Nora’s 6 Month Pictures

Yesterday Nora turned 6 months old and today, we got some pictures of her! It’s been a rough week for her, as she has been sick the last week (got Croup), but she was feeling much better today and was playful and happy!

This one is her glamour shot!  Lots of crazy noises and we were able to capture her attention!

Nora at 6 Months
Nora at 6 Months


This baby loves looking up to her mommy!

Nora6Month (10 of 11)


6 Months old and getting more and more mobile every day!  Its incredible how well she can get around by scooting backwards and rolling!

Nora6Month (7 of 11)


That’s Nora’s Gorilla grip!  She loves stealing her daddy’s glasses and pulling on her mommy’s hair!

Nora6Month (6 of 11)


There’s that smile we all love!

Nora6Month (3 of 11)


6 Months, it really has gone by so fast!  Everyone was right.  Its been a blast!

Nora6Month (1 of 11)

Making the Shot – Christmas Tree Baby


This is hands down my favorite picture I’ve ever taken.  I’ve gotten quite a few positive remarks, so I’m sharing the details of how I got this shot in case you would like try something similar!

I took this picture with my Canon Rebel T3i, a pretty basic consumer DSLR.  I took this with a nicer 70-200mm f4 lens, but the same could easily be done with the f50mm f1.8 lens (~$125).  If you’ve got a Canon Rebel I would absolutely recommend this lens, its the best value lens out there and will allow you to dramatically expand your creative abilities with your shots.  If you are a Nikon shooter there is also a Nikon 50mm f1.8 lens that is about the same price, and while I have not used it I believe that it is equally a must own lens!

For my birthday this year (Halloween, or as I like to say HalloWayne) I got an external flash.  This is the big flash that you see mounted on top of DSLR cameras.  The flash can also be removed for more possibilities to control the light of your shot.  For Christmas I expanded my collection with getting a flash umbrella and stand.  With these few accessories one can really control the light of their shot, which is what Photography is all about, capturing light!  Here’s a quick picture of the setup!


There are several factors control how in focus the lights of the tree are.  The biggest ones are the f-stop setting of the lens, the distance between the camera and object in focus combined with how much further the tree is past the focus point.  For this shot I tried to get the camera as far away as possible without having to open the front door and go outside!

If you are using a fixed focal length lens like the 50mm, the desired composition or framing of your shot will also dictate where you place your camera, your subject, and your background.  If you have a tree as your background, you likely won’t want to move it as in my case.

Camera Settings

To get the camera settings correctly, first I put my camera in Manual mode.  Any shot where the light isn’t going to be changing and where you want full control should be shot in manual.  Once in manual I adjusted my settings without the flash firing until I got the background exposed how I wanted.

Since I wanted the maximum blur, or out of focus of the background I set my lens on its lowest aperature f-stop setting (f4).  This also results in nice round out of focus lights.  Depending on your lens and how many aperature blades it has, you may not see perfect circles at higher f-stop settings.  For example, if you are using the 50mm f1.8 lens at f4, you won’t get perfect circles, but get pentagons from the 5 blade aperture.

With the aperture set at f4 I went on to set my ISO, I selected ISO 400 for this shot and a shutter speed of 1/100th.  This ISO isn’t too high to make the picture grainy, and the shutter speed is fast enough to prevent motion blur from the subject moving, or from the camera shaking.  Since the camera was on a tripod for most of the shots the movement of the camera would have been minimal.

Flash Settings

With the background setting properly set it was time to adjust the flash settings.  I put my flash on manual and just took some pictures using trial and error to increase and decrease the flash power.  Since my actual subject would have been uncooperative with the test shots I used a stuffed animal.  As I later found stuffed animals and babies reflect light differently so some “game time” adjustments had to be made, but the settings were very close.


My test subject!  As you can see anything that’s not in the frame of the picture is ok, such as laundry baskets, etc.  Here I just used two couch cushions, a Boppy pillow, and some blankets to create a nice “posing” seat for Nora.

The Shot

Next step is to bring the baby down, leave her covered in a blanket and remove for the pictures, try to keep her calm and sleepy, and fine tune the flash power as needed.


