Andrea's blog


SLR Camera & Accessories: My Recommendations

I'm often asked what kind of camera I recommend -- I guess because I'm always taking photos and I walk around with a big ol' honkin' huge camera, people think I have some authority and expertise. 

Well, I don't know about all of that, but if you ask me what *I* think, as an amateur, hobbyist, not-for-hire, mom photographer - here's what I'll tell you:

Camera Recommendations:

Unfortunately, I don't have a recommendation for a point-and-shoot camera. I rarely use them, and when I do, they don't compare well to my SLR, so I just don't know much about the different point-and-shoot models and options, etc.  Sorry!

I've always used Canon SLR cameras, so that's what I will recommend.  That said, I'll bet the Nikon and other brands are fabulous too.  I just haven't used them, so I couldn't say from experience.

My current camera is the Canon 40D I love it.  I use mostly manual settings on it because I don't always love the auto-setting results it gives me.  So I've learned the manual settings and techniques while using this camera.

Most of what I do is trial and error, but I typically shoot on AV priority and change the aperture based on the lighting and number of subjects in the photo.  Low number (2.0) for less light, less subjects, and a higher number (5.0) for more subjects. 

I also adjust the ISO - using a low number (200ish) for lots of light situations and a higher number for low-light situations (up to 1600, which is grainy, but still helfpul especially when a flash won't reach your subject as in a really large room). 

I bought the 40D almost 2 years ago (instead of another Rebel) because I wanted the high ISO ability - up to 1600 (great in low light) - a super-fast recovery speed, and wasn't as interested in the video features that are available on many digital SLRs now (though now I might be more swayed toward that option).  Also, since I bought a refurbished model, it was in my price range.  So far, I've been very pleased.

My old camera was the original Canon Rebel.  They have released several newer models since mine was introduced, all of which are a great deal and a great camera, especially for someone just getting started with an SLR camera.  When I had that camera, I almost always shot with automatic settings, but with no flash.  I wasn't brave enough to try the manual stuff then!  I would definitely recommend the EOS Rebel series though. 

PS: Don't be lured by oodles of megapixels.  They're nice, they're great, but you can get a great 8" x 10" or 11"  x 14" print with a 6MP image.  You don't *need* 14MP for every photo.  Most of the time I shoot on 6MP.  Thousands of 14MP image files will fill up your hard drive fast!  I only use the 10MP setting (the highest on my camera) for special occasions or portraits that might be cropped or super-enlarged for printing.


Let's talk lenses.  Lenses make ALL the difference in the final image.  My Rebel came with a kit lens - the 18-55mm zoom lens.  It's kind of "eh" if you ask me.'s the only lens I used for years, so I can't bad-talk it too much.  And it's still my only wide-angle lens, so I do pull it out occasionally when I need a wider angle shot. 

Eventually I bought a Canon 75-300mm zoom lens I use it mostly for outdoor events when I'll be farther away from the action - the zoo, sporting events, beach, etc.  It's a great lens, and takes fabulous shots, but it's heavy to carry around and my kids are usually too close to me to take photos of them with it.  Someday it'll be great for sporting events.  For now, I like to use it to get up close and personal to this beautiful beast (taken through glass at the zoo):

Then, I bought my favorite lens - the Canon 50mm fixed 1.8 lens.  Some call it the "thrifty fifty" because it costs right around $100 and takes great portrait photos with low aperture (lots of great blur behind the subject of the photo).  That also means it does well in low light situations without a flash, which is nice when you take pictures indoors, but don't like using an on camera flash (solution for that later).  I highly recommend this lens for anyone with little kids.  Even though it doesn't have any zoom, it's usually at just the right distance for great portraits of the little guys and girls.  Occasionally I wish it was a wider angle (like when Paxton is crawling into my lap or running towards me while I try to take photos), but most of the time, this is the lens you'll see on my camera.  In fact, I've bought it twice, because I dropped the first one and it broke.  At only $100 it was worth immediately replacing.


