Life in Lape Haven

Archive - November 2015

The Legacy in an Apple Pie Recipe

Life in Lape Haven: The Legacy in an Apple Pie - A Delicious, Easy Recipe Four Generations in the Making. An apple pie recipe that combines one great-grandma's apple pie filling with another great-grandma's pie crust recipe.
A Delicious, Easy Apple Pie Recipe, Four Generations in the Making

This past week, for Thanksgiving, I made a homemade apple pie from scratch.

Now while that might sound tasty to you, it probably doesn’t sound significant, and maybe in your family, it’s not.

However, for me, this apple pie represented four generations of good cooks (yes, I’m counting myself in there. Trust me – this apple pie earned it for me).

My Great-Grandma Leora (my maternal grandpa’s mother), whose pickles I learned to make this summer, used to make apple pies. It was one of the many recipes for which she is remembered. She often made apple pies ahead and froze them, so that she would have them when apples weren’t in season.

Amazingly enough, when she died, my grandfather found some of her apple pies in the freezer. Since I was pretty young at the time, I don’t remember how many there were, but I do remember my mom telling me that Grandpa had the last of her pies about a year after she’d passed.

How cool is that?

Now I don’t know if Great-Grandma expected her legacy to be her baking, but at least part of it is. Not only was she still feeding her family a year after she’d died, but her recipes have become an inheritance for her grandchildren, great-grandchildren (my cousins and me), and even her great-great grandchildren.

From her pickles to her pies to her cakes and cookies, she’s still at all of our family gatherings.

Of course, Great-Grandma didn’t give out all her secrets. For example, my mom’s apple pies didn’t start tasting exactly like Great-Grandma’s until she figured out that the apples that Great-Grandma used in her pies, the ones from the tree in her yard, were Cortland apples. It made all the difference.

With that knowledge, my mom makes some delicious apple pies!

As for me, well, I’ve always struggled with getting my pie dough just right. I can slice up the apples and toss them with the sugar and cinnamon and freeze it in batches ready to fill a pie. But my pie crust has never gone well or been “as easy as pie.”

However, knowing that I CAN make pie crust from scratch, I refuse to buy it. I have kept trying out new recipes to find one that works well for me and tastes good.

When I was at my grandma’s learning how to make the lime pickles, I talked to her about my frustrations with making pie dough.

Flipping through her recipes, my grandma found a recipe from her mother, Edith, titled “Never Fail Pie Crust.”

“This is the one I always use, “she told me.

Life in Lape Haven: The Legacy in an Apple Pie - A Delicious, Easy Recipe Four Generations in the Making. An apple pie recipe that combines one great-grandma's apple pie filling with another great-grandma's pie crust recipe.

Scribbling it down, I tucked it away with several other family recipes that she gave me that day, anxious to try them all out.

Of course, I waited until the day before Thanksgiving to try out the pie crust recipe.

Thankfully, it was the easiest pie dough I’ve ever worked with. I mixed it up and rolled it out in one take! Yea!!!

As I was laying the dough into the pie plate, it occurred to me that I was making an apple pie with one great-grandma’s filling recipe and another great-grandma’s pie crust.

I thought about all the family holidays, church potlucks, and special gatherings that each of those ladies had baked for and brought dishes to. I imagined them as mothers, working in the kitchen while their children (my grandparents among them) played in the next room or helped them with a chair pulled up to the counter. I could see my mom as a little girl, learning how to roll out pie crust from her mother and her grandmothers so that one day she could teach me.

Life in Lape Haven: The Legacy in an Apple Pie - A Delicious, Easy Recipe Four Generations in the Making. An apple pie recipe that combines one great-grandma's apple pie filling with another great-grandma's pie crust recipe.

Suddenly I related to my great-grandmas in a way I hadn’t really done before, as wives, moms, and women. It was kind of like that moment as a child when you realize that your parents are people, too. (Haha) I could see the legacy they passed down beyond just wonderful recipes. They both took good care of their families, loved God and serving Him, and shared their gifts with those around them.

I imagine they would both be quite pleased to know that their recipes were continuing to fill the tables (and tummies) at our family festivities.

To top off my great-grandma pie story, at our Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, my grandpa reminded us that the day would have been his mother’s (my Great-Grandma Leora’s) birthday.

I was definitely giving thanks for Great-Grandma Leora, Great-Grandma Edith, and their baking legacy as I bit into my first piece of delicious homemade apple pie.

