Picnic in the Park

Spring demands picnics.  It throws itself on the floor and beats the ground with clenched fists and kicking legs and screams –


And I hope that you hear me waving my arms frantically in the background yelling “and bring your camera!”…

Recently we went on such an adventure…and I thought I would share it with you.  Our picnic in the park.  And while we are sharing the massive number of photos (which undoubtably only my mother in law and a few smatterings of kin are going to enjoy), I thought that we should talk a little photography. 

But first – our picnic excursion…we packed a little cooler, grabbed a blanket and headed for one of the county parks.

This particular park is simply lovely. 

I go there often for photoshoots but this was the first time for Jeremy.  I think he liked it.  I know we both got a kick outta feeding the ‘ducks’…yes, those are geese…but when you have a baby, those are ducks and they say quack.  It’s just how it is. 


Okay – onto the photography stuff.   For the sake of this conversation, let’s assume that you have a camera that has a manual mode and you know how to adjust your ISO, your f-stop, your shutterspeed and your white balance.  If you don’t know how to do all these adjustments, read your manual.  I read my manual countless times with my first DSLR…and it really will teach you a lot about your camera. 

This little session is for the beginner…the mom who just wants one good portrait of her kids.  Go outside in the last couple hours of sunlight.  Turn your flash off.  Turn your camera to manual mode.  Now the first thing you want to do is adjust your white balance.  If you already have it on auto…it’ll probably just work fine.  If you want to get picky, then choose the white balance that suits your condition (cloudy, sunlight, etc.)


Now, set your ISO.  Usually 400 is just peachy for that end of the day type lighting.  If it is an especially bright day, you can notch it up to 200.

Next you need to set up your position.  There are three main lighting positions…your back to the sun or light source (like the one below),

the sun to the side of your subject…causing one half of your itty bitty baby face to be light up and the other to be in shadow….


and backlighting…where the light source is behind the subject.  Try each one situation…they will teach you something new about adjusting your camera each time.   


Now it’s time to find a little magic.   It’s a magic combo of shutterspeed and f-stop.  The shutterspeed should never be less than 1/200 when you are attempting to photograph kiddos.  They will just end up blurring by as they run to their next destination.  The f-stop (it’s what creates those lovely blurry backgrounds) is what makes stuff in or out of focus.  If you set it too low (like at 3.5) then you might not get the whole kid crisp and clear.  If you set it too high, then you loose lighting…and you might be sacrificing that bokeh in the backgrounds.  I usually have mine around 4.0 for kids…not really less than that unless it’s a kid that is very still.   

It’s good to practice on inanimate objects first.  Kids are hard because they are moving targets.  And setting up your position can be hard because the bullseye is running from here to there and then behind you and then up the tree.  Flowers, trees, even full scenery shots can be a great way to hone your skills with adjusting the f-stop quickly with the shutterspeed.  Adjust one slightly and then adjust the corresponding thing (like notch the fstop up and then see how you have to slow down your shutterspeed to get the same exposure)…. 

Now…IF and that is one big if, IF your shutterspeed is 1/200 and your f-stop is so low that you aren’t getting your subject in focus entirely, then it might be time to boost that ISO.  Beware.  The higher the ISO, the grainier the photo could turn out…so you don’t want to go too high.


Now that you are ready to shoot your kids (and I mean that in the most non-violent way possible), remember this one big tip…make sure you focus on their eyes.  Portraits are wonderful if you get those big ole baby blues (or greens, grays, or browns) in crisp focus…so make that little red dot blink over the eyes each time.


Remember that on most cameras you can focus the camera on whatever you want and then keep your finger held halfway down on the trigger and ‘reframe’ the picture.  So even if your kiddos eyes are in focus, you may want to have them at the bottom or the left hand side of the photo (or whatever)…so get the pic in focus and then move while still holding.

One of the questions I get alot is who can you get pictures of a toddler or a child who is constantly on the move.  One way is to use the hold or blockade method.  Will is all over the place…but we can generally get a good shot of him if someone is holding him or we are blocking him somewhere….like this bench…


And don’t forget that if parents are gonna be in the shot, they need to do one of two things…look at the camera and smile or look at the kiddo and smile. 


