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  1. Dec
    17

    TOPIC: 365, Personal.

    Project 365-5 #1: Deal or No Deal

    Well.

    There are times I love Project 365 (almost all the time), and times when I enjoy it a little less.  We happen to be at the intersection of the two times I really struggle with it: the gray doldrums of winter, and the midst of a crisis.  The photos themselves haven’t been the problem, but right now, the very last thing I feel like doing is trying to sum up the last three months in words.  But here we are.

    At the beginning of November, my mom had an x-ray that showed a mass on her pancreas.  The doctor said it was most likely cancer.  We read the Internet; we freaked out; we stopped sleeping; we started revising last wills and testaments.  A few days later, the gastro specialist and the pancreatic surgeon advised us to back down from the panic, that it looked like a cystic mass to them rather than a tumor.  We calmed down for a couple of days.  The doctors got her scheduled for surgery one week after detecting the mass, because they are amazing.  They were able to completely remove it and saw no evidence that anything had spread beyond the pancreas.  We exhaled.

    Then they ran a pathology report and discovered that not only was it cancer after all, it was an incredibly rare adenosquamous tumor, which basically means two types of cancer got together and decided to have a party.  We read the Internet; we freaked out; we stopped sleeping again.  We assumed we had maybe six months left with her, so aggressive are these tumors.  Then we met with her cancer doctor, who said they were going to recommend chemo and give it their best shot given the amazingly early diagnosis, the complete removal of the tumor, and her otherwise good health.  She will start chemo this week, with the hope of besting or at least staving off the cancer for a significant period of time.  It is better than it could be, that’s for sure–but knowing that she has to go through chemo again, given how low it laid her the last time, is upsetting.  I hope it’s less terrible this time.  Hope hope hope.

    So that’s where we are.  We have been up and down on an emotional roller coaster so many times over the past five weeks that I barely have a concept of space and time right now.  (I think the full-throttle resurgence of my insomnia has something to do with that, but melatonin has started giving me aggressive spider dreams, so I’m at a loss.)  I sometimes think I’m dealing with it well; other times I wonder if I’m dealing with it at all.  At first, I was crying all the time.  Now, I’m trying to keep from thinking all the dark thoughts whenever possible.  But at the same time, I don’t want to get too comfortable because I don’t want the shock to be as horrible if and when we get bad news again.  I don’t think anything could really make this easier, the idea of losing the most important person in my life.  But carrying around a sense of imminent doom every day is no way to function, so we just soldier on.  I think we’re mostly doing okay, most of the time.

    Here is the other thing.

    It’s time for a major change in my photography business.  I had an incredible year with photography.  When I decided to try my hand at shooting something besides trees in 2008, I never expected that I would be regularly photographing families, couples, babies who are less than a week old, and most significantly, the milestones in the lives of people I just adore.  It is a gift to be able to do this, and when I take a step back, as I have over the past month, I realize the magnitude of it.  I’ve loved telling stories since I was five years old and my kindergarten teacher gave me a fuzzy rainbow sticker for a book I drew.  Now I am taking photos of my kindergarten teacher’s five grandchildren and helping her capture her own story.  That’s the warmest, fuzziest thing ever!  I want to keep doing this so, so much.

    But…I can’t keep going on the path I have been.  The other side to the coin is that I shot so many sessions in 2013 that I spent the majority of the year in a state of near-total burnout.  I just don’t have spare time, because I’m editing photos around the clock.  (I haven’t even blogged my last fifteen sessions.  Crikey!)  This means I haven’t been as present as a friend or family member as I want to be; I haven’t been able to serve like I want to (I would dearly love to be a Big Sister again, and it’s just not possible); I don’t exercise and I eat my feelings (my feelings are conveniently loaded with sugar!); when on Earth would I ever have time to go on a date?; etc.  It took the idea of having only a few months left with my mom to get me to start taking better care of myself, and that just shouldn’t be.

    But throwing myself into doing photography full-time isn’t something I can do immediately.  It’s a process.  Part of that is so awesome it makes me want to do a happy dance (that’s the rebranding part that I’ve been doing with a wonderful designer I’ll introduce you to…on my new, improved website debuting this winter!).  I’ve been thinking through all the nifty things I can do with my new logo and packaging, my shiny new website, and all the cool little gifts and fun things I can do for my clients.  I went to a workshop this summer with the incredible Michele Anderson of Pinkle Toes Photography (shockingly, I never got around to blogging about that either, but she did!).  I came away feeling so inspired and full of ideas.  It opened up windows I can’t wait to peek through with my own work.

