3 Tips to Taking more interesting photos of kids (or anything, really)

Have you seen those iPhone ads that are billboard-tall and usually pretty simple, graphic, and compelling? It’s a striking image that says “taken on the iPhone”. It tells the story that the camera is so advanced that it can take even that image. It’s true – these little cameras phones are pretty powerful. But what that ad isn’t saying, but is even more true, is that how you see light and where you position your camera are the most important decisions you can make. Those two things are what have made those images what they are. The camera is just a tool – it is not the artist. So, use the camera that you have with you, and let’s face it, that’s usually our phones. Learn a little about how to see light and position yourself, and your images will dramatically improve.

Now, kids present a unique challenge in that they move quickly and are often camera adverse. But with practice and understanding the basics of lighting, you can get better images of the little moments.

Lesson 1 – Let Them Be

When moments worth capturing with kids are happening, it can feel like they are so fast, so fleeting. But usually, if you give a child some alone time, some space, and some freedom, what they choose to do on their own is quite beautiful. The surefire way to get an unnatural photo is to tell them what to do – to pose, to smile, to be a certain way. Just let them do what they want to do. In the time that they are settling in and forgetting about you and the camera, straighten the setting. Neaten up loose toys, arrange pillows, calm the space.

Letting her be in her play room for ten minutes, without context and without a little brother, she set to work finding she wanted to do for quiet time. I spent a few minutes straightening up before picking up my camera, to let the energy of “being on” diminish, and to allow a more authentic image to occur.

Lesson 2: Allow The Light to Tell the Story

Light is the photograph. The subject is not. The way in which the light reflects off of surfaces, or gets absorbed or blocked by them, is what we’re capturing. So understanding how light moves is your first job key understanding. Practice using indirect light coming in through a window. Watch how, depending on what else is around, your image changes.

For instance, in this example the sunlight coming in through the window is reflecting off of the changing table (a white surface) and back onto the face and body of the subject. If your subject is dark but the rest of your image is light, try putting a white or light colored object underneath or in front of them to bounce light back onto them. This can be a book, a sheet, a person in a white shirt, anything you have around.

Reflected window light

In the image below, I stood to the side of my subject, and held the dark brown curtain to control the light. The light that remained flowing into the window was directed only to the little girl watching the doggies walk by on the sidewalk. Subtracting light by using dark colored surfaces can be very effective in creating dramatic shapes and scenes.

Subtractive lighting

Tip 3: Pick One Point of Focus

Direct your viewers’ eye by focusing on one object. Eliminate all other distractions through your crop, composition and depth of field, so that their eye gets drawn to what you want them to see first. This really takes practice. Our brain is amazingly adept at filtering out lots of distractions from the world around us – but if we photograph all that we see in a scene – it becomes a jumbled mess in which the point is not made. So help your viewer by going in close. Move your body. Change your depth of field. Ask people to move, or to move objects. Edit, edit, edit until your subject is the most interesting thing in the frame.

We were taking a group shot with the whole family, but the story was really between the sisters here. So I chose a crop that eliminated all but the protective hand of a parent, and focused in on the face to face connection.
Moving behind a tree and shooting through the branches both gave the subjects a bit of distance from my camera, and allowed the leaves to create a natural vignette, reducing the distraction of the house behind them.
Remove all distractions and keep your eye on your subject (in this case, the child) until their expression is what you want it to be. To remove distractions here, I positioned my body to balance the dark green trees on both sides of my subject, providing balance, and lowered my depth of field to blur the path in the background, which would have led your eye straight out of the frame had it been sharp.

There are so many more tips to learn to take better photos. Hit me up in the comments if this was helpful, and what other questions you might have. And of course….practice, practice, practice!

Happy Shooting!


having fun doing the big scary thing

81. I think a lot about that character FEAR who lives in my head. The well intentioned one who reminds me what is lurking in every decision that I make – who I’ll impact, mostly. The one who tries to remind me that I am not in control. That it would be easier if someone else would just make this decision, already. Because then I wouldn’t have to take responsibility – no, that’s not it. Then the decision would be the right one. Because someone smarter, wiser, older, more impervious than I would make it and it would be right and done.

And I’m not talking about big things like quitting a job, moving across country, leaving a marriage; I’m talking about switching away from the guy who trims the trees cause the current guy isn’t very skilled and I like my trees.

This is my default way. They say that your greatest weakness is also your greatest strength. So I guess mine is feeling empathy to the point of paralysis. Gah.

