Multi Purpose Photo Shoots

One of my favorite things about the way my photo shoots are structured is the flexibility they afford.  It's great to have glamorous portraits of ourselves, but your entire photo shoot doesn't have to be dedicated to that aspect of your life.  If you want to bring in your loved one, your children, or your beloved fur kids, I'm happy to work with you to make them a part of your photo shoot.  Or, if you simply want to change direction and create images for business, I'm happy to do that as well.  We can capture multiple facets of your life - all in one shoot.  From personal branding, to boudoir, to families, my clients love the flexibility I offer.  

Today I'm sharing some images I absolutely love from a recent multi purpose portrait session.  Olivia came to my studio primarily for personal branding images.  She is the owner of The Olivia Cooley Real Estate Group here in Columbia, and wanted some images she could use for her business.  She also had her boyfriend Charles join her at the end of her shoot for some images of them together.  Finally, we created some incredibly glamorous portraits of Olivia.  All of her wardrobe was selected from Rent the Runway.  These rentals are included in my photo shoots.  Hair and makeup (also included) is by the incredible Ashley Gunter.

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I loved capturing the connection and happiness between these two.

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Pet Photography: Fur Ball Promo Shoot

I've said it before - when my youngest child started school I struggled a bit to find myself.  Someone jokingly told me I should love on some puppies to snap myself out of my funk.  So I did.  For the past 8 months I've been a volunteer photographer at Pawmetto Lifeline of Columbia.  Every week I take my lighting and gear to photograph adoptable dogs.  It's changed my perspective, as giving of yourself usually does.  

Most recently I was honored to serve as photographer for a project to promote the Fur Ball Moonlight Gala, an annual fundraiser for Pawmetto Lifeline.  As a joint project between Pawmetto and Sylvan's Jewelers, I photographed some adorable adoptable cats and dogs wearing beautiful jewelry from Sylvan's.  I'm proud to show you the finished product.  

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This shoot was full of toys, treats, laughs, and full on sweating, but it was an absolute blast and honor to give back in such a creative way.  What an opportunity.  

The Dream Portrait Session: Charleston

I feel honored in so many ways to showcase these portraits.  They feature two girls I've had the pleasure of knowing since they were born. Secondly the location stirs my soul.  It's home.  Having grown up in the lowcountry, and then moving to the midlands of South Carolina in 2001, I love the opportunity to return to my roots near the coast.  I miss so many things that were a part of my everyday life growing up:  the giant, centuries-old Live Oak trees covered in moss, the smell of the marsh, spontaneous trips to the beach, the feel of downtown Charleston - rich in history and charm.  The lowcountry will always feel like home to me, so the opportunity to offer portrait sessions in this incredible city is something I've been waiting for.  I love the idea of combining the beauty of a client with this distinctive and gorgeous city as a backdrop. 

Preparation for this shoot started early in the morning so that we could take advantage of the cooler part of the day and begin the shoot before the city was bustling with tourists.  We spent the morning at several gorgeous locations downtown, stopping for hair and makeup touch-ups and wardrobe changes along the way.

Pictured:  my childhood best friend Katie, who helped me make this shoot happen in a major way, Hannah (front and center), myself, and Amanda.

Pictured:  my childhood best friend Katie, who helped me make this shoot happen in a major way, Hannah (front and center), myself, and Amanda.

These sisters are nothing short of breathtaking.  They are hilarious, candid and clearly are very close to one another.  As always when I photograph sisters or mothers and daughters, I appreciate the privilege of witnessing their connection to one another, and sharing in their humor during the shoot.  This shoot was particularly fun because we were constantly on the move (as opposed to staying in the same studio setting).  There was an added element of excitement we all enjoyed.  

There are endless possibilities for beautiful photographs in this city.  I enjoyed using more of a vintage fashion/editorial style for Hannah and Amanda's images, yet I also dream of adding in a husband and children to one of these shoots for an incredible family portrait.   

I'm currently booking portrait sessions in Charleston on select dates during September and October.  

Special thanks to Katie Depoppe for all her help with design, hair and makeup, and navigating the city for this shoot!  

Mother Daughter Portrait Session

A few months ago everybody went wild when I posted the portrait of these three gorgeous girls on my Facebook business page.  But I've been holding out on you guys.  There's more.  These girls were in my studio with their mom AND grandma for a three generations portrait session.  Given that Mother's Day isn't far away, I thought I'd share these beautiful images with you guys.  