Life in Lape Haven: The Legacy in an Apple Pie - A Delicious, Easy Recipe Four Generations in the Making. An apple pie recipe that combines one great-grandma's apple pie filling with another great-grandma's pie crust recipe.
Want to enjoy some tasty apple pie of your own? Here you go – my Great-Grandmas’ Apple Pie recipe. (For good tips on how to roll out your pie crust, read here.)  Yum

My Great-Grandmas' Apple Pie

My Great-Grandmas' Apple Pie

Ingredients

    Great-Grandma Leora's Apple Pie Filling:
  • 5 cups Cortland Apples, sliced
  • 1 Tablespoon All-purpose Flour
  • 1 Tablespoon Corn Starch
  • 1/4 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 5 shakes of Salt (That's how my mom has always measured it - 5 shakes of the salt shaker. It's not more than 1/8 tsp.)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons Butter
    Great-Grandma Edith's Never Fail Pie Crust:
  • 3 cups All-purpose Flour
  • 1-1/4 cup Shortening or 1 cup Lard
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Egg, beaten well
  • 5 Tablespoons Water
  • 1 Tablespoon Vinegar

Instructions

    Apple Pie Fillng:
  1. Mix flour, corn starch, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and salt.
  2. Add apples and mix to coat.
  3. Use right away or freeze until needed.
    Pie Crust:
  1. Combine flour and salt.
  2. Cut shortening or lard into the flour mixture.
  3. Combine egg, water, and vinegar.
  4. Pour liquid into flour mixture, mixing all at once and blending until moist. (Dough can be kept up to 2 weeks, wrapped in plastic or in a sealed container, in the refrigerator)
  5. Roll out half the dough on a lightly flour surface until you have a circle larger than your pie plate and a dough thinner than 1/4".
  6. Fold the crust in half and gently drape it over the pie plate, opening the crust, and working it down into the pan. Gently pat the sides to make sure the crust is against the plate.
  7. Place apples in a prepared pie crust.
  8. Place dollops of butter on top of the apples (4-5 places in the pie).
  9. Roll out the remaining dough, following the steps above, to create a top crust. Poke a few holes, as decoratively as you like, at the center of the crust.
  10. Add top crust, sealing the top and bottom crust edges together by lightly dabbing some water on the upper edge of the bottom crust, where the two crusts will come together.
  11. Trim off the excess dough and pinch the crust together.
  12. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes.
  13. Then reduce the heat to 350 degrees, baking for an additional 30 minutes.
  14. Allow pie to cool before serving.
http://lifeinlapehaven.com/2015/11/30/legacy-apple-pie-recipe/

Tried It Tuesday: My Kitchen Hack for Mashed Potatoes

Life in Lape Haven: Tried It Tuesday - My Kitchen Hack for Mashed Potatoes. Baked mashed potatoes make dinner preparation easier for me.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means that, at no additional cost to you, I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase using the links.

Some days, dinner is my nemesis.

As much as I like cooking and baking and concocting in the kitchen, some days I just don’t want to. It’s like a culinary version of writer’s block. You know you have to feed your family, but eh. (Do we have anything quick, easy, and healthy?)

Sure I could do crockpot meals, if I remembered to start it in the morning, and sometimes I do. Those are good days. Other times, I don’t, and we’re back to deciding what to do for dinner.

I’m pretty sure it was one of THOSE later afternoons that I stumbled upon my new favorite way to make mashed potatoes.

I’d gone through the effort of prepping a whole chicken to roast. Ok, not ALL the prepping – I didn’t have to go out back, kill it, gut it, and pluck it. But I DID thaw it and get it out of the annoying packaging while trying not to drip chicken ew all on my counters and sink to avoid salmonella-ing my family. I also managed to get it into the roasting pan, seasoned well for roasted chicken goodness, and into the oven early enough for it to be done in time for dinner.

But we couldn’t just eat chicken, by itself, for dinner…I guess. So, sides.

Mashed potatoes are great with roasted chicken, and all three of my guys devour them. But the peeling, dicing, boiling – I just didn’t want to. (I sound like some incompetent infomercial actor trying to chop with an appalling lack of skill – “Oh, the peeling and dicing!” Haha. Yeah, it’s not hard. I just didn’t want to.) Plus, my boys were being a little unruly that day, if I remember correctly, so I decided to try something out.

Life in Lape Haven: Tried It Tuesday - My Kitchen Hack for Mashed Potatoes. Baked mashed potatoes make dinner preparation easier for me.

I grabbed the potatoes, about 6 or so, washed them, rubbed them with a little oil, and popped them into the oven on the rack around the roasting pan.

And I was free to move on to corralling my boys for about an hour.

By the time the chicken was done, the potatoes were baked through.

