Friday was a gorgeous day, so Paxton and I sat out on the front porch decorating for fall.
I dug through the garage to find a set of four pots to create this stacked potted design (just put a smaller pot upside down inside each of the two pots you can see in order to have a strong base for teh next pot and the pumpkin to sit on. Then I filled the empty space inside the pots with grocery bags and covered it with a piece of burlap fabric before adding the little pumpkins and flowers.
The pumpkin is decorated with a vinyl "S" & spider decal (tutorial on that coming soon), and I decided that since those candlestick holders had sat in a bucket in the garage for several months, it wouldn't hurt anything to use them in some outside decor. :)
I made the wreath with a metal hanger and strips of frayed burlap, following this great tutorial.
And then I added a seasonal 3ft custom "Trick or Treat?" sign over the door. I think I'll replace it with a Thanksgiving-themed sign in November and then a Christmas-themed sign in December and continue to change it out as the year progresses.
For a Friday morning sitting on the front porch enjoying the weather and using all stuff we already had on-hand, I think we did okay. :) Ayla was excited to see it when she got home from school and now likes to walk in through the front door whenever we get home from being out. :)
I don't do much seasonal decorating around the house, but when Halloween and Christmas roll around, I am willing to pull out my bucket of decorations. The kids have a blast seeing all the little goodies that have been boxed away for a year, and it's a nice transition into the holiday season. So, even though our little plastic pumpkins and homemade decor are pretty basic...we do make an effort. :) And I say "we" because Ayla and Paxton were VERY involved in the process...they even helped me clean the house so that we could bring in the decorations.
Here's what we ended up with for our fireplace mantle in the playroom this year for Halloween:
My altered halloween house is my favorite decoration for this season, and the glittery pumpkin and "boo" garland is definitely a kid-favorite - especially since Paxon's favorite color is orange right now (he points it out everywhere).
I framed my "Being a Family" poster and included it on the mantel too (it & the other photos sit there all year).
In the kitchen, we went for a more subtle decorating technique -- but I LOVE the element of surprise. Check out our gallery wall and all the little masked friends! I saved the black cardstock masks I used from last year so that all I had to do was find a photo that fit and stick 'em to the glass.
Plus, I made this trick or treat sign and have a special place in mind for it on our front porch (pictures coming soon!):
Since the weather finally cooling off this week, it's definitely starting to feel a little more like fall around here! Might as well look like it too. :)
Except now Ayla and Paxton think Halloween is MUCH closer than it is. They don't really understand that it's still a whole month away...They've been walking around the house carrying little pumpkin bags, knocking on each door and saying "trick or treat" and handing each other toy cars and pretend candy. Silly kids.
Several weeks ago, I borrowed this book from the library - The Curly Girl Handbook by Lorraine Massey. I was in desperate need of a haircut, was wearing a lot of ponytails, the weather was humid and atrocious, and I had read about this "Curly Girl Method" and figured I'd see what it was all about.
The handbook convinced me to give it a try - for at least 6 weeks. I mean, look how pretty those curls are! I was wearing my hair curly most days anyhow with all the insane Alabama humidity, so why not try to make it look better when I did wear it that way? Plus, it looked like the process would be pretty easy...just a little odd, since you have to quit using shampoo.
Okay, let me explain...
The Curly Girl Method
Here are the basics of what I did:
- Get a haircut. I needed a trim, badly. It had been about a year since my last haircut.
- Quit using shampoo - cold turkey. Evidently sulfates are a big no-no for curly girls.
- Use a light conditioner - I used Suave Naturals Conditioner - just on my fingertips, and vigorously massage my scalp with it. This is supposed to remove all the oils, dirt, hair product, dead skin, etc.
- Rinse hair thoroughly, starting to detangle with my fingers.
- Apply a deeper moisturizing conditioner - I used Giovanni Conditioner - from the bottom up covering the ends first and moving upward in a scrunching motion.
- Comb through with a wide-toothed comb to remove tangles and loose hairs.
- Scrunch again and let conditioner sit on your hair for a couple of minutes.