And mom’s and dad’s – switch off.  Both of you should learn how to use the camera.  You don’t have to be pros at it…but just think about how special these pictures are…not only to you but to your child.  If something godforbid happened to you, these moments captured would be priceless.  So get a switching.  If your hubby isn’t into learning then set everything up and tell them to just push the button.  Then call him Desmond (that’s for all you Lost fans out there!).

Another really good tip for momarazzi’s is to shoot everything.  Take a million photos.  You can always delete.  You can’t ever recreate a moment that is gone. 


and there is nothing wrong with getting the most imperfect photo…or the babe’s crying face or whining face or concerned face.  Sometimes those are what we want to show the kid later….what things were really like.  And get the scene photos…where you’ve been or in this case, where you picnic-ed. 


Even if the photo isn’t spot on with the pros out there…(like this one is totally framed incorrectly) the point is…I love it, I think one day Will will love it…and that is what matters.  Some of my favorite photos are blurry and a hot mess…but they touch me and whisper sweet nothings in my ear…and when I am old and gray one day, I will look at those pictures more than all the rest.

Last but certainly not least…remember to capture things the little things from all different angles.  Get low, get high, get behind and in front, get fingers and toes and toys and everything in between and from all the variations you can imagine. 

So that is it my fine photo friends…a beginners crash course in photography.  I hope I didn’t miss anything too vital…and I hope that you have a wonderfully warm weekend to break out the picnic basket and the camera and get snappin!



  1. Philippa says

    Katie – you are awesome! I’m just learning my camera and I love all these tips!! Thank you!!

    Also Will is adorable and the duck pics are amazing.

  2. says

    Thanks for the great tips Katie! I will definitely be out and about this weekend trying to take a half decent photo of something (anything!) haha you make it sound so simple and achievable! :)

  3. Erin says

    I am so jealous! It’s still cold (and occasionally even snowy) here in Pittsburgh. I hope spring arrives soon!

  4. says

    I LOVE this…thank you!!!! I have a little guy who is 7 months old and just soak up all our tips on using my DSLR!!! THANK YOU!!!

  5. Brooke M says

    Thank you Katie! These tips are so helpful! I have one question. I am taking a ton of pictures of my little one, but what do you do with yours? Do you print them each out? Or just save them all on your computer? I hate to think my little one will have to get a CD out in the future just to see pics of themselves, but I have so many that printing them all off will be a pretty penny!

    • Cordia says

      I am in the same boat. Digital camera technology is great, but I think b/c of it we take way more pics. I have so many on my computer. I print some out when Snapfish has a special, but I have sooo many, I feel like I have given up. If there is a pic that is extra special, then I will print it out. I think I may just have to put them all on CD’s. I still have baby pics of my first son (who is now almost 5) that are on my old desktop that isnt hooked up! I have to hook it up one day and get those pics off! I dont want to lose them!

  6. says

    Love all the pictures! And here is western PA it is snowing currently. Blah. It is April 1st, ya know! Darn that mother nature!

    Question for you… could you do a post on your original photos directly from your camera to the ones you actually post that have had a tiny touch up from Photoshop? Kind of like when you show us samples of ones that people have paid you to help a tid? They are all so amazing!

    Got my T2i for Valentines day and have yet to take it out of the manual setting… I’m just terrified! I need to just put on the big girl panties and do it, right?!?!

  7. Jo says

    Love this post! So helpful. Suggestion, maybe make this a perm link somewhere that folks (mainly me) can go quickly to for a refresh. Just a thought.

  8. says

    Thanks for the tips… I actually used to know all about photography in high school and started college in it. But flash foward many years and the brain filled up with new info. My goal this year is to get off the auto setting and re-learn manual. Have a great weekend!

  9. Stephanie B says

    They’re still ducks @ age 4 too:-) Mary asked me again yesterday if she could feed the ducks with the “other Katie “:-) Love that park! It’s just beautiful and so are your pictures.