But once, just once in my life, when I was moving from DC to Seattle, did I have sustained clarity and joy over fear. For a few solid months, my mind truly felt on a different river in a different valley. I felt optimism, clarity, power in me alone, and strength. I think fear was really, really tired and napping. And whew what a relief that was. I was sitting at dinner with my friend Caitlin, and she was moving to Asheville at the same time I was moving to Seattle. We were both leaving our communities, our homes, our pasts and our careers as we knew them, all for the unknown. Both alone, and at an age when we acutely felt our last childbearing years dripping away day by day, in increments of 28. As we sat there, she spun down the spiral FEAR had woven, the known tentacles of danger lurking in every dark, unknown corner. And that brilliant river woman that I was in that fleeting moment just touched her hand and said “And what if it all works out? We spend all of our lives preparing for the unknown by building protections, tempering risk, or at least thinking through all of the horrible outcomes. But what if the more likely outcome is true? That it’s all going to be fine, great even? Why don’t we put ANY energy toward preparing for that?” That was six years ago. And it’s all fine, great even. I remember her big fears. I’m pretty sure none of them came true. But what she was searching for when she moved: community, husband, child, family – those are all true for her now. I hope she was prepared.

It has been a scary few years. A tough time for so many of us in so many ways. I hope, if you’re facing fear right now in the face of a change, big or little, that you can bring up a deep joy and smile in knowing that it all might be fine, great even.

Checking in

80. Hey out there. How are y’all doing? If you’re struggling right now or have been in a funk for, and let’s just pick some random numbers here….TWO YEARS….I hear you and I’m with you. This has been a ride that we’ve been on, hasn’t it? There has been this fog that’s permeated my brain for a while now that is starting to lift, and my goodness is that a relief. Inspiration is beginning to come back, and deep awareness that while things may be “returning to normal” we may never really be “normal” again. Earlier in this pandemic I mused what we’d learn on the other side of all of this. I still don’t have the answers, but am beginning to play with what’s possible. For me, there is a light in the darkness of our recent days and years. The illumination of how short life is, how varied our approach to each day can be, and how the largest obstacles can become our greatest teachers. Sending you all support and light.

Eddy and Flow

79. This past fall I was reading Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart” …. brilliant in its clarity and wisdom. In dealing with loss, she said, we often try to run as far from that pain as possible by rebuilding what we know, what we have known, to be true. But in that race to erase discomfort, we squander the golden opportunity, as golden as the sunrise out my window. The opportunity to build from the ashes something new, something unknown. How often do we have that chance, to use our lifetime of experience to define how we want to be in the world? Not the definition of ourselves that developed as we grew into adults, but our adult selves consciously choosing where and how to focus. I’m thinking of these words in conjunction with a memory of talking with this brilliant astrologer, a woman my soul sisters and I have been meeting with on and off since we were 26. This was May of 2019. She said to me “get clear on the big things in your life over these next nine months. Do the work to be content with where you are, what you’re doing, and who you’re with. Because come January 2020 (the 20th will be a day to note) not much is going to change for the following two to three years.” Well, we’re over one year in. I think most are treading water, and most I know are simultaneously anxious to not squander this time. But maybe it’s just what it is. We’re in the ebb … more accurately to me it feels more like an eddy. We’re in a collective stillness. What will we build once the currents change and the flow begins once again?

(p.s. Maybe Atmo was a day off, but I’m thinking they just reported it a day late).

We Are Actually Not Okay

(Warning: preachy, imperfect, judgmental and angry blog post coming. Read at your own discretion).

I was seven miles into the backcountry with my friend, and we came upon a perfect site, along a lake devoid of people. We continued on, to see if we could find another site tucked back deeper, and still within the warmth of the setting sun. Three young-thirty-something men were in a great spot, packing their gear, and said “we’re about to leave, if you want to camp here tonight”. So we dropped our packs, went swimming in the pristine mountain lake, and came back to camp. Then we got closer, and found that the campfire was a bit warm (we were in a burn ban zone and there were some pretty big logs in there) and next to the fire ring they had left the contents of what seemed to have been a bad burrito. There was more and more waste, including human, within 15 feet of the campsite, the more we looked. K scooped it all up (she’s a saint), and went back about 200 feet to bury it 8 inches deep, as all waste should be out there if it’s not packed out. We talked about them a lot that night. What’s the instinct? What’s the motivation to leave behind that which no longer serves you, but without regard for the next who comes? When your choice comes out of convenience for you and not for the other? That you choose to let someone else pick up your literal garbage because you think it’s too gross to deal with on your own. Or that you choose to be an optimist and think, eh, some little chipmunk will eat this (it’s bad for them, ok, don’t feed the chipmunks bad burritos), or, it’s natural, it’ll decompose!

I prefer to be an optimist. I prefer to think that it will all work out. But this year, man, I just don’t know. This is our fire map today. Accelerated and amplified by climate change. Climate change created and amplified by a societal structure that values profit over people, profit over wholeness, profit over future. A choice for us, without regard for those who come next.

I so appreciate the check-ins from my friends spread all over the world. To see how we are faring, to send a virtual hug, to acknowledge that this unprecedented fire season must be just awful. It’s just awful. This morning, when I had gone back to bed because my allergies and this smoke are just too much, I had a dream about a happy bear, a whale, clear waters, and my family. Then I awoke and watered my gardens as quickly as possible wearing a N-95 mask. Because I’m desperately trying not to lose the tomatoes and the sunflowers and all that was good about being home during Covid.

