Believing Your Own Awesome

At what point do you let yourself believe your own Awesome? I had two clients pay me very big compliments over the course of the last 24 hours. And in both instances, my initial thought was “phew. Pulled that one off!” Really? What is that? Why not let myself believe I am exactly what I am to them and what I’ve been to countless clients over the last 7 years? I have two theories on that. The second is probably the most likely. So let’s start with the first. The first is if I let myself believe my own awesome, then I’ve got an ego. And having an ego means I’m a full of myself, class A jerk. It could also mean I stop working to learn and challenge myself. I lose my hunger and my edge. I also realize most of that is likely complete lies I tell myself. Like I said, it’s a theory.

So onto theory #2. If I believe it my own awesome, then it’s real. And that is scarier than any ego I’ve ever come up against. It means I am truly as good as they say I am. And that means I can go as big as I’ve ever wanted to go. I think that’s been true for a long time. But it’s easier to stay small. To quietly make enough money to contribute to my household, pay for the extras, take my family on vacation. But going bigger (which I really do want), means really going bigger. Saying out loud what my clients say to me. That I really am awesome at what I do and how I do it. That those ideal clients are truly attainable. On a consistent basis. I know that because they are happening.

I pour my true heart into my craft. I light up when I do it. If you’ve worked with me, you’ve seen the pure joy I do not hide when I glance at the back of my camera. Like a little girl.

So, there it is. Plain and simple. We are our own roadblock to believing our awesome. It’s easier to be “good.” Great is overwhelming. I’ve told many people in my life, I am painfully self-aware. I know my potential and I know what keeps me from achieving it. Stupid self-awareness.

And by the way, if you’re waiting for me to provide an all-encompassing answer to get past this, I don’t have it. But I’m certain I’m not the only person who feels this way, so I’m sharing. I will figure it out, in time, as I’m a constant work in progress. 

Been Sitting on This One.

It happened. I had my first down year. I knew it was coming but it wasn’t until I wrapped up the taxes that it became real. I have no problem admitting it. No one wants to have it, but I was told by so many who came before me that it was inevitable. In all honesty, I kinda feel like it’s a right of passage as a business owner. I’m established enough after 7 years that I’m not afraid of it. In fact, it’s had several rather positive effects on me.

The first is one that reminds me, time and again, that things happen for a reason. My family needed my attention a little extra over the last 6 months and I was able to give more of myself than I usually am able over the Fall/Winter. Things could be different for my son right now if I had not been able to be present enough to see what he needed and have the time to give it to him. And as a result, our daughter needed even more reassurance that she’s just as important to us as he is, even though it seems he’s getting a lot of us lately. Basically, the extra time I had made me recognize things I may have missed in my usual Fall state of hysteria.

The other great effect my downtime had was that it forced me to take a step back and look at my business. Where it was, where it is now and where I really want it to go. After a highly concentrated two weeks of craziness, consisting of back-to-back weekends of roughly 25 mini sessions between Forrest River, IL and Haddonfield, NJ, I had a lull. A long one. In fact, if I’m going to truly share and be honest, I’ll have to admit that I had only had one full session this past Fall. ONE. I don’t mind saying it out loud. My prices are on the high-end and right where they should be. I never apologize for it as I believe you get what you pay for. But it happened, and it knocked me down a bit. However, it then forced me to pick myself back up and look inside.

A few weeks after the holidays, still unable to shake the crappy feeling from my Fall, I was scanning through old shoots looking for something funny to post on a Friday. I happened upon a full session from a few years ago with a family that, at the time, I hadn’t yet gotten to know really well. We had a great session with a lot of laughs and great results.  However, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized just how great. Over the years since the shoot, this family has become an extension of mine. We’ve grown very close and when I went back to look at that shoot, I saw the genuine interactions that I now get to see whenever we’re together. It brought me to tears because that’s what I love about my work and how I do it. Everything we captured that day was so truly the Bakers. From silly to happy and then back to super silly.  And right then, I knew why I was feeling unfulfilled.

There are reasons I only do one day of mini sessions locally and one time, per year in Chicago. And also reasons why I feel kind of like a jerk saying no when people ask me do a mini for them other times throughout the year.  So I want to be very clear in saying I am super grateful for everyone who uses me for these sessions. They’re a necessity for many reasons and if I didn’t want to do them, I wouldn’t.  To me, a mini session is meant to accomplish certain things, be that getting a few updated family shots or maybe just a couple holiday card photos. I’m good at what I do, so in 20 minutes, I know exactly which combinations of photos I need to capture to ensure each client gets both of those things. In fact, many of my mini session clients are past or regular full-session clients who don’t feel the need for a full session every year but want a few annual photos. Makes total sense.

