Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Woman in the Red Dress

This is me.

Hair up in a pony tail, comfy clothes, no makeup, surrounded by family and flanked by to-do lists that never seem to end. I'm a mom, a wife and a small business owner and not one of those things lends itself to having a whole lot of free time. I know that I am not alone in this. Many, if not most, of the other mommas I know have a pretty similar story.
We wake up early and get our kids out of bed. We harass them until they're ready for school and send them out the door with a hug and a sack lunch we threw together at the last minute while berating them for not brushing their teeth...again.
We may or may not change out of our jammies, but we do run the errands, sweep the floors, answer client calls and emails, wash and fold the laundry (let's be honest here, we don't put the laundry away. That's simply asking too much) and avoid cleaning the toilet at all costs. We pick our little ones up from the bus stop, help with homework, switch out loads of dishes in the dishwasher, fix dinner, brush teeth, read bedtime stories, and then stay up an additional few hours trying to finish all the work stuff we didn't have time to during the day.
Wash, rise, repeat.

I am grateful every day for this truly beautiful life; it's full of care and love and all the warmth and security of family life. In between the routine stuff are the moments that make it all worthwhile; hugs and kisses and "I love yous," quiet moments on the couch together, tickle fights and baseball games and all that jazz.

This is who I am.

But it is not ALL that I am.

This is ALSO me.

I'm a seriously bad @$$ fashion and portrait photographer who is making a career out of capturing the beauty of my clients. I'm damn good at what I do. I love to wear a beautiful dress, you know, the kind that you would probably never have a legitimate reason to wear? Having my hair and makeup done is, no joke, one of my favorite experiences ever. Pamper me! Take me to a fancy dinner, let me eat something I can't pronounce, serve me some wine and then take me to the art gallery. Talk to me about philosophy and history and the human condition. Let's check out the latest Reem Acra designs and drool over Demarchelier's work. I'm brave, I'm opinionated, and I'm the woman in the red dress.

Amidst the chores and homework, between battles of will with my 2 year old, homemade fettucini noodles and the snot that somehow got wiped on my shirt, I am STILL the woman in the red dress. That part of me is just as legitimate as the part that makes lunches and folds laundry and reads bedtime stories.

Not every woman is a stay at home mom. Maybe your day consists of a subway ride, a business suit, long meetings and hastily eaten lunches. But the premise remains true for all of us. We can be who we are every day, but still take the time to celebrate the beauty of our WHOLE selves.
I spend a lot of time trying to convince women of their beauty. I think, maybe, woman have been tricked by society and the simple habit of daily routine into thinking that the woman in the red dress isn't really who they are, or who they should want to be. The woman in the red dress is always someone else, but never them. Caught up in the routine of every day life, they let the red dress stay in the closet and gather dust. Oh, they day dream about her but they rarely, if ever, take her out dancing.

I'm here to tell you that you ARE still, and always will be, the woman in the dress. Don't be ashamed of her or forget that she's in there. The Cinderella story IS true every time you stop trying to hide the side of yourself that you feel too guilty to show.

I want to send out a clarion call to every woman out there who is convinced that the woman she sees in the mirror every day is the only valid side of herself, who thinks that the glamorous side of herself is just a day dream, who feels too guilty or self conscious to buy herself a beautiful dress or to spend the time to get her hair done or put on a little makeup. I know you. I AM you. I want to tell you this: you do NOT have to be ashamed! Don't hide. Don't be afraid. Break out the red dress and wear it for all you are worth! Embrace ALL of yourself, because you are valuable, complex, unique, and dammit you LOVE glitter and that's okay!

I'm not going to be ashamed of the woman in the red dress anymore.

I am her. She is me. We are beautiful.
I am beautiful.

Are you ready to release the woman in the red dress?

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Portrait Photographer's Love Letter

Hey You!

I know it's pretty crazy, me writing this love letter to you when we haven't even met, but I just wanted to let you know that I've been thinking about you a lot. Actually, I've been thinking about you for a long time, now- years, in fact. I think about how amazing it is that you were born into this world so absolutely unique that there is no one else like you in existence. I think about how beautiful you are, and how that body that houses your soul is incredibly special, and that includes that mole you always try to hide and the scars you can't.