Now...on my WISHLIST is the all-inclusive ultra zoom lens - theTameron AF 18-270mm.  If I could sell my 75-300mm & 18-55mm to buy this lens, I would.  But, I'd still be short about $500, so I better sell a few more signs first. :) It appears to be a great all-purpose lightweight lens that would be especially wonderful for traveling.  I would LOVE to try it out one day.


Don't use the on-camera flash unless you have absolutely no choice.  Blech.  Those pictures usually look terrible - washed out, flat and boring.

A bounce-flash is nice, I used to have a Canon Speedlite flash that I liked.  It could bounce light off of walls, cielings, etc. However, it was bulky, ate batteries, and was an expensive piece of equipment.  I sold it a few years ago when I needed to replace my Rebel with a new camera since it had sat unused for several years and I haven't really missed it.

Recently, I discovered this fabulous jewel - the LightScoop.  At only $30 it does what I loved about the Speedlite, for MUCH less, and it doesn't require any batteries and is extremely lightweight.  SCORE. It uses a mirror to bounce light off of a light-colored ceiling or wall and softens the photo perfectly.  It's best in rooms with low to mid-height ceilings, and might not be a good choice if you have really tall or dark painted ceilings (like it wouldn't work in your car).  But if you're like me and have white 9ft ceilings in your house -- it's perefect!  Check it out:

LightScoop Review

Cool, huh? My indoor photography style has been changed forever.  Love this new toy.


And of course, there are a few extras you'll want to have when you make a jump to an SLR camera.

  1. A good memory card (or 3).  I use a Kingston Elite Pro 8 GB 133x CompactFlash Memory Card, and since I dump my pictures to my hard drive daily, I NEVER fill up my memoy card -- but it's a big one, so I shouldn't!  It is definitely worth having at least one backup though.
  2. Speaking of backups - a backup battery is a VERY good idea.  I've been left with no battery power at the beginning of a big event more times than I care to admit.  Though I will say, I'm very impressed with how long the battery lasts.  Often a week or more, depending on how often I use the camera.
  3. A lens-cap keeper for each lens. It's annoying to hold them, keep track of them, and even more annoying to lose them and not have anything to protect your lens.  These little rubberband-like straps keep the lens cap attached to the lens -- definitely more helpful there than squashed in your back pocket.
  4. A UV Protection Filter for each lens.  These are a very good scratch insurance policy.  It's so much easier to replace a $12 filter rather than your $300 lens.  Going to the beach? You better have one of these on each lens!
  5. A tripod I wouldn't be able to get my self-timer full family photo shots without a decent tripod.  Ours is kind of a mid-range Ambico model, with a quick-release mounting system.  It works sufficiently and we also use it for our video camera. A mini-tripod that fits in your bag would also be a good investment if you do a lot of traveling, though I don't have one of those...we just drag the big tripod with us to the beach for our family portraits!


  6. On my wish list - I still haven't bought one, I guess because I like that self-timer-running-to-get-into-the-picture-rush - is a wireless remote shutter release.  Then I wouldn't *have* to do the running back and forth and could take several shots at once when you got it framed the way you wanted it.
  7. And, finally with all that need something to carry it in and protect it.  There are all kinds of REALLY cute camera bags and options out there, but I have a pretty basic backpack style bag, simliar to this Lowepro Slingshot 100 all-weather digital camera bag.  It holds all my gear, plus my wallet, keys, phone, gum, and of course a diaper & wipes & a snack.  Let's be honest, we all need a multi-purpose bag that lets your hands be free!  This one does the trick.  Plus you can whip it around to the front of you to get what you need without taking the whole bag off.  It was a fabulous solution when we went to Disney World a few years ago.

Photo Editing Software:

Finally, I highly recommend finding a photo editing software program that you like.  I started with Paint Shop Pro years ago, then switched to an old version of Adobe Photoshop 4.0 and then within the past couple of years have switched to Adobe Photoshop Elements.  It's a cheaper version of Photoshop with many of the same bells and whistles.  I've really enjoyed learning all about it and using it to enhance my photographs.   I know there are other software programs that are cheaper and that people love as well...but if you ask for my help - this is the software I know, so I won't be much help with the others. :)

And there you have it folks. Those are my digital SLR camera & accessories recommendations.  Take them for what they are - from a photo-lovin' mom of two preschoolers, scrapbooker, blogger, and artist - and NOT a professional photographer. :) 

If you have other questions about the equipment I use or what I recommend, post them here and I'll try to update this post as necessary!

