Preparing for Jameson.

My oldest daughter and her husband are expecting their first baby this year!!  My husband and I have talked for years about how exciting it will be to be grandparents and we could not be happier to know that our family is growing in the most amazing way possible.

I have two daughters and, while I would have been overjoyed no matter what the gender, I was over the moon to find out we are expecting a grandson!  We decided to do a few nursery pics even though the lifestyle genre isn't really my specialty, I'm very happy with these pictures for a couple of reasons.  First, it shows how beautiful my daughter is during her pregnancy, second, they display how welcomed and loved Jameson already will be, and finally, it makes me so very proud that my daughter and her husband made good choices and followed such a wise path that they have been able to prepare for his arrival to a degree that's almost unheard of these days.

I am overwhelmed with love and pride for my family and these beautiful days to come.  They have always been, and they will always remain, my greatest source of strength, love, and joy.

Jameson Monroe, you are already so loved and we can't wait to meet you.

 

Print Competition

As a photographer, there are a million and one photography contest that you can enter ranging from landscape to photojournalism and everything in between.  The problem with most of these contests is that very, very few of them of are judged by highly skilled, educated photographers and many of them wind up being popularity or on trend contests.  I witnessed a contest several weeks ago that is massive in scale with thousands and thousands of entries that, essentially, became an on trend contest.  I saw comments like this, "I don't like dogs and I won't vote for any photo that has a dog in it anywhere" and "I think old people are so adorable, I'm voting multiple times for all photos with old people in them, I don't care if they're good or not!"  These people aren't making decisions based on technical merit, they're voting for photos they like and there's nothing wrong with that for that type of contest.

However, as someone with an eye toward being the best I can be, and being a complete nerd, let's be honest, I want more from a competition.  I want my images judged on their own merits, evaluated and critiqued against only itself and not against 4 or 5 other pictures that may or may not have dogs or old people in them. Entering a national or state level print competition has several benefits, it makes you a more educated photographer, it increases your technical understanding, and can make your images more saleable, among other things.

It can also be a big blow to your ego.  Print competition is not a happy-go-lucky, everyone gets a ribbon and there are no negative words kind of thing.  Judging can be harsh, technical standards are rigidly adhered to, and not every one or every image will fare well.  The first time I entered print comp on a state level I watched three of my images go down in flames scoring in the mid 70's, the final image scored an 80, just enough to earn a merit and be counted a technically solid photograph.  I was overjoyed with that small accomplishment.

This year I made it one of my goals to enter again and began laying some groundwork for an image I had rolling around in my head.  I purchased a couple of things and then finally found the time to get something done, I messaged my little model's mom and she was gracious enough to come over the same day and had him dressed exactly how I needed.  What I did not expect was the high level of toddler modeling that Mr. Memphis brought to the set that day.  He did an absolutely fantastic job and provided me with more material than I could have imagined in a very short period of time.  I think we photographed for roughly 20-25 minutes and we were done.  I can tell you, without ego, that these are some of the best studio images I have ever produced. It was a tough decision choosing a final picture and the submitted image isn't displayed here but, as you can see, Memphis did a stellar job and gave great face.

 Each of these images is presented today in competition format with borders.

Without further ado, I present to you My Dapper Little Scoundrel.

Mom shaming.

We've all seen it, we've all been the victim of it, most of us have probably been the giver of it at some point.  Unfortunately, with the advent of social media, many people feel they have been given carte blanche to tell others how to run their lives or manage their children.  Every day that I'm on social media, particularly Facebook with it's multitude of groups, I see women demeaning and belittling other women for their choices regarding their children or their lives.

The reality is, we were all raised differently, we all have different educations, different beliefs, different thought processes, and different ideas of how things should be done.  Just because something has worked well for you doesn't mean it will work for someone else.  I raised each one of my daughters slightly differently because they're wildly different individuals and what worked for one did not work for the other.

