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What is a Pancake Lens?

A pancake lens is simply a small lens that's appropriately named for its 'squished' or 'slim' stature on the camera body.

My first introduction into pancake lenses began during a short obsession with a popular technique called free-lensing.

If you have no clue what I'm talking about, free-lensing is when you literally take the lens off the camera body, but still hold it very close to the camera while recording.

It's a cheap way to make a tilt-shift lens and also allows for some really cool light leaks and film effects on your footage.

But in order to do it easily, you need a very small and light lens that's easy to manipulate in one hand.

The pancake lens was the perfect solution!

Over the years, I no longer do much free lensing BUT I still absolutely love my pancake lens.

It's truly surprised me, this handy little lens, and here's how.

Taken with my Canon 40mm pancake lens while traveling.

Why I Love My Pancake Lens

First, it's very inexpensive relative to the world of other lenses out there.

Second, it's so lightweight and slim on my camera body (which is already big in itself) that it makes it the perfect everyday, on the go lens.

Last, I sort of expected the sharpness and speed to be lacking (because of the price), but that's where it's surprised me. The image and footage quality is actually very good.

Taken with my Canon 40mm pancake while hiking.

It's my go to travel lens, especially when I know I'm just shooting things for me - for the fun of it.

Another example with my 40mm, shooting in various lighting.

Now that we've established how great pancake lenses are, let's compare the two most common focal lengths: the 24mm and the 40mm.

Ultimate Comparison: the 24mm pancake or the 40mm pancake?

There is one major difference between these two lenses and (hint) it's not the focal length.

But before we get to that, let's take a look at what BOTH of these lenses are great at.

Canon EF-S 24MM 1.2.8 STM
  • EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM
Canon Cameras US 6310B002 EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Lens - Fixed Black
  • 40mm focal length, Lens not zoom able, 64mm equivalent focal length on Canon APS-C Cameras
  • Minimum focus distance at 0.30m/11.81 inch, F2.8 maximum aperture, F22 minimum
  • Stepper type AF motor with full time manual focusing
  • 52mm Filters, Lens Construction: 15 Elements in 12 Groups
  • Focal Length and Maximum Aperture: 100mm 1:2.8

Last update on 2022-01-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Now let's break down the major difference between the 24mm and the 40mm pancake lenses to help you determine which will be better for you.

The Major Difference Between the 24mm and the 40mm Pancake Lenses

Upon first glance, you may immediately assume that the main difference between these two lenses is the focal length.

In fact that's exactly what I did as well. I even went so far as to order the 24mm lens to begin with.

Much to my dismay, it arrived and did NOT fit onto my Canon 1DX Mark ii.

What I learned is that the main difference isn't the focal length between these two cameras, it's that one is an EF lens and the other is an EF-S lens.

If your camera is a full frame sensor body (see examples below), then the 24mm EF-S Pancake lens will not fit your camera and you need to go with the 40mm EF lens.

In fact, this is the very reason that Canon came out with the two different focal lengths for this pancake lens.

Let me explain.

Taken with my 40mm Canon Pancake Lens

The reason these lenses actually end up being about the same focal length is because of the crop factor.

With EF-S lenses, there is a crop factor of about 1.6x. This means that when you place the 24mm EF-S lens on a cropped sensor (APS-C camera bodies), the image more truly reflects a 38.4mm lens (24mm x 1.6).

Therefore, the 24mm EF-S lens is very similar in focal length to the 40mm.

On a full-frame camera body, there is no change in the focal length of the lens, so the 40mm remains a 40mm.

It's essentially the same lens, made two ways to accommodate the two types of camera bodies.

Taken with my Canon 40mm Pancake

Which Lens Will Fit Your Camera Body: EF or EF-S?

So really, the question isn't between the 24mm or the 40mm - it's which lens will actually fit your camera body, the EF or EF-S?

One quick indicator is to take a look at the inside ring on the front of your camera - is it red or white?

If the indicator dot on the front of your camera is red, then you need the 40mm EF lens (full-frame sensor).

If the indicator dot on the front of your camera is white, then you need the 24mm EF-S lens (APS-C camera bodies).

If you have two indicators (both red and white), then either lens can fit on your camera. Keep reading for the difference in that scenario.

There's one more line of Canon cameras that's recently come on the market as well: the mirrorless camera line.

If you know your camera is a Canon mirrorless camera, then you need to actually go with the EF-M version of this pancake lens.

If you still aren't sure which camera and lens combo you need, here's a chart that should help you figure it out.

A few exceptions to the rule:

Any of the Canon APS-C bodies (for example, the Canon Rebel series) will fit both the EF or the EF-S lens series, so either of these lenses can work if you have a rebel camera.

However, keep in mind that the 40mm will crop by a factor of 1.6x. So the 40mm lens on this camera will more accurately reflect a 64mm lens.

In this case, the question does become which focal length is more preferred: 40mm or 64mm?

If you ask me, I'd much rather shoot with the 40mm focal range for this type of lens. If the purpose is to capture everyday moments, either around the house or while traveling, more than likely the 24mm EF-S lens will capture these moments better.

A 64mm lens is much tighter on your subject and will be difficult to shoot anything within close range. More than likely you'll need to be separated a good distance from your subject in order to capture it in focus.

However, if this is your goal then by all means, the 64mm (or 40mm EF lens) will be the best option for you.

Want to learn how to shoot portraits at sunset? It's sometimes tricky, but the outcome is worth it.

If you’re here, then you likely already agree that shooting at sunset is a wonderful time to capture portraits.

The sun is low on the horizon, which offers flattering shadows on our subject’s faces. There's also brilliant and beautiful rim lighting in the background.

The brilliant hues of yellow, orange, and even deep reds can be breathtaking. This ideal evening hour is what photographers lovingly deem the ‘golden hour’. It’s the hour right before sunset.

However, even as dynamic as these shots can be, you do have to understand exactly how to shoot them. It's the only way to avoid the sun glaring directly into your lens. Without just the right positioning of your subject and your background, your shots can appear hazy, blurry, or over-exposed.

In today’s post we’ll walk through step by step how you can shoot portraits at sunset every time, flawlessly.

These rules can be applied no matter what type of camera you’re using. And they can also be applied for both photography and video.

If you're brand new to photography, I highly encourage you to check out my post for beginner photographers.

It will teach you all the basics about mastering manual mode, so you can get the perfect settings for shooting at sunset.

1 | Picking the Right Time to Shoot Portraits at Sunset

Before we even begin, the number one rule is to know the ideal time to start shooting.

If it’s too early in the afternoon, when the sun is still straight up above your head or very high in the sky. No matter what you do, it’s going to be hard to avoid the light simply being too harsh in your camera.

There are ways to work with this scenario, of course, and we’ll get to those momentarily. But for now, let’s just assume that you have the freedom to shoot at any time. What time should you pick?

Depending on where you live in the world, the exact timing is going to vary. This will be the case throughout the seasons as well.

The rule of thumb that I use is to begin shooting 1.5 hours before actual sunset.

My family sessions typically last about 1 hour in total.

From the start of my session I’m getting ideal sun. And by the time we are wrapping up it’s nearing the horizon. I give myself 30 minutes of buffer just in case it’s cloudy or we need a little extra time.

Long shadows help tell you what time to shoot portraits

Another rule of thumb that you can use is to pay attention to the shadows around you.

When trees, people, or other tall objects are casting long shadows on the ground, then it’s likely a great time to shoot.

2 | Correct Placement of the Sun to Shoot Portraits at Sunset

Next let’s talk about where to place your model in relation to the sun. This is probably the most important factor to consider, so pay attention here.