I try to always shoot in RAW unless I’m trying to get a lot of photos in succession (RAW slows the camera burst rate down a bit).  RAW gives you a bit more control after you take the shot to make some adjustments in your digital darkroom.  A few minor tweaks later and here is the finished result!


Pictures from Nora’s First Photo shoot – DIY Newborn Photography

January Update – related black and white pictures have been added in this post. 

As I’m writing this, it is December 30th and the last few days have been a wild and fun adventure!  Our daughter, Nora Grace, was born on December 26th at 3:14 AM.  She was 8lbs. 2oz. and 20 inches.  She has stolen my heart and already has me wrapped around her fingers!  I just love her so much, and she is so cute so I decided I needed to capture her before she grows too much!  I’ve posted some pictures below.

We just can’t get enough of this hat! I think it is really cute!  Such pretty eyes!
NoraNewbornShootDay1 (15 of 16)

Sleeping like… well you see the picture.

NoraNewbornShootDay1 (13 of 16)

I just can’t get enough of those chubby little cheeks.  Too cute!

NoraNewbornShootDay1 (12 of 16)

Even the sun won’t wake this girl up when she is sleeping.  She’s the best!

NoraNewbornShootDay1 (11 of 16)

Love those little hands!  I need to get some more hands and feet pictures before she grows any more!

NoraNewbornShootDay1 (10 of 16)

Her little pink bow is precious!

NoraNewbornShootDay1 (9 of 16)

Do babies dream?

NoraNewbornShootDay1 (8 of 16)

This one needs a good caption!  What do you think she is thinking?

NoraNewbornShootDay1 (7 of 16)

Her Great Grandmother knit her this beautiful yellow blanket and she snuggles up in it so well!

NoraNewbornShootDay1 (5 of 16)

Seriously, I just can’t get enough of those hands.

NoraNewbornShootDay1 (4 of 16)

She did so good sleeping during her photo shoot!

NoraNewbornShootDay1 (3 of 16)

I love the sunshine on her face in this picture.  She is our little sunshine!!!

NoraNewbornShootDay1 (2 of 16)

This one was her final picture before she started peeing and having a meltdown!  Figures that she waited until we got her naked!

NoraNewbornShootDay1 (16 of 16)

Getting Past Automatic with your DSLR

Camera Settting Selection Knob


Being Christmas, there will be lots of people unboxing their shiny new Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras with dreams of instantly taking professional photos with all those megapixels!  There may also be a few less excited individuals dusting off their DSLR cameras they got last year to take some family snapshots, and even a few who just leave that big camera in the closet because their phone takes pictures that are just as good.  Like anything in life, becoming good at something involves more than just having the expensive gear, it means learning how to use it.  As Ansel Adams once said, “The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”  Let’s take a few minutes to improve the info in that mind of yours!

First I should say I’m not a professional photographer, but over the last few years I have graduated away from my cameras Automatic setting.  I have found that in order to take the picture I want I need to know how to make the camera DO what I want, not what it wants.  In this post I’ll describe two great camera modes that will give you immensely more control over your pictures.  These modes are great because they let you control one parameter and let the camera take care of the rest.  First you need to know a bit about how that camera works and what affects the brightness of your image.

There are three primary controls that will  affect your exposure (how bright or dark your picture is).

First is Aperature, which is an element in the lens that opens bigger and closes smaller.  It is essentially a circular window that changes size.  As you can imagine a larger window lets in more light and makes your picture brighter and a smaller window lets in less light and makes the photo darker.

Second is shutter speed, this is how long the “Film” or sensor is exposed to the light of the picture.  A shutter speed of 1/50th of a second will let in twice as much light as a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second.

Third is ISO which is the sensitivity or digital amplification of the image.  It’s a bit confusing, but know that ISO100 is the base and as you get into the higher ISO’s your image quality gets worse due to digital noise.  A high ISO will typically make your pictures look grainy, but the better your camera, the better it will handle high ISO shots.

Mode #1 – Av or Aperature Priority Mode

Rotate that knob over to Av and let’s get started.  I would recommend experimenting with this setting to see for yourself how changing the Aperature setting affects your picture.  First set your ISO to Auto (it is likely already on Auto), now you can rotate the wheel this is likely where your right index finger is .when holding the camera.  As you rotate this wheel you will adjust the Aperature setting.

