Category Archives: Helpful Articles

5 Tips for Taking Meaningful Photos on Family Vacation, with Jaye McLaughlin

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I love traveling with my family. Putting aside the fun, relaxation and adventure family travel involves, I believe that there’s no greater gift we can give our kids than allowing them to experience a culture different from their own. The world can seem very small to them – to all of us, really – if we don’t occasionally step outside what we know and experience something completely different.

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With this in mind, our family travel goals are always to allow plenty of time to simply wander and explore the places we visit. Daily itineraries dense with ‘must see’ tourist attractions and forced family fun are a recipe for stress and can really suck the joy out of the day.

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This desire to prioritize experiences over attractions also dictates the way I take photos during vacation. It’s not so different from what motivates me to photograph the moments of my everyday life – it’s not something I think about, but rather is driven by how I experience the trip myself. When I notice the wonder in my little guy’s eyes as he stares up at a magnificent cathedral ceiling or watch my husband lean down to teach them all some historical tidbit about what they’re looking at, I’m compelled to capture it. When we all sit back to take in a traditional music saisun or when I notice an arm draped over a shoulder during an afternoon stroll through a colorful neighborhood, I’m so filled with appreciation for the beauty in that moment, I have to bottle it up – to freeze it and keep it for later. And my camera is always at the ready to do just that.

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When I get home, I always make a book of the photos of our trip right away, while the memories of those moments are fresh. We revisit those books again and again through the years. They’re great for sharing with friends and family, and the photos immortalize those moments and serve as memory triggers for rehashing all the funny stories and mishaps that we have to tell from the trip.

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It gives me chills to think about my kids going through those books years from now – decades from now, really — and remembering the fun we had together. Telling these same stories to their own kids and grandkids. It makes the value of the trip last well beyond our return home.

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You’ve heard my “why” – now, the “how”. Here are some tips for taking meaningful photos on family vacations.

1. Think ahead of time about what’s important to you about the trip and keep your focus there. For me, this is much more about the fun we have and our relationships with each other than about any specific sights we see. You’ll rarely see me photographing landscapes or lining the kids up in front of a famous landmark. The souvenir shops are filled with pretty pictures of all these things, and picture postcards are a fun and inexpensive token of our trip that the kids can buy themselves.

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2. Prioritize what you want to capture and don’t over-do it. This is one I’m constantly working on. As always, balance is key. On the one hand, my family has come to terms with the fact holding the camera up to my face and taking photos is my personal way of fully experiencing the trip. On the other hand, I know it’s important that they are allowed to remember what my face looks like without the big black box in front of it. So I try not to always have it out. This sometimes means letting myself off the hook when it comes to my normal drive to achieve technical perfection in my images. Again, my goal is not to see these photos hanging in art galleries some day, but to bookmark my favorite memories from a special time in my family’s life. For this, perfection isn’t necessary.

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3. Plan your gear. For my back’s sake, I try to pack light for family trips. One camera body, one versatile zoom and one fairly wide angle prime lens for low light are generally all I bring on most trips. My older primes are smaller and lighter than the L-series ones I use for sessions now, so I bring one of those along and leave the heavy pro glass at home. If the resulting photos aren’t as tack sharp as what I’m used to, I remind myself that I won’t be worrying about counting eyelashes when I browse through these photos in twenty years, and I hope that my back will continue to thank me. I also always bring a lighter/smaller alternative to my DSLR to use during parts of the trip. Last year, I invested in a Fuji mirrorless camera for our Ireland trip, but on past trips a small Canon point and shoot and even my iPhone have given me some of my favorite memory place holders.

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4. Print the photos as soon as you get home. As I mentioned, I always make nice album of photos from each family trip – the sooner the better, before the memories start to dissipate. Designing books can be a huge time commitment, and knowing this can make it really hard to start, but I’ve got strategies to prevent procrastination from getting the best of me. For example, I used to include captions and text descriptions in every photo book. I realized, though, that coming up with the right words was a huge barrier to me getting the book done quickly, so I finally started printing books without any text at all. After the books have arrived, we all sit down together and decide what little captions and text descriptions to add to the book, and I add them in my own handwriting with a sharpie. The book gets done faster, and I feel like the handwritten words add a personal touch. If designing the layouts is what holds you up, most book companies now have software with autofill options – you just load up the photos in chronological order and with a few clicks of the mouse, you’re done.