The sun should be directly behind your subject for photos you take a sunset.

There are times of course when you can break this rule and we’ll talk about those cases in just a moment. Just trust that for almost all of your sunset portraits, you’ll want the sun directly behind your subject.

To achieve great portraits at sunset, you’ll be practicing a technique called backlighting. As the name implies, your subject is ‘back lit’. The majority of the light that is in your photo with come from the back.

If your subject happens to turn or move while you are shooting, you’ll need to move with them. This way you maintain that proper relationship with the sun directly behind your subject.

Imagine you are connecting a straight line between your camera and the sun with your subject always in between.

portrait photography of baby at sunset

3 | How to Properly Block the Sun to Shoot Portraits at Sunset

If you’ve ever tried to take photos at sunset, you may already know how difficult it can be to shoot directly into the sun. This is especially true at sunset with the sun is low and aimed straight into your camera.

The key here is that you will need something to block the harshness of the sun coming in to your camera. This is a concept that you’ll likely have to practice.But you’ll quickly get a feel for how much sun your camera can handle directly into the lens.

Here are a few techniques you can use to properly block some of that sunlight coming through in the back.

Use Tight Framing (crop in close)

If you are shooting close up portraits, you can frame your subject’s face close enough where the edge of your frame just barely crops out the sun.

Notice in this example, I'm shooting when the sun is still very bright and a bit high in the sky.

With a wider angle lens, I may have a hard time capturing the details in her face and the picture might be overexposed and very hazy.

However, by cropping in with my lens, I can block the majority of the bright light from the sun. But I can still maintain nice light on her face and rim light around the back of her head and ear. This gives that nice light and airy style that so many photographers love.

example of a portrait in sunset with harsh light

Block with the Subject or Another Object

You can use the subject itself or something in the background, like a tree or leaves to rotate yourself just enough to block all or some of the sunlight coming through. This is one of those things that you’ll need to practice.

There are times when you can let all the sun come through and you’ll get the desired effect. This is often the case where you are capturing a lot of motion or action as a burst of sunlight often feels fun and vibrant.

However, there are times (often with portraits) where you want to make sure that your subject’s face is soft and well-lit with all the details visible. In this case, you’ll likely want to block most of the harsh backlight either with the subjects face, cropping, or a tree in the background.

A few examples of blocking with the subject.

two golden hour portrait examples

You’ll notice the difference in this example between the photo on the left, where a good amount of sun is allowed to come through. It feels vibrant and bright, but there is detail lost in the forefront of the photo. The photo on the right completely blocks the sun in the back and results in a more crisp portrait. All the details are left in her face and correct exposure on her skin.

Neither photo is ‘correct’ necessarily. They both serve a purpose. They both have a different feeling that they convey. It’s more about understanding those fundamentals and being able to capture what exactly what you want with your portraits.

When I’m shooting, I actually purposely try to capture a bit of both because you never know which you’ll end up liking more in the end. It never hurts to experiment a little. There are many cases where you won’t care as much about crisp details in the face. But you will care about the action of what’s happening and the feeling of the image.

Without blocking the bright sun, the photo is hazy, muddy, and overexposed. There is no detail left in the shadows or forefront of the photo.
Without blocking the bright sun, the photo is hazy, muddy, and overexposed. There is no detail left in the shadows or forefront of the photo.
By using the edge of the tree to block some of the sunlight, the photo is better exposed on the subject’s face, allowing more detail in the shadows and highlights.
By using the edge of the tree to block some of the sunlight, the photo is better exposed on the subject’s face, allowing more detail in the shadows and highlights.

4 | Camera Settings to Shoot Portraits at Sunset

Let’s talk about some of the technical camera settings for shooting portraits at sunset.

White Balance

Since you will be shooting outdoors into bright sunshine, in most cases your white balance will need to be set to at least at 5600. But it will probably be even closer to 6000. Or if your camera has a preset, you’ll want to choose the sunshine or shade option. You will need to push it even warmer than normal to capture the correct colors of the sun.

I also believe that editing the photo to look a little more ‘warm’ even on skin tones is perfectly acceptable in this scenario. Because your viewers almost expect it to be warm with all that sunshine in the background.


Because we are focusing on capturing great portraits, you’ll want to use a wide open aperture. This means your lens will be wide open and your f-stop will be in the range of f/1.2-f/4 depending on your lens.

This doesn’t have so much to do with our lighting as it has to do with depth of field. A shallow depth of field is when your subject is in sharp focus and the background behind is blurry, often referred to as bokeh. In order to achieve a shallow depth of field, your aperture will need to be wide open.

Shutter Speed

With our aperture being as wide open as possible, you’ll likely need to have a fast shutter speed to counter all the light coming in through the lens. This is perfectly fine with still photos, and in fact I prefer it when shooting people. Set your shutter speed as high as you need to in order to achieve correct exposure with your aperture being wide open.

5 | Correct Exposure to Shoot Portraits at Sunset

Make sure that you are keeping an eye on your exposure as you start clicking away.

Often times if you have your camera set to auto mode or any program mode other than manual, your camera will find its exposure based on the background. Because we are shooting into the sunshine, this results in a photo that is properly exposed for a bright background, but very underexposed on the subject’s face. We want to avoid this happening.

You want to expose correctly for your subject’s face. If the background is way overexposed, then it’s time to use some blocking techniques to cut that light down a bit.

6 | How to Achieve Sharp Focus with Backlighting

Another issue that will come into play is your camera’s ability (or lack of ability) to grab focus when shooting directly into the sun.

Many times with harsh sun in the background, you will end up with a hazy, over exposed photo and your camera will have a hard time auto focusing.

You have two options here. If you want your photo to have this look to them, then you will need to shift over into auto focus mode.

However, this could be an indication that you are shooting in too bright of a scene and you need to use some blocking or shift to another shooting location.

7 | How to Shoot Portraits in Bright Sunlight

Where I live the sun doesn’t set until about 8 or 9pm during the summertime. When shooting families with small children, that often lands right at bedtime. We can all guess what happens when you try to make a sleepy toddler smile for photos.

So there are absolutely times when I have to shoot earlier. The good news is, there are still plenty of ways to shoot in the early afternoon and get great shots.

Here are some tips for shooting in earlier, brighter sunlight.

using full shade to create even portrait lighting

Utilize Shade

It may seem obvious, but this is the easiest way to ensure that your pictures will be properly exposed without harsh sunlight interfering.

Make sure to place your subject in full shade, not dappled, as you don’t want weird shadows ending up on their faces. You also want to make sure the your subject and the background are evenly lit.

Don’t place your subject under one tree and then take a wide shot with a bright field around them. You’ll end up with a very dark subject under the tree and an overexposed image around them. Fill up your entire shot with the same lighting - shaded face with a shaded tree in the background.

Embrace the Harsh Shadows

This probably won’t be the best option for portraits, but it can work for other shots if you need a few wider, landscape type shots. Shot with the sun behind you or at an angle to your subjects. The light and shade will be much harsher. However, it creates a nice, dynamic look to your photos that will help at a lot of variety and life to your gallery.

8 | Practice Makes Perfect

When I first began trying to shoot in the sun, my photos looked terrible. Really, really awful. They were either under exposed or over exposed, way too harsh, out of focus, etc.

It takes some practice before you start to really get a feel for exactly where you need to be. To understand where your subject needs to be, and where the sun needs to be at all times.

It's okay to make mistakes.

Don’t be afraid to go take a few hundred (or more) awful photos. You’ll soon find yourself learning all the things that I learned about positioning yourself and your subject.

