Friday, January 30, 2009

Update on Me

If it seems things have been slowing down even more on my blog lately, there's good reason.  My son Stephen has been going through some very challenging days these past two weeks.  He's seen three doctors and we've received three different diagnosis for what seems to be dizzy spells that he has occasionally during the day and quite frequently during the night. We are still trying to get to the bottom of what is going on.

I also recently decided to take my daughter out of her Mother's Day Out program.  She's been sick quite a bit lately and is generally just having a difficult time being away from home. Thursday was her last day. 

Little did I know that Stephen would be going through all this scary stuff at the exact same time.  Now, I'm having to scramble to find someone to watch Alden every time we run out to see another doctor with Stephen.  I'm realizing how CHEAP daycare is compared to what babysitters are charging these days.  While I'm tempted to enroll her right back in, I know I have to continue to do what's best for her.  

Thankfully, we are blessed with so many sweet friends who have offered to watch Alden for us these past few days.  God is good.  I'm learning first-hand how everything seems to fall into place when we make the right decisions.  That is true for my personal life, and that is true in my business as well.

You may remember reading a couple posts back that I had decided to scale this blog back a bit anyway - to focus more on family.  It seems my timing for that decision was perfect.  While it came before Stephen Jr. started having these "episodes" and before I decided to take Alden out of day care, I now know it couldn't have been a more inspired decision.

That certainly doesn't mean that I don't still feel very drawn to this blog and to all of you who check in from time to time.  Even with everything going on at home I still think about blogging and my business ALL the time.  

So, what do I think about when it comes to my business?  What random deep thoughts do I entertain throughout the day?  I know you're just itching to know, so I thought I'd share a few of those deep thoughts with you today.  

1.  I have a Love/Hate relationship with my commitment NOT to buy camera equipment unless I can pay for it with money I've earned through my own photography business.  

I LOVE it, because it may be the best advice Terry ever taught us in our classes.  Too many photographers get themselves into major financial trouble buying all sorts of gear that they end up never even using.

Terry encouraged us to stick with what we have, make that work, and get out there and make money with the equipment we have already before purchasing additional gear.  "Don't buy it unless you can buy it with money earned from your business," he would say.  It really is wise advice.

Now, to those of you just starting out.  Of course there will be an initial investment that you will need to make just to get started.  You may very well have to make some sacrifices just to get to the point where you can start making money.  Even so, I encourage you to sit down and figure out the least amount of equipment needed to get started - the bare bones so to say. 

You'll need a good camera, a computer, editing software, at least one good lens, and quite possibly some professional training.  If you'd like some input on all that, please, feel free to contact me.

Now...on to what I HATE about that conviction of mine.  I hate it because I REALLY want a new camera - especially after all the research I've done.  A new camera will significantly expand my creative potential, and it's hard for me to wait for that. 

It's also hard for me to see other photographers upgrading to their new cameras knowing that it may very well be a while before I can get my hands on one of my own.  I have this silly fear that I'm going to fall behind.  Thankfully, I snap out of that nonsense and come to my senses long enough to realize that I am doing pretty darn good with what I do have!  I have more than enough to get me to where I need to be.  That little dose of sanity keeps me from pulling out my credit card and placing a premature order on Amazon.  

In the meantime, I've decided that I should use this time to master the basics - like how to use my current camera for sports and action photography.  And, boy, after that swim meet today I now know just how much I have to learn.  The way I see it, if I can learn every thing there is to learn about my current camera, the transition to a new one will be that much smoother - and the result that much more impressive.

There's still many more thoughts to cover, so let's move on:

2. In light of #1, I spend quite a bit of time dreaming up marketing strategies to make money (in ways that take the least amount of time away from my family) so I CAN buy that new camera.  I just might spring some of those on you in the next week or two...

3. To Photoshop or not to Photoshop?  That is the question.  In looking at other photographer's blogs and websites recently, I've noticed that I have only skimmed the surface in what Photoshop can do.  I see all these cool textures, overlays, and techniques and I think to myself, "Man, do I have a lot to learn!"  Or, do I?

