10 Tips to Taking Great Photos of Your Kids on a Phone

What did our parents ever do in the days before we all had cameras with us on our phones?  It makes the photos that were actually deliberately captured even more treasured, doesn't it?  Growing up, I loved looking through our family photo albums and I want Rudy to also have the opportunity to look through our old photos.  Whether they're printed and saved in albums or maybe just on USB or Instagram, I want her to have lots of pictures to look at when she's curious about her early years.

Now, I'm certainly not a pro photographer.  Far from it, actually!  I highly respect the work of the pros and we often hire professional photographers to capture our family at various stages in life, but there are so many special moments each day and I wanted to be able to record them myself.  Because I don't want to miss out on all of Rudy's adorable phases, I've done some research on becoming a better (very) amateur photographer.  I don't own a fancy camera (not that I even know enough to shoot manual) but I do have my phone with me pretty much 24/7 for work.  Because of this, 99% of my photos are taken with my phone.

That being said, I often receive lovely compliments on my photos so I thought I'd share my tricks.  I'm always learning, so I'd also love to hear yours!  Here are a few photos (below) from my Instagram.

10 Tips and Tricks to Take Great Phone Photos of Your Kids

1.  Camera Ready:  I always have my phone with me (mostly for work) and I'm extra conscious to have it ready if we're somewhere cool.  We often walk past a cool graffiti wall and Rudy loves to run past it so I know I'll often get a cool photo there but a lot of our sweetest pictures are from around the house.

2.  Don't Pose:  I don't know how toddlers can model clothing because I would have zero hope of getting Rudy to actually pose for a photo.  All our photos are candids and (while we occasionally try to get her to look at the camera for a particular shot) she's rarely looking at the camera and usually engaged in something else.

3.  Snap Snap Snap:  Between constantly moving toddlers and pets, nobody at our house is staying still for a photo.  For every photo that turns out, there are at least ten more where Rudy's making a face, or has a blurry limb from moving it, or there's a line of orange (cat or Rudy) running across the shot.  If something awesome or cute is happening, I usually snap a bunch of photos and then I put my phone away so that I can look at them later.

4.  Natural Light:  Almost all of my best photos are taken either outside or near a window.  I often avoid artificial lighting in pictures if I can and use any available natural light.  I know that I can always lighten the photo a bit later but it will look more crisp if the light is good to start with.

5.  Check Your Settings:  I learned this the hard way!  I had my photo quality set to the lowest setting (default) when I took Rudy's 1st birthday pictures and, when one of the photos turned out beautifully, I discovered that I couldn't have it printed because it would be too blurry.  I also now set my camera so that I can tap the screen to focus on a specific object, which is nice.

6.  Angle and Background:  While we don't stage photos or (successfully) move Rudy to get the right shot, I do try to move myself so that I'm catching good light or a better background.  Sometimes, I'll move a little to avoid the mess in the background and sometimes, I move specifically so that I'm perpendicular to the background, which makes it less distracting.  I also try to get creative with the angle I'm taking the picture from: Sometimes I get down on the floor and other times I try to capture the photo from above.  Both have great effects.

7.  Composition:  When I started taking pictures of Rudy, I had a mental block about exactly how much of her was supposed to be in the frame.  For instance, "Am I supposed to make sure her feet are in every picture if she's standing?"  Haha!  Taking pictures got a lot easier once I realized that there's no real rule.  Sometimes, a photo looks great with a whole body in the frame, other times a close up of the face is more powerful.  Sometimes, I want Rudy to fill the frame, and other times I want to capture more of the background or scenery.

8.  Colour:  I try to use simple backgrounds as often as possible.  I also love blue and green, so there's a pretty consistent colour palette in our home (and even in Rudy's clothing) so we end up with a pretty cohesive colour scheme in a lot of our pictures.