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5. Include extra digital copies of the book photos inside the book cover. I recently came up with a new practice that I think is pretty genius. I noticed that my daughter was taking iPhone photos of the pages of my books to post on Instagram. While I’m sure these iPhone snaps are fine for her purposes, it occurred to me that I wanted to make the full res copies of each photo more easily accessible for future enjoyment. I keep copies of ALL my photos in multiple places on external hard drives, on CDs in storage, and online. There are a LOT of pictures, though, and as intuitive as my filing system seems to me, I’m sure it would seem completely overwhelming to anyone else. Now, when I finish a book, I burn a CD of the images in the book and slide it into a CD sleeve I’ve taped to the inside of the back cover. Keeping an extra copy right there puts the photos at the fingertips of my kids, grandkids and beyond. How’s that for getting value out of a trip?

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Last summer, we took an amazing two week trip to Ireland with our four kids. Dingle, Doolin, Ballymahon and Dublin, with lots of little drives and towns and excursions (and family BBQs and visits to ancestral homes, and even an amazing wedding!) in between. The book from this trip is one of my favorites yet.


Thank you, Jaye, for this positively stunning post – and for the wonderfully thoughtful tips.

To see more through Jaye’s lens, visit her website, Like her Facebook page, and follow her on Instagram and Pinterest.

10 Ways to Simplify Your 365, with Leigha Graf

When I sat down to design our family’s annual Christmas card, I realized there were certain months where I had hardly any photos.  Like none.  Yeah, I had lots of vacations and ‘big’ moments.  But, I feel like that’s not where life is really lived.  It’s in the day to day, everyday stuff.  Choosing to cultivate gratitude in those in between moments is really where it’s at. And I was sad I missed so much of that.  Not only for me, but to show my kids (through what I choose to prioritize as an important photograph) the importance of this daily gift.  So, without over analyzing and thinking it through too much, I started. Now, after completing a full year, and into my second, I wish I would have started sooner. If you’re even slightly thinking you might like to give this a try, do it. Don’t think about it. Just start.

To help you out, I’ve put together 10 ways to simplify your 365 project.

1. Keep your camera close. Okay, this is probably a no brainer, and I hope you keep reading the list even if you think “this is what you call a tip?!” It’s seriously one the most overwhelming things for people I talk to. The thought of picking up the camera every day. The ‘one more thing to add to my list’ thought. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. You can do this on any camera you wish. From your iPhone, to a point and shoot, to your DSLR. I’ve chosen to do mine with my Canon Mark III, but that’s only because I don’t find it a burden. I keep it on my counter. And yes, carry it with me most of the time. And have people comment, “I didn’t even know they still made cameras like that!”. For real. I’m that mom. Once I have spent my couple of minutes capturing something I’m grateful for, I put it away and that’s it.

2. Start with the end in mind. What do you want at the end of the year? Please don’t let them sit on your hard drive — have a plan. A family book? A book of each child? Just try to take a few minutes to reflect on what would mean the most to you to have in your hands. This will help determine what and how you shoot. Sort of a little reverse engineering, if you will. It can help you make less decisions on a daily basis if you have some parameters in place. And less decisions on a daily basis are always better.

3. Just do it. Don’t over-think it. Don’t be stuck in decision or perfection paralysis. Take it day by day. Start today. Start at the beginning of next month. Don’t worry about perfect. Done is better than that. Which leads me to …

4. So it’s a 332. Is it really a big deal if you missed a day or two? No. It’s the collective. Whether you have a perfect record or miss a few days (or 50), you and your family won’t care a year (or 20) from now. Mine wasn’t perfect. I would miss one, two or even three days in a row here and there. Sometimes I would fill them in with additional photos from others days and sometimes I wouldn’t. Again, I just let it go and reminded myself that at the end of the project, I would be grateful with however many photos I ended up with.