While I love the creative options these various techniques offer, I'm not all that convinced they are for me.  I compare my work to some of these other techniques and I'm beginning to think that I rather prefer my relatively unPhotoshopped look.  It has become what defines me as a photographer.  It's very much my style.  And, I LIKE it!  There's a simplicity, cleanness, and purity to my work that couples beautifully with the honest expressions and emotions on the faces of my clients.  

Here's my conclusion and advice on the matter: Unless you can incorporate these techniques and actions into your personal style, then don't spend the money.  Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn't mean YOU need to do it.  Take time to define your style.  Determine what it is that makes you unique and different.  If an action, overlay or photoshop technique will enhance that style and help to develop that style, then go for it.  But, by all means, stay true to who you are. 

With that said, I still want to play around with some of those techniques and try to learn more about what my current Photoshop software has to offer.  There's so much fun stuff to learn.  And, in learning new things, you often discover something about yourself that you never knew before.  I never even used to know how to shoot manually.  Just look at the creative doors that has opened up for me!

4.  To that end, my goal this year is to start thinking outside the box - creatively speaking.  What is it that intimidates me about the photography industry?  It's time to overcome those fears.  It's time to dip my toes into the water and learn how to swim.  I have in my mind at least one major goal for this year.  Come rain or shine, I WILL make progress - and my portfolio will show it.

5. I've also been thinking lately that I hope I am not letting down a few of my friends who check my blog for tips and lessons.  I'm hoping that they will still check in on me - even if I am posting fewer and fewer pictures from recent sessions and only blogging once a week.  It's still very much on my heart to mentor and teach people.  It may seem that I am mostly only offering photography tips, but deep in my heart it is really about encouraging and equipping others to reach their dreams.  

Do I worry that maybe I am creating my own competition by teaching you what I know?  Only when my husband suggests that it might happen.  Maybe I am.  Even so, I care to think about it this way:  In equipping others to be their best, I in turn will only grow stronger myself.   When I hear about your passion for photography, it makes me a better photographer.  It causes my passion to grow.  When I see you master a new technique, your progress in turn inspires me to reach my own goals.  

I really hope that spirit comes across.

Before I sign off, there's one last deep thought I'd like to share with you. And, it's a Big One:

6.  It is my goal to make my passion for my faith and family a higher priority than my passion for photography.  I can get so engrossed in this business of mine that I find it occupying my thoughts and time more than I care to admit.  I want my heart to have that same passion for my family.  I love them, I truly do, but if I'm honest I have to admit my actions don't always speak those words.  All too often I've chosen time with my computer over time with my husband and children.

Sure, as long as I am in business, I will HAVE to spend some time, but my goal is to get to a point where my heart pulls me toward my family - NOT toward my photography - no matter how passionate I am about it or how good for me the creative outlet is.   I want my loved ones to occupy my thoughts and dreams.  Dreaming about and investing in my business are all wonderful things, but not if it means my family has to wait around for me to make time for them.

Maybe this was more information than you needed.  I share it in the hopes it will help you establish healthy boundaries in your own business and personal lives.  Passions are wonderful, but balance is key.  Terry warned us several times in class that he knows several cases where Photoshop was the cause of a failed marriage.  Don't let it happen to you.  

Until next week...Stay Grounded.  Spend Wisely.  Dream Big.  Conquer Fears.  Love Well.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Color or Black and White?

How do you decide whether to process, print, order, or upload an image in color or black & white?  When showing your clients their proofs, should you show each and every image in both color and black & white, or should you hand select just a few as examples?  Will all images look good converted to black & white?  Are there secrets to making your black & white images more dramatic?

Have you ever asked yourself these questions?  If you have, you are not alone.  I'll attempt to answer a few of these questions in today's post.  

To a degree, whether or not an image looks better in color or black & white is a matter of personal opinion.  Just like some people prefer modern furniture over more traditional decor, your taste will largely dictate the answer to this question.  

