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Wonder Women

So, the best part of this job from a functional perspective is that I provide people with memories they can look back on forever. I think that's true of any photographer. 

Unquestionably the best side effect of this job, however, is how many amazing people I get to meet in the process. At this point, I've worked with...I don't know. Hundreds of different people? Families, teenagers, weddings, babies and new parents. Name it and we've done it. And so many of the people I've met have been these incredibly strong and supportive women. 

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Today is International Women's Day, and like most of you reading this, I've spent some time today reflecting on the women in my life. Start with my wife and daughter, then to my moms (mom and mom-in-law), and sisters, and so forth - I have just been so ridiculously blessed. They're smart. They're strong. They're confident. They're beautiful. They are, in so many ways, blueprints of what I want to continue to raise Ellie to be, even as she adds her own input to the pile with each passing year. 

And I see the same thing virtually every time I go on a shoot. It never fails to just impress the hell out of me. Moms riding herd on the kids and trying to keep them in the same geographical vicinity for family pics. Young women standing proudly as they take their marriage vows, laughing as they take their first dance, and shedding a tear or two as they hug their own mom once the night has settled down and they've had a chance to breathe. High school seniors who are on the cusp of figuring out who they are; she's confident but still searching for something, with her mom usually watching from off to the side, wondering how in the heck 18 years went by this quickly. 

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You learn a lot about people, as a photographer. I think you have to want to enjoy that part of it if you want to succeed. You can't be dispassionate in this business when the job is about emotion. And I have learned so much from the ladies who have appeared in front of my lens and those I've gotten to know off-camera. I've gotten to know them through joy and tragedy and seen them navigate both with unfailing grace. 

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Part of me still thinks it's a shame we need to make it a formal day to recognize your importance, ladies. It should be understood at this point. But then, the other part of me is glad for it. You deserve to have it shouted from the rooftops.

Wonder Women, one and all. 

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Sometimes, it's not about quality. It's about the story you're telling.


So, this is going to be a bit of a sentimental post, and probably a rambler. I can't really tell yet. Much like Michael Scott in The Office, sometimes I just start a sentence or a paragraph or, heck, a blog post, and hope I figure out where I'm going as I write. All I know is I feel like I need to get something out on paper, and this blinking cursor and blank white page represents the digital pencil and notepad of my generation. 

This is a blog, and a site, about photography. But sometimes I think it's good for you guys to get to know me a little bit, even if that means showing a little vulnerability. So, in the spirit of such sentiment, here goes. 

I lost one of my dogs yesterday. I should say "we" lost one of "our" dogs yesterday, because my wife is feeling it as painfully am I, and even though our six-year-old doesn't quiiiiiite seem to fully grasp what's going on, she gets the gist and is sad. And yes, by "lost" I don't mean she ran off. We had to have her put to sleep. 

See, Katie and I have been married for more than a decade. And the first grownup decision we made together, after getting married, was to buy a house. The second, a bit later, was to get a dog. Katie is mad allergic to pets, but does well with her folks' cairn terrier because they're a breed that apparently trends toward the hypoallergenic end of the scale. And Brindle, as he's named, had a ton of personality, which we loved. So searched for a cairn terrier pup, found one, and just like that we brought Sasnak (Kansas spelled backward, but we just call her Sassy) home. And for a year we adjusted to life with the three of us. It was fantastic. But then we began to wonder about the both of us being gone at work all day. That didn't seem fair to her, did it? She needed a buddy, right?

So almost a year later we once again went on the hunt for a cairn terrier puppy, a companion for Sassy. We found one, drove to Kearney, Mo., and came home with Lady Bexar. I know the name looks funny, but it's pronounced Lady Bear. Bexar is the name of the county where my wife is from in Texas, which houses her hometown of San Antonio, and is also a nod to Lady Bird Johnson. We figured the first one got a Kansas name, the second one would get a Texas name. 

They were yin and yang in so many ways. Sassy was crazy and classic terrier. Lady was more quiet and reserved, even timid. Sassy was dark coated, Lady was blonde. But they were best buddies from the start. 

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THREE DAYS after we got Lady, we found out Katie was pregnant with Ellie. Three days. We both kind of threw our hands up and looked skyward like, "Are you freaking kidding me?!" more than once. But, of course, it turned out to be this huge blessing. Lady was such a laid back puppy, and she loved to snuggle against Katie's belly during naps. When she wasn't playing with Sassy, she was in Katie's lap or somewhere in the vicinity. 

Then we brought Ellie home, and while Sassy was a little more standoffish (that changed as Ellie got older), Lady couldn't get enough of the baby. She ALWAYS had to be near her. She wanted to see her and constantly try to lick her. Every time Ellie cried, Lady would whine. When we would lay Ellie down on our bed, Lady would roll up next to her. 