Caroline is a mom of five.  She and my husband went to high school together,  and I've had the privilege of getting to know her family and watching our kids play together for the past four years.  She is the most organized, driven, hard-working, kind, and generous person I've ever encountered.  Whenever I've been in her presence I always leave thinking about how I can be more like her.  Caroline's mom, Dixie is the most loving and supportive mom and grandmother I've been around.  She is hilarious and spunky on top of it all.  Needless to say, I jump at the chance to spend time around this family and was excited & humbled by the opportunity to photograph them.  

I love how these portraits turned out, and I am honored that they have pride of place in Caroline and Dixie's homes - memories to treasure forever.  

Don't Wait Until You're Perfect

This isn't an easy confession to make.  I hate photographing my kids.  I don't mean with my phone.  I mean the kind of pictures you might want to hang on the wall.  My kids don't listen to me when I ask for a smile.  I have no problem taking pictures of other people's children.  In fact, I enjoy it.  But with my own kids,  I always grow impatient and frustrated and no great pictures come out of it.  I've decided to change all of this.  It's me.  I'm the problem.  And I also have made zero effort to be photographed WITH them.  I'm always the one behind the camera making threats and sipping from a flask (kidding).  I am increasingly aware these days of how quickly time is zipping by.  Teeth are falling out left and right.  They're all reading.  They need me less and less.  And when I really stop and think about it, puberty isn't far away.  If THAT thought doesn't make you want to run and snap photos of your sweet innocent pre-pubescent offspring, I don't know what will.  

But I've been putting off taking pictures for the above stated reasons. (and I'll also add "they have nothing to wear" to the list)  I caught myself once again waiting for the perfect time, the perfect reason to actually go through with it.  I know that time will never come.  Soon they'll be wearing braces and growing body hair and I will weep for days gone by, with nothing but iPhone photos to look back on.  It was now or never.  I decided that portraits OF my kids and WITH my kids were worth some physical and mental work on my part.  So I dedicated an entire day to this task.  A little bribery in the form of ice cream sundaes helped my cause.  

Here are some of the portraits we shot.  I photographed the kids and my husband and photography sidekick Ben took the shots that I am in.  I love these.  I didn't get a shot of all three kids yet, or a shot of all of us and the poses are far from perfect, but I can always try again.  When the kids ate their ice cream sundaes, I had a glass of wine.  My frustration was a small price to pay for the gorgeous memories we created.  I just ordered prints of these images and I will post an update when I've got them on the wall.  I am really guilty of not printing and displaying my work at home.  That's also about to change.  And so I'm continuing to learn...it's really important to stop waiting for perfection.  There will never be a perfect time.  You'll never find yourself at the perfect weight, age, or dress size.  The days will just keep whizzing by and you'll only be left with regret over what you didn't do.  I'm happy I made myself do this.  At least when I'm explaining the birds and the bees in a few years or balking at the orthodontist bill, I can look at these sweet faces while I cry over how fast time flies.  

The Power of Before & After Photos

When you come to my studio for a shoot, I take a photo of you before your hair and makeup is complete.  This serves as your BEFORE photo, to later compare to your AFTER photo (a portrait).  I think it's worth taking the time to explain why I follow this process and display these images on my web site.  The before photo doesn't serve to show how bad you look without your hair and makeup done, nor does it say "women need makeup to look beautiful."  The before image DOES show that we are REAL women, not fashion models.  We don't roll out of bed and walk down a catwalk everyday (or in my case, ever).  The before shot inspires others to exist in photographs because they identify with the everyday appearance shown in the before image.  The first time I visited the website of my favorite photographer, my jaw hit the floor when I looked at her before & after gallery.  I was so amazed at how she was able to create such beautiful portraits of REAL women that I grew desperate to be photographed by her even though I hated to have my picture taken.  (I'm still desperate, by the way...I hope to be photographed by this woman when I turn 40 in a few years)  I was motivated to exist in a photograph because I saw myself in those everyday women.  Most days you may see me in the grocery store sporting my yoga pants and zero makeup (I'm good at the "do not see me" Jedi mind trick).  That's real life, but I adore the portraits of me where my best features are emphasized and the things I dislike are downplayed.  The point is that before & after images give perspective.  All of us can grace the cover of a magazine.  We are all worthy and beautiful - before, and after.  Oh, and just so you all know, my very own before & after is featured in a blog post right here.  So don't call me chicken! 

Behind the Scenes at a Portrait Session

So what's a photo shoot with me really like?  I'm solving the mystery for you!  Here's a little tour of my studio space and the 411 on how a session runs from start to finish.  

When you arrive at my studio and we get all your wardrobe inside, you can sit back and relax with a glass of champagne and hors d'oeuvres.  The best things really do come in small packages.  The space where the photography and hair and makeup occurs is actually one room.  This room houses my backdrops, apple boxes, ottoman, and any furniture I use to create portraits.  