You always tell yourself that you're a bit weird but, honestly, that's part of what I love about you! That thing that makes you secretly feel different from your friends...I think it's inspiring. You are so complex that I spend hours a day wondering what I could possibly do to show you just how special you really are. Yeah, I know that you're just a regular person living a regular life like everyone else and I know that you have problems, too.

The thing is, I can see how those struggles have made you stronger, wiser, and more resilient. Actually, there is quite a lot I can read in your face. The line between your brows tells me you've been thinking long and hard about how to handle the problems in your life. That twinkle in your eye says that you're mischievous.The fine lines around your eyes say louder than words that you love to smile and laugh, and that you do it a lot. Kindness and humor are there at the corners of your mouth, but somehow you can't see it as clearly as I can.

So here I am, sitting at my computer and thinking about you in all your wonderful, messy, unique glory and I'm wracking my brain trying to come up with ways to get you to notice me. How could I possibly get your attention to tell you all the things that are on my heart when there are a million advertisements pointed directly at you telling you that you aren't good enough, smart enough, cool enough, fit enough, or stylish enough BUT if you buy some product or pay for some procedure, you might be.

How can I show you that my greatest desire is to capture some part of the unique essence of who you are, to create a piece of art that you can look at to see just a little bit of the incredible person that I see when I look at help you see the one of a kind person, one of a kind beauty, one of a kind character that makes people love you?

I guess all that I can say is this: all the years that I've spent learning my craft and perfecting my technique, all the time I spent away from my kids practicing, all the money I invested, all those sleepless nights, every mistake and every victory...those were all to prepare me for meeting YOU one day. Where I am today, it's because I knew I might meet you eventually and you might grant me the privilege to show you just how truly extraordinary you are.

So, when you're going through your day to day life and feeling like maybe you really are just one crayon in the box, one thread in the tapestry, another shade of grey in a black and white painting...give me a call. Let me show you the heartbreaking beauty that is YOU, so that you'll always know what I know: there is no one else who can fill your place in this world.

You are exquisite.


Your Portrait Photographer

Friday, October 16, 2015

You Aren't Using Off Camera Flash...But You Should Be

I need to get something off my chest, so let me say it loud and clear: there is no badge of honor in a photographer calling themselves a "natural light photographer."
Any photographer worth their salt should constantly strive to master light: ALL light. There are times when Natural light simply wont cut it on it's own. In such cases, many photographers fall back on Photoshop to make up for the lack of light and, as a result, they end up spending valuable time in front of a computer screen when they could be doing other things; like shooting, marketing, filling orders, spending time with their families, writing the next great American novel, etc...

As a photographer, you must master light. As a businessperson, you want your work to stand out from the crowd. Why? Because as long as your work looks the same as everyone else’s work, you’re competing with them for business based almost solely on price. If your work is unique, then you’ve elevated yourself from being a common commodity to offering something people can only get from one place: you. One of the best ways you can elevate yourself is by your technique and use of light.
This allows you to not only have command of the light no matter what the conditions are like outside, but also to make sure that the light you choose fits your needs and flatters your subject.

There was a time when portraits were taken almost exclusively in a studio. Now, most portraiture tends to happen out of doors. I spent the last couple of hours going through a huge list of photographers on Facebook and looking at their images and you know what? There was almost NO difference between any of their work. It was almost all taken outside in natural light with a shallow depth of field and little or no additional light. Aside from some technical details like lens compression and glass quality, an average client would not have been able to tell one photographer from another.

One of the most common critiques I could make in regards to these images is something that happens very often when you take a portrait outside: the eyes are too dark and the exposure on the subject is almost exactly the same as the exposure on the background, which means the subject isn’t differentiated from their surroundings except by the depth of field.
This is something that can be handled easily with a flash.

Electronic Flash can be used in a myriad of ways but the one I'm going to cover in this post is one of the most simple: fill flash.
Fill can be done with everything from a flash to a reflector or any surface that can bounce enough light back into your subjects face to fill in the dark shadows that tend to pool beneath the brow bones, cheeks and nose. Since eyes are generally the most important aspect of a portrait, bright eyes are a big deal.