Before each session with my model moms, I warned them that we would be getting a bit personal, that I would be asking them questions, trying to dig deep, and attempting to bring some emotion to their portraits.  The responses ran the gamut from anger to deep pain in each and every woman.  In some cases, these women had reached out to others for help in a particular problem and had felt shamed for either being in that situation or having the audacity to ask and admit a need for help.  In their time of need, they were humiliated.  It's got to stop.  We have to stop placing our own desire to appear knowledgeable or wise above the NEED to be kind to our fellow human beings.

Serena and her daughters.  As a single mom having to work to provide the best life she can for her girls, this remark that she's heard probably more than once is stinging on a good day and heart breaking on a bad day.  When I asked her how a comment like that made her feel, it was hurt and anger.  We're all just doing the best we can to provide, take care of our kids and take care of ourselves.  Serena is a strong woman breaking herself to provide well for her children and teach them to be strong women.

 

Sammie and her kids.  I've been photographing her family for years, before her son was born.  I photographed him every three months for his first year of life and I witnessed, from somewhat afar, Sammie's struggle with post-partum depression and the decision to stop breastfeeding her son.  When I asked her how she felt during that time, she said overwhelmed, like each day was a black hole and that she was failing at the most basic tasks of being a mother.  While she was struggling through her depression, she was told that she was making a horribly selfish decision to stop breast feeding, that she wasn't doing the right thing for her son.  Mostly through text messages and Facebook because that's easier than saying those things to someone's face while they're falling apart.  Sammie is incredibly resilient and I'm sure her husband would agree that she is the center of family.

Randa and her daughters.  Again, someone I've known and photographed for years.  She was part of the stimulus for this project.  She and her husband recently purchased a home and Randa took a part time job in a daycare to help provide for her family.  The amount of judgment and grief she caught over her decision staggered me.  She recounted one instance of someone telling her, "you took a job taking care of other people's kids instead of being home with your own, good choice."  Can you even imagine how that would make someone feel?  Randa is one of the craftiest, most nurturing people that I know and she does a great job taking care of her kids.

Lacey and her kids.  Lacey's son has a developmental disorder.  He is, at times, rambunctious and difficult.  Lacey has faced criticism from all sides on her apparent inability to discipline her son, complete strangers have said hurtful things to her while her son is melting down.  I have to admit, I've been guilty of this same assumption on many occasions without stopping to consider what may actually be occurring is a young family dealing with an unknown condition.  We never know what is creating the situation that we are witnessing and should be more willing to lend a helping hand instead of a judging eye.  Lacey is caring, attentive, and loving with all of her children and is bearing a lot on her shoulders.

Carrie and her kids.  Carrie is driven to be a successful woman providing for her kids, she is open and honest about what her ambition has both given and taken away.  During her interview, she shared with me a story about moving up the ranks in the banking business, she was told once (by another woman) that she would be more successful if she wore more make up.  This absolutely boggles me.  I cannot conceive of a world where it's okay to tell someone that they way they apply their make up is wrong and is holding them back.  It's not okay, it's not okay to imply that someone isn't good enough just the way they are.  Carrie is strength personified, she is an amazing mom with a wonderfully open mind and heart allowing her children to be whoever they need to be.

We all have opinions, each and every one of us, it's built into our very nature.   It's my hope that through projects like this one, we can stop the process of tearing other people down, that we can begin to lift one another up, that we can share tips and ideas without the need to stand on a mountain and proclaim ourselves queen of all knowledge.

Words have a lasting power that we profoundly underestimate and once spoken they can't be retracted, that hurt can't be erased, and that mark we leave may stay with someone for the rest of their lives.  Make a decision before you utter something that could be hurtful, are you really trying to help or are you really trying to be right?

 

 

Seniors!

I love having the opportunity to photograph high school seniors.  They're so much fun, they bring their own ideas and thought processes to the session, and are usually all in for whatever you ask them to do.  I don't have the opportunity to photograph them as much as I'd like, there are several highly talented photographers in my area that really have a lock on that market but, I enjoy and appreciate every chance I get at these sessions.

One of my goals for this year's seniors is to use more structured lighting, to take the time and drag out my strobe and soft box and make even more creative work.

Here are just a couple of images I've had the pleasure to create this year so far.  And, a couple from last year because I've had all girls so far this year!