While I have studio lighting, I love to use natural light.  My space has one very large double window.  I diffuse the light with white sheers.  99% of my portraits occur in this room with the light from this window.  

A highly skilled and completely hilarious hair & makeup artist will be waiting when you arrive.  I love working with all my hair & makeup artists.  From minimalist looks to cat eyes and false lashes, these stylists are incredibly adept at working within any style preference.  

While you're in hair & makeup, I sit down with a clipboard and create a plan for your session, matching outfits to backdrop colors to props and poses, and talking with you about it as I go.

When you're looking and feeling glamorous and it's time for the photo shoot to begin, I'll roll the wardrobe rack into my changing room.  I bought this bed specifically for photography.  It photographs beautifully, and works well as a prop if you're interested in sexy images.  It also works for just throwing clothes on it in between wardrobe changes.  Either way, it's one of my favorite parts of my studio, so I had to feature it here.

The photography portion of your session usually lasts about 90 minutes and we'll run through 4 to 6 outfits, changing hair and makeup looks whenever you like.  I will pose you and coach you through facial expressions to capture you at your best.  We will also laugh.  A lot.  It happens.  In the shot below you can see the poly boards and reflectors I use to create beautiful back lit images or use backgrounds that coordinate with your wardrobe or skin tone.

Once we've finished shooting, you're free to go.  Most people go and do something special since they are looking amazingly hot.  We'll schedule a reveal appointment when you can return to the studio to view your portraits and purchase what you love.  Once you're on your way to a beautiful night out, I choose the most outstanding images from your shoot, usually 25 images, and give them a signature retouch.  

So there you have it.  That's my process and a quick tour of my space.  Portrait sessions are such a fun way to celebrate yourself, or to enjoy time with someone you love.  You'll be pampered.  You'll look and feel amazing.  You'll laugh.  You'll have fun.  And most importantly, you'll exist in beautiful portraits that will be cherished for all time.  

The Question I Hear Most: What do I wear?

Really and truly, the most common question I'm asked about portrait sessions is "What on earth do I wear?"  Some of us can rifle through our closets and grab things we love, while others feel like we need to spend a day at the mall to find just the right wardrobe.  Honestly, what you should wear depends entirely on how you'd like to be photographed.  Anything from fashion-forward jeans and a top to sequined party dresses to vintage gowns and lingerie.  

While I cover wardrobe style and fit guidelines in consultations before a shoot, I always tell clients it's best to bring a variety, and when in doubt about an outfit, bring it.  It's certainly better to have that dress or corset you're just not sure about than to wish you hadn't chickened out and left it at home.  I decided to start building a studio wardrobe because it allows me to keep some beautiful garments here for you all when you come for a shoot.  Maybe you'd like to try something you never thought would look right on you.  Maybe you'd like to go a little more sexy or formal than what you brought.  Worry not.  I've been stocking a wardrobe rack for the past year or so with beautiful garments I find - in various styles, sizes, and colors.  It's become kind of an addiction for me honestly. 

So even if you never thought you'd love to see yourself in sequins galore, I've got you covered.  Another beautiful thing about the studio wardrobe is that a garment doesn't have to fit your body perfectly.  I have clamped many things in the back that were too big and pinned things to a bra if it wouldn't zip up.  There's almost always a way around a garment that's not quite right.  And the images are still gorgeous.

I'm always adding pieces here and there as I find them, so if there's something in particular you're looking for before your shoot, let me know.  You're always welcome to stop by the studio to have a look before you shop as well.  I may have just the thing.  It's really exciting to pick out clothing I think will photograph beautifully, and then watch someone feel gorgeous in it.  So there you have it.  My ever-growing and changing studio wardrobe.  Always at the ready. 

5 Reasons to Exist in a Portrait in 2016

As I've spent time this week reflecting on the past year I've scribbled down a lot of thoughts.  My blog posts are always a result of quiet reflection (which is sometimes hard to come by), and they always start out on a sheet of paper.  I really envy anyone who can sit and rip out an amazing blog post straight from their brain to the computer screen.  it seems most can do this.  I'm just slow I guess.   So here's my last post for this year, from heart (and my sheet of paper), to you. 

 I've learned an awful lot this year about women and how the way we feel about ourselves dictates our actions.  As I continue to get better about being candid and transparent in my business, I've forced myself in front of the camera a few times this year, and those were great learning experiences.   I've learned so much from my lovely clients as I listened to each of them express their feelings on being photographed.  There are several recurring themes I've picked up on in all these conversations.  From these I sat down and scribbled out the 5 most important reasons to exist in a portrait.   I am coaching myself on these things just as I am encouraging all of you.  This isn't a sales pitch.  This is life, and I feel this is tremendously important information that comes from the roots of why we refuse to run toward the camera.  