The reason I'd suggest a flash as opposed to a reflector or other device is simple: most photographers making a go of it out there are solo shooters. They need something easy, effective, portable, flexible, and with enough power to get the job done. A speedlite or other electronic flash fits the bill.
While simple fill can be done with your flash attached to the camera if you need to move quickly, most professionals will suggest moving your flash off camera in order to create a more natural and flattering light angle. All you'll need in order to do that is a set of triggers and a place to put your flash. For the examples I'm going to show in this post, I used two Hahnel TUFF triggers and mounted the Canon 580 exII Speedlite on a tripod. Simple, lightweight, and easily maneuverable for a single shooter.

Light fill is easily achieved by pulling up the white fill card on your flash head and firing the flash in a safe direction (generally at the sky or to the side, if you're shooting in portrait orientation.) If your flash doesn't have a fill card, you can easily rubberband a white notecard to your flash head for the exact same effect.
The fill card takes just a bit of light and reflects it toward your subject to fill in the shadows. If your flash is in Manual mode, you can easily adjust the power to suit your needs.

I took a few simple photos that are very similar to the outdoor portraits that are so common right now, and then added some fill flash.
The simple examples below have only been edited to adjust the color a bit, but otherwise are almost exactly as they came out of my camera.

If you can see the difference with simple fill, imagine what you could do with a thorough grasp of all your flash was capable of!

We will be getting to THAT in another post.

For now, if you have a flash that has been gathering dust, grab that sucker and go experiment with it! Even if it's just to play with fill and see what the difference looks like in your own work, you won't regret it.

Stay tuned and we will get more in depth with the other things your flash is capable of.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Family Portraits With A Twist

I'm going to admit to something: there was a time when I thought that I didn't like photographing families.
I would get contacted by a family and we would set up a shoot and I would head out to a park somewhere near sunset and I would take their portraits. Then I would go home and edit the photos and the whole time I would be groaning to myself because I would have rather been doing anything else. I thought that maybe family portraiture wasn't for me. Maybe I should stop offering it so that people could go to other photographers who loved photographing families. After all, I want people to have amazing portraits of themselves that they cherish and they're much more likely to have images they love and have a great experience if they're working with a photographer who is passionate about their work. They could offer something to these families that I couldn't.
It wasn't until my first conceptual shoot that I realized something; I didn't dislike photographing families at all. I just disliked photographing families the way everyone else was doing it. In fact, the industry is SO saturated with the exact same photograph just repeated over and over again with different families that it almost feels like running people through an assembly line: here's a family, here's a park (or a field or a beach) here's a sunset, wash, rinse, repeat.
 I found myself so drawn to fashion photography because it was DIFFERENT. It was artistic. Every session was new.
Recently, I was thumbing through a Vanity Fair magazine and found myself wondering, "why can't I photograph families like that?"
Something clicked in my head and I realized then that I DID have something to offer the families, I could offer them something no one else would have...I could give them the fantasy.

We live in the mundane every day; mowing lawns and making beds, cleaning up cereal messes and wiping down toilets, commuting to work and helping with homework, driving to baseball practice and staying up late to finish that report for our boss. These little things are important and even beautiful in their own way but, since they make up our every day life, we tend to grow so used to them that they don't spark our imagination anymore.
There is a reason that people love a Cinderella story. It tells everyone's heart that the dream isn't just a fantasy; you CAN live it. That's where I can help. That's what I can give.

I have a chance to take people out of their  mundane lives and create a bit of magic that I can capture forever in a work of art.

I can introduce you to Peter and take you off to Neverland

I can add a bit of Fairy Magic to a little girls life

I can bring my hair and makeup team and give a family the full fashion experience

I can take you out of the routine of your day to day life give you the chance to live the fantasy for a little while, and create a piece of artwork that will let you re-live it for the rest of your life.

Give me a call and let's find out what YOUR fantasy is so we can make it a reality.

Monday, October 5, 2015

1 Step to Looking Great in Every Picture

In this blog post I am going to share the one, surefire way to look great in any photograph.

STEP ONE: Get in front of the camera.

That's it! You are now photogenic. Good job!

Seriously, that's all it takes.

Will it make you a supermodel? No. Only one in a thousand people have the kind of bone structure that makes photographers weak in the knees. That isn't the important thing, and it's not why we want to photograph you.