Here's a list of all the products I mentioned:


Hello Kitty Bow Tutorial - Felt Hair Bow

For Ayla's 5th birthday party next week, we decided to invite a small group of girls and have a Hello Kitty theme.  Since we invited only 5 girls, I thought it would be fun to give each girl their very own "Hello Kitty bow" as one of the party favors.  So I made them...of course.

 hello kitty hair bow tutorial

I looked around for some bow-tie style tutorials, and found a great one, but it required some machine sewing and precision - which I *can* do, but it's not always very pretty (or precise).  So, when I realized I had plenty of red felt and hair clips on-hand already, I altered the tutorial to make it a little easier, a little cheaper, and without quite as much sewing. 

  1. Cut felt strips, about 2" x 9".  I made 8 bows, but you only need one of these strips per bow.  Plus, then I also cut a strip of felt about 3/4" wide and a couple feet long to use as the wrap around the center of each bow.


  2. Next I hand-stitched the 2" x 9" strips to make a loop.


  3. Before cutting the string, I did a loose stitch up the center of the bow (through both sides of the loop) and pulled it taught to create a gather in the center.  Then I wrapped the string around it a few times and secured it with a few stitches.


  4. Next, I wrapped the narrow strip around the bow to make the center have a clean look, and stitched it together on the back side (securing it to the bow as well) and then trimming off the excess felt.


  5. Finally, I secured the bow to a hair clip with hot glue and called it done!



Week in the Life - Spring 2011 - Album Complete

Remember that Week in the Life project I did a few months ago? took me about a month to get the pictures printed & put into an album and then another month to finally "embellish" it, but I finally got it all finished up.  I took the ULTRA simple route this time...nothing fancy, nothing complicated (and admittedly not as cute as the last time I did a Week in the Life project) - just pictures, handwriting, and my handy-dandy Silhouette did most of the work.  

First...the pictures & the project in-progress (in case you have no clue what I'm referring to!):

Then, after all that photo-taking of the mundane intricacies of our was time to put it all together.

This time, instead of creating daily collage prints, I decided to print 4 x 6 photos for each day so you could see more of the details....which after 7 days of photo-taking left me with a VERY large stack of prints that I managed to whittle down to about 180.

I used a standard 2-up photo album (like I did for our Disney Vacation Album) with tabs for each day of the week and a window in the front cover for a title.  On the inside front page, I left two spots open to make a title page - which I cut completely from black cardstock on my Silhouette. Man I love that thing!  Totally worthwhile purchase.

At the beginning of each day, I cut the day of the week from white cardstock and mounted it on corresponding colored patterned paper (to match the tabs for that day):

And, as you can see -- I kept the journaling VERY simple and basic and just hand-wrote captions telling what was going on in the pictures, what time it was, where we were, and who was pictured.  Stuff I *think* I'd remember...but then again I forgot my grocery list at home today as I stepped into the I tend to forget stuff.  That's why I write it all down.

And there you have it.  A finished album, showing off a regular-old week in our life in the Spring of 2011. If you're interested in doing a project like this, Ali Edwards is where I got my inspiration, and she's at it again, doing another round July 25th through July 31st, 2011. 

You can read more about her approach and suggestions here.  It's hard work, but I highly recommend it.  The kids love looking at these albums. :)


Zazzle Poster Sale Today - 40% off

I got an email from Zazzle today that all posters are 40% off! Use the code 2DADDYSDEALS at checkout.  It's good on ANY posters at Zazzle, but if you've been eyeing any of mine, today is a great day to buy. :)

Signs By Andrea Posters & Gifts via

   Dated Art with 3 ChildrenBeing a Family Means... Poster You Are My Sunshine Poster - Yellow



Frostings Handstamped Jewelry - Winner & Discount!