    It also splashed a cold dose of reality on the part of this process that’s not so fun: reconfiguring my pricing.  (I hatehatehate talking about money, so this is probably the one and only time I’m gonna do it.  Buckle up!)  When we were talking about prices, Michele called out a number that you should be charging only if you’re shooting your images and then immediately burning them to a disc: no sorting through to choose the best ones, no color-correcting, no blemish removal, no fixing flyaway hairs or bruises or stained shirts, or doing any of the million things I do to make a photo “sing.”  She said “If you’re doing all those things and this is what you’re charging, chances are you’re headed straight for a burnout, and you won’t be able to shoot for much longer, period.”  I raised my hand and admitted that was my exact pricing and my exact experience.  It’s now the end of 2013, and for many months I shot just as many sessions as Michele shoots–I’ve secretly been working two full-time jobs!  That is sort of a weird thing to discover.  Ha!

    And so when I looked at the possibility of concentrating solely on photography, I did the math on what it would cost–what taxes I would have to charge and pay, what insurance I would need to carry, the cost of backup cameras, software, professional memberships, office supplies, memory cards, repairs, web hosting, and a metric ton of postage.  I’ve been paying for a lot of those things already, of course–but not with the money I make from photography.  Because for the year 2013, I lost $6,500 on my photography business.  At my current prices, I can’t finance taking photos without my day job.  Which means I definitely don’t come close to being able to live off photography.

    That meant I had to make the difficult decision to increase my prices for 2014.  It’s been almost 3 years since my last price hike, during which time I’ve invested considerable time and money into becoming a better photographer.  Even with the new rates, I’m still at the low end of what I mathematically should be charging to be sustainable full-time according to my Handy Excel Spreadsheet, but I want there to be at least some chance that my wonderful, amazing clients will stick with me.  I’m going to do whatever I can to keep them happy, because if this weren’t a necessary change, it’s not one I’d be making.  I never want or need to get anything approaching wealthy doing photography.  I do need to be able to integrate it into my life at a level that keeps me from sitting at a desk for eight hours a day at my job, and then another four or five hours when I get home every night.  However this shakes out–if I get lucky enough to do photos full-time, or if my paying clients slow down and I have time to focus on shooting for things like the Magic Hour Foundation–it’s a move I needed to make.  I hope that everyone understands it for what it is–the very opposite of an ego- or money-driven decision.  What it is, is the only way I can keep doing this thing that I love so much.

    If you made it through this post, bless you.  It’s been a hard few months of soul-searching, and that’s not always fun to write (or read) about.  But everyone I know has been so supportive and wonderful about everything I’ve been going through.  I don’t know how I got so blessed with the people in my life, but I truly am.  I hope I can spend much more time with all of you next year, under happy circumstances.  Merry, merry Christmas, dear ones.

  2. Oct
    17

    TOPIC: Mini Sessions.

    Will the Real Eli Please Stand Up? | Arlington Child Photography

    Somehow, Mr. Eli is already nine months old.  He’s growing up incredibly quickly–and it’s a good thing, too, because in January he’s going to be a big brother!  I just couldn’t be happier for Fred and Caroline (and Eli).  When I think back on our first photo session together last November, it’s amazing how fast things change.  They had no idea that in a few short weeks, Eli would be joining their family, and they certainly weren’t expecting that only a year after that, he’d have a little brother.

    Life can be pretty awesome.

    So Eli is exploring the world with both feet these days, standing up and totally cracking himself up with his new abilities.  He will be running all over the place in no time flat.  For now, though, we let him commandeer the porch at the Grapevine tea room in Arlington Depot Square.

