Your Questions, Answered – v3.0

Before you dive into this epic blog post (6385 words according to wordpress word count…love that feature!) realize a few things: 1) I worked on it over a period of two weeks so it’s kind of all over the place.  2) I didn’t proofread it. It was too long. I know that makes some of you cringe so accept my apologies now.   3) I may still find questions in my inbox that are hidden away. I’ll add as I find them.  4) Some of the questions warranted longer answers than I gave so I’ve decided to start a new series this year called “Mama (with a camera) Mondays”.  I’ve marked the topics I’ve added to that topic list with an asterisk. If you can think of any others, feel free to email me. Look for the first episode next week! =)

I had this vision of snuggling up with my laptop and some hot chocolate while I pecked away at the latest batch of FAQ’s , the latest episode of Brothers and Sisters in the background. That all came crashing down on me five minutes ago when I realized I sent the laptop packing with Brent for the week. So here I sit at the cold, lonely computer desk determined to answer all of your burning photographry need-to-knows.

I love you guys that much.

(don’t feel too sorry for me…I have hot tea and lifesavers. And blogs when I get bored. I’m good.)

Here we go.

1. Do you shoot in RAW or if not, what style setting do you normally have your camera on? I’m a neutral/auto WB person, but love the clarity and contrast in your images. Just curious as to your typical pre-processing settings!

I don’t shoot in RAW (although I did for several months when I was still learning and really struggling with correct exposure). There are tons and tons of pros who only shoot RAW and can give you every reason why it’s hands-down better. I’m just not one of them. I got tired of having to convert the files to jpeg even when I didn’t tweak anything in the RAW files. It seemed like a useless extra step to me. I’m sure many disagree and that’s cool. As for other in-camera settings, I haven’t adjusted anything – just the plain ol’ factory settings around here.

2. I’m sure most of the questions will be more advanced, but for a beginner, where would you start? Let’s say you get a new DSLR, either Nikon or Canon. Can you pick two lenses that you can’t live without?

I’ve only ever shot Canon so I’ll stick to what I know. If I were a beginner, just starting out I would (and did) collect equipment in this order: Canon Digital Rebel (skip the kit lens and get the body only), 50mm/1.8, 85mm/1.8.  I only have prime lenses because I really only shoot portraits (and everyday life) so I don’t feel the need for a long zoom. If you are planning to shoot wildlife or sports your needs may be different. Check with your local camera store!

3. I’m researching Canon L lenses..didn’t know if you had any thoughts on them. Which, if any, do you have? What would you recommend as the one you can’t live without? Where do you buy them?

I recently added the 135mm/2.0 L to my bag. Here is my candid review: it’s great. But it doesn’t blow me away. The clarity is undeniable but I’m just not sure I considered my needs when I purchased it. I thought it would be great to add a focal length I didn’t already have but I find that for babies and toddlers I’m too far away to connect with them. It’s great for families when you want to capture intimate moments without feeling like you’re intruding, older kids and seniors, and engagement sessions. I would give my right arm (although then I guess I couldn’t actually use the lens) for the 85mm/1.2. If business is good this year I’ll be adding that to my collection next. 😉 I’ve purchased all of my equipment from Amazon and have always been happy with the service and prices.

4. My WB is always off when I am indoors. What am I doing wrong? *

It’s hard to know without seeing an example but my guess is that you’re either not setting your white balance at all (and picking up all the ambient light in the room) or you’re using a white balance preset on your camera. Presets are great for snapshots but they can really only give their best guess so they’ll never been 100% accurate. If you want the best color possible always set a custom white balance using a grey card. This question comes up a lot and I really thinks it’s one of the most important steps in getting clear, colorful photographs. It warrants it’s own post. I’ll add a post in the next week or two detailing how I do it – maybe even with a video! =)

5. How do you get your photos so crisp and in focus? I shoot in RAW and mostly in manual mode with a Rebel XTi and a 50mm 1.4 lens and lately my photos aren’t so crisp. It seems if I am closer to my subject it is better. Also, how do you get group shots in focus? Even with a larger f-stop (around f/8) everyone isn’t in focus.

