Hey there, nice camera. What is that? A 60? A 600? What size card have you got in there? Have you figured out backlighting yet? Oh, you’re still shooting on the green square? That’s cool, I call the green square the Cody setting. He knows if he wants to use my camera and I’m not around to dial it around to that little hollow green box and snap away. But he also knows about the rule of thirds and not to cut people off at the ankles. I’m pretty impressed with what he’s learned so far.

He took this photo, he’s very proud of the non-ankle cutting and the thirds.

My ladies and me.

(50mm f/2.8 1/60 ISO 200)

He even held the camera straight, which is something I cannot do to save my life half the time.

This photo is kind of the perfect example of what I want to write about today, we’ll call it “What I’ve Learned From Taking Photos Every Single Day This Year” (Well, almost every single day, I can think of two that I missed entirely, today included. No biggie.) I have shot with my 50mm f/1.4 for probably 90% of the time this year. Every single photo from Paul’s birth, our trip to Florida as well as every photo I took in Utah last week (including Tayden’s birth) was taken with my 50mm. If you don’t have one, you should get one. A 50mm f/1.8 will run you about $100, if you can swing it, the f/1.4 has a much faster focus and a far more solid feel to it. If you can, take your camera into a camera shop, try them both out and give them a feel. If you like shooting big epic landscape photos I’ll refer you to my mom, that’s kind of her thing.

vivi and tiny gramma

(50mm f/2.8 1/500 ISO 250)

So you have your 50mm and if you’re anything like me you’re firmly rooted in the belief that the lowest f/stop possible is a must. Sometimes it is. But most of the time it is not. One of the biggest problems I was having in January were these adorable photos of Vivi where nothing was sharp. They looked good enough on screen but if you really zoomed in they were blurry. I was shooting with the lowest possible f/stop and what that meant was I had a VERY narrow allowance of what was actually in focus before everything else dropped off into bokeh (out of focus.) If she moved the slightest bit I’d focus on her eyebrow, making her eyes out of focus. Or if I focused on one eye but she was at an angle the other eye was out of focus. It was infuriating. If you’re far back from your subject low f/stop isn’t such a problem, but up close and personal it matters. Rather than shooting at f/1.4 I bump it up to my new favorite, f/2.5 and turn up my ISO (usually around 400) to compensate for the loss of light with the low f/stop. Today’s cameras are so great that you can get up into pretty high ISO before noise ever becomes an issue.

miss vivi and her chiclets.

(50mm f/2.5 1/800 ISO 320)

Suddenly all of Vivi’s eyeballs were in focus while the background stayed lovely and blurred (go ahead, click on ‘view all sizes’ and view it original. I DARE YOU.)

If you’re in the super bright sunlight and you shoot with Canon, keep your ISO at 100, Nikon 200. Adjust everything else accordingly. Nothing will give you better brighter colors right out of the camera as having your ISO as low as it can go for the conditions that you’re in.  Perhaps there’s a better way to take pictures of a dog attacking a tennis ball, but my parents seemed pretty happy with the way I did it.


(50mm f/2.2 1/1000 ISO 800)

I bought myself a new camera in January. I didn’t make a very big deal out of it because I’m still convinced it’s the person running the camera that has more to do with how photos come out than the equipment used. I shot with a Canon 40D for years and after going to a Zack Arias workshop I decided to keep on going with my 40D until I outgrew it, Zack’s greatest bit of advice. I pushed that camera to its very limits, I know how everything works on it and I know its limits. The thing I outgrew the most was the ISO, the 40D can only make it to 1600 ISO, my new 7D can be pushed to 6400, meaning I can practically take pictures in pitch dark (not really, but it kind of feels like it.)

sleepy addie

(50mm f/1.6 1/60 ISO 4000 (I know! SHUT UP FOUR THOUSAND!))

If you want to get better at taking pictures, learn how to use what you have, don’t just keep wishing, hoping and going into debt for the next latest and greatest camera thinking that will make you better, it won’t. It will just make you a mediocre fauxtographer with overpriced equipment. Moving from my 40D to my 7D was like moving from a 3 bedroom townhouse to a 5 bedroom home. I have plenty of room to grow, and at times it seems like a little too much.


(50mm f/4.0 1/320 ISO 200)

Learn to love your histogram. Speak its language. If your camera has one, use it. I use mine 80% of the time to tell me how I’m doing rather than relying on the preview. I used to use highlight alerts but that’s not the most reliable way to tell how good your exposure is. Here are a couple of articles that explain a histogram better than I can (seriously, I’ve tried. I’m awful at it unless you’re sitting right next to me.) this one does a pretty good overview of your in camera histogram while this one covers your post processing histogram.

Not every photo is going to be perfect every time, all that really matters in the end is that you’re there to take it and that you enjoy doing it.


(50mm f/2.8 1/800 ISO 100)


Overwhelmed? Yeah. Me too. The good news? I just typed in ‘histogram’ over at Clickin’ Moms and got 7 pages of results, which sounds overwhelming, but each question can be narrowed down to post processing software used, camera used, level of skill and just who asked or answered what. I know a few of you have signed up (I get emails when you do! It’s so exciting to see who’s drinking the learning about my camera cocktail!) but if you haven’t…


Get a free trial with the code ‘MOOSHTRIAL’

Ready to jump in viewfinder first? Get 20% off with the code ‘MOOSH20’

Hope to see you over there!

Thanks to Clickin’ Moms for having me as an ambassador and providing me with a membership to the Clickin’ Moms forums. All links to Clickin’ Moms are affiliate.


  1. HOLY COW THANK YOU!! it was explained as thought we were discussing cameras over lunch! 😀

    Casey Reply:

    @Ella, Oh good! I always get so wordy and gesticulate when explaining camera stuff, good to know it translates in the written word.