    Nine month photos in Arlington, TNNine month photos in Arlington, TN

    I wonder if his eyes will always be this blue.Nine month photos in Arlington, TNNine month photos in Arlington, TNNine month photos in Arlington, TN

    “What’s in the box?”
    “Oh…spiderwebs.”
    Nine month photos in Arlington, TNNine month photos in Arlington, TN

    Just taking care of the ants.Nine month photos in Arlington, TN

    I love when he gets the spiky hair going.  My mom brought a pumpkin to ring in the fall and was overcome with joy that he was wearing an outfit with a fall theme.  “Now we can use the pumpkin!!!” she cried maniacally.Nine month photos in Arlington, TN

    Eli was fully supportive of this plan.Nine month photos in Arlington, TN

    I thwacked my head on that plant, I’ll tell you what.Nine month photos in Arlington, TNNine month photos in Arlington, TN

    Eli, shown between shoveling two gargantuan handfuls of dirt into his mouth and letting us have it for removing them.Nine month photos in Arlington, TN

    He rallied when we let him hang out at Vinegar Jim’s for a while.Nine month photos in Arlington, TNNine month photos in Arlington, TN

    I love when babies start to look like older kids, but occasionally they’ll still make an expression that reminds you of when they were wee.Nine month photos in Arlington, TN

    And then give you a million-dollar smile.  Good GRIEF, is this kid cute.Nine month photos in Arlington, TN

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  3. Sep
    19

    TOPIC: 365, Personal.

    Project 365-4: Four More Years

    Well, it’s official: my Project 365 has now completed its first presidential term.  It’s got all the hallmarks of an eventful presidency: triumph over outside obstacles, the learning of hard lessons, intense scrutiny into my life (most of it coming from myself), the occasional retreat (although in my case that never involves golfing or jogging), and of course the presence of a trusted canine advisor.  (It’s light on wars and filibusters, but I’m cool with that.)  It is especially like Nixon’s presidency in that it’s heavily characterized by the presence of bugs.  (HA!  Terrible puns!  It has a lot of those too.)

    Most importantly, though, since this is a visual project, it’s worth noting that like all the presidents, I have many more gray hairs now than I did at the beginning.   Back in 2009, I was a youngster basically having a second, better college experience at my job in Pittsburgh.  I noticed my first gray hair around that time in the bathroom mirror at work, which was notorious for its grotesque lighting that put everyone’s worst features on display.  (My lady co-workers will remember their own alarming revelations in that mirror, I’m sure.)  I immediately plucked it out, only to notice in the rearview mirror of Becky’s and my rental car in Austin, Texas that it had returned, and it had brought friends.  I tried to yank it out again, but it was no use.  Becky assured me that resistance was futile and I should just embrace it, so from then on I’ve left all the silvery strands where they are.  Now I kind of like them.  I’ve never dyed my hair, or done anything more adventurous to it than the infamous sixth-grade Bang Perm, so having it change on its own is just my no-maintenance way of switching things up.

    [I’ve really lost the plot here.  That’s what happens when you know you have to write something, but you have no idea what to say.  You wind up talking about either the weather or hair.  The actual photos in Project 365 talk *constantly* about the weather, so we were bound to circle around to hair eventually.]

    Anyway.  Somehow four years of this somewhat-insane daily habit have elapsed, so it’s becoming a little harder to assess The Meaning Of It All.  It’s just a thing that I do now, like brushing my teeth or self-chastising about my peanut butter M&M habit.  (Don’t come at me with “the peanut ones are better!”  No, they are not.)  All I can tell you is that I value it so much, and the last thing I do at the end of every day is look back at the week’s photos, usually with the assessment “You need something red in these!”

    This last quarter of year four really kicked me around.  I had a complete meltdown in late June due to the potent combination of exhaustion and chigger bites, which meant that even though I was already fried, I didn’t sleep for several nights.  (Ironically, the story of that accompanies probably the most beautiful photo in this whole set.  Go figure.)  I carried that physical depletion with me to an extended-family shoot that turned into the most difficult editing job of my photographic career, then immediately hopped a plane to Pittsburgh for 36 hours for my friend Katie’s annual visit from Korea.  I would never miss that weekend for any reason, so I am so glad I went, but leaving Pittsburgh on a Monday night and then launching into Air Travel Hell three days later in an attempt to get to remote Canada was my ultimate undoing.

    My meltdown sequel happened in the backseat of a car in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, where I became convinced that if I had to spend onemoresecond in a slow-moving car filled with mosquitoes that I would actually explode.  (Being in a slow-moving car is one of my more unfortunate pet peeves.)  Since I was in the middle seat of this car with five (very nice and wonderful, I hasten to add) strangers, this meltdown was a silent one.  But it meant that when I got back to the hotel, I hadn’t even showered off my layers of bugspray before I figured out a way to cut my trip short and get back to Memphis the next day.  And that, friends, is I hope what definitively teaches me that having too many things on one’s schedule, no matter how lovely those things are individually, is not the best way to give everything–and everyone–their proper due.