The short answer is – I don’t always get my photos so crips and in focus. I just only show the ones that are. =)  But since that’s not the spirit of your question forget I mentioned that part. Here are some important tips for nailing focus and ending up with great shots: 1) CONSIDER YOUR SHUTTER SPEED. A good rule of thumb is to keep your shutter speed at least as fast as the focal length your shooting with. 50mm lenses should be shot at a shutter speed of 1/60 or faster. 85mm – 1/100 or faster. 135mm – 1/150 or faster. You get the point. If you can’t get your SS fast enough then you either need to add more light to the scene (by opening doors/windows or turning on lights) or increase your ISO.  2) BE STILL. Control handshake as you’re taking the shot. This may mean bracing yourself on a door frame or propping your elbows on a table. Spreading your legs into a tripod position will help to (forget that it looks funny…it’s all about the shot!). And lastly, hold your breath when you click the shutter. It’ll make a difference – I promise.  3) NAIL YOUR EXPOSURE. I realize this is easier said than done but if you’re having to save a poorly exposed photograph it will not end up sharp. I noticed you’re shooting RAW – any adjustments you make are going to affect the clarity of your final product so work hard to nail your exposure straight out of the camera.

As for the question about group shots, the aperture you use is going to depend on the camera and lens you have and the distance you are from your subject. The closer you are to your subject, the smaller your total depth of field (less things are going to be in focus) – EVEN WITH THE SAME APERTURE.  The further away you are from your subject, the larger your total depth of field (more things are going to be in focus). There is a very handy-dandy depth of field calculator here that explains the whole thing much better than I can. So my point is, the aperture I use for  groups really depends on how far away from them I am. I rarely photograph groups with more than 6 people. Another quick note – always focus on the person closest to you when you’re shooting groups. Your depth of field is greater behind your focus point than it is in front.

6. I’d love to see a list of what’s in your camera bag and what’s on your wish list! *

Another question that deserves it’s own post. Will take pictures and make a list for another post!

7. Also, what aperture do you like to shoot at when you’re doing a family outdoors (when you still want the blurred background, but want all faces in focus) and how far away do you typically stand? And what aperture did you use when you did my maternity shots in front of the black background–is there something you typically don’t like to go below when you only have a single subject and you are 5-8 feet away, but want their entire face in focus?

Similar question to the previous one. Let’s see if I can make up some specifics. If I were shooting a family of four with my 85mm/1.8 from about 30 feet away I would probably start at f/4.0 and see how that felt. After making those numbers up I plugged that info into the DOF calculator and came up with a depth of field of 7 1/2 feet – plenty for shooting a family of four.

As for a full-body, single subject from 5-8 feet away I’d probably hover around 2.8. Again, the number will vary depending on the lens.

8. Oh, and of what’s in your camera bag, do you have a go-to lens for most shoots? Do you typically shoot a session with more than one lens, or does it just depend on what/where the shoot is?

Outdoors – 85mm/1.8. Indoors, tight spaces – 50mm/1.4. And, yes, I usually pull out more than one lens during the session.

9. i have a random general question for anyone with a rebel – i bought mine off craigslist and it didn’t come with a manual…could someone please scan the pages that tell you how to actually CHANGE your settings and send them to me?

I believe you can download a manual from Canon’s website. Good luck!

10. After doing a shoot, what is your work process?

  • copy files from card to computer
  • copy files from computer to external hard drive
  • open files 5-10 at a time in photoshop
  • edit good images, close undesirables
  • create a new “proofs” folder to save finished versions – color and b/w
  • when editing is finished, copy proofs folder to hard drive
  • order proof book for client

(that may not have been what you were asking…sorry!)

11. How do you organize your pictures?

My personal images are all uploaded to my computer in month files. At the end of the year each of those files go into a larger file for the year. Client images are dumped into a file named after them. Within that larger file I create a “proof” file (see above) for final images.

12. What kind of desktop and laptop do you use?

Right now I have an HP Pavillion Desktop and a teeny, tiny monitor – don’t even know the make but they are over three years old. Sitting in the corner of my dining room are three purty boxes filled with my new super-fast Dell hard drive (DUDE, you got a DELL!), big ol’ hangin’ (that’s how they marketed it at least) monitor, and fancy shmancy wireless printer (again, just quoting the marketing peeps).  Now if I can just find the time and the get-up-and-go to unpack those bad boys. =) I also have an HP widescreen laptop but it’s with Brent (insert wistful sight) so I can’t look up the model right now. Sorry!

13. What equipment could you not live without?

My 5d, 50mm/1.4, 85mm/1.8, and my grey card.

14. tagging on to Tammy’s question… how do you get your images so very crisp? is it something you do in camera, pp, or both? it amazes me every.single.time i look at your blog!

In order of importance (for me at least): proper exposure, accurate white balance, photoshop with a light hand, sharpening (to include sharpening for web – that makes a big difference in how you’re seeing my images).

15. that darn “m” word. have you thought more about mentoring, or have you been mentoring? would you like a fun menteee, lol?

