Category Archives: Photography

How to get a natural expression when photographing kids

Life Looks LIke Week 34 | Down Cellar Studio

Have you ever asked a kid to smile and say cheese and got the most horrendous, unnatural, photo that looks nothing like the child you know? Of course you have. We all have.

So I stopped. I literally never ask the kids to look at Auntie Jen and smile. Why? Because they either rebel and look away or if they do look at me, I get a fake, awkward expression that drives me crazy. The result is that neither of us is happy and that’s not the experience I want for them to have with the camera.

The Alternative? Make it conversational

Kids love to tell you what they’re doing. Here are some examples of my asking my nieces and nephews questions about what’s going on, what they’re holding, what kind of progress they’re making on something and the resulting expression that can achieve.

  • Me: “Riley, what are you up to?”
  • Riley: “Swimming!” {Tone: Are you kidding me? You know what I’m doing, silly!}


  • Me: “Aila, can I see your necklace?”
  • Aila: “Sure, Auntie! See? It’s pretty!!”


  • Me: “Teaghan, can I see your cake?”

Down Cellar Studio |Knitting, Photography, Creativity

  • Me: “Oisin, how many blueberries have you picked?”
  • Oisin: “THIS many!”

Down Cellar Studio

  • Me: “Kids, show me your new horses!”

Down Cellar Studio


  • Me: “Aila, whatcha painting there munchkin?”

Down Cellar Studio


It’s such a simple trick, and I’ll be honest and tell you it doesn’t work 100% of the time, but most of the time, the child gets caught up in answering the question or showing you the thing they’re making/using/learning that they just light up. Capture THAT moment and I promise you’ll be happier with your photos.

BONUS Tip for Photographing Kids:

  • Get down on their level. Standing over a child at your natural height can cause all sorts of problems with shadows and angles. If you really want to capture a child’s true expression in most cases it’s ideal to get a direct shot of their face. So squat down, or sit across from them at the table. That tiny bit of extra effort will yield impressive results.

How to Take a Good Selfie: Tips for Set-up

Riley & Pepere

So we’ve already established that sometimes a selfie is just necessary, right? If you haven’t already read last week’s post, go check it out! But it’s no fun at all, if the photo comes out lousy.

Here are my favorite tips and tricks to get yourself ready for a great selfie!

Check out the background

Running selfieBefore I turned off onto our driveway after my run, there were lots of places where I could have taken this shot, but there were also lots of other distracting things that I didn’t want to capture- other houses, mailboxes, street signs, pot holes and broken pavement. I opted for the dirt driveway. Why? It’s neutral in color. You can see the puddles in the background which add a little interest without being overly distracting and its a good reminder that I can run in the rain and still be ok with it when I get home. It sets the scene without getting in the way.

Where is the light?

The first thing to look out for is shadows. You don’t want harsh, unflattering shadows on your face. Try to avoid taking a shot on a bright, sunny day (opt for open shade, not an area right under a tree with dappled shade as that will cause pockets of light and dark which is equally frustrating). Look at what you see on your screen and unless the background is your main objective, start taking very tiny steps in a circle until you re-position yourself into better light.

SunglassesThis shot was taken on a very sunny day (hence the purchase of some new sunglasses). It took a little maneuvering to get a shot where the sunglasses didn’t cast shadows down on my face. But those 10 seconds of positioning will yield a much better image.

Sunlight in WinterSometimes in doing this, the sun will stream through in just right way and give you a really cool effect! Play around with it. Yes, this obscures half my face but I love it! Sunshine in wintertime is hard to come by! This is a rare gem I chose to celebrate.

Capture more than just your face: adjust your angle to tell more of the story

Shoes, Shawl BeerOn our trip to Portland I was enjoying the first fits of Spring and the opportunity to wear my new Sperry’s while still being wrapped in the warmth of my Tan House Brook shawl. Dan and I were on a brewery tour and as I looked down I was so happy with the scene, I realized this was something I wanted to capture. While the smile on my face was certainly there, this tells more of my story that day. New shoes, jeans + tee with my shawl and great beer. This is still ME just from another angle.

WalkingI’ve enjoyed posting about my runs on Instagram [What an awesome, motivated group we have there! Thank you!] and the point of these photos isn’t to share my face. It’s to share the story of me- in motion, in action, making progress. It’s my legs doing the real work. They deserve to be in the shot. Yes, that means you need to get creative with the angle, but it can definitely work.

Jen on the train

In this shot, I positioned myself at the very edge of the photo so you can see the length of the train car (and all those gloriously empty seats beside me). Your eye leads down from my face to my arm, over to my bag and down the row of seats. I’ve used this selfie to bring you into my world, into my commute home, my daily routine. Yes, I’m a part of that, but again, that’s not the whole story. The point is to capture me AND my natural environment.

Remember this when you’re wanting to share your selfies on Social Media. While your friends certainly want to see you- they probably also want to see where you are, what you’re doing, why you’re so excited to be there. Share those details when you can.

Ask a friend to play along

Jen + kidsLet’s face it, selfies are a lot more fun with other people! It can be a little tougher to get everyone in the shot, so move the phone or camera around until you can see everyone and don’t be afraid to squeeze in close. The good thing about selfies is that everyone can see if they’re in the shot- even the little ones. Tell them to make sure they can see their face and you should be good!

