Category Archives: The Project

Simple tricks to taking better photos of your kids

Spring time is time for renewal, of clearing out the old and making space for new. So what about your pictures? Is it time to update your framed photos? When was the last time you deliberately took some time to capture your kids on the camera, and we don’t mean selfies! More so, when was the last time you printed any of these photographs? If we were lucky, some of us got some nice shots around the holidays, but if not here’s your second chance!
Here are a few fail safe tips to making your family photos shine, no matter which holiday(s) you may celebrate this spring.
1) Love the sun, but not with your lens
To avoid (what’s called lens flare) blow out in your photos ensure that the sun is not behind your subjects (aka your kids). Having the sun in the picture often causes camera glare and takes away from the beautiful features of your child’s face. Instead, opt to find a place where the sun is behind you or off to one side of you. 
2) Shadows vs Shade – How to make it work
Shade is good, shadows, not so good. If it’s high noon and a super sunny day, you’ll probably be better off in a shady area, or what photographers refer to as “open shade”. This type of shade is low contrast and has nearly no shadows in the shade. You can find open shade from a building, a fence or other tall, large objects. Trees can often work too, but beware, speckling may occur if you’re not careful. This is where light from between the leaves and branches will hit certain parts of your subject’s face, creating  “hot spots”. When working in shade, understand that there is a difference between the shade created that is close to the source, called “deep shade” and the shade you find just before you step into the harsh light, called “edge shade”. Keep your kiddos in the edge shade for the best pics. If you have a manual camera, consider increasing your ISO, as you’e shooting in a darker space. Some might consider slightly over exposing your image too, creating a nice skin glow. 
Encouraging playfulness leads to better photographs. 
3) Silly Faces and Fake Smiles
Remember what it’s like to be a kid? All you wanted to do was play and goof around. So, why not let your kids do that? For the first two or three shots, tell your kids to do outrageous things in the photo. It will help them get the wiggles and wacky out of their system and then you may, if your lucky, get a genuine smile in one of your shots. It’s a win-win for everyone. Pictures they love and pictures you’ll love too. Everyone is happy. 
4) Sneak Attack – The Candid Shot
If you’re looking for a genuine photograph, avoid the “posed” picture.  Instead, try having your camera at waist level and “shooting from the hip”. Depending on the quality of light where you are, set your camera to the appropriate settings. You’ll have some great angle shots and capture those heartfelt moments without even being noticed. This may be a little difficult to get used to in the beginning, we suggest trying it out a few times so you can get used to using your camera in this way.
5) Glasses be gone
We may need them to drive or to see the chalkboard, but glasses can cause a real problem – that being glare- in our photos. You can do a couple of things. One you can simply have your subjects take off the glasses for a few moments to capture your photograph, or if they prefer not to remove them, then have them tilt their glasses slightly forward until you can no longer see any glare.
6) Giants & Minions
Families come in all shapes and sizes, it’s true. But to get a great looking photo you’ll want to keep everyone’s height at relatively the same level, within a couple of feet. So this may mean you have some orchestration tasks. Look for places with stairs, and stagger the shorter ones towards the back and the taller in the front. Alternatively, have the taller ones kneel down or sit on a chair, bench or prop that can hold their weight. And if you have enough trust, have an older sibling hoist the younger one atop her shoulders. If there’s a climbing tree nearby, this too offers some height assistance while adding some fun, just beware of potential “hot spots” and heavy shadowing.
7) Color Play
Notice the colors that your kids are wearing. What are the dominant and accent colors? Now take a look at your surroundings. When searching for a location, good lighting is important, but so is color. Be on the lookout for an area that would enhance the dominant color in your child’s outfit. Another option is to play on the accent colors. Perhaps it’s small yellow flower on their shirt and you happen to be by a yellow wall, this will really make the accent colors pop more in your photo and create a balanced and interesting photo. 
Keeping the background simple keeps the focus on what’s important – her!  
8) Busy Backgrounds
Of course you want your photo to focus on your kid, right?! So lets take out any distracting or busy backgrounds. Simply put, keep the background simple, avoid multiple colors and shapes that may distract from your subject. If a busy background can’t be avoided, try switching out your lens and shooting from far off so that your depth of field is altered and all background noise become blobs of color, adding value to your photograph rather than becoming a distraction.
9) Twinsies 
Remember the days when mom and dad used to make you wear matching colors for your family portrait? Remember how much you hated it? Well, don’t do the same to your kids. Have some mercy. Instead try this: Have them pick out an outfit of their choosing, with the only rule is that the outfit be solid colors. No stripes, polka dots, designs, logos, etc. Instead, go for texture clothing- corduroys, lace, satins, you get the picture. This way your photograph won’t be too loud and it will make it easier to find a suitable background. 
10) Accessories 
Jazz up a photo with some accessories. A purse, a hat, scarfs, headbands, bandanas, gloves. These are all great ways to jazz up your portrait, plus  they can be used to help create more playful shots too. 
Have any tips on how you take amazing photos of your kids? We’d love to hear from you!
 All photographs are copyrighted and may not be used or reproduced without the consent of the photographer.

