Thursday, December 26, 2013

White Christmas

I forced my family out in the cold on Christmas Eve to get some photos before it got too dark.  They aren't exactly creative poses, but I love a snowy backdrop...and it would've been a crime to not capture Ashford's stylish outfit!  
If only I'd thought to move the hose.  I hope you all had a great Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Take better photos of your kids this Christmas

The other night I found myself feverishly snapping pics of Ashford during a totally abnormal bout of adorable smiling and calm play with the Christmas tree.  These are the kind of photos that make my mommy brain and my photographer brain get drunk together and then die of happiness.  
As I was reviewing these photos, I thought to myself...I want everyone to have photos like this!  So, I thought I'd share some tips with everyone for taking better photos of your kids this Christmas.  

1. Most important.  Use an actual camera, not your phone!  Check your camera manual to see how you can get the best low-light images.  It's worth it.  I have a full frame DSLR that makes it easier to take great shots, and I also shot all the 'white jammie' photos in raw, then used ACR and Photoshop Elements to reduce grain, adjust exposure, white balance, and brighten his face and eyes.  These tricks certainly make for great images, but even a point and shoot can produce prettier photos with some preparation.
2. Turn off your flash!  It is unflattering, creates shadows, and takes all the soft light away from your subject.  It also eliminates the beautiful light halos of your tree lights.  Hold yourself steady, use a tripod, or set the camera on a table to reduce camera shake and blur.  I took these pics with an outdated point and shoot (Canon Powershot SD1200) that is terrible in low light.  I had all the lamps in the room on, and also a three-light floor lamp pointed at the tree.  Flash photo on the left, no flash on the right. 
Obviously, this is a dumb photo of my kid watching TV - but it shows the difference between the flash and no flash rather dramatically.  Which looks nicer to you?  Would you even be able to tell that it was 9am in the flash photo?  I didn't edit any of these, but in the no flash pic I would remove the color cast from his face in Photoshop and do some other tweaks. 
Of course photos without a flash will be softer and grainy, but I don't mind that when the trade off is the pretty tree lights and feeling that you are seeing the scene, not a flash.  This one was taken using my Rebel XSi, and I will definitely be deleting the flash photo, however I love the other one!   I will probably mess around with the white balance though.  
3.  Speaking of white balance, without a flash you will want to compensate for indoor lighting, so your images don't come out all orange.  The proper white balance setting on your camera is most likely 'incandescent' or 'tungsten' unless you use all reveal bulbs or those super-white CFLs.  I find that auto white balance hardly ever gets it right indoors.
4. If you have white lights on your tree, face your kiddo towards it to capture the light on their faces.  (If you have colored lights you can still do this, but their face may get the color cast from the lights) 
5. If you want the tree behind them, make sure there is a bright lamp or some lighting on their faces, or your camera will expose for the background and leave their faces dark.  Directional floor lamps are great for this!  Just watch out for overhead lights, which make ugly shadows on faces.  Or, you can have fun with silhouettes against the lit tree. 
6. If you want a blurry tree in the background, bring the subject farther away from the tree to blur the lights.  It's best to have a camera with manual control, so you can open up your aperture and really blur that background.  Here are some 'twinkle light' photos I took of Ash for our Christmas card, and the settings I used to get that beautiful bokeh. All photos were taken with my 28mm f/1.8 lens which is my very favorite lens!    
ISO 200 SS 1/320 f/2 
ISO 320 SS 1/320 f/2 
ISO 640 SS 1/400 f/2.5 
For this setup, I had two continuous lights set up behind me to my left and right, and natural light was coming in from the window directly behind me for the first two, the others were at night.  In this shot of all of us, you can see how the (white cord!) lights were pinned over a white sheet on my backdrop.  You can also see a bit of the bulb to the right.  
And after I got this into photoshop, the result was a fabulous family photo.  Since it was a group shot, I had to close up my aperture a bit to make sure we all stayed in focus, the camera/tripod was quite close to the lights are a little more visible than I'd like. I also could've cloned in more lights, but I was lazy.  Overall, I'm very happy with my first attempt at twinkle light photos!   
ISO 500 SS 1/400 f/3.2 
Another shot of the setup, where you can see I had a large reflector on the bed.  Not sure how much it helped to bounce light, but I'm sure it was better than nothing. 
7. Get down to kid level to get the best composition.  I laid on the ground and used my elbows as a 'tripod' for these!  (You can see from the settings that I really had my ISO cranked, shutter speed slow, and aperture wide open to compensate for it being night time and no flash.)
ISO 8000 SS 1/80 f/2.2 
ISO 6400 SS 1/80 f/1.8
8.  Try creative poses: kids under the tree, peeking from behind, or standing looking at it while you take the photos from below. ISO 6400 SS 1/80 f/2.2
Through the tree is cute, too!  You really need a camera that allows you to choose your focus point.  If I'd used my powershot on this one, it would've most definitely focused on the ornament, or my hand, rather than his eye.   
ISO 6400 SS 1/80 f/2.2
Even if you are using a flash, try to take photos that are different and unique to make it interesting.  If you need some inspiration, try this blog: 
Clickin Moms
I joined their forums a few months ago and have learned so much!  The blog is free to peruse and one of their photography instructors has a great post about using a remote or 'interval shooting' (if your camera has that feature) to get yourself in the Christmas photos this year.  Have fun, and please email me if you have any specific questions!  
ISO 6400 SS 1/80 f/1.8
* All white jammie photos were edited using a free Photoshop Elements action called Vanilla Peach by Julia at Night Fate.  I love the soft glowy look it adds to the photos. Check it out here!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Our basement family room

