Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How do I know when it's love?

Stephanie commented on my last post asking how to find a good family photographer and I figured it deserved a post of its own.  I'm sure the Internet has made this task a LOT easier, because most pro photographers have nice websites with portfolios of their work, and you can browse at your leisure (or at 2am when everyone in the house is sleeping!).  I thought I'd also include some other helpful tips for the shoot itself.

The Search
When I was searching for a wedding photographer, I had no idea what to look for or how much it would cost.  I started with one of those local wedding resource pages and just started browsing other photographers' work.  I found one I completely fell in love with, but alas, they were already booked for our date. 

However, I found out the style that I liked so much was called 'photojournalism' - less emphasis on posed pictures and more on just capturing the event and the unexpected details.  So I started using that term in my web searches and found more photographers, and also found a site for the Wedding Photojournalist Association - bingo!  This site gave me a lot more options in my area, within the style I was looking for.

I then browsed a LOT of photographers' sites.  My method isn't scientific - it couldn't be, because what I was looking for was *art*.  So I simply sat back and browsed.  Looked to see whose pictures jumped out at me. 

Some photographers had a style that just didn't do it for me.  Others had a few pictures that caught my eye.  But there were a few where nearly every photo in their portfolio was a WOW shot.  Of course, these portfolios are heavily edited compilations of many events, but I felt confident that if nearly the whole portfolio wowed me, then that was a pretty good bet that I'd like their work at our wedding.

If forced to articulate what I was looking for, here are some of the characteristics:
  • Interesting small detail shots, like trim on a dress, or a closeup of a shoe
  • Capturing shots with a definite "vibe", almost like you can *feel* what the subjects were feeling
  • Few posed shots, but if there were posed shots, ones where the subjects look like they're having fun with each other and not looking *at* the camera.
  • Both black and white and color shots, but more importantly, choosing which shots looked better in b&w and which were more suited to color
  • Pet photos that capture the "dog soul" 
Since this is an artistic judgment, it's like trying to outline what I like about a piece of music. I can't say for sure, but I know I like it when I hear it.
Some photographers have the gift of being able to capture pets well on film, and some don't, even those with mad skills with people-pictures.  So if you want to include your pets in a family shoot, make sure the photographer you pick has samples of pet photos in their portfolio and that you love the style of those too.  This is why I love Nicole's work.

First Contact
So the next step was to review the prices (if posted) and then reach out and contact the short list.  Because I'm lazy like that, I eliminated anyone who didn't have a way to email them. I asked a few key questions:
  • Rates (if not posted clearly) and whether there was a print order minimum $
  • Availability for the dates we were considering
  • Whether we could get all of the pictures on a DVD and if that was an extra charge
Surprisingly, in this digital age, there are photographers who *won't* give you the digital files or charge ungodly amounts to give them to you.  You need to order all prints through them, and you don't have copies of the pics to share on Facebook, websites, etc.  We're social networking kind of people, and we don't print a lot of photos so this was a deal-breaker.  Obviously, I respect intellectual property and copyright, and try to give credit to the photographer, but I want those pictures in digital form.

Making the Decision
Once I got the answers back and have narrowed the list based on availability and budget, we had to make the big decision.  For things like weddings, or family portrait shoots on weekends, you need to book early and decide fast because the good photographers are BUSY.  We got around this for our family portraits by booking them on a Friday afternoon and thus could get Kristi on relatively short notice.

That first wedding photographer whose work I fell in love with sent me a short list of other folks with similar styles, which was super helpful. In the end, I chose one of those and we were REALLY happy with our pictures.
Depending on the significance of the event, you may want to *meet* with the photographer in person before deciding who to hire.  After all, for a wedding, this person is going to be following you around for most of the day, and it's a pretty big responsibility you're entrusting them with.  There are no do-overs. 

We did this for our wedding photographer, and meeting with Bradley was what really sealed the deal for us.  He and TJ talked about motorcycles, he talked to us about his philosophy of work, and showed us some recent wedding photos he'd taken.  We liked him, and really got the sense that he was a professional.  We also felt he wasn't going to be intrusive, which was a big deal for us.  We didn't want to be constantly aware of the photographer, or worse, interrupted by him to "look here at the camera!" or "hey, can we recreate that moment?  I missed it."

On the other hand, we met with another guy who was starting out in the business, and he was sort of timid and shy, and didn't give us that confident "I can handle this" vibe.  He might have done just fine, but our wedding was not a time for experimentation.

Most photographers have you sign a contract and put down a deposit once you've made your choice, and that holds the date for you.  This is especially important for weddings - you don't want to get close to the day and then find out the photographer wasn't really holding the date for you.  It's really hard to find a great photographer on short notice.  For a summer wedding in Seattle, the good ones book over a year in advance.  Crazy, I know.

Your Homework
So you've decided on a photographer.  Some people think the work is done, and you just wait for the day and look good, and get some pictures taken. 