TOP FIVE REASONS TO EXIST IN A PORTRAIT IN 2016

5.  Because you think you're not photogenic.   A photographer and educator I follow on Instagram recently posted her own quote, "It's not the camera that adds 10 pounds, it's the photographer".  The majority of women who contact me about a photo shoot say they are not photogenic.  The truth is it isn't your job  to make yourself look amazing in a photograph.  It's my job.   I have learned the skills to control  the factors that determine the way you will look in a portrait - the lighting, the posing, your facial expression, the wardrobe.  As a portrait photographer I take full responsibility for creating the most beautiful images you've ever seen of yourself.  I've spent countless hours studying and practicing getting everything just right.  All you need to do is show up.  This is my job.  Let me do the work. 

4.  Because you're NEVER going to be perfect.  The most common excuse I give myself and that I also hear from others is "I need to lose a few pounds first".  The thing is...there will never be a perfect TIME, and we will never find ourselves in the right CONDITION physically, emotionally, spiritually to intentionally put ourselves in front of the camera.  Even though I really wasn't happy with myself in many ways when I did my last shoot, I am so thankful I have those images.  Days that we put off existing in photographs turn to weeks, then years, and suddenly we realize that entire chapters of our lives have opened and closed without creating any meaningful remembrances of ourselves as we were then.  As my favorite photographer Sue says, "Don't wait until you're perfect.  You never will be."

3.  Because it will change the way you see yourself.  The most rewarding experiences I've had as a photographer this year were showing breathtaking portraits of themselves to my most apprehensive clients.  Sometimes women come to me wanting to do something sexy as a gift for their husbands or partners, but really not feeling so sexy.  I admire these women so much for going completely out of their comfort zone to do something special for a loved one, and it's truly amazing to show one of these women an image SHE finds beautiful.  There is nothing like the joy in that moment, when you truly BELIEVE you are beautiful.  You see yourself in a completely different light, and as a result your self image is altered and elevated.  Being vulnerable enough to allow someone to really capture your beauty, your true spirit, takes guts.  But I've learned this year that everything worthwhile I achieved required me leaving my comfort zone. Exist in a portrait.  You really will see yourself differently.

2. People love you, damn it.  If you're often putting yourself at the bottom of your list like I am, it's difficult to see this one as important.  But it's #2 on my list, so it must be.  You are loved.  There are people in your life who really want to capture you for all time.  Your children, your partner, your parents, they deserve a beautiful image of you.  Not to be all gloom and doom and God forbid anything should happen to me or any of you, but I don't want to be remembered in iPhone snapshots.  I want my kids to have a canvas, or something in a gorgeous frame - something that will be large and in charge or at least stand the test of time, so when I'm drooling in a wheelchair 60 years from now my  kids can show their kids what I looked like with teeth and hair.  We are loved.  We deserve to be cherished and remembered in photographs (and not just selfies)...which brings me to my next and final point.

1.  Because you deserve it.  For some of us this is nearly impossible to see.  I mean this point in two ways.  You are worth the portrait experience, and you are worth the images themselves.  The champagne, the professional hair and makeup, the shopping you get to do for the perfect outfit to wear for your shoot, a few hours of enjoying a team of people solely dedicated to your enjoyment.  It's all well deserved.  Now the portraits, they are the gold at the end of the rainbow.  Owning and displaying your portraits is your opportunity to give an incredible gift to yourself and those who love you.  One dear client who has been through an incredible weight loss journey told me she loved to have her portraits hanging on her wall so that every time she looked at them she would be reminded that she is the person who exists now and not the person she used to be.  While I am still working up the guts to order a large canvas of myself for our house, I do love to see the portraits my husband has proudly displayed in our bedroom.  They really do serve as great reminders that I am beautiful and loved, especially when I feel ugly and unworthy.  We deserve to exist in images WE love, images WE want our grandchildren to look upon when we are gone or we certainly no longer resemble the people we are now.  We are worth more than iPhone snapshots, more than a family photo where at least the kids are looking at the camera but we...well at least we're completely dressed.  I'll say it one more time.  You DESERVE a portrait of yourself that you ADORE.