ACK! I KNOW! I KNOW! (or should I say, “I OWE! I OWE!”) I seriously do owe it to you guys. Everything I know has been learned from others (for free!) and I really want to pay it forward. I hope things like the FAQs help but I know there are those who really want one-on-one. Here is what I know: this will probably be the year. It will be free. It will involve as many people as possible. Key words: as possible.

16. do you change lenses during your shoots? I know you love your 85 mm, but do you use that throughout an entire shoot or switch to the 50 mm now and then? Do you ever use zoom lenses or prefer fixed focal lengths?

I do changes lenses during sessions but minimally. If I’m shooting one subject I’ll usually stick with the same lens. If I’m doing the family at the end I’ll switch to something wider for those shots. If I’m photographing a newborn I’ll pull out my macro for some bits and pieces shots (although I rarely pull those off well). I don’t own any zooms although I’ve toyed with the idea of trying out the 28-70 mm L. We’ll see. Right now I’m a prime girl. Some people don’t like having to “zoom” with your body rather than the lens but I like the work out. 😉

17. We have a new baby and I’d love to capture some naked baby pics, all by herself on our king sized bed. Any suggestions??

For newborns the general rule of thumb is to do these kinds of shots when they’re under two weeks old. After that time they tend to lose their bendiness and their natural ability to sleep any and everywhere. There are certainly exceptions so definitely give it a try even if your little one is older by now. Photographing newborns is a balancing act for sure, especially when you’re the mommy AND the photographer (which is why my photos of my own newborns are less than desirable). A few tips – make sure the little one is well fed before the session, keep the room WARM and pre-warm the spot you’ll be placing him/her with a heating pad, have the baby stripped down and wrapped in a blanket while you’re feeding – then let him/her fall asleep and remove the blanket once you’ve positioned him/her on the nice warm cozy bed. OH and don’t forget white noise…get a rain machine, a humidifier or a fan and crank that baby before you even start any of this. Good luck!

18. Also, I want to line our four children, on their backs on our bed and do feet shots–again, any suggestions?

Hmmm…I haven’t done this shot before but if I were going to try it I would 1) bribe the heck out of your older kids 2) turn on a movie in your bedroom and make sure they can see it from where you’re shooting – so they’re still 3) use all the same tips from above for your newborn or youngest child  4) make sure everyone’s feet are clean. =)

19. Your photos are “da bomb.” I love the crispness and how the subjects are so sharp, yet background blurry–how do you get that? I have a Canon DSLR.*

Wide aperture, fast shutter speed, willing subjects, and candy. (This question came up a bunch so I’ll give it it’s own post. Okay, the “da bomb” part didn’t actually come up a lot but it was nice to hear!)

20. When you go on a shoot, what kind of questions do you ask the parents beforehand? And do you have a mental “checklist” of pictures you want to take, or just go with the flow?

Believe it or not I rarely go into a session with a checklist. Newborns are probably the only exception to that…I have a good idea of the poses I want to try with them. I have a general flow of posing for babies that varies depending on the age but the older the child is the less I find I can “pose” them. For toddlers (which I think I’ve decided are my favorite) I tend to just follow them around and play with them while I shoot. Having said that, during the presession consult I do always ask parents this question: “if there’s one shot you want to make sure we get, what is it?”. That will usually give me a good idea of my must-have shots.

21. I was also wondering if you calibrate your monitor…if so, what do you use?

Okay, so I’m embarassed to tell the blogosphere this but my monitor has only been monitored by my eye matching my screen to lab prints. Up until now that’s worked find but lately I’ve noticed a deviation between my screen and my prints. That combined with the fact that as I type Brent is in the kitchen hooking up my new computer and big ol’ hanging monitor (can you tell this FAQ has taken me a while…he’s already back from his week away!) has led me to purchase, just today in fact, this callibration system which my lab recommends.

22. 1. Do you take your camera with you everywhere you go?

No. There are many times when I just want to be a mom and enjoy the moment for what it is. I’ll admit though that those are usually the times that I end up kicking myself for not bringing my camera.

23. How many weekends per month do you schedule photoshoots?

Four sessions per month, spread out over two weekends with a weekday evening thrown in here and there during the summer.

24. Do you do photoshoots on the side for the extra money or just because you love it?

Both. For sure.

25. For those outdoor baby/toddler shots, do you literally lay on the ground with your camera to get that perfect shot?

You know it! I am not afraid to splay myself out in the middle of a road for a good shot. Ask my clients! 😉

26. Which brand is your camera bag and do you recommend it?

Here’s the exact bag I have…and yes, I love it. I absolutely cannot fit another lens in it though so I think I’m going to have to start looking for something bigger. Perhaps even (gasp) a rolling bag.

