My Favorite Photo Gear, Tools, and Resources

My Favorite Photo Gear, Tools, and Resources

Hello and Happy Tuesday! I know it’s been a little while since I posted a blog post, and I wanted to dive back in. Blogging really does make me happy and so does photography – I’ve missed doing both the past couple of months! I thought it would be a wonderful chance for me to talk about photography gear, tools, and resources. I’ve been serious about photography for about 4 years now. I still have a lot to learn, but I have learned so much already.

Within those 4 years of learning photography, I’ve collected some photography gear that I love and can’t live without. I’ve also come across and learned what my favorite tools are and resources. There’s so many blog posts and sites out there to help you with photography, it sometimes can be very overwhelming. With this post, I’m hoping I can help you get an idea of where to start.

I was also a beginner at one point and had no idea what I was doing. I googled and searched the internet so much in my first year or so of starting photography (heck, I still do this). But I’m hoping I can help some of you beginners by pointing you in the right direction.

Let’s get started, shall we?!?

Aly Dawn Photography Resources

My Favorite Photography Gear

Nikon D610 -I love this camera. When I made the jump from full frame to crop frame in 2016 it was a game changer. I really love the capabilities that come with full frame. I am, however, saving for a new camera, the Nikon D750 and I will keep my D610 as a back up. But the D610 is the perfect first full frame camera you can get.

*If you are a beginner photographer looking for a beginner camera, I recommend the Nikon D5300! You will be able to learn manual on it and get your foot in the ground of photography. It has many great abilities. I used this camera for about 3 years before upgrading to a full frame.

Sigma 24mm 1.4 Lens – I love this wide angle lens! I also really love prime lenses. I also love the fact that I can get close to my subjects or back way up and get the full environment! It’s a great versatile lens and I highly recommend it.

Sigma 85mm 1.4 Lens – I also really enjoy this lens. However, unlike the lens above, this lens is zoomed up! It creates such beautiful blurry backgrounds. You have to be pretty far away from your subject (which is why I don’t use this lens as much, with an active toddler, I prefer to be close to him). But I do love the images I can produce with this lens. The background compression is gorgeous.

*A word of advice on Sigma lenses – some people say they don’t like their Sigma lenses due to focusing issues. I definitely have experienced this. If you get a Sigma lens, YOU HAVE TO CALIBRATE IT. Here is a good tutorial on lens calibration that I recommend.

I wrote a blog post about the perfect first lens to buy (cheapest lens, too!).

My Favorite Photography Tools

Tripod – I just recently got this tripod. It works pretty well for the price! I love how high it can go – so high! I can get awesome self portrait angles with it. It’s sturdy and does the job.

Lighting Equipment – I literally have the cheapest lighting equipment out there. I wanted to try out artificial lighting, but I didn’t want to invest in case I didn’t like it. So I got this lighting equipment and I love it! I know if I upgrade to better lighting equipment, I’d love it even more. I love having this equipment on those days where it’s dark out (ahem, I’m looking at you winter months) or if I wanted to take pictures but it’s already dark outside. It’s also great for still life photography.

SD cards – I have two SD cards because my camera has two slots (I love that feature!!). You can’t go anywhere without your SD cards! I would recommend getting more than one. I might even go and buy one more here soon, just to have and just in case. I’ve had countless times when I only had one SD card and I went out on a photo shoot and the card malfunctioned – OMG that’s the worst. And so embarrassing! Especially if you are in business, you NEED more than one SD card.

Phone Clips – I don’t use these often, but in cases where I want a little push in creativity, I give them a try!

Camera Bag – I love my camera bag! I really don’t know where I got it from, I think it was an anniversary gift from my hubby. BUT! Shutterbag has some great options! As well as ClickinMoms. It’s essential to have a good camera bag. I love that I can literally carry all of my camera gear and it’s safe and protected. When looking to buy a camera bag, look for one’s that provide ‘pockets’ where you can put you camera and lenses is separate compartments.

