Storytelling Session: A Morning with the Hills

A few weeks back, I had the absolute joy of spending a Tuesday morning with the Hill family. Their son and my son have been in the same class at preschool this past year, and after seeing the Day in the Life pictures I took for the class, Heather approached me about doing a Storytelling session for their family. And you guys, we had such a fun morning! There was pancakes, and playing outside, and a family dance party in the living room, complete with everyone singing "Sweet Caroline" to the darling baby of the family (I'll give you one guess as to what her name is...).

I'm so grateful for people who are willing to be vulnerable enough to invite me into their home and letting me document their real life! I don't care about messes on the kitchen counter, or the inevitable toddler meltdown when the syrup gets taken away. Those things are part of what life looks like right now, part of the story. And so without further ado, here is a glimpse into a morning with the Hills:

Welcome to the World fusion films

Over the course of the spring and early summer, I have been doing a number of portfolio building sessions to experiment with adding video to my Welcome to the World sessions, and I have to say that I am absolutely hooked! I started dabbling in video last year, creating short films for my own family and I'm excited to be able to start offering it to clients as well. To me, video is a natural extension of documentary photography; it captures moments authentically as they happen, and you get to preserve not only the visuals of those moments but the sounds and movements as well. And especially for these hospital sessions, it is just priceless to be able to capture baby's yawns, stretches, and all the cute newborn sounds. 

For the Welcome to the World sessions, I have been creating fusion films, which are a mix of video and still images edited together and set to music. Below is the link to my most recent one of sweet baby Ellie. Make sure to watch in HD! 

I plan on offering fusion films as something you can add on to your Welcome to the World session at an extra cost. And, at some point, I would love to be able to also offer family film sessions; documentary style family sessions with the goal of creating a 3-4 minute video of what life looks like for you. There would be some regular still images as well, but the main product would be the video. If you are interested in something like that, let me know as I will need a few families to practice on. 

My Favorite Photography Project

I'm about a month into this year's run of my favorite photography project; 100 Days of Summer. Each year for the past 3 years, I have taken (at least) one picture every day for the roughly 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day to document our family's summer time adventures. But first, let me back up a bit. In 2014, I completed a Project 365, which consists of daily shooting for an entire year. One picture, every day, for a year. That project was so much fun and such an incredible way to learn and grow and push myself creatively, but by the end of it I was exhausted and barely wanted to pick up my camera. So after a few months where I only took pictures sporadically, I wanted to get back in the grove the following summer and decided to do the 100 Days of Summer project as a more manageable project. The timing that year was perfect, as we had just had our second baby at the beginning of May and I knew I would be wanting to take lots of pictures those first few months when she was growing and changing so quickly. At the end of the summer, I was so in love with the images from the project that I decided to make it an annual thing. So here we are, well into year 3 and I thought it might be fun to share some tips with you for how to do a similar project for your own family.

1. Plan ahead. At the beginning of the summer, make a list of things you would like to do that summer. If your kids are older, this is a great opportunity to involve them! Maybe you already have things planned; camp, trips to the beach, visiting family. Add those to the list as well as all those small, everyday adventures that you associate with summer; cooking s'mores, going to the pool, catching fireflies, eating watermelon outside. A list like this is great, not just to get ideas for your photography project, but to keep on hand for when your kids inevitably complain of being bored (or is that just my kids?!) I like to keep a separate list of things my oldest can do on his own, so I can tell him to go pick an activity of his list if he needs some ideas. 

Planning ahead also goes for each day. If you are going to the pool in the morning and going blueberry picking in the afternoon, decide ahead of time where you want to take your picture for the day so you don't have to lug your camera around all day. Unless of course you are shooting with you phone, in which case you will probably have it on you all the time. This leads me to my next tip:

2. Choose your camera. Do you have a DSLR sitting on your shelf that you have been wanting to use more? This is a great time to bring that out and get lots of practice! Are you home by yourself with 4 kids under 5 all summer? Maybe you need to give yourself a break and make this easier by using your phone. You can also mix and match however you want. The best camera is the one you have with you, as they say! 

3. Create variety in your images. Let's say you are taking pictures of your kids coloring with sidewalk chalk. After you get a good picture, try challenging yourself by changing up your perspective, for instance standing directly above them and shooting down, or move in close to get a detail shot. 

If you are spending several days in the same place, like a week at the beach, you also want to think about creating variety in the images from that week. When we go to the beach, I could definitely take 7 pictures 7 days in a row of my kids building sandcastles, but that would not provide an accurate picture (pun intended) of everything we did that week. Instead, try to mix it up by getting a variety of images that together tell the full story. 

I also like to look at my images week by week or over the course of the first few weeks and see if there is a good variety. When I was just looking at my pictures from the first month for this year, I noticed that I don't have nearly as many detail shots as I usually do, so that is something I will keep in mind over the next weeks. 