So, where did I leave off with the family room?  I believe I showed you the new can lights, and that is about it.  Well, let me give you the full tour.  One good thing about taking a two month blog break is that when I come back you can see before and after all at once, right?  No dragging things out for weeks around here!  Here is the basement when we bought the house.  Gross.  A previous owner ran a business as a lawyer out of this room, I don't think I would've hired him after meeting here.  
The stairs coming down.  Forgive me, I have no idea what I was doing with this camera angle.  I must have been high on outdoor carpet glue.  
This lovely wood all used to be painted an awful green, you can still see the color in the nail holes - thankfully someone before us refinished it all!  Here is when we ripped out the stanky carpet and crapped up the basement with junk.  It stayed like this for years.
Then we ripped all the weird walls down, we still have no idea what sort of material they were made of.  And of course, the ceiling came out - a layer of drywall covered with a layer of thick tiles.  Our awesome electrician put in the can lights. 
We found a fabulous drywall guy on Craigslist who put up all the sheetrock for $500.  And we had to do none work ourselves, he used all the existing 'studs' even though they didn't seem useable.  Shows what we know, we should've done this project years ago.
The mudding happened...
Then I finally got to paint!  We used Glidden's Ceiling Paint on the ceiling and walls (no primer, on the advice of our drywall guy) and it sucked.  The 'white' paint looked GRAY. Do not buy Glidden white!
The walls were painted Behr Harbor Sky to give it a little color.  The fireplace bricks were repainted in Behr Ultra Pure White in satin.  We added trim to the doorways and crown molding across the fireplace wall.  

I just bought cheap pine trim and used a couple different stains until it matched up pretty well.  American Walnut topped with Gunstock was the magic combo.  I'm happy with it!  
We also cleaned up the gross windows/wells and I hung curtains on tension rods since regular rods wouldn't work.
We decided to just paint the concrete floors for now, it looks fine and while we have cats that poop, pee and puke, there is no carpeting going in this room.  We used the same color all throughout the basement, and we went right over the swirls of old carpet adhesive....Behr Epoxy floor paint in 'Spanish Parador.'
Here is the finished room!
I used my beloved Howard products on all the wood, and it looks great. 
Don't you love my mom's trippy settee and chair?  They are sweet antiques on loan because we don't have any furniture for this room.  Except the bookcases that used to house my clothes in the dressing room...oh yes, many things have happened in the last two months!  More to come on my beloved dressing room later.
I love that this basement already had ceilings over 7 feet, so it doesn't feel like a man cave.  If we put legit flooring in here, it would be perfect.  BTW, that rug is also from Overstock and it has yet to lay flat after a month of being down.  Oh well.  
So what do you think?  Not bad, eh?  Oh, and we didn't do anything but clean the linoleum stairs.  I'm cool with it for now, they are 'funky.'
Yeah, funky.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Our laundry room

I'm kind of on a basement kick, eh?  I'm not sure I've ever shared our laundry room on the blog before....well, here it is.  
Ok, that is what this room looked like when we bought the house.  Flesh colored walls, weird phone, bright yellow painted pipes, ductwork and floor joists up top...
WHY?  But the real winner of this space was the horror-show floor.  It looked like some black rubber mats were thrown over a crime scene.  The red paint under those mats was still WET.  We got the mats up, let the room dry out, then took some scrapers and got to work on all the loose and flaking paint on this floor.  
There was green, red, gray, tan, every shade.  After painting the cinderblock walls white and the paneling aqua, we scraped all the yellow paint off the joists and ruined our necks in the process.  Then we scraped and sanded the floor until we felt comfy going over the it again with Behr Epoxy floor paint in Spanish Parador.  This all happened in 2008, right before we got our new piece of crap washer and dryer. 
The laundry room sat like that, looking 'acceptable' for years.  Then I finally decided to pretty it up.  Here is what that mishmash counter area looked like in early November....
And here is what it looks like after a couple coats of Rustoleum Oil Base White paint. That stuff is MAGIC!  I'd used it before with great results on our IKEA desk, and had great results again. Yes, it is still sticky and stanky.      
To cover the break where the old metal cabinets and the awkward countertop meet, I hung up this old bathroom hook thingy that my mom gave me years ago.  It was free, and fits perfectly!  Plus, it's great for hanging stuff to dry.  Mostly bras.  Yep, it's pretty much a bra drying rack.
I spent $45 on a new indoor outdoor rug from Overstock that looked pretty and happy, and I'm extremely glad I did.  It doesn't seem outdoor like, or plastic.  It is so nice!
I also made some little curtains for the gross windows using leftover fabric from upstairs projects, dowels and dowel caps from Hobby Lobby.  The entire project cost me $3 and really makes a difference.  Here is the finished laundry room today! 
I am so proud that I was able to make it look like this with some paint, some elbow grease, some cheap fabric, and a new rug.  We can't all have beautiful new cabinetry, tile, windows, etc...but even a crappy space like ours can look cute!  
I'm all about making the best of what I've got these days, so this project makes me feel good.  Now if only I could devise a way to have other people do my laundry for me.

PS - turns out I did share the 'old' laundry room before, back when I was much funnier at the start of my blogging journey, read it here!  I love seeing how my description of the room changed from then til now.  Ah, 2009 were awesome.