Adobe Creative Cloud – You have to have a photo editing tool. Especially if you are shooting in RAW. Even if you just like the bare minimum in editing, it’s important to get a good editor. I really love the Adobe Creative Cloud. I use Lightroom and Photoshop and both are great! Lightroom is my go to editing software and I’ll sometimes bring the photo into Photoshop.

X-Rite ColorMunki Display – Whether you’re an beginner or expert, it’s important to calibrate your monitor. I use the ColorMunki, there are others out there, though! I like how easy ColorMunki is to use.

My Favorite Photography Resources

There are SO many good resources out there! So it can definitely be difficult to tell which ones are good quality resources vs just ok resources. All of the resources below I have tried myself and LOVE. Hope you give them a shot and love them just as much!

ClickinMoms – This is the ultimate photography resource! They have classes, mini classes, and a forum! Just the forum itself is FULL of amazing photography tutorials. From editing, to shooting, to how to run your business ClickinMoms is full of amazing tutorials. I would recommend getting the lifetime membership. If you use it two years in a row, it pretty much pays for itself. And you can swing back in every once in a while and read their tutorials. You can also post any questions you might have. They have pros and mentors to help you with your questions. I’ve learned so much just being a member of the forum and HIGHLY recommend this resource!

CreativeLive – CreativeLive has free classes as well as classes you have to pay for. They are a little different than other photography resources because the big majority of their classes are video classes! If you are more of a visual learner, this site is great for you!

Pixieset – I love Pixieset! If you are in business, delivering galleries can sometimes be a challenge. You could opt for the old ‘deliver a flash drive gig’ which may work for you…but I love that I can deliver the galleries instantly over the internet. And they can share that with their friends if they wish. It’s easy for me. If you use the link above you’ll get 250 MB in storage free! Win-win for us!

Blurb – I cannot stress to you how much I LOVE Blurb! I even wrote a blog post about why I love Blurb. Blurb is a way to create your own books featuring your images! I’ve created three so far and already have plans for two more. They are really easy to use in Lightroom (keep on the lookout for a tutorial on how to create a Blurb book really soon). I do recommend printing out your images! And if you take a lot of images (like me) then a photo book is your best best. Unless you like to have a ton of single photos laying around. ­čśë

A Beginner’s Guide to Low Light

A Beginner’s Guide to Low Light

Low light is one of my favorite type of light to photograph. I recently decided that low light might be my favorite type of light to work with for a few reasons: it can be challenging, get your creative juices flowing, and push you to think about how to incorporate it in your art. I also just really love how it looks in images. When looking through images, the low light ones always spark an interest and put a smile on my face. They also make me stop and say ‘wow, what gorgeous light!’.

You might be wondering how to go about dipping your toes in low light…well, I’m here to help. This guide will help you get started in your low light journey and also help you understand what type of settings and equipment you need. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, read on!

new to my site? start here

equipment for low light

Well, first of all, I know that there are better cameras out there that handle low light better than what I have. That being said, mine handles it pretty well. I do see some grain sometimes, but I think that’s just part of the low light fun (trust me when I say it’s taken me a long time to embrace grain – still working on it). Here’s the equipment I use for low light (all the time, actually!):

In this article I will give you tips on how to get images in low light. But before we get into that, I want to say that in low light images, grain is inevitable. Lightroom can help reduce the grain, but you need to be careful about how much grain you reduce. If you reduce too much grain, your image can come away looking fuzzy and too smooth. It will look totally noticeable that you reduced grain. Be weary of that. Let’s dive right on in to how to shoot in low light!

a beginner’s guide to low light

I hope you come away excited to try it out and loving the images you produce. As with anything in photography, practice will only make this better. You shouldn’t get discouraged if the first couple (hundred) images don’t come out the way you had hoped. Keep practicing, it will click for you eventually.

A Beginner's Guide to Low Light
ISO 6400 f/1.8 SS 1/320
Sigma 24mm 1.4 ART lens

1. don’t be afraid to push your iso

First things first, we’re getting into the technical of shooting in low light. A lot of the time, photographers fear the high ISOs. Well…I’m here to tell you…don’t. You will not get the images you want if you are trying to shoot low light images in an ISO of 100…why? Because, your image will not be exposed properly with an ISO of that and will actually result in even more grain.