You deserve to exist in photographs. Not because of your looks, either. Because you are the only YOU there is. No one can ever replicate or replace that. You will never be made more valuable by makeup, the loss of 5 pounds, or perfect teeth.

You are irreplaceable. The people who love you deserve to have images of you and you deserve to see yourself as exactly what you are: unique, irreplaceable, one of a kind.

My favorite part of being a portrait artist, though, is creating a fantasy world where you get to see yourself not only as the special snowflake you are, but also as the person you dream of being.

Monday, August 31, 2015

When All Your Work Sucks

I was trying to think of a super clever way to open this blog post; something about how everything happens in seasons and you have to go through the winter in order to enjoy the spring and blah blah blah, but all of it just sounded trite so I scrapped it.
It feels a lot more honest to simply say that I'm kinda bummed out right now because I'm going through a phase where I feel like all my work sucks.
I'm not looking for compliments or pity or anything like that because I know that this is a phase and I know it will pass but the honest truth of it is that it's really hard to be an artist, and even harder to earn money doing it.
The whole seasons thing is a really overused metaphor but it's accurate. I've noticed that I will go though a period of immense growth where I'm seeing a lot of change in my work and I'm feeling excited and fulfilled and I'm happy with just about everything that comes out of my camera. Shortly after that, I will hit some kind of bump in the road where I look at my portfolio and I just want to pour bleach in my eyes.
There's no knowing what will cause that sudden change, it could be anything, but it's always something that makes me question the value and quality of the work I'm putting out. Maybe I didn't get a job I was hoping for, or a sale was less than I expected, or an editorial that I thought was amazing didn't get picked up, or whatever it is, and I start questioning myself which just poisons everything I look at.
It's a frustrating thing, but now that I've gone through it more than a couple of times I'm able to recognize something. Phases like this always push me to get better.
This is the time I start ruthlessly culling my work and narrowing down what I put in my portfolio.
This is the time I feel hungry to learn everything that I can about my profession.
This is the time that I'm able to look past the emotional attachment and be more objective about my work.
This is the time it becomes easier for me to recognize how much I still have to learn, how far I still have to go, how hungry I am to become the best at what I do.

When this season of sucky work comes to an end, I my passion and creativity will be rekindled and I will be out again, chasing the dream.

For now, I'm just going to shoot through it, try to make amazing images, and spend way too much money on junk I don't need...and chocolates.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Helicopters, Explosions and Beautiful Women; Birthing a Composite

Not too long ago I got the wonderful opportunity geek out a little bit. I've been watching James Bond movies since I was a little girl and I've always loved the action and intrigue. When one of the models I love to work with, Miss Amberlyn, contacted me with an idea for a shoot and tossed out the words "spy" and "helicopters" I was on board without having to think twice.
We were lucky enough to work with Northwest Helicopters Incorporated who gave us access to the Tarmac, and Yellarich Productions on hair and makeup.
If you've been following along on my Follow Sarah Blogposts, you'll know that I've got an intern, Sarah, who is really hitting the ground running in her photography business. She got the fun job of being VAL, my Voice Activated Lightstand, as well as grabbing bags and making brilliant suggestions like, "you might not want that bright orange flag in the shot."

I wanted to approach this shoot with a very cinematic feel, using my vast knowledge of spy movies as inspiration. And while the photographs were stunning strait out of camera, (SOOC, for all you photogs out there) I couldn't help but think...what is a spy movie without a good explosion?

*Cue mad photoshop skills*


Unfortunately, you don't just get to have explosions on a commercial Tarmac in the middle of your state's capital, so I knew I would have to composite one in. I first needed to find a stock photo of an explosion since I don't have a very good chance of photographing one of my own...unfortunately. I searched around on to find an explosion that I liked the look of but was also on approximately the same angle as my photograph was.

Here is a fun look at the image from start to finish.

This shot is SOOC (straight out of camera)
I shoot in neutral, which means that no contrast, sharpening or saturation is added to the image in camera. It will look a little bit dull, but it gives me a lot of range while editing.

This is the stock explosion

And the image after compositing the explosion in and adding a bit of reflection on the helicopter and some orange light that would be there if the explosion were really there, adding a sense of realism

Finally, I needed to do some color work to give the image a more cinematic feel.