While the chicken rested, I sliced the potatoes in half, then holding them in my Ove’Gloved hand (my Ove’ Glove is one of my favorite kitchen items), with a scoop or two, and sometimes a little squish, I added cooked potato to a bowl in no time. I did a little happy dance when I realized how little time it took me to scoop out the cooked potato flesh versus the time I would have spent peeling and dicing them. My plan was working!

From there I made mashed potatoes the same way I always had: mash them; add butter, milk, and salt; and whip them up well.

The verdict: My guys LOVED them!

Life in Lape Haven: Tried It Tuesday - My Kitchen Hack for Mashed Potatoes. Baked mashed potatoes make dinner preparation easier for me.

The taste is like a baked potato, and while the texture can be a little less fluffy than conventional mashed potatoes, using my good mixer helps get them close enough for us.

Plus, you retain more nutrients baking the potatoes versus boiling them (or so I’ve read), and instead of throwing out the skins, as I would if I peeled them, I save them because my guys love to add a little ketchup (or a LOT, right, Brad?) and eat them.

Since then, this has been my go-to method for making mashed potatoes, especially on those days when I don’t really feel like cooking but want to eat like I have.

Do you have any unique prep or cooking methods that you’ve developed in your kitchen? Have you ever made mashed potatoes from baked potatoes?

The Thought Box

LifeinLapeHaven.com: The Thought Box - How a vacuum cord (& God) sparked a new way to encourage my child.

How a Vacuum Cord (& God) Sparked a New Way to Encourage My Child

Last week as I was getting ready to vacuum the house, I began to unwind the vacuum cord and then stopped. The day before Elijah had had to sweep up a mess he’d made, and I had shown him how to wrap the cord onto the back when he was finished.

As I looked at the precise job he’d done of wrapping the cord, I made a mental note to tell him later that

I had noticed his effort. With his curious, active personality and stubborn, independent nature, there are some days when he gets “noticed” more for less-than-positive reasons (bossing his little brother around, getting into things he’s not allowed to, talking back), and I wanted to make sure I pointed out this “something good.”

The more I thought about it, the more I wished I could just send him a little note so he would know that I was thinking about him. Had it been my husband I wanted to acknowledge, I’d probably just shoot Brad a text message, but Elijah is only 5. He’s not going to have a phone for quite a while.

Then I had an idea.

I’d write a note and leave it for Elijah to read when he got home from school. However, rather than just hand it to him or tape it to the refrigerator, I’d make it fun and special.

Grabbing an empty cracker box, I cut down the sides, tucked three of them down in, and left the fourth as a flap that covered the opening.

Life in Lape Haven: The Thought Box - How a vacuum cord (& God) sparked a new way to encourage my child.

Ta-dah: a miniature “mailbox.” (All my Pinterest browsing has kept my creativity very active.)

I wrote out an easy-to-read note for my little man and slid it into the box.

This would be a special place where I could put notes of encouragement and praise throughout the day to let him know that I had thought about him often while he was away.

I dubbed it his “Thought Box.”

Life in Lape Haven: The Thought Box - How a vacuum cord (& God) sparked a new way to encourage my child.

While I was in the note-writing mood, I went ahead and made one for Brad because, you know, husbands like be appreciated, too.

Once I had Elijah back home from school, I showed him the cracker box. I had every intention of digging out some wrapping paper and making it all fancy, but as it happened, the day flew by before I could.

However, Elijah didn’t mind at all. He was thrilled to have a special note just for him, delighted that Mommy had seen his careful work, and overjoyed at the prospect of getting more messages from Mommy and Daddy in his Thought Box.

He immediately wrote a letter for his Daddy’s box, too.

The next day, Brad was off work, so he picked Elijah up from school, and as Elijah came running into the house, the first thing my little boy said was, “I want to see what’s in my Thought Box!

And I winced. I HAD thought about writing his note, but then got distracted by a phone call, and HADN’T WRITTEN ONE.

I said, “Oh, honey! I didn’t write one yet.”

Elijah’s face went from radiant to rejected in a heartbeat, and I felt like the WORST MOM EVER!

I apologized and explained that I had started to write his message but didn’t get to it right away and forgot later that I hadn’t done it.

Thankfully, he’s a sweet, understanding boy, and he was fine with Mommy writing it out right then. (Whew!)

But seeing how important it was to him made me determined not to let him find an empty box again.

It also confirmed in my heart what I felt when the idea first sparked in my mind.

This was more than just a good “Mommish” idea. This was God once again directing me to a unique way to love my child. Just like the book I wrote for Elijah, this “Thought Box” idea would minister to his little heart and help us to encourage and affirm who he is growing up to be.