Black & white images tend to have a nostalgic and almost timeless feel. At first glance a black & white image gives you the impression the image was taken in another era.  So, if you are going for a more timeless affect, black & white may be the choice for you.

Some argue that the absence of color also frees the viewer to focus more on the subject matter and the emotion being portrayed.  Others will argue that an image's color is what brings the subject to life.  What do I say? It depends on the image.  To illustrate this I'll show you an example where color works best and then an example where black & white clearly wins out.

While, this is adorable in black & white, you can't help but feel that something is missing. 

Ah, that's much better!   

A color image needs lots of primary colors to make it pop.  In this image above the red of the little girl's lips, the green of the backdrop and in her sparkling eyes, the yellow of the squirt gun, and the blue of the trigger all play along with each other to breathe life and energy into the image.  
With this much going for it as a color image, it would be a shame to print it any other way (in my opinion). This image is all about a little girl having some care-free fun in the sun on a gorgeous, sun-shiny, summer day.  That feeling was completely lost in the black & white version above.  

In this next image, there's too much going on color-wise.  The busy colors overwhelm the senses and take away from the expression on the children's faces.  In color, the shadows that give this image such great dimension are underplayed and lose their dramatic affect.   

Unlike the image above, where the color emphasized and complimented the little girl's energy and enthusiasm, the color in this image seems to be at war with the calm, serious demeanor of the three siblings.  Taking away that visual conflict allows the image to tell the story - the children's eyes and facial expression now demand your full attention and completely draw you in.  The shadows become more evident and add much needed depth and dimension to the image.

So, now that you understand that not all pictures work well in a black & white format, you will understand why I do NOT show my clients every picture from their session in color AND black & white.  Instead, I only highlight the ones that have "the wow factor" once converted to black & white - giving them just a few examples so they know what other creative options are available to them.  

In addition, when a client asks me if they can see a particular file in black & white I also try to warm them before I show them the conversion that not every image works well in that format.  If it does not, then I explain to them why.

What makes a black & white image a success then?  Several things, but first and foremost there must be a wide range of tonality.  If an image contains both light tones, medium tones, and dark tones, it has a better chance of being a successful black & white image. Without a high range of tones, the image will appear flat.  

Black & white images also look best in high contrast situations.  Look for dramatic lighting with deep shadows and bright highlights.  Just make sure to expose properly so you don't lose details in those shadows and highlights.  Underexposing an image causes a loss of detail in the shadows.  Overexposing an image causes a loss of detail in the highlights.  

Sure, you can "fix" the exposure post-process, but you can't regain information that wasn't there to begin with.  The best black and white images have well-defined detail even in the darkest of shadows and the brightest of highlights.  That's why a proper exposure is so key!

Also, keep in mind that tones are different than colors.  A pastel blue falls in the lighter tonal range.  Navy blue falls into the darker tonal range. Yet, bright colors do NOT mean they are darker in tone.  Take these two pictures as an example.  Pay close attention to the bright neon nail polish.

The nails are what catch your eye in the color version!

They all but disappear in the Black and White.  

This is the perfect example to show your clients.  Bright colors may not provide the punch they're after once the image is converted to black & white.

If you know your client wants a black and white family portrait, but they don't all have the same "color" shirt, simply advise them to pick colors from the same tonal range instead.  Navy and black will look very similar in tonal range once converted to a black & white image.  If you tell them to all where the same color, you can end up with a wide range of tones that can really distract from the faces in a group portrait.  

Here's how it works.  Imagine a picture of a fair skinned child wearing a light hued t-shirt sitting on a faded concrete sidewalk under an overcast sky.  This scenario will most likely NOT make for a great black & white image.  The tonal range is almost non-existent.  Everything is grey and dreary.  All the colors and tones blend together to make an undefined portrait that lacks contrast, interest, and drama.  

In contrast, if you put a dark skinned child on that same lighter toned sidewalk the image is suddenly full of tonal range.  The contrast between the darker tones of the child's skin and the lighter tones of the grey sidewalk introduce shape and form to the image.  Dramatic lighting that casts well-placed shadows or sparkles of light to your image have a similar affect.

