Father of the Month

A Blog about Fathering

Father = Photographer

Every father should also be a photographer. You’re not going to be Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz but it behooves you to take at least a few photos of your offspring. I may go into photography more in the future but for right now I’m going to tell you the most important stuff you need to know to take decent photos of your crotchfruit. These apply the same to digital or film cameras. I don’t know anyone who uses film anymore but the imaging sensor (film or CMOS) doesn’t matter. Forget that you have a digital camera. The camera’s only job is to control the photons (light) entering it.

We’ll be talking about cameras and lenses. Let’s start with camera stuff. Here are the main settings your camera will have and what they are and will do:

ISO Speed: this setting determines how sensitive the imaging sensor is.

  • Higher numbers mean more sensitive.
  • Higher numbers mean more grainy (more noisy.)
  • The numbers tend to double as they go up.
  • The settings tend to look like this: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, etc.
  • This is not generally something the camera sets automatically.

General guidelines: unless you are specifically going for a “grainy” look (which you shouldn’t be because grain can always be added after the fact and can’t be taken away), the lower the number the better. I shoot with an ISO of 100 unless it’s getting dark. Then I need the sensor to be more sensitive so I bump it up to 400. Still looks good. Sometimes, it’s really dark and I have to bump it to 1600 or 3200. This kind of sucks because it gets really noisy.

Exceptions: really fancy cameras (read: cameras that cost $2,000 and up) and newer cameras are much less noisy at high ISO settings. My camera is 7 years old so I can’t go much above 800 without serious amounts of noise.

Shutter Speed: this setting determines how long the “eye” will be open for.

  • Measured in 1/Xth of a second.
  • Higher numbers are faster.
  • Higher numbers let less light in.
  • If things in the photo/the camera is moving, higher numbers = sharper photo.
  • There is a huge continuum of possible values.
  • They look like: 1/15, 1/30, 1/45, 1/60, etc.
  • This is something that the camera can set automatically.

General guidelines: unless you are doing something fancy-pants, you’ll keep the shutter speed around 1/60 or 1/120 indoors, and more like 1/500 outdoors. Unless stuff (your camera or your subject) is moving quickly, shutter speeds above 1/120 won’t do much for you but let less light in.

If you have a tripod you can set your camera on it and take photos with long exposure (shutter speed) times. I did that when there was a lightning storm. I told the shutter to stay open for 8 seconds. I took 60 photos and a few of them had lightning strikes in them. Sweet!

Now, we’re talking lenses. This is where the fun begins.

Focal Length: this setting determines how much your camera can “see”

  • Measured in millimeters (e.g.; 50mm)
  • Higher numbers are more “zoomy”
  • They look like: 50mm, 24-85mm, 70-200mm, etc.

Focal Length measures the distance from the center of the lens to to focal point. The easiest way to see what this means is to make a hole with your hand and put it up to your eye (like you’re giving your eye a hand job.) You can see a lot, right? Now, move your hand-hole away from your eye. The hole has less stuff in it, right? That’s how focal length works! The further away your hand-hole is away from your eye, the longer the focal length, the more magnified or “zoomed in” things look.

Here’s some examples. All these photos were shot with the exact same settings (ISO: 400, Shutter: 1/60, aperture: ƒ5.6) aside from focal length:






As you can see, the bigger the focal length number, the more we’re zoomed in. Short focal lengths (10 to 20 millimeters) mean a really wide angle shot and you can see a lot of stuff. Longer focal length numbers (70 to 300 millimeters) mean you can zoom way in (to birds or racecars or whatever.)

What’s interesting is that, as we get further away, the bigger the numbers need to be to see much of a difference. Put another way, the difference between 10mm and 20mm (a 10mm difference) is huge, but the difference between 60mm and 70mm (again, a 10mm difference) is barely noticeable. Every time we want to double our magnification, we need to double the focal length. Weird.

There are generally two different types of lenses you can get: zoom lenses and prime lenses. Here are the differences between the two:

Zoom Lenses:

  • Have variable focal lengths. (Such as 24-85mm, 70-200mm, etc.)
  • Tend to have smaller apertures.
  • Tend to be more complicated to manufacture. This makes them more expensive.

Prime Lenses:

  • Have only one focal length. (Common focal lengths for prime lenses are 30mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm)
  • Tend to have bigger apertures.
  • Tend to be more simple to manufacture. This makes them less expensive.

Finally, we get to talk about my favorite subject, aperture!

Aperture: this determines how big the “light hole” is. I call it the “glass hole.” Hehe.

  • Measured in ƒ-stops.
  • Smaller numbers mean more light gets in.
  • Smaller numbers mean background is more blurred.
  • They look like ƒ/1.4, ƒ/1.8, ƒ/5.6, ƒ/8

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations, because you I am going to tell you the best part of this post: The single most important factor in taking pictures is aperture. Some are undoubtedly going to disagree with me but I’m here to tell you that this is totally true.

If you are looking for a lens (you are since you just had a child), go for the biggest aperture you can afford. Forget about focal lengths or lenses that can zoom. Get the biggest aperture (smallest  ƒ number) you can afford.