It’s absolutely worth the time and effort, because those golden hour, sunset photos are dynamic and gorgeous.

If you’re a family photographer like me, you’ll no longer be intimidated by unknown light or locations for your shoot. The more you practice, you’ll develop the confidence to shoot in any and every type of lighting. And with that ability, you can always find backgrounds that will compliment your subject and have the correct lighting behind them.

I hope this helps. Do leave me a comment below if you have any more questions about shooting portraits at sunset.


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learn how to shoot portraits at sunset

What is a photo preset?

Photographers use presets for many different purposes. Often presets are used to quickly and consistently achieve a certain ‘look’ with your photos.

As the term implies - when you click to add a preset to a particular photo, the settings within Lightroom automatically ‘set’ a certain way to achieve that look. Presets literally set the sliders in Lightroom to a certain spot for each and every setting. You take the redundant work out of editing by simply applying the same edits to all photos and then you simply tweak each photo as you go. It will infinitely speed up workflow time, as well as improve the look of your photos.

Lightroom makes it so easy to toggle between hundreds of presets within the program and get a quick preview of how your photo will look with that preset applied. This is important because not every photo will share the same look and feel. You will likely use multiple presets depending on the colors, the style, the lighting, and location, etc. of each photo.

I use presets 100% of the time for both my professional and personal photography work. They are so simple and easy to use and they really add a lot of style that will drastically improve the look of your photos.

In this article I’ll be sharing with you my top picks for free Lightroom presets that you can download right away to go ahead and get started. I’ll also show you step by step how to install them to Lightroom, as well as how to use them within the program.

A word of caution: you can’t just pop on a preset and expect your photos to look professional. It will help you tremendously to make sure you are shooting your photos with the correct exposure, white balance, and ISO (lack of grain/noise) before you apply presets. For more on the basics of camera operation, you can check out this post I made about understanding the fundamentals!

Why this list of free presets?

I’ve searched for the same exact thing you are searching for now. And you know what I came up with? Mostly garbage.

There are a lot of sites out there pushing lists upon lists of terrible presets. I wanted to put together a perfectly curated list of free presets that truly are worth having.

The Best Free Lightroom Presets

1 | VSCO Inspired Presets by NATE

I’ve been using NATE presets for years. He has a number of fantastic presets available and is nice enough to offer an entire pack of free ones. I highly recommend you take advantage of this deal while you can. These presets are inspired by the well know VSCO cam presets, which have a popular and highly desired ‘film-like’ look to them.


2 | Ryan Nangle Presets

Another incredible offer from a talented photographer. You can also watch behind the scenes as Ryan edits his photo to show you exactly how he enhances his photos with these presets.


3 | Lifestyle Preset by Creaslim

It’s crazy how so much talent is just giving us free access to their tools. You definitely need to take advantage of this free preset if you are a lifestyle blogger.


4 | Summer Travel Presets by Courbe Designs

These presets are the perfect light and airy aesthetic that so many photographers are after these days. They come in warm and cool versions that will work for both indoor and outdoor images. Perfect for adding a punch of color and making those photos feel a bit more lively.


5 | Gina Lucker - Perfect Interior Presets

Not only are these presets gorgeous and perfect for interior styled shoots, but Gina gives a great tutorial of exactly how to use them on Lightroom mobile, so you can easily edit and share photos on your phone if you’re on the go or wanting to post directly to social media.


6 | Narcissus by thechrishau

Another incredible gift being given to you from a talented artist. Warm, soft highlights with bright creamy skin tones that pop. You CAN get this preset for free, but leave a tip if you’re able!


7 | Enter Sandman by LookFilter

Add a little extra punch to your travel photos with Enter Sandman, by LookFilter. These presets offer a nice warm, vintage tone which I really love. They would pair perfectly with exterior, summer shots either on location or around the house with kids.


8 | Raghav Editz Matte Brown Presets

I love the muted shadows and toned down earthy colors in this preset. It works great for fall and winter photos, as well as rustic, outdoors adventures.

matte brown preset.jpg

9 | Moody and Creamy Lightroom Preset by Kylee Ann Photography


This preset makes skin tones nice and vibrant, while still looking natural. It adds a boost of color and contrast, while making skin and white tones nice and creamy. Perfect for portraits, lifestyle, documentary, and wedding photos.

10 | Light and Airy Interior Preset by Maison de Pax

This preset will bring dark and drab back to life. Create light and bright edits quickly with these fantastic presets perfect for bloggers, interior designers, real estate agents and more.


11 | Bright Preset by Blix Creative


Another nice pop of color and light to bring your travel and style photos a bit more punch. Try out this fun and free preset by Blix Creative.

12 | Instalook by Filterlook

Desaturated greens and blues, with muted and creamy whites make this preset the quintessential ‘instagram’ look. I love it. Take advantage of this great free preset if it’s the look you’re after.

instalook preset.jpg

13 | K1 Production Presets

A great number of presets can be found in this awesome pack. Check it out!


14 | Rory Kramer Presets

One free preview of the full 6 pack of presets sold by Marc Webster.


15 | Ollivves Greece 03 Preset


Here is one of the custom presets from the larger package of Greece presets from Ollivves. ‘This preset works well with blue tones and the classic colors of the mediterranean landscape.’

How to Import Lightroom Presets

Now that you’ve found some great presets, let’s talk about how to get started with them in Lightroom.

1 | Open Lightroom and click Lightroom > Preferences


2 | Click the Presets tab and then ‘Show Lightroom Develop Presets’


3 | Navigate to the location where you have saved your downloaded presets. I recommend picking a location for all of your Lightroom presets and leaving them there nice and organized so you never lose track of them.

4 | Restart Lightroom and you will see your presets in the left hand sidebar under ‘User Presets’

Lightroom User Presets

How to Apply Lightroom Presets

1 | Make sure you are in ‘Develop Mode’ by looking at the top right hand corner options.


2 | On the left hand window, simply scroll over your presets and you’ll start to see the preview of how your photo will look with each preset applied. When you find on that you like, simply select it and you have now properly installed and applied a preset.


3 | Many times, your photo is not going to come out looking perfect right away. You will almost always need to adjust at least your white balance and exposure as well. Note, this can be done before or after applying the preset. I like to adjust my white balance and exposure first so that I get a true preview of how each preset will look on my photo, but it’s personal preference.

4 | To apply the same settings to other photos in your album, make sure you’ve first selected the photo you want to copy, and then hit sync to apply those settings to the rest of your selections.


Thanks for checking out a few of my favorite things. As an affiliate, I receive compensation for mentioning my favorite resources, however any commission that I earn comes at no cost to you. In fact, it goes right back into maintaining this website so I can continue to offer fresh content. Thanks as always for your support!

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If you have ever felt stuck in a rut with your footage - it falls a little flat, the colors are difficult to edit in post, the blacks are a bit grainy, or it just doesn’t feel as beautiful and airy as you want it to, then read on.

Today we are talking about arguably one of the most important concepts to master in order to take beautiful, cinematic, film-like videos (or photos for that matter) - LIGHTING.

Master Indoor Lighting And Make Your Videos Dramatically Better

I used to be super intimidated about lighting for video. To me, lighting meant complicated, expensive, heavy equipment in a studio. It meant hours of tweaking and shifting to get it juuuust right. Change one thing and you’ve got to change it all again. I mean, some people love that kind of thing (you know who you are) but it’s never been my thing.

Flash forward 3 years, and honestly mostly due to what I’ve learned by shooting more still photography, I started to realize that lighting is actually not that hard. Important? Yes. Hard? Nope!