But I picked up a tip from one of those ubiquitous wedding-planning magazines:  make a list of the shots that you want for sure, both candid and posed.  Now, you've hired a professional so you're not trying to micromanage their creative process, but if you want a shot of you in your wedding dress holding your beagle, you need to let the photographer know.  And on the big day, you might not remember the list.

For our family photos, I emailed a short list to Kristi, and asked for her feedback because I wanted to be clear that I wasn't trying to micromanage.  I made the list fairly vague and just discussed the subjects, not the style:
  • All five of us (people and dogs)
  • Baby and each dog interacting or at least looking at each other :)
  • One good chubby baby arms and legs and bare feet shot
  • Baby and mama, and baby and daddy
  • My husband and Peanut
It's also helpful to ask the photographer what you all should wear (unless it's for your wedding, duh!).  Typically solid colored shirts are good because they're not distracting, and Kristi recommended that we wear shirts in the same color family so they don't clash. 

We also asked her if she needed any 'props' and she suggested a neat idea where we'd all be wearing white, in our bed, with a white comforter and sheets, snuggling with the baby.  That worked out really well, even though it was the last set of shots so we didn't change T back into her white onesie:

For family shoots, ask your photographer for locations if you don't have your heart set on one.  Some people like outdoor shots.  We love our house and wanted to capture that as part of the photos, so we chose to do our family shoot at home.  It made it easier to change T into different outfits, and keep her happy, as well. 

We did my pregnancy shoot at a local park with our dogs, because the lighting was better outside that day (though it was 98 degrees, but that's another story!).
If you're getting pictures done at home, make sure the areas you're using are clean.  You don't want piles of dirty laundry or dog hair-covered blankets in the background of your shots.  Photoshop can only do so much :)

The Big Day
For our family shoot, Kristi advised me to choose a time when the baby was fed and well-rested.  (One out of two wasn't bad!)  This sounds obvious, but really think about it.  If your baby is asleep when the photographer shows up, do you really want to wake her?  How will she be if you do?

Have all the outfits and props, plus any additional payments ready to go.  Once the photo shoot is underway, you don't want to disrupt the "flow" by trying to deal with business details.  Of course, if a baby's diaper needs to be changed, or the dog needs to go out, you'll deal with it, but it's best to get everything else ready ahead of time.  Then again, I'm a planner like that.

And then just do your thing.  Try to ignore the fact that there's a photographer there and go about your business.  Eventually you'll stop noticing him/her, and that's when the magic happens!

Monday, April 26, 2010

You make me happy when skies are gray

I can't get enough of the pictures that Kristi Lloyd took of us all last month.  I've got them as my slide show screen saver at work, and every now and then I'll catch myself staring at them and missing my sweet baby, who is, of course, at home with her Daddy and having a Fun! Daddy Day!

We used to marvel at how Peanut and Spike were so happy to see us at the end of each work day. Even their happy tail-wags and licks pale in comparison to the way BabyT's face lights up when I come home from work, or when her Daddy comes home for lunch. It's pretty freakin' awesome.

For me, good pictures are important. If money were unlimited, I'd get a great photographer to come out here every month and photograph us. It's not just about snapshots that record moments (though of course, we have plenty of those), nor is it about posed photos of different family permutations.

I like the artistic shots that capture details I might not think of. I like that with a certain kind of great photographer, you can just be there and hang out, and that person will capture the whole essence of an event or group of people without us really noticing.

This is why I spent hours poring over websites for wedding photographers in 2005. Other than the dinner at Canlis, we spent the most money on our pictures, because we wanted amazing ones, which we got from the awesome Bradley Hanson.

I spent more hours poring over photography sites to find someone to do T's 6 month pictures. But when I found the right person, I got the pictures I had envisioned. And actually so much more, because a great photographer has that special artistic eye, and of course the mad skillz to turn that into reality.

I met an awesome photographer via Etsy but she lives in Maine. I'm still working on getting her to come out here but she needs 3 or 4 families in Seattle to make it worthwhile.

When I was little, we had lots of the obligatory JCPenney or Sears portrait sessions. Heck, I still get coupons from them, which tempts me to go. But it's not what I'm looking for. I disliked having to get dressed up and go to the studio and look happy while the photographer poked and prodded us to get in exactly the right position (turn your chin a little this way, put your hand on his arm, etc. etc.). To me those pictures look too staged, without any sense of love or life.

But our wedding pics and the recent family pics? Woo hoo! We were actually having a good time. We mostly forgot about the camera being there. T got to wear a few different outfits. And now we have a (digital) stack of images I enjoy looking at over and over again.

So we're definitely going to hire a professional again, to capture BabyT as her life unfolds.  Then when she's 16 and doesn't like us, we'll still have cute squishy baby pictures to pore over and remember :)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The girl at the rock show

Trillian Mira by Kristi Lloyd PhotographyWe were such hip Seattle parents yesterday. Or at least we tried to be.