27. Do you shoot in manual 100% of the time (either home or business)?

99.9% of the time, yes. I think I can remember 2 or 3 times last year that I switched to aV mode because I didn’t want to miss the moment – meeting Cinderella, picking Samantha and Caroline up from the airport and when Sarah met Ephraim for the first time (okay, that was 14 months ago – yikes!).

28. Do you use natural lighting for your pictures?


29. What edition of Adobe Photo Shop do you use?


30. What is the most helpful photography website for information/instruction that you know of?

For beginners I would suggest twopeasinabucket’s photography board. For all it’s drama it’s still a great place to learn with lots of good people willing to help and share those who are just starting out. For intermediate learners and those not easily intimidated I would suggest It has a free side with lots of good info as well a couple of paid sides for more in-depth business and advanced photography learning and sharing.

31. What are some of your photography goals?

Artistically – to get better all the time. Financially – to finance an addition to our house sometime in the next five years.

32. What do you think has made you successful in photography?


I like the question about what you think has made you successful. I am just starting out “technically” as a business and I know it’s slow after Christmas, but was wondering if there is anything you did to build your business, or was it all just word of mouth?*

Hmmm…I’m not sure I would say I’m successful! I’m working hard and learning and enjoying what I’m doing. If that counts as success then I would say it’s come from lots and lots of time learning, asking questions, reading tutorials and trying things out. On the business side I think it’s a lot of those same things combined with a husband who helps out a ton, a group of blog readers who have passed my information along and fast, personal attention to each and every one of my clients. I’ll answer the rest in a separate post!

33. What do you look for in shooting locations? What are some things you avoid?*

I have lots to say about this so stay tuned!

34. I’ve got the 50mm 1.4 but find it to be difficult with getting the right frame. It takes great pics but my space??? seems small. How do I navigate this lens the best?

I’m not totally sure what you’re asking here but I’ll give it my best try! I really like this lens for indoor day-in-the-life shooting and full body portraits – from a distance. Because it’s a wider lens it causes distortion when used too close to your subject – giving the appearance of larger noses/feet/foreheads than in real life.

35. Prints. where do you get good quality prints? At good reasonable prices?

For a non pro – They’re a great lab and provide a professional product to non-pro consumers. Their ordering process if a bit laborious so for my family snapshots I print with Shutterfly.

36. Editing. I feel like I can’t get my editing to come out good on prints, to dark.

It sounds like you need to adjust your monitor. While calibration is important (particularly for pros – see above) you can get good results from just adjusting your monitor manually. Choose a lab that you’re going to print with every time and get a set of prints ordered. Hold a print up to your monitor and make adjustments using the buttons on your monitor until what you see on your screen matches what you see in your print.

37. Do you use manual or auto focus? If manual, any tricks to keep moving subjects soo sharp?

Auto focus, all the time.

38. Do you use the continuous shooting mode at all? If so when do you find it most helpful?

Nope. I can certainly see how it would be helpful, particularly with toddlers, but I’m in a good groove with switching focus points and I’m happy with my results right now so I’m sticking with it.

39. My question is regarding the business side of photography… how did you get started (as far as the legal side goes), copyrighting, logo (did you make your own), basically any tips for covering all the bases?

I’ll admit here that my husband did a large majority of the legal shmegal stuff regarding our business. One thing that really helped us (read:him) is a series of books by NOLO aimed directly at small businesses. See a list here.

40.  In your recent newborn shoot on the photo blog, how did you do the black background? Is that something you carry with you to your shoots? Do you also use a black blanket?

 A couple of years ago my sweet friend Amy bought me a portable backdrop and stand. I don’t use that stand very often but I carry that backdrop with me to every newborn session. It’s basically a really, really, really big piece of black muslin.

41. However, How were able to keep your previous banners posted on the side of your blog?

 I posted the banners in a typepad photo album (I use typepad for my photo-a-day blog so I get unlimited albums there) and then posted the link in the sidebar. I haven’t transferred that over to this blog. Should I?

42. Which company did you use to host your photography website? Do you like it? Tell me about the process you went through to create it?

My site is a very simple, inexpensive template from Winklet. I do like it very much because it’s clean, simple, and no frills which I feel lends itself well to my style. It was relatively easy to set up and Winklet gives a good document to get you started.

43. Could you please tell me about using high ISO’s on your 5D? I’m currently using a 20d, and I have the itch to get something that will be better with high ISOs. I’m not sure that the new 5D is the right fit for me, and I’d like to know more about the old 5d.