  10. says

    OMGsh! I’m SO SO SO glad you made this post today. I recently got a DSLR and am dying to learn how to shoot in manual mode, but every time I try, the pics come out terrible and I end up going back to auto mode, then I feel disappointed in myself. I tried playing around with all the settings a few times, but didn’t know how to make them all work together. This post is JUST what I needed. I can’t wait to go practice with all your tips this weekend. YAY! Thanks again Katie. You Rock! :)

  11. says

    Thanks for the great post. I live in the same county as you but have never seen this park before. It’s beautiful, and I would love to take pictures there sometime. Do you mind sharing which one it is? I’d love to be able to go to the same place. Thanks a lot.


  12. says

    Hey Katie! Just wondering what kind of lens you use for most of your professional photography sessions. I know you got a new camera for Christmas (score!), but was curious on what lens you’re using with it.

    My lens just died (sniff, sniff….) and I’m in the market for a new one and doing tons of research and I just love the way your pics turn out. Beautiful! Any help you could give would be appreciated! :)

  13. Charissa says

    I LOVE your blog cause I love the way you are so real about life. I also love decorating, taking pictures and enjoying my family. :) I loved this post. I got a Nikon D90 in dec last year and am determined to learn how to use it. It gets confusing though. I try to shoot in A or P mode rather than auto, and I get some good shots, others not so good. So the actual settings you gave should be a good help as I venture into manual mode. I am also wondering what lens you usually use for taking pics of Will. I have the kit lens (18-105) and then the 50 mm one. Any books/videos that are especially helpful??

    Thanks, snd again, keep up the great work! I love your style in blogging, decor, and photography!! :)

  14. Angela says

    Love the photos! And random question–what stroller do you have and do you like it? In the market for a new, lightweight/umbrella stroller….

  15. Erica says


    Every morning when I log into my Google Reader I look for your post first. I love your style (decorating and writing!) and it’s always the highlight of my morning to see what’s on your mind. Thanks for sharing all of your infinite wisdom (and your family)…you are a blessing! :)


  16. Lynn says

    Thanks for a photography post!!! When I got my Rebel at Thanksgiving time I took your advice and read the manual over and over…and took notes. (total dork I know) Your ‘tutorials’ are so easy to follow and always help immensely!!! Since I woke up to 4 inches of snow, I wont be heading to the park anytime soon, but cant wait to take the camera for more outdoors trips in the spring!
    And to the girl who posted that shes nervous to take the camera into manual mode…DO IT!! You have nothing to lose! Its digital…you can always erase. you will be AMAZED what your pictures look like when you turn off the flash! You can do it!!!!! :)

  17. Stephanie says

    I’ve read my manual all the way though one time. I have the Canon T2i. I do not understand white balance, so I need to go back and find that and make sure I get it this time. Thanks for the tips! Also, get as many pics you can while they are little. I have a 4 and an 8 year old and they are starting to think I am corny following them everywhere with my camera. I’ve always had it on me, so I don’t know why they think it is weird/annoying all the sudden, but it bothers me! The 4 year old will even put her hand over her face like I really am papparazzi :(

  18. says

    Thanks for all the tips! I just got my first DSLR and I really appreciate how you break it all down. Pretty mad that it’s still snowing here in Pittsburgh, ready to take some picnics! I love checking in on your blog. Excited for the bathroom reveal :)

  19. says

    I love your tips on photograhy. just got my rebel last summer and I am still learning and getting more & more comfortable with is. Starting playing around with manual mode too!!!! :)

  20. says

    Katie Bower you are just fantastic. Thank you for these great pointers.

    I have a question about preservation … With the ever changing technology, how do you anticipate the passing on of these gorgeous photographs? Do you recommend printing them? Or what!? I want to be able to pass along photos through the generations, ya know!?

    Would love to hear your thoughts!!

    • says

      Hi Alicia,
      Actually I am in the process of creating photo books. I know that they are pricey…and can burn if there was a fire or something crazy…but I figured that since it was Will’s first year that we would make family yearbooks (1 for mom&dad and 1 for the kids)…I heard of a lot of people doing this so it’s not original or anything like that. And yes – I do recommend printing your photos…that is why you take photos sometimes – to celebrate that moment!
      xo – kb

  21. says


    Thanks so much for all of the tips that you give us amateur photographers. I definitely appreciate all the help I can get!

