Togetherness

Warning! This blog post requires audience participation!

I want you to imagine your ideal family portrait hanging on your wall…

Seriously, close your eyes and imagine it. Who is in it? What are they wearing? Who are you standing next to? What colors do you see? What is in the background? Is there anything in the foreground? Are you in the city? A park? Overlooking water?  Are there trees, grass, buildings? Where is everyone looking? Can you see their expressions? Is it a serene and serious photo, or is there laughter? Smiling?

 I’m guessing you probably said yes to smiling. But look again…are they REALLY smiling? Did you say, “Yes”? Then can I ask, why are they smiling? Is it because Grandma promised them ice cream if they behave during the photo shoot? Is it because Dad has lollipops in his pocket that he’s handing out like dollar bills every time a kid cracks a grin? (Believe me, I don’t judge!) Are they smiling because you, the Mom who desperately wants a picture of your entire family together (with you actually in it for once); the same Mom who scheduled this portrait session in hopes you could miraculously make it happen, who stressed for a week about outfit style and perfect colors and if that dress is flattering, who promised your husband he wouldn’t look cheesy or matchy-matchy, who snuck out of work way too early to pick up the kids, who realized one of your cranky kids has a runny nose and the other didn’t take his afternoon nap, who wrangled them into matching outfits in the backseat of the car trying not to ruin your dress, who is carrying baby wipes around to wipe off the boogers and dirt they have collected in the last 5 minutes, who is watching your spouse show up late and you swear they might be wearing a tee-shirt and flip flops; might have actually lost your cool and threated their very lives if everyone didn’t stare at the camera and smile? (And again, I do not judge.)

 Or maybe they are smiling because, despite all that drama, they are actually having fun. They are truly smiling out of pure joy…The kind of smile that starts in your eyes and ends when all the people looking at you are also smiling because it was contagious. That’s the kind of smiles I think we all image in our ideal family portraits.

Before every family photoshoot, I ask the Mom or Dad what their goals are for the session and not once has someone said to me, “I want a picture of all of us looking at the camera smiling”. Never. Are you surprised? I actually was when I first started doing this. Instead they say things like…

 “I have never been able to get my family together for a portrait, and I just so badly want a picture of us all together.”

Or they say…

“If you can just get a picture of us all together with the baby not crying, that would be a miracle.”

Or they say…

“My husband and I haven’t had a real photograph since our wedding, and I would love one of us together.” 

Does this all sound relatable? Do you see the common denominator in every conversation I have with a Mom or Dad about their portraits? They all say, “Together”. People just want to be together with their loved ones and to have a way to remember that time together.

More than a family all in the same place, looking in the same direction and smiling, portraiture should reflect togetherness…Connectedness…Loved ones having fun together…Having experiences together…Feeling happiness together. My goal isn’t to just capture families looking at me and my camera. (I’m really not all that cute to look at!) My goal is to capture families looking at EACH OTHER. I mean I want them REALLY looking at each other…connecting with each other…loving each other. In the end it doesn’t matter what you wear, or what happened before you got there, or if you have a picture-perfect family on that particular day. What matters is the togetherness, because that is what creates beautiful, emotionally charged portraiture. That is what creates moments and memories. That is what creates your family history.

A Message To All The "Brave" Ones

Normally I use few words on social media, but last night something moved me to share because I believe many can relate. A photographer I know recently commented they’d had a fully functioning photography website for a year before they told anyone it existed, because they were so insecure about their work. Wow. Let me count the ways can I relate to that. I can’t even remember how long it took me to activate my website, or how resistant I am to post anything on social media, or how uncomfortable it is to put myself out there. Out of fear? Fear of what? I’m not sure.

 

Recently I heard something life changing. During a marketing conference, two seemingly insanely successful business men asked if we wanted to know the MOST important secret to success as an entrepreneur. “Yes, please!!!”, we all shouted. Instantaneously the larger than life projection screen exploded into these words, in all caps:

 

”STOP CARING WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK.”