Congratulations to Alexis! Her comment was randomly drawn and she wins a piece of hand stamped jewelry from Frostings in this week's giveaway!

Everyone's a winner though! Don't forget to use the discount code by May 31st to get 10% off your custom handstamped piece of jewelryl

Just use code SIGNME10 at checkout in the Frostings Etsy Shop or at checkout when ordering on the Frostings website*. This code is good through May 31st, 2011. *If ordering on the website, the 10% discount will be refunded after purchase.



Be Joyful Reminder & Frostings Hand-Stamped Jewelry Giveaway


Do you ever think you could use a daily reminder of a special quote or bible verse or positive affirmation to help you get through the day? 
Lately I've been feeling what you might describe as "moody". Okay, you might describe it as something totally different, but let's just call it moody for the sake of this post. I've had a hard time staying positive, finding joy, giving thanks, and feeling happy. Over and over again I've caught myself being angry for no good reason, irritated about small things, and just plain cranky. It's no fun to be around (just ask Ben & the kids), and frankly, it's no fun to be me when I feel that way--even I don't want to be around me!
I thought perhaps a special reminder might help me get through those tough days. So, I ordered this:
Be Joyful Always Hand-Stamped Sterling Silver Necklace by Natasha Vaughn @ Frostings
...and it instantly cheered me up. Don't get me wrong, I know it's no magic potion, but I do think it'll be a great reminder to try to find joy and be positive when I start turning into my evil twin.   
I've admired the hand-stamped jewelry trend for a long time, and when it came down to choosing what I wanted my piece of jewelry to say, it was a very hard decision.   I considered the kids' names and birthstones, or something artsy and creatively inspiring, and even just my own initial or name. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew I wanted it to be something that wasn't necessarily representative of me, but more of who I WANT to be--something to strive for. In this season of my life, "Be Joyful Always" covers the bases. If I can find joy, then maybe I can also be happy, fun, thankful, prayerful, caring, loving, sweet and thoughtful. 
Natasha Vaughn at Frostings Custom Handstamped Jewelry & Gifts did more than make me a pretty custom necklace. While shopping for my necklace, I was forced to look at myself, my values and my attitude. I'm thankful to her for offering such a special piece of jewelry that undoubtedly means so much to each person who buys (or receives) one.
She has so many beautiful design options, and you can have them all personalized, which makes them even more special. I had a hard time choosing the style I liked best...
circleoflove.jpg cupoflove.jpg treeoflove.jpg
Pretty cool, huh? 
Want to get one?
Want a discount? 
I thought you might! ;)



frostingslogo.jpgNatasha has generously offered a 10% off discount for you!

Just use code SIGNME10 at checkout in the Frostings Etsy Shop or at checkout when ordering on the Frostings website*. This code is good through May 31st, 2011. *If ordering on the website, the 10% discount will be refunded after purchase.



And....she's going to be giving away a free piece of jewelry (up to $50) to one of my readers!  You don't want to miss this giveaway!
There are three ways to enter the giveaway:
  1. Visit the Frostings web site and comment here telling me what piece is your favorite.
    (Required entry.)
  2. For a second entry, become a fan of the Frostings Facebook page.
    (Leave a separate comment here to let me know you became a fan.)
  3. For a third entry, follow the Frostings blog by signing up for their RSS feed.
    (Leave a separate comment here to let me know you did.)

I'll announce a winner on Thursday morning, May 26th -- so go start shopping!




Imitation is the Best Form of Flattery

The crafting world is full of projects that have been remixed, remade and inspired by all kinds of people.  So when I see something that I made pop somewhere else, I get excited that a project I came up with inspired another crafter.  I mean, why else would I post tutorials and info about how to make the things I make? are a few places I've seen my work inspire others lately:

Thanks to these ladies for showing off their inspired pieces! Have YOU made anything inspired by my posts? I'd love to see it!