5. What’s really important. That this is a gift. To you. This is your gratitude journal. Your way of showing the world what shines the brightest in your eyes.

6. The power of one photo. … that translates into very little of your time each day.  I once heard a speaker at a conference talk about the power of one photo — how one photo can not only take you back to a moment, but a whole day. And it’s so true. Try it.

7. Have a system. Mine isn’t perfect, but here’s a rough rundown:
* I usually keep my card in my camera for the week and download once a week.  I knew going in that I am not one to sit down daily to download, edit, organize photos.  Once a week seemed manageable.
* I use photo mechanic to download and save to folders on my computer. (Example: 2015_365>januaryraw>filedate of download)
* I quickly cull in photo mechanic and bring into Lightroom while renaming to the date captured.
* Complete my quick edits. (I use RedLeaf presets, which are so wonderful, they make this part super fast.)
* Export to a new folder. (Example: 2015_365>januaryedit)

8. You don’t have to share. I shared my images last year, but haven’t this year. I am sure at some point I will here and there, but I felt like I needed a bit of a break from that. I didn’t share everyday either, opting to group them into groups of six.  I quite often shared the whole month at once.

9. Resources.
iPhone: If you decide to take your 365 on your iPhone artifact uprising has a great app to download directly to a photo book.
Blurb books: They have great books, and build-your-own templates.
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10. What to do with it all. As 2014 was my first year doing a 365, I’m still thinking about how I want to design a large book for myself. 365 pages would be rather HUGE.  However, I ordered small 7×7 books – 2 of them. One for each of my boys. I will be writing a small personal note to them as a keepsake.


11.  You’ll get better. As a bonus, guess what?  Your photography will get better.  Whether you are a mom with a camera, a hobbyist, or a professional, the only way to take better photographs is to … drum roll … take them!  Shoot every day.  Try new things, new perspectives, different light.

I can’t wait to see what you create.


Thanks, Leigha, for this wonderfully helpful, and beautifully put together post! You can see Leigha’s original piece, as well as other great content, on her blog. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter, and Like her Facebook page too, for even more from Leigha!

5 Tips for Snow Photography with Your Kids (That Have Nothing to do with Your Camera!), with Kathleen Papageorgiou

Snow is nature’s way of saying, “Here is a fresh backdrop for whatever you feel like doing today!” So what can you do to improve your snow photography and capture those adorable frosty moments with your kids?

Here are five tips that don’t have ANYTHING to do with your camera’s settings:

1. Color, color, color!
There is NO greater opportunity to draw attention to your subject than having them in a POP of color on a pristine white backdrop. For kids especially, vivid rainbow colors (think: what you see in a box of crayons) suggest a playful tone and a feeling of childhood. You may even consider this when selecting winter gear for next season!


2. Welcome the snowballs
Okay, the fact that snowballs are involved should not be a surprise to you. What I’m saying is … bring a scarf to shield your camera equipment from the inevitable flying snowball that WILL be coming your direction — even after you say, “Please don’t throw snowballs at the camera, honey!”. Because, come on. You certainly don’t want to squash the joy of snowball fights … you want to encourage the play, and snap a few in between launches!

3. Back it up
This is pretty much an all-season tip. It is easy to get caught up in your main goal of capturing your kids doing XYZ, and to forget to pull back for a second and capture the setting as well. I know those rosy cheeks are your main focus, but LOOK AROUND. Ten years from now, you might not live here any more. You might forget what this place looks like, how magical the bare trees are when they are weighed down with snow. You might forget how tiny the kids are with respect to the trees, the fence, the house. Take five or ten steps back and click away. You will appreciate this perspective later!

4. Work for it
Newsflash: holding the camera isn’t your only job. Especially with little children who can tire easily in the cold, you need to make sure you are pulling your weight in the fun department! If you don’t have a sled already, get one. You can pull it through the snow with a rope, and still be (relatively) hands-free to capture the faces of your happy passengers. If you are like me, singing Jingle Bells may or may not be part of the charade.