4. Print your pictures! I cannot emphasize this enough. Pictures should not live just on your harddrive or your Instagram account. My kids love to look through the photo books from the last few summers, and I'm already excited to put together the one from this year. I like to use Artifact Uprising, but there a several other great options out there. And you can always look for coupon codes to make it more affordable! 

5. Have fun. Summertime is fun, and this project is not meant to be something to stress about. If you didn't get a good picture one day, or didn't even manage to get your camera out, just take two pictures the next day or use one from the previous week. The rules are only as strict as you make them yourself. And if you are feeling inspired after reading this and want to get started now, just do it! It does not have to be 100 days, you can do 50 days of summer. Or challenge yourself to see how many days in a row you can keep going. However you do it, I hope you have fun documenting your own family's summertime adventures!  

Why should you hire a hospital newborn photographer?

Recently I have had several prospective clients who were considering a Welcome to the World session bring up a common concern; What if I don’t feel like being in pictures right after having a baby? “I just feel kind of gross after giving birth, so I’m not sure I will feel up for a photo shoot”, one mama told me. And I get that, I really do. Having had two kiddos of my own, I definitely sympathize with those women who don’t feel their prettiest after squeezing a human being out of their body. Now, some women feel awesome after giving birth, all empowered and feminine and strong. If that is you, well then this blog post isn’t really for you. You can still read along, though, and enjoy the pictures. But for now, I want to speak to those mamas who either have already gone through the experience of labor and delivery and know that they will feel gross and unattractive and just plain exhausted, and to those first-time mamas who worry that this will be their experience.

Having just had a baby is a vulnerable time. You are just getting to know this tiny person, who is completely dependent on you for his or her every need, and at the same time you are getting reacquainted with your own body, recuperating after labor, maybe even recovering after a c-section, which is a pretty major surgery, figuring out breastfeeding, and, if you are not a first-time mom, trying to balance loving several little humans all of whom crave your attention. Plus, you likely have a line of family members and friends lining up to come visit to meet your newest addition. There is a lot going on. So why should you consider adding a photographer to that mix?

Well, I believe there are a couple of reasons.

1.   This is truly a once in a lifetime moment. Whether this is your first or your fourth baby, the birth of your child is without a doubt one of the biggest days of your life, and big moments like that are worth capturing. Your family changes forever the day that new life is born, and having someone document those first moments together is priceless.

2.   As once in a lifetime as those first days with a new baby are, they are hard to remember. Between hormones, exhaustion after labor, the steady stream of visitors, and lack of sleep, you will find that those days in the hospital go by in a blur. Having a visual reminder of what those days were like will help you recall the beauty and intimacy of that time you and your new baby spent together as you were just getting to know each other.

3.   While you might not feel your prettiest, and while I understand that you want to look good in these pictures, at the heart of it a Welcome to the World session is not about you being pretty. It is about you, it is about your family, and is is about the new life you brought into the world and the immense love you feel for each other. And that is what those pictures are going show. Sure, they may also show some puffiness on your face or that your baby still had quite a lot of that red newborn look going, but I am certain that when you look back at the pictures, none of that is going to matter to you. And also, I promise that you will look much prettier in a picture I capture with my camera than in the one your father-in-law snapped with his iPhone. Having a professional taking your photo just makes a difference.

Finally, I will just be really honest with you. Not getting hospital pictures done when we had our babies is one of my greatest regrets. Sure, I took some pictures in the hospital, but I really wish I had invited someone to come and document those fleeting days, because truthfully, I don’t remember much from those first few days with my little ones (and as we just went over, all those hormones kind of mess you up, which also greatly affected the quality of any pictures I did manage to take). And I would hate for any of you to end up with the same regret because you were worried about not looking pretty enough. Because let me assure you, when you look back at those pictures, you are not going to think about how messy your hair was or how uncomfortable your boobs felt. Instead, you are going to remember what it was like when you first held your child in your arms and what it felt like to fall in love with that tiny human. And that is all that matters.  

Welcome to the World, sweet Gabe!

It is hard to believe that is has been two months since that freezing cold Saturday morning when I headed to the UVA hospital to photograph newborn baby Gabe and his sweet parents. And while the weather outside was somewhat frightful on that day, there was only love and joy and oh so much cuteness in that little room. 

No matter how many times I do this, I don't think I will ever get over what an honor it is to be included in such a special time for a new family. There was no doubt that Gabe's parents were absolutely head over heels in love with him, they couldn't keep their eyes off him, and I loved getting to document these moments as the three of them were just getting to know each other.

A Morning at the Market

Saturday mornings at the Charlottesville City Market is one of our favorite family traditions. Most Saturdays between April and December, the kids have a quick breakfast at home, parents grab the first cup of coffee of the day, and then we head off to the market. Not only do we buy most of our fresh produce there, selecting from a beautiful variety brought in by local farmers, but we always enjoy second breakfast or special treats there. Whether you are in the mood for donuts, coffee, breakfast sandwiches, baked goods, Filipino noodle bowls or tacos, you can find it at the market.