See? I'm rambling. What I'm trying to impart here is that Lady was a people dog. And I am so a dog person. She absolutely loved her family. She was the kind of dog who was so beyond excited to see you when you got home. When she wagged her tail, her whole butt shook with it. She would growl her excitement at you, and you couldn't help but talk back. As the years went by, she never lost that but she just became this comforting presence in the house. As my mom put it, she was the reason to Sassy's joyful craziness. But she permeated our lives in so many ways. She was the little bundle of body heat next to you on the couch, or the growl in the background playing tug with her sister. She was the pup sitting at the end of the bed, those big ears flicking like radar dishes at the slightest sound. God help me, she was the ear-shattering bark in the middle of the night whenever Sassy would hear a squirrel in the back yard and go berserk, rampaging out the dog door to administer dog justice as loudly as possible.

I deal with depression and general anxiety disorder. It's not fun, but it's something I just have to deal with. With medicine, and support from those I love, I get by. But I swear to God, I cannot tell you how many times I'd be having an absolute terrible day, the kind my mind had convinced me was the worst - that was never going to end - and what do I hear but a "thump" of a golden body landing on the couch cushions, the pressure of her as she settled next to me, and the weight of Lady's head resting in my lap. 

Friday, we noticed a change in her behavior. We hoped maybe she just caught a bug. By Sunday night we knew it wasn't just a bug. Monday morning we went to the vet, and our worst fears were confirmed. And Monday afternoon we came home to a house a little more empty, with hearts a little less complete.

I try to take solace in the fact that Lady isn't suffering, that she won't suffer anymore. Another bit of wisdom I learned from my mom is that dogs give us 100% of their love, everything they have, while they're with us. They ask nothing in return. And when they reach the end, for us to keep them through discomfort and even pain is like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. You have to ask yourself who you're really helping. The friendly, happy, playful dog I'd known for 7.5 years was gone, and in her place was a dog who wouldn't eat, would barely go outside, would barely drink, and would have slept in the same spot 24 hours a day if we hadn't moved her. 

But I miss her. You know? It doesn't seem right that the world keeps spinning, oblivious to the fact that this awesome creature who changed my family's life is no longer here. But it does. And it doesn't mean we don't have responsibilities. I'm working, Ellie is at school, Katie has school and work. But I've got this hole in my heart that keeps getting more raw by the minute, because as I walk through the house I instinctively look at all her favorite spots expecting her to be there. When I call the dogs to go outside, I realize I don't need to use the plural anymore. And when I reach up above my head at night, to the bunched up pillows where she used to sleep, I can't feel her there anymore. 

You know, for a photography blog, the pictures I've included here aren't very good. The framing isn't particularly unique, they were taken with early smartphone cameras, so they're grainy and slightly blurry compared to today's standards. One is dramatically underexposed and the one below is weirdly cropped. 

But in photography, we're capturing memories. It's really important to remember that. Yeah, everyone wants to look their best and you want to line up that perfect shot 99% of the time. But sometimes a seemingly ordinary picture will do just fine. 

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Rest well, Lady. You were the best dog anyone could have asked for, and we miss you so, so much. 

Ahem. Phew. 

Thanks for letting me get that out. 


Always grateful, but in case I don't say it enough...

You know what's astonishing to me? I've been doing this full-time for almost two years. TWO. YEARS. I mean, I can remember when that was such a pipe dream for me. It seemed so far away. I worked other jobs, jobs supposed to be my "primary" while I waited for the right time to make my passion my full-time profession - but I secretly feared that day would never come. 

That's just the way of the world, right? That's life. You do what you have to do to take care of your family and pay the bills and make it day to day. Through no fault of the individuals themselves, so many passions age on the vine until they're forgotten; overrun by very real responsibilities, and often new passions and goals. 

I was lucky. I wouldn't dare deny it. In fact, I pray in thanks for it daily. I was given the opportunity and support to take a small talent and big interest in photography and...learn. And I got better. And then people started wondering how much I charged for my sessions, when I hadn't even thought of it yet. And then...I thought maybe I could do this for good. For "real," for lack of a better term. 

And now I'm in the middle of it, and I can say unequivocally it has been both the biggest challenge and one of the biggest joys of my life. I think that's the way it's supposed to be, but all I can say is Thank God I didn't have to do it alone. My family, I don't even know what to say. All of them. I'm not sure I wouldn't have simply physically manifested into a panic attack without them.


Especially these two. This past year has been...a ride. A wife chasing her Master's who still manages to be supermom. A charismatic and intelligent and beautiful daughter navigating 1st grade. And they not only deal with me, they love me unconditionally. It absolutely blows me away sometimes. It makes me feel unworthy of it, but not in a bad way - a way that makes me want to try to earn it more. 

Also, and I could not be more serious about this, I wouldn't have lasted more than a day without all of you. If you're reading this, I'm talking to you. If you've recommended me to a friend. If you've looked at my pictures. If you've hired me for a session. If you've even thought about hiring me for a session. You've helped me keep going. And there's absolutely no way I could ever properly show my gratitude for the trust you placed in me. To capture your senior photos, your family pictures. Your engagement. Your weddings. Your first birthdays. They all mean everything to me. 

Thank you. Thank you so, so much.

Phew. Gotta be honest. I didn't think this post would be quite so sentimental, but now that I read it back, I'm okay with it. Why not? 'Tis the season. 