Since it was a rare Saturday that TJ was home, thanks to my parents' visit last week, we made plans to have brunch with our friends Dave and Lisa and Baby Max at Norm's Alehouse. It was odd to go to Norm's without the pups, since it's one of the few places that lets you eat with your dogs inside. Peanut especially likes it since he gets a hamburger if he behaves. Spike likes it because the WHOLE PLACE SMELLS LIKE FOOD!!!

But we went with Trillian and no dogs, since we weren't sure how long Baby Good Humor was going to last and we are new enough at this to know we'd be bad at managing both baby and dog(s) in the event of Baby Meltdown 2010.

The car trip over to Seattle (Westside, yo!) was uneventful and we were rockin' out to Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs while BabyT stared out the window from her new big-girl carseat.

Walking from the car to the restaurant, we passed a bunch of people standing outside of Cafe Lladro and I thought to myself "hey, that girl looks like Star Anna" and figured it was just because we had been listening to her in the car. As we got closer, I realized it actually was her, and we saw Justin (guitarist) and my friend Dave (their manager) as well. So they got to meet BabyT, since the last time they "saw" her was in my belly last August when we saw them play the Triple Door. Anyway, it's totally random occurrences like that that make me love living in Seattle. It's even more astonishing since we rarely get into "the city" since T was born.

They invited us to their show later that day, which was a free performance at a record store downtown. They were scheduled for 6pm which was still early enough for us to consider it and Justin actually used the words "kid-friendly" which I doubted, but wanted to give it a try. (I not-so-secretly yearn to be one of those baby-wearing hip mamas who goes to rock shows and still maintains some semblance of her old life while toting her cute baby around with her.) I had visions of wearing T in the Ergo and dancing with her to "Hawks on a Pole" - what could be better than hugging on my baby and listening to awesome live music at the same time?? Yes, I know the experienced mamas are already laughing at me.

Brunch was good, though rushed. We didn't get to chat with Dave and Lisa much, and Max peacefully slept through the whole thing. I felt nostalgic for the time T was little enough to hang/sleep in the infant seat through a whole meal. She hung in there long enough for us to eat, downed a bottle of milk, and then decided it was time to go. Fortunately it was loud enough that we weren't THOSE people, and in a place that has an occasional dog barking I wasn't too worried about it either.

So we headed home and got T some quality napping time before heading downtown for the show. We did get to see Exene Cervenka (former lead singer of X) do some of her solo stuff. Her voice is still really great. Trillian was pseudo-cooperative, but the room was hot, so we took a lot of breaks and walked around outside. Eventually we had to feed her more milk on the sidewalk in front of a sketchy bar (from a bottle, thankfully!). We saw about 3 minutes of Mark Pickerel's set, and then made the call to go home. Star and Justin probably wouldn't have been on before 7, and that's our pretty strict Baby Bedtime, or else we risk Major Meltdown and Multiple Night Wakings. But it was a valiant effort.

Sadly, we still paid for it at night. I think all the activity was a bit much for babyT, who woke up at 11pm and 4 am to eat and fuss a little. We're hoping for a better night tonight.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

You change your mind like a girl changes clothes

Life is good. Somewhere around the 5.5 month mark, the Chublet started eating less frequently, and napping on a more predictable schedule, so I don't feel like I'm always worrying about the next time she'll eat or sleep. Though now more than ever, I *need* to be home when it is time to sleep, or we PAY THE PRICE later.

I joked when I got pregnant that I'd start keeping a list of everything I had to give up for the baby: sushi, wine, trip to Ireland, and hot-tubbing while pregnant, wine,floofy drinks, sleep while nursing, etc. And then I'd post the list on my blog to somehow make myself feel better about all these sacrifices.

I didn't get around to it, of course. Now that she's here, and is actually interactive, it's all good. I do miss having long stretches of time to get projects done (even after she goes to bed, lately she's been waking to eat a few times), and I miss being able to do crafty stuff whenever I feel like it.

But in a way, life is more relaxed now. It's about her schedule, and not overscheduling our days. I try to remind myself to be aware and mindful about the time I spend with her because it's going by so fast - she's already an "older baby". How did that happen?!

I still waffle about my decision to stop doing custom tags and jewelry in my Etsy and 1000Markets shops, and I haven't made any GeekMagnets in ages so the shops are a little bare. But in the end, I don't want to have custom orders hanging over my head when I am trying to enjoy time with BabyT, or even better, with BabyT, the pups *and* TJ (our weekend is precious now!).

And honestly, it's not as painful a sacrifice as I thought. I am so much less stressed out than I was in December when the orders were pouring in. I get to spend tons of time with BabyT, but I also get to spend 2 whole days at work, and can work on projects that require concentration and focus. The 12-hour day I spent last week at work was awesome: I was motivated, excited and READY to GET STUFF DONE. On the downside, I only got home after T went to bed, but of course she obliged me by waking up for an extra feeding at night, but considerately, before my own bedtime.

So goes the balancing act that'll continue for the next 18 years, I guess. So far, so good :) Next, we'll need to tackle that trip to Ireland, though the loooong plane trip is daunting. I don't want to be THAT person on the plane but it's only going to get worse before it gets better. I just need to convince TJ...

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