World Domination Summit and the Year 2020

Recently, I attended the World Domination Summit (WDS); an event dreamed up by blogger and author Chris Guillebeau. Being that this was the first time I’ve ever attended this event, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew is that I loved the name and the premise of the event which is: living an extraordinary life in a conventional world. The other deciding factor, a couple of friends whom I respect told me I should go. Really, what more did I need? And as it turns which, it was very sound advice.

To be honest, I was not all that familiar with Chris and his work; I had heard of his books The $100 Startup and The Art of Non-Conformity as well as his travel hacking work through friends.  At one point, I even briefly scanned his websites, signed up for the WDS wait list and eventually bought a ticket for Kate and I as soon as they came available.  Let’s face it, I was pretty much convinced that I too busy trying to dream up my life of non-conformity to really dig deep into Chris’, but what I did know is this; that on the surface I very much appreciated what he stood for in life.

Muffadal, Tom, Ruthy and Bethany

Muffadal, Tom, Ruthy and Bethany

The first thing I realized about WDS is that you need to stay on top of things. Sure, you can simply show up and get more than your money’s worth but to really get the most our of your experience you need to be a participant not a spectator. There are parties, meet-ups, special events like “The Great Namaste,” treasure hunts and academies; most of which are scheduled around the week of WDS, but some continue long after the stage crews are gone and the lights dimmed.  Somewhere during the weekend, I also discovered that there is usually some kind of special surprise that Chris and his crew of amazing volunteers present to WDS participants. This is where my WDS story begins and it all started with a text from an unknown number, “Good morning! This is Michelle, the WDS Team Magician. We have a few fun things in the works for our final session this afternoon and need your help. Meet me at the backstage entrance … at 3:55pm and I will fill you in.”

The Time Capsule

Welcome to the year 2020!

“Yeah right,” I thought, “this must be some kind of joke. And if it isn’t they are going to have me do something ridiculous on stage.” Kate agreed and bet me $10 that they would be making me dance on stage. But as it turned out, it was anything but a joke. As requested, I showed up at the backstage door precisely at 3:55pm and was met by 3 other participants, Ruthy, Muffadal, and Bethany, and a very tight-lipped WDS ambassador; who by the way, filled us in on nothing. We were left completely clueless as to what was going to happen to us.

Interestingly enough, I had met Bethany on the first day of the event in a line for some kind of “time capsule” booth. The premise was that once you crossed the threshold of the time capsule, you were now in the year 2020. Participants were being videoed as they described what life was like for them in 2020. Six years later, these videos would be released; giving us an opportunity to see if the 2020 we dreamed up anything like the 2020 we were actually living?

Chris Guillebeau

Go ahead, Chris, tell that story…

I spoke of my photography career, the the portrait that I had taken of the President and some ridiculous comment about a photo shoot that I did with some nameless pop-star. I also mentioned that we were celebrating the sixth year of The Aperture Project and that we had benefited the lives of thousands of children all over the world by getting them to connect in meaningful ways through photography. There was more but you get the gist of the story. As I was to find out later that afternoon, this was the reason that I was standing at the backstage door.

A little later, Michelle the WDS team magician showed up, introduced herself and thanked us for showing up. She still didn’t “fill us in” as promised and eventually split us up and handed us off to various ambassadors who sat us in very specific seats throughout the theater and was told not to say a word. Obviously, I thought this is all still very strange and still had no no idea what was going on, so I sent Kate a text and asked her sit next to me. Once the seats started filling, I did as I always do and began introducing myself to people around me. They all seemed pretty normal I guess except for this one guy. He was real fidgety. He kept looking around and couldn’t stay still in the seat. “Whatever,” I thought, “he’s probably looking for a friend.”