- Rinse hair gently, but not completely, leaving much of the conditioner in it.
- Squeeze hair dry in the shower as much as possible, still using that scrunching motion.
- Use a t-shirt to scrunch the curls dry, squeezing out more water. According to the book, terry cloth towels can cause a lot of breakage, but cotton doesn't.
- Apply gel (lots of gel) from the bottom up in a scrunching motion (curly girls REALLY like the scrunching) - I started off using Suave Naturals Gel, but later switched to LA Looks (about week 4) and liked it much better.
- Let hair finish air drying.
- About an hour later, I would turn my head upside down and shake my hair out, scrunching the curls to "release the gel cast" from the gel.
So that's the method I used...and here's what I thought of it and how it worked:
Week By Week Results
First...this is the hair I was aiming for. Realistic? Maybe not (especially since she has about a foot of length on me and is some sort of model). But we all start with a wish, right?
Before: These photos were taken just after my haircut and my last shampooing, with just some mousse scrunched in my hair. I let it air dry. As you can see, it's kind of wavy, a little bit frizzy, but not so awful, the curl is just a little uneven.
1 Week: Not liking this. My hair feels a little greasy, my scalp itches, and I haven't figured out how to squeeze the water out of it very well after I wash it. Curlier? Yeah, I guess...but it feels kind of icky. And I felt like I was getting some odd looks from people who see me often. My guess is, since they didn't say they liked it, they thought my hair looked crazy. :)
2 Weeks: I (and my hair) are more used to the process now - not using shampoo and using lots of conditioner and lots gel. I can see that my hair looks a little bit bouncier and the curl is more even. I'm having a hard time not running my hands through it though, and feel like it's ALWAYS tangled. Since I used to straighten my hair about once or twice a week, I'm really missing that smooth feeling - at least once in a while. This week I did get a couple of compliments though on my curls, which helped me press on.
3 Weeks: This week I started noticing a little bit of dandruff and what looked like product buildup at my roots Nothing major, but I switched up my conditioning routine to apply less of the deeper moisturizing conditioner to the top of my head, and concentrated mostly on the middle and ends. That way the roots just got cleansed and massaged, but not overly conditioned. That appeared to help.
This photo (below) was taken at about 3 weeks into my experiment. Seeing the photo was the first time I thought - Wow! My curls actually look pretty!
4 Weeks: I would REALLY like to shampoo my hair this week (about this time I probably should have tried a warm water and baking soda rinse to remove some product buildup), and I'm dying to just brush it and wear it straight for a few days. But, I don't. A six week experiment is a six week experiement. So, instead, I start shopping for a different gel since it still gets pretty frizzy by the end of the day.
5 Weeks: I switched to LA Looks hair gel this week, and although it makes my curls a little crispier, I think it makes them much more definined, less frizzy, and a little "lighter" looking. I did a one-day trial with some Suave Mousse (and no gel) - and it was Frizz City! Back to the gel I went...
6 weeks: I spent most of this week dreaming of straightening my hair and being able to run my fingers through it without them getting stuck. No joke. I actually had a dream about using my flat-iron. That said, I DO like the way my hair looks when it's curly now and I think experimenting with this haircare method has helped me cultivate my curls a little better.
While doing this exeriment, I always liked the way my hair looked better when I showered in the morning and let it air dry, rather than when I let it air dry at night and then slept on it. On those days I would use a spray bottle with water to wet my hair and re-scrunch it, which worked fairly well, but since I couldn't really comb or brush through it first, it always felt more tangled on those days.
I still have a lot to learn, and there are lots of great recipes that I'd like to try - such as a lavender mist spray to revitalize your curl, or a brown sugar scrub to exfoliate your scalp, and a baking soda rinse to remove product buildup. Maybe I'll try those sometime soon. Here are some great recipes if you want to try them - Curly Concoctions.