And honestly, the absolute BEST light source out there is completely free - you guessed it, the sun. And I’m not simply referring to shooting outside, I’m talking about window light.

Arguably, window light can be even better than outdoor light. The window naturally diffuses the light, giving you a softer and less direct source to work with. This makes things worlds easier and is naturally more flattering to your subjects.


Let’s get into the specifics of how to make window light work for you. Because remember, having natural light is your foundation during shoots. And it can be your best friend once you know exactly how to work with it and not against it.

silhouette of baby playing
light through window blinds onto baby's face


The thing about natural light is that it changes throughout the day as the sun rises and then falls on the other side of the globe.

In order to really get a feel for how to use indoor natural light, my best suggestion is to start studying the light in your own home. Or if you work in an office all day, study it there. Pick one or two windows and rooms and observe how the light changes from morning until evening.

There will be times when the sun is harsh and casts sharp angles with interesting shadows on the walls and then there will be times when the light is softer and indirect. Both extremes can be either helpful or challenging to your shots, depending on what you’re going for.

Here are a few examples that I’ve taken in my own home to illustrate. I’ll use still photos here, but you’ll get the same effect with video footage.

Both photos are taken in the same area of our home. The light is filtering in through the window on the left side.

First Image: it’s morning light. The sun rises on that side and comes in at a harsh angle through the blinds. As you can see, this can be an interesting affect when desired.

Second Image: the photo is taken in the afternoon. The sun is on the other side of the house now, so this light is indirect, casting less shadows on the child’s face and softening the light. It’s also reflecting off the white cushions and filling the shadows of her face nicely.

cute baby with harsh indoor lighting
soft indoor light on cute baby in window


I shoot a lot of newborn babies in hospital rooms for my fresh 48 films.

In these cases I’m relying on one (sometimes tiny) window to provide all of my light. And I’m not always in control of that light either - it may be cloudy or rainy, in some hospitals you can’t open the blinds completely, or it may be late in the day when the sun isn’t as bright.

All of these variables add up to make for one of the trickiest lighting situations. I’m going to walk you through how I handle these shoots.

First thing I do is turn off all the overhead lights. I know it seems counter intuitive and most of my clients look at me really funny. But here’s why…


99% of the time, indoor lights are incandescent bulbs. This means they have a color temperature close to 2700 Kelvin. The sun, on the other hand, has a color temperature of 5200 Kelvin. Those are drastically different temperatures.

In plain english, the lighting from the bulbs will look orange, while the lighting from the sun will look blue. When you mix these together, you have just made your footage nearly impossible to edit. What happens when you mix the light temperatures is that you can’t get rid of either hue without altering the other. It will especially affect the color of skin if you are filming people.

Even if it dramatically cuts down the amount of light, I recommend turning off all the overhead incandescent can lights and relying solely on the window light.

A few caveats: there are a few occasions where its been so incredibly dark that I do have to turn on the incandescent bulbs. In that case, you just do the best you can with your white balance. Try to nail it closely in camera and it will help make your job a bit easier in post production. Here’s a previous post where I talk in more detail about setting white balance.


Once you’ve located a useable window source, you’ll need to physically move your subjects closer to the window. Depending on how you frame and position them, you’ll come out with a few different results.

  1. Natural and flattering : Position your subject at about a 45 degree angle to the window. This will frame and fill one side of their face with a soft and full amount of light.
  2. Direct and bright : Position your subject directly into the sun with your camera facing directly away from the sun. This will completely light your subjects face, which can be bright and flattering as well, especially against a darker background. It will make your subject pop against the background.
  3. Backlighting with lens flares : This is my favorite light technique and you can achieve it both indoors and outdoors. I will admit it’s the trickiest though and it will take some practice. With this type of lighting you are facing your camera directly into the sunlight while your subject faces you. You then use your subject to block the sun coming into your camera so that it just peaks around the edges of their head or body. It creates some really beautiful light when you master this technique.
  4. Silouhette Lighting : A classic technique. The positioning is very similar to backlight, but your exposure is very different. With backlighting, you expose for the subject’s face and many times the background is blown out. In the case of silouhette lighting, you expose for the borders or surrounding light and underexpose your subject so that they end up looking like a shadow or dark figure against the light.


Here are a few other things that I do to add an extra light possible to the scene.

  1. Wear light colored shirts. Seriously, I do this. The reflection of a white shirt off your subjects face and eyes really does make a difference.
  2. Bring a piece of white foam board or a photo reflector. The cheap option is to buy white foam board from a local craft store and simply place it close to the subject (but out of frame) and use it as a reflector to bounce any excess sunlight onto the subject’s face. You can also buy a very inexpensive photo reflector (I recommend this one) if you want to keep things a bit more professional.
  3. Bring a small and portable fill light with you. There is no shame in bringing an extra light source. I pack a few of these handy ones for every shoot, just in case. They are inexpensive and super easy to use. Prop on a shelf nearby or have a family member hold it to the side for you (they always love to help!).




I hope I’ve convinced you that lighting isn’t anything to be afraid of! But if you’re not there yet, the one thing you need to do is get out there and practice. And ask me questions!

Happy shooting!


one technique that will dramatically improve your photos and videos


Pumpkin spice is in the air, which means one thing: it’s almost that time of year again.

I know many loved ones out there are stumped when it comes to shopping for your favorite mom or lady photographer.

I get it - photography can seem like a foreign subject, especially when it comes to buying gear. There are so many options and many of them very specific, not to mention pricey. Narrowing down ideas that are useful, broadly accessible, and also affordable can be quite a lofty task.

Being a mom photographer myself, I figured I would make a quick post of my top 10 ideas that would make great gifts for that professional or hobbyist mom photographer in your life.


One of my favorite online places to shop because you know you’re getting one-of-a-kind, handcrafted goods from small businesses. Here’s a roundup of a few of my favorite camera themed gifts from Etsy.

vintage camera prints.jpg
camera themed tshirt.jpg
camera themed pineapple shirt.jpg
waxed canvas camera bag.jpg
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silver camera necklace.jpg
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pretty camera necklace.jpg


A pancake lens is simply a very small and light lens that is perfect for travel or on-the-go photography. You can find them in all different sizes and brands to fit your loved one’s camera, and also they are generally some of the least expensive options for lenses.

My husband bought me a 40mm pancake lens for my Canon 1DX a few years ago and it has become of my most used and loved lens of all time. It’s great because I can easily take it everywhere and not worry too much about it getting banged around. It also takes super sharp, crisp images for its size.

Here are a few great options, organized by the type of camera they will pair with. Another new feature I’ve noticed on amazon is that once you click on a lens you are interested in, you can easily input the type of camera you own to make sure it will correctly match with that lens.


40mm EF lens - last I checked this was on super sale for $129, so be sure to check the latest price on amazon.


24mm EF lens - another great option for a wider lens range. Generally less than $100 on amazon.



14mm lens - a bit more pricey, but an excellent choice for Panasonic users.



Peak Design Cuff Camera Wrist Strap - Perfect for smaller sized cameras where you just want easy access and ability to hold while you work. Also provides a nice bit of extra support for handheld video shots. Check current price on amazon.


Peak Design Leash Camera Strap (small version)

Same brand as the above strap, which is nice because you can quickly and easily change the strap according to your needs. You can do this in seconds by clicking these notches on and off. Also so quick and easy to adjust the length of the camera strap on the fly.


Here are a few more ideas for straps that I just like because they’re pretty as well as functional. Even if your mom photographer already has a strap, here are a few to add to her collection that she may just want to switch out every now and then for a fresh look and feel.








lensbaby tilt shift lens

A lensbaby is a fun type of lens that allows you to get very creative shots with your camera using a modified ‘tilt-shift’ method. The outer part of the lens swivels to bring just a small portion of the frame into focus while the rest remains blurry. This creates a really unique and creative way to take shots. Here are a few examples, although the ideas are limitless.