 

Really? All I could think was, “Shit, I’m screwed.” I might as well pack it up now and ask them for a refund. If any of you other entrepreneurs out there have honestly mastered this “most important” tenant of success, please raise your hand, and please teach me.

 

But seriously, is that even possible? To totally stop caring what other people think?

 

My high school asked graduating seniors to provide a quote to accompany their picture in the yearbook. Want to know mine? “Be brave. Even if you are not, pretend to be. No one can tell the difference.” (I think I read it in “Life’s Little Instruction Book.”) I admit it was kind of a dorky quote for a high school senior, and I knew it at the time. All my classmates had way cooler quotes. The most memorable being, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”. (I’m pretty sure you know where that is from.) But really, isn’t that the same message, wrapped up in thicker armor? Aren’t we all really the same deep down? Humans navigating our dreams and drives while being chased by our fears and innate need for self-preservation?

 

So, based on that I decided to write my own version of the marketing gurus’ wisdom: PRETEND TO STOP CARING WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK. Yes, I think I can do that. 

 

So, here is my commitment for 2019. To live by my own tenant of success for an entrepreneur (or photographer, or creative, or artist, or trend-setter) and “pretend to stop caring what other people think.”

 

See, the simple truth is I don’t take pictures or design things because I think I am good at it. In fact, every time I post one of my photographs anywhere, it kind of feels like jumping off a cliff, hoping I don’t fall flat on my face. I do it because there is a monstrous drive at the center of my being to make things. After too many years sitting at a desk, that blessed monster just got too loud to ignore. I do this whether I am good at it or not. I will continue to do it whether I succeed or fail. I do this because I can’t not do it. I heard it takes 10,000 tries to master something, so I will just keep feeding the monster my time and my tries, in hopes she will continue to be stronger than my fears.

 

So, that being said, carry on “brave” ones. You got this.

A Desert Engagement

I had been walking this desert path every day for a week. It was the Holidays and I had taken my house full of boys to the Sonoran desert to exchange the Oregon rain for a healthy dose of Vitamin D. Every time I walked this path, the scenery and the golden sunlight had my camera begging me to find someone to photograph. I agreed with my camera, and longingly wished for an engaged couple to appear out of nowhere, wearing silk and chiffon, so I could photograph them out here in the desert. It would be a dream come true!

Exit peaceful reverie and fast forward a few days to the glorious chaos of Christmas morning. My boys were knee deep in gift wrap, chasing each other around the house with their new toys. By the way, I swear we could give them a teddy bear wrapped in bubble wrap and they could still manage to turn it into a weapon to chase each other around with. I look like a frazzled cat herder in Santa pajamas, trying to mediate the chaos, with endless Christmas recipes and lists of ingredients clicking through my head like a broken record: “salmon, turkey, dressing, salads, potatoes, brussel sprouts, pecan pie”…aaaaand repeat. While all of this is going on, enter stage right, just into town for the holiday after a long, relaxing, and apparently very romantic trip to Sedona, my cousin and his girlfriend. I had actually not met his girlfriend yet, but like the rest of my family I was eagerly awaiting the opportunity. But forget the introductions! I can’t help but notice something shiny on her finger catching the light and calling to me like a beacon. Moments after their arrival, “Were engaged!” they announce!

 

Sorry to make this about me, but let’s be real.  ”Woohoo! Engagement photo session, here we come!”

 

By the evening of their photo session, all my dreams of flowy chiffon dresses in the warm desert breeze were long gone as daily the weather reported, “Rain! Snow! Rain!”  Yes, snow. It actually snowed in northern Scottsdale on New Year’s Day, which was truly gorgeous and amazing. Thankfully, however, on this particular evening, despite the chill, we still had the glorious golden late day light. So, with the Bride-to-Be’s flowing dress hiding temporarily under the armor of her winter coat, we set out into the desert.