And then there's the folks on Pinterest (which is my new time-sucking inspiration-filled favorite web stie) who are saving the ideas for later:


Baby Girl Blocks

Recently, a friend of mine asked me to make her some wooden alphabet blocks for her new baby girl (arriving in July).  She gave me some color guidelines, a link to a style of block she liked, and some swatches from the nursery bedding:

And off I went to create this:

baby girl wooden blocks

Gotta love that Silhouette machine.  In the old days, I would have had to cut those letters by hand and then eyeball the matting (or pull out the old Magic Matter!)

Here's a tip if you ever decide to make something like these: You won't find the blocks at a craft store.  After visiting Michaels, JoAnns & Hobby Lobby, I finally headed to the hardware store, where I should have gone in the first place.  These blocks were made from a piece of scrap 2" x 4" wood found in the scrap bin (at the back of the lumber section) at Home Depot.  And the lovely lady working in lumber even cut them for me.  Sweet.

measurements: 7" tall large blocks & 5" tall short blocks

Let me tell you...creating a project for a room you've never seen, using colors you've only seen on a computer screen is a little nervewrecking.  There was about a 50% chance my colors would be WAY off from the room.  Thankfully, it appears to have all worked out just fine.  Here they are, living in their new home on a shelf in the nursery...just waiting for Baby Tate:

baby girl nursery wood blocks


Pink & Blue Birthday Banner Tutorial

My sister-in-law Rachel asked me if I would mind making my niece & nephew a birthday banner for their 1st birthday party.  Did she even need to ask???  Of course I would!

First step: Choose papers that match the color scheme. I used their invitation as inspiration and chose 5 different papers - solid blue, polka dot blue, solid pink, polka dot pink, and white. 

Second step: Cut a stencil for the pennant and cut each of the triangles and lay them out in order.  The pattern I used was WHITE - SOLID BLUE - PINK POLKA DOT - WHITE - BLUE POLKA DOT - SOLID PINK - WHITE.  There were so many letters in "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" that I decided to make a double-decker banner, so I used 7 triangles for the "HAPPY" banner and 10 for the "BIRTHDAY" banner so that I could have a blank white triangle on each side of the letters. The pattern happened to work out perfectly that way.

Third step: Cut the letters with my Silhouette. I used brown cardstock for the letters and chose the font "Oh Photo Shoot" from the talented blog.

Fourth step: Outline each banner with brown penwork -- just for a little bit of added detail and definition.

Fifth step: Figure out how to hang it and attach the triangles together! I ended up using a heart-shaped punch to make a large hole on either corner of the triangle, and then weaving wide grosgrain ribbon through the holes.  It worked perfectly!


It's a pretty simple banner, and it turned out to be a really cute backdrop for the pink & blue polka dot twins 1st birthday party.  Unfortunately the banner was rather hard to photograph "in action" since it was displayed against a window...but in person it looked great!

(Thank you J & R for a better photo of the banner!)

Guess now I'll need to make one for Ayla's birthday party that's coming up in a few weeks...plans and decorations for that shindig coming soon! ;)

DIY Fabric Hair Clips

fabric flower hair clipNot long ago, I saw this fabulous tutorial for how to make fabric flowers and knew they'd make great little-girl barettes. 

With a little girl birthday party coming up for a little girl with ADORABLE pig tails, it seemed like a good time to try it out. 

I raided my stash of random fabric scraps and pulled out this turquoise fabric that I used in both kids' bedrooms.  I'm a sucker for turquoise.  I bought lots of extra...

Here's how it's done (remember, not my original idea...I followed this great tutorial):

  1. Cut a flower template from scrap paper and trace it onto the fabric and cut them out.  You'll need 6-8 flowers per bloom.


  2. Cut a circle from the fabric to use as the base for the bloom.  Then fold each bloom into half, then again into thirds.  It helps to trim the point with scissors before then using hot glue to attach it to the circle.  Keep adding flowers around the circle with hot-glue until you have a full bloom.


  3. Use hot glue to attach the bloom to a ribbon-covered hair clip. I actually bought these at Target, and they were already covered with ribbon - score!


  4. To present it as a gift, I just cut a piece of coordinating patterned paper and made slits in it to add the clips:

Love it! I will definitely be making more of fact, I made a larger version for Ayla:

Looks like maybe I should branch out to some different colors & materials though. :)

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