With my 5d I’m completely comfortable shooting at 800 or 1000 on a client session. For my own snapshots I regularly shoot at 1600 in the evening and am happy with the results although I would hesitate to go that high with my professional work. I bought the 5d for it’s handling of noise and I’ve been pleased with it. I’ve actually been wondering lately if that aspect has been deteriorating as the camera has aged (I’ve had it about two years) but I could be totally making that up. I’ve seen photographers taking images with the new 5d at INSANELY high ISO’s…28500…or something crazy like that. So I’d say the new 5d is even better than this one at handling low light conditions.

44. I have a 5D and and have the 50mm 1.8 cheapo lens, which actually does a fine job. I am in the market to find a better lens. Suggestions? I only shoot my 2 wild, always-running/jumping/talking children (same ages as yours). I am thinking the 24-70, or would you recommend the 70-200? I think I like the idea of a zoom vs fixed, thoughts?

I would say go for the 50mm/1.4 if you’re planning to shoot a lot indoors. If you want something with a zoom then I would lean toward the 24-70 but keep in mind that the widest aperture that lens has is 2.8 which will limit you in low light conditions (compared to the fast 1.4). Good luck!

45. Do you ever use filters?

No. But I probably should. It hasn’t bit me yet but one day it probably will.

46. It often seems that when I take pictures of my kids their eyes end up dark and shadowed, even when I think I have good light. Do you use a reflector, or can you give any tips you could give for preventing this?*


How do you get good indoor and night lighting?*

It sounds to me like you’re not actually getting light in their eyes. I’d like to follow up on this in a post about what “good light” really is so stay tuned. In the meantime try to make sure that if you’re shooting outdoors you’re in the shade with your subject FACING the light – where the shade meets full sun. Indoors always make sure your subject is facing the light source. I’m excited to tackle this subject further so thanks for bringing it up!

47. I’d like to know if you use Lightroom at all and what you think of it.

I’ve bought it and the box is sitting right next to my computer…does that count?

48. Do you use only your in-camera meter or do you use a handheld meter? I have a Sekonic that I purchased about a year ago and used once, but find it difficult to whip it out when I’m chasing moving subjects around!!

I use my in-camera meter to meter for my subject’s skin. I have read many raving reviews about handheld meters and how you should never, ever shoot without one but I just haven’t found myself missing one. I agree that it would be tough with a fast toddler!

49. How do you get such great eye contact? It’s such a struggle for me, especially with my two year old.*


Would love more tips on working with kids (toddlers). What funny things do you say, any new treat ideas? What about kids in the 8-10 range? What’s your trick with them?*

This is a subject I love because I really feel one of my strengths is the connection I feel with the little people I photograph. I’ll answer this in more depth down the road but for now here are a few tips that work for me. Babies…get the room completely quiet for several seconds and then bark, whistle, or shhhhh. The silence first is important. And sometimes just the complete silence will do the trick b/c the baby will often look up like, “what’s going on…why did it get so quiet?”. For toddlers (like your two year old) one of my favorite tricks is this, “whatever you do, DON’T look at me” or “whatever you do, DON’T smile.” They can never, ever resist. Ever.

50. I’ve got the list of books you recommend. Do you have any other suggestions for improving my skill? Any other classes or things that you found really helped you? I find myself really frustrated sometimes at my lack of progress!!,, google (seriously! anything you want to know…google it!), Wendy Schulz (I haven’t taken her workshop but she was my mentor before she started her online classes), lots and lots and lots of shooting.

51. I just thought of another question. We are taking our 18 month old to Disney next month. What lens did you use while there? I’d prefer to only take one into the park but can’t decide…28mm, 50mm, or 85mm?

Hmmm…I think it’s a toss up between the 50 and 85. I think I’d go with the 50. It’s smaller and will give you wider shots.

52. Have you ever had a session that you thought came out awesome, then the client ordered nothing??

No. Almost, but no. =)

53. Are you a morning person or night owl…and what time do your kids wake up in the morning?

Kind of neither. Or both. Who knows. My kids get up anywhere between 6 and 7:30 (usually 6:30) and on the mornings we get out for a run first thing in the morning I totally feel like a morning person. I am pretty chipper in the morning but I don’t get a ton done during that time. I used to go to bed at 10 but since the business has been in my life I’ve pushed it to 11:00. I really need 7 hours of sleep and do even better with 8. I don’t sacrifice sleep for anything. Well, newborn babies – but that’s not by choice. 😉

54. How do you handle your regular family pictures (just the daily snapshots)? Do you save them in a folder, say, by month, then get them printed every so often? If so, where do you put them once you print them (photo albums, photo box, etc.)?