Zoom your lens all the way out as this will usually let you adjust the Aperature to the lowest f-stop number (depends on the lens).  Try to adjust the Aperature as low as it will go.  It will probably be around 3.5.  The camera will adjust the ISO and shutter speed to properly expose the photo, but we are forcing the Aperature as low as it will go.  Now find somewhere that you can take a picture of something close that has something else further away in the background.

First focus on the close object with the camera (Put the center point in your viewfinder on the object and half press and hold while the lens focuses) and then fully press your Shutter button to take the picture.

Now rotate that knob again until your Aperature reads f11 or a larger number and repeat what you did above.  Once you have taken both pictures review them on the lcd screen (press play button) and pay special attention to the background and anything that you did not set the focus on.  You should see that the picture you took with the Aperature open (small f number) has a background that is more blurred or out of focus than the picture taken with the closed down Aperature (higher f number).

As you might realize, taking a picture of a landscape or something where you want detail near and far, it’s best to use a high f number setting.  I usually shoot f9 or f11 in these situations, but feel free to experiment and see what looks best.  Alternatively if taking a portrait of someone where you want the background to be out of focus, you can use a lower f number Aperature setting.

This mode gives you a ton of creative control over the automatic setting and I love using it!

Mode #2 – Tv/S or Shutter Speed Control

Rotate that dial to Tv (Canon) or S (Nikon) to experiment with the shutter speed control mode.  This mode will let you choose your shutter speed and adjust the other camera settings (Aperature, and ISO if set to Auto) to properly expose your photo.  A good rule of thumb is that at a minimum when handholding a lens you want to use a shutter speed equal to the inverse of your focal length.  With no image stabilization and shooting with a lens set to 55mm, you want to be shooting at a minimum of ~1/55th of a second.  Since your camera will likely not let you set a shutter speed of 1/50th, round it up to 1/60th of a second at a minimum.

If you have Image Stabilization(IS) or Vibration Reduction(VR) then you can slow your shutter speed down even further.  Try taking some pictures of a stationary object while varying the shutter speed setting.  Then zoom in to the pictures with the LCD to see how decreasing the shutter speed will start to blur the photos.  If shooting a non-stationary subject such as someone playing sports, or running around, the IS/VR won’t help you and you will need to use a faster shutter speed to “freeze” the action.  When taking photos of a moving subject set your camera to control the shutter speed and set the speed high enough to “freeze” the action.  You may need 1/250th of a second or even faster!

Another interesting effect that you can produce with Shutter Speed control is that of blurring lights.  The typical long blurred lines of car headlights that you see in those night city shots is made by taking a photo with the shutter speed open for a long time (seconds instead of fractions of a second.)

Hopefully you can experiment with these two modes and improve your control of your photography.


DIY Wooden 6-Pack

I built a few of these for Christmas presents this year and wanted to share the build details.  I found the basic design details

and have included some more detailed step by step instructions here.

Materials List:

    One (1) Ceiling Fan Rod 9.5″ longOne (1) 32″ of 1″x6″ pine board, 32″ long
    1/4″ plywood, I bought a sanded board that was 2’x4′ and could have made at least 6 of these with that board.
    Wood stain
    Wall mounted bottle opener (I got mine at Amazon)

Step 1

Cut 1×6 into 3 sections, two of them 11 inches and the third 10 inches.  I used my miter saw to make these cuts nice and square, but an ordinary skilsaw or even handsaw could work.image

Remember measure once cut twice!!!  Wait that’s not how it goes!


I like to use a speed square to draw a quick line, its not necessary with a miter saw, but it is very useful to have a straight line if using a circular saw.


I always like like to get my eyes on the same plane of the blade to see how well it will cut “the line.”


Finished initial cuts (I was making 2 of these).  In hindsight,  I should have made more as it’s easy to make a few at a time.


Step 2

Get out that 1/4″ sanded plywood and ideally a table saw.  This could also be done with a skill saw and a piece of wood (2×4) clamped down as a guide.  Be sure to be safe here, especially if you are using a falange remover… I mean table saw!


If if you are using an old table saw like I am, double check that your blade is square with the fence.  We need to cut 1″ and 4″ strips.  The 1″ strips are for the sides and the 4″ strips are used for the bottle separators.


