Birthday Party Shoot!

I love to photograph kids. They mug for the camera and if they are having fun, they provide for a lot of good action shots. Birthday parties are particularly engaging as there are all those bright, happy faces. I love the shenanigans, and there are almost many, but I also love all the ruses I see perpetuated by parents who are trying to hid the big birthday present from their child. It can be a puppy, a video game set, Star Wars kits, or a new bike for kids, like these from On Road and Mountain. Anything fun will get them excited. They want to bring it out at the last minute and see the shock on the kid’s face. You bet I am there for the big unveiling. I hide in nooks and crannies of the house and yard to capture candid shots.

A recent party involved a special surprise bike for my ten-year-old niece that was a gift from me, considered to be the cool aunt, who got one in amazing, bold neon colors. It had fancy stripes and streamers and was so eye-catching that I photographed it alone. I also, of course, took numerous shots of the birthday girl riding in incessant circles with little tyke guests trailing behind. As the aunt, I got into several photos and was colorfully dressed and certainly looked like part of the action. My sister’s family has been a subject of my photography for many years. Parties are best but I have documented the growth of my niece as a personal project.

The birthday party shoot was routine, but the kids’ antics made it more exciting. I laughed aloud when one little boy pushed my niece off her new bike and appropriated it for his own use. She didn’t cry as expected. She ran alongside the little rider shouting instructions to cease and desist. I practically expected her to bonk him on the head with a party balloon. Then it started to get chaotic. Other kids followed suit and wanted their turn on the bike. “No, no, I cried. “Let the birthday girl have it for herself.” Then the parents got into the fray trying to restrain the fighting kids. “It’s time for cake you little devils,” my sister said. You could see she was totally exasperated. She blamed me, the crazy aunt, but I had no part in the melee. When you get feisty kids together, things just happen. I have photographed enough birthday parties to know.

Soon enough, the kids settled down and after cake and punch they had games to play. That preoccupied them and turned attention away from the coveted bike. I got some calmer photos that were more representative of the celebration, which made my sister very happy. We didn’t want only those that showed angry faces.

Blind Date Disaster

I consider myself a lucky person but sometimes things just don’t go in your favor. I hope this won’t happen often, but it did once to my great regret. I tend to be rather busy at my various jobs, especially photography, so I don’t always have time to socialize. My sister says I don’t stop and smell the roses so to speak. I don’t appreciate the good life. She said she wanted to set me up on a blind date so I would get out of my shell and I let her with some trepidation. We put it off for a few weeks but then she broke me down and I acquiesced. I was to go on a date to the river and would rent a 2 person inflatable kayak. I like the inflatable models because they are easy to tote and store. They aren’t as heavy as the hard plastic ones or even the wood type. Fancy isn’t always better. The new inflatables are colorful and durable made of indestructible materials. You can inflate them quickly and deflate them after use just as fast.

So much for the kayak. What about the date? It got off to a pretty good start when we had lunch at the river’s edge. After an hour we decided to get into the kayak and float or row downstream. We talked idly in the noonday sun. But yikes, water started to get into it. The kayak had a hole and therefore a progressive leak. Something had punctured it. We rowed wildly to get back to shore where the car was parked. We barely made it. We had hardly gotten on the water when this happened. It put a real damper on the date which never got off the ground any more than the kayak. You could call it blind date disaster. I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. The good inflatable kayaks are not supposed to leak. Did someone sabotage mine? I don’t have true enemies so why would this come to mind? Maybe it got damaged in transport. I’ll never know. Eventually I had it repaired and it was good as new but I was afraid to ask the date to come along in fear of another embarrassment.

My sister was aghast at the failure of her handiwork and she insisted I try again. She said she could find another person. I thought about the initial moments of the river date and they were pretty good. I didn’t really need to cast this woman aside. I certainly could try again but doing something different like dinner and a movie. Would she say no? Luck was in my favor as it often is and she said yes. This time the outcome was totally positive. We got along well and found we had a lot in common. Dinner was the time when we found this out. She said, “when are we going out on the kayak?” and I laughed.