 

It was such an honor to photograph the love between these two perfectly matched souls. In that chilly hour, as the sun set over the Sonoran Desert and we walked through washes, and along trodden dirt paths, through brush, and over boulders, I felt like I got to see a whole new side of my cousin. I was moved by the way he held his Bride-to Be’s hand, the way he helped her with her coat, the way they laughed constantly together, but mostly it was the way he looked at her. I can’t tell you how many times I was checking my camera or scouting a new spot and I would look up to catch some perfect moment between them. “Keep doing that!” I would yell, ungracefully trying to get my camera ready. So many times, his bride would point something out in the desert beyond, but my cousin didn’t look up to where she was pointing. He was still looking at her. It was as if in that moment she spoke, her words were the most important thing in the world, and he stared at her, holding onto each one for just a moment before letting it go into the wind.

 

We are all back home now, back to our daily lives, and a New Year is upon us. But as I go through the photographs from that day, I can’t help but want to raise a toast. Cheers to my cousin and his bride-to-be and their new life together. And Cheers to the gift of finding someone in this life who truly sees us, truly hears us, and truly loves us.  Happy New Year!

Who Says You Have to be Quiet in Church?

...or in a Cathedral...or in Cathedral Park, to be more exact.

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of photographing this beautiful family in Cathedral Park in Northern Portland. If you have never been there, I can describe it only as the closest I've seen a park come to being a sacred space. (That's actually a big statement coming from me, as I once spent months in Kyoto, Japan, studying Japanese Buddhist architecture and gardens.) Maybe its my background in architecture and design, but I absolutely love this place. The trifecta of towering bridge supports, reminiscent of a gothic cathedral, its greenery and flowers, and the way it rolls down the hill towards the river, make it my perfect outdoor space. Every time I step foot into this park, I find myself looking up into the gothic arches and I feel a quiet awe come over me that I liken to walking towards a Medieval Cathedral somewhere in old Europe. 

As it happens all of this character also makes it the perfect place for family photographs, but I can tell you from the moment these two beautiful sisters jumped out of the car, there was nothing quiet about it. It was around 7 o'clock in the evening and I'm pretty sure they had as much energy as they had at 7 o'clock that morning. They came ready to play. In fact as I was taking a moment to connect with them and get them focused and excited about having their picture taken, the oldest said to me, "You know, if the kids are having fun, you don't have to ask them to smile because they will already be smiling." So with the brilliant advice of a seven year old, that became the name of the game for this family photo session. I promised her that we would have fun and she promised me that she would be smiling. And I don't know if you can tell from the pictures below, but I'm pretty sure I never had to ask this family to smile for the camera. 

Thank you to this beautiful family for a delightful evening in Cathedral Park and to these energetic sisters that helped me see one of my favorite Portland landmarks in a whole new way.

Authenticity Always Wins

I hear consistency is everything to a portrait photographer and the ultimate compliment could be if a client tells you their photos are exactly what they expected. It means your style is predictable and they know what they are going to get before they even hire you. Translation...their satisfaction is guaranteed. But I am still in the process of evolving and looking for my favorite style. I have been drawn to light and airy photos, especially since I often photograph beach, but I live in Oregon and for as much time as I spend photographing coastal sunsets, I spend much more time amongst the clouds and the trees. Also, Oregon can be edgy...sometimes even gritty. Its not posed. Rather, it does whatever it wants. Sometimes light and airy just doesn't feel right for the space, the weather, the location, or the clients. 

So I am following this feeling and letting go of my style a bit so I can be authentic and true to what the art calls for. Its a bit risky. What if the client doesn't like their photos? After all, they don't match what they saw in my portfolio. Its a risk I am going to take this time. In my experience authenticity is always the good guy, and the good guy always wins.

I scheduled this session at Reed College, a beautiful college campus I am very familiar with because my husband happens to work there. Lots of beautiful buildings, trees, a river, and on this day I was hoping a stunning sunset. In reality, it was classic Oregon...chilly and cloudy and the golden hour stubbornly refused to appear. 

I loved photographing this family of seven. My largest family to date! They were amazing, and charming, and beautiful. They had style and sass and I loved watching them all wrangle and herd each other around the campus. On this day I didn't see them as light and airy...I saw them as grounded, and striking, and smart, and best of all, authentic. They were real. So I wanted their photos to be real too. 

To top off the evening we did get a few moments of sunset in the final moments of our session, but I still think the cloudy images are my favorites.

