Category Archives: How to

5 Tips for Taking Great Outdoor Portraits

Today, we’re thrilled to have Tony Murray guest posting for us.  Tony is an extremely talented photographer who is most well known for his landscape photos.  He has won numerous photo contests and has had several photos featured in Outdoor Photographer.  Although he would never admit it, he’s also amazing at taking pictures of people.  He is incredibly skilled at using natural elements and lighting to enhance his portraits, and we’re thrilled to have him with us today.  I’m sure if the rest of you are like us, you’re always looking for ways to capture the beauty that you see in your family and in nature, on film.  Tony is here to show us how!  He also happens to be Mason and Chloe’s uncle (lucky).
He is currently working on an amazing project that you can read about here.  

As a photographer I am often asked how to take better photos, especially outdoors.   To be honest, there is no one thing that is going to make you a better photographer except taking thousands of photos and learning from your errors.  However, there are lots of tips and techniques that can easily turn a regular snapshot into a great photograph.  Here are a some of my best tips:

#1.  The first and most important thing when taking portraits, no matter if you are indoors or out is to focus on the eyes.  The first thing people look at when viewing a portrait is the eyes and so as the photographer you should always focus on them to make them as sharp as possible, making the person in the photograph appear to be looking out.

#2.  The second thing that can help to make a great portrait is to use a wide-open aperture on your lens to create a shallow depth of field.  When viewing portraits we want the subject to stand out from the background, not blend into it.  For example, if I were at a busy park taking photos of Mason and Chloe I would want to see them in the photos and have the background out of focus. I wouldn’t want to see the crazy family reunion at the same park and have those people in all my photos.  To achieve this shallow depth of field open your aperture to the widest it will go, typically an f/stop of f/1.8-f.3.5.  You can also achieve this look by using a telephoto lens and while standing further back zoom in on your subject.  Either way you do it a shallow depth of field is key when taking portraits.

#3.  When shooting portraits the mid-day sun is typically not your best friend, there are often harsh lighting elements or shadows and too much contrast.  So making the best time to take photos to be in the early morning or late afternoon.  This however is not always possible, especially when you are out with the family and just want to take some photo NOW.   Taking advantage of overcast days or utilizing shade can simply fix this.  Clouds and shade act as nature’s light diffusers, allowing for nice, even lighting that you can take photos in any time of the day.

#4. The fourth, and most misunderstood aspect of outdoor portraits is to use a flash.  For over 90% of my outdoor portraits I use a flash, seriously.  Using a flash, even in the day, can even out lighting, acting as a fill light.  It also helps to separate your subject from the background.  The pop-up flash on your camera is effective to about 15-25 ft depending on ambient light, and can its power output can easily be adjusted in your menu if it is producing too much or too little light.  There are also external flashes that allow for more effective, higher quality light that has the option with most cameras to be fired off camera, allowing you to have a portable portrait studio wherever you go.

#5. The last tip I have is to use the environment.  Use whatever you have available to you to add to the context of your photo.  Whether you are in the city, in the country, or in the mountains you can use your environment to add depth to your photo, giving it a new feel and look.
While all these things will help, the best advice I can give is to just shoot.  In the age of digital cameras it doesn’t cost you anything if you spend a couple of hours, taking 1,000 images, and none of them turn out, but you will learn and the next time your photos will be that much better.

Thanks for sharing with us Tony!  Check back in the next few weeks as Tony shares more great photography tips with us!  To view Tony’s portfolio, visit his website here.  

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Posted by on November 16, 2011 in How to, Photo of the week, Tips


Make your own Strider-style balance bike

We’re a big fan of balance bikes around here.  Okay, I guess that’s not entirely true…We’re going to be big fans of balance bikes.  Balance bikes are becoming incredibly popular, and with good reason.  They teach kids balance and coordination, which makes the transition to a regular bike much smoother.  Instead of focusing on pedaling, which is fairly simple, balance bikes have kids learn to balance first.  Brilliant.  Here’s why we’re going to love them, and how we made our own!

When Mason was two, we bought him a sweet bike from Craigslist for $5.  It was simple – no brakes, unpoppable tires, and training wheels that were impossible to get straight so he always rode a little crooked.  We thought “it’s just fine, he’s only 2”.  Well fast forward 2 years to a 4 year old who’s outgrowing that bike and terrified to get rid of training wheels.  He was even more furious when we tried to take off the pedals and training wheels and help him learn to balance.  It was quite the battle.  Luckily, he now rides a bigger bike very well and we’re so glad that learning to ride a bike is behind us.  See, Mason could actually balance pretty well from the start.  However, the training wheels had become such a crutch that he was really attached to them.

To avoid such drama when Chloe gets older, we decided that she needed a balance bike from the start.  We looked around and instantly fell in love with several bikes, but the price tags made us take a step back.  We wanted her to feel like she was getting her own bike, not just the one that Mason had severe tantrums about because he wanted his training wheels back (‘cuz she picks up on stuff like that).  Well, we did have to shell out $2 for some spray paint (on sale), but we love the result.