9.  Edit:  All of my photos (or nearly all) are edited a little.  Sometimes, I like a more stylized look (either over-saturated or ultra light) but usually, I use a photo editor to make the lighting and colours show more true to life than the limited lighting in the photo may allow.  I usually begin by rotating (usually to line up the background) and cropping a photo.  I try to keep the rule of thirds in mind as well as aiming to maintain as clean a photo as possible.  Then, I lighten a little, increase the contrast a little and either increase or decrease the saturation level.

Here's an example of a photo throughout the editing process, which typically takes about a minute on my phone.

Here's another thing I edit: bruises!  If you also have a fair-skinned and adventurous toddler, you're no stranger to constant bruises.  To us, they're just a part of Rudy learning when to climb and when to hold on as she explores the world, but they can also be a source of embarrassment for me sometimes because I'm afraid some people wonder if I just let her run around unsupervised all the time.  I'll confess that sometimes, I don't want a prominent bruise to detract from a lovely photo (like the sunglasses-shaped forehead bruise on Rudy in the photo below) so I use the healing brush to erase it from the photo.

10.  Play:  I like to have fun with my photo editing.  Sometimes, if I have several cute photos from an outing and I don't want to spam everyone's Instagram feed, I'll make a collage.  Other times, I like to add words or graphics with my favourite apps.

My Favourite Apps

1.  Snapseed is my favourite app for adjusting angles, light, contrast and many other aspects of a photo that I'm still figuring out.  It also has some fun actions, like the ability to blur the background of a photo.

2.  Layout is my "go-to" app if I want to make a photo collage.  I also use it for fun effects sometimes, like in the photo below, which is actually two photos taken from the same spot a couple of seconds apart.  

3.  Baby Pics is a fun app, which provides graphics for common baby and pregnancy milestones.  It also allows you to add text of your own, which is how I made photo at the top of this post.

So, those are my tricks.  It's fun to be able to capture nice photos of Rudy for friends and grandparents (and for us and her, when she's older) without spending time or money.  I still use photoshop for some blog posts but these tricks and apps allow me to do a lot on my phone now.  What are your best tricks and tips?


Antiques and Tea

A couple of weeks ago, we left the house nice and early for a quick trip to Guelph for the Aberfoyle Antique Market.  Unlike other years, we were not hunting for any furniture.  In fact, it's time for some clearing out because I'm feeling like we're bursting at the seams already!  This time, we went without any shopping list at all and it made for a really relaxing couple of hours.

We still managed lots of window shopping and we also kept Rudy from smashing any priceless treasures.  I did end up with two new china teacups for my collection.  Aren't they pretty?

And, speaking of tea, I'm on a tea kick this summer!  I've been cutting back on my coffee intake lately and I've found some teas that can almost come close to replacing coffee for me, so I wanted to share: This tea, on ice is my absolute favourite, followed closely by this one, which has zero caffeine.  When I want a cold tea with a boost of caffeine, I reach for this one.  This is a decadent hot tea with just enough caffeine.  And finally, when I want a soothing caffeine-free hot tea, this is my go-to.  They all taste about 25% better in a nice mug or cup.  ;) Enjoy!


Father's Day

I know a lot of parents work their buns off between jobs and kiddos and my amazing husband is one of them!  Corey is a great example of what a tuned-in parent should be, but I know there are still a lot of people who feel that dads are secondary parents and it bugs me every time!  I constantly hear comments on parenting forums about dads not doing things as well as moms and it upsets me because my experience has been the opposite!  This Father's Day, I want to celebrate Corey and all the dads who are equal parenting partners and great role-models.