As 2017 winds down, I hope you make the most of its final few days. I hope you all enjoy time with your families and friends - or, heck, even just a good book if that's your thing. Because I know I'm going to. And then I'm going to roll up my sleeves, and look forward. 

Year Three awaits. 

Turn it sideways

That isn't my computer, or my cup of coffee. I think it might be my Mom's. But it looks nice, right?

That isn't my computer, or my cup of coffee. I think it might be my Mom's. But it looks nice, right?

So, I get asked pretty frequently for camera recommendations by everyone from aspiring pros to people just wanting to take better pictures of their grandkids. Almost everyone is looking for cost efficiency, which is understandable. And absolutely everyone wants to take great, print-quality photos. 

I usually start my response with a question, and I'll pose it here. Do you know what the most popular camera in the world is? I'll even throw in a hint: You've probably got one sitting next to you, or in your pocket, or maybe you've got headphones plugged into it. 

Yeah. It's your cell phone. 

Specifically, Apple's iPhone is the single most popular camera in the world, with the Samsung Galaxy line coming in second place. More pictures are snapped with those devices than any fancy Nikon or Canon or Sony.

There's really no great mystery as to why this is the case, guys. For starters, Steve Jobs changed everything when he unveiled the original iPhone, and at first the camera on the device was something of an afterthought. I mean, prior to that nobody was going around expecting to take professional quality pics on their Motorola Razr, or Nokia Whatever. But in the years since, as the devices have gotten smaller - then bigger again - and more technologically advanced, the camera hasn't become just a popular feature - it has become absolutely essential. It's a selling point. Apple and the host of Android-compatible phone manufacturers duke it out every year for the title of "Best Smartphone Camera on the Market," as it is what many looking to upgrade their phones look to first when making purchasing decisions. 

It has never been easier to take a photo and immediately share it to Facebook or Instagram, or just text it to friends. And these aren't just snapshots anymore. Some of the world's most renowned photographers and publications have done entire series with smartphone cameras, and they're stunning. So before you head off to buy a "real" camera, consider that you've already got one in your pocket - and there are a few things you can do to dramatically improve the quality of your images!

I took this with my iPhone 7, and I love the shot - if only because my daughter actually gave a halfway normal smile for once. That's a rarity. Trust me. 

I took this with my iPhone 7, and I love the shot - if only because my daughter actually gave a halfway normal smile for once. That's a rarity. Trust me. 

1. For the love of Pete, turn your camera sideways

I know, I know. it's so easy to just bring up the camera app and snap a picture. I get it. But let me ask you something? Are your eyes stacked vertically on your face? Unless you hail from the planet Omicron Persei - 8 (If you get that joke, I love you.), the answer is "Nope"! We're naturally made to view things in landscape mode, and our photos are no different. If you take a picture vertically, you're eliminating so much possible space that could be used to create an even more dynamic image. Want to squeeze two buddies into a picture, but having trouble fitting them into the frame? Just turn the camera! This is especially relevant with selfies. If you're taking selfies with your phone held vertically, it's time to think about upping your game. I'm 35, and even I know that. C'mon. 

Additionally, it's always easier to crop a "landscape" orientation photo into a portrait than vice-versa. And while it might be awkward to hit that digital shutter release, consider that most smartphones these days have a button on the outside of the camera - it's the volume up button on iPhones - that serves the same purpose. Piece of cake!

2. Steady hands + steady subjects = Crisp and clear photo

For everything they CAN do, one thing smartphone cameras can't is photograph action. They just don't have the power of a solid DSLR. The shutter speed is too slow, they don't zoom much - if at all. It's not worth it. If you're going for action, switch the camera to video and preserve the memory that way. Trust me. 

In that same vein, if you want your pics in razor sharp focus, two simple tips will make a world of difference. Keep your hands steady. Tuck your elbows against your sides if you need to, in fact. And do you best to keep your subject still as well. This is difficult with kids and pets and lots of the best stuff to photograph, we know, but it will keep you from getting frustrated later if you can find a way to keep your subject still for the two seconds it takes to line up and snap a shot. 

3. Really, really, really step away from the zoom

So, there are two types of zoom. Optical zoom and digital zoom. Optical zoom involves components within the camera shifting and rotating to bring a distant subject closer. There's no compromise in image quality. Digital zoom is...something else entirely. The only zoom 99% of smartphones have is digital. And from the moment you pinch your fingers on the screen and expand them to zoom in on a subject, your photo is going to be unusable. There will be so much digital "noise," as the phone's processor struggles to interpret the data it is receiving, that there's just no way to achieve a clear photo. 

YOU are the zoom. It's this way with photographers who use prime lenses as well (meaning ones that don't have a telephoto zoom). Getting used to moving around to compose your shots so they look the way you want them to look without relying on the camera to do the heavy lifting will make you a better photographer in the long run. Trust me!

Those are just a few simple smartphone photography tips. Now, get out there and shoot. The best camera is the one you have on you, and these days, the one you have on you is actually a pretty excellent piece of hardware.