This weekend we finally decorated the boxes, and Elijah changed his from a cracker box to one that used to hold teabags and has a lid. It now holds all the notes from last week.

Life in Lape Haven: The Thought Box - How a vacuum cord (& God) sparked a new way to encourage my child.

Clearly, I live in a house full of boys: Star Wars, blue, and Spiderman.

We made one for all my guys, although Elijah didn’t see the point in Josiah getting notes when he can’t read yet. (The plan is to draw pictures or read them to him.)

As if encouraging my family wasn’t enough, this idea has another facet that illustrates just how efficient God is when He does even the smallest things.

Following the example of Philippians 1:3, “I thank God for you whenever I think of you,” I have purposed to pray for my guys and thank God for them every time I write a thought about them for their boxes.Life in Lape Haven: The Thought Box - How a vacuum cord (& God) sparked a new way to encourage my child.

Clearly, He had all of us in mind from the start of this. It’s a nice reminder that we are always in His thoughts, too.

 

How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids – Part 4

Life in Lape Haven: How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids, Part 2. Simple tips and advice for taking better photos of your children, no matter what kind of camera you use.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means that at no additional cost to you, I may receive a small commission if you use the link.

Here it is – the last of my tips and advice for getting better pictures of your family. Hopefully you’ve been trying some of them out and seeing a positive difference.

Now that we’ve got everyone acting naturally, situated where they need to be, and you’ve figured out how to frame an interesting shot, what else is left?

Just a FEW MORE POINTERS

(Sorry, no catchy title to pull these together)

#1. BE BRAVE & LEARN TO SHOOT IN MANUAL MODE

I know I said that you could use these tips no matter what camera you have, but this one, well, you kind of have to have a camera that allows you to adjust settings, such as Aperture, Shutter Speed, & ISO.

I understand that the technical side of photography can be intimidating, but once you have even a basic idea of what those things do, you’ll see that it’s not as scary as it seems.

Your pictures will never be the same again, and your confidence as a photographer will grow exponentially.

While every camera’s settings and how you adjust them are different (check your manual or look online for tutorials. Canon has a ton on YouTube), the 3 main exposure factors to your shot are the same. They each deal with how light enters your camera, but in different ways. When you adjust one, it affects the others.

For some very good technical definitions and explanations, check out Photography Life’s articles here: Aperture, Shutter Speed , and ISO.

In my mind, this is how I think when looking at my settings:

APERTURE:  Controls my depth of field. Do I want everything in the picture to be in focus, or do I want just my child’s face to be sharp and the background to be blurrier?

You know that cool effect with lights looking like blurry circles, “bokeh”? That’s accomplished by using a higher aperture. The confusing thing to some people is that a higher aperture actually means a lower f-stop number on your settings.

A higher aperture (lower f-stop, such as 2.8) lets in more light. A lower aperture (higher f-stop, such as 10) lets in less. When I need just a little more light for my picture, I can adjust my f-stop to a lower number, as long as I know that the background may get blurrier the lower I go.

 

SHUTTER SPEED: Allows me to capture motion. The shutter is what opens at the front of the camera to allow light in. However long it’s open will depend on how much light and information get into your picture.

Shutter speed is measured in fractions of seconds to full seconds. When my boys are running around outside, I need a fast, short shutter speed to freeze their motion without blurring.

When you want to capture something in lower light, you need more time to gather more light, so you would use a slower, longer shutter speed. With a slower shutter speed, you may want to use a tripod because the slower shutter will also create a blur effect on anything moving or if you move the camera. It’s harder than you may think to stay perfectly still for a half-second.  Slower shutter speeds usually don’t work well with busy children. Haha.

 

ISO: Adjusts the camera’s light sensitivity. Remember buying actual film for your camera way, way back in the day? (No? Well, then I feel old.) ISO is the number you looked for when buying your film – 100 to 200 for a sunny day, 400 for lower light, and 800 for sports.

Sometimes it was called the film speed. That’s because the higher the number, the more sensitive your camera is to light, so less light is needed, and you can capture the image in less time (faster shutter speed).

In low-light settings, you might need to up your ISO (800, even 1600) to give you more light so that your shutter doesn’t stay open too long, trying to allow in light. Changing your ISO to a higher number will allow more light but will also cause more “noise” or a grainier looking picture.

When you have a nice, sunny day or will be using your flash, you can use lower ISO (100 or 200) and get a higher-quality picture. In fact, generally it’s best to use the lowest ISO you can for the light you have.

 

All 3 factors – aperture, shutter speed, and ISO – play off of each other, so when you adjust one, pay attention to the other two. In most cameras, there are priority modes for adjusting only one of the three (with your camera automatically adjusting the other two) and a full-out manual mode, where you adjust all three. I tend to stick with the priority modes where I adjust the main factor that I want to focus on.