Ok guys.  That's all I've got for 2015.  I am so very thankful for each of you, for every beautiful soul I've been privileged to know and photograph this year.  I love following each of you on social media and I am so excited for what 2016 holds for all our lives.  Thank you for your support, for your friendship and encouragement. Love to you all.  HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

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Marie Antoinette Inspired Shoot

If you read my last post, you know I am sort of reinventing myself now that I have much more time to devote to my career.  I've recently discovered the importance of just being creative.  Kids learn through play - are we adults really any different?  The issue for us is allowing ourselves the time to do so. For a long time I felt I was up against such a steep learning curve with photography that playing wasn't an option.  Between lighting, posing, directing my subject, and manipulating the camera for the best shot, I was overwhelmed.  I was also trying to shoot in several different genres of photography, and that kept my head spinning.  It took a long time for me to truly own my role as a women's portrait photographer.  Letting go of photographing everything wasn't easy, especially when there was a demand for me to excel in each of those areas, but the decision to specialize was the best choice I've made yet.  It's not that I won't shoot families or children, because I do, but focusing on a smaller subset of my field allows me to master that area in a smaller time frame.  It also affords me the ability to do that which I am most passionate about.  Now that I'm more comfortable with the basics of photography as a discipline, and completely in love with photographing and serving women, I am taking the time to explore within my genre and to really hone in on my style.   So here's your heads up for some fun and outside-of-the-box material from me in the coming weeks!

One aspect of photography that's been a tough pill for me to swallow is "it's all been done before."  When you're learning, it's really easy to feel the impossibility of creating something truly unique and original.  It's also easy to look at the work of many brilliant photographers and throw up your hands.  But after wrestling with these ideas numerous times and feeling defeated as a result, I am now embracing the mindset that learning and inspiration occur through mimicking the work of those you admire - those who are the very best in your field.  I adore the soft, ethereal, feminine portraits created by my favorite photographer, Sue Bryce .  Her current work often harks back to another time.  It could be Victorian or vintage, but there is beauty in her work more breathtaking than I could imagine, and I am always anxiously awaiting what she will do next.  Like Sue, I believe women are overly sexualized in modern media, and I would love to capture their beauty, femininity and sensuality in my own images with a similar soft, ethereal, vintage feel.

I won't prattle on today about my heroes, but I am always trying to achieve their skill level in my work.  So, one of my hair and makeup artists (and dear friend) Tyson Keanum and I put our heads together for a Marie Antoinette inspired shoot.  Tyson scored an amazing dress at a thrift store years ago, and had always wanted to do a shoot with it.  He even knew of someone who fit perfectly in the dress and she was willing to be our model.  Having watched a tutorial on building beautiful hair pieces out of inexpensive "fake hair", I was all about trying my hand at this skill.  I approached this shoot with bridal portraits in the back of my mind.  It would be so beautiful to modify this idea for a bride - to create a glamorous, elegant bridal portrait she could treasure.  

So Tyson and I set to work "making hair".  He came over with this doll head he'd used in cosmetology school branded "Deluxe Debra" and after getting some good laughs about her name, we bolted her to the table and got right to work.   

We took turns sewing but ultimately Tyson did the bulk of the work, taking it home to finish it up.  So on the day of the shoot beautiful Sarah joined us at the studio to be transformed into Marie Antoinette.  First though, I wanted to capture some beautiful images of her just as she is.  Sarah is so warm and friendly, and a joy to photograph.  Here are a few of her portraits.

Then the transformation began.  I felt like I was on a movie set watching Tyson work his magic.

Once her look was completed by the dress, I had a blast posing Sarah.  Not only was this fun, but I also have a sense of pride about these images. I attempted something completely out of my comfort zone, and the outcome was a true success in my book.  I am so excited to modify this style to capture amazing, one-of-a-kind bridal portraits.  I would LOVE to take myself back in time 11 years and do the same for yours truly, but I digress.  What do you guys think?  Oh, and very special thanks to Tyson Keanum for contributing the amazing hair, makeup, and wardrobe for this shoot, and to Sarah, our beautiful and easy going Marie Antoinette.  

The Long Silence

It never ceases to amaze me how time can dull an ache in your heart.  Just 6 weeks ago I couldn't even THINK about typing this post without tears welling up.  If you've been following me for a while you probably noticed I went completely AWOL around August.  I'm not always the best at posting very frequently on social media but I completely disappeared from planet earth.  

This is a personal post, and I want to share with you a lesson I am learning through great sadness.  I think you can all relate in some way.  The catalyst for this crisis I saw coming from miles away, only I stopped short of recognizing the level of brokenness and despair I would experience when this pivotal moment finally occurred.  The way I fell down, emotionally speaking, and the way those who loved me picked me up, and even forced me to carry on, have inspired a journey much deeper than I ever anticipated.  

