Member, Professional Photographers of America

We've Been Featured!

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We received an awesome email a few weeks ago from BasicInvite.com, a custom card company. 

The email said, "I wanted to reach out to you because your photos are fantastic and we would love to do a post on our blog featuring you.  BasicInvite.com is a custom card company that allows customers and photographers to instantly personalize everything from wedding invitations to holiday cards. We would be honored to be able to work with Smith Family Photography."

How exciting is that?!?  I replied and told them that I would love the opportunity to write a blog post for them.  It took me a few days to think about the topic.  I finally decided to write about our business and what we do to MAKE a session.  I used images from a session taken during this spring at Mother Neff State Park with an amazing family.  

I’m in love with your style, and all the moments you decided to share with us.
— Makenzie with BasicInvite.com

You can view the featured blog post on BasicInvite.com, which can be found here.  And while you're there, check out their awesome products!  You can save 20% by using the following code.

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A 200 Year Old Portrait

We've all heard the saying, "A picture lasts a lifetime."  But do they really?

My grandmother's favorite hobby is genealogy.  She has binders full of family trees and old photographs.  I must admit, I find these binders fascinating!  I love looking at the old photographs.  Although they differ so much from our current photographic style, they are still full of emotion.  And I can't help but wonder if my own photographs will last that long.  

There is a lot that goes into producing a photograph that will last a lifetime, such as the quality of the paper, the ink, and the elements (humidity, sunlight, etc).  As you've heard me say before, professional labs are worth the extra cost - they are worth the investment.

One of our latest products is an Art Print.  These prints are printed on fine or linen paper.  The awesome quality of Art Prints is their longevity.  They are made to last.  They will last 200 plus years with less than 8% color fade during this time.  Ah-mazing!  

And now you can try one for FREE!  After you have booked five sessions, you will receive a coupon good for one complimentary 11x14 Art Print from your next session.  I can't wait for you to experience them for yourself!  They truly are an investment for your family's memories.

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why, Why, WHY?

Beware.  This post contains a rant.

Digitals versus Prints.  That is the debate among many photographers.  Each has their own business model and beliefs about what a photographer provides their clients.  I personally choose to offer both, prints and digital images, however I specialize in offering a selection of professionally printed wall art as opposed to a disc of images.

I have this belief for several reasons, which I have discussed in another blog.  You can read more about those beliefs here.  But this post is not about my beliefs regarding this matter.  

I know why some clients choose digital images.  They like having the ability to print the images as they wish.  Others like to have a hard copy for safe keeping.  I completely understand both of those reasons.  However, I hear stories from other photographers about clients completely editing the images they've received from a photographer and/or slapping Instagram filters on them.  I do not understand this at all.  Why hire a photographer if you're just going to edit the images yourself?  

We don't hire a dentist to clean our teeth to just go home and clean them ourselves.

We don't hire a hair stylist to cut our hair just to go home and cut our own hair.

We don't hire a mechanic to change our car oil just to go home and change the oil again.

The list goes on and on...

So why do some hire a photographer just to go home and edit their images after a photographer has already done this?  

Most of the time this is actually illegal per the copyright terms within a photographers contract.  A photographer also has a certain style with regards to their editing - they only produce a certain type of photograph.  They are typically hired for this particular style.  When someone alters this photograph, they are altering their style.  Therefore the photograph no longer accurately represents their work as an artist.  

That is all.  End of rant :)  

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this matter.

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Crock Pot Salsa Chicken Saved My Day

We have six kiddos living in our house.  24 hours a day.  7 days a week.  365 days a year.  So many look at us like we are CRAZY!  But the crazy thing is that I love having a large family.  Not just love it, but LOVE it!  If I could make those capital letters in LOVE even larger, I totally would.  

When May 2017 rolled around I began to panic because two of my kids were seniors and would be graduating at the end of the month.  I flew into a bit of an "empty nest" fear.  I know this made no rational sense since I still had four kids at the house, but it is what it is.  I thought the oldest two would leave and never look back so what's a mom to do besides sign up to be a host mom for a foreign exchange student.  

Fast forward to today, mid-September, and we now have SEVEN kids living in our house.  My six children (because my graduating boys did not leave after all) plus an awesome foreign exchange student.  Needless to say, my fear of having an "empty nest" is gone.  

Even though the empty nest never came, I am still dealing with restructuring my days since they kids are in school and I'm working from home, without constant interruptions from the kids.  I've been reading a lot about how to be productive with my workday and I've learned a lot!  This week has been super productive and I am loving my workdays!

I began by breaking my days into 5 chunks of time.  First and foremost, I know I wanted to make sure I was not working when my family was home and interacting with one another.  So from 3 pm to 8 pm Monday through Friday I am completely present with them.  Driving them crazy I'm sure.  

Beyond that, I needed to break my work into chunks of time.  This is the schedule that I found that has worked well for me with my tasks:

  • 8 -10 am:  housework
  • 10 am to noon:  office work (emails, blogs, receipts, etc)
  • noon to 1/2 pm:  edit sessions
  • 3 to 8 pm:  family time
  • 8 - 11 pm:  edit sessions

If I finish a task early, I can go onto the next task or take a break.  But I can NOT go over the allotted time for a task!  My husband is having a difficult time with this schedule because he'll ask me to do something and I tell him that I will do it the next day during office hours.  I have to do this schedule to avoid burnout and to keep my stress to a minimum.  I've found that I am not productive when I bounce from task to task.  

I start each week with 5 post-it notes in my notebook.  Each one is labeled a day of the week.  I write office tasks on each one for the corresponding day.