That’s all. It’s tough. It’s sad. It’s scary. It’s a lot of loss on top of what has been a year of loss. My parents are driving cross country to see their kids and their very young grandkids for the first time this year, and they can’t get here yet, because they’re camping to avoid people. To avoid Covid. They are just a few days away, but can’t get here because the air quality is getting so bad as far east as Yellowstone that they can’t sleep in a tent. They will get here. They’re hanging low in good air quality and the rains will come and this will get under control, as it always does. And then, like a bad burrito we left behind at a campsite, we’ll forget we were here at all and go on with our lives.

Or maybe, just maybe, we will act not only on our own behalf, but for the other. Build community. And vote for what we want our future to be.

Before There Was a To-Do List


77. I’m watching the birds on the blooming cherry tree just outside of my window. The one I didn’t know bloomed, because I’m always in DC at this time of year. The yellow finch, the stellar jay, and the little ones that hang impossibly upside down, like gymnasts, monkeys, tucking their whole heads into the fragrant flowers. The humming birds with the fastest heartbeat. Some days I awake and just want to play in the garden, watch the birds on the blooming cherry tree outside of my windows, and create. Create for the sake of a full day, a full heart, a full set of tools, a full life.



76. Powerful words. Shared for you from the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. This was shared with me from a wise woman in my life, and I can’t add another word:

“As you move through these changing times… be easy on yourself and be easy on one another. You are at the beginning of something new. You are learning a new way of being. You will find that you are working less in the yang modes that you are used to.

You will stop working so hard at getting from point A to point B the way you have in the past, but instead, will spend more time experiencing yourself in the whole, and your place in it.

Instead of traveling to a goal out there, you will voyage deeper into yourself. Your mother’s grandmother knew how to do this. Your ancestors from long ago knew how to do this. They knew the power of this principle… and because you carry their DNA in your body, this wisdom and this way of being is within you.

Call on it. Call it up. Invite your ancestors in. As the yang based habits and the decaying institutions on our planet begin to crumble, look up. A breeze is stirring. Feel the sun on your wings.”

Today I


75. Today I saw my neighbor, who last weekend had been taken to the hospital in a 2am emergency ambulance pick-up. He was covered with a mask and gloves, but out and about. Today I went for a run and crossed the street fifteen times. I breathed in the cherry blossoms, the hyacinth and something mysteriously fragrant that I used to assume was from a company cleaning million dollar houses up and down the row. But now I think it’s just a flower that I have never seen in the spring, as I am always in DC. Today I took a webinar from the Small Business Administration that I probably should have reached out to two, five and ten years ago. Today I applied for two grants dedicated to supporting artists who have lost 100% of our income for the foreseeable future. I took a Peloton cardio class, and then a dance class because it really breaks up the day to breathe, sweat and laugh at my lack of rhythm. Today I made bagels with what I have, because I can’t find bread flour anywhere. Today we did the dishes for the millionth time. Today, I printed a document for my neighbor because he doesn’t have a printer. I passed along the grant opportunities onto my other neighbors. Today I worked on a project to support my people. Today was a good day.


4874. I’m listening to a pre-fab Spotify playlist right now. Something that is not the news and not too distracting, because I’m feeling inspired and distraction derails my inspiration. So I randomly picked “low key covers” to play in the background. I was looking for the ignorable din of the coffeeshop I worked in just weeks ago. Holy. I found myself called out of my rhythm time after time (yup that was covered and is in my head….Cindy Lauper, we love you). Called out of my rhythm to skip a song that feels empty and radiates effort. Hear me though. I am not anti-cover. We, as a world society, have created so much, and using that and building upon that is the very foundation of art. But. It is palatable to hear (or see, or read) what an artist thinks that they should produce. We all have something unique to say. But can we express what is uniquely ours? That is the challenge to our own spirit.

P.S. This is an image of Jean and Laura in their engagement session. Jean rented a very rare plane for our shoot, which we used inside and out, recreating times gone by. A cover of another day, another era. But with heart, I hope.


In the spring


73. In the spring of 2020, the citizens of the world came back.

Women had hair again. Of all colors. We ate breakfast. We made bread again, so much so that the stores ran out of flour. In the spring of 2020, we learned our neighbors names. We remembered that we love to paint. We fixed that light that’s been broken forever. We discovered that the jam in our refrigerator was bad. We walked. We waved to each other from a distance. In the spring of 2020 we got on the phone and wrote a letter and we genuinely cared to hear the response. In the spring of 2020 the Venice canals were able to breathe, and we thought that was amazing enough to let our friends know. In the spring of 2020 we began to think. About what we need and how we impact.

In the Spring of 2020, the ocean continued to crash onto the shore, uncaring that no one heard her, but keeping the metronome for us all.