Jen + Riley

Go Ahead– Be Silly

Happy AnniversaryWhen Dan and I went away for our anniversary I wanted some shots of us together, but again, no personal photographer. He’s not especially fond of having his picture taken and he’s definitely not into selfies, so I just made light of it. We were in a reasonably upscale restaurant, at the bar waiting for a table. I whipped out the phone and said something like “let’s do this really quick” as if we were trying to get away with something! The ridiculousness of the whole thing had us giggling in no time. I took about 10 shots to get it right, but I love how well this captures the fun we had that night!

Crop to get what you wantDad & JenDad and I went to the Jason Aldean concert last summer. We had SO. MUCH. FUN! But there was no else there to capture the night for us, so it was up to me and the power of the selfie. I’m a righty and pressing the shutter with my left hand is often clumsy so you’ve got a bit more of my arm in the shot than is ideal.

Simple solution: Crop it down. Depending on what you’re using it for, a square crop is even more ideal and there was nothing of interest in that bottom portion of the photo, so all I removed was excess arm.

Dad Jen Crop Square

That’s better!

Still to come: how to make the most out of your phone when taking selfies and how to choose a flattering angle!

Until then, just get out there and practice! Remember, you can always delete the ones that don’t come out well. I do it all the time!

Capturing Summer: Fun & Food


Summer: Ice Cream

 Summer is my favorite time of year! Longer days & warmer temperatures provide more opportunity to spend quality time with family and friends.

To make those memories last, I take a ton of photos. I’m fortunate to have 7 nieces and nephews who make summer even more fun! There’s nothing like being around kids to remind you how the simple things in life make it so wonderful.

Today we’ll focus on two of my favorite aspects of summer fun that are great to capture on camera.

  1. Action. Play. Swimming. Running. Being absolutely silly!

  2. Summer FOOD! Burgers, ice cream & cold beer!


In summer especially, I try to make sure to have my camera handy. Of course you want to make sure its far enough from the pool to avoid splash. And when you think you have it far enough away, give it another 3-4 feet. I always underestimate just how far tiny bodies can get water to travel.


Summer presents all sorts of other options for fun and gaming that you may not take advantage of the rest of the year. Last summer my parents put in a dart board! While I don’t particularly enjoy darts, its part of our new summer landscape and I enjoy that. There’s laughter, and jeering and new sounds. And in the beginning, teaching other new things. I love how games and sports often point out how people work together and appreciate each other.

There’s nothing more classic than kids running around bathing suits on, wet hair, dirty feet, all smiles and laughter. I swear they could run and run for hours and never tire. They don’t want to stop for dinner. They never want to go to bed. They inspire their uncles whose knees often ache to run with them like they too are 6 years old! The fun is infectious!IMG_6664

I do a fair bit of running around, playing ladder ball and swimming, but in other times, I enjoy looking on. Sometimes I just sit back and let it all sink in. Other times, I grab my camera and let it fire.

I often just put my camera into the automatic sports mode, in continuous shooting (so I sound like the paparazzi auntie I am) and capture as much as I can. Sure I delete a lot, but you never know when you’re going to get that perfect expression, so buy a larger SD card and let fill up!


Sometimes I have my camera out and ready. Watching, waiting for the perfect shot of the energetic little munchkins. And other times, its just a happy accident. In the shot below, I was testing out a friend’s lens. I had just put it on and was practicing getting the settings right. And all of a sudden…. my niece Aila fell out of the bouncy house. Just fell right out! You never know what’s going to happen with kids!

An important part of every summer, when kids are involved, is swimming progress. I enjoy documenting whether kids are using various floating devices, swimming on their own in the shallow end, jumping off the diving board. There is always progress!  Each kid is different. Some have a hard time getting up the nerve to jump off the diving board. Others need encouragement to go underwater.

IMG_5304For Oisín, its keeping his mouth closed when he’s swimming that is the challenge! He gets so excited and laughs so hard that his mouth is completely open, sucking in so much pool water. Every adult attempts to chide him, warning him not to swallow the water, but in the end we all just laugh because he can’t stop and then neither can we. Maybe next year he’ll grow out of this, but for now, I’m happy I caught it on camera.


Almost nothing beats a cold beer on a summer day! I don’t drink all that much, and at other times of year I prefer other things, but to me- summer is for enjoying a cold beer by the pool! And drinking by the pool looks different than drinking inside–like this new bottle opener at Mom & Dad’s pool!

Don’t forget about the ice cream! Even if you’re on a diet or watching your sugar intake for 10 months out of the year, please do yourself a favor– do me a favor- and enjoy some ice cream in summer! And even if you only have your cell phone handy (like I did for this shot), capture all of its delicious texture and melty goodness!

IMG_2956Then there’s burgers! I may not eat them, at least not the beef kind but the kids love them! Riley especially loves when Uncle Dan makes them and she’s happy to show me just how much she’s enjoying every single bite. Summer Food

As single images they may not look like much, but to me these photos call to mind, even in the dead of winter, what summer feels like, sounds like, tastes like.

You don’t need to be the world’s best photographer to capture these moments. Just get in the habit of capturing these details. As you do, you’ll find yourself capturing the same kinds of shots over and over as the summer goes on. Take a look at what you like and what you don’t. If you’re having a good summer you’ll get plenty of chances for a do-over. Adjust, try things from a new angle and try your best next time!

It’s only August. Here in Boston there’s still plenty of summer left and plenty of time to capture summer memories! I’ll be back soon to share some more! Until then, do you have any tips on photos to take to capture the essence of summer?