Photography Exercises

American Bounty

Jefferson Memorial



Washington Memorial



The Breadline, FDR Memorial


Happy Thanksgiving,


What are you thankful for?




I had been tossing and turning beneath the snuggly comfort of my toasty warm covers for two endless hours in the middle of a winter night trying to figure out why I was so uncharacteristically restless. It wasn’t because my beloved had been sawing logs beside me like a woolly mammoth with a head cold. It wasn’t because I was stressed over how I was probably setting my kids up for a lifetime of failure because I let them watch back-to-back-to-back episodes of Dora the Explorer and eat their dinner in front of the television twice that week (gasp!). Then, in one of those cheesy made-for-tv moments, I surprised even myself when I suddenly sat bolt upright in bed (who does that?!). A calmness I’ll never forget wrapped itself around my shoulders and I breathed a sigh of relief, then said out loud to Brian, “I have to do something tomorrow.” He didn’t hear me. It didn’t matter. I knew.

I submitted my SOAR! application video two weeks later.

Thirty-six blog posts, seven video blogs, one hundred twenty-six images, ninety-seven slices of cheese pizza, forty-five glasses of wine (not all in a row) and nearly 365 days later, I am utterly and blissfully exhausted (yep, a whole lot of pizza and a glass of wine gets many a blog post written, my friends).

I imagine it’s the mental version of exhausted that a marathoner feels as she approaches the finish line. We’ve established my three criteria for running, right? (If you need a refresher, click here). Even if Robert Downey, Jr. was waiting at the finish line for me with a plate of cupcakes and a foot rub, I still wouldn’t run 26.2 miles to get a long-lasting congratulatory smooch from the guy. Sorry, love.

All the hours spent training, the blisters, chafing and tendinitis aside though, I get it. I get why marathoners do it. They do it for the same reason I applied for SOAR: I knew I could do it. Thankfully I don’t have the black toenails to show for it, but I’ve been steadily logging mile after mile, week after week, heading in the direction of a start line disguised as a finish line.

I’ve seen so many of you along the side of the road, enthusiastically waving your signs and shouting words of much-needed encouragement in your blog comments to me. We’ve shared dinners and drinks, Skyped, Facebooked, messaged and even shot together along the way. I’ve even gotten the pleasure of meeting some of you in person (truly a highlight for me) in a few of Me Ra’s CONFIDENCE workshops this past year. You all can’t possibly know how much I treasure these unexpected gifts from my year as a SOAR Recipient.

No one has cheered more loudly, pushed me harder, or believed in me more than the voice you heard in the outtakes of all those video blogs. I can write volumes about this guy, but really, this just about says it all: Brian, my love, I will always pick up the cat puke spray on the way back home to you. photo of ali and brian courtesy of jenn johnston at the 2011 DC workshop

I didn’t buy a camera to take pictures of my kids. I bought a camera because I lacked a piano. Since entering Smotherhood, I desperately needed to reconnect with the creative person inside of me and it was easier to store a camera in my closet than a piano. Everyone has to start somewhere, but when I think about where I started, I get a little embarrassed of things like sun spots on people’s heads, shooting with the wrong white balance, and funky skin tones:

In reality though, failures like those gave birth to images like these over the past year:



I know (and even hope) I will continue to make mistakes, although less frequently. It’s probably the most effective way I know of to improve.

As I approach the start line disguised as a finish line, I don’t know exactly where I’m headed. Does anyone really? With my list of What Ifs in hand, I know that I will put beautiful images into the world. I know that I will continue to tell the stories that surround them. Most of all, I know that when you wake up in the middle of the night and you hear the voice that says, “take this risk,” you should always, always listen.

From the bottom of my heart, thanks for SOARing alongside me this year.


New Beginnings…

Chose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. ~Confucius

This was always one of my favorite quotes growing up. Maybe I am a dreamer, but I believed this. As each year passes, I realize the true importance of living life to it’s fullest. That means waking up every day, if at all possible, doing what you love.

This past year, as a SOAR recipient, I was able to more fully explore what that looked like for me. I knew that I loved taking care of my family yet I loved capturing images, freezing the evidence of “that moment” into artwork, and longed to allow that creative process that I was subduing to be free. Me Ra, through SOAR, and it’s amazing partnerships helped me to bridge that divide this year.