NOTE: Using manual settings is NOT the same thing as MANUAL FOCUS. You can use manual settings and still use the automatic focus on your camera, which is very helpful when your subjects move around a lot. It’s like the best of both worlds!

Life in Lape Haven: How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids, Part 2. Simple tips and advice for taking better photos of your children, no matter what kind of camera you use.

Rookie mistake – he has the lens cap on!

#2. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

You have to. Just like anything else you learn in life, the best way to get better at taking pictures is to practice and experiment.

Not every picture you take is going to be a masterpiece. They can be poorly lit, blurry, have something distracting in the background, or just be off somehow.

That’s okay! Thankfully with digital photography, we have nearly unlimited shots. We can take pictures, delete them, and take new ones. Study your mistakes, practice some more, and keep learning.

 

#3. EDIT TWICE

Even the best photographers rarely use a picture straight out of the camera, and they don’t use every picture they take. So you, too, are allowed to edit.

Edit #1 – There are so many programs available today that are affordable and easy to use for photography editing. I’ve used several in the past, including Photoshop, the Windows Live Photo Gallery program that comes with Windows, and Lightroom. I LOVE Lightroom because it is easy to use, but you can do a lot.

And don’t worry. You really shouldn’t have to do a whole lot to your pictures. (Don’t neglect good lighting or adjusting your settings because you think you can fix it in editing.)  Most of the time, pictures just need a boost to the brightness, maybe a tweak to up the blacks or contrast, and balancing out the colors to look more natural, and you’re done.

Don’t go CRAZY! Edit in moderation. Some editing fads are just that – FADS. Years from now, they will make your photos look dated. Go easy on the vignetting (that darkening of edges) and don’t make every picture of your baby one with selective color (besides, gray babies with intense green eyes can look kind of creepy).

EDIT #2 -EDIT HOW MUCH YOU SHARE – You don’t have to post every single picture that you take.  (Oh, she looked to the side. Oh, now she looked to the other side. Oh, she kind of smiled.) Pick your best (“But he’s so handsome in them all.” Sure, but PICK YOUR BEST), share those – and only those, and people will think that you always take great pictures (Sneaky, huh? But smart!) They’ll also thank you for not overloading the newsfeed with pictures of your cuties. (I wouldn’t share every version of the above picture of Elijah – just one.)

Is every picture that I take fabulous? Hahaha! NO. Some are bad, and others are downright awful. I don’t share those. I delete them! And learn from my mistakes (see #2).

 

#4. PRINT SOMETHING!

Please! How many pictures do you have that you’ve never had printed? There are some that you’ve never looked at again once they’ve been offloaded from your memory card.

What good is taking pictures that you never enjoy again? That adorable shot of baby with auntie would be better in a frame or even on your refrigerator instead than sitting, forgotten in the virtual files of your computer or phone.

And I KNOW that grandparents love getting printed copies of their grandbabies’ pictures.

So order prints or a photo book. Make a mouse pad or throw. Put your princess on a mug or keychain. Do something with your pictures!!!

I watch Shutterfly for coupons on prints and get 101 4×6’s at a time for the just the price of shipping. There are tons of other online options for prints, or you can usually take your memory card to Walmart or a local pharmacy and have prints done.

 

#5. DON’T START A BUSINESS

One last point. As you get better and better at taking pictures, you may be tempted to think, “Hey! I could do this for a living.” Might I say that just because you do well at capturing pictures doesn’t mean you should start a business? Seriously.

I have had people tell me that I could be a professional photographer, and I always tell them, “Nope, that’s not going to happen.”

For me, it’s not my passion. Sure, I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures, but it wasn’t until I had children that I really began researching and practicing to get better. That tells me that my children are my passion, not photography. 

I’ve seen how hard professionals work, the time they have to invest, and the frustrations and pressure they face.  If it’s not 100-percent your passion, you won’t enjoy all that. Even if it IS your passion, some of it isn’t fun.

Right now, I enjoy taking pictures. I get tremendous satisfaction in seeing a picture turn out even better than I thought it would. But I am not called to be a professional photographer.

I will say this, though: Since I have some skill in this area, I have used it to bless others, as a way to minister and use my talents. I have done pictures for family and a few friends as gifts to them when I feel God’s nudging.

So use your talents and gifts, but unless you are completely certain that God is calling you to begin a photography business (Or any venture, really), don’t do it.

Just enjoy capturing your family’s everyday memories well.