Another lifesaver has been the CROCK POT!  Seriously.  It is AH-MAZING!  You just throw the ingredients in, turn it on, and it's ready to eat in 6-8 hours.  I made the BEST chicken tacos the other day (the kids ate it and didn't complain so it passed the test) and thought I'd share the recipe :)

Easy Crock Pot Salsa Chicken

Serves 10 (perfect for big families...or families with boys that eat a lot)

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

32 ounces salsa

1 can corn, drained

1 can black beans, drained

flour tortillas

sour cream

guacamole

lettuce

tomatoes

cheese

salsa

1.  Put first four ingredients into a crock pot.

2.  Cook on low 6-8 hours.

3.  30-60 minutes prior to serving, remove chicken, shred and return to the crock pot.

4.  Add desired condiments.

This recipe was found at www.food.com/recipe/easy-crock-pot-salsa-chicken-16687

If you try this recipe, I'd love to know what your family thought of it.  Just drop a comment below!

Jessica and Matt's Love Story

Jessica and Matt...soul mates.  

Some people believe in love at first sight.  Others believe in the idea of soul mates.  Jessica and Matt are soul mates.

Jessica and Matt

Jessica and Matt

I've photographed their family on multiple occasions over the past few years and when they asked me to photograph their wedding on August 12, 2017 I was honored...and surprised!  Surprised because I honestly thought they were already married!  

Jessica and Matt's love story began with an online dating service, Christian Mingle.  Matt's profile said he lived in Waco, Texas and he caught Jessica's eye.  She's been hurt in the past so she was cautiously, yet optimistically, looking for her Prince Charming.  They began talking on the phone and she realized that he did not live in Waco after all, he was actually living in Wisconsin where he was born and raised.  Jessica admits that at that moment she thought to herself, "Great, I finally meet someone that seems nice and normal and I've actually been catfished."  But Matt was not being deceitful.  In fact, he said he lived in Waco because he was moving to Waco in the near future as he already put in a job transfer to the Waco area.  He originally wanted to move to Waco to be closer to his two daughters.  Meeting Jessica was just one more reason to make the move.

Before Matt was transferred to Waco, he spoke to Jessica daily for several months.  Both of them explain their relationship as a "good friendship."  

Matt eventually moved to Waco and Jessica helped him get situated into his new place.  She helped him unpack and get him settled into his duplex.  Jessica even showed Matt around Waco.  She took the time out of her day to make sure he knew how to get to his office, as well as other places he would have to go to.  Matt admits that he couldn't believe how thoughtful she was during this time.  He found himself not being able to take his eyes off of her.  She was absolutely beautiful and he was mesmerized by her gorgeous smile.  He knew he was starting to fall in love.

Over time, Matt earned Jessica's trust and friendship.  Eventually he also earned her heart.

As time went on, Matt knew he wanted to ask Jessica for her hand in marriage.  He asked her three children for their blessing and with their approval, he began planning.  During their family vacation in Wisconsin, Matt would put his plan into action.  He gathered all the children onto one side of his parents house and he got down on one knee.  They all called for Jessica and when she walked to the side of the house, she said, "YES!"  

Jessica and Matt decided to take the engagement slow.  Neither one saw a need to rush into marriage.  That is until Jessica became ill.  She was hospitalized and Matt was her angel through the entire ordeal.  She realized that Matt was her Prince Charming and she didn't want to wait any longer to become Mrs. Leonardelli.  They began planning their perfect wedding.

The details of the wedding were absolutely stunning!  Everything was so thought out.  Jessica planned out everything meticulously and credits Google and Pinterest for all the ideas.  Everything worked with the venue, Castle Heights Bijoux Events Center, perfectly!

Jessica's favorite part of their wedding day was having her dad there to walk her down the aisle and hearing the vows Matt wrote to her, as well as saying her vows to Matt.  Matt's favorite part of their wedding day was also the vows.  

Quotes From the Bride and Groom

Ladies, wear waterproof mascara! You WILL cry!
— Mrs. Jessica Leonardelli
There’s a belief that soul mates are tied together by a cosmic string. One way or another, they will always find each other. From Wisconsin to Texas, our string pulled us together.
— Mr. Matt Leonardelli
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Special thanks to Angela Bailey with Angela Bailey Photography for assisting in capturing memories at Jessica and Matt's wedding on August 12, 2017.

Wedding Day Photography Timeline

We have several upcoming weddings and with that comes many questions from the bride concerning the timeline for certain photographs during the day.  So here it is....

How much time do we need for wedding day photographs?  Here is a rough guide to answer this question. 

  • Getting Ready:  30-45 minutes with both the guys and the girls.  I always stay with the bride and the second shooter always goes with the guys.  Some choose to skip photographing this time, but you can really get some great shots with lots of emotion!  
  • Bride and Bridesmainds/Groom and Groomsmen:  30 minutes, before the ceremony if possible.  Again, this is just one chunk of time since there are two photographers.  This time is great for getting many of the wedding party shots out of the way so guests don't have so long to wait for your arrival to the reception.  
  • First Look:  30 minutes with just the bride and groom, typically right before the ceremony begins.  The first look is completely optional.  Some couples like to keep things traditional and not see each other before the ceremony.  Either way is perfectly fine...it's YOUR day!  If you do decide on a first look, I highly recommend keeping this to just the couple.  Use this time to enjoy each other before the wedding ceremony.  The actual first look only takes about 10 minutes so you'll have plenty of time to have other photographs taken of you two as a couple.
  • Whole Wedding Party:  30 minutes if you've already taken the bride/bridesmaids and groom/groomsmen photographs earlier.  If not, you should plan for about 45 minutes here.  Again, this varies based on the number in the wedding party as well.
  • Immediate Family:  15 minutes, but this can vary based on how many groups you want to have photographed.  It typically takes one and a half minutes per small group and three minutes per large group.
  • Details:  Detail shots are taken throughout the day so we don't actually "plan" for those.  We just work those in as we can.  Often times we do these if we finish early with the getting ready photographs or even during the reception.