This whole explanation about mini sessions leads me to the point about ME and the feelings I arrived at this past year. I have spent 7 years building a business doing what I love. I’ve been blessed enough to grow it from just a family and lifestyle offering into a thriving commercial photography business, as well. I know why people hire me and I know why they come back. I just needed a good look back to get a reminder. What families hire me for, and will end up with as a result, is a product of time, my desire and ability to connect with families, and my endless drive to give them exactly what they want, as well as things they never dreamed of having. I’m never content giving anyone the same thing they had a previous year or the same thing their neighbor got from me. I don’t churn out sessions quickly to get paid and move on. To me, that would signal the death of my creativity, and if churning becomes my thing, I will kindly kick own my ass.

I love having a parent say, “you really captured him/her/us.” And that’s not to say that cannot happen in a mini session but it’s much harder because the play time, chat time and interaction time isn’t always there. It’s not unheard of in a mini session but it’s rare and usually the product of an existing relationship. What I’m trying to say is that My ART, the one that lights me up, makes me continue to innovate and, in the end, draws clients to me, exists wholeheartedly in the time I get to spend with people and families.

Since all this has happened and I’ve had time to reflect, I’ve gone back to so many shoots where I found the magic and was so easily reminded why I can’t get enough of what I do and why it fulfills me so completely. And I got so reinvigorated. I’m pouring myself into a new personal project that is 100% for me. One that’s causing me to learn new things and be so proud of the fact that after 7 years, I’ve established myself enough to be able to put time and money into something personal. And I was able to realize that I can also have a down year and know, with zero doubt, that it won’t slow me down one bit. In fact, it’s caused me to hit the accelerator. Hard.

So, as I’ve poured over this post too many times, I really, really want to stress that I am so grateful for everyone who hires me for any type of session. And I respect that what is for one, may not be for another. That’s what makes the world go round. I just needed to find my craft again and know why I felt something was missing. All of these cycles make total sense to me. Like I said above, it’s like a right of passage. I arrived, crushed it and then stumbled a bit. All so I could re-examine and then arrive again. 

Holiday Card Crunch

Ok friends. It’s December and it’s crunch time. Yea, yea. I know you’ve got presents to buy and middle of the night elfin panic attacks to have, but I’m talking about your holiday card. It’s time. And for any number of reasons I completely understand, you did not get on the calendar of a professional photographer this year. Trip and fall, root canal, acne breakout. Or perhaps, it’s something simpler such as budget restrictions or schedules that include 17 sporting events every weekend. The struggle is real.

So now it’s on you. You, and you alone, are charged with capturing your own brood of lunatics. Or angels. I wasn’t in your house this morning, so it’s none of my business. But photography is my business. And to show you there’s no hard feelings for your obvious neglect for putting money in my pocket this holiday season, I’m going to share a few pro tips with you to ensure no one ends up with an injury. Oh, and that your hundreds of friends and family are putting your card front and center this year. 

 Disclaimer: You will not see any of my recent client work on my blog in November and December. I have an innate fear of positing their holiday card selections before they’ve been allowed to shock, awe and delight those closest to them.

TIME OF DAY

Photography is all about the light. And certain times of day can usually guarantee certain types of light. The so-called Magic Hours are the hour or two after sunrise and the hour or two before sunset, most especially on a bright and sunny day. These hours are when the sun is low in the sky, providing softer, more forgiving light. When the sun is high at midday, the result can be squinty eyes and blown out highlights or very harsh, deep shadows.

Should you find yourself with no other good time to shoot than at high noon on a sunny day, find some open shade. That’s the shade right where the sun drops off. Closer to a structure or tree.

Disclaimer 2: There are certainly ways to work with this light and make it awesome. However, unless you’ve got lots of time to play, you’re best served leaving that time of day to a professional. If they’re worth their salt, they can shoot anytime. So don’t fret if you hire a good professional and they only time slot he or she has available is noon.

Another thing to keep in mind with time of day is your particular child or children’s “good times.” With babies, right after a nap is best. Or with toddlers, late in the day can be really rough as they are spent and can be very cranky.  Or so I’ve heard. My toddlers were perfect.

CLOTHING

I always tell my clients to put their children in clothing in which they’ll be comfortable. If they are not comfortable, they will look exactly as such in the photos. Uncomfortable. And in all honesty, you’ll want to look at the photos one, five and ten years from now and be able to say “that was so them,” even if you hated the superhero shirt she insisted on wearing everyday (sorry, Mom).  My point is, if your 8 year old is in a leisure suit when he much prefers jeans and tees, he’s going to act like he’s in a leisure suit. Not good.

DISPOSITION

And I don’t mean the kids. When I am shooting families, more often than not, I will have to tell Mom or Dad to go away. In the nicest way possible, of course. If your child is acting up or not cooperating during our shoot, you, as parents, get agitated. Rightfully so. But the kids know it, and we all know what happens from there. So it's best you let me handle it. But, if you have to be the one taking their photo, be patient. Slap on a smile and bring out the playfulness, even when you’re ready to lose your marbles and start handing down beat downs.  

Finally, let them have fun, but work efficiently. Kids, especially the young ones, only have so much in the tank. Remember, you don’t need 25 perfect pictures. You really only need one or two for the card.

I hope this helps. And remember, should all else fail, you know where to find me.

Happy Holidays, friends!