Okay, that’s it! Hopefully I’ve shared some helpful things that will improve how you’re taking pictures. As you start practicing with this new advice, and you begin to get some great shots, please feel free to share them with me. I’d love to see that what I’ve shared is being helpful. 🙂

Some of the resources in my learning adventure come from the following: Picture Bliss Photography (my sister-in-law is my go-to gal for tips), Photo Shop by Allison (she introduced me to my first Canon, and she’s a great teacher), and Photosanity.com (this photographer has free video tips for parents).

You can also check out my Pinterest board, Picture Fun, for more great photography blogs, tips, and ideas that I have collected over the last few years. It has everything from posing ideas, how to set up DIY backgrounds, more detailed info on using manual settings, and more.

Find out how we capture a great family picture – every time!

Top feature picture (the “taking a picture” photo) courtesy of Picture Bliss Photography.

How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids – Part 3

Life in Lape Haven: How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids, Part 2. Simple tips and advice for taking better photos of your children, no matter what kind of camera you use.

This week, I’ve been sharing tips and advice that I’ve discovered or learned over my years of practicing photography to help you take better pictures of your children. I’m not a professional, but I do enjoy getting the best possible photos I can of my family, and I’m always practicing and studying to get better.

So far we’ve talked about being natural and getting everyone where they need to be to get a nice picture.

Today is all about FRAMING YOUR PICTURE.

We’re not talking about getting your prints up on the walls, although that’s important. This “framing” is all about composing your shot, thinking about what the focus of the picture is, where you place your child or other subject in the image, and what you include or don’t include along with your subject.

#1. Don’t Kill Your Story, But Sometimes FILL THE FRAME

Each picture that means something to us generally has a story behind it, and sometimes that story is visible in the picture.

The photo from your 4-year-old’s birthday party wouldn’t be quite the same without the cake in the frame when he’s blowing out the candles. Sometimes you need the extra details or space around your subject to really capture the feeling or moment.

However, sometimes zooming in and filling up the whole picture with your child can bring you “into” the story even better. You capture the details and expressions more clearly without any distractions.

Using your zoom, moving in closer physically, or even cropping the picture later, you can fill your picture with your subject and bring interest to the shot.

Note: When photographing people, whether you are up close or far away, you want to FOCUS ON THEIR EYES. Most cameras have a grid or red squares in the view finder to show you exactly what’s in focus. So for most of your pictures, you want to make sure their eyes are in focus, or if they are farther away, at least their face is your focus. Their eyes will tell the story better than any other part of them.

 

#2. APPLY THE “RULE OF THIRDS”

This is probably the most basic composition technique that photographers use, and it is super simple to apply. However, the resulting images will be immediately more well-balanced and more interesting.

As the name implies, this rule has you mentally splitting your photo into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. This gives you nine sections on a grid, and four lines that intersect at four points in your picture.

By setting up your picture with your child or the important parts of your picture (such as your child’s eye, if you’re close up) on one of the intersecting points, you create a more pleasing and interesting picture (people have done studies and everything about this).

So rather than centering your child smack-dab in the middle of your picture, move them to the left or right a bit, and suddenly your picture looks better. Sounds crazy, maybe, but it’s true.

Now you don’t have to always do this, especially in taking portraits or group shots. It’s really more of a technique or “more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” (Thank you, Captain Barbossa) 🙂

 

#3. KEEP SNAPPING, and know when to stop

I’ve watched people taking pictures of their kids go through all the fuss of setting up a nice shot – lighting is good, kids are smiling and interacting, their down low to get a better angle – and they take shots VERY, VERY SLOWLY, then pause to check each picture on the camera after taking each shot.

PLEASE don’t do this. You will miss great photo opportunities if you take too long and especially if you look away constantly. If you have a digital camera, and your kids are being cooperative, KEEP SHOOTING. Move around, talk to them to keep them focused, but KEEP SHOOTING. This is definitely important when you are trying to take pictures of tiny little ones that move constantly, or bigger little ones who will only sit still for so long.

Will you get some bad pictures doing this? Yes! I guarantee it. There will be half-blinks, complete blinks, ones where the child turns their head at JUST the last second (Josiah is good at that), and some where they aren’t all looking in the same direction.

That’s okay. There is a magic button on the camera or on your computer that will allow those to all go away – DELETE THEM. Because mixed in with some of those not-so-stellar shots will be great ones, beautiful ones, funny (but in a good way) ones.

Kids move quickly. You need to keep up.

Plus your children will only be content to be photographed for so long, especially if they have to sit still, but even if you are just capturing candids while they play.  So snap a ton, then know when to back off and stop.