Now knowing this, when should you ask us to arrive?  I suggest you figure out what time the ceremony will start and then work your way through the suggested timeline above to ensure you have enough time for us to capture all the moments you'd like photographed on your wedding day.  Most of our clients opt for a "fake send off."  They are able to have the send off photographed, but then come back into the reception to continue enjoying the company of their guests.  This saves them money by not having a photographer stay the entire length of the reception, but ensuring that they capture all the big events from the day.  

Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you.
— John De Paola
Going To The Chapel Of Love By: The Dixie Cups

 

 

Let's Make a Deal!

Smith Family Photography values the feedback of their clients.  That is why we are asking for Google reviews.  Your reviews help potential clients find a photographer that meets their needs.  We've been thinking of ways to thank our clients for leaving feedback via Google and it suddenly hit me!  

After your session, you will be emailed asking you to consider leaving feedback.  In exchange for your feedback, we will make you a slideshow of your favorite images from your session (a $20 value), which can easily be shared via social media.  This is a great way to share your images with your family and friends!  

We also have a reward system for referrals.  You will earn a $10 credit for every referral that books a session with us and the person that you referred will save 10% off their session fee.  You can read more about our reward system here.  

What do you say...do we have a deal?

Example of a slideshow you would receive after your session in exchange for your Google review.

Dear Senior, Be Photographed!

During my latest senior session I heard her tell her mother that she did not want to have senior photographs taken.  This immediately made me think about my senior year of high school and how I did not want senior photographs taken.  When I was a senior I just felt like the photographs were a waste of my time.  Just seemed pointless.  Until later in life that is!  Now I wish I had them taken!  And that is exactly what I told Becca at her session.  To those seniors that think they don't want to "waste their time" on senior photographs, I promise you...one day you'll wish you had them.  And then it's too late.

1.  Celebrate!  Your senior year is BIG!  You are leaving childhood and entering adulthood.  You have worked your entire life for this moment.  You have slowly developed into your own self...a unique and amazing individual.  Celebrate this turning point in your life by having yourself photographed.

2.  Express Yourself!  By this point in your life you've found hobbies and other areas of interest that consume a great deal of your time.  Take advantage of senior photographs to showcase these interests by bringing uniforms or props to your session...or even using a location that is special to you.  Make the session all about you!

3.  Memories!  I'm sure you've heard it time and time again, but the years really do fly by.  Right now you're a senior in high school getting ready to graduate.  But before you know it, you're 28 attending your 10 year high school reunion and all you have are the goofy yearbook photos.  Your kids will want to see you...your personality...when you were their age.  I don't see many personalities in the staged senior portraits for the yearbook.

4.  Prime Time!  Everyone looks amazing when they're 18.  So young and full of energy!  You're also more than likely (not all the time) in the best shape of your life.  Document this!  

5.  Gifts!  Use your senior photographs as gifts for friends and family.  We offer albums, books, wall art, cards,  and prints just to name a few of the items.  When my own kids graduated high school last year, we sent everyone that gave them a gift a print for them to keep as a keepsake.  It is full of meaning...and memories.

BE PHOTOGRAPHED! It's better to be photographed than wishing you'd been photographed.

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Simple Guide for No Regrets

If your walls could talk, what stories would they tell or would they be silent?

Over the past three years I have heard the same regrets over and over...  

  • "I have so many photographs of my oldest child, but I hardly have any of my younger children."
  • "I wish I would have taken more family photographs that included the parents and grandparents."
  • "I'll just wait until I lose some weight."

Procrastinating is easy.  The truth is that life doesn't pause for us to lose weight or give us extra time to take family portraits.  We are only given so much time.  

I've been thrilled with the recent increase of families that are including grandparents in their family sessions!  I hope this trend continues because I truly believe these photographs will be cherished for YEARS to come.

I've also made it a point to have parents get in a few of the poses with their children, as well as have parents take a few photographs with one another.  Many couples haven't had their photograph taken since their wedding!  

Below is a guide so that there are no regrets later.  It's not a program.  There's no contract to sign.  Just have your family photographed!

One day, you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.
— Paulo Coelho

New Product Alert: Hard Cover Books

We are excited to announce a new product - Hard Cover Books!  These books are perfect for almost every client because it allows you to show your friends and family all the photographs from your session in a professional quality book.  It will be a true keepsake for your family for years to come.

Each page of the book is designed and then placed inside your online gallery for you to view prior to purchasing.  The pages are professional matte paper that is known for its archival quality and timeless appeal.  

The covers include a variety of eurohyde or art cloth covers and are customized with foil stamping.  You can even add a custom cover with an image from your session for an additional fee.  

Foil Stamping on the cover

Foil Stamping on the cover

Another option to the cover is opting or a windowed cover.  This further allows you to customize the cover on your hard cover book without an additional fee.

Windowed Cover

Windowed Cover

I will have a sample hard cover book for you to look at during your session, as well as a Canvas Gallery Wrap, a Wood Print, a Vivid Metal Print, prints from various labs and cards.  If you've had a past session, but are interested in a Hard Cover Book, please let me know and I can design one for your past session.