Next on my List: Some Waterproof Equipment!

As a photographer, I look for freelance jobs of any type. It could be a wedding, a special event, a celebrity’s appearance, or documentation of some sort. I am not immune to the needs of my family and when they want photos, I am there without fail. For example, my brother recently put in an above ground pool and had an inaugural party. He wanted photos of the guest who came for backyard swimming fun.

People were in high spirits and I joined in as I took candid shots of everyone. It was a big deal for my brother to get a pool after all these years. He was going to get a portable one, but succumbed to the call of the real thing. It has a heater, side rails, jacuzzi jets, and attachable trays to stow drinks and food. It is a beauty. I took pictures of the pool and then with people in it to show how it attracts bystanders. Colorful towels were strewn about the adjacent lawns. A beautiful blue sky topped it all off. The water of the pool, limpid and clear, reflected the glorious heavens above. It made for great photos. I wanted a real-life experience as children gamboled about and dove in.

There was a bit of splashing going on and the kids were annoying the adults. This included me who was trying to avoid getting water on my equipment. Next time, I will have to take care of that. I never water-proofed my camera before as it wasn’t necessary. Little did I know! You can get a protective cover for most any size and make of camera. Only a bit of lens is exposed and they are already water proofed. I continued on, even as my pants were getting wet. I didn’t want to discourage the children as they made for really fun shots.

I also got the adults enjoying the barbecue. Food is always a big draw for people. The smoke from the grill was captured on camera. It has great resolution. I took pictures of my brother in his big chef’s hat and all the hungry souls gathering around. “I want well done” and “I want rare” populated the area. He matched their requests as I clicked away. Some people ignored me and some mugged for the camera. I had a good selection of photos and could later eliminate the bad ones where people made faces or odd gestures.

My brother put the photos on his Facebook page and got many posts in response. People who were his “friends” said they wanted to be invited over to enjoy the pool. “Pick a warm day, please” they all exclaimed. He was game to have another pool party in the near future. The last one had been such a success. After all, that’s why he put in the expensive above-ground pool in the first place. It wasn’t for him alone.

Display Those Photos!

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Whether you’re a professional photographer, a proud parent, or a vacation shutterbug, I bet you have lots of photos. If they’re all digital, sitting on a hard drive somewhere, they are just waiting to get wiped out with a virus or computer failure. Even the ones you print and put into a photo album or make into a photo book probably don’t get looked at all that often. There are photo sites out there that will put a picture on just about anything, and that’s awesome for gifts and keepsakes. But what if you want something more changeable?

Gathering related photos, framing, and then hanging them is a nice solution. An evenly spaced group of photographs in matching frames looks gorgeous and very art gallery-eque. It adds instant class to every photo you display. If you’re a little more quirky, you can get several frames that are different but have something in common—maybe they’re all silver but different sizes, maybe they’re all the same size but different shapes, maybe all the photos are from a specific event, or they’re all in black and white. This way they still look like they belong together. And because a print, even a decent sized one, is much more budget friendly than some of the stuff you can do at a photo site, the best part is that you can change out the pictures however often you want!

I don’t know about you but it can be a huge pain for me to pull picture frames off the wall, open them up, put a new picture in, and then try to get it back up on the wall without leaving scuff marks everywhere from all the attempts I have to make to get it hung straight and actually on the nail. That could be me and my short girl problems, but I’ve always looked for ways around the frame dilemma. Instead, I hung somefishing line on the wall above my living room couch. Then I painted some wooden clothespins and use them to hang photos from the wire. Above my desk are a few binder clips hung from push pins, and I display photos there. I like the way it coordinates with my “office”. In my bedroom, I bought a pretty curtain rod and mounted it to the wall, not a window, using the hardware it came with. Then I bought pretty ribbon, cut it and hung it, evenly spaced, along the rod. Then I used safety pins to attach photos down the length of the ribbon—I hot glued bows to the safety pins first so you don’t see the pins. I like all of these because I can take things down whenever I want and change it out every week if I want to. It only takes me a few minutes and other than the pictures, nothingactually comes down off the wall.