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This is a great gift for the photographer who has it all. Expand their toolset by adding something new and fresh to spark even more creativity. Here is the type that I recommend, organized by type of camera.

CANON CAMERAS - Lensbaby Sol 45 for Canon EF

NIKON CAMERAS - Lensbaby Sol 45 for Nikon F - OR - Lensbaby Sol 45 for Nikon X

SONY CAMERAS - Lensbaby Sol 45 for Sony E

FUJIFILM CAMERAS - Lensbaby Sol 45 for Fuji X


If I had to pick just one item on this list that you MUST get for your favorite mom photographer, this would be it.

Clickin Moms is one of the best resources out there for learning more about photography - especially lifestyle, family, and everyday photography. There are monthly courses, a community forum, as well as a magazine that are rich with inspiration and knowledge.

She will also gain access to weekly tutorials and freebies to improve her skillset.

Last I checked it’s $10/month or $60 for a full year’s subscription. Check that offer out here.


Something phenomenal (and I don’t mean that in a good way) has happened with our generation of photographers. In the world of social media and all things digital, we have gotten into a bad habit of posting and sharing our photos online without ever printing them and displaying them around the house.

Here are a few ideas that your photographer may not ever think to buy herself, but that I assure you she will absolutely love to have. I’m suggesting a few ideas that are different from your average photo printer, to offer convenience and fun into the equation.

Canon SELPHY CP1300 Wireless Compact Photo Printer - Prints wirelessly via any bluetooth enabled device. Nifty, compact, and easy to use. Love this one.


Canon IVY Mobile Mini Photo Printer - This fun little thing prints mini photos and photo stickers. Your photographer may like this for herself just for fun OR I’m thinking this is an amazing little sidekick to have if your photographer does any kind of professional photoshoots - family, weddings, newborns, etc. She can easily gift these to her clients for an extra unique marketing touch.


Fujifilm INSTAX Share SP-2 Mobile Printer - Another super fun one. Prints old school looking polaroid prints, but with excellent quality. Also, I’ve seen some steep sales on this one via amazon from time to time, so be sure to watch this one.



Finding the perfect bag for photography is an ongoing pursuit that I will probably never give up on. It’s just so hard to find one that can do it all and fit all that you need for each scenario. However, I have come across some pretty great ones along the way. Here are a few of my favorites.

CADEN Camera Backpack Bag with Laptop Compartment - I cannot believe how affordable this bag is. I also love that the camera compartment slides out for easy access on the move. It’s also waterproof and fits a 14” laptop.


Travelon Heritage Tote Bag - This one isn’t specifically a camera bag. It’s actually a security theft bag (built so that the straps and inside of bag can’t be slashed, as well as a locking mechanism on the zipper. These are great options for travel, however, I picked this one simply because I like the way it looks and its size. It’s a great option for the woman who likes to use her purse and camera bag all in one. Be sure to pick up an inexpensive little cube, like this one, to insert into the bag for camera protection.


Zecti Waterproof Canvas Professional Camera Bag - I love the vintage look and durability behind this bag. It comes with it’s own rain cover and is perfect for hikes and outdoor photography.


ONA The Capri II Camera & Laptop Tote Bag - I saved this last one for those ready to splurge. It isn’t a cheap option, but the bag is absolutely gorgeous and timeless. Plus it’s leather, so she can use it for a lifetime.



PolarPro Defender Lens Cover - Check price on amazon. This nifty lens cover is so cool! Perfect addition to any camera bag. It’s annoying when you lose a lens cap as they are not inexpensive to replace. These are great because they stretch to fit most lenses perfectly, plus I love that they add a bit of extra cushion.

PolarPro Defender Lens Cover


Lina & Lily Vintage Camera Print Loop Infinity Scarf - Just because, isn’t it cute!

infinity camera scarf.jpg


Here are a few more small gift ideas that would go great as a thoughtful bundle or as stand alone gifts, depending on your budget.





For less than $10 a month, you can purchase the best photo editing software out there for your loved one. If they are also into video or other design, there are plenty of discounted bundles to choose from. I recommend starting with Lightroom for photographers and Premiere for video editing. These are the two main software programs that I use for all of my work.

Check out all the plan options here.


Here’s another one that will make your favorite photographer beam with excitement. Buy her a set of lightroom presets. These are quick and easy ways to apply color and style to photos that will streamline her editing process and make her photos look absolutely stunning.

Here are a few examples of before and after photos that I’ve shot and then edited using presets.


My absolute favorite place for presets is Mastin Labs. They not only have an amazing variety to choose from, they also have the best online community to help you achieve the look you’re going for, as well as online tutorials to show you step by step how to best apply the presets.

Here are a few more examples of before and after photos I’ve edited with Mastin Labs Fujicolor Original presents.



This last one is for those of you who are willing to go the extra mile. For those who know just how hard that photographer works and how little time she has to actually sit and admire her own work. Here are a few idea starters for thoughtful ways to let your photographer know she’s special and her work is worth celebrating.

Put together a Mixbook. If you’ve taken a recent trip together or you have children or other subject that you may want to come back to time and time again, document it in a well designed photo book. Mixbook is my favorite way to go! Every year I sit down and make a book documenting our girls over the past year and gift it to all the grandparents at Christmas time. It’s a tradition we’ve all come to anticipate and love. The platform is so easy to use and the designs are cheesy or overdone.

mixbook example.jpg


Whew. That was an exhaustive list of many of my favorite things! I hope you found something that your lovely photographer will enjoy. Also leave any questions at all. Thanks as always!


Thanks for checking out a few of my favorite things. As an affiliate, I receive compensation for mentioning my favorite resources, however any commission that I earn comes at no cost to you. In fact, it goes right back into maintaining this website so I can continue to offer fresh content. Thanks as always for your support!

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An easy method for staying organized with your photos and videos.

After years of accumulating hundreds (actually thousands) of photos and videos, I can tell you first-hand how important it is to stay organized. Not only will your files be safer, you’ll also be able to find them with ease. Plus, you’ll feel soo much more peace at the end of the day.

In this post, I’ll walk you through not only how to get your current photos and videos organized, but I’ll also share with you an easy to follow method that will keep you organized for years to come.

It’s not a process that you want to have to repeat year after year. So be sure to stick with it and follow this method to stay organized on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. A few extra seconds just to put things in the right place every so often will end up saving you hours and headaches down the road.

This post does contain Amazon product recommendations. As an Amazon associate, I receive compensation for qualifying purchases, however any commission that I earn comes at no cost to you.

1 | Pick a secure location for storage

Where is the best place to store your photos and videos?

To be completely honest, you absolutely need to be storing all of your media in one of two places:

1) an external hard drive

2) a cloud subscription online

Storing files long term on your computer’s internal hard drive (i.e. desktop or internal ‘photos’ folder) is not a good idea for two main reasons:

  1. Eventually this is going to bog down your computer’s processing speed and make it run slower. You have infinite storage space with external drives as you can continue to buy new ones for each year or two as needed without worrying about how much space is left on your computer.
  2. Computers fail all the time. Your photos and videos are priceless memories and it would be devastating to lose them with a hard drive crash or computer virus.

What is an external hard drive?

If you’ve never used one before, please don’t be intimidated. They are actually quite easy and simple to use! An external hard drive is simply a portable storage device that can be attached to your computer for extra storage. It’s like a storage closet for your computer.