It's Time for a Transition

I began my photography business for several reasons.  One of which being a particular need that I had as a mother of 6 children.  I needed a professional photographer that could provide my family with professional wall art that did not cost an arm and a leg.  Many photographers charge per person, which is costly for a large family.  I don't really understand this extra charge from a photographer's standpoint.  Our large family isn't eating a meal with you.  We aren't asking for a full 2 hours of your day.  Our session will be the same amount of time as any other session.  So why the extra charge?  For this very reason, my session fee is the same for 1 person as it is for 10 or even more.  

The other reason being I HATED receiving a disc or an email with photographs that were for the most part, unusable in my opinion.  Sure I had 80 images on a disc with a print release, but out of those 80 I could barely find enough to fill the frames on my walls!  I would then upload those few images to a consumer retailer, such as CVS or Shutterfly, only to have those products again not meet my standards.  Those products began fading after a few short months of being on our walls.  The colors looked nothing like they did on my computer screen.  I wanted high quality wall art that would last a lifetime.  

I am constantly striving to find ways to better meet the needs of other families that are like ours - they want high quality wall art without going into debt to do so.  As expenses continue to rise, I am forced to find ways to cut expenses so I don't have to raise the price of the session fee.  During this time, I found a new program that bundled online galleries and custom mobile apps!  I have to admit change is hard, but I am determined to learn a new program to keep the session fee as low as it can possibly be so I can still offer my amazing clients the same great wall art options through an online gallery.  

Perks

  • You can view the images in your online gallery as a slideshow with music!

  • You can actually see the images on a wall so you know what size would look best!

  • You now have the ability to crop your images!

Cons

  • It's a new program so I am learning too!  

Click here to check out a sample gallery with in the NEW program!

Here is the way a 16x20 piece of wall art would look on this wall.  

Here is the way a 16x20 piece of wall art would look on this wall.  

Here is that same image as an 8x10 piece of wall art. 

Here is that same image as an 8x10 piece of wall art. 

We are transitioning to this program slowly, but it will be fully switched over by July 27th, 2017.  After this time, any prior custom mobile apps will no longer be available UNLESS you contact me asking for me to put together an app in the new program.    

We can't wait to hear what you think of these exciting changes!  My favorite thing about this new program is the ability to see photographs in various sizes on walls.  You can even send me a photo of a wall in your home and I can upload that for you!  This makes is so easy to ensure that you are investing in the size you truly want to showcase your family in a particular room.

Today Was A Fairytale

But can you feel this magic in the air?
It must have been the way you kissed me
Fell in love when I saw you standing there
It must have been the way
Today was a fairytale
It must have been the way
Today was a fairytale
— Taylor Swift

Ron and Beth's wedding on June 3, 2017 was in fact, a true fairytale.  

On February 13th, Beth contacted me about photographing their wedding.  At that time, she described their relationship as a fairytale.  She actually told me this in a message!  

I am so excited! This is our second marriage but I feel like it’s already been a fairy tale and I’m 20-something instead of 40-something!
— Beth

Their wedding day truly lived up to this title!  They were getting married at the Chapel at Caliber Oak in Salado, which is absolutely beautiful.  They planned for an outside ceremony with the reception inside.  The weather was stormy most of the day and arrangements were put in place to move the ceremony indoors if that was needed.  The storms stayed away for the entire ceremony so Beth and Ron were able to have their perfect outdoor ceremony.  Everything went as planned - perfectly!  It was a fairytale wedding.

ron_and_beth_westhoff_wedding

Ron and Beth knew of each other for a very long time.  Ron's mother worked with Beth years earlier.  Neither thought they'd end up married!  About six years ago they were hanging out with the same group of friends...all married couples.  Ron and Beth were the only single ones in the group.  They ended up going out to eat once alone, then they went to the movies a few times alone, and then dancing.  The rest is history!  Their age difference of six years was a joke between them in the beginning, but they they soon got over that and were inseparable. 

Their first "real" date was dinner and a movie.  Beth explains that Ron was a true gentleman that opened the door for her and treated her with respect.  This was new to her.  As the date progressed, they laughed and talked about how they both just wanted to be happy.  Their relationship just grew from there.

On Christmas Eve, Ron proposed.  They just returned from his parent's house and he was unloading the gifts from the truck.  When he came inside, he set the gifts down (or at least she thought he was setting the gifts down), but instead she saw Ron holding a Boozer's Jewelry sack.  He approached Beth and told her to close her eyes.  She closed her eyes and he proposed.  Of course she said, "YES!," and hugged him!  She says she was caught totally off guard and it was absolutely perfect.

wedding_ring_westhoff_wedding

One night after the proposal Beth couldn't sleep.  She decided to do an Internet search for "small church Salado."  The Chapel at Caliber Oak popped up and she immediately sent an email right then...at 2:30am!  Just a few minutes later, Rick replied and told them that the venue was available because someone had canceled.  When Ron and Beth visited the chapel, they instantly knew that was the perfect place for their fairytale wedding.  She said it was truly magical!

chapel_at_caliber_oak_salado_texas

Beth says her favorite part of their wedding day was seeing Ron's face when she walked out.  She saw the smile on Ron's face and it matched the smile in her heart.  She knew it was the beginning of their forever.  

first_look_ron_and_beth_westhoff_wedding

Ron says the favorite part of their wedding day was when the minister said, "You may kiss your bride."  

you_may_kiss_your_bride_westhoff_wedding

They both waited a long time for the happiness they now share.  Their long journey has definitely been a fairytale with a happy ending.  Everything was absolutely PERFECT!