That’s the reason why people fear high ISOs. Grain. It might not make any sense to you right now, but trust me when I say if you have a high ISO but your image is properly exposed, you will have less grain than if you had a low ISO with an under exposed image. Push your ISO. Even if your camera doesn’t handle low light well, you will still want to push the ISO.

A Beginner's Guide to Low Light
ISO 5000 f/2.5 SS 1/160
Sigma 24mm 1.4 ART lens

2. use artificial light

Using artificial light to achieve low light images is really fun and can help you be more creative. I recently started using my iPad’s light. You can also use a flashlight, cell phone, computer screen, refrigerator light, oven light, bathroom light, etc. There is an awesome app on the iPad called Soft Box Color that can help if you need some additional light! Using a light source other than the sun can bring a whole new outcome to your images. I actually like them better, to be honest, than sunny outdoor images.

One way I like to use artificial lighting is using my bathroom light – nothing special about it normally, until I turn off all other lights to create shadows outside the bathroom!

A Beginner's Guide to Low Light
ISO 1000 f/2.0 SS 1/200
Sigma 24mm 1.4 ART lens

Using artificial light is also a great way to get through the winter months. You don’t have to worry about going out when it’s nice and sunny out to get AMAZING images. You can even take images at night (to add to the awesome low light). Artificial light sources can provide more leeway!

3. utilize manual focus

Your camera might have a hard time focusing when there’s not a lot of light or contrast. To combat this, I recommend manual focusing. It can also give you a creative outlet.

That being said, if you really can’t seem to grasp the manual focus tip, here’s an even better┬átip. Use a flashlight to light your subject and grab focus. Then turn the flashlight off to take your image. Low light doesn’t have to mean ‘hard to take a picture’ light!

A Beginner's Guide to Low Light
ISO 5000 f/1.6 SS 1/160
Sigma 24mm 1.4 ART lens

4. choose a wide open aperture

Choose a wide open aperture to help more light come into your camera’s sensor. Of course, choosing a wide open aperture will mean that it will be a little harder to grab focus. If you feel like it is absolutely necessary to have the image crisp, then by all means, shoot at a wider aperture and make sure your ISO is up high as well as your shutter speed is nice and slow (it might be handy to have a tripod – I just got this one and it is awesome!). But if you’re totally ok with out of focus/soft focus images…then definitely choose a wide open aperture.

A Beginner's Guide to Low Light
ISO 1600 f/2.0 SS 1/800 Sigma 24mm 1.4 ART lens

5. embrace shadows

Shadows aren’t bad. They’re not! Shadows can definitely enhance and add to an image. Don’t be afraid of the shadows in your images. Silhouettes and subjects surrounded by shadows can definitely add to your photo and give the image a feeling of mysterious. I also will dare say it: clip those shadows! If the shadows that you clip aren’t on skin (unless you’re doing a silhouette) then clip them. If they aren’t on anything important, it’s ok to clip them. I have come to love and appreciate the shadows in my work. They make my heart happy. Whenever the shadows are present in an image, I look at it and say, ‘Yes! This speaks to me’. So embrace those shadows! Don’t be afraid to include them in your art.

A Beginner's Guide to Low Light
ISO 1250 f/2.0 SS 1/400
Sigma 24mm 1.4 ART lens

6. nail your white balance in camera

Nailing white balance in camera is always important, but even more so when it’s a low light image. This is because most low light images take place after the sun goes down (not always the case, but can be) and therefore you’re probably using an artificial light source (see tip #2!) and odds are your color temperature is around 3000k. Set your white balance accordingly before you take an image.

Pro┬áTip: When setting white balance, switch to live view to change it. You will be able to see what it looks like as you change the kelvin and won’t have to take a test shot. I love using this little tip all the time in my normal, day time shooting as well.