This brings me to the last tip.  By paying close attention to the shapes and forms in your image,  and being diligent to include both, you can significantly improve the success of your image.  Learn to imagine the scene before you as if it were black and white already.  Are there enough geometrical elements to make the image work?  Are there enough different tones to make each element in your image distinct from one another?  If you are drawn to the color in a scene, imagine it with the color removed.  Will the scene still work? These are questions to ask yourself (especially in nature photography) when seeking out your next black & white masterpiece.

Now, if you are still struggling with whether or not your image looks better in color or black and white, do what Terry suggests.  Make two 8x10 prints of the same image - one color and one black & white.  Hang both prints on a wall next to each other where you will see it frequently throughout the day.  Whichever one you get tired of looking at first is not the one for you.  Take it off the wall.  The one left hanging is the one you put on your website.  It's the one you show your client.  It's the one that works - for you.  After all, it is still a personal opinion.

I'll leave with two images from a recent session (actually an impromptu session within a session -  if you want to get technical).  

Meet Michael - a very cool guy.  You tell me.  Which one do you like better?  The color image, or the black & white?  Why?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Michael and Jackie's Wedding: Tips for the Professional Photographer Who Attends A Wedding As A Guest

You might be surprised to know that I've only taken my camera to a handful of weddings.  As of yet, weddings have not been the focus of my professional career.  Yet I still thoroughly enjoy having my camera with me when attending a wedding as a guest. Weddings are the ultimate canvas for creating something beautiful, and as a creative person I can't pass up the opportunity.

Before I even take the first picture, however, I make a point of introducing myself to the photographer who has been hired to cover the event.  It's very important to me that they know I respect them and that I am not there to make any money off the bride and groom.  Somehow, knowing that they are okay with my taking a few creative shots throughout the day really frees me to be my very best and allows the creative juices to flow.  

Even with the other photographer's "green light", I'm still very careful not to take pictures that I know they were hired to create.  Let's face it. When ordering prints, the bride and groom are most likely not going to order a print from their wedding photographer if they've received the exact same pose - of equally professional quality - from one of their guests for free.  I know I wouldn't.

So, I do my best to stay out of the wedding photographer's way and allow them the best vantage points.  And I'm certainly not going to set my camera up right next to theirs - smack dab in front of their expensive studio lighting - just to take a group shot of the bridal party.  That's just plain rude.  But, unfortunately, it happens all the time.

With that said, if I look around and see that everyone else and their mother is taking a picture of something (the bride walking down the aisle, for example) - then I go for it.  They are my memories too, after all.  I just do my best to be as inconspicuous as possible.  You won't find me jumping into the aisle or anything.  That's for sure.

Part of being low-key involves how much camera gear I allow myself to bring to the wedding.  If I am simply a guest at the wedding, then it would be rude of me to bring along all my professional gear.  The bride and groom did not invite me, my external flash, my backpack full of lenses, and my tripod to their wedding.  They invited me.  To lug all that extra stuff along is to clutter their wedding and introduce unwanted distractions to their intimate celebration.
Now, I realize that having that conviction leaves me somewhat limited in what I can produce on a professional level.  Without an external flash (I'm not a huge fan of the on-camera flash.), a tripod, or alternate lenses, my creative endeavors become limited to my equipment's low-light capabilities.

You may be wondering what I DO take pictures of when attending a wedding?  Is there anything left after all those restrictions I put on myself?  You bet!  Plenty.  

Take a look for yourself.  As promised, here are a few of my favorite images from Jackie and Michael's wedding.  All of these images were made without flash while shooting at a very high ISO.  As a result, you'll notice a very soft focus throughout. 

I took this image because it represented the bride and groom's taste perfectly.  Simple elegance.  I also could not in my right mind resist the sparkle of the crystal candle sticks and the breathtaking blur of the stained glass windows in the background.  I love this image!

This flower girl's bouquet was left on top of an old-fashioned radiator just begging me to make it into a lovely image.