Thank you Ron and Beth for asking me to help capture the memories on your wedding day.  And a HUGE thank you to Angela Bailey with Angela Bailey Photography for assisting in capturing those memories!

Hard Earned Cash

Most of us work hard for our money.  Most of us need our money to stretch as far as it can possibly go.  However, we all have different priorities as to where we will spend our hard earned cash.  

Let's just take an example from my own family.  One of my kids LIVES for all things XBox!  To this kid, XBox is the very reason he wakes up each day!  He works hours upon hours to get a nice check just so he can spend money on games and gear for the XBox.  No one else in our family understands this.  The XBox is not important to anyone else in this house.  The XBox is his number one priority at this stage in his life.

My oldest son seems to spend all of his hard earned cash on underwear.  My youngest boy prefers to spend his money on anything hunting or fishing related.  My point is this...we all have different priorities.  There's no wrong or right choice.  It's just what's important to you.

I obviously value professional photography and professional wall art.  I am proud of my family and I want to showcase that in my home by hanging their portraits on our walls.  I want guests to visit and walk over to them and look at them.  More importantly, I want products that will last a lifetime.  I want wall art that will be around for generations and generations.  Just think about the old photographs your family has.  Which photographs are still in good condition after 5 years?  10 years?  20 years?  50 years?  I can tell you exactly which ones because my grandmother is a HUGE genealogy fan!  The photographs that last are those printed at professional labs rather than consumer labs.  It has always been that way and it was more than likely always be that way.  

I'm not saying that I ONLY print photographs at professional labs.  All the snapshots on my phone are printed at consumer labs - Shutterfly or Free Prints to be honest.  But all of our professional portraits that I hang on our walls and display as wall art, are printed at a professional lab.  What's the difference you ask?  A lot!  And we as consumers tend to go for the "cheapest" and most convenient option, such as a disc of images (that won't last a lifetime by the way and neither will cheap prints).

Let's think about little things, like an oil change.  When I get an oil change, I go to someone that can do it quickly without breaking the bank.  However, as things become more important to me and my family, I tend to spend some more time and money.  

Let's use tires as an example.  When I was a teenager I had a front tire blowout at a high rate of speed.  The car went off the road and flipped several times, end over end.  I survived thank goodness and my worst injury was a broken femur.  Tires are not something I purchase based on price or convenience.  I choose to go to someone I trust 100% to make sure my tires are going to be as safe as possible for me and my family.  

Let's jump to photography.  Where is that on your list of priorities?  Is the product something you want done as cheaply as possible with the greatest convenience?  Is your idea of family photos showing up at a location with little guidance from the photographer as far as planning outfits, locations, etc, receiving a disc of images, and then going to WalMart of Shutterfly to have them printed?  Or do you expect more from a professional photographer?  I personally expect guidance in planning, answers when needed, with the end result of professional wall art hanging on the walls in my home.  

Often times you get what you pay for.  Photography isn't any different.  

Big Family Session? No Problem!

When was the last time you and your entire family got together for a family photo session? If you have a big family it may have been years since your last photo was taken. While arranging these types of shoots can be difficult, they are worth it!

Our very own large family portrait.

Our very own large family portrait.

Whether you’re introducing a new family member or getting ready to celebrate a family milestone, you’ll want memorable photos. So just where do you begin when planning for a fun shoot you want your family to enjoy?

Large family portrait of the LeNoir Family.

Large family portrait of the LeNoir Family.

A lot of families often ask about location, wardrobe and pose ideas. This is always the fun part for me because I get to see the personality of the family come out. Shutterfly created a great resource that helps with all these topics. You can check out their large family photo guide and share it with your family to brainstorm more ideas.

Higgins Family large family session.

Higgins Family large family session.

The most important part to remember is that I’m here to make your photo session unforgettable. Whatever makes your family feel comfortable is exactly the direction you should go!

Large family session to celebrate grandma's 75th birthday...

Large family session to celebrate grandma's 75th birthday...

...and another celebrating grandma's 85th birthday!

...and another celebrating grandma's 85th birthday!

Life After Graduation

Last night was a night to remember for all the high school seniors that graduated.  It was also a night to remember for all the parents, family, and friends.  It is an extremely emotional transition into life as an adult.  Two of my own graduated last night so I can definitely vouch for this!  

I feel like I need to give some advice for the graduates, but I just can't find the right words.  Each time I type something out, it sounds cliche and honestly does not feel like something I would truly say.  So after I type out these words of wisdom I just erase them and walk away.  Graduation was last night and yet I still find myself wanting to give them some advice.  But how, when I can't seem to find the genuine words to summarize my thoughts?  

I finally realized that I am better at writing lists than writing a summary.  So I came up with a list  with five words of wisdom for life after high school graduation.

1.  Some friends will drift away.  As you advance through your life you will realize that friends come and go as you change classes, jobs, careers, etc.  It is just the way it goes.  We need different friends in our life at different points in our lives.  The people who are worth keeping around, will always be there when you need them to be.  Personally, I've had several good friends throughout my life.  I have a small handful of true friends that are always there for me.  We don't talk every day.  We might not even talk for an entire month.  But when I need them, they are always there for me.  THAT is a friend.

2.  Money suddenly has more value.  When you were in high school, your parents probably bought most of your stuff - clothes, shoes, cars, etc.  For example, when I take my kids shopping for shoes I always hear, "but they're only $80."  Somehow $80 seems like a lot more money when you realize you've had to work for 9 hours to make that much money!  