You don’t want your children to hate the sight of you with a camera because they fear the torture of having to pose for you or because you aren’t interacting with them as they play – you’re just taking pictures the whole time.

Sometimes, you need to put the camera down for their sake and yours.

Get your pictures, then go play.

If you do that, you’ll have no trouble with #4.

 

#4 GET INTO THE PICTURES

I know from personal experience that the person who always takes the pictures is the one who is in the fewest pictures. We’re busy capturing the moments for everyone, but when you look back at the day, it looks as though you weren’t even there. I mean, we KNOW we were, but what did we look like when our baby started walking?

So many moms are okay with NOT being in the pictures because we’re worried about how tired we look or our messy hair or our smudgy make-up or our weight or whatever our insecurity is. But here’s the thing:  We have to stop and remember that someday, our kids are going to want pictures of us, no matter what we looked like at the moment. They want to see us enjoying the memories we made together.

My Grandma Charlotte hated to have her picture taken, and she was good at avoiding the camera. So, stubborn girl that I am, I made it a point to capture her as often as I could. I got good at stealthy shots and worked toward making her more comfortable with the camera. I’m so glad that I was persistent because since her death a couple of years ago, those few good pictures of her are priceless and any – yes, ANY – picture of her is treasured.

Learn how to use your camera’s timer and set it up on a tripod. Hand your camera off to someone who’s at least decent at using one. If all else fails, sure – take a selfie with your crew. But get in a shot or two!

Even if they aren’t perfectly composed, wonderfully lit, or amazingly flattering, your family will love every picture with you in it!

BONUS: Make it a point to get good, professional pictures at least once a year (or as often as you can). People think that I take professional-quality pictures, but I still contact my sister-in-law (Picture Bliss Photography) every so often and make an appointment for family pictures.

I know my limits. Using a tripod and timer for family pictures works fine at family functions and Christmas, but when I want really, really nice pictures, I call her. I understand that it can feel expensive, but if you want truly fabulous photos, you need someone with experience, better equipment, and more skill, and it’s worth it. Plus, you can always watch for specials, such as seasonal mini-sessions, or go in with your siblings on a full family shoot.

 

To review today: know when to zoom out and when to move in close to fill the frame; keep snapping, focusing on the eyes; try out that “Rule of Thirds” thing; and don’t be missing from the pictures.

Tomorrow I’m finishing up this series with a few more bits of advice, including dipping my toe into explaining “manual” mode!

Top feature picture (the “taking a picture” picture) courtesy of Picture Bliss Photography.

How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids – Part 2

Life in Lape Haven: How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids, Part 2. Simple tips and advice for taking better photos of your children, no matter what kind of camera you use.

I am NOT a professional photographer, but I love taking pictures. I have been researching, watching, studying, and practicing, practicing, practicing so that I can capture better pictures of my family. This week I’m sharing tips and advice that I’ve learned on my journey to improve my photography.

In my first post, I talked about tips for just letting your children be themselves and for you to be yourself. If you missed yesterday’s tips, you can catch up here.

Today’s tips are all about

POSITIONING YOURSELF & YOUR SUBJECT for SUCCESS!

 

#1. SEE THE LIGHT

Any photographer will tell you that good lighting is imperative to a good picture (Even in super artsy pictures with huge shadows, they are still relying on lighting).

There is so much a person could say about lighting, but for a short and simple version: your subject needs to be facing the light or having the light reflected onto them. If they aren’t in the light, you won’t see them.  Also, you want to see that little twinkle in their eyes, and that only comes from the light reflecting in them.

Pros often use reflectors, usually silver, to help balance the light coverage on their clients and minimize shadows. I’ve used a piece of white posterboard or foam board, my silver car windshield sun shade, or – my favorite – a piece of foam board covered in a thin, silver, thermal “space” blanket from one of Brad’s half-marathons. Haha. You just have someone angle it to catch light and bounce it back onto your child’s face where you see the worst shadows. Of course, this isn’t something I’d do for every picture, just special ones.

I love using natural light, which means I do a lot of shooting outside. However, staring into the sun isn’t pleasant. You end up with squinty-eyed subjects, and bright sun can actually cause your picture to have major shadow issues or be overexposed.

So when you are OUTSIDE, look for open shade. Open shade is an area where the sun isn’t hitting directly, but that is also not so shadowed that it’s dark. Think of a place where tall trees or buildings cast a big shadow over the grass, instead of standing directly under the branches of a tree. Does that make sense? (Also, be careful of dappled light, where the sun is shining through the leaves or branches and creates spots of light and shadow over your children.)