And how could I possibly take a picture of the bouquet without taking a portrait of the gorgeous young lady who carried it down the aisle?

Chloe is my second cousin and the niece of the groom.  She was such a good sport for letting me take her portrait.  You might not be able to tell by looking at her warm smile, but it was FREEZING out on those front porch steps.  Thank you, Chloe, for putting up with me!  You are stunning!

These outdoor pictures were made while the bridal party was indoors having their pictures taken by Barbara, the hired photographer I posted about last week.  I was waiting on my ride to the reception, so I asked Chloe's mom if I could take some pictures of her outside.  While I was out there, I took a few images of the church and surrounding neighborhood as well.

It was all about documenting something special for the bride and groom - something I knew Barbara would mostly likely not have the time to do. I also knew that Michael would really appreciate a few portraits of his only niece.  Chloe rarely gets to see her uncle Mike because she lives in another state.  I knew these images would be extra special to him.

Yep, that's salt on the front steps...salt to melt the ICE!  I wanted to capture the feel of the day.  Yes, it was cold - bitter cold, but it was lovely and beautiful all the same.  That's what this image says to me.

Don't you just love this neighborhood?  If it weren't for the icy-cold winter weather known to Milwaukee, I might just make my home right there.  I love how each home has it's own character.  Not one home was a cookie-cutter or carbon-copy of the other.  They were each beautiful and had a character all their own.  (Not unlike the bride and groom.)  

The church building itself reminded me of the church my Grandmother attended - the one my mother grew up in - the one I attended as a small child.  It seemed to fit perfectly with the close-knit family feel of the day.

Ah, finally.  Here's the happy couple.  I was so impressed at how Michael and Jackie each brought their own individual style to their wedding. Instead of the traditional (and expected) tuxedo, Michael wore a handsome suit he was comfortable in.  Jackie opted for a unique, locally hand-crafted, silk gown.  Didn't it turn out beautifully!  Her bridesmaids even wore hand-crocheted shawls.  It was lovely to see how even the tiniest of details were so well thought out and cared for. 

The above picture was taken at their reception - which was so refreshingly different than most of the receptions I've been to lately. The food was fresh and healthy (Think hummus, fresh crudites, and goat cheese...Yummm!).  The atmosphere was relaxing and inviting.  It was all about family.  All about friends.  All about being true to who you are. There was plenty of laughter and good times to go around.

They even brought in their own favorite drinks to stock the bar.

And what's a wedding album without the small details that help to personalize the day?  I'll end with Michael's niece Chloe leaving her own special mark on the gift table room chalk board.

So, you see, there's plenty to photograph at a wedding without having to step on another professional's toes.  It's all in the details.  Tell your story.  Show what you saw.  No one else can. 

Barbara said it best.  "There can never be enough pictures at a wedding!" 

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Barbara J. Miner: Milwaukee Photographer and Writer

I recently traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for my cousin Mike's wedding.  While I was not the photographer hired to cover the event, I had my camera on hand to grab a few candids for the family.  Before the wedding started I approached the photographer's assistant (who happened to be her husband) and asked if it would be okay if I took my annoyingly huge (obviously not a point-and shoot) camera out during the ceremony to grab a few shots.  Their response was so inspiring, I just had to blog about it.

With a huge grin that almost reached out to hug me, they unanimously replied, "You bet!  There can never be enough pictures at a wedding!"  They didn't ask me to sign a release or utter some half-hearted, "Well, I guess so."  They didn't warn me to stay out of the way. I could tell they only had the Bride and Groom's best interest at heart. They in all sincerity were among some of the most gracious photographers I've yet to come across.  In this crazy competitive industry, it was a great reminder to me of how to conduct myself in my own business.

I grabbed this shot above of Barbara during the reception.  She was such a ham!  I just loved her!  All through the reception I watched her in action.  It was fun to see her "seeing" the same shots I saw.  She had such great energy and wasn't afraid to get down on the ground to get the most creative viewpoint.  I can't wait to see her images from the wedding.