To set the stage: I have three kids.  They were all born within a span of about 2 1/2 years. Their proximity in age puts them in consecutive grades in school.  I've been home with my kids from the birth of my oldest.  They've been my full time job, my life, for the past seven years.  For each of the past three years, I have sent one child off to Kindergarten.  I knew this last one would be difficult.  I barely held it together through preschool graduation, but as summer wore on I became excited for school to start.  I was ready to focus on my business, to capture more beautiful portraits for you all.  So school started, I cried my tears on the first day.  The emptiness and deafening silence in my house seemed to echo the state of my heart.  But I had work to do, a business to run.  My phone overflowed with texts and emails from dear friends checking in on me, knowing that sending off my last baby was exceedingly difficult for me.  "I'm doing great," I remember replying to so many.  And I really was doing great for the first two weeks. 

Then something shifted.  I gradually started wanting to go back to bed nearly every day after the kids were off to school.  I ate crappy food and couldn't have cared less about exercise.  Before I knew it, melancholy and apathy crept into my life unnoticed and completely took over.  I know what you're thinking..."HELLOOOO - it's called depression," but I still failed to see it.  The point of realization came one day when I ran into our old preschool director in the grocery store.  She of course asked about the kids and then, being a mom of four herself, pointedly asked how I was doing.  I had to run to the car before I was completely overtaken by my emotions.  The tears wouldn't stop and I didn't know why.  Clearly I wasn't doing "great" anymore.  For a while I just sat there in the parking lot and let myself cry.  I sat alone in my spacious minivan that used to be constantly teeming with activity, laughter, and bickering, but now more often than not I was driving it around empty.  And I was empty too.  At some point that day it occurred to me.  My day job was gone.  I was needed much less.  Though I certainly had my own interests and aspirations, I'd allowed motherhood, an occupation that once consumed every waking moment, to completely define me.  And now, I faced an identity crisis.  

Though I'd identified the cause of my emotional downfall, the days didn't really get any easier.  So my husband and my hair and makeup artist (who has become a very dear friend) decided to force me in front of the camera.  After eating crap and not exercising for several weeks, you can imagine how I felt about that idea.  They wouldn't hear "no" though, and the day came when I was pushed into a chair to have my hair and makeup done.  I posed myself while they took the shots.  We laughed a lot.  On some level I think the shoot itself was therapeutic, even though I'd been determined to remain apathetic about it.  

When I sat down to edit these images I had another meltdown.  It's hard to stare eye to eye with a woman you feel is lost - a woman who looks in the mirror and sees a big question mark over her head.  I do love these portraits.  They're the best I think I've had taken so far, but what's important - what I think is share-worthy about this story - is the way my view of these portraits has changed in the past few months.  I feel sadness for the state of my heart when these images were taken, but I am also proud that I existed in these photographs (even if nearly forced).  I look at these portraits with love for myself.  I have hope for this journey to recreating who I am, now that there is room in my life to be something, someone other than "mommy".  Though some transitions are far bigger than others, I will always be evolving.  I will never stay the same.

Someday, when I am even further down this road of self discovery, I will look back with joy at these images.  Even in times of brokenness, it is still incredibly important to let yourself be seen, to be vulnerable, to be captured in photographs.  Even when all you see in the mirror is a question mark or a version of yourself you wish didn't exist - even then, you are worthy, you are beautiful.  You are a work in progress.

I leave you with a lyric from a country song I used to love when I was a kid...(yes, back in my glorious Reba days)

Come let me hold you. Time will ease your pain. Life’s about changin’, nothin’ ever stays the same.
— Patty Loveless

A Sweet Story & Mom's Day Out shoot

Ok ladies…get ready for a super sweet story.  And fellas, take note!  I was recently contacted by a dad/husband whose family I recently photographed.  Jeff and his wife Gabrielle have a beautiful daughter who just turned one.  When I ran a photo shoot contest earlier this year, Jeff saw my post and decided to nominate Gabrielle.  Here’s his (super sweet) contest submission: 

"I would like to nominate my wife for your photo shoot giveaway. She is one of the hardest working, caring, and selfless individuals I have ever met and I am lucky enough to call her my wife. She has sacrificed everything for our family. She left a job she loved because the hours would not be conducive to starting a family together. With the birth of our beautiful daughter three weeks ahead of her due date she struggled through the trials and tribulations that are accompanied with a pre-mature baby. We found out a few weeks after our daughter was born that she was allergic to dairy protein; my wife again sacrificed for our family and changed her diet to accompany our daughter's needs. Her allergies accompanied with the pre-mature birth have made the first year of her life very trying on my wife. She has taken upon herself to care for her the needed every two hours at night and has rarely complained.

Too often my wife fails to recognize her own beauty and appreciate the natural aura she brings to a room. I hope that she is fortunate enough to be selected for your photo shoot so that you can capture her beauty and help her realize how amazing and gorgeous she truly is."