AZ Confidence Workshop (before color correction class)

In someways, it seems like it was just yesterday that I prayed and opened myself up to whatever next step I was to make at this time in my life. I honestly wasn’t sure what would happen when I hit “send” on that video submission. I just knew that I was supposed to ask, seek, & knock on doors and the right one would open. So I find myself a year later writing this, my final post on this blog, and I am at a loss for words. How do I adequately express how blessed I have been? My goal this year when I began this journey was to “live out loud”. In other words, I wanted to finally live that quote at the top of this post in a manner that encompassed the other passions that I had, outside of mothering, in a way that would be fulfilling for me. I knew how to use my camera but I had forgotten how to get off the sidelines and cheer for myself as loudly as I did for others. I did not know how to run a business or even if I wanted to. To be able to find these answers in a community of supporters as loving as this group of women are was a blessing. Add to that the unbelievable gift of being able to do this with two amazing women, Rachel & Ali, who I know were sent to not only be friends but blessings in my life and maybe you can understand why I am at a loss for words.


While at the time I may have been squirming, I am so grateful to our business coaches at the Wisdom Connection. Karen asked the hard questions that I sometimes struggled to answer and Genie who was always able to offer me another prospective to consider. I love the glasses that you to look through. Thanks for helping me to clean mine. I now not only know how to use my camera, but I am also better prepared to handle the steps that must be taken to keep moving forward in the direction that I want to go. My fear of the unknown has been wrangled. It is never to late to move in the direction of your dreams. I hope that through photography, I can help other women not be afraid to let their “roar” out. I also hope to encourage young men & women moving into the different stages of their lives, to dare to be different and don’t stop believing in their dreams.

New Beginnings

I love the camera, both sides of it. It’s amazing that something so little can have so much power. I love photography. I love freezing moments. I love seeing people feel & look beautiful. I love that I can now do what I love and truly never work a day in my life. Confucius seemed to know a thing or two.

I thank you all for riding with us on this journey. You all really kept us encouraged during some of the tougher weeks. I would love to hear what nugget you all grabbed from this year. Please let me know in the comments or over on the forum.

Dream it & Own It!

Back to the Future

Knock Knock…who’s there? “Wendy Zippwald on behalf of Me Ra Koh to present you with the SOAR! Scholarship. Will you accept it?” Me: Ahhhhhh! Baby: Waaahhhh!!! Wasn’t it just yesterday that I scared my 5 month old baby when I found out I was a SOAR! recipient? Nope. That was about 10 months ago. Holy Cow!!!! Did this year just fly by or is it just me?

This year I have grown in so many ways. I have learned so many things from so many different people. I have found comfort and certainty where before there was none. I have added a new title for myself. Heck, I learned how to use a digital SLR camera!

After Wendy and Christine left my house, I was still in shock. I was so excited, honored, and scared! I was so nervous about being able to run a business while still being mommy. I was nervous I’d fail and let all of you down. I was simply nervous about learning to use the camera! Then my husband reminded that’s what this year was for-to learn. Who cares if my pictures weren’t perfect every time? (I did) Who cares that I might not have a booming business at the end of 2011? (I did) As long as I took in everything that was given and offered to me this year, it would be a success. He was right. (such a rare occurrence ;) And I truly feel that this year was a success. I have learned everything from what shutter speed is to how to figure out my target audience and almost everything in between.
When I first applied, I had just received my first dslr a week prior. I asked a girlfriend the best way to learn to use it. She pointed me one direction. Then the next day she emailed me and told me about SOAR! and that I should apply because I’d make a good photographer. And so I did. And here I am. I’ve always loved taking pictures (and being in them-not gonna lie!), I just never knew how much I loved it until this year. I never knew I could make a difference by capturing special moments. That’s another thing I figured out this year-what I want to do with my life. I want to make a difference in someone’s (or many people’s) life. Be it through photography or fitness (or a combo of the two-wouldn’t that be unreal!?), that is my life’s dream. Thanks to SOAR! I am completely confident that I can do just that!
Oh my word! I just looked at a couple of pictures from before my SOAR! time. Yipes! So many things….let’s take a look.

1.all the distractions on the floor, on the wall. 2. the yellow tint–ahh the yellow, story of my life before SOAR! 3. How about that line coming out of Pete’s head. 4. the shadows. oy.
Dont’ get me wrong-I love this picture! It was something they did together at that time and I love having captured it. Now, I know how to make it better for next time.

Or this one..

the distractions on the side. the flash. oy!

Fast forward……I have Me Ra’s workshop under my belt. Whoop!