3.  Stay healthy.  Your body is the best it has ever been at this point in your life.  Stay healthy!  Eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly to maintain your health.  It is so much easier to stay healthy rather than make a move to a healthy lifestyle change later on in life.

4.  Being "grown-up" is not all it's cracked up to be.  Now that you've graduated, you will begin taking on many responsibilities.  With this comes the responsibility of bills.  The bills come week after week, month after month, and year after year.  I am now 38 years old and the bills have yet to stop coming!  There are many perks to being an adult.  One of them is not bills.

5.  LIVE!  Live your life to the fullest!  Don't rush into marriage and a family.  There will be plenty of time for that, I promise.  Take time to do all the things that you want to do.  Travel with friends.  Go to college.  Start a career.  Live your life.  Fly!  Take this time and just do you!

Congratulations to the Class of 2017!  I wish you all the best in all that you do!  

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.
— Brian Littrell

Five Tips for Finding the Perfect Location!

I've been looking at images on Google for over a year now and wondering what it actually looks like in person...and how portraits would turn out at this particular location.  I finally had the chance to try out this location when a family contacted me about a family session.  We were discussing possible locations and nothing was really jumping out at her as a "perfect" location.  I told her about this new location and asked if she'd like to be the first client to be photographed at this location.  She loved the idea after I showed her some of the images from Google.

Now anytime I decide to actually use a new location, I have to actually go to the location and get out and explore.  I want to find spots that will provide a great location for the upcoming session.  I have to consider many factors, such as lighting at different times of the day and backgrounds.  I also look for any safety concerns and consider those with the ages of the clients.  

Choosing the "perfect" location can often times make or break the session.  We obviously don't want to break it!  We want to MAKE it!  Here are the most important factors I consider when choosing a location:

1.  TIMING   I will always suggest to clients that they either choose a time in the very early morning or an hour before sunset.  I'm not a morning person and honestly 99% of my clients would rather have a session in the late afternoon.  Most first time clients want to schedule a session around noon because it is so bright outside.  The problem with noon sessions is the simple fact that the sun is so high in the sky and casts very harsh shadows during this time of the day.  As the sun lowers in the sky, it allows the light to fall softly leaving less shadows.  If you absolutely have to schedule a session when the sun is high in the sky, you will either need to find a very shady area or find a photographer with an amazing flash system.  

This session took place around 6:00pm, which was about an hour and a half before sunset.  Notice how there are not any harsh shadows.  The light is softly falling on each of the family members evenly.

This session took place around 6:00pm, which was about an hour and a half before sunset.  Notice how there are not any harsh shadows.  The light is softly falling on each of the family members evenly.

2.  SAFETY   When considering a possible location for a client I take into account the ages of all the subjects that will be at the session.  The last thing I want is for someone to get hurt because I put them in a potentially dangerous situation.  This family has an adorable baby girl that is just a few months old.  They typically use a stroller when they are out.  This particular location has stone steps that you must walk down to get to the location.  This is important to know ahead of time so the family can be prepared since strollers and stairs are not a safe combination.  

Notice the stone steps the family is sitting on.  It would not be safe for a stroller to travel down (or up) these steps.  If I did not know about them before the session, I wouldn't have been able to prepare them for this potential hazard.

Notice the stone steps the family is sitting on.  It would not be safe for a stroller to travel down (or up) these steps.  If I did not know about them before the session, I wouldn't have been able to prepare them for this potential hazard.

3.  PRIVACY   Another factor I always consider is the amount of privacy the location has, or doesn't have.  Some clients are more bashful than others and don't like others watching them during a session.  Some clients have children that are easily distracted by surroundings that are too busy.  Privacy is a VERY important factor for certain sessions, such as a bridal session.  I often tell my clients about the activity level of locations so they can determine if the privacy, or lack of, will be an issue for them.  As a photographer, I can work around others that pop up in the background occasionally.  It honestly just depends on their comfort level and how distracted the surroundings will make them.

This session took place on a chilly day in April.  There were a few hikes that walked through during the session, but it was pretty much secluded without visitors.  I imagine this location would be very busy during the Texas summer months!  

This session took place on a chilly day in April.  There were a few hikes that walked through during the session, but it was pretty much secluded without visitors.  I imagine this location would be very busy during the Texas summer months!  

4.  PERMITS/AVAILABILITY  Different locations have different requirements.  While some parks are completely free to use whenever you'd like, others ask that you ask for permission prior to the session.  It is a good idea to look at the calendar of events for a particular location prior to booking the session.  For example, Cameron Park in Waco hosts many events.  It is important to know this prior to showing up for a session.  Early in my photography career, I planned a session at Cameron Park for the early morning.  I was greeted at the entrance with a barricade!  There was a special event taking place that made this location closed.  I was so embarrassed!  Luckily I know the area pretty well so I was able to suggest a nearby location and have the session.  I learned a VERY important lesson that day!  

This session took place at Mother Neff State Park in Eddy, Texas.  It is a State Park, which has an entrance fee.  It is important to know about this prior to the session so the client will be prepared to stop at the gate and pay the entrance fee.

This session took place at Mother Neff State Park in Eddy, Texas.  It is a State Park, which has an entrance fee.  It is important to know about this prior to the session so the client will be prepared to stop at the gate and pay the entrance fee.

5.  VARIETY   Another factor I consider when suggesting possible locations for clients is the overall variety of background.   I always ask my clients what type of setting they are looking for and then suggest places around that idea.  However, I like to expand upon their initial idea when we are at the location and walk around to new areas to provide them a variety of background options. 