    (The full story of the Canadian craziness is here.  Despite the unhappy beginning and ending to the story, the middle was really pretty great, and Saskatchewan is stunningly beautiful.)

    I wound up washing away the summer scheduling hangover with a long weekend by myself in at the beach in Alabama.  Instead of plodding through endless airport delays, I drove my car on one last road trip before sending it to live in DC with my brother.  I listened to a ton of Comedy Bang! Bang! episodes, I read some magazines, I found a gem of a state park to hike, and I paid multiple visits to an outdoor restaurant I would describe as “perfect,” listening to them spin the Marshall Tucker Band on vinyl day after day.  It was the perfect quiet, unscheduled time–an introvert’s birthday gift to herself.

    And so now I feel good again.  (It doesn’t hurt that the chiggers have retired for the year and I can go into the Old Forest again without sacrificing several days’ sleep as a consequence.)  I’m going to take the lessons of the past year and try to apply them to make the coming year happier, less stressful, and focused less on the noise and more on the good stuff.  Guess we’ll see how I did now that this project has officially been re-elected for a second term!

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  4. Sep
    19

    TOPIC: Newborn Sessions.

    Kaylea | Arlington Newborn Photography

    Sweet Kaylea is the newest addition to my extended family, and I couldn’t be prouder of her and her mama, my cousin Jessica.  They had a rough few days after Kaylea was born early, but both of them rallied and are doing wonderfully.  Jessica and her husband Mike are so smitten with this little girl–even if they don’t quite see eye-to-eye on whether she should rock a pink hair bow!  (Not to worry: when a little one is in as happy and cooperative a mood as Kaylea was during her session, everybody can get photos just the way they like them!)

    I think Kaylea was excited to show me her room.

    Kaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photosKaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photosKaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photos

    Whatever was out the window was an endless source of fascination.Kaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photosKaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photos

    Kaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photos

    Kaylea decided that her recent meal wasn’t doing the trick, so we sent Mike off to warm a bottle for her while she snuggled with Jessica.Kaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photosKaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photosKaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photosKaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photosKaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photosKaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photosKaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photos

    Time for some cuddling with Dad.  This girl loves to be on her tummy.Kaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photosKaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photosKaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photos

    She was so chilled-out all afternoon.Kaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photos

    Determined to be dainty.Kaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photosKaylea - Arlington, TN newborn photos

    I can’t wait to watch this gorgeous little girl grow up!  If she’s anything like her mom as a kid, we are all in for some fun adventures.  :)

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  5. Sep
    16

    TOPIC: Solo Sessions.

    So Much To See | Memphis Child Photography

    The always-amazing Grant was my first of probably many subjects to have photos made at Rainbow Lake Playground.  I’ve had a front-row seat to the playground’s renovation, since that’s been our major project for the better part of the last year at my regular gig.  It’s such a beautiful, colorful place full of good vibes and happy kids, so it’s a perfect backdrop for photos without sacrificing that natural park-like look.

    Grant was super-fascinated by all the goings-on, and we even had an impromptu assist in amusing him from a passing four-year-old.

    Rainbow Lake Playground family photos

    Grant is nine months old now, and standing on the bench (with his daddy as a spotter, of course!) was his favorite part of the day.Rainbow Lake Playground family photos

    Oh, those eyes.Rainbow Lake Playground family photos

    He let himself go for the swings with wild abandon.Rainbow Lake Playground family photosRainbow Lake Playground family photos

    One of the trees around Rainbow Lake had the perfect Grant-sized spot.Rainbow Lake Playground family photosRainbow Lake Playground family photos

    “I don’t know so much about this sandbox.”Rainbow Lake Playground family photos

    “That’s better.”Rainbow Lake Playground family photos

    This grit and determination allowed him to scale the mini-climbing wall all by himself.Rainbow Lake Playground family photosRainbow Lake Playground family photos

    Standing up is where it’s at.Rainbow Lake Playground family photos

    Can’t wait for this little dude’s first birthday in a couple of months!!

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