Something struck you enough to take a picture of a moment in time; a place, a person, an interesting event or object. Be proud. Take it off that hard drive or out of the album and display it proudly!

Working with Kids

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I will be the first to say I ain’t the greatest with kids. I don’t know if it is because I am short so they assume that I am one of them or what. Don’t get me wrong, I love kids and I want to have them one day. I just don’t have any maternal instincts. My mother says that it will kick in when I need it to, and I am going to believe her not just because she’s my momma but because that’s a nice thought. So I just have to muck my way through this phase until it does.

Of course, kids are a huge part of the photography business. Parents want their children’s lives documented. I think that’s great. It means more work for me and because I think it’s awesome. I love looking at pictures of myself when I was little. It doesn’t matter if it’s my mom’s slightly out of focus shots of me on every first day of school or my dad’s pictures of me with his thumb perpetually in the corner. Everyone likes to see moments that they were too young to remember or to help them hold onto the great moments of their childhood—holidays, summer vacations, birthdays.

Now, in my quest to become a professional, I really have to get in there and get comfortable with kids. Luckily, my older brothers and sister have a few and don’t mind me giving them free photo shoots. I do holiday cards and birthday photoshootsfor all their little offspring—they’re up to six kids now, ranging from a little bitty to eight years old. It boggles my mind that my older brother has an eight-year-old. I still need help paying my rent sometimes, and he’s responsible for a second grader.

Newborn shoots I am awesome at, because I don’t have to entertain a newborn. They eat, need to be changed, and sleep. The parents do all of that while I stand there. My job is to make the baby look cute (so not hard) with stuff the parents already have laying around. Then I point the camera at him or her and poof. My job is done. That’s why I think newborn shoots are my favorite. Then they get older, and they want toys, or they hate the lights, or the camera, or the outfit their parents put them in. Or they need a nap and parents aren’t paying (or not paying, depending) me to take pictures of their 4-year-old sleeping.  I’m getting there, though. I’ve started recommending less posed shots and more “letting kids be kids” shots with the elementary school aged group and so far it has been paying off. Also, I bring balloons. Kids have a hard time staying grumpy when you give them balloons. As an added bonus, balloons add visual interest to the photos.

Do you have any advice on working with kids? I’d love to hear it!

Taking Care of Mom

It scares me to think that my parents might not be around forever. They have worked hard their whole lives, and we can see now that it is starting to take its toll on both of them. I know my siblings are concerned too, especially because my sister Danni came to me last week and said that Mom was complaining that her legs were sore and tired from working at the restaurant all day.

I know we all pitch in as much as we can, and our parents have always been fine with that. They have always encouraged us to have our own lives; they repeatedly tell us that if we don’t want to continue the business when they are ready to retire, they would just sell the restaurant. My brothers and my sister have been pretty adamant that they’re going to keep it, they’re going to keep it a family business, and they’re going to do their best to continue down the path that mom and dad started. I’ve always been the only one on the fence about whether or not I wanted to stay there, but I think even when I become a famous photographer, I’ll probably still work there at least once a week if not more. I mean honestly, it’s the only time I’ll get to see my family.

But my sister was really concerned the other day when she said that Mom seems to be dragging a little bit, and she’s been complaining about pain in her legs when she has hostess duty and things like that. We sat around for a bit and tried to think of ways that we can make her more comfortable. She will not cut back on her hours, and she will not delegate very much. We have already tried that angle. I think she’s in as much denial as we are about how old she is.