VERDICT: Is it possible to be a partial curly girl? I'm going to continue working on finding a formula that works for me. Right now, I'm thinking it will include an occasional sulfate-free shampoo and occasional flat-ironing too -- even if the true curly girls think that's from the Devil! However , I do have a renewed love for LA Looks hair gel - which is a major throwback to my junior high perm days. :)
But tomorrow - I'm straightening my hair and I can't WAIT to run my fingers through it again!
Curly Girl Products:
Update: Here are links to some curly girl products that have been mentioned and recommended in the comments below from fellow curly girls:
- WEN products
- Aveda Be Curly Products
- DevaCurl Products
- Mixed Chicks Products
- Sebastian Potion 9 Wearable Treatment
- Kinky Curly...Knot Today
- Redken Contour Shaping Lotion
- Moroccan Oil Curl Control Cream
- Trader Joe's Nourish Spa Balance Moisturizing Conditioner
- Loreal Sulfate Free Products
- Organix Brazilian Keratin Treatment
- Nature's Gate - Tea Tree Calming Shampoo
This post has gotten WAY more attention than I ever would have imagined, so I think it deserves an update. :) After this experiment, I tried a few of the suggestions people have mentioned here. Some things I liked:
I loved how a white distilled vinegar rinse & water solution made my scalp feel and how well it removed all the buildup from the conditioner and gel.
In the same fashion, a sulfate free shampoo works really well too. I've recently started washing with Nature's Gate - Tea Tree Calming Shampoo. That seems to help with removing the product buildup and significanly reducing dandruff and itchiness I had started to notice when I began this experiment.
One commenter recommended the Ouidad.com web site for great curly girl products and tutorials. I checked it out and tried the "rake & shake" method they recommend as a way of detangling and applying gel while it's wet, and then "setting" the curls with a shaking method. I tried that today and I've been SO pleased with the results of that very easy-to-do technique! Here's a look at my hair today after trying it out for the first time (click images for larger pictures):
Rake & Shake Method -
Section your wet hair (I did the bottom section, then middle section & finally the top section) and secure it with a clip.
Then put a dollop of gel in your hands and apply it to your hair in 2-3 inch sections using a raking motion to detangle the hair.
Rake to the ends of each section and then gently shake the hair. This lets it set into it's own natural curl pattern. Continue throughout the rest of your hair by section.
When finished, scrunch the curls gently with your towel (or cotton t-shirt) to enhance the curl and remove excess moisture. You can then diffuse dry or air dry. It left my hair with un-frizzy ringlet curls all day long!
Last night I had the opportunity to visit with several of the women from our church in an inter-generational discussion about parenting. As a woman with small children myself - I was ALL ears to hear what these women, who were at all different stages of the parenting journey, would say in answers to these questions:
- What was one of your biggest challenges or regrets in your parenting journey?
- What would you do differently? Or exactly the same?
Their responses were genuine, from-the-heart, and 100% from the voice of experience. I am so thankful they were willing to share their personal experiences with me and each other. What a huge blessing to have such a wealth of knowledge, love, and experience to draw from. Here's a brief summary of what they shared as the most important lessons they've learned through the years:
Put your husband and your marriage first.
You are in charge. It's okay to say "I told you so."
Treat children as individuals and avoid comparing them to each other.
Let them know that if they make mistakes, no matter how big, they can always come home.
Know their friends. And their friends' parents. Be involved at school. Be the carpool driver. Hear the gossip.
Remember how you felt at their age.
Accept that they will be who they will be. You can't change their personalities.
Put the word of God in their hearts. Talk about God. Recite bible verses, have family devotionals, pray with them.
Be present. When you're with them, BE WITH THEM (not working on your mental to-do lists).
Learn their love language - and communicate with it.
Make them open to people of all cultures, races, and disabilities.
Have patience and be persistent.
I'll do my best. I might need a few reminders along the way though.
My cousin Yasmin is getting married in a few days - in Israel, where she grew up and has lived most of her life. She's my only girl cousin (out of 10 grandkids) and so we've always shared a special bond - even though we only see each other one in a blue moon.
Since I couldn't be there for the wedding, I'm having to live vicariously through my mom's photos on Facebook, which though it isn't at ALL the same, will have to suffice.