I’m pretty bad about this but I could be worse. I always mean to upload to Shutterfly and print every month but it’s actually more like every four months. I do save files in my computer according to months so it’s pretty easy to figure out what to order when it’s time. I used to scrapbook all my pictures. Now (if I get it done at all) I scrapbook just a few of them and put the rest in albums. And I only print my faves. I find solace in the fact that I keep up with this blog and create blog books at the end of the year that contain so many memories. I also plan to have a coffee table book made of my photos-a-day from 2007 and 2008.

55. My question is about metering. You mentioned in your last FAQ that you meter off of your hand most of the time…Are there any other tricks you use to meter? Like when shooting a group with more that one person (that may have different skin tones), what do you do then?

I do meter off my hand but then I pull my hand away and take a few test shots. I chimp with the histogram pulled up in my review screen making sure I’m not blowing any highlights (unless it’s sky or something I don’t mind blowing – never any part of the subject). When you’re shooting a large group of people with different skin tones I think you’ll have to realize that you’re probably going to need to do some adjusting after the fact. Push the exposure while being mindful of not blowing the lighter of your subjects.

56. I am interested in starting to learn more about editing photos using Photoshop. I would probably have to buy Elements as the CS3 is out of my budget! Even with Elements, though, I feel a bit overwhelmed with all of the choices, options, etc. Did you have any help, books, tools, etc. that helped you learn how to use Photoshop effectively? Or did you just explore & teach yourself? Any suggestions, ideas, etc. are GREATLY appreciated!!!!

Scott Kelby has a series of fabulous books for photographers getting started with photoshop. He puts one out for each version of photoshop and elements so just check Amazon. I started with his book about Elements 4 (several years ago) and that gave me a taste. Then I just learned on forums and googled whenever I wanted to try something. I picked up tips here and there and just tried everything until I found a mix of things that worked for me. Deconstructing actions other people have created is also a really good way of learning different things about the program.

57. Could you direct me to the post where you told how you made the black and white collage that hangs in your dining room?

I’m not sure I ever posted about it but I just opened a square photoshop documented sized to the canvas size I wanted (36×36), then I cropped nine 9×9 images and dragged them into that document and arranged them where I wanted.

58. I would LOVE some “advanced” focusing tips. I know the generally ones (keep camera steady, fast shutter speed, enough light, tripod, etc.). I flip my focus areas all around depending on the situation, and would love some tips that you use when focusing in on a portrait. Especially group shots.*

This question came up a lot so I’ll devote a separate post to it. It sounds like you’ve got a good foundation already. What I would add to your list would be to listen for the beep as your camera locks focus and then follow through with the completion of the shutter as quickly as possible after that. Once you hear that beep and your camera locks focus any movement you or subject make after that and before you complete the shot will move your subject out of the range of focus. For group shots be sure your aperture is acceptable to give you the depth of field you need for the depth of your group and then focus on the person nearest the front of the group. Things fall out of focus faster in the front of the focus point than behind it so you’ll have a bit more wiggle room if you focus on the person nearest you.

59. Do you ever use an assistant? If so, what do they do for you?

I used an assistant for minisessions last year and it was GREAT. I was juggling six families in a three hour time period so it really helped to have someone deal with paperwork, logisitics and just general “get this, get that” kinds of things. In an ideal world I would use an assistant for placing and packaging orders and paperwork-y kinds of things but I don’t see that happening on my budget. 🙂

60. Post processing – can you give a general workflow (for a good shot – I know poor shots require extra attention)? I know you don’t shoot in RAW (is that still true), so what do you do (in general) to complete your images? Specifically in the “unsharp mask” category. I play around with that a ton, and just haven’t found my “go to” settings for that yet.*

I’d love to take you guys step by step as I edit a typical image so if you’re willing to wait I’ll add it to my list of additional posts. As for the USM question I have to admit that I’ve been a very poor sharpener. I’ve used standard settings for all my images (125/1/3) even though I know each image needs it’s own sharpening depending on how the image looks. Sharpening has always been a thorn in my side. BUT I’ve given high pass sharpening a try and I think I may be a convert. I need to print a few images before I make my final decision but on the screen at least I think I’m liking it better.

61. can you let me know how you made your new watermark? Specifically the long rectangular area that goes across the picture, behind your name. I’m pretty advance when it comes to PS, but I cannot for the life of me figure out how to make that lightened area over the picture.