For those of you who don't know why Corey is such an incredible dad, I'll give you some of my top reasons.  Sometimes, he doesn't hear this enough from me because we're sort of trapped in the vortex of day-to-day life with a toddler but these things need to be said:
  • He does it all: diapers, bottles, baths... you name it, and Corey does it... usually better than me!  
  • He took full parental leave!  That's right- Corey took 13 months off (raising some eyebrows in his male-dominated field) from his own career in order to support my career and bond with Rudy.
  • He LOVES our daughter but he also respects her!  To him, she is not his "little princess"; she is his tornado, his queen and his BOSS!
  • He chases Rudy around the house pretending to be a T-Rex!
  • He plays rough with her!  That includes wrestling and tossing her (so high) in the air.  He encourages her to take risks and understands that a few bumps and bruises are part of the path to physical confidence.
  • He takes baths with her and doesn't get embarrassed or shy away from using correct names for body parts.  Bonus points for all the times when I'm working late and he texts me the most adorable bath selfies of the two of them!
  • He is a great role-model for how she should expect to be treated by her future partners and he promises not to try to intimidate her future dates, but to trust and respect her own choices.
  • Sometimes, he and Rudy wear onesies around the house and when I ask why, he says "We decided it was a pajama day!"
  • He gives THE BEST shoulder rides and he hops around like a crazy person (even in public) while Rudy squeals in delight.
  • He files her nails (so gently) and can't wait until they can get manis and pedis (no polish for him... probably) together!
  • Rudy loves him so much that as she's falling asleep, I often hear her softly mumbling "dada" to herself.

Cheers to all the great dads in the world!


Dinner Solution

Earlier this year, it became clear that busy schedules and an active toddler don't allow us to plan our meals as well as we'd like.  We ended up trying a couple of meal prep services and they were fine but we weren't in love and we found ourselves struggling to consume all the meals before the next delivery.

As many of you know, during my busiest markets (spring and fall) I am hardly ever home for dinner and it makes it tough to stay motivated to eat well and cook at home.  This year though, we had a really good reason to force ourselves to cook great meals: Rudy!  We kept thinking that this is the time when she's learning to try different foods and developing her palate so we really want her to experience different foods and spices from the start!

We discovered Chef's Plate after some research and have been boring our friends at parties by talking about how great it is for a couple of months now.  Each week, we choose from six meal options, which include prep time (all under 35 minutes) and difficulty level.  Then, once a week, we have an insulated box of ingredients (often portioned) and recipe cards dropped at our door.

While we still need to invest the time in preparing the meals, we look forward to our delivery each week.  We save all the recipe cards and often go back to make our favourites over and over.  So far, those favourites are often the fish dishes (consistently amazing) and the butter chicken tacos.

On nights when I'm working, Corey often has a mouth-watering dinner ready when I get home and on nights when I'm around, we get to cook together and drink wine while we talk about our days.  It's really fun and sort of reminds me of when we were dating and first started cooking together.

I didn't have the highest expectations when we started our subscription but the recipes are actually really amazing.  I was surprised to find that they actually tasted good.  Like, really and truly good and not just I-made-this-so-I'm-going-to-choke-it-down-and-pretend-it's-good good.

We tend to be lazy cooks and I'm so glad that we've subscribed because it's the kick in the pants we need to prepare real food for Rudy and ourselves.  Honestly, before we started making Chef's Plate meals, there were a lot (too many to count) of nights when we just threw some something from each food group on a plate and told Rudy to have at it.  Now, that only happens once a week, max!  ;)

Anyway, when I find a really great service, I have to shout it from the rooftops and I can't praise Chef's Plate highly enough!  If you like to cook but don't really know how to make more than a handful of dishes, this will up your cooking game BIG TIME!  As silly as it sounds, (and it DOES sound silly) we both feel so much more accomplished now that we have joined the ranks of people who make their own gnocchi from scratch.  Makes us feel fancy.

How do you handle meal prep with kids?  Have you tried Chef's Plate yet?  If you're interested in trying it, use code #3platesFromFreshCoatOfPaint - You will get 3 free meals with your subscription and I think we also get 2.  Win-Win!  Let me know what you think?


A Climbing Wall For Our Mountain Goat

You're going to think we're crazy but we've built a small climbing wall for our one-year-old.  Okay, so Rudy's one and a half now but we actually built this wall for her months ago when she was still crawling!  Let me provide some background so you can see that we conceived this idea in a very sane way.  Here goes...

Rudy loves to climb.  Don't blame me; She gets it from Corey!  There is something unsettling about a baby who can not yet walk but will climb on to the back of the couch and then attempt to get her foot up on the window sill before being pulled down by terrified parents.  It was in trying to keep her safe and direct her to safe activities that I came up with the idea for a climbing wall.  Corey amended it by suggesting a more horizontal, rather than vertical climb and our idea was born.