Mornings at the market are a beautiful mix of comfortable routine and a constant influx of something new. Visiting vendors, the changing seasons with their rotation of produce available, or on this particular morning a barber shop quartet walking around and sharing their music with us; no two mornings are the same, and yet the routine is pleasantly familiar. It is part of what keeps us coming back, week after week. 

Do you have a favorite family tradition you would like documented? Contact me for more information about Storytelling Sessions! I would love to help you preserve your family's memories. 

Welcome to the World, Eloise Mae!

To my fellow mamas: do you remember that moment when you watched your husband with your new baby and fell in love with him all over again? I know I do. And a couple of weeks ago I had the honor of capturing just that look on a new mamas face when I got to document the very first days for the Sefters. Those first few days as a new family in a hospital are so precious, whether it is your first baby or you're seasoned parents, and I loved capturing these memories for the family to enjoy for years to come. 

Are you expecting a baby or do you know someone who is? These sessions would make a fantastic gift that will be treasured for years to come. Check out my session page for more information and or contact me for more details! 

Storytelling Session: An Afternoon in Bakertown

A few months ago, before I had started my business, or even before I was sure I wanted to start a business, I asked my dear friend Brett if she would let me come and hang out at her house with my camera for a few hours. I knew already that I loved documenting my own family, but I wanted to try doing the same for someone else, both to be sure that I could do it well, and to be sure that this was the direction I wanted to go in should I decide to go into business. Lucky for me, she was completely on board with the idea! And so, camera in hand, I spent an afternoon in Bakertown, as they affectionately call their home, from the time the kids woke up from their naps until just around dinnertime. It was an afternoon full of puzzles, laundry, toddler tantrums, and sweet, precious moments of family time. It was ordinary everyday, and it was beautiful. 

When I left Bakertown that afternoon, I knew without a doubt that this was exactly the type of sessions I wanted to do, that these were the kinds of images I wanted to create for people. No poses or gimmicks, just real moments, captured in your home, documenting your everyday. Because here is the thing, even just a few months from now, an afternoon at Bakertown is going to look completely different. There is a new baby on the way, schedules are changing, life with little kids moves quickly. That is why I believe in taking the time to document the season of life you are in right now, whatever that looks like for you. Don't wait for perfect, but let me show you that your everyday right now is beautiful. 

Documentary family photography: Telling your story in images

What do you think of when you hear the phrase "family photography"? My guess is most of us think of some form of portraits, posed images of a family together in a beautiful location, like a field or the beach at sunset. Everyone is wearing clothes that match and compliment each other and they are all smiling at the camera. The kind of images that you see on people’s Christmas cards and on canvas prints above the fireplace.

While those types of images can be absolutely beautiful, my goal and my mission as a photographer is to provide you with something different. You see, I don’t know about you, but very little of my family’s life happens in a field at sunset. Actually, I’m not sure we have ever spent time in a field at sunset. Where we do spend a lot of time, however, is in our home, doing normal everyday things, wearing our normal, everyday clothes. That means my son is most likely wearing a t-shirt with a superhero logo on it, and my daughter is probably in a stained onesie because she is an incredibly messy eater. And unless you catch us on the afternoon after the monthly visit from our amazing house cleaner, there is going to be dirty dishes in the sink and clutter on our dining room table, because that is just what our house looks like these days.

But even though the setting may seem less-than-perfect, that is where the moments happen that I want to capture with my camera. So I do that, every day for my own family. I capture my son learning how to write his letters, or playing with a favorite toy. I capture my daughter covered in spaghetti or how her chubby little toddler hands grabs at things.

I capture how they interact with each other, both the sweet moments that make my heart melt and the moments when they drive me crazy. And I capture how they interact with my husband and myself, because I know that even just a few months from now, that will look completely different. My son is almost 5 and when he gets up from his nap, he still wants me to carry him down the stairs. His skinny little arms wrap around my neck and I have to really watch my step because frankly he is getting a little heavy for me, but I do it and I make sure to get that moment captured, because I know a day will come soon when he will be perfectly content walking down those stairs by himself. I will bring my camera into my daughter’s room when my son is helping give her a bottle before bedtime and snap a picture of the two of them snuggled up in the rocker, because I know that in a few months, she won’t be getting a bottle before bedtime, and so that routine will look different. These are the moments that 20 years from now, or even 20 months from now, I will want to be able to look back and remember, and so these are the moments that I capture in images.

This style of photography is called documentary photography, and basically what that means is that I don’t stage the scene and I don’t pose the people in it or ask them to smile for me. I just watch as the moments happen and I capture them with my camera, using my technical skills and my artistic vision to do so in a beautiful way, a way that does justice to those moments. Because all those little moments that make up our everyday, they matter and they are beautiful.

So, I want you to think about the season of life you are in right now. When you look back on this season, whether it is a year from now or 10 years from now, what are the moments that you want to remember? The answer to that question is what I want to capture for you during a storytelling session. Those little moments in your family’s everyday, they are the ones that make up your story. It would be an honor for me to tell it.