Taken at the workshop. Not perfect, I cut off some of her head and his knees. But Much better than before!!!

And most recently…..

Captured at the first military homecoming I photographed. Though you can’t see his eyes, I don’t think you need to. Emotion, love, happiness. All right there. Bam! Now I’m on to something.

As the year has gone on, with my skills growing, so has my confidence. When I went into my first shoot, I was a wreck! I was so busy worrying about all the details that I don’t think I totally captured the essence of the little boy. His parents were happy, but I wasn’t overjoyed. Now, I go into a shoot and I’ve still got those nerves, just on a smaller level. I know that when I show the family their pictures, mom’s gonna love ‘em. Here’s one thing that I really, really love about how I’ve grown—most of the pictures I put in the proof gallery are unedited! That’s right…..I know that I know my camera because I”m not spending hours on end editing-that, folks, is something to be proud of!

I cannot say “THANK YOU!!!” enough to Me Ra and all the partners for giving me this awesome gift. You have changed my life more than you can imagine. Me Ra, your goal is to empower women-you have done that for me with this Scholarship-thank you isn’t enough.
I wouldn’t be right without thanking my husband-he is my biggest supporter. I love you-forever, a day, and then some.

And with that, I am ready to SOAR!

Smile an Go For It!


Woof Woof

I’m no expert on the theory of natural selection, but I’m guessing even Charles Darwin would agree with me that somewhere along the line we humans got genetically mixed up with puppies. Anyone who has had small children knows exactly what I’m talking about here: cute and cuddly one minute, peeing all over the kitchen floor the next. Darwin himself was a prolific contributor to the gene pool having had ten puppies kids. You know it crossed his mind once or twice while he was watching his rugrats chase their tails, then collapse into a deep, paw-twitching, REM stage of sleep. Clearly, parenting exhausted him so much that he left out a few chapters in his On the Origin of Species.

Actually, it crosses my mind every time I do a shoot with wee ones.  They look at you with those big, puppy dog eyes; a little cautious at first, but willing to approach for a sniff.  It also helps when you dangle lollipops in their direction (or steak-flavored lollipops if they are really carnivorous kids).

Once they’ve sniffed you and assessed your suitability as a playmate, they dart off; running for the hills in an attempt to engage you in the time-honored canine game of chase. I love this part because it means I don’t have to go to the gym on days when I shoot. Just chase and shoot. High shutter speeds help here unless you’re going for that blurred motion look (which I happen to really like).

Eventually, their parents start barking calling them to come back, offering treats for an obedient return. This is very helpful because at this point I’m usually huffing and puffing like an overweight house cat choking up a fur ball. And most of the wee ones figure if I’m willing to chase them, I’m probably willing to make a fool of myself in other ways too, so they become intrigued enough to sit and stay. Staaaaaaay….good girl!

…but only until they see a squirrel run up a tree and they’re off again.  They always come back to the pack for a snuggle though. One thing puppies kids love is a hearty romp with their pack mates.


And look! This pack is about to get a lot more rambunctious in a few months!


I’m busy finishing up mini-sessions for the fall, but first I need to go make sure my kids haven’t bitten the mailman, chewed my shoes or run away.


The great pumpkin patch

Halloween is an interesting time of year. All of the excitement and anticipation for all of the dressing up and candy that are awaiting to be consumed by the kids still amazes me. The last time we went to a pumpkin patch we got lost in one of the corn mazes. It was funny and scary at the same time. This time we chose to leave the mazes to the experts and go to a local patch which has a small petting zoo. While enjoying the time with my children was my primary goal, I also found myself trying to figure out when the crowds would be the lowest, but still be able to have the best possible lighting situation. We ended up going around 4pm in the afternoon. It was a blast watching my children mull over the pumpkins, estimate their approximate size and determine which ones they could carry. The rule was you can only get it if you can carry it. We went on to pet the animals and discuss the fairness of animals living in captivity, contained in cages and used for people to pet and observe. It did not expect that much out of a trip to the patch.

The field was open with very little areas of shade so it was interesting maneuvering the kids into optimal picture areas without interfering in their fun. Here are a few images that I was able to get from that day.

The trip was definitely more fun than I realized it would be. It was an eye opener to me to remember that children are never to old to play and be children. Fun was had by all. Did your family do the “pumpkin patch” trip? How did your images turn out and what tips and tricks did you find to get great images while keeping it stress free?