I ended up going online and poking around because the two of us weren’t getting anywhere. The only thing that I could find was a recommendation from a nursing site, of all places, about compression socks. so I looked into it a little bit and it seems that they could help with tired or heavy legs and aching feet so I brought it up to my sister and she agreed that it was at least worth a shot.

Then we had to come up with a plan to get her to wear them without making it seem like we thought that there was something wrong or that we’ve gone behind her back and had the nerve to have a discussion about her health. We finally came up with the idea that Danni was going to have to purchase some for herself, then wear them around the restaurant for a couple of days. Each day, she’ll mention to Mom about how great she felt. Then Danni will offer to get a pair to mom, and she will say, “These have been working so great for me, why don’t you give these a try?”

The compression socks should come tomorrow; we’ll see how it goes.

A Happy Ending

Oh my goodness, y’all. This was a crazy weekend! It’s a true Miracle the way it all turned out! I’m getting ahead of myself, though, aren’t I? I do that sometimes. I should start from the beginning.

My oldest brother, David, was going to take the kids and Max, the family dog, to the park on Saturday, and Max jumped out of the car window at a stop sign. His eight-year-old, Melanie, about lost her mind. She unbuckled her belt and hopped out of the car, too. Now my brother is at the stop sign with cars behind him, a dog running down the street, a desperate little girl haulin’ it after him, and one car door is hanging open. Since I know how the story ends, I’d have loved to have seen his face.

Anyway, he had to get out of the car to close the door before he could drive ahead to catch up with either of them. He managed to catch up to Melanie, who was standing at an intersection two blocks away and sobbing her little heart out. Max had run into the woods across the street and disappeared. They tried to find Max, but he was nowhere to be found.

I got a phone call while they were searching because my brother knew I had digital pictures of the kids with Max. He asked me to put something on Facebook and also to print up some flyers. Since I was at the restaurant at the time, Mom let me take a break so I could use their office computer and printer to make up the flyers. I had them done in record time and then I drove out to meet up with him and the kids. I took little Jack with me; he held the flyers, and I took them and used the staple gun to put them on to every telephone pole I could find around where Max had jumped out of the car. My brother and Melanie went door to door with some more flyers.

We all came up empty-handed, though, and it started to get dark. Everyone reluctantly went back to my brother’s house, and I checked Facebook to see if anyone had reported a Max sighting. My brother called Animal Control. We both looked at each other afterward: no sign of Max. Melanie wouldn’t even eat dinner, she was so sad about Max. We all said a prayer for his safety and prayed that he would find his way home.

Right as my sister-in-law was tucking Jack into bed, the phone rang. Melanie answered it, and it was someone calling to say that they’d found Max! We all piled in the car and went to get him. Nearly ten hours after he’d gone missing, Max was on his way home! Do I even have to tell you that we rode with the A/C on so the windows could remain all the way up? Melanie kept her arms around Max’s neck the whole ride.

Yesterday, Eric went around and pulled down all the flyers. I am so glad this tale had a happy ending!

Just When You Least Expect It…

My sister had a playdate or something about a month ago. One of the other parents saw the birthday shots I had taken of my niece that my dear, sweet, sister has on the wall in her entryway. Thisother mom, Corinne, was looking for someone budget-friendly to take some pictures of her own kids so she asked my sister about the pictures. My darling sister, who gave Corrine my name and number! Is there anything more awesome than word of mouth business?!?!

Corinne called me up and asked me my rates and availability. I did a silent little dance as I gave her all the information. I hadn’t had a paying photo gig in a month or two and had been trying so hard to pray on it and not get discouraged. Once again, the power of being positive and asking for guidance came through for me! I am so very blessed! But back to Corinne. She chose a date for the following week and we hung up. I continued dancing around my apartment, because I’m a bit of a dork that way. Just in case you hadn’t figured that out yet reading this blog. Anyway, the shoot was actually very easy, her daughter was very cooperative and adorable. We even managed a few shots with their chocolate lab, Sweetie, in them.