Stick with me and I’ll explain exactly how to set one up and use it for organizing your photos/videos.

What’s the best external hard drive to buy?

External hard drives have become so much more affordable these days. You can find great options for less than $100 to get you started.

By the way, quality is very important here. Don’t skimp on quality just for the cheapest drive. I’ve had numerous drives fail on me in the past and believe me, it isn’t fun. So make sure you are buying for quality as well as affordability.

Lastly, storage capacity. For exclusive photo storage, I would recommend at least 1 TB of storage. For video storage, I would go a little bigger and recommend at least 2 TB of storage. But this is of course a matter of personal preference.

Personally, I burn through external hard drives very quickly. I fill up a 2 TB drive every six months or so. But I also shoot professionally. For the average user, 1-2 TB should last at least a year or two if not more, depending on your usage.

Here are a few of my favorites that fit all of the above criteria: (they go on sale often, so check amazon for the current price)

  1. Best for photo storage: Seagate Portable 1TB - Under $50, compatible with PC or Mac, connects via USB cable (check current price on Amazon)
  2. Best for video storage: Western Digital 2TB - Under $75, compatible with PC or Mac, connects via USB cable (check current price on Amazon)
  3. Best for travel/rugged use: Lacie Rugged 1TB - Under $75, compatible with PC or Mac, connects via USB or Thunderbolt, built for extra durability (check current price on Amazon)
  4. Best overall quality and speed: Samsung T5 1TB - Under $175 (but price varies), compatible with PC or Mac, connects USB Type C to C and USB Type C to A cables, very fast which is great for video reading while editing, ability to password protect, small and durable design (check current price on Amazon)
  5. Most reliable: check out this post I made about my favorite SSD drives. These drives are a bit more expensive ($100-300, depending on size) than traditional hard drives, but what you get in return is added security, durability, and speed. Check out the post for more details to see if this type of drive might be best for you.

What is a cloud based subscription?

Using a cloud based subscription allows you the ability to store files remotely through a website’s online plan (like amazon or google).

This is actually the most secure way of storing your photos and videos since you don’t have to worry about anything physical being damaged or worn out over time. External hard drives fail from time to time (although rare). You never have to worry about dropping it, or a flood, or a fire, or any other catastrophic thing that could damage an external hard drive. These are concerns you won’t have when storing via the cloud.

My favorite choice for online storage: SmugMug

Not only do you get unlimited photo storage with a SmugMug account, you get a host of other benefits that cannot be found with other online storage hosts. With a SmugMug account you’ll also receive beautifully designed galleries that are easily customizable, the ability to share with others as well as password protect, allow your family/clients to purchase digital images and prints from your gallery, as well as a number of other features.

The basic SmugMug plan is only $6/month and you can try it all for free. Use this link to receive 15% off your new account.

Amazon Cloud Online Storage

Amazon Drive seems to be the most affordable option, especially if you are already a prime member. It’s free for prime members and only $11.99 per year if you aren’t. You get up to 100 GB of storage for your files or you can upgrade to 1 TB of storage for $59.99 per year. This is still about what you’d pay for an external hard drive of that size. Find out more about using this service here.

Extra security

There’s no harm in backing up your media twice and using a cloud subscription is a great way to backup the most precious files. I use it to back up all the most important memories in case anything were to ever happen to my external hard drives. It’s free for prime members, so no reason not to!

Ok, let’s get to organizing!

2 | Create an organized folder structure

Let’s start with the basic file structure that you’ll want to create.

I’ll show you what I do and then you can adapt your structure for your own preferences. The point here is to make a structure that you’ll be happy with for the long term.

Once you set it in place, you really don’t want to have to make any changes or move things around. This will be the key to making things easy for years to come. You’ll learn and become so familiar with where your files live that it will be like second nature to find them and add new files as time and events go on.

1 - Start with your root folder. This is the highest level of your folder structure. I like to divide photos and videos into two separate folders. Just label it ‘Photos’ if you won’t be storing videos.


2 - Add yearly folders for the current year, plus any previous years that you plan to organize. Then inside each folder, label each month. Tip - use a number before each label (01-January, 02-February, etc.) to keep them in the correct order and easy to find.

how to organize photos in folder

3 - Organize by event. Once you get into each month, you can get as specific as you’d like. Label by specific event or you can create a grab all folder for the whole month. Title it ‘everything else’, ‘junkdrawer’, ‘general’ for a few examples. It’s up to you!

organize files by event

You may also choose to add additional dates or notes here. It all depends on how specific you prefer to be. You can also label important files by using the ‘tag’ colors on a mac. I often do this to remember folders I still need to edit or do some work on. (note the little red dot)

adding dates to organize folders

3 | Take time to organize from the start

If you’ve never been through this process before, here’s where the bulk of your grunt work is going to come in. I recommend carving out a few hours to sit down and tackle it all at once. But do what you can! I also recommend some tunes and some of this. Mmmhmm 🙂


Locate your photos and videos

Here’s the easiest way to get your photos from your iphone to your computer:

1 - Plug your phone in using a USB cable

2 - Allow the computer to access your phone’s information. Click ‘trust’ when it prompts on your phone.

3 - Open ‘Image Capture’ in the Applications folder.

how to open image capture

4 - Here’s what you’ll see. Make sure your phone is selected in the upper left hand corner, under devices.

5 - In the lower left corner, set ‘Import to: Desktop’. Create a folder on your desktop to temporarily hold all the files from your phone until you’re ready for the next step. You can just name it ‘iPhone files’.

image capture example.jpg

If your photos are in another location on your computer then now is the time to gather those as well.

On a mac: navigate to ‘Photos’ inside the applications folder to search for them. You can either drag the photos from there straight onto your external hard drive or into a temporary folder on your desktop before sorting.

Start moving files into the correct folders

Now that you’ve located all the files on your phone and computer, it’s time to go ahead and start dragging them into the correct yearly and monthly folders (don’t worry about remember events yet, just start with years and months).

If you can’t remember the date the photo was taken, simply right click on the photo and view the ‘date created’ under more info (for pc: select ‘properties’ and then ‘details’ to find the correct date).

I don’t worry about renaming my photo files individually, because I feel like having the folders well organized is all I need. But again, this is personal preference. My husband likes to have the files named individually according to date + event. This would be a great time to tackle that stage as well.

Now that you’ve sorted through all your photos, you may choose to go back and organize even further into events. Again, that’s up to you.

4 | Rinse and repeat

That’s it! It’s really not rocket science. It’s just a matter of creating a file structure that makes sense for you from the get go and sticking to it.

Create a timeframe that makes sense for you to consistently go through and make sure your photos are in the right place. I do this every time I transfer files from my SD cards. I put them straight into the correct folder and then again if I do any edits to the photos in the future.

5 | Additonal folder structures for video projects and photo edits

Here are a few quick examples of how I structure more complex photo and video projects for my professional work.

1 - Photoshoots

I start with the family’s last name or the company name. Then I have two folders - one for raw files and one for edits. I simply open up the raw files in lightroom all at once. Once I have finished my edits, I export them straight into the ‘edits’ folder. That way I maintain all of my raw files in case they are ever needed in the future. Sometimes I’ll break down even further into two or more folders into the ‘edits’ folder - for black and whites, colors, and favorites in case I want to share some as a sneak peek on social media.

how to organize folders for professional photos

2 - Video Projects

Here’s an example of how I structure a basic video project. You’ll have to adjust and adapt a bit according to your project, but in general I always have these basic folders. It’s ok if they are empty for certain projects. It helps the project run so much smoother when I am structured and organized throughout. Not to mention, when you start moving elements around into different places halfway through your project, adobe premiere will be very upset. Just trust me.

how to structure folders for video projects


I know it seems like a lot to take in at first, but give it a try. Let me know how it goes for you in the comments below. Or if ever you have any further questions, I’m always happy to help!