The actual area we used at Mother Neff State Park was small in size, but from photographing the family from the different areas was essential in providing them a variety of different backgrounds for their portraits.  Notice how all five of these photographs have very different backgrounds, yet they are just steps away from one another. 

The actual area we used at Mother Neff State Park was small in size, but from photographing the family from the different areas was essential in providing them a variety of different backgrounds for their portraits.  Notice how all five of these photographs have very different backgrounds, yet they are just steps away from one another. 

In summary, to get the most out of any location for a photography session, one must visit and assess the location weeks (perhaps even months) before the actual session date.  If you take the time to do this carefully, you will avoid wasting everyone's time and avoid disappointments from assumptions.  When I walk a location, I imagine different poses in various locations for different types of clients.  This helps me when I later plan a session at the location.  

If you'd like to learn more about Mother Neff State Park, you can read more here.  There are a lot of hiking trails and camping sites!  

Gifts for Grandma

Happy 85th Birthday!

On May 19th, I drove across Limestone County to meet a family that was gathering to celebrate their grandmother on her 85th birthday.  It would prove to be a challenge as there were would be three different families and a grand total of twenty-nine family members in the group.  This also includes EIGHT grandsons, all five years old and younger...and two are just months old!  But I do love a challenge!  

Happy 85th Birthday!!

Happy 85th Birthday!!

After the whole group portrait, grandma really wanted one photograph with her grandsons...but eight grandsons were not loving this idea at all!  So we just went with it!  

A hilarious peek at the photo with the eight grandsons and grandma.  They were NOT about cooperating for this photograph at all!  

A hilarious peek at the photo with the eight grandsons and grandma.  They were NOT about cooperating for this photograph at all!  

After the photographs were taken, there was still time to capture some candid photos of the family just enjoying the day as they went on the paddle boat, drove little motorized cars, swung on the rope swing, played horseshoes, and disc golf.  Grandma had a constant smile  on her face as she enjoyed the day with her family.  I am glad I was able to be there and capture these memories for everyone.

Happy 75th Birthday!

Almost one month later on April 15th, I drove to Thornton to meet another amazing family that was gathered to celebrate thier grandma's 75th birthday.  This too had a beautiful setting near the water.  There were twenty family members plus one fur baby that came together to celebrate grandma's 75th birthday.  

The whole group photograph of the family celebrating grandma's 75th birthday.

The whole group photograph of the family celebrating grandma's 75th birthday.

Grandma also expressed to me that the one photograph she really wanted was one with all of her grandchildren.  Unfortunately, there was one granddaughter that could not be at the celebration.

Grandma really wanted a photograph of her with her nine grandchildren.  She has one more granddaughter, but she could not attend unfortunately.  

Grandma really wanted a photograph of her with her nine grandchildren.  She has one more granddaughter, but she could not attend unfortunately.  

After all the different photographs were taken, everyone promptly went into the house and changed into different clothes.  It was seriously the quickest I've ever seen a family change!  By the time I walked up to the house they were all changed!!  I hung out with them for awhile and captured some photographs of them just enjoying the company of one another.  

Both grandmas chose FAMILY PORTRAITS as their gift from their family.  These families have so much love for one another and I am beyond blessed that I was able to have the experience of witnessing these celebrations.  I hope both grandmas had a birthday celebration they will never forget.  

 

 

Prom...and Prom Dresses

Prom is such an exciting time for many young adults, especially seniors.  My son is a senior at Riesel High School and I was lucky enough to boss them around for an hour or so and take photographs of them.  While I like seeing the young men all dressed up in tuxes, I absolutely LOVE seeing the young women all dressed up in beautiful gowns.  

As a mom of son, taking him shopping for a tux is relatively simply.  We pull up to Squire's, walk in, and tell them what color the date's dress is going to be.  They do the rest.  Super easy!  On the day of prom, everyone knows what color the tie and vest will be, but pretty much all tuxes are the same.  

My son <3

My son <3

I have a daughter, but she's not prom age yet so all I have to base my experience on with getting young women ready for prom is what I've seen with the dates my son has had for proms.  They spend a day (or two...maybe three) shopping for gowns.  Maybe they go with friends at first to narrow down the choices and then bring mom in for the final selection...and payment :)  Some gowns are modestly priced, while others are rather expensive.  They take a small sample of the fabric or even a close up photo with their phone to send to their date so they know what color to coordinate with.  The date doesn't see the dress until they meet up to go to prom.  As you can see...it's all about the dress!

I am always amazed at the beautiful dresses these gorgeous young women find and how amazing they look in them!  Just take a look for yourself.

bradley_reanee_riesel_prom_smith_family_photography
tyler_and_oryenne_riesel_prom_smith_family_photography
kaylyn_riesel_prom_smith_family_photography
jennifer_and_kolby_riesel_prom_smith_family_photography
whitley_and_gus_riesel_prom_smith_family_photography
hunter_and_mariah_riesel_prom_smith_family_photography

Bluebonnets! A Texas Tradition.

I moved to Texas in the summer of 2007 so I experienced bluebonnets for the first time in the spring of 2008.  I was amazed at how beautiful all the highways became as purple flowers bloomed and lined the highways for all to enjoy.  Surprisingly, this was the first year that I offered Bluebonnet Limited Edition Sessions.  I just assumed that people just took these photos very quickly on their cell phones and moved on down the road, but I quickly realized that this was not the case.  So many people want professional photographs of their loved ones in the bluebonnets!  They want WALL ART of their loved ones in the bluebonnets!  