As was to be expected the afternoon session began on-time and the next speaker was introduced, and the next, and a special presentation of participants who were to rap a cappella style to the Prince of Bel Air then suddenly it was over. I sat there nervously the whole time. I began thinking, “What? Why am I here? What’s going on?” Nothing happened.

Chris came on stage in his modest, unassuming way,  made some announcements, looked at his watch, told the crowd that they wrapped up 15 minutes early and if everyone wanted to go they can, or if they’d like, he could tell a story. Of course everyone applauded loudly, wanting to hear his story.

Tom Rooney, are you up there?

Tom Rooney, are you up there?

He told us that as a kid many of the adults in his life would ask him and his friends that cliche adult question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”  Most of his friends would say stuff like “I want to be a doctor or an astronaut or the President” and the adults would say things like, “Oh, that’s great!” or “You can definitely do that!” But Chris, being that his favorite restaurant was Burger King would always tell the adults, “I want to work at Burger King.” Hearing this, they would hesitate and say, “Well, Chris, you can always change your mind later.” He loved Burger King and couldn’t understand their reactions, but learned to say other things that were more pleasing to the adults. And luckily he also realized that Burger King was not only a bad career choice but an equally bad diet choice.

Tom & Cameras

Here I am trying not to drop these cameras in front of 2500 people.

Then he began to describe how they had asked WDS participants what they wanted to do when they grew up. He began describing the 2020 time capsule, and instantly,  I knew exactly why I got that text message from Michelle, but I still had no idea exactly what was in store for me. He began to show short snippets of the videos and then told the audience that the WDS ambassadors knew exactly where everybody was sitting. They were that good and he was looking for some people. The first person he was looking for was sitting up in the balcony, and he pointed in my direction. He began naming the people sitting around me, telling people what they ate for breakfast and other random details about their lives. But they weren’t the person he was looking for and then he said, “Is Tom Rooney up there?” I stood up, and nervously said something. He asked me to come down and join him on the stage. When I arrived backstage, I was greeted by none other than that strange, fidgety gentleman who unbeknownst to me quietly left his seat sometime after the afternoon session began.

He said, “Hi Tom. Remember me?” I most certainly did, he was obviously a spy figuring out who was sitting around me, creating the perfect illusion of omniscient ambassadors. Chris performed his magic trick three more times with Ruthie, Bethany and Muffadal. Here we were all on stage and, one by one, they showed our 2020 videos then presented us with amazing gifts. In my case, Chris and the WDS team presented The Aperture Project with six digital cameras and the rental of a gallery when it comes time to exhibit the photos of Aperture Project participants. It was an amazing surprise!

I can’t tell you how grateful we are here at The Aperture Project for the kindness and generosity of Chris, Michelle and the WDS team. Thank you all for helping out what will undoubtedly become a world changing organization!

PS: Kate still owes me that $10.

Photos by: Armosa Studios / Creative Commons License. (Thank you, Tera!)

Project Update: We’re back!


It’s true. The Aperture Project went on a bit of a hiatus for a while, but we are back, moving forward and making huge leaps of progress in turning our project into a reality.

So where did we go? To be honest, during the last couple elections, I went through a period of deep introspection. I saw our country divide deeply over issues of race, fairness and equality, the environment and women’s issues. I witnessed political pundits, and still do, take absolute fictions and deepen that divide by getting both sides to argue along the periphery versus finding issues in which all Americans could unite. They blended politics and religion when it served their purpose and then argued for the separation of those when it did not.

I was utterly dumbfounded by how we all, including myself, were sucked into arguing about our differences that I ultimately convinced myself that based solely on what I was witnessing that this project was doomed for failure. I felt that we were slipping backwards as a society and I became very disheartened. How could I transform the world by connecting children and young people based on their similarities and inclusion when we as adults were hell bent on dividing the world based on our differences?v

I thought to myself, “The world doesn’t want this. People don’t care, so why should I.”  Unfortunately, for a brief period of time I slipped into a world of cynicism and resignation. I lost sight that change is possible and even a single individual can change the world for the better.

Regardless of these setbacks, the dream of The Aperture Project never left my heart, and over time I realized it was exactly these things that convinced me that the United States and the world needs this project now more than ever. We live in an amazing period of transformation and change in which we need to realize that despite our differences we as human beings are far more alike than different. If we can find ways to relate to one another based on those commonalities, then we can do great things in the world!

Please join me in moving The Aperture Project forward and making this world a better place. Thanks!


Please welcome new team members, Steve and Jill!