Corinne, bless her heart, posted one of the pictures—with my permission, of course—of her daughter and Sweetie on social media. A friend of hers named Pat, the proud mother to two dogs, decided she wanted photos of her pups as a birthday present for herself. So she asked for my info from Corinne, who very graciously passed it along. Pat got in touch with me and asked if an all-dog shoot was something I was interested in. I was completely honest with her that I don’t have a lot of experience with just animals, but that I would be willing to give it a try. I told her that if the shoot didn’t work out or if she hated the final results, I wouldn’t charge her. Since she had nothing to lose, Pat agreed to schedule me a few days later.

The dogs were two of the most beautiful Dalmatians I have ever come across. They were remarkably well trained and listened to Pat for the whole shoot. Although it was kind of a weird shoot, I ended up having a lot of fun with the dogs and got a couple shots that Pat really liked. It turned out that Pat also runs a 4-H group and she hired me—on the spot, people—to take some photos of their entries into an upcoming 4-H competition for their website and newsletter. I said, sure, why not? So we set a date for that, too.

Can you believe it? One little conversation between my sister and a friend netted me three paying jobs (and counting)! Who knows where this could lead for me?

Boudoir Photo Tips

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Some of my friends have asked me to do boudoir photos. While these kinds of photos aren’t really my thing, I can see why it can be so appealing. It can give the subject body confidence like nothing else. I’ve done a few of these now and I have to say, they can go one of two ways: either it’s really great, and the photos come out gorgeous; or it’s really awkward and uncomfortable, and it has a negative impact on the resulting photographs. If it is something you are thinking of doing, here are some tips:

  • Be clear about why you’re taking this type of photo. It doesn’t matter if it’s because you think it will be fun, or if you want to give the pictures to someone as a gift. YOU have to be the one who wants to do them. If someone is pushing you to pose for them, you’re going to be uncomfortable and the pictures will not come out well.
  • Decide what you’re going to wear beforehand. Try everything on and look at yourself. If you don’t think it looks good, no amount of lighting or Photoshop is going to make you change your mind. Pick something that you think you look awesome in, and your pictures will reflect that. Carefully remove any tags so they don’t show. Check the soles of shoes to make sure that they aren’t scuffed to death or have stickers on the bottom. Also, if it’s a professional photographer taking the pictures, find out if they have any rules about what you can wear (or not wear, as it were. I do!). Some photographers have pretty firm rules about that stuff.
  • When you hire someone, do your homework. Preferably find someone who is experienced with this type of photography, because lighting and positioning can do wonders before any editing happens. Make sure they have a legitimate studio and not some horror movie style basement setup. You are going to feel a little nervous and awkward, so it needs to be someone you’re comfortable with. Meeting them in person before the shoot will ease some of your jitters. Explain what you want up front. It’ll help the photographer to know what style you’re looking for. Let them know if there are parts of your body you aren’t comfortable with to help them determine the best angles and positions, so that you will like the end result.
  • Celebrate yourself. Get your hair, nails, and makeup done. If you’re doing any personal grooming, get that out of the way a few days before.

But my biggest piece of advice is my old standby: be positive. It might feel awkward at first, but trust your photographer and let them talk you through it. Stop thinking about the camera and think about why you are taking the photos in the first place. Let that be your guide. Let the shoot take as long as it needs to take. The end result is going to be gorgeous and you’re going to be so happy with them.

A Little DIY

My mom was pretty clear that any of my photos that go up in the restaurant have to match the décor. I can’t really argue with her about it—if I lose, she will probably tell me that I can’t sell anything at the restaurant anymore. It has made finding frames a little tricky, but then I accidentally stumbled on a solution.

The local craft store had a huge sale on frames. Everything was so cheap that I could afford to buy a whole bunch. They were all different styles and sizes, which meant I could show off different elements of my photos. The only problem was that they were also a bunch of different colors, not all of which go with my parents’ cheery Americana décor. I dug around for a while to find things that would work and was about to give up when I remembered where I was: a craft store. You know what else they sell? PAINT.