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best way to organize photos



If you have ever had a desire to take great pictures, but just didn’t know where to start or how to even begin to operate a camera, then you are in the right place.

I want to start from the beginning and break it all down for you into bite-sized chunks (hungry man style) of information.

Before you finish, I hope that you will have enough of an understanding to go from staring longingly at your camera, to fumbling around with your camera, to taking complete control of your camera.

You will find yourself becoming more familiar with not only how the camera functions, but also with how to gain control of the way your photos actually look.

In the next several lessons, we’ll dive right in to the basics of how cameras work, starting with the most basic and overarching concept: exposure.

By the end you will have a much better understanding of not only how your camera works, but also how to control all of its many functions. When I first started shooting, I remember frequently being frustrated with the outcome of my photos.


With the camera set to automatic mode, I had no idea how to make the right adjustments to change how my pictures were turning out. Once I finally got a feel for how to operate my camera in manual mode, a huge shift took place in my photography skills.

Finally I was in control of my images. It was freeing to know exactly how to manipulate my camera to make it do what I wanted it to do. And my images became stronger and more consistent as a result.

That's when you move from simply operating a nice camera and hoping for the best, to becoming the artist behind the camera. Now you are in control of your images and the camera becomes the amazing tool you use to get there.


Before we get into the specifics of operating your camera (and we will get there), it’s important for you to really have an understanding of what exposure means and why it’s important.

Take a look at the following example.

You’ll see the same photograph with three different exposures. When you think of your camera, forget about how advanced the technology has become and all that it can do.

Start thinking about your camera as a light box.

A camera is a device that uses light to create an image. You can control how much light enters the camera by altering a few different functions on your camera. Depending on which one you choose to alter, this will change the style and outcome of your photo.

exposure example.jpg


The exposure triangle is simply an illustration of the interplay of the three main functions that alter how much light enters into every single camera: the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

We will go into what each of these terms mean in a moment, but for now, just understand that they each control how much light enters the camera, each in its own way.

They function individually, but they also work together, hence the triangle figure.

I'm going to go through each of these one by one and how they interact to give you a better understanding of how things work. Don't worry if it seems confusing, I was too in the beginning. Stick with me and let's see if it begins to makes sense.

illustration of the Exposure Triangle.jpg

Basically it's all about light. The camera needs a certain amount of light to properly expose an image. You can let that light in through one of three ways: aperture, shutter speed, or ISO. I'll go through what each of these means and then we'll talk about how they interact and why you would choose to change one over the other.


Aperture is how wide the shutter opens up. The wider (or more open) your aperture, the more light is allowed to come in. The smaller (or narrower) your aperture, the less light is allowed.

This is noted by f-stops: f/2 = very wide, f/11 = very narrow. The size that your shutter can open up will vary depending on the lens. Some lenses open up to f1.2 allowing a lot of light in, while others open up only to f4.

photography basics aperature


Shutter speed determines how fast the shutter opens and closes. Shutter speed is measured in seconds and fractions of seconds. A shutter speed of 1" means your shutter is open for 1 second of time, while a speed of 1/100 means your shutter is open for "one one-hundredth of a second"

3 | ISO

Sensitivity of the image sensor (for digital cameras). This term comes from film cameras where ISO referred to the sensitivity of the type of film being used. 

The lower your ISO, the more sensitive your sensor is to light; and the higher your ISO, the less sensitive it is to the available light.

The ISO on your camera most likely starts at ISO 100 and increases incrementally. These technicals don’t really matter.

All you need to know is that ISO will artificially make your image brighter the higher it goes.

But keep in mind that the higher the ISO, the more grain or ‘noise’ will appear in your photo.


For any given real world scenario, there will always be a certain amount of light that needs to go into your camera to properly expose an image. 

When you change one of these three basic camera elements, the other two must change as well to maintain that proper amount of light.

Let's look at a few examples, assuming you are photographing outside, with plenty of available light.


1 - If you open your aperture very wide, it's going to let in more light. Therefore, your shutter speed will need to be faster, so it lets less light in. Otherwise your image will be overexposed.

2 - Let's say you want your aperture to be very narrow. It's going to let less light in than the previous example, so your shutter speed will have to be slower so that it has time to let more light in.

Let's add ISO into the equation. As a rule of thumb, you generally want your ISO to be as low as possible. For the above situations, if I had plenty of light to work with I would set my ISO at 300 or less and just leave it there. That way all I have to think about is adjusting my shutter speed and aperture. However, there will be times when you have less available light - as the sun is going down or alower light indoor situation. During these times, you may need to raise your ISO. You may also have to keep your aperture very wide and slow down your shutter speed. See how when you change one factor, they all change?


You may be wondering why it would even matter which one you change. That's where you move from just operating a nice camera to actually becoming an artist and taking control of your images. 

There are lots of creative choices to be made that will completely change the outcome of your image depending on which of these three things you adjust.

This is why it's so important to be able to move beyond shooting in auto mode on your camera. You will have so much more freedom to shoot what you want to shoot!

Let's go through some examples to see the creative choices you can make when changing each of these.


A wide aperture creates a shallow depth of field. Great for portraits and blurry backgrounds. Notice in the image below how the trees and the table cloth are blurry and the only area in focus is right around her face? That's only achieved through having a wide open aperture. 

Aperture: f 2.0 // Shutter speed: 1/4000 // ISO 400 // Canon 35mm
Aperture: f 2.0 // Shutter speed: 1/4000 // ISO 400 // Canon 35mm

In the image below, notice that the leaves are all blurry, bringing focus just to the subject. Again, this is because the aperture is wide open. In this scenario I was working with less light, so my shutter speed is a bit slower and my ISO is higher, but I knew I wanted to keep my aperture as wide open as possible.

Aperture: f 2.0 // Shutter speed: 1/1250 // ISO 1600 // Canon 135mm
Aperture: f 2.0 // Shutter speed: 1/1250 // ISO 1600 // Canon 135mm

One more example of using a wide aperture to focus on one small area of the image - in this case on the blueberries in her hand.

Aperture: f 2.8 // Shutter speed: 1/800 // ISO 640 // Canon 57mm
Aperture: f 2.8 // Shutter speed: 1/800 // ISO 640 // Canon 57mm

Now let's talk a bit about the times when you may want to use a narrow aperture. These are times when you want everything in your image in focus. In landscape photography, this is usually the case as you are photographing a large area and most likely want it all to be sharp.

Here are a few taken from my honeymoon to Patagonia. Notice that everything from the road in the front to the mountains behind are all in focus. This is only done through using a narrow aperture.

Aperture: f 22 // Shutter speed: 1/800 // ISO 200 // Canon 35mm
Aperture: f 22 // Shutter speed: 1/800 // ISO 200 // Canon 35mm
Aperture: f 18 // Shutter speed: 1/125 // ISO 1250 // Canon 35mm
Aperture: f 18 // Shutter speed: 1/125 // ISO 1250 // Canon 35mm

Note in the above photo that lighting was already limited and I knew I wanted keep a more narrow aperture (allowing for even less light to come in). As a result, my shutter speed needed to be slower to allow more time for light to come in and my ISO needed to be higher.


Let's talk about what happens when you change your shutter speed. When your subject is moving, you will need to have a faster shutter speed, otherwise the image will be blurry. It can also appear blurry if your hand shakes or moves at all when taking the photo.