After three years of clients asking me if I offered Bluebonnet Sessions and me telling them that I did not, I finally decided to give it a try and I must say, I was impressed.  I only offered four sessions and they filled up quickly!  I'm in love with each of the sessions and I'm going to give you some tips to taking your own bluebonnet photos that you can use now while we still have some as their season is coming to an end.  

Tip Number One.  Photograph in the early morning or late evening hours.  I know these hours aren't ideal, but once you experience the light at these times of the day you will never go back to noon bluebonnet photos.  I've had a number of clients that are amazed at the difference this makes!  This portrait of the Loewen Family was taken around 9:00 am on a Monday morning.  Dad JUST got off work and their baby normally naps around this time, but they are very happy they adjusted their schedule for one day to make this happen.

Loewen Family at the abundant bluebonnet field at Spring Valley Elementary in Hewitt, Texas.

Loewen Family at the abundant bluebonnet field at Spring Valley Elementary in Hewitt, Texas.

Tip Number Two.  Take your bluebonnet photographs when they first bloom before they get trampled down.  I prefer to take them at my husband's family ranch in Limestone County for a few reasons - the patch is on private property so I'm the only photographer that uses this area for photographs and it's safe.  It's away from roads so little ones are not going to run around accidentally run into traffic.  I encourage kiddos to have fun at their sessions and this is the perfect place because there is an abundance of area to run around and enjoy themselves to let loose some energy between poses.  This portrait was the first bluebonnet session of the season.  Notice how full and tall the flowers are!  It makes a difference, trust me.

Johnson Family at a fresh bluebonnet patch on private property in Limestone County.

Johnson Family at a fresh bluebonnet patch on private property in Limestone County.

Tip Number Three.  Always bring a blanket or stool to sit on.  Some people do not like to sit in the flowers.  It can be overwhelming when they are almost as tall as you when you're sitting down and they are completely surrounding you.  I always bring several different things to sit on - a blanket, a metal bucket, and a wooden crate.  Sometimes I also bring a red wagon.  Baby Caleb loved the red wagon!

Baby Caleb enjoying a wagon ride in the bluebonnets.

Baby Caleb enjoying a wagon ride in the bluebonnets.

Tip Number Four.  Get on their level.  Often times people stand above the person/people being photographed and just snap a quick photo.  That works for a quick snapshot, but if you're wanting something a little more posed try bending down and getting on their level.  During sessions I squat, kneel, even lay on the ground to get different angles.  For a group portrait such as this one of the Schmedthorst Family, I wanted all of them looking directly at me so I could see their faces.  This meant I had to sit down and get on their level.  Since mom was in the middle, I needed to be level with her.  

Schmedthorst Family in a patch of bluebonnets at eye level.

Schmedthorst Family in a patch of bluebonnets at eye level.

Tip Number Five.  HAVE FUN!!  AND STAY SAFE!!  Before sitting little ones down, do a quick check for ants, snakes, and other creatures.  You can't see them all, but you can check the immediate area you are going to use.  I've learned this lesson the hard way...and continue to learn this lesson the hard way (I'm pretty stubborn apparently).  I always check for my clients, but obviously never check where I'm standing or sitting.  More than a few times I have stood in a fire ant pile to get that "perfect" shot.  One time, I even SAT in a fire ant pile!  So be mindful when entering a patch of bluebonnets and remember that insects and creatures call that patch home.  

Due to the great success and demand of this year's Bluebonnet Limited Edition Sessions, we will offer them again next spring.  Mark your calendars because we will begin booking them in February of 2018.  The best way to be notified of special sessions is by subscribing to our newsletter.  You'll receive our monthly e-newsletter, blog articles, special deals, and be notified of bookings before I post them on my page.  If you'd like to subscribe, just fill out this quick form.

Priorities

Priorities.  Such a big word!  We all have them and they vary significantly from person to person and from family to family.  There's no right or wrong.  It's simply a matter of perspective.  

I found myself looking at my own priorities this past weekend and I realized that I had a different set of priorities for myself, my family, and my career.  They all weave together, yet remain separate.  Here's the list I came up:

Myself:  My health is my priority - physical, mental, and social/emotional.  I don't like feeling less than 100%.  

Family:  Anyone that knows me knows that I care deeply for my family.  I'd seriously be lost without them!  A priority for my family is to remain close and capture all the memories that we can while we can.  Sometimes memories are captured on camera, yet other times the memories are just captured in our minds.  

Career:  I made the decision in 2012 to resign from teaching and stay home with my children.  This meant our family's income was going to drop.  I started my photography business as a side job to earn some money to supplement my husband's salary.  Since that time, my business has grown more than I could have ever imagined and it is now a sustainable source of income.  It is now my full time career.  The entire reason for working at it so hard is to help provide an income for my family that will enable my husband and I to give our children everything that they need...not want...but need.  It is my priority to make sure that I am contributing financially to our household.

I challenge you to think about your priorities.  What is it that you value for yourself, your family, for your career?  Do your actions reflect those priorities?  How do you know? 

I'm friends with many of my clients on social media.  I hope they see these priorities in my life and realize that I am a genuine, caring individual that values everyone because I believe that everyone I come in contact with has something to teach me.  We all learn from one another...sometimes we learn lessons from others....sometimes we learn facts....and sometimes we just learn how to be a better person.  

I truly appreciate every one of you and I want you to know that I have learned a lot from each of you.  I LOVE learning!  After all, I'm an educator at heart.