I have been talking about The Aperture Project (TAP) for a couple of years now. I am sure my friends, family and acquaintances are thinking, “Geez, Tom, will you quit talking and start doing!?” And for the most part I agree with them. Admittedly, this has been a long, difficult and at times even frustrating process. Among the biggest challenges that I have experienced along the way is finding reliable individuals who are willing to volunteer their time to a project that is still in the concept stage. This being said, I am excited to announce the addition of two interesting and dynamic individuals that I feel encompass TAP’s values, they are Steve Beilman and Jill Kozak. They are the foundation of a team of contributors and writers representing various backgrounds and points of view that will culminate into a gathering of ideas centering around the precepts of connecting children, cooperation and mutual understanding. I am grateful for their participation. Thanks Steve and Jill!
  Steve Beilman – Writer/Contributor Steve Beilman - Writer / Contributor The emerging story of my life’s journey can be told as one from misperceived separation to an evolving experience of connection. Even as a child the fear of feeling isolated drove me toward seeking ways of feeling connected to others. I instinctively became a committed student of spoken and written English language as it gave me the tools to share my passion for nature, aesthetics and emotional interaction. My first career goal was to become a teacher and I pursued that earning a Bachelor’s degree in Speech and English and a Master’s degree in Communication. After teaching in traditional high school and college classrooms for 10 years I felt the need to test my interpersonal academic theories outside “ivory towers” and became a full time care giver for my two toddler sons at the time, made a futile attempt at writing a novel, and trained as a cook in local restaurants. At one point, I was teaching speech classes at the local community college, cooking in a restaurant in the days, catering on the side, and doing development work for my children’s private grade school. When I moved to Oregon 25 years ago, I took the opportunity to merge my communication teaching background with my avocation in gardening and worked as an outside sales representative for a bedding plant nursery using garden centers as my classroom until I took a sabbatical to open a restaurant for my sister and then teach English to high school girls in Zhengzhou, China for a semester. I am now exploring ways to bring all these separate life story threads together into some coherent, purposeful, and creative expression. This project could provide a wonderful opportunity to do just that.
  Jill Kozak – Writer/Contributor Jill Kozak - Writer / Editor The last two years of my life can be summed up like this: insatiable curiosity. One day, stuck between bored and unhappy, I decided to make the leap into the great unknown by moving across the country from my home in Chicago to Philadelphia. From my experiences living in another city was born a sense of adventure and rejuvenation that swelled in my chest so vehemently that there was no more ignoring my wanderlust. It was time to take off for the open road. I’m on my first round-the-world trip and intoxicated by all the mystery and beauty that life has to offer. It’s my goal in 2012 to CouchSurf and volunteer my way around the globe. I started in Australia where I volunteered helping a family on the Gold Coast, learning how to co-exist with people I had never met before. I like to facilitate a symbiotic relationship with all the people I meet on the road in hopes that we can share our visions of changing the world together in our own little ways. As I backpack my way across my beautiful country and around the world, I would like to meet as many kindred spirits as I can, drawing from them their zest for life and adventure, their purpose and intention, and most of all reporting back on it all. In a phrase, my goal for traveling is to see how we all inhabit this earth, where we are going and how we intend on getting there. I love the Aperture Project because it seeks to enhance people’s worldly visions through writing and photography, my two great loves. I sincerely hope you all follow along. Hold on for the ride because it’s going to be sweet.

The project begins…

The Aperture Project is the culmination of a lifetime of personal exploration, a number of what some people may believe have been poor decisions and ultimately a moment of clarity. Throughout my life I have been told things like my past is not my future, live in the present and that the very definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. It is these very statements that eventually led me to take action on an idea that I came up with while attending a personal development class a few years back from dating and marketing guru David Deangelo aka Eben Pagan. A basic desire to become a better person and to make myself more desirable to a future life partner sparked a instant of clarity and compelled me to raise my hand when David asked for volunteers to come up to the stage.

Becoming Mr. Right Seminar

Attending 'Becoming Mr. Right' seminar by David Deangelo

In front of 400 other men, what started out as a simple but shaky idea about helping children, through a medium that has played a huge role in my life, was within a few minutes of facilitation transformed into a goal that was not only clear but attainable. It was this experience combined with the encouragement and assistance of my friends and family that I happily say that The Aperture Project, a project that will open the eyes and minds of young people, has come to fruition. As we continue to make this dream a reality, please follow us here on our blog, twitter and facebook to watch us grow. Without you, our supporters, we couldn’t make this happen. Thank you!