I wanted to send Yasmin a special gift though to let her know I was thinking about her and to celebrate her new married life. So of course I decided to send her a handmade personalized sign for her and her new husband. Obviously, an English version wouldn't be quite right for their home in Israel, so with the help of my aunt (to get the spelling just right), I designed a Hebrew version of my "First Names w/Wedding Date" sign for them:
1ft x 6in - Black - Custom Personalized Sign Design
The large font is their new last name and beneath it reads their first names. Remember, Hebrew is read from right to left!
A while back, I made myself a jewelry organizer for my closet from a picture frame, wire and fabric. But, after dropping earrings on the floor over and over and over again (because of the fabric backing & wire not having enough space between them) I decided to give it another shot with a new design.
I went digging in my garage and came back with two metal cube panels, several nails and some ribbon.
I liked the idea of the metal cube pieces, because if you face them the right way, the cross-bars leave a natural space between them and the wall that allows the earrings to hang freely. Plus, using the grid means I can easily stagger the earrings so I can see them all well and they won't get tangled up together.
I used ribbon to tie two panels together and secured the top two corners with screws. The bottom is secured with one screw to hold it still.
Since this grid solution didn't work for my necklaces, I simply added some staggered nails directly to the wall.
Let's hope this solution is a little more user-friendly! I'm not the only one looking for a great jewelry organizing solution. Check out these great ideas that I found on pinterest:
While I was out of town for the month of July, traveling with the kids, Ben enjoyed 3 1/2 weeks of solitude at home. That's a lot of time for itty bitty handyman projects!
Among many nice little surprises, I came home to shiny new doorknobs on all our outside doors (yes, he changed the locks while I was gone!), new shelves in the pantry, and a brand new mailbox. And, if you have seen our old mailbox, you know that this was a WAY overdue project - as in we probably should have done it the day we moved in 4 years ago.
So, since he very nicely waited for me to get home to add numbers (because he knew I'd want to paint my own street number sign like the one by our front door), I figured it was time I got on that project before another 4 years passed. We were looking for a make-it-better, but it-doesn't-need-to-be-perfect look, so within a 5-minute conversation we made a quick design decision and I got to work.
Here's a look at our old mailbox, the new mailbox I came home to, and then new mailbox w/a snazzy new paint job on the post & a brand new street number sign.
Though I certainly wouldn't be opposed to some color at the street (I do love these colorful mailboxes), Ben is a little more conservative in his outdoor decor choices, so we opted for a make-it-blend, not too fancy monochromatic look. So all I did was make two beveled 1ft street number signs, give the post a new coat of paint, and slapped that baby back together. I started at noon, and was done with the whole shebang by dinner (didn't want to miss any mail!)
Yes, some flowers would look nice at the bottom of the post. Maybe someday! One project at a time...
Here's some more mailbox curb appeal for your day!
- turquoise & red mailbox
- unusual mailboxes (some silly stuff here!)
- mailbox makeover (I won't lie...she did it better than me!)
Except now I really want one of these:
How's your mailbox looking these days?
A few weeks ago I learned how to make a large t-shirt into a fitted tee shirt. Very cool, right? But...I still had some trouble figuring out how to make the sleeves look right since the REALLY big t-shirts had such low shoulder seams. Plus, the necks seemed awfully high and confining on some of the shirts I tried it on.
Since I'm NOT a seamstress of ANY kind, I went looking for some solutions and landed on this scoop-neck version that I think might be just what I needed.
Here's what I started with and the link to the tutorial for how to get from a large t-shirt to a fitted t-shirt:
It worked great with my navy fire department shirt, but with this shirt, I wasn't happy with the neckline or the sleeves, which meant I hadn't worn it yet and wasn't sure whether I liked it. So, I figured it couldn't hurt to get a little scissor happy on it again in an effort to "save" it once more.
Here's how it's done:
Lay your shirt on a flat surface.
Make a small snip on each shoulder about an inch from the collar. You can also put the shirt on and mark where you want to cut, but I've found that about an inch works perfectly for me, while keeping the shirt on my shoulders (instead of becoming an off-the-shoulder shirt).