 

The art of failure.

As anyone that makes a living, or even part of a living, pursuing something creative can tell you, failure is inevitable and frequent.  We become familiar with failure, usually quite intimately.  Truth be told, most of us have probably elevated it to an art form, our old friend Failure.

If you're really lucky as an artist, you get the opportunity once in a while to fail on a grand level.  I consider myself one of the lucky ones to have had an opportunity for magnificent failure.

In the early fall of last year I was contacted by a friend of mine, George Counes of Spartan Frameworks, to photograph a motorcycle he had created and built for a mutual friend, Heath Hartzell.  Let me tell you, this motorcycle, The Peacemaker, is anything but a failure.  It is art on two wheels, a gorgeous amalgamation of paint and steel.

Now, not only was I taking on the task of photographing something for two people I consider to be my friends but, it was to be for publication in a global magazine, Easy Rider.  My husband was incredibly excited for me, I was simultaneously elated and terrified and spent two weeks trying not to puke when I thought about it too much.

I spent the two weeks before the shoot prepping as much as I could, reading Easy Rider, studying tutorials for lighting motorcycles, double checking my lights and gear, and constantly freaking myself out.  When it came time for the actual shoot, I packed everything I owned and headed off to The Independent Distillery in Tucson.  I walked around the place, checked it out, set up my lights and went to work.  Internally, I was panicking and as the shot progressed, I really began sweating bullets.  It felt off, like I wasn't getting the shots that were needed and I wasn't creating anything usable.  Thank goodness my husband was there and he knelt with me next to the motorcycle and talked me through some of the stuff and reassured me that I was doing okay.

But, in the end, I didn't produce what was needed for the magazine.  I failed. It felt like a spectacular failure, monumental in proportions.  I poured so much of myself into doing it that I hurt over failing myself and my friends.  I set the pictures aside and didn't really look through them much more.  Ultimately, George and Heath are my friends and even though I really felt like I had failed them, I was thrilled for them when another photographer got their photos of the The Peacemaker into Easy Rider.  It is a huge accomplishment for George and he deserves it, truly.  You should check out the article in the magazine.

In looking back over the shoot now, I can see that it wasn't the failure I thought it was initially.  From a technical perspective, I achieved everything I set out to do.  One of my biggest concerns going in was lighting up a shiny motorcycle in a dark bar, doing it well, and controlling the speculars, I'm happy to say that I hit every one of those technical marks and, I think I did it well.

In the end, failure is only failure if you allow it to be.  If you can really look at whatever it is you may have failed, or think you failed, and learn from it, bend it, shape it, make it into something new, then you haven't really failed.

I'd like to say thank you to Georges Counes of Spartan Frameworks and Heath Hartzell for giving me the opportunity.  I'd also like to thank Selena Renteria for modeling and The Independent Distillery for allowing us the use of the bar before opening.

Personal work

At the beginning of the year I found myself in a bit of a dark place creatively.  I was feeling overwhelmed in a situation that I had created entirely on my own.  People come to me to create a certain style of image and that's what they want and pay me to do.  I'm happy with it, I love it, and it's a job satisfaction that I can't explain.

However, I had taken on so much that I wasn't doing anything for myself.  At all.  I was stifling my own creativity and muting all the reasons that I took up a camera in the first place.  The first thing I did to counteract this was pick up a book.  Books have always been a safe, quiet place for me, from the time I was an awkard, introverted kid until now as an awkward, introverted adult.  One of my all time favorite photography books is Photography Q&A by Zack Arias.  I love this book for a variety of reasons; it's varied in it's content, he talks technical and personal, he explains things in contexts that I can interpret, and it's just really written like you're sitting down with a guy and asking him questions.

I followed up my reading by hitting up his site DEDPXL.  I hadn't been there in a while, no real reason, just hadn't taken the time to check it out.  What I found was someone that was also struggling in their work but had made the conscious decision to pick up a camera and MAKE.