A Beginner's Guide to Low Light
ISO 100 f/16 SS 25.0sec
Sigma 24mm 1.4 ART lens

7. don’t over-do noise reduction

When noise reduction is skillfully done, it can add a lot to the image. But over-doing noise reduction can result in an image that looks…fake. For lack of better vocabulary! I really don’t like my images looking fake…so I tend to be a little laid back when it comes to noise reduction, especially in my low light images.

In Lightroom, I like to go to the detail panel and have my sharpening at 40, then I like to use my ALT key (on PC) and move the masking slider to the right until the most important details are shown. Then for noise reduction, I like to slide luminance to no more than 20 (depending on the image it might be a little less than 20) and then color to 30 (again, depending on the image it might be a little less than 30). See screenshot below.

I literally do this to every image because I feel it gives my images a nice finishing touch. I recommend playing around with the detail panel and see what it does to your images. But remember, don’t┬áover-do┬ánoise┬áreduction or your images will look fake. And we don’t like fake images haha!

A Beginner's Guide to Low Light
ISO 400 f/1.4 SS 1/500
Sigma 24mm 1.4 ART lens

8. expose to the right

I definitely recommend getting your images exposed correctly, or even exposed to the right (without blowing any highlights) in camera for everyday shooting. Then you can deepen your exposure in post processing to get the moody image your after. By doing this, it will actually help lessen your overall noise. If you’re not familiar with ETTR, then I recommend starting with this tutorial – it does a good job explaining and also has some awesome examples on how it affects the noise in images.

A Beginner's Guide to Low Light
ISO 2000 f/2.5 SS 1/160
Sigma 24mm 1.4 ART lens

9. convert to black and white

Converting your images to black and white can help add to the moody edit you’re probably looking for. I love black and white and I often convert my images to black and white. I think it gives an added level of creativity and also mysteriousness. I love black and white photography! I think it can enhance the shadows and even the light in your images. Play around with the blacks and the shadows in your edits. Look at adding some contrast and clarity to your black and white. I think having a nice crisp black and white can give your image a nice enhancement it might otherwise miss out on if you kept it in color!

Letters to my Little One | 18 Months

Letters to my Little One | 18 Months

January 12, 2019

Dear Little Peanut,

I can’t believe you are 18 months. A year and a half of you and it just keeps getting better and better. I often think you can’t possibly get any cuter…and then next thing I know, you’ve grown a little, or you do something that makes us laugh. You truly feel our lives with laughter and I love it so much.

One thing you’ve recently started to do is say ‘ready, set, go!’ Only it sounds more like ‘reddy, se, do!’ You typically say this right before you start hitting things. You collect a ton of different things in your lap and then you’ll say ready, set, go and start frantically hitting them. It’s hilarious! I love it so much. The other day at the store you started saying it and I would push the cart super fast and you would just giggle so much!

Something you’re actually doing right now as I type this and recently found funny is blowing on the desk chair to make a fart noise…you’re such a boy! But when you blow and make a funny noise you just crack up laughing! It’s adorable!! And it makes me laugh, too.

You recently love bath time. You even ask for a ‘beth’ all the time. It makes me start thinking, where did my little baby go? You’re growing up. You’re learning what you like and what you don’t like. Your little personality is growing and developing everyday! I’m desperately trying to hold on to the memories, and images definitely help with that. I take videos of you all the time, as well. I love looking back at them and seeing how little you once were.

Another thing I never want to forget: how you always have to hold something small in your hand. You’ll find a rock outside and will hold onto it for the rest of the day. Or a dice. Or a small toy. Or a marble. I actually just checked to see if you had something in your hand, and you do! An orange dice that you probably got from grandma’s house. When you first started doing this, I worried that you might try to put them in your mouth…but you don’t. You somehow understand that only food goes in your mouth, which I’m grateful and blessed because I know that’s not always the case for all kids.

Turning 18 months old means that you get to go into nursery at church, which is for 18 months – 3 year olds. You went this past Sunday and seemed excited to play with the toys. When I came to pick you up you burst into tears. The nursery leaders told us you were pretty happy the whole time. I’m hopeful that this week will be better. ­čÖé I want you to start making friends and learning from other children. It breaks my heart to see you cry and that upset, though. Being an attached parent, I didn’t want to drop you off and then just leave you to cry. So I waited until you got distracted and then slipped out. I think that is the key. I will never leave you in there crying. Because I think that is abrupt and mean to do. I’m hoping you’ll start to like it, you did seem to really like the toys in there. And you already know where they are!