Getting Personal

It was a really great summer. Professionally, but mostly, personally. Lots of great family and friend time. Laughs, vacations and visits. And lots of time to reflect on the amazing people in my life. My daughter has been on my mind a lot this summer and, per usual, I’ve written it down.

You see, we have this son. His name is Ryan. And I’ll make no apologies for saying that he’s cute. Straight up adorable. People stop me on the street to let me know.  It’s always been that way. He’s funny, kind and a great conversationalist at the ripe old age of 6. He’s infectious. If you’ve met him, you know what I mean.

AND we also have this amazing daughter. Her name is Casey and she’s a few weeks shy of 9. For as long as she’s been aware, she’s seen everyone she knows fawn over how cute her brother is. How you could “just eat him up.” From teachers and adult friends of ours to teenagers and even her own peer group.

Henny and I are not at all oblivious to the fact that although extremely beautiful and wonderful in every way possible, she’s older and people are likely going to be making a fuss over him for a long time. This is not to say people don’t ever fuss over her. They do. But Ryan tends to garner a little more attention. It is what it is. And one of the things that make her so unbelievably amazing is that she seems to have accepted it for what it is. She’s poised, elegant, funny, happy and possesses a level of grace probably rather rare for her age.

I’ve seen all of this for a while now but was never quite sure when she would truly understand what I felt I needed to say to her. That time just came. She and I walked hand in hand to the store to get some things while on our beach vacation in August. I told her that I was very aware of what a big deal people make about Ryan. She nodded in understanding.  I then proceeded to tell her about all of the wonderful things people say directly to Henny and I about what a lovely young lady she is becoming. And although she did love hearing that, I most wanted her to know what I, personally, felt and what I see everyday.

Casey has experienced a lot over the last few years. Unfortunately girl “BS” starts at a very young age and continues. For. A. Long. Time. We’ve had a lot of tough conversations about what she is experiencing, what she can expect and how she ought to handle herself in certain situations. She listens and truly makes an effort to see these situations with empathy and a clear understanding that very rarely, if at all, are they about her. She tries very hard, even when it hurts, to follow the Golden Rule.

And then this summer we made the move from one swim club to another. Both kids loved the previous pool but were excited to join the new one and to be on a new swim team with so many people they already knew. But it was still a change and she had to navigate relationships that had existed long before she came along. Not always easy but most certainly worth it. And they both had a great summer.

That day when we walked together at the shore, I made it very clear that her father and I, and so many others, are in awe of the manner in which she conducts herself. I told her she’s genuine, elegant, intelligent and an absolute joy to be around. She beamed with such pride and I knew it had been the perfect time for this mother/daughter chat.

Daughters are tough for their moms because we want to shield them from every difficult thing we went through and we want to scream at the top of our lungs when we cannot do that. But what we can do is provide them the tools to handle themselves with grace, build them up when their confidence needs a boost, and hold them when it hurts. Casey may not have the same type of fuss made about her as her cutie-pie little bro, but I feel confident she knows that she’s every bit as amazing. And we will do our best to make sure she’s reminded often.

 

 

Julie & Daniel

If you’ve seen it, you know it. It practically smacks you in the face and takes your breath away. And once you’ve seen it, every time thereafter that you think of it, you will smile. It’s impossible not to.

It’s real, honest to goodness, “my happiness is because of you,” Love. That kind you might think only exists in movies like The Notebook. But I guarantee you that it exists in real life. I’ve seen it a few times. I’m lucky enough to live it. Just in a different way now than on the day we wed. And that’s what I got to see and capture when Julie and Daniel said “I do” a few short weeks ago. I got to see it even before they actually said the words. But nothing brings it out like facing one another in front of your nearest and dearest to bind yourselves in marriage. It’s honestly so beautiful.

I spent most of my time with Julie that day, as you would expect. And not only was she truly glowing, she was so undeniably at ease and enjoying every moment of her day. She had nothing to worry about. Surrounded by her sisters, cousins and friends who are like family, she knew where the day was taking her.

And then I got to Daniel. Equally so at ease and enjoying his time with his buddies. You couldn’t make him stop smiling if you tried. And no one did.

They did a “first look” and that was so lovely to watch. They laughed and smiled and took each other in. But it paled in comparison to seeing them face one another to exchange vows and be pronounced husband and wife. I’m fairly decent with words but there is no way to describe what this looks like. So I’ll just share some photos instead. In the absence of being there, these are the only things that can come close.

Before I do, I have to point out that I saw so much other genuine love that day. Among proud and excited siblings and very specifically from an extremely happy, beaming father. I imagine there is nothing like giving your daughter away to her husband. However, it’s pretty safe to say that Jimmy was just fine with shaking Daniel’s hand and handing over Julie’s. He knows exactly how perfectly that hand and her heart will be cared for.

Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of this day. Not doing weddings may have to become doing them “once in awhile.” But only when there’s love like this involved. Because then, I can’t even call it work.

Congratulations, Julie and Daniel. Can’t wait to catch up on the beach this summer!