I'd also been following the work of a friend of mine, Anne Simone, and this ridiculously inspiring artistic stuff she was creating with her whiskey advent. Honestly, her work blows my mind.  It always reads sincerity, honesty, and passion. She has true talent.

All of these things together pushed me to do something I've never done before and keyword my creative life.  For my personal work I decided on conceptual.  I am pushing myself to do at least one creative shoot every month just for myself.  Some things I want to try technically, some things I want to try creatively, and a few things just to push outside my comfort zone.

In January, I arranged a shoot with a local dancer.  I've always wanted to photograph a dancer and I wanted all the cliche dancer shots, black and white, dramatic light, spotlighting, and flowing fabric.  If you're even a passing student of photography, you'll recognize that there isn't anything spectacularly innovative in these photos but, they're mine.  It's my shoot that I organized, set up, shot and just went to work.  It's what I wanted and I could not be happier with just the simple act of creation.

Picking up my camera and doing something that was strictly for my own creation was so liberating.  It felt a bit like blowing the dust off my soul and putting it back in the sunlight.

I have to say thank you to Kiana Bernal for modeling for me.  She worked exceptionally hard and did everything I asked, sometimes over and over, with a fantastic attitude and a spectacular smile.  I would also like to thank Eric and Ashley Walker for the space to shoot in as well as Dakota White and Camryn Wilson for assisting me during the shoot.

 

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A kick in the gut.

Early this morning, I was at Walmart picking up a few things and I was wearing an old t-shirt that advertises my business.  I rarely wear it in public anymore because my brand and business have grown much since I first got it.  But, I wasn't feeling too spectacular this morning and I knew I would be in and out using those convenient self checkers.

As I was running my stuff through, the older cashier spoke to me and asked me if I was the actual photographer of the business.  I smiled and told her that I was, she asked me if she could have my information, I naturally replied, of course, and handed her a business card.  I paused from my groceries to give her my full attention, all the while thinking, "my husband and my brother have always told me to look nice in public since I represent my business", and here I am standing in tatty clothes and flip flops asking her what kind of pictures she's interested in.

She is an older woman, there's much life lived showing in her eyes and face as she sighs and tells me that her daughter is in the military and will be home for Christmas.  We chit chat briefly about how nice it will be for her to have her family home for the holidays.  Her entire demeanor lights up as she tells me about her large and extended family, there is a double digit number of grandchildren and some great grandchildren that she is hoping will all be there.  Her hands flow around her face in an illustration of her excitement as she chats on about the mere prospect of having them all in one picture.

I tell her to call me as soon as she has solid information about when her family will be in town so we can be sure to reserve a spot on the schedule for them.  She tells me that she will, that she'll call them to find out if they know when they'll be coming down and if they will have pictures made with her.  She looks down at the card in her hand, rubbing it's edges along her thumb in the manner that many people use when they want to speak but don't know if they should.  I still haven't gone back to my groceries yet, I ask her if she needs any more information from me.  She says no and then, she looks up at me and says, I lost three grandchildren this year, two great grandchildren and one granddaughter.  I wish that I had thought of getting pictures sooner, I wish I had seen you sooner.  I wish that I had pictures of the babies with everyone to look at because I'm tired of seeing little caskets.

I stood there, flat footed and kicked in the gut.  What do you say in a moment like that?  What can you say?  I reached over and hugged her, told her how sorry I was for her losses and that I would do whatever I could to help her have family pictures and I finished up my groceries and left feeling emotionally overwhelmed.

I had a discussion with a good friend recently about family heirlooms, material items passed from one family to the next.  These things are important and hold value but, the majority of the things that I hold dear, won't really matter to my grandchildren.  It is something that they can put on a shelf and say, that belonged to grandma.  But, they don't treasure it, they don't take it down and pass it around at family gatherings, they don't look at that object and remember a loved ones smile or laugh.  They pass around pictures.  They pass around those brief seconds in time that remind us where we come from and who brought us there. They pull out photo albums and laugh about the time grandma got drunk and swore at Kenny Rogers on the TV.  They remember the times they went fishing, the Christmases spent together, the leavings and the coming backs.