There are a billion ways to do any one thing in PS so there may be an easier way to do this but here’s how it works for me: First, I created a new document that was the same width as my finished files sharpened and prepared for the web (500 pixels). Make sure that document is transparent.  Then create a new layer (leaving the background layer transparent) and use your rectangular marquee tool to create a rectangle across your document – whatever height you wish. Fill that rectangle with white and then adjust the opacity of that layer down according to how transparent you want it to be. Now open the file with your logo in it and drag your logo on top of this layer. Save this unflattened PSD and name it “watermark” or whatever. Then whenever you prepare an image for the web you’ll also open this “watermark” document and just drag all the layers over on top of your image.

62. I know you like to hover around 2.0 indoors and 2.8 outdoors. What is your other setting at? Do you zero out your meter, or do you have a go to setting?

This is an impossible question to answer because the other settings – shutter speed and iso – will depend based on the lighting situation. I always try to keep my shutter speed faster than 1/125 when shooting little ones so I’ll adjust my ISO if that’s not possible. Keep in mind that aperture, shutter speed and iso create a triangle – each depend on each other – and each depend on the lighting situation you’re shooting in.

That’s it for now…I’m sure I’ll be back later to add on! Enjoy!



KimJanuary 19, 2009 - 9:37 am

Awesome! Thank you so much for this post. I’m a long time lurker, first time commenter. If you do decide to mentor as many as possible this year, I hope to be apart of that keyword “as possible”.

AmyJanuary 19, 2009 - 9:47 am

Something to add to #44 (since you–Erin–dont’ shoot with a zoom, but you should try mine out when you’re here next month!). . . I, too, started with the 50mm/1.8 (I only have a Rebel XTi, though). I got the Tamron 28-75mm/2.8 (it’s around $300, which is ~25% of the cost of Canon’s comparable zoom) and it’s GREAT for shooting my toddler in just about every circumstance. Indoors, I stay at the lower end of the focal length, but I love being able to zoom as he runs around or as we’re outside. I’d love to add a 70-200 zoom to my collection, but it’s much lower on my list because I know it would be much tougher to use indoors. 2.8 as the lowest aperture is a bit limiting (especially when we’re inside on cloudy days) but overall I’ve been VERY HAPPY with that lens.

Erin, thanks for this epic undertaking! I love that you love to share your talent/gift with others. We really appreciate it!

BerniceJanuary 19, 2009 - 10:50 am

WOW – Erin, thanks so much for taking the time (and I know it was a LOT of time!) to answer all those questions. So helpful and encouraging!! I think I am most excited about the prospect of the free mentoring- yippeeeeeee!!!!

NatalieJanuary 19, 2009 - 11:05 am

Thank you soo much!! I can’t wait for “Mama (with a camera) Mondays”!! =)

TracyJanuary 19, 2009 - 12:11 pm

Erin-thanks so much for taking the time to do this. I can’t wait for Mama with a camera Mondays! Very excited about possibility of on you mentoring. Love your work and your blog!

SonjaJanuary 19, 2009 - 12:23 pm

Hi Erin,
I’ve only posted on your blog a couple of times. But I love love looooove it! I discovered it through other photography blogs and fell in love with your images, and your adorable kiddos. So now I’ve been addicted for quite a long time hehe. And although I was originally interested in the photography (I’m only 20 yr old student) I enjoy reading your everyday family life, Mama Mondays and everything you post about. So thanks for such a fun blog, and an amazing post!!!! :o)

MeganJanuary 19, 2009 - 12:33 pm

Thanks, Erin, I know that took a lot of time for you. I appreciate the information as I am sure everyone does. I am interested, if you try out Amy’s lens, what you think of it. I just got it myself and love it with the kiddos.

MyraJanuary 19, 2009 - 2:04 pm

Thanks Erin for taking the time to answer all of the questions! It is all so helpful and inspiring! 🙂

MollyJanuary 19, 2009 - 2:13 pm

Thank you SO much, Erin! I so appreciate the time you put into answering all these questions. So many of them are things I’ve been trying to figure out and your input is awesome.
I *love* your style and your work. You are so inspiring!

ShawnaJanuary 19, 2009 - 2:14 pm

Thank you for taking the time to put this together!! The details and descriptions are so very helpful!

ReneeJanuary 19, 2009 - 3:20 pm

{sigh} Oh, Erin. You rock.
Thanks for finding the time amid your busy days to compile this– SO helpful!