I also make a cut down the center of the front collar, so that I have a mid-point to cut towards to make an even scoop across the front.
When you've finished cutting the front scoop, it looks a little like this:
Cut the back of the shirt straight across directly underneath the collar band.
Next, try on your shirt and mark where you want the length to be cut. I just used my scissors to cut a little hole on one side. (PS...I don't recommend holding a camera in the other hand while snipping! That's just for this tutorial pic!)
Lay the shirt back out on a flat surface and begin cutting across the bottom of the shirt where you marked.
I like to cut a small curve in the front, and then fold it over to match the other side.
For this shirt, I decided not re-cut the sleeves (yet), but you could cut them just after the shoulder seam to give the shirt an even more cropped-sleeve look. I'm going to try this short little sleeve out first and see what I think.
But that's it! It's significantly more comfortable with this neckline, and (I think) a little more fashionable. My husband still rolls his eyes and just sees me in a cut-up tee shirt. But that's a guy for you. :)
I have these two t-shirts that I love. They're soft, comfortable, and have good worn (and sentimental) designs on them. But, I never wear them for anything other than around the house because they are large men's t-shirts and look completely shapeless on me. Then I found this great tutorial on YouTube for how to make a big t-shirt a fitted shirt! - T-Shirt Surgery: How to Make a Shirt Fit
So, while I was staying with my mom at her camper this summer (she lives & travels in an RV), I asked her to help me try it out. So yes...we broke out the sewing machine next to the campfire. Strange, I know, but it gave us a project to work on!
First, a before & after look at the t-shirt we did. Oh yeah, I know you love those electric blue fingernails. :)
So, here's how it's done.
Start with a t-shirt you love that's just too big
Turn the shirt inside out and lay a shirt that DOES fit you on top of it, lining up the collars so that you can be sure it is centered over your large t-shirt.
Trace the shirt that DOES fit you onto the large t-shirt. Turn both shirts inside out so that you don't mark on the front of the shirts. I used a sharpie, but you'd be better off to use a washable marker, chalk or a fabric pen. When you do the sleeves, try to make your line parallel to the top shoulder.
Next, fold the large t-shirt in half to make sure that the armpit marks line up. Mine did match up, but if yours don't, you can just re-mark them to match.
I went ahead and pinned the front and back of the shirt together, so that it didn't slip while we were sewing.
Sew along your traced lines. Or, in my case, have your MOM sew along the traced lines. :)
Try on your shirt (inside out) to see how it fits. Mine was still a little big, so we sewed it up again about a 1/4" more on each side. Then it looked like this:
If you like the fit, then you can trim off the excess fabric.
Turn the shirt right-side out and try it on. You can leave it as is, with longer sleeves, or you can cut & hem them - which is what I decided to do.
While I was wearing the shirt, I marked with a pin the length I wanted the sleeves to be. Then I took it off, turned it inside out again and drew a line. Okay, two lines, because I remembered that I wanted to angle the sleeve a little bit. Then I cut about 5/8" past the line (to allow for a hem).
Try it on and make sure it looks the way you want it to look.
Fold the shirt in half and cut the other sleeve to match.
Hem both sleeves.
You're done! Try it on & love the new look - preferably with cute jeans...not gym shorts and bright blue fingernails. :) But hey...we don't all do our crafting while looking our best, right?
Thanks to brianagayle for the video tutorial & tips! I'll be using this technique often I think. :)
No time to make your own? I love these tees (and no sewing machine required):
It's been my job for the past several years to take our extended family portraits anytime our family is all together (and conveniently dressed nicely - usually on our way to church, at a holiday or on a beach vacation). It's a job I love, and so far we've almost always had good results. But it's not easy, and I've learned a few tips & tricks along the way that can help get a shot that everyone will love.
Let's start with photographing a nuclear family. Since I'm usually dealing with families with small kids, and I'm not PAID to take portraits (I'm a hobbyist, not professional) - I stick to the basics. My main goal is to get one good shot of everyone in-focus and looking at the camera - a smile on each face is a great bonus!