Completed 1″ and 4″ strips of 1/4″ plywood.image

Step 3

This is where this project starts taking shape.  If you’ve got a miter saw, set it for about 18 degrees (or whatever angle you like) and start your cut about an inch in.  Just remember how far in you start the cut because you will need to replicate that for the other side.  Flip the board over and make the same cut on the other side.  If using a handsaw you’ll need to mark your lines to cut off the corners and clamp to a firm surface before cutting.


Step 4

Cut plywood strips to length.  Cut 1″ plywood strips in 10″ segments.  You’ll need 4 of these for this project.  Cut the 4″ strips into 3 pieces, two that are 5-1/2″, and one that is 8-1/2″.

Step 5

Cut groove in separators.  This may have been my favorite part.  I borrowed a friends router table and that made this step extremely simple.  If I did not have the router table I might have tried a few passes with a jigsaw, or even my regular router with some guide boards clamped with these separator pieces.

The photo below shows the guide I clamped in for the router table.  I used a 1/4″ router bit and spaced the edge of the wood 2-3/4″ from the center of the bit.  I set the back guide so that I would only “router” to 2-1/8″.  This ensures a good fit for the separators.  These settings work for all three of the 4″ pieces.  For the 8-1/2″ piece after you router out one side, just flip the piece over on its short end and get the other side!  Magic!


Now all of the pieces have been cut to size!  The toughest part is finished.


Step 6

Sand sand sand.  One of the least fun parts, but very important to making a “professional” looking finished project.  You want all of the edges smooth and the angle on the side pieces to be a bit rounded so there are no sharp corners.


Step 7

Drill handle holes.  I used a 1-1/16″ bit that I picked up on Amazon to drill holes approximately half way through the side boards.  This way the handle/rod does not stick out the end and is contained within the side boards.

Step 8

Stain.  I used a pre-stain that helps the stain to be applied more evenly, followed by a single coat of stain on all of the wood pieces.


Before and After!  One coat of this stain looked really good so I did not need to apply a second coat.


Step 9

Assembly – This is where you put all the pieces together.  Since the bottom piece supports all the weight and is only connected to the handle via the sides, you need to ensure that the sides are firmly attached to the bottom.  To attach I used a little glue at the bottom of each of the side pieces and clamped each piece to hold the sides firmly to the bottom.  I then used a nail gun and some thin nails to ensure these pieces would be firmly attached.  Slip the handle in one of the drilled holes in the side and repeat for the other side.

I then used the nailgun again and put a single nail in each side of the 1″ front and back pieces, this will help to ensure that the handle stays secure in between the sides.


Slide the separator pieces into each other and drop them in, and lastly screw in the opener into one of the sides!  Congrats on your new wooden 6-pack holder!


Making a Nursery

After much pinning, the idea phase had passed and the “get it done” phase was here.  Time to put all these great nursery ideas into action.  Time to get this thing ready for our baby girl who will be coming soon.

I may be a bit biased, but I think the nursery looks really great and am thankful to have such a great wife to figure out a color scheme and some design ideas.  We’re also really thankful to our friends and family that helped along the way!

Time for the tour!  Come on in and see our daughter’s new room!!!  That’s right we still don’t know her name, I apologize to all of the monagramers reading this (but I’m secretly laughing inside too…)
Kristen made a pretty cool “F” sign for the door when she was hanging out with some of her friends from church, and some of our family got us the crib and glider chair!  I’m guessing there will be some late nights spent in this thing!
And here is my major contribution to the room.  We picked up this dresser from an antique shop and I refinished it to look “rustic” and “worn.”  It’s been my biggest refinishing project to date and I really had a fun time working on it.  Now I just need to finish the handles so we can actually pull out the drawers… or I could leave them off and call it “childproofing” but I doubt I’ll get off that easy!
One of Kristen’s good friends painted this for us and it fits really well with the colors and them of the room.  We love it, and after all she will be our Sunshine!!!


 I have no idea where this came from, but hey it goes with the room!


And a baby needs books right!  These are some sweet antique rusted baskets to hold all of our daughters books, and yes we’ve started reading to her already… and possibly rapping some of the books … the rhymes are just too tempting.
And another antique store pickup, just an old mirror that weights about 10 pounds and looks great.
Thanks for checking out the post!  This is the first post on a new site.