Here’s what we started with.  (Well, it had training wheels too, I just forgot to take a picture)
balance bike6

We started by taking the pedals off.  On this bike, the pedals and crank were integrated so it came off all as one piece.  There were some random bolts that we had to take apart and one pedal had to come off to get the whole piece off the bike. (okay, the parts weren’t random, I know!)
balance bike2

Then we hit a hard spot.  The chain.  It was looped around the frame so I couldn’t get it off.  I didn’t want to just take a hammer to it, in case we want to put it on later.  So, we took it to our local bike shop to see if they could help.  Well, the shop technician was so excited that we were turning our bike into a balance bike that he took a link out of the chain for free.  SWEET!
balance bike5

Now, to make the bike unique.  The bikes original decals had to go.  We found out that a razor blade and Goo-Gone were our best friends for this part.  It’s essential to get rid of all the extra sticky residue so you don’t have a big nasty mess later.
balance bike4

Then we took the wheels and handle bars off.  which was super simple and only required a wrench.
balance bike1

Now we gave the whole bike a light sanding to help the new paint stick better.  It is really important to prepare your surface properly, or your spray paint will just give you a big mess. At this point, you’re ready to paint. If you want a really good looking paint job, use primer first.  However, that thought didn’t occur to me until after I started painting.  Luckily, our finish is holding up quite nicely.  Do several thin and even coats of spray paint so that it doesn’t run and get streaks, allowing it to dry, per paint directions, between.  After the bike is painted and dry, reassemble the bike by putting the tires and handle bars back on.

Voila, brand new bike.

We gave this to Chloe for her 2nd Birthday.  Right now she only walks with it, which is great.  Mason would take it to the hill at the top of the street when he was her age and give me a heart attack as he went down.  Girls are much calmer!

Christmas is just around the corner and this is an easy and cheap way to get your child learning to bike.  Although we love our bike (and the $7 price tag), the ‘real’ balance bikes do have some great features that we couldn’t replicate.  The major one is that the seat goes REALLY low.  This is especially nice if you start your child early.  As it is, Chloe can barely touch the ground.  We’ve actually taken the seat off right now because then she can walk easier.  Here are a few of our favorite balance bikes that you can purchase here and here.


Posted by on November 3, 2011 in Biking, How to


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Backpacking Chef – great food far from home

Oh my goodness.  Do you ever come across a site so good that you need to tell everyone about it?  As Andrew and I were doing some research for our backpacking trip this weekend, we decided we wanted to expand our food options.  As we searched online, we luckily came across .  This site is amazing.  There are TONS of menu options for each meal of the day (including the ever so important dessert) and they walk you through how to make it all.  My favorite part about it is that you do ALL of it yourself.  They tech you how to dehydrate meat, pasta sauce, even pumpkin pie.  Seriously, these guys have got it down.  So, if you’re heading backpacking, be sure to check them out.  Not only will you save some serious money by not buying pre-packaged trail food, but it will taste SO GOOD (at least that’s our hope).  No, we’re not being paid to say this, we’re just so pumped to find this site.

Oh and yes, we are crazy enough to try and squeeze in one more backpacking trip this year.  Hopefully, it goes a little smoother than last time.  Since it’s already pretty cold here, we’re heading to Coyote Gulch in Southern Utah.  It’s gonna be awesome.  Check back next week for our updates!  Thanks for reading!

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Posted by on October 11, 2011 in Backpacking, How to


How to Deal: Tantrums on the Trail

Every kid has them.  Every parent hates them.  You know what I’m talking about – TANTRUMS!!

When you have little kids, tantrums can be an almost every day occurence.  After surviving Mason as a 2 and 3 year old, I feel like I should be given a medal for withstanding all his screaming.  I felt like he was a time-bomb all the time.  Tantrums are truly a force to be reckoned with.  Recently, I was talking with one of my friends about her 2 year old.  She could not understand what was wrong with him.  He would have several tantrums a week and they would often last for an hour or two.  Well, rest assured, mothers of screamers – your kids are about as normal as they come.  Unfortunately, for everyone, tantrums are a big part of the toddler years.  Between the ages of 2 and 3, kids are really trying to figure things out and understand how they fit in with everything around them.

According to the Mayo Clinic “A tantrum is the expression of a child’s frustration with the physical, mental or emotional challenges of the moment. Physical challenges are things such as hunger and thirst. Mental challenges are related to a child’s difficulty learning or performing a specific task, or difficulty using words to express thoughts and feelings. Emotional challenges are more open to speculation. Still, whatever the challenge, frustration with the situation may fuel a child’s anger — and erupt in a tantrum.”

Now why are we talking about this today?  Well, if you have a child who is very prone to tantrums, it can quickly put a damper on your outdoor adventures, or halt them altogether.  Who is really crazy enough to willingly put themselves miles from civilization with a screaming toddler?  The thought is enough to make even the most patient parent run from the room.

While tantrums are not totally avoidable, here are a few tips to deal with tantrums on the trail.

Read On


Posted by on October 10, 2011 in How to, Misc, Tips


How to get to most out of gardening with your kids

Every year, at about this time, my world changes.  We say goodbye to swimming, sandcastles at the beach, popsicle stained chins, and start dreaming of chunky sweaters and warm boots.  That is, until our dream is quickly pushed out by the harvest still overflowing outside.  Our afternoons and evenings are filled with peeling, canning, blanching and freezing.  We really like to garden, so naturally, the kids get their share of digging out of it.  Some years are great, others, not so much.  This year fell squarely in the middle.  Although it is fall, this is a great time to start thinking about next years garden.  Here are a few tips for getting the most out of gardening with your family.

One part of our garden.
Corn, onions, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, beans, strawberries, and lots of weeds.

Read On


Posted by on October 6, 2011 in How to, Ideas, Misc


5 ways to get your kids skiing for cheap

It’s officially October, meaning that ski season is creeping even closer.  Although there is still some time before the slopes open up, this is the perfect time of year to get all of your gear ready for the upcoming season.
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Posted by on October 3, 2011 in How to, Skiing


Run – Fast

To the mountains that is.  Now I know you might be thinking we’re a little crazy for thinking this when it’s almost October BBRRRRR!  Here’s why you’ve got to go…
farm trip 091

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Posted by on September 28, 2011 in Hiking, How to

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