Your favorite meal recently is black beans and rice. You actually ask for it. I also try to get you to eat anything and everything I’m eating, but sometimes you are very picky. Which is typical of a toddler, so I don’t get too offended when you don’t want to try my cooking. ­čÖé I’m so proud when you do try something new, though. Even if you don’t like it. At least you tried it!

All in all, you keep us on our toes. There’s always something new to laugh about with you. There’s always something new to explore. And you really love making your daddy laugh. Oh, speaking of daddy, he’s still your buddy. Sometimes when you wake up, you’ll ask for ‘dada’ and I’ll have to say that he’s at work or school. And you’ll be sad for a little bit before playing again. But once daddy comes home, you usually run and give him a hug and a kiss! It’s so sweet. You love snuggling your daddy. You often have a hard time going to sleep at night before snuggling and giving daddy a kiss first. Which is so cute. And of course, your daddy just loves it.

I hope you know or feel the love your parents have for you. Your whole family has for you. We all really enjoy watching you grow and learn. There are so many people who love you. Who have loved you from the time they found out I was expecting a child. I often pray to Heavenly Father and thank him for the sweet spirit he sent me. He answered my prayers when we were trying to conceive…I used to ask Him, when He was ready, to send me one of his sweetest spirits he could…and you know what? He did. You are amazing. And you have so much love and excitement for everything. I love seeing the world through your eyes. And I hope you always keep this excitement.

I love you so much.

Love, Mama

5 Tips To Writing Your First Blog Post

5 Tips To Writing Your First Blog Post

So, you just started your blog and now you’re in the predicament of writing your first blog post? But, what do you write about? And how do you push past writing your first blog post? Will anyone really read it?

I am hoping to answer some of these questions. First and foremost, you need to decide why you are writing a blog. Is it for you? Is it for an audience? What is the topic of your blog? My┬ánumber┬áone┬átip┬áis┬áto┬ádecide┬áon┬áa┬áblog┬átopic┬áthat┬áis┬ávery┬áspecific.┬áDon’t just say, ‘oh, I’m writing a motherhood blog so I’ll just write about anything motherhood’…be a little more specific. Motherhood is a broad subject! You won’t get any followers doing that and you’ll drive yourself crazy with all the topics you could write about but probably won’t.

For me? My blog topic is helping mothers learn photography and blogging. It’s not just a photography blog, it’s geared towards mothers taking better images of their children. As well as blogging for mothers.

One very important thing I have learned from this blogging thing is that I need to do it for me. Meaning, I need to blog and format my posts they way I want them. I recommend seeing what other bloggers do, but then make sure you make your blog your own and blog the way you want to blog. I used to think I had to follow and copy all the bloggers I saw. THAT IS NOT THE CASE!! Do this for you, and no one else.

Now that I’m off my soapbox…

How ’bout those tips I promised?

5 Tips to Writing Your First Blog Post

1. Research

Research your blog topics! Yes, that’s right. When I first started blogging, I thought, ‘I’ll just write what I know!’. Which is good…for the most part. But you really need to become an expert on what you are writing. For example, for this post, I researched what other bloggers have said. I don’t want to copy them, I simply want to add to what they have said. Sometimes, I find that I have some very similar ideas to other bloggers…which is totally okay! I also sometimes find that what I have to say completely defers from what others have already said (which is the key, you want to stand out, right?) and it helps me build a blog post.

Which takes me to my next point…

2. Write an Outline/Rough Draft

I’m sure when you were in school you would write an outline before you wrote a paper, right? Or you would have to turn in a rough draft for the teacher to review before submitting your final paper? Well, it should be the similar thing in blogging. Writing an outline will help you pinpoint exactly what you want to say. In blog posts like this one, I usually write down my 5 tips first before I ever begin writing. After I have an outline, I’ll then type of a rough draft. I’ll look through my blog post over and over before finally submitting. I’ll even go back and edit it after it’s been published, which takes me to tip #3…

3. Revise Your Posts

So, you wrote your first blog post and you hit submit, congrats! After about a month or so into this blogging gig, you might realize your first post was not amazing. It was basically just a filler post so that you could say you had a blog post. Right?