Sweet Shasta

“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day.  It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.” 
― John GroganMarley and Me: Life and Love With the World's Worst Dog

Recently I had an experience that reminded me, with incredible clarity, of why being behind my camera means so much to me. A few weeks ago I woke up like any typical day, perused my schedule, and thought about what prep I needed to do for a family photoshoot I had booked for 4 pm that afternoon. It was a slightly different kind of photoshoot, in that the family had received word a few weeks earlier that their sweet dog, Shasta, had cancer and her time with them would be limited. In a profound expression of love and compassion for Shasta, her Mom declared it the "Summer of Shasta", and she created a bucket list of joyful summer activities for Shasta and the family, promptly getting to work to make it all happen. I was so honored when they asked me to be part of the "Summer of Shasta" with a family portrait featuring Shasta in a leading roll.

The morning of the shoot, Shasta's mom texted me at 6 AM saying something was wrong. Shasta was not moving and she was worried Shasta might not make it through the day. She asked me to come to their house to do the photoshoot that morning before the kids left for school so she would have at least one last picture of their family with Shasta...just in case. So, I packed my own little ones off to daycare and school and headed to their house. As I gathered my gear and approached the house I saw neighbors somberly filing in and out to say their goodbye's. Inside, the kids, who were unaware of the reality of the situation, were upbeat and happy to see me, but I could see for their parents there had recently been tears.  Shasta was quiet, laying on her little bed, and we all worked together to coax her outside to a comfortable spot on the back deck where the family could gather and play around her. 

The photoshoot was very brief and we had limited space to move. Our priority was to make sure Shasta remained comfortable, so I just asked the family to hold her and gently cuddle with her as they normally would and then I did the best I could. As I photographed them I had tears in my eyes as I could see Shasta's Mom and Dad struggling with questions like, "Is this it?" and "What do I tell the kids?" It took me back to losing my own dogs as a child and the intensity of the sadness I felt at the time. And I felt sad for Shasta...Sweet Shasta. 

We wrapped up quickly and I said my own goodbye's before Shasta's Mom and Dad took her to the doctor. I kept an eye on my phone all day, waiting for word about Shasta. Finally that night I received a relieved note that Shasta, while still very sick, would have a little more time with them and that the "Summer of Shasta" was not over yet. Shasta's Mom was so happy we had done the photoshoot, however, as it was something she could check off the bucket list and she could relax knowing they had a family photo. 

In reflection of that day, I feel immensely grateful and humbled that this family trusted me to be there and witness this raw and emotional moment in their life. It is that kind of experience that gives meaning to this work. Photography, to me, is about something we all desperately crave from the core of our being...the magical power to momentarily stop the passing of time....to capture, honor, and hold forever a moment of profound importance, love, or other emotion. Sometimes those moments are obvious and sometimes they are fleeting, seen only because of the presence of a camera. Ironically, the photograph itself is not for the here and now. It is for ten, twenty, or maybe fifty years from now, when those children are grown and Shasta is long gone. Its about holding that picture in one's hand and being so grateful to have that one thing to connect us to that person, place, or moment in time.  And so with that thought and the inspiration of this family, I will continue to put one foot in front of the other and pursue this dream of mine, because photography feels like a purpose, it is a way I can serve others, and in moments like these, there is truly nothing else I would rather be doing.  

Portland is Pretty in Pink!

Spring is in full force these days and I am grateful to say that life has been rather fun and exciting lately, (mostly because I recently officiated my best friend's wedding and it was one of the great honors of my life), but admittedly I am a little behind in my posting. I couldn't let this Cherry Blossom photoshoot go by unnoticed, however, because it was such a short lived opportunity that only comes once a year. 