 WOW – right?  It's such an incredibly thoughtful gesture.  When I initially met Gabrielle at her family portrait session I immediately noticed her glow and her beautiful smile.  I was especially excited to have her in my studio for some time to herself and time in front of my camera.  We had a wonderful shoot, laughing about our dogs and discussing modern romance novels.

I know Jeff earned some major brownie points for nominating Gabrielle, and he was also rewarded with some timeless, elegant portraits of his gorgeous wife, and their daughter will someday treasure these as well.  Way to show the rest of the guys how it’s done, Jeff!

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Ashley & Carol's Mother-Daughter Day

I find so much joy, such a sense of meaning in photographing a woman – in watching her let her guard down and allow herself to truly be seen, and in capturing the beauty she sometimes catches glimpses of in the bathroom mirror.  I love the teary eyes we both get after I take a few shots and show her the image on the back of my camera – and in that moment we realize we’ve found her – the authentic, soul-bearing beauty she’s never seen or that’s been lost to her.  I didn’t think I could love anything more – until I had the opportunity to photograph two women together.  To witness and capture the amazing bond between this mother and daughter was a true honor.  Here are some of Ashley’s words from our first conversation about their photo shoot.

 “My mom is my very best friend in the whole world…..  She's beautiful inside and out but will never admit it. She's the most selfless woman I know, and she would do anything in the world for anyone, especially her children and her family. She sends cards to me sometimes… just because she knows they will make me smile. She sends my dog monthly dog boxes full of toys and treats just because! She's the most thoughtful and loving person that I know, and I strive to be like her every single day... I don't think she feels natural in front of the camera but I wish that she would so that her beauty could truly shine through in a photograph. She never wants me to take photos of her or of us together even at holidays...but I want those memories of her and with her, and photos are the best way to capture that…”

Since Ashley and her mom Carol live in different states, I was especially excited for them to have a day together, simply focusing on themselves and the bond they share. 

As you’ve probably gathered, my portrait sessions are every bit as much about the experience of being photographed as they are about the portraits themselves.  It’s priority one for a woman in my studio to truly enjoy herself, to feel special and valued, through the hair, makeup, and photography portions of the shoot. 

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There are always laughs – often of the snorting variety – and many times tears of joy – but the photo shoot experience is a memorable and valuable experience tailored to each client and one that is all the richer when shared with someone you love - your mom, your sister, your best friend.  Since my clients are already looking fabulous after their session, they often take advantage of a perfect opportunity to enjoy an evening out on the town together.

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As I head out to the post office to mail Ashley and her mom their portraits, I am grateful for the honor of capturing them individually and creating mother-daughter portraits they can both cherish for years to come.  

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Tell Me Your Story: Photo Shoot Giveaway

If you've followed me for a bit you may have noticed the sound of crickets coming from my general direction lately, but only because I've been working hard to make the studio experience I offer and the portraits I create to be both beautiful and unforgettable.  This summer has included sleepless nights of painting and sanding, long days of online classes, model calls, and long walks to reconnect with myself and my passions.  And after all of it I am ready: ready to serve my fellow woman through beautiful portraits on a full-time basis.  

 

With my youngest child starting school next week, I am able to fully launch my business.  In celebration of this new beginning,  I am announcing a little contest!  I will honor 15 women with complimentary photo shoots (each valued at $300) during the month of September.  I'm accepting submissions now through next Friday, August 14th.  Tell me your story, and enter to win a portrait session customized for YOU.  

Here's how it works:

  • Tell me about yourself using the contact form below this post. What's your story? How would this portrait experience benefit you?  Have you undergone a body transformation?  Would you like to do something just for yourself for a change?  Would you finally like to have a photograph of yourself that you love?  Tell me all about it!
  •  I will select 15 winners based on their stories. Nominate yourself, a friend, a loved one, or all of the above.
  • Winners receive my signature portrait experience (a $300 value), including personal consultation to style your shoot, professional hair and makeup, 3-4 hour photo shoot, and in-person image reveal.
  • There is a $150 retainer fee that is applied 100% toward print credit, and I am DOUBLING that print credit to give you $300 toward any purchase from your photo shoot.

Please note:

  • The retainer fee is not refundable.
  • The print credit is not redeemable for cash.
  • Cancellations and rescheduling must occur no later than 7 days before your scheduled portrait session.

What I need from you:

  • Signed model release (your images will be shown in print and online media)
  • Your availability for a portrait session at my studio between September 1st and October 1st.

This is a great opportunity to do something just for you, or to help give this gift to someone you love.  My philosophy is that the experience of taking these photographs is just as enjoyable and memorable as the portraits themselves.  I can't wait to read your story.  Submit your nomination below!  