Well, good news, nothing is ever written in stone and you can go back and revise it! In fact, I really recommend you do this to almost every single post that you write. Why? Because as you grow and develop as a blogger, so do your ideas and your insights. What you once thought was a good idea, might no be anymore. You need to revise this so that your readers are up to date. Because once you write a blog post and publish it…it’s out there for the whole world to see and read forever. Or until you delete your blog. ­čśë

For photography, sometimes my photos get better and I have better examples to show. I like to update my pictures from time to time and I also like to sometimes update my blog formats. One thing I like to do is try to make them all look the same. I edit a blog post at least once a week (when I’m actively blogging, *cough*). So, remember, nothing is set in stone and you can update the post after submitting.

4. Define Your ‘Why’

Why are you blogging? If it’s for money…stop right now! You need to be passionate about blogging for you to get anything out of it! It’s hard work. And it takes time. Figure out they ‘why’ you’re blogging. For me, I LOVE to help people learn new things, give advice, and show off my photography. Figuring out your why will help you with your first post.

Side note: I would recommend skipping the introduction post. Just dive RIGHT into what you will ultimately be blogging about. For example, my blog is about photography. I could dive right in for my first post with a tutorial on shutter speed. Act like you’ve been blogging for years. In other words, fake it till you make it.

5. What to Include in Your Posts

I’ll break this down a little further, but there are some must includes in a post! After you decide what to write about, research your topic, write an outline, and define your ‘why’, you’ll need to be sure every post includes the following:

  • Short paragraphs – people like to skim blog posts, make sure you have short paragraphs that are easily readable. Including bullet points help, too, because then they can just read the bullet points if they’re really lazy!
  • Add graphics or images – adding images that relate to your blog post really helps enhance it and helps your readers understand exactly what it’s about. If you’re writing a tutorial, try to show the process and the setup. If you need to you can even get stock images!
  • Break your post into sections with H2 tags – Header 2 is something that google really notices! So you want to make sure you break your post into sections with H2 tags. This will also help your readers skim, by making sure your headers give them all the information they need! All the tips in this blog post are H2 tags!
  • Longer blog posts – When you first write a blog post, you might not have a whole lot of information to add to it, but try to fill your blog post with enough information that you don’t leave your readers hanging, thinking, ‘what else do I need to do?’. The most words and paragraphs you have, the more professional you look.

Remember it takes practice

You won’t be a rockstar blogger the very first time you post a blog post! Remember that, just like everything else in life, it takes practice and patience! And remember tip #3 – revise your posts. You’ll be able to go back and revise anything that might be embarrassing later down the road.

Headline Ideas

And to get you started with some really helpful blogging ideas, I created a list of headline ideas to help get your creative juices flowing! And bonus, these don’t just apply to photographer bloggers, but just bloggers in general can benefit from these. They are headline ideas that will in turn, help you decide what to write about.

Thank you so much for dropping by. If you are a new blogger, what is the most intimidating thing about blogging? Please comment below!

A Boy and His Books

A Boy and His Books

So, it’s been a long while since I’ve paid any attention to the personal side of my blog (or my blog in general). I took a break and decided to work on my photography and take pictures for me. I’m not trying to impress anyone, I was just simply trying to make myself happy. And I really love the images I’ve been producing lately.

One thing I really wanted to capture was my sons love of reading. He’s been on a reading kick lately! I want to put a disclaimer that he doesn’t actually know how to read at the young age of 17 months, but he does enjoy me reading him books and looking at the pictures.

His favorite type of books are ones that include dinosaurs.

I’m just so proud of him for his love of reading. If he brings me a book, I stop what I’m doing and read it to him. I want him to always love reading so I will never tell him no!!

Here are some favorite book pictures from the past month or so.