I took these images the last week of March. Its that time in Portland when your yards are still muddy, you still wear your raincoat, and winter's perpetual rain evolves into short bursts of drenching rain that could almost be called storms, except they only last about 10 minutes. If we are going to see hail, this is when it usually happens. As all this is happening, BAM, Spring sort of hits you in the face all at once with thousands of flowering trees, tulips, and daffodils, and you wonder where it all came and how did it get there. On this particular day, the cherry blossoms were is full bloom all over Portland, but most notably in Tom McCall Park on the Portland waterfront.  Cherry blossoms are fleeting, making Portland their home for only a couple of weeks, before their tree leaves emerge and pink gives way to Oregon's signature color, green. This photoshoot was my first time being in the park during this beautiful time and I am so thankful the family requested this spot so I had an excuse to experience it. At the end of March and the beginning of April, it is a Portland destination not to be missed.

Since I knew we would be competing for space with lots of other cherry blossom admirers, this sweet family of 6 met me at the park at what felt like the crack of dawn in the hopes of avoiding the crowds. How they got all 4 kids up and dressed and out the door that early, I will forever wonder at.  This location is a vibrant pedestrian park full of cyclists, pedestrians, and at this time of year about 10 other photographers fighting over the same spot to photograph their clients. Challenges included keeping the kids from being run over by bikes, taking photographs without 10 strangers in the background, taking photographs without another photographer in the background, and isolating the images from the immediate urban environment and busy adjacent highway. Somehow we managed though and after about an hour of shooting, here are a few of my favs. 

Dawn at Cathedral Park

Ironically for this profession, one of the greatest challenges I have is tearing myself away from my computer and going outside to take pictures. I realize it seems counter intuitive, but there is a bottomless pit of perfectionism that ties me down and says, "These pictures would be better if you just edited them one more time...Your clients will love these pictures if you can just fix that one stray hair...You will sell more art if you can just give that landscape more drama." And the internal dialogue goes on and on. But the reality is, my goal is for great photos that happen in camera, not in computer, and the only way to perfect this craft is to get off my ass and go take pictures. Luckily my Portraiture business gives me a great excuse because I have to get out and about to find great locations that will set the stage for pictures my clients and their families will love. Also luckily, I live in one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in the country which doubles down on the excuse to get off the computer. Thus I have made it my goal, as the long awaited springtime descends upon us, to take one day a week, pick a new spot, and set out to explore with my camera in hand.

This past week Cathedral Park was my destination, a place I cannot believe its taken me 7 years of living in Portland to get to. Cathedral Park is located at the base of the St John's Bridge in the far Northern reaches of the Portland Metro. I arrived right after dawn to find an essentially deserted park, which never happens in Portland. At that time of day, save for some pretty haggardly, and dedicated I might add, looking fisherman pulling their boats in and out of the water at the boat launch, the place was quiet. The park is interesting both in what it lacks and in what is offers. There was not a playground, as far as I could see, which also never happens in Portland, and I didn't see any children running around. It is a fascinating juxtaposition of powerful and industrial concrete and steel against a backdrop of camellia trees, Forest Park, and both strategically and romantically placed park benches. Most fascinating is how the park allows someone to interact so closely with architecture and engineering that is usually only admired from a distance. The structure of the bridge literally and figuratively creates the sense of a sacred cathedral space as you walk under and around the arches of the bridge. I really have never been anywhere like it and I cannot wait to get a family or couple there and photograph them against such a unique backdrop.

In the meantime I spent a few hours just sitting at the end of the docks at the boat launch watching the birds, wandering the paths around the arches, and photographing the bridge details. My goal was to capture a series of images that explored the juxtaposition of the cold industrial bridge and its dramatic place in nature and amongst people. I've dropped in a few images from the day below...enjoy! Next stop, Tom McCall Waterfront Park. I have a family photoshoot there in a couple of weeks...just in time for the cherry tree blossoms!


Celebrating Sweet Sage

This has been an amazing year of change, and birth, and rebirth. From the arrival of our 2nd son Sage, to revisiting career paths, to journeys from one coast to the other, we have run the wide course of emotions from excitement, to frustration, to hope, to joy. But as I review these photos from Sage's one year cake smash, I mostly feel gratitude and wonder for the gift of my family and this beautiful little butterball. Everyday I try to see the world through his brand new eyes and in doing so find its a lot more colorful, way tastier, sounds more beautiful, and is simply a seriously fun place to be.