Crash Course Photography: Tell a Story

First of all, I am not a professional photographer. I had a class or two in college, pre-digital, so yes, ancient times. As a graphic designer, I am often selecting photos, art directing photography shoots, or forced to take my own in a crunch. This has given me a desire to learn more and to be better. Also, like any mom, I’m constantly snapping photos of my kids and I’ve decided might as well take good ones!  I will be sharing the tidbits I’ve learned and am still learning so I anticipate this as an ongoing series.

I’ll be sharing some technical tricks in future posts, but lets start with the heart of photography. The purpose of photography is to tell a story, to capture that moment or experience. Here are 5 ideas that can help you tell a story with your photography.
1. Take a series of photos in a row. Keep shooting during the action. You may end up with a series of photos that perfectly capture the moment with a variety of expressions. Blowing out birthday candles, opening a gift, and sports action and reaction are great times to try this technique.

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2. Don’t forget the details. Use your macro lens to get close. Add the little details to the story. Wedding photographers are great at getting those shots, taking close ups of the rings, the flowers, hand holding… but we often forget to use that technique in real life events.

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3. Use variety of scale. This goes along with #2. When photographing an event, do your best to get different angles and variety of scale. This makes your photos more interesting and tells more of the story.

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4. Add more visual information. Take photos of signs, tickets, architectural details, and maps to help add to the story and serve as visual reminders of where you were.

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5. Capture the unposed moments too. Use a photo journalistic approach to get those unposed and candid moments. You’ll be surprised at how many of those shots become your favorites.

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Crash Course DIY: Furniture Refresh

Background: This cedar chest was made in 1950. I’m not sure why my grandparents bought it originally, but I remember it from the family cabin at Donner Lake, California where it held extra blankets or snow clothes. About 17 years ago, long after the cabin was sold, my grandmother gave me the cedar chest. It was an awesome gift because that cabin has so many sweet childhood memories and my Grandmother, Ireta was one of my favorite people in the whole world and it reminds me of both.

The bad part of the story: it has been in my garage for at least 7 years. The wood didn’t really match any of our other furniture and it was chipped in a few areas and had some damage to the finish. I always thought I would have someone refinish it, but it never happened. Finally I decided to try to do something with it myself.

I had heard about “chalk paint” and supposedly it’s really hard to mess anything up… so I gave it a try. I thought the chalk paint would make it look less like a damaged piece and more like an antique. I found a blog with a recipe and someone who seemed awesome at this sort of thing. You can look at her site for the recipe. It’s super easy and inexpensive!
And you can use any color you want.

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The first images are the before. You don’t need to sand or prep the furniture. Just make sure it’s clean and dusted. The second image is after one quick coat with the chalk paint. It dries really fast. I added a second coat and lightly sanded the edges and details to create a natural, distressed look. You can really distress the piece to your liking depending on how worn or rustic you want it. I like it very subtle. Wipe down any paint dust. Then add a coat of furniture wax. The Elizabeth & Co. blog recommended Johnson’s Paste Wax, found at Home Depot. And…. here is the finished look! My cedar chest finally has a home at the foot of my bed where I filled it with extra sheets and blankets. I love it.

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Crash Course Parties: Carnival Party

When I asked my daughter Natalie what kind of party she wanted for her seventh birthday, she said, “a carnival!” I knew what she was picturing in her mind… games, prizes, a ferris wheel. So I started with how to create that atmosphere and vision with my budget. We had to scrap the ferris wheel. I wanted the game booths to have some structure. I had seen some cute stands built out of wood, but I knew it would be expensive and time consuming. We came up with the idea of a “frame” that would give the look of actual booths, but for a fraction of the time and cost.


How we did it: We used pvc pipe to build an arch using elbow connectors. The structure was held up by driving a few pieces of rebar into the ground and sliding the pvc over the top. We spray painted the pvc a gloss red. All of the materials can be found at a home improvement store like Lowes. We added a simple striped valance and red side curtains and it became a perfect, kid-size booth.

Not all of the games had a booth, but we built enough that when placed around the yard, provided that carnival look. Activities included a bean bag toss, ping pong throw, balloon dart board, duck pond, bottle ring toss, shooting gallery and face painting. At each game you earned tickets that could be collected to buy prizes… more on that later.

How we did it: The bottle ring toss was simple empty glass coke bottles bought at the grocery store and mason jar lid rings from Walmart. The balloon dart board was created by taking a 2′x4′ section of peg board from Lowes, we spray painted it white, then we added balloons by simply tying the balloon and pulling the knot through the holes. The board was held up by two extra pieces of rebar. For the duck pond we took weighted ducks bought online at Oriental Trading Company and pushed metal tacks into their heads so we could use a magnet fishing pole. Different point/ticket values were written in permanent marker on the bottom of the ducks.  For the bean bag toss, we used a ladder with different point values attached each step. The ping pong game was created by using the plastic protector shell that apples come in at Costco. Just open the shell up and placed on a level surface, we added stars to a few of the sections for added skill level.

The shooting gallery was created by using duck targets printed on double thick cards from Brightside Prints, placing them in placecard holders and shooting with a Nerf-style gun. You could also attach the targets to plastic cups if you don’t have placecard holders or photo clips.



I knew I needed to delegate some of the party preparation so I left the sewing to my friend, Becky. She took the leftover striped fabric from the booths and made little aprons for my “carnies” (my older children and some friends who ran each game booth). Complete with pockets for holding tickets.

 

We also used muslin to make drawstring bags for each child. I used ink jet t-shirt transfers from Staples to add their names. They used the bags to collect their tickets and hold their prizes so they wouldn’t get misplaced. We used this tutorial from Martha Stewart. We would suggest using a heavier weight fabric or nylon, the muslin was inexpensive, it was thin and didn’t hold up well.

 

THE PRIZE BOOTH

The children earned tickets at each game then they could spend their tickets at our prize booth. The prize booth was created with a pvc frame but used a longer panel of the striped fabric instead of a valance. We filled jars with candy and small toys with little tents that indicated the ticket value for that jar. All of the loose candy and small toys were neatly contained in the fun “treat tubs” from Bake It Pretty. I did buy the small, colored bears, but the rest of the stuffed animals came from… Natalie’s closet. She had so many stuffed animals that she never played with that were practically new, so they became the coveted “big” prizes. Sneaky mom!

 

THE FOOD

The food was simple and kid-friendly, incorporating some Carnival classics. We had corn dogs, buttered popcorn, fresh strawberries, carrot sticks and lemonade. The amazing cupcakes were created by a local boutique bakery, The Frosted Flour. I just showed them my invitation and they created these! How cute is that little cotton candy?

 

Thank you to the super talented, Becky Thomas (pictured with me below), the Anderson Family, My Mom, and my family for all of your help with this fun party!

 

Sources:

invitation, custom labels, and printed items Brightside Prints

paper goods, nut cups, treat tubs Bake It Pretty

cupcakes The Frosted Flour

Photography by Dale Goff and Jill Means