In this photo, the shutter speed was extremely SLOW - 4 seconds long. It gave the effect of motion, which is sometimes desirable and sometimes not. Slow shutter speeds are often used for images at night of a cityscape for example. If you have a tripod, you can set your camera up and use a slow shutter speed to capture lights, stars, etc. You'll need a tripod or some sort of support though because any motion of your hands holding the camera even for just a fraction of a second will cause the image to be blurry.

Aperture: f 22 // Shutter speed: 4" // ISO 250 // Canon 35mm (camera sitting on the table)
Aperture: f 22 // Shutter speed: 4" // ISO 250 // Canon 35mm (camera sitting on the table)

Note that because my shutter speed was SO slow, my aperture needed to be very small to let less light in and my ISO very low; otherwise my image would have been overexposed.

Below is an example of when you may want to use a FAST shutter speed. If your subject is moving quickly (as is often the case with children) and you want them to be sharp and in focus, you'll probably want to keep your shutter speed at least 1/100 or above.

Aperture: f 1.8 // Shutter speed: 1/5000 // ISO 500 // Canon 35mm
Aperture: f 1.8 // Shutter speed: 1/5000 // ISO 500 // Canon 35mm


It's always best to use the lowest ISO possible.

There will be situations, however, where you just don't have enough light.

You aperture may be as wide as it can go and your shutter speed as slow as you want it to go and you still don't have enough light. This is when you will have to bump your ISO up higher.

The reason you want adjust this setting last is because using too much ISO will result in grain in your images. The dark areas will have some 'noise' to them. The amount of ISO you can use will depend on your camera. Some camera's are better than others and can be bumped up much higher.

The photo below is an example of where I had no other choice but to bump up my ISO quite high. The photoshoot was taken on a rainy day in a darkly lit nursery. My aperture was as wide as it will go and my shutter speed was 1/40 (just high enough to avoid hand shake), the only thing I could do was raise my ISO.

My camera handles ISO very well and you can still hardly see any noise here. But just know that on most cameras when you start to get above ISO 1000, you are going to start seeing some noise and grain. 

Aperture: f 2.8 // Shutter speed: 1/40 // ISO 2500 // Canon 35mm
Aperture: f 2.8 // Shutter speed: 1/40 // ISO 2500 // Canon 35mm


I know that was a lot of information to take in at once, but I hope it gives you a good overview of the exposure triangle and the three basic variables that go into operating your camera.

For me it helped to see and read about these things, but when it came down to it, I didn't fully understand it all until I started playing with it on my camera.

So that's the next challenge - start experimenting with your camera.

Here’s your homework: begin with shutter speed. Take the same picture with a fast shutter speed and then a slow one and see what happens. And then do the same experiment with aperture. Do this over and over until it starts to really click. You'll be amazed at how quickly you'll start to pick things up.

Let me know your questions as you go. What did you learn? What are you still confused about? Can't wait to hear how it goes for you!

Managing Large Family Photo Shoots

The task of photographing four young kiddos can be daunting, but it is also the perfect recipe for authentic photos, full of life and energy. Here are 5 tips to help you feel comfortable and confident taking pictures of a large family.

photography a family of six

Five Easy Tips For How to Photograph a Large Family

1 | Come prepared

Being prepared begins well before you have even met the family.

Start with the first method of communication - oftentimes this is an email from mom asking to book a session. Be sure to follow up with a warm welcome email (or even better, a phone call).

Make it personal. Introduce yourself and let the parents know exactly what to expect the day of your shoot. Ask questions about their children - what are their names, ages, and interests?

This will not only help mom and dad feel a little more comfortable before you actually meet them, but it will also give you a little heads up on what to expect from the children.

It helps so much with little ones when you can get down on their level and let them know you are interested in them.

In this case, I knew that there would be two boys under the age of 7. This meant a lot of fart jokes were involved. That is something I knew to have in my little bag of tricks before I even met this family. You ask mom a number of additional questions that are also helpful to know ahead of time. Are any of her children overly shy? Are any overly energetic?

These are all great things to know ahead of time so you can go ahead and prepare yourself with ways to handle those specific situations when it comes to shoot day.

2 | Location Matters

Scout out a location well in advance of your shoot date. Go there ahead of time at the same time of day that your shoot is scheduled and map out an idea of where you will place the family for a number of shots.

In my town, I have about four key locations that I return to time and time again. I know exactly where the sun is going to hit at just the right spot for perfect backlighting. I also have a few great little places where I know groups of kids will fit really well together - up in a small (and safe!) tree or perched on a large rock.

Another consideration is to make sure that the location you choose is not overly crowded. The last thing you need is to be fighting with a crowd for all the spots you have preplanned beforehand. You also don’t want the undue pressure on you or on your family of crowds of people watching you.

two boys smiling in a tree

3 | The Shot List

Over time, you will become so familiar with your own flow during sessions that you will not need to make a new shot list every single time. However if you are a new photographer, it is so important to have a short list either in your mind, jotted down on a slip of paper, or (insider trick) take a picture of one on your camera before your shoot and then look at it on the back of your camera screen during the shoot if you need a quick reminder.

This is far less awkward that glancing at a cheat sheet in the middle of your session. The family will just assume you are checking a shot. Here are a few of my go-to shot list ideas. You will find more examples in the next few tips as well.

candid family laughing
portrait of cute girl
two little girls on a bench

The girls in this family are twins, but interestingly they have very different personalities. I thought it was so cute how they had picked such different shoes. This is a great shot for mom to remember their little personalities by. If you have situations like this with two girls or twins, don’t be afraid to focus on it for a bit.

I took the girls away for a bit, which made them feel special and gave the rest of the family a bit of a break, and I let them just let loose together. I had them dance and play and do what girls do.


4 | Have fun

These guys really nailed it. We had so much fun! We ran, we played, we laughed, and laughed some more. You can really see their little personalities bursting through every photograph.

It is so important that you as the photographer and leader of this session are having fun too. Your family will never relax or open up if you cannot do so first. And that will absolutely show in your photos.

Here are some ideas that I frequently use with large families to help them open up and have fun.

family having fun

Here I went ahead and sat mom and dad down on the blanket and then took the kids to the side and whispered what I wanted them to do. This made them feel so special and excited, like they were getting to do something fun and a bit mischievous, since dad and mom didn’t know what to expect.

I told them to start behind their mom and dad, get a running start, and then jump onto their backs. Look at how much fun they had! Sure, not everyone is perfectly posed or looking right at the camera, but that is not really the point. Mom and dad will look back so fondly on a moment like this, with all their kids laughing and having fun.

Look at mom’s face, that’s real. You simply can’t pose that.

The cool thing that happens is that usually after a moment like this, the family will settle down a bit and you will also get a winning portrait shot.

kids racing

Here I had mom and dad stand still and told the kids to run towards me as fast as they could, like a race. They loved it and I got a handful of fun shots from it. I believe we did this 3-4 times.

5 | All about groupings

This also sort of falls under the shot list tip, but it is important enough to my flow that I thought it deserved it’s own space. It is so important to be sure that you get all the important groupings of family members, especially with a large family. In this case I made sure to get:


Be sure to move the family around to handful of spots as you go. Once I have accomplished all my groupings, if there is still time I just continue to let the family have fun and enjoy the surroundings.

To me, this is the joy of lifestyle photography.

I always go in with a plan, but I am continuously surprised and excited by all the spontaneity and personality that comes from each family shoot. I hope you have enjoyed learning about a few of my own tips and tricks for taking great photos for a large family.

Let me know in the comments how you handle your family photos. Do you have any tricks that I didn’t mention?

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