    I have a question about your logo. Did you create it yourself? If so, did you just use something like Microsoft Word or did you go through Photoshop? Certainly, if you don’t want to give away your trade secrets, I would understand.


  22. Holly says

    WAAAAIT A MINUTE…I was looking for the big bathroom reveal today! Haha. I’m antsy. :o)

    Question…do you ever use the red-eye on your camera? Maybe the fancy cameras don’t have it…I dunno…but I use a Canon PowerShot. Great camera, and I’m playing around with it. But sometimes the red-eye, even when on, still doesn’t work.

    Thanks for your thoughts…and wisdom…and quick wit…and…

    Happy Friday!

    • says

      I don’t have the red-eye thing on my camera…so sorry I can’t be more help.
      And yes, we will do the bathroom reveal soon!
      xo – kb

  23. says

    I especially love the first picture of you and Will…we don’t have kids, but I find the same thing happening when we’re out with friends–I’m always the one behind the camera and don’t end up in the pictures as much unless my hubby and I take turns switching.

  24. Marisha says

    Great tips! Thanks!

    And totally off topic, but you look just like Britney Spears (not the crazy bald Britney either btw).

  25. Lacey says

    Really great post, Katie! I am with everyone else- I am going to try and get outside this weekend to take some pics, and NOT on manual!! Thanks again!

  26. says

    thanks so much for this photography post! i’ve just started braving the manual setting on my DSLR and have noticed such a difference in my photos of my two kids (girl, 3.5; boy, 12 months). it’s always nice to hear all about the ISO and f/stop tricks from the pros!

  27. says

    I’m such a fan of all of your photos. Thanks for all of the tips – one of these days I will take the setting off of the manual position.

  28. Wendy says

    Awesome post, Katie!

    Although I do have to admit that when I first glanced at the top photo of Will I had a fleeting thought of “dayum, Katie, your legs are hairy!” before it registered that Jeremy had gone to the park, too. Heh.

  29. says

    Seriously, I love spring. And picnics. I was at Wal-Mart this morning with my 3yo and found one of those wicker picnic baskets. We bought it and rushed home to have a picnic in the front yard. Always so fun. :o)

  30. says

    I love your photography tips….throwing LOST references in totally helps keep my attention. Except I’m the Desmond in the relationship. :P

    We used one of your photography posts as inspiration for our post today! Thanks for the help!

    • says

      When I fall, I don’t put my hands out to catch myself. They just hang down by my side. This includes when falling down stairs, off beds, and when tripping. I never developed that reflex…sooo…long story short…yeah. there’s a lot I can’t do :) just don’t push me down, mmkay.
      xo – kbumps

  31. says

    Thanks for the awesome tips! Coincidentally, your pointers for snapping babies are pretty golden for getting pictures of my four-legged, hairy baby. One of these days I’ll have a little human– until then I’ll just sit back and die laughing when the hubster tries using the “block” method on the pooch :)

    Happy weekend!

  32. says

    Katie –
    I just wanted to let you know that you have become a regular morning read for me. You are so funny and down to earth. I love your tips and happy inspiration! Because of all this, we nominated you for the Stylish Blogger Award! Thanks again and congrats!

  33. christi says

    thank you SO much for taking the time to post this info! I was just fretting over my lack of skills. I want to capture awesome photos of my little boy. I have a nice camera but you can only go so far unless you know what your doing. Again, thanks for sharing the tips, I’m exciting to try ‘em out.

  34. Amy says

    I know that park! I live like 5 minutes down the road, probably less and love to take my kids there :) A really fun place to take photos for sure.

  35. says

    Great post, but I’m really just commenting to say THANK YOU FOR ACKNOWLEDGING THAT GREY EYES EXIST!

    Oops, sorry for shouting. Typically, I only see references to grey eyes in romance novels – enter the steely-grey-eyed villain. *rolling my grey eyes*

    So, anyway…thanks. :)

  36. Rejane says

    I am about to get my first DSLR and I am so glad I found your blog. It is very instructive and you give tips and information that really matters. Thank you!

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