LaceyJanuary 19, 2009 - 7:33 pm

WOW! Creating that massive FAQ post & sparing no details is EXTREMELY generous of you! I’m self-teaching in photography & spending a lot of time researching, shooting, and, unfortunately, learning from my “misses.” It’s so cool to know that you learned so much from others (and “all for free”). I know you’ve invested countless hours in honing your skills and it shows!!! Keep up the great work and may all your good karma be returned ten-fold! THANKS, ERIN!!!

AmyJanuary 19, 2009 - 8:38 pm

Need I say it again? You are AMAZING!

britJanuary 19, 2009 - 8:56 pm

thank you, thank you, thank you!

MarthaJanuary 19, 2009 - 9:43 pm

Wow. Love all the information you gave. Thank you for sharing and giving forward – that’s so awesome of you. I was thinking of getting the 70-200 but now I’m wondering. I’m new at figuring out the aperture/SS combo. I’m guessing the reason you want a higher aperture (1.4 – 5.0)? is for the blurriness background? I’m confused at knowing when to use what aperture with what SS. I’m sure this would be another undertaking in itself to help us newbies understand when to use what.
However, I wanted to say thank you again for all the work you’ve put into your Q&A’s. We all appreciate your help.

BELLEJanuary 19, 2009 - 11:54 pm

Erin, Thanks for being so generous with your time and knowledge! I’m sure most of your readers (esp. me!) would love to be even as half as artistic and lovely as you when it comes to photography and its accoutrements. I’ve learnt heaps, and really appreciate it.

JennyJanuary 20, 2009 - 11:20 am

Erin, I’m so excited to see more photography information up (and more to come weekly)!! WOO HOO!! I can never get enough and love reading about techniques and business! If you have time, will you also do a post on blog hosting and websites? I’m not sure what to do for the next step of getting a small business underway. I already have a blog. If I set up a website with galleries and a shopping cart, is that all I really need?? So overwhelmed with the world of websites and possibly changing my blog hosting as well. Thanks again!!!!


JanelleJanuary 20, 2009 - 11:37 am

Do you really have two kids?! YOU ARE ONE BUSY GIRL! Nice work on getting these all answered! Boy do I have tons of respect for you and what you are able to accomplish with a family too. Very impressive! Sorry we missed Brent last week. Can’t wait to see you in a few months. No baby A just yet. 🙂

AnneJanuary 20, 2009 - 7:28 pm

Wow, my head is spinning! You are one great source of information. As you are choosing who might be good candidates for mentoring please remember one thing – I show my appreciation with baked goods! 🙂

KimJanuary 20, 2009 - 9:36 pm

Wow Erin, you ROCK!!! Seriously. Thanks so much for taking your time to put this all together for us!

WendyJanuary 24, 2009 - 8:15 pm

Thanks for the linky love, as always Erin. You are the best!


KatherineJanuary 27, 2009 - 12:07 am

I’m so proud of myself that I understand approximately 60% of this! I’ve made progress!

Lindsay ErnstJanuary 29, 2009 - 1:43 pm

What a fabulous post, thanks so much for your information!! Is there any way we could get on a waiting list for your “possible” mentoring this year?? I would love to be a part of it! Thanks for sharing!!

NickiFebruary 9, 2009 - 11:13 am

Thank you so much for this post! It was packed full of wonderful information. It is so refreshing to see a talented photographer be so giving of herself. So many photographers out there are so protective of their techniques and such. Thank you for sharing. I bought a grey card upon your recommendation and I can’t wait to see the post on how to use it!

Amy SFebruary 19, 2009 - 6:20 pm

Erin – thank you SOOO much for all of this amazing info! It really is such a huge help for those of us just starting out with photography. Just have to say too that I *LOVE* your photos – they are just beautiful, and your subjects are pretty darn cute too 🙂 Thanks!

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DanielleJune 19, 2009 - 3:46 pm

I love reading through your FAQ – I have learned SO much since stumbling upon your blog! I have a quick question – with all the talk of lenses I really would like to get the 50mm 1.4 (currently have the 1.8) but I wonder do you recommend upgrading the lens first or the camera (I have the XTi and am thinking of a 50D) – I just can’t decide if I should save for the camera first or try out the lens first…

evaJuly 14, 2009 - 11:18 am

I know this question has been asked several times already: about mentoring, but I’m going to ask it again. Can I be one of your peeps? I have such a strong desire for knowledge in the photography field… as much as I can possibly absorb. Thanks so much.

evaJuly 14, 2009 - 11:24 am

Two more quick questions… I have not seen these on here yet. Do you print your photos as they are {edited for your blog} or do you have a set you print and a set for your blog.. can you tell me the difference between the two? Also, where do you print your photos?

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