspiring momtog issue, I’m going to go through these questions, and (attempt to) explain to you guys how I approach them. And at the end, I’ll show a comparison of a couple of photos to show the capabilities of a DSLR.

  1. "I have a 'big' (DSLR) camera, but my photos don’t look like your’s; what am I doing wrong?"

  2. There’s nothing that you’re doing wrong, but probably things we’re doing differently. I shoot on full manual…why? Because I’m a control freak, and I’m not about to let some machine tell me what I should do (snap! snap! eye-roll!). Every adjustment that you make in manual will change the look of your image in some way. I didn’t start in full manual though…I started in aperture priority mode. This is a semi-auto mode that allows you to control how much of your image is in focus by adjusting how much light is allowed into the camera creating a greater or more shallow depth of field --- aka ---the higher your aperature {or Fstop number}, the more will be in focus and vice versa. I’ve always wanted creamy, blurred backgrounds, so this is the aspect of the camera control I wanted to master first. If you’re currently shooting in auto, switch to aperature priority and play around. Your camera will automatically adjust to the shutter speed to accomodate the aperature that you’re set to. The lower the Fstop – the less of your scene will be in focus, creating that beautiful bur.

  3. "How do I get my pictures to look more professional?"

  4. Learn your settings, read your camera manual, and PRACTICE!!! The first year I owned a DSLR, I filled up an entire folder on my external hardrive labeled “Camera Practice.” I wanted to be able to track my progress and learn from every shot I took. You might only get 1 or 2 decent shots for every 100 you take. And that's OK...some of my most favorite shots are reallllllllyyyyy far from being technically "correct." Take pictures of your kids, your dog, your husband sitting on the couch watching sports (just make sure it's set to quiet mode :-)

  5. Pay attention to the details

  6. Do you have to shoot in sparkling clean house? No…just a non-cluttered corner. Remove the distractions, so the focus of your photo is only on the gorgeous face you’re capturing. Unless you're trying to illustrate the crazy of the mess. In that case, you just saved yourself a step.

  7. Learn the light!

  8. Turn off your flash. This is the best way for you to learn how the different settings in your camera will affect the shot. If you’re outside during the day or in a room filled with windows, you don’t need your flash (even though auto mode might try to convince you otherwise).

  9. Find a shady spot and have your kids face the direction of the light source…so if you’re outside, this would be the sun, and if you're inside, turn toward a big, bright window. My go to spot is our front porch. It’s covered, so it’s nice and shady, and there’s a blank brick wall for the background. I have the girls angle slightly toward the open light (in order to keep some soft shadows and avoid flat lighting) and snap away. It’s the scene for all of our first day of school, last day of school, and “OMG you look so cute today” shots.

  10. Also, post processing. It’s no secret that professional photographers edit. Even the best of the best of the best edit. I shoot my images in a format that has to go through post processing in order to be converted to an image file for printing, posting, or sharing. The goal is to always get it right inside the camera first, so a small tweak here or there is all that’s needed in post.

  11. "Do I really need an expensive camera?"

  12. Mayyyyybbbeee….. If you find yourself looking at your photos from your phone or point-and-shoot and saying “I wish this part wasn’t so dark” or “Why does her skin look so blue/orange/red/green” or you just want a more advanced way of documenting all of the sweet, everyday moments of your littles, a DSLR may be a great route for you. The options for DSLR cameras are endless. I started out with an entry level camera and a 50mm 1.8 lens and it was the best $500 I ever spent (says the photographer). If you want more control over the look of the photos you’re taking, then I would say the investment would be really worth it.

  13. "What settings do you use?"

  14. Nikon D750 with a 50mm1.4 – shutterspeed 200, Fstop - 2.2, and ISO - as low as humanly possible. Unless it’s more than one person, or backlit, or indoors, or a cloudy day, or a moving child, or a child sitting still, or a newborn, or a macro shot, or a full body shot. See…my settings change for literally every situation. Pretty much the only thing that’s constant is my camera body, and my 50mm lens is on my camera about 85% of the time. Here are some straight-out-of-the-camera (no post process editing has been done) shots with my settings listed.

Full auto with flash turned off. The settings the camera chose were F4, shutter 1/60, and ISO 400. The camera used a higher Fstop to keep her hair in focus, and the trim on the wall is much more evident. The lower shutter speed and higher ISO made the background just as bright as her face. This makes for flatter lighting.

Full manual F2.2, shutter 1/200, ISO 100 (and milk gunk leftover on her mouth from breakfast)– I focused on her eyes wanting everything to blur off into the background. I also told the camera to expose for her face, so the background is slightly darker. This created a natural vignette, so the light in her eyes is what pops in this photo.

Here’s one snapped with my phone, just for comparison. Everything is in focus, underexposed, and the light in her eyes isn't as bright. She's also looking a little orange.

So does it all really matter... this next shot is why I love my camera.

F2.2, shutter 1/200, ISO 1250. I’m obsessed with backlighting. The glow that it creates around the hair is one of the aspects I love capturing. If I had tried to shoot this on auto or with my phone, she would have been completely dark and the windows would have been properly exposed for (showing everyone how desperately we need to mow our yard). But I told my camera to expose for her face and ignore that the background will be blown out (way to bright).

If you’re on the fence about whether or not to invest in a DSLR, my advice is to absolutely do it if A) you want more creative control over your photos and B) you will allow yourself the time to learn the controls. It’s not an out-of-the-box answer…it takes a crazy amount of practice, patience, and constant learning (I will never stop learning or striving to improve). But being proud one of your own photos that you’ve taken yourself is so incredibly rewarding. Plus, you’ll never regret taking more photos of your family.

Do you have questions or need recommendations about gear or settings? Absolute beginner or a little more technical, I’d love to hear them and help out!

Happy snapping!!

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