Corey knew that we would affix plywood to the wall and anchor the climbing holds (purchased on ebay) into the plywood for extra support.  I decided to paint an abstract mountain range on to the plywood.  We ended up choosing the three lighter greys from the photo below:  (lightest to darkest) Sherwin Williams "Icy Avalanche", "Modernist Gray", and "Perpetual Gray"

Over the course of a few nights, we prepared the plywood.

We measured the angles and "drew" our mountain range in tape.  Corey affixed it to the wall along the studs using a laser level (7) and we filled in the holes (8) before touching up the paint.

We used photoshop (10) to plan the positions of the holds.

We sorted the holds, since some were better for stepping on and others made better hand grips!  Each one was anchored deep into the wall through the plywood.

We eventually added a different type of hold as well, which was easier for Rudy to step on with shoes.  

For months, Rudy was indifferent but she loves her climbing wall now!  It's good exercise (especially on a rainy day) and it gives her a lot of confidence!  You should see her tackle the climbing wall at our local park!

Today, Corey was making dinner while I was at work.  He popped his head into the family room to check on Rudy and she had started climbing the wall on her own!  He snapped a pic to send me because we are both so proud!

This has to be one of my favourite DIYs!


My Crazy Cat Story

Those of you who know me in person, probably already know about my crazy cat story from last week.  If not, you can read about it below.  I don't know if it's the sheer ridiculousness of the scenario, or the fact that my clients actually bought the house, but something about this story seems to have entertained everyone who's heard it.  I thought I'd share it here:

So now my client and I are continuing treatment (a series of vaccinations) over the next couple of weeks but it looks like we are in the clear.  Rabies in humans is rare but lethal, and it has been a frightening and bizarre weekend but it's over now and we can resume normal life.

After a few days of being a little skittish around my own kitty, I am now over my fear.  Cricket is an amazing cat and is developing a great friendship with the dogs and especially with Rudy.  I thought I'd share some of my favourite photos of Rudy with her special kitty.

Final Update:


Mother's Day

Happy mother's day out there to all the moms, step-moms, foster moms, grandmothers, mentors, aunties, guardians and moms of fur babies!  It's my second Mother's Day as a mom (to a human child) and what an incredible journey it has been so far!  When they say that becoming a parent is like having your heart walk around outside of your body, they are right!  I'm as proud and joyful of Rudy's triumphs as if they were my own, and I feel the sting of her pain even more sharply than my own.  Motherhood has given me both the greatest courage and the greatest vulnerability of my life.

To those who celebrate Mother's Day: Are you doing anything special?  This is my busy time of year so we probably won't do much.  I am working all day and both my mother and mother-in-law understand the deal and know we'll make plans when I slow down a little.

Right now, all my non-work time goes to my family and that means spending time with Corey and Rudy.  Life with a toddler can be so overwhelming and Corey and I have felt like we've been treading water lately.  Sometimes I think of the other parents who either parent alone or face far more difficult challenges than we do and my heart aches for them.  I marvel at how strong some people are.

Last year, Corey gave me a sweet pair of earrings for my first Mother's Day.  This year, I truly feel as though I have everything I need so I asked him to help another mother in my honour.  Corey's donation helped to fund outings and craft supplies at SickKids in order to help a child who is in hospital show appreciation for their mother and spend some quality time with them today.  I know how much I looked forward to the Mother's Day craft that Rudy brought home from school on Friday and it was the sweetest gift to know that someone who is fighting a much harder motherhood battle may have a chance at a "normal" Mother's Day thanks to Corey's gift.

Finally, today I am thankful for the amazing little girl who made me a mom.  She is rough and tumble but also sweet and sharing.  She has a fantastic sense of humour and adventure.  She is far more fearless than I ever was and she has made the past year and a half so SO joyful!

For past Mother's Day posts, check out this one and this one.

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