I would love to know.


Fall is here and that means it’s one of my favorite times of year….pumpkin time! I love almost everything pumpkin. Pumpkin Spice Lattes, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin patches! When I read that we were going to do a post on the pumpkin patch I was excited….We’d(my family) actually already been to the pumpkin patch.

Now here’s the thing….when I went to the pumpkin patch I was in mommy mode..not photographer mode. Have an of you ever experienced this? I have found that when I’m hanging with my fam I don’t always take into account where the light is coming from. I’m more concerned with getting my kiddos to look at the camera at the same time, and actually smile!
Unfortunately this is completely evident in my pictures from the pumpkin patch. (bummer!) Take a look…..

Why didn’t I go back and retake them for this post or for my family? Because the patch is an hour and half away!  Oy! So what’s a gal to do when she wants a good picture of her family with pumpkins?   Improvise in the backyard! Set up the pumpkins and my family; then get the camera ready and set it to timer mode. Push the button and get int he picture as fast as I can……

Until the dog walks in front of the camera!  Geez!!! Not to worry, I did get a good picture, but I have to save it for my holiday cards!
How do you deal with being in mommy mode vs photographer mode? Do you switch back and forth? How do you get photographer-worthy shots when not in a session? I’d love some help from the seasoned pros!

Smile and Go For It!!!


Kissing Frogs

It’s been awhile since I kissed a frog, so my memory could be a little sketchy here. The last one I kissed turned out to be a 6’3” guy of Swedish decent wearing cargo pants and a Phillies hat. He was holding a sparkly ring, so I figured that must be a good sign. I’m fairly certain that most of us (except a lucky few), have to kiss a few frogs before we find the winning amphibian. When you lay a big smooch on the right one though, you can’t help but hop off into the sunset as quickly as possible…in search of a photographer.

After having gone through the effort of all that frog research, you want more than anything for your dearest friends and family to see how blissfully happy you feel. That used to mean you found the closest JC Penny and walked out with a cheesy shot for the local newspaper. Today, thankfully, it means so much more.

Let’s take a moment and really think about what this means. It means as a civilization we should collectively pat ourselves on the back for elevating engagement photography to the moments you proudly dedicate wall and shelf space to. It means that photographers and brides could potentially join forces to save the United States Post Office from demise with the demand for delivery of those artful “Save the Date” cards. It means you can actually tell a couple to “get a room!” during an engagement shoot and it just makes them snuggle and laugh even more.

Sometimes when you’re photographing a couple, it’s like you’re Martin Scorsese and you’ve just yelled, “Cut!” on the most passionate scene of the film…except the actors didn’t hear you.

Or maybe they ignored me and this is just what inseparable looks like.

So now that I’ve spilled the images, it’s time to confess: I flagrantly cheated on this week’s SOAR! photography assignment. And I couldn’t have been happier to do so. See, it’s not every day Me Ra Koh pops into town for a CONFIDENCE workshop and asks you to tag along on some mini-sessions. And it’s not every day a gorgeous, already-married couple shows up for their mini-session during the most glorious golden hour of a perfect October day in historic Georgetown. Cha-chiiiing.

I couldn’t help myself. With lens candy as yummy as these two lovebirds, how can you not max out your memory card?





It starts with a dream…

Join me for an episode of what happens when plans get changed and improvisation is required! Our assignment this week was to capture an engaged couple. I had several engagement sessions over the last few months, unfortunately not of them included a video camera. After putting a few requests out there and even asking a few couples down at my local city hall (all whom declined) justice of the piece, it was obvious that Plan B was necessary.

The images are of my wonderful friends Marques & Tiana. They were so amazing to work with. We had so much fun! Their love was so strong and their personalities so sweet that it I almost forgot I was working. When work feels like play, you know you are on to something good. Tiana & Marques have also given me the honor of capturing their special day next summer! Obviously I am beyond excited. Also, Tiana is an extremely talented graphic designer who makes residence over at Cat Lady Designs Online. If you are in need of a logo, website or graphic design project check her out and tell her I sent you! Tiana & Marques, thank you for giving me the opportunity to document the prelude to your special day! You guys rock!

It is fun seeing the interaction between people in love. Looking at the obvious yet, finding that different perspective is also very enjoyable to me. The intensity of real love, real emotions & real joy that people are able to see in their images excite me.

Have you nailed down your favorite subjects point your cameras at yet or new ways to work within the standard venues?