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My Own Before & After

"I want you to know: Your weight is the least interesting thing about you... [T]hat's not what you see when you look at someone you love.  That's your partner, your child, your parents, your best friend. You are not the size of your jeans, you are the love you have for others, the love that comes straight out of your eyes. [Y]ou are the laughter you bring, the comfort in your voice the nurturing in your hands, the patience in your listening, the warmth in your hug and the trust and knowing that you are part of my life and I am part of yours."     -Sue Bryce

It's sometimes hard to understand these words while you put on a pair of jeans that used to be in your 'fat' pile and pull them up snuggly over your muffin top, or when you look at photos of yourself and feel disgust.  For anyone who has ever struggled with their weight or some other physical imperfection, this is for you (so I think that pretty much means all of us).  While I've gotten better at putting myself in front of the camera, I don't believe I have improved much in the way of sharing photographs of myself, even if I like them.  Clicking the 'post' button is excruciating.  I am surrounded by supportive family and friends, and always receive positive feedback, but it remains difficult to put myself under the scrutiny of others.  That being said, I'm determined to to be an example.  We should learn to stamp out the voices of self hate (that sometimes drown out any positivity), and exist in beautiful photographs.  Yes, like many things in our lives, we should do it for our children, for our loved ones, to preserve ourselves forever for them.  But darn it....(and this one is much harder to accept for me), we DESERVE to have a photograph of ourselves that we LOVE.  So even on those difficult days (or weeks/months) we can glance at that photograph and be reminded of how much our inner beauty really radiates outward.  It's much more than the hair and the makeup.  It's a glimpse of you at your best - the way you look in the mirror when you're all dressed up and happy, the way your loved ones see you.  It's capturing the beauty that you radiate in that moment. 

I decided to do my own 'before and after' photographs, just to show that anyone can do this, regardless of body type, age, or skin condition.  After gaining a bit of weight over the past 18 months and suffering from terrible acne, I haven't wanted to be photographed until I lost the weight.  But it is my hope that we can accept and love and value ourselves as we are, even if we do want to change things.  A huge part of moving forward with change is acceptance.  We can stop waiting to be perfect, because we will never find that perfection.

And so, I give you my BEFORE:

And my AFTER:

Yes I am wearing makeup and yes I've gently retouched my skin to remove the imperfections that really bother me.  I have set up the lighting (natural light) and the posing so that my best features are emphasized and my own shortcomings (my weight) are downplayed.  I love this photograph.  

We are not defined by our imperfections - they just become all we see - and the reason we shy away from the camera.  We deserve more.  We are all beautiful.  If I can quiet the voice of self-hate long enough to create a portrait of myself that I love, and even go a step further and SHARE it with all of you, anyone can.  #existinphotos



The Mother Daughter Portrait

"A daughter is a mother's gender partner, her closest ally in the family confederacy, an extension of herself.  And mothers are their daughters' role model, their biological and emotional road map, the arbiter of all their relationships."  -unknown

While I am lucky to be the mother of both a son and daughters, I can say unequivocally that my daughter's birth and newborn days were filled with an indrescribable joy and excitement.  A girl.  A shopping buddy.  A dear friend.  A beloved daughter.  There is truly something unique about the connection between mothers and daughters.  It is a bond that should be celebrated and captured.  I am so excited to share with you the images from my first mother-daughter portrait session.

My friend Susan is the director of my children's preschool, a bubbly and vivacious mother of two who lights up a room.  I am so encouraged by her lack of hesitation to be photographed with her daughters. I really think people who work with children for a living "get it" in a way that some of us just don't.  They live in the moment, they deeply understand how quickly kids grow up, and they revel in their innocence, honesty, and beauty.  I was so excited to photograph someone who "gets it".  It was wonderful to see the love and connection between this mother and her middle school age daughter.  

We began our shoot with professional hair and makeup for all.

Toward the end of our session, Susan had some words I didn't expect to hear:

'We really needed this.  The time we spent together today was amazing.  Most weekends we are running from place to place, and today we just enjoyed each other.'

I had completely discounted the value of the experience of the mother-daughter session.  The excitement and relaxation of the hair and makeup, the laughter between shots, even the embraces and squeezes that were planned poses.

  Susan and her girls don't just have these portraits to hold close through the years.  They have wonderful memories of the fun had creating them.  My heart is just singing with joy.

I always feel an extreme sense of gratitude as my clients leave my little studio.  This mother-daughter session was no exception.  Thank you Susan for encouraging me, without even knowing it, to stop waiting for perfection I will never find in myself, to exist in photographs for my children now, just as I am.  Images from my own mother-daughter shoot coming very soon.  Until then, I leave you with a few more shots of this beautiful family.

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