We usually take these portraits outside, so I look for a shaded, evenly-lit area with an uncluttered background, under a tree, in a field, in front of a row of trees, or if I'm really lucky - on the beach. :)
Since I deal often with people of varying heights, ages and attention spans, I like to have the adults hold the kids if they're small enough. The kids are usually happiest and most-focused this way anyhow - and then I can line everyone's faces up across the frame. All that "hugging" and "holding" helps everyone stay close together (and often makes them smile) and it lets me get a tight shot of all their faces. Sometimes, as in the case of my brother & sister in law on the right (below), I'll arrange them on a hill or ask Josh to crouch down a little bit to meet the rest of his family - a large height difference can be very tricky!
I shoot on AV priority with a Canon 40D SLR camera, setting my aperture to about 5.0 in an effort to get all my subjects in focus, while keeping a blurry background. I most often use my Canon 50mm 1.8 fixed lens and just take a few steps back so that I'm far enough away to get everyone in the shot.
If I'm not going to be *IN* the photos, then I do not use a tripod for these portraits, which allows me to move around and adjust my angles to get everyone lined up well in the frame. If I am included in the portrait, then I love to use a tripod to set up the shot and frame the picture, leaving space for myself. Then I set the self timer, press the shutter and book-it fast to get in the shot before it snaps the photo! My son thinks this is hilarious and truly, it's often the only way we can get him to smile.
*The beach photo of my family on the right was actually a fabulous shot taken by my sister-in-law. She's my protege...trying to
steal help me with my job as family photographer. :)
Repeat after me - you only need ONE great photo. Especially with small kids, don't irritate everyone and wear down your welcome by trying every pose under the sun. That said...take a TON of pictures. Digital images are free - take advantage of it. It's not uncommon for me to take 20-30 pictures of the same pose, waiting for everyone to be looking & smiling, hair-not-blowing, eyes not closed, and parents-not-talking. That's where the insane speed of an SLR camera is VERY helpful.
If we have a cooperative bunch, then next I'll ask them to sit down and make themselves comfortable. Sitting helps the adults and teens relax a little and then they also have their laps free to hold heavy toddlers or preschoolers in place. The main thing here is to make sure everyone is comfortable - and LOOKS comfortable. If they aren't...they won't look it!
I'm also a fan of having everyone crouching down together, especially next to standing kids. I often ask my subjects to put their arms around each other, lean on each other a little bit, and even have kids sit on their knees to show the relationships and give the whole family look more connected to each other. Plus, then I can get a shot of them from up above, simplifying the background of the photo, as in the photo below on the left, where I included more of the leaves on the ground as the background instead of the trees behind them. And...in case you weren't aware...everyone looks skinnier looking up at the camera, so that's always a bonus. :)
Extended Family Portraits
When you add in several families or a larger group of people, it gets a little tricker to pose everyone. Depending on the number of people, I'll either line everyone up again or put them into rows or sub-groups, taking into consideration their relationships & height. For instance, I'll have couples stand together, arrange everyone in boy-girl-boy-girl pattern or move really tall people to the center while the more vertically challenged move to the outside or front row.
The beach photo on the left (below) could have been arranged better by having my husband and I scoot over to the right just a smidge to fill in the hole above my petite sister-in-law's head. Oh, and had the 1-year old-twins been willing, they would have looked awfully cute sitting in front of their parents in the sand -- but c'mon folks, the shot we got was nearly a miracle with all those kids and me sprinting in the sand to get into the center of the photo!
The photo on the left (below) was an impromptu photo of three families of friends. We set the camera on a table, lined up on the benches with our kids in our laps, and smiled for the timer. I love the casual and happy together-ness it exudes.
In the photo on the right (below), we asked the kids to stand/kneel/sit in the front row, dads to kneel in the middle row, and the moms stood in back. By having the tallest people (the dads) kneel in front of the women and behind the kids, we were able to create three levels of faces, that were all fairly close together, letting us get a tighter shot of the whole group, and creating a pyramid-like grouping.