Below are some examples of pictures taken in direct sun versus in open shade. These were all taken one afternoon when we were playing outside with sidewalk paint. (Some of the pictures aren’t the best, but they do show the difference in the lighting.) 🙂

This is why many photographers like an overcast day over a super sunny day and also why they tend to shoot earlier in the day or toward the evening when the sun isn’t directly overhead.

What about when you’re inside? Open the curtains and blinds, and let the sun shine in.

I have to say that I LOVE my living room window because it lets in such perfect light for a huge part of the day. I just have my boys face the window, and I’m good to go.

These pictures of my adorable nephew were taken in my living room, using the natural light through the window. I think I had my hubby holding the “space-blanket reflector” for me for those last two pictures, where Aiden was in the wagon.

And while I’m talking about light, I’ll go ahead and mention flashes…I guess. I prefer not to have to use my flash, honestly, and when I do, it’s only to supplement natural light, such as when the sun is behind my son, and I need some extra light in his face.

Indoors, I will turn on every light I can before I resort to the flash because it causes people to blink (and my family is plagued with “blinkers”), it can give you shadows everywhere, and it can overexpose your shot, especially if you are very close. Plus, flashes only go so far. If you are in a huge auditorium, trying to capture a picture of someone clean across the room, your flash is not going to do you any good.

Yes, you can get a bigger flash, such as the kinds you see pros using at indoor weddings and events. However, they usually have a diffuser (a white cover that softens the light), and most importantly, they know how to use the flash well.

Lack of light is easier to manage once you learn how to shoot in manual (if your camera allows you to do that), and we’ll get to that later this week.

 

#2. MOVE AROUND AND GET DOWN

While you don’t want your subject to move much during the shot, especially once you’ve got the lighting working for you, as the photographer, you definitely need to move around. Taking 20 pictures from exactly the same spot is just plain boring.

Try different angles, and with children, ALWAYS GET DOWN TO THEIR LEVEL at some point. You can shoot standing up, but I guarantee you that when you crouch down or even go belly-to-the-ground when they are playing, you will get better, more interesting shots.

When my boys are on the floor, so am I. I climb up the slide or get into the bounce house (if I’m allowed). I always take a step-stool with me when I plan on doing a lot of pictures because sometimes you just need to get higher up to get the whole story into the shot. And this summer, I even went wading in a creek to get some creative pictures for my cousin’s senior pictures (the results were so worth it).

Don’t be afraid to try a new angle for a better or more interesting picture.

 

Life in Lape Haven: How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids, Part 2. Simple tips and advice for taking better photos of your children, no matter what kind of camera you use.

Sometimes when you go wading, you find a water sprite. To get this, I had to get into the water.

A note of caution: Be aware of what’s flattering. Some angles are just not great for pictures, such as “up-the-nose shots” from down below. People tend to look better when they look up into the camera or directly into it, rather than down.

 

#3. WATCH THE BACKGROUND

This is probably the first rule I was told when I started my job at the newspaper, and they were training me to take pictures when I covered a story.

It seems like such a simple tip, but it’s HUGE!

We’ve all seen those pictures online that become jokes because of something in the background. It might be a random photo-bomber (hard to help sometimes, and sometimes fun for a picture). It could be a branch or pole that seems to come out of your subject’s head. It could be a really messy counter or trash piles across the field.

A few weeks ago, as we were hurrying out the door to a costume birthday party, I snapped a picture with my phone of Josiah in his knight costume. Unfortunately, he was standing on a chair by the kitchen table, and the table was covered with the remnants of costume-making. Since we needed to leave immediately, I didn’t have time to clear it all off, so I took the picture anyway, knowing that background was going to bug me. It does. Thankfully, we got some better pictures later in the evening where the background doesn’t take away from my sweet little hero.

Keeping an eye on the background will help keep the focus on your subject instead of random distractions behind them. If you need to, shift your shot a little bit (remember, you can move), or do a quick tidy-up. (I’m not saying don’t show real life, but if you don’t want it in your picture, move or move it if you can!)

Bonus: Other things that can be distracting in family or group shots: Watch pockets, cell phone holders, baseball caps, glasses, etc. Guys especially like to have papers, pens, and random items sticking up out of their shirt pockets, and I am always having Brad remove his cell phone holder from his hip. For hats, I just have my boys push it up a little bit, so their faces aren’t shadowed, and when someone has on glasses, have them tilt their chin up or down a tad to avoid possible glare.

So in review, good lighting is essential to a good picture, variety (of angles) is the spice of life, and beware of distractions, even in the background.

On Thursday: It’s all about what you’re focusing on in the shot.

Top feature picture (the “taking a picture” picture) courtesy of Picture Bliss Photography.