5. Wait for the light
The what? The light!! Have you ever noticed that snowy winter days can produce some of the most magical evening light? Consider timing your outdoor play sessions near (or even after) dusk. Not only do you get the serene snowy setting, you can capture some of the most amazing winter skies, lending significant interest to your images.


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Kathleen Papageorgiou of Jules & George Photography is an on-location photographer specializing in modern, honest, and joyful lifestyle imagery. She works with maternity, newborn, child, and family clients throughout central New Jersey and Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.

For more of Kathleen’s joy filled work, visit her website and blog, Like her Facebook page, and follow her on Instagram.

Choosing Your Winning Image: Tips from Competition Judge Virgil Bunao

Image competition has always been a challenge to me. How are we supposed to choose that ‘winning’ image out of the millions of images we have created in the past!? The very thought of going through all of our past images is both daunting and overwhelming.

So let’s tackle this … Well, how do we eat an elephant (hypothetically speaking)? One bite at a time, right? Right.

Whenever I have a challenging task at hand, I go into a quiet space where I can concentrate. Then I try to stick to the fundamentals:

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0. YOU. ARE. INCREDIBLE. This is line item 0 because it is important for you to know that I admire you taking a big step out of your comfort zone, to improve your craft and get better. Your pursuit of excellence fuels me, moves me and encourages me. Nice job taking the big step.


1. Light and composition. Among the collection of images, which photographs stick out as your favorite? Try not to be emotionally attached to the images you choose. Be objective. Look for images that are well lit and well composed. Often I love images because of how sweet my subjects were, how they were so cooperative and how the weather was so nice. Eliminate all of that, and focus on the basics – light and composition. Whether the light is natural or artificial makes no difference as long as the image is lit well. A well composed image is properly cropped. It is not crooked. And every aspect of the photograph makes sense.

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2. Emotional content. I love images that are full of life and emotion. Laughter and tears are good. But a winning image doesn’t have to have the laughter and tears. A winning image could also have that ‘thing’ that captivates the audience in a more personal way.

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3. Authenticity. A winning image, to me, is not contrived. A winning image to me is authentic. It is real. It is honest. A winning image doesn’t necessarily have to be technically perfect. Real, true, honest images that tell a beautiful story score high in my book.


4. Lines and edges. Make sure nothing is sticking out of people’s heads. Watch your lines and edges. Lines on a photograph, in my opinion, should lead my eye to something even better within the photograph. I look at the edges too, and make sure nothing is out of place.


5. Movement. I love motion. Movement. It gives life to the image. The image doesn’t even need to be tack sharp. A properly lit and composed image that illustrates some form of movement scores high.


6. Seek out other artists. Take fellow photographers, artists, painters, out for a drink, and go over the images that you are considering. Seek their opinions. Some photographers offer portfolio review sessions. Sign up for those. Some photo groups do them for free. Sign up. The more feedback you can get on your images outside of your mother’s dining table, or your Facebook ‘fan club’, the better.


7. Don’t stop. Win or lose, no matter the outcome of the competition, use it as an engine to get you to the next level. Never stop learning. Never stop improving. You didn’t choose this life. This life chose YOU. Be better than last week. Do your research. Follow these, and the other judges’, tips, and win this contest.




View more of Virgil’s stunning portfolio on his website.

Spotlight: How to Take Pictures of Holiday Lights

Lights2Photo Credit | A Beautiful Mess

What’s more beautiful than holiday lights at night? Whether you’re driving through the neighborhood with your family, or walking through the snow with hot chocolate, it’s a magical experience. It’s often so hard to capture the beauty of the lights that you see in person through your camera… so we’ve put together a few tips to take some great shots of this heart-warming holiday tradition.

1. Photograph in the late afternoon/early evening. Shoot when the light is dim, resulting in more vibrant colors and more interesting backgrounds.

2. Be as still as possible – if you have a tripod, don’t be afraid to use it!

3. Make sure your camera settings are optimized for your conditions.

We love these helpful articles: read more tips here, and find out exactly what settings your camera should be at to get the perfect holiday light photo here.

Lights1Photo Credit | Pinterest

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