Spontaneously Photographing Very Large Groups
When I'm at family events, holding my camera, I'm often asked to get a picture of the whole group. Since it's not a planned portrait setting time...we do this VERY quickly - like in about 5 minutes. It happens kind of like this:
Me (shouting): Okay everyone to the backyard! Stand right here. Families together! Get close. I can't see Uncle Josh. If you can't see me, I can't see you. Everyone look this way! Grandpa, get a little closer to Grandma. Mom, hold the baby on your other side. Okay, I can see everyone. I'm going to stand on the end next to Ben. Everyone ready? *press shutter* - RUN - RUN - *smile* - SNAP. Okay stay right there!!! RUN - RUN - *check image*. Let's do another one!
I'm usually only allowed about three of these before the babies start wiggling and crying and smiles begin to fade as everyone looks longingly at the cake inside waiting to be eaten. Perhaps a wireless remote would be helpful here so I could take several shots at once!
When you're taking a wide shot of a large group of people, I recommend going wide enough to get everyone in the frame from head-to-toe. There's nothing worse than having half of the group cut off at the ankle or elbows. If you aren't aiming for a head-and-shoulders-only shot of everyone, then go ahead and include everyone's entire bodies and leave a border of the background around the whole group.
Photographing Groups of Kids
Next let's talk about portraits of a large group of kids, and not-so-many adults. I'm still working on the logistics of mastering this, because kids are tricky...but I've had a few successes (or at least not utter failures).
Primarily, I've worked with grandparents & their grandkids and I simply surround the grandparents with the kids, letting them hold babies, younger kids' hands or placing a hand on an older child's shoulders. It helps keep everyone in place and creates a circular or triangular trail of vision around the photo.
In the photo on the right (above), we used the arms and back of a couch to surround "Noni" with the older grandkids while the babies sat (held securely) in front of her as Noni lay sideways on the couch.
In the photo below, a park bench made a perfect spot for Grandma & her grandkids to squeeze together, creating a triangle of faces.
Older kids can also be very helpful in holding the toddlers and babies still - so use them if you're lucky enough to have a range of ages in your kid-filled portrait.
Our Steed cousins portrait attempt this spring was a little rough because the youngest two cousins weren't quite old enough to cooperate and the oldest two weren't quite old enough to keep the babies in check. My friend Molly Bridges (a local Birmingham, AL area photographer) took on the impossible task of photographing the 6 Steed grandchildren - all under age 7. With a crying baby girl, a stoic and serious toddler, and a big-boy with a just-broken arm, it just wasn't gonna happen in our quick little mini shoot. I think we'll keep the Steed parents in the photographs for another year or two before we can give this cousins-shot another try!
But smiling or not...Molly did a great job of positioning the kids so that we could clearly see their faces, staggering and layering them to add an interesting dimension. Plus, the foreground blur of the grassy field turned out so beautiful!
Getting Everyone's Attention
Now...getting everyone to look at the camera at the same time - let's talk about that.
My best recommendation is to have no more than 1 person stand directly behind you to make silly faces and catch the attention of all the subjects. EVERYONE else would ideally be completely out of sight.
This doesn't actually happen much for me. Usually I have a crowd of family members jumping and dancing behind me. But, my self-timer pictures with no one but the camera to look at proves my theory on this. In my experience, the less there is to look at, the more likely everyone will look at the camera. The more moms, dads, cousins, grandparents, etc. there are that try to make everyone laugh and look, ends up making the whole experience more chaotic, stressful, louder, and less-successful. Plus, I've been known to step right on top of my "helpers" toes as I move around to get the shot. I make no apologies for that. :)
And I'm TOTALLY making myself one of these Elmo-like camera buddies to stick into my camera bag to help me out the next time I attempt that Steed cousins photo!
No Fail Artistry
When all else fails...turn everyone around! No one will know what they were looking at, if they were smiling, and you'll get a sweet shot like this:
I hope this helps give you a few tips and tricks to try the next time you're asked to take (or choose to attempt) a large family portrait. Happy shooting!