My original plan was to paint all the frames by hand one color that would match what my parents already had. I bought a brush, a matching paint color, and a cartful of frames. My dad was at the podium when I went to the restaurant on the way home just to verify the paint was the right color. I told him all about my idea, and he said that painting it all by hand would probably take a long time. I said something silly then, something along the lines of, “Tell me something I don’t already know, Dad!” And then, because he’s Dad, he did. He told me he had airless paint sprayer back at the house from when he painted the outside of the restaurant last year. I had forgotten all about it. He promised to set it all up for me later on after his shift. I wasn’t scheduled to work at all that day, so I dropped everything off at the house and went home for a nap until dinnertime.

True to his word, Dad had everything ready in the garage when I went back to the house. We took the glass out of all the frames and put them down on a drop cloth. We opened the windows in the garage to help with the fumes, and then my dad showed me what to do with the sprayer. It wasn’t the neatest way to paint everything—I could see why this was a great investment for him, painting the whole exterior of the restaurant—but we definitely got everything coated pretty fast. While it dried, Dad showed me how to flush the sprayer out so it would be clean and ready for the next project.

Now I have 37 frames, all in the same color, and just waiting for pictures! A little DIY today and a lot blessed!

Finding My Place

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I am so grateful for my family. They’ve always supported me and had my back. Growing up, I hated working at the restaurant. It was exhausting and smelly work. I remember being so jealous of the kid down the street whose parents owned the furniture store. All I heard were stories about how he sat around trying out all the couches and watching football on the big screen tvs all weekend long. He didn’t come home smelling like grease and sweat with wilted hair, and he certainly didn’t have forearms like Popeye the way I did from carrying those heavy trays.

But now that I’m older, and I’d like to say a little smarter, I see how lucky I was. I’d get off the school bus directly across the street and sit in one of the booths with my siblings to do my homework. My mom would bring us dinner and sit with us. My dad, who did all the cooking, always added something special for us. As we got older, we’d come here ready to work—throwing down our backpacks in the office and tying on aprons in practically the same motion. Even now, when my older siblings could have moved on to other things, they’re still here. One of my brothers does most of the cooking now, and one is the office manager. My sister is still a killer waitress. She remembers every order without writing it down, which usually puts first-time customers on edge until they get their food, proclivities and all, perfectly. That’s a fun word—proclivities. That’s my sister’s voice talking, all the way. My parents are slowing down, and we’ve all been here to pick up the slack. They raised us right is all I can say. In a way, it makes me feel bad that I do want to quit working here one day. But I remind myself that not being a waitress/hostess there anymore don’t mean I’m going to quit the whole place. I’ll still come for holidays and Sunday brunches and birthdays.

I’ve always been allowed to display family photos around the place; it has always helped sell the “family owned and run” atmosphere. But I recently asked my mom if I could put up some other pictures, too, with price tags. At first, she tried to say no—she was worried that the prices would make the place tacky. There’s nothing worse to my mother than being considered tacky, trust me. But then my brother piped in, in his big man office manager voice way, that if I gave the restaurant a percentage, it could be a nice benefit for both of us. Of course, my mom isn’t going to argue with her best employee, so…. I get to use the wall above the bench we have for people waiting for tables as my own personal art gallery. I take pictures of things that interest me and recognizable places around Nashville for the tourist types that come in. It hasn’t really been a huge boon for the restaurant, but I still do a little dance of joy every time one sells. My mom makes a big deal out of taking her cut of the profits, too, even though I can see just how proud of me she is. And my dad, well, since he’s the host now, he’s always telling people to sit a few moments while their table is made ready, and while they’re waiting, why don’t they take a look at some fine pictures his lovely daughter took?

I really am lucky, aren’t I?