Why do I tell you to do this? Two reasons:

  1. Bigger apertures let more light in. This means you can take stunning photos indoors, at night, in low light, without a flash.
  2. Bigger apertures narrow the depth of field. This means you can take photos of your child where the face is in focus and everything else is totally out of focus. This makes your photos look great because it isolates the subject (your child.)

A big aperture means you don’t need an annoying flash. A big aperture means the background is irrelevant. Big aperture = instant class.

Let me show you some examples. All these photos have the same ISO Speed (400) and focal length (30mm) and they are focused on the same area (the nipple on the bottle), the only difference is aperture and shutter speed:

Aperture: ƒ/1.4, shutter speed: 1/1500

Aperture ƒ/1.8, shutter speed: 1/1000

Aperture ƒ/2.0, shutter speed: 1/800

Aperture: ƒ/5.6, shutter speed: 1/100

Aperture: ƒ/8.0, shutter speed: 1/50

Let’s compare the first photo with the last one. (Click each photo to open in a separate tab and flip back and forth.)

First photo:

  • Aperture is ƒ/1.4 (small number, BIG glass-hole)
  • Shutter speed is 1/1500 of a second. Super fast!
  • The nipple is in focus and everything else is out of focus. We use focus to isolate the nipple. Nice!

Last photo:

  • Aperture is ƒ/8.0 (big number, SMALL glass-hole)
  • Shutter speed is 1/50 of a second. Not so fast. Let’s hope nothing is moving.
  • Nipple is in focus but almost everything else is in focus too. There is no focal isolation.

Bigger apertures (smaller ƒ/ numbers) let more light in so you can take photos in dark rooms without a flash. They also let you use focus to isolate your subject. Another thing you should be noting: all the interesting aperture stuff happens in the ƒ/1.4 to ƒ/2.8 range. Look at this diagram:

By the time we get to apertures of ƒ/4 and beyond, we are already dealing with tiny glass-holes. Most kit lenses that come with your camera have apertures in the ƒ/4 range. Most zoom lenses that are available that are under $1,000 have apertures in the ƒ/4 range.

So, what is the biggest aperture you can afford? The good news is that you can afford a big aperture by getting a prime (non-zooming) lens! Almost every manufacturer makes a 50mm prime lens with an aperture of ƒ/1.8 for around $100. That is REALLY cheap! You can get used camera bodies on the internet for cheap. I was able to get a second Canon 10D body for $160.

Cheap used camera body + cheap prime lens = awesome photos for not much $$$! Here’s a photo I took with a 10D + 50mm ƒ/1.8 prime:

You can check out my photos on Flickr!

What the crap?

Yeah, I know. Another blog. Good grief. But wait—this might be good. It might be funny. It might be occasionally pants-crappingly awesome. It might make you mad.

First, let’s set the stage: my name is Jeff Menter. I’m a professional stay-at-home dad. I’m 37. I’m married to a amazing, sexy, brilliant woman named Krista. We have a son named Alexander.  He is almost three months old. This child is a first for both of us. We currently live in Columbia, Missouri.

Before Alexander arrived we had an understanding that, once we had a child, whoever had the best job/benefits would remain working and the other would stay at home. This was done for several reasons which we’ll go into in later episodes.

It just so happened that, as Alexander’s arrival was imminent, Krista had the better job/benefits. So that means I get to be a professional daddy.

It is a task that I accepted with no reluctance or reservations. It’s only been three months but this has been some of the most rewarding time in my life.

Right now I’m typing this and Alexander is snuggled up against me. The Boppy is supporting the laptop. There are blankets, various baby accoutrements, and shoes strewn about. There are dishes to do, laundry, and I need to go grocery shopping.

Life is good. More to come.

Some Things You Should Know

Before we get too much into the daily grind joy of child-rearing, there are some things you might want to know about me.

Politically, I’m more of a socialist when it comes to economic issues and more of a libertarian when it comes to social issues. I think drugs should be legalized, for-profit prisons should be abolished, and the marginal tax rate for the super-rich should go back to 90% or so. I think Democrats are just slightly better than Republicans.

Personally, I’m atheist agnostic ignostic and I sometimes come down hard on organized religion. I’m a big fan of Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins. I’m not so much a big fan of Jesus, Muhammed, The Pope, or the Dalai Lama.

My formal education ended at my high school diploma but I’ve learned quite a bit since then. I’ve worked in child care, print production, and IT before becoming a Professional Father.

I’m a beer snob, musician, technology junky, former skydiver, photographer, brother, husband, father, uncle, etc. I’m (semi-famously) not a fan of team sports and I have a strong distrust of crowds of any size. I have some amazing and wonderful friends, two cats, awesome neighbors, and I’m insatiably curious.

I’ll have strong opinions from time to time about child rearing, life partnering, living, etc. Just keep in mind that my opinions are strong to the extent that I have thought about them very hard and long.

My opinions are generally based on hours of reading, following debates, and basically trying my best to argue all sides of an issue to see who wins. Having said this, there are few things I enjoy more than being shown how wrong I was on something. There is something amazingly delightful about seeing an argument or angle that completely slips under the radar and totally changes your mind.

If I’ve overlooked anything, let me know in the comments.


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