Have pictures done with your family.  But, don't just get them done, print them, hang them on your wall, put them in albums and preserve these brief moments.

Welcome Home Wednesday

I'm starting a new weekly feature called Welcome Home Wednesdays, I'll use this forum to highlight other small businesses in my area, being a small business owner myself, I'm all about supporting others in my hometown.  Every week, I'll showcase a local business that is adding to our local economy and helping our area to prosper.

This week I'm showcasing one that is near and dear to my heart, Cakes with TLC.  It is a custom cake business operated by Torey Cranford.  She is an amazing artist, an active force in our localcommerce and always willing to help.  Not only does she create beautiful cakes that taste amazing, she is always striving to improve her standards and is constantly seeking out educational opportunities.  I've worked with her on numerous occasions and she never fails to deliver a phenomenal product.  If you are in need of a cake for a special occasion, be sure to check her out!


The perils of social media

I am aware as I write this, of the very hypocrisy of carping on the evils of social media while on social media.  But, I find it more and more aggravating.

What was once a fun place to see pictures of friends and family has become a roiling morass of ugly thoughts and words blatantly spilled into the open.  The things we once kept to ourselves out of a sense of common decency has now been welcomed into the forum with malicious glee.  My personal feed has become a constant source of negativity, there are constant arguments and politics and public feuds and disputes.  There is absolutely no thought given to what damage words may give to another.  I see an endless array of thoughts and ideas that are based on emotion or yellow journalism that are brayed and supported without any kind of research or real thought at all.  It's like the bleating of uneducated sheep echoed by those little lambs just as uneducated. There is name calling and bashing and fighting; people actually create entire pages given over to the "calling out" of others.

I find it unconscionable on the whole and find myself avoiding it more and more on a personal level.  I embrace the open avenue created for advertisement, I use my business page frequently to share my pictures of clients, to promote my business and generate more.  Thankfully, my business page is limited to only those other businesses that I follow.

On the whole, I feel that it's become just another source of negativity in a world already swimming in it.  Maybe you agree with me, maybe you don't.  It is, like so many other things, just an opinion.

Playing dress up.

For so long now, as a photographer, I just felt like I was playing dress up.  You remember when you were a little girl and you put on your mom's, or grandma's high heels and tried to walk around?  Remember how they didn't fit your feet and slid around but you felt fancy and pretty?

That's exactly how I've been as a photographer, like I was wading around in shoes that didn't fit pretending to be something I wasn't.  Over the last two years, I've seen real progression in my work, I'm creating consistent stuff, using studio and natural light successfully, getting good feedback from clients that were loving the images I created for them.  I still felt like a fraud.  It felt like putting on a costume.  I love photography, I live it, breathe it, dream it.  It's become who I am instead of what I do and yet, I continued to feel like I wasn't actually a photographer.

And then.  Then.  I decided to do something that was really far outside my safe space.  I wish I could say that it was an amazing, freeing event from the get go but, it wasn't.  I've spent my whole life being safe, staying inside the lines.  Not because of any specific reason, it's just inherent in my nature.  I'd love to tell you that I had this huge epiphany, that I walked up to the edge and leapt out into the great unknown like some climatic movie scene where the damsel in distress finally saves her own ass while dramatic music beats away in the background.  It wasn't even close to that, it wasn't even a baby bird flapping clumsily out of the nest.

No, it was more like a Nestea plunge.  I'll explain for those too young for that reference.  It was like closing your eyes and tipping backwards off the ledge hoping like crazy there's something soft to land on.

I was terrified.  Completely and utterly.  I was taking on personal sessions that could either strengthen my clients view of themselves or wreck it.  I felt a very heavy responsibility to do this right and just as heavy of a certainty that I was incapable of doing it.  In fact, during a break in the first session, I messaged a friend of mine that I was completely tanking the session.

I was a bit more confident when I was editing the sessions, I knew I had some decent stuff.  But, then I had to do client reveals and I was back in that place of failure.  I was filled with absolute certainty that they would all hate every single picture. But, after they viewed their images I felt better, relieved it was done.