  2. So you’re saying that I should pick up my camera and actually use it?? I was afraid of that.

    Casey Reply:

    @ClassyFabSarah, Yeah. Sorry about that.

  3. Sarah Partain says:

    Great post!!! I have always loved taking pictures and now have a Canon Rebel to figure out for picture taking. I have so much to learn, so I hope you’ll be doing more of these posts! 🙂

    Casey Reply:

    @Sarah Partain, you got it. plus, you know where I live.

  4. This post is INCREDIBLY helpful. I have the cannon lens you used and I have been using the lowest f/stop (blurry pictures). I think your photography is beautiful and love when you post the settings used for your pictures – it is SO useful.

    Thanks for the tips and the inspiration!

    Casey Reply:

    @Robyn, You can usually see people’s EXIF data on flickr if they have it enabled (I don’t, I probably should.)

  5. I have a Rebel XS that I got two years ago Valentine’s Day. I still find myself using my cellphone more than anything (especially now that I have one with a BIGGER memory card because microSDs in 32gig are cheaper than the faster regular SDs that you have to use for the “better” cameras).
    I agree that it’s the person behind the camera. I can get just as crappy shots with the XS as I can with my Android/Windows phone, or even my two P&S. My daughter can get better shots than me sometimes.

    That shot of y’all by Cody is GORGEOUS 😀 Can he help my husband figure that stuff out? I try and explain and he just ignores me, so I end up with shots I can’t use for anything.

    Casey Reply:

    @Sarah @ TM2TS, Heh, that was Cody’s first real win…only took him 5 years. I like having my phone with me too, but still, nothing beats my DSLR to match what I see in my head.

    Sarah @ TM2TS Reply:

    @Casey, How do you get used to the weight? It’s so HEAVY. Not sure if it’s the lens (Yeah, I still have the basic lens, but I’m not ready to make a $100-300 upgrade until I learn the basics all the way, which I’m working on, considering I keep misplacing the battery & chargers [2 of each]), but man, my shoulders ACHE after a few hours of walking around.

    Casey Reply:

    @Sarah @ TM2TS, Probably carrying around a 24 pound baby…

    Sarah @ TM2TS Reply:

    @Casey, That’s true!! <3
    Thank you SO much for answering my questions 😀

  6. Ohh Betsy! says:

    This was such a helpful post for me. I’ve wanted to get a better camera but you are right, I need to get better at using what I have. You are my photographer hero. You are so good at learning and doing.

    Casey Reply:

    @Ohh Betsy!, You’re welcome Brandon (you know, so he doesn’t have to buy you a new camera.)
    You’re good at making babies. And taking pictures. And being my friend. I like you. You’re pretty.

  7. I have no idea what you said but I liked looking at the pretty pictures.

    Casey Reply:

    @Marta, And that’s what I’m here for as well.

  8. Boy, do I wish you could teach me how to use my camera properly. I’m like Cody, I use auto everytime. I try and take it off auto and I screw it up. Sigh.

    Casey Reply:

    @Mrs. Commoner, It’s taken me at least five months of shooting on constant manual to finally FINALLY feel comfortable doing it. I still screw it up now and then.

  9. Brittany says:

    This is beautiful. The pictures, the words. Totally inspiring and motivating – as usual!!
    I have the 50mm 1.8 – my friend and I like to call it ‘the nifty’. haha! I was getting frustrated with it recently re: the blurry and now I get it. Thank you (:

    Casey Reply:

    @Brittany, It make so much sense right about the low f-stop and blur? Grag! And dude, the ISO…CRAZY RIGHT?

  10. I love the one of the dog going after the tennis ball. So fun.

    And of course the one of Addie sleeping. 🙂

    Casey Reply:

    @Katie, It makes her look like such a mean dog when really she’s a sweetheart.

  11. Everything I learned about photography, I learned from this post. I was going to ask if I could email you a question, but you answered it. Thanks!
    OH, but are any of these touched up in photoshop? Or are they straight off the camera? Just wondering!

    Casey Reply:

    @Amy, I use lightroom. DSLR’s done auto sharpen and saturate like point and shoots do, every photo needs a little sprucing up to look more true to life. But I do try really hard to get it right in the camera so I only have to sharpen and adjust my histogram. A couple of them have the warmth turned up on them as well (the one with my mom and the one of the black dog)

    Casey Reply:

    @Casey, done sharpen? DON’T. Don’t sharpen. Sorry about that.

    Amy Reply:

    @Casey, Perfect, thanks! I need to learn about this histogram business now.

  12. Nice photos Casey! I have a Nikon D300, that I purchased a year ago. Now, I’ve been wanting to buy a new one. But, I guess you’re right, I have to stop wishing and just try to make the best out of it.

    Casey Reply:

    @Maricris @ SittingAround, Even my mom is guilty of wanting and wishing for new cameras. 🙂

  13. I have been saving and saving for a camera and I should be buying one NEXT MONTH! It won’t be as fancy as either of your’s (lol) but it’s an SLR and its a start. I’m so excited about it, its ridiculous.

    So I’m reading everything I can. Thanks for the tips!

  14. Erin Muree says:

    I just re-read this post because I am wanting to brush up on my photography skill, problem is the only thing I remember was the rule of thirds, because I use that in painting. So thanks for the mini-photography lesson.

    Also, Canon question. I have an old EOS Rebel from over a decade ago, meaning it uses 35mm film. Will my old lenses work on a new DSLR? I have heard things about cropping and what not but didn’t really understand any of it. I need Canon for Dummies.

  15. Thank you for just confirming why I need a new camera (woot on the tax return this year!). My ISO is driving me crazy because I can’t get the pictures I know I can take. I think my 7 year old camera is a leetle outdated… 😉


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