If you live in the upper Midwest and are looking for a fantastic individual and artist to photograph your next event, drop Barbara an email.  You'll be glad you did.  You can email Barbara at

While Barbara was busy covering everything from the ceremony to the wild and crazy Irish dancing, I focussed on more intimate family shots and enjoyed my time with cousins and other family I rarely get to see. I'll post my favorite images next week.

Speaking of family, my New Year's Resolution is to spend more time with mine.  On that note, I wanted to let you all know that I am scaling back my blog a tad.  I'll still be posting new pics and tips from time to time, but my goal is to post no more than once a week - maybe even less.  
Please know that I really appreciate all of you who take time out of your busy schedules to read my blog and view my pictures.  It means so much to me.  I'm not going anywhere, just taking better control over my schedule and making my family life a higher priority.

Until next time...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Miracles in Abundance

Five years ago, three weeks before her upcoming wedding to Jason, Jen was diagnosed with Hodgkins disease.  While most newlyweds return from their honeymoons to the joy of unpacking their china and settling into their new homes and life together, Jen and Jason began the terrifying journey of chemo treatments to fight Jen's cancer - the very day they returned from their honeymoon.  

After 10 months of chemo and then a man of radiation, the doctors did a scan which determined that Jen's lymphoma had not been cured.  It was threatening to take her life.  Jen then received a stem cell transplant, which by a gracious act of God, cured her of her Cancer. She remains cancer free to this day!

Longing to start a family together, Jen and Jason were told by her doctors that she would be unable to get pregnant.  Yet they were confident that God had other plans for them.  They applied for adoption and waited excitedly to meet the child the Lord would bring to their family.  They were accepted and welcomed their daughter, Kaelyn, shortly thereafter.  18 months after adopting Kaelyn, they received remarkable news.  God had yet another gracious gift to bestow upon them.  Jen was pregnant!  Kaelyn would be a big sister.

For more reasons than one, this maternity session was such a wonderful experience for me.  Not only was I blessed to be able to witness their miracle first hand, I was thrilled to be able to provide a fellow photographer with some images I know she and her family will treasure.  

Like me, Jen started her business, Ellyn Roberts Photography, about a year ago.  I am thrilled to know that I was able to bless someone who gives so selflessly of herself to her own clients.  If you live in Northwest Indiana and are looking for a wonderful photographer, you can contact Jen at  Jen specializes in studio photography but loves to photograph outdoors as well. 

Though the weather was freezing during our session, my heart was overflowing with the warmth of God's love for this family - for all of us. We may not all receive miraculous healing in the way this family has, but God blesses each of us daily with one miracle or another - if only we dare look for it.

Congratulations, Jen, Jason, and Kaelyn!  I pray your life is full of many more blessings to come!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Woes of the Traveling Photographer

I realized today on my flight to Chicago just how much I miss being able to fly solo without having to check my bags.  Now that I'm a photographer, my camera bag eats up ALL my carry-on quota.  (Okay, I can stuff a few things in my purse, but not much other than my make-up bag and a couple magazines).  

It's sad, but I'm having to come to terms with the fact that there's simply NO WAY to avoid the $15 checked baggage fee now that I insist on traveling everywhere with my camera and all my other gear.

Here's a few possible solutions I came up with:

1. I could live in the same outfit for four days.

2. I could rent camera equipment for my out of town sessions. (Suddenly the $15 checked baggage fee doesn't sound so bad, does it?)

3. I could ship my luggage ahead of my flight.


4. I could shop for new clothes when I arrive at my destination and then donate them to charity before I leave town.

5.  I could leave my camera at home and just use my camera phone. (Hey, don't laugh.  My professor says there's actually a fashion photographer in New York who takes commercial shots with their camera phone while on a job.  It could work.)

Okay, so I need some real solutions here.  My aching back would really appreciate a few good ideas.  How about you other photographers out there?  Do you have any space saving ideas for traveling light (and fashionable) WITH your camera gear in tow?  

Send them my way!