Then,  later on in the day, almost simultaneously, messages began coming in; "I left feeling better about myself than I have in a long time, thank you!" "I've never felt beautiful before in my whole life until seeing those!!"  I honestly cried.  Big, ugly tears of punch you in the gut happiness.  In public.

And, I realized something.  I was standing there in Walgreens crying my eyes out and realizing that the shoes finally fit.  These women were thanking me for making them feel good about themselves while they were doing the exact same thing for me.  I honestly felt like a photographer for the very first time in my life.  I felt like I had accomplished something truly remarkable.

Sometimes, life doesn't require the big leap, the Lemming run off the edge to achieve your dreams.  Sometimes, all you have to do is close your eyes and let go of the anchor.  Allow yourself to fall once in a while, the landing might surprise you.

2014 Year In Review

This year, I danced with my daughters after sessions.  It was such a fun thing to do with both of them, especially now that they are young women and moving on with their lives. I'm hoping that I can have more dance time with the two of them this year.

It's been a boom year for my fledgling business. My photography family has grown much larger, my gear and skill levels have grown, and I've taken some of my all time favorite images this year.

I could probably wax eloquent for pages and pages of blog posts about the amazing people that have graced my studio or laughed in front of my lens this year but, I won't.  Instead, I'll just share with you some of my favorite images we created together this year.

There were babies.

And then, oddly enough, those babies grew and kept coming to see me.  I can't tell you how much I love seeing these babies every few months.

And they kept growing and kept coming back.

Fall came around, it's my favorite time of year.  I found some really beautiful light and stuck one of my favorite families in it.

Then, Christmas came around and I did my first real set of mini sessions.  I really, really enjoyed them.  I get ridiculously excited when good images start popping up on the back of my camera and I did quite a bit of celebrating.  Luckily, most of my clients have been with me for a while so they are used to my occasional bouts of exuberant insanity.

I reconnected with an old friend of mine from high school.  I am absolutely astounded to realize that our baby girls are seniors in high school.  They are both beautiful, amazing young women with bright, glorious futures of ahead of them.  Those pictures will be coming in the next blog post.

Here's to another amazing year full of awesome people!  We've got plans to start traveling more this year so, I'm excited to spend more time with my husband!

 

Newsletter subscription

Please subscribe to the newsletter to be kept informed about special sessions and events.  The current event you will receive information about is regarding the upcoming boudoir sessions.  Thank you very much!

Christmas Cards!!

For my Christmas Kids sessions, I will have Christmas cards available for purchase. They will be customized to your family and will be unique to you.  When you choose your cards at your session, I will tell you beforehand if someone else has already chosen your card set.  For some people, that won't matter but, the choice will be yours.  Here is the selection that will be available.

 

Preparation.

Sometimes, things just fall together in a neat, little pile like unicorns and glitter.  No effort is required for the end result to be an explosion of awesomeness and Adele songs.

But, most of the time, some hard work is required. I believe that in most cases, preparation pays off.  If you're thinking about hiring a photographer, for any reason, you should get to know them first, spend some time talking to them, looking at their portfolio of work, and figuring out if what they do is what you want hanging on your walls.

Landon's newborn session was the result of getting to know his parents throughout different sessions. I discussed his newborn session with his mom long before he was due, and a couple of times throughout her pregnancy.  They brought props to their maternity session that would be used in his room.  All of those things enabled us to create a session that was completely unique to Landon; we were able to tie the sessions together with his nursery theme and create some really amazing images.

Here are some of the images that were the result.

And, sometimes, we get really lucky and all the hard work and preparation result in an explosion of awesomeness and everyone dances to "We Are The Champions' while cheerleaders do cartwheels in the background.


Newborns!

I've been a bit overwhelmed with various things the last couple of days, but I'm going to do my best to get this little mans newborn session finished and posted tomorrow!


Fresh 48

I'm so excited to announce that I now offer in hospital newborn sessions.  These Fresh 48 sessions occur within the first 48 hours while you are still in hospital with your new baby.  They will be a lifestyle session with very little direction from me.  We will document some of the first moments you share with your little one.  Feel free to contact me for more information.