To Buy or DIY?


That definitely is the question that many photographers have to ask themselves when they’ve booked themed photoshoots. See that photo above? It took a lot of problem-solving to get there and it almost all started with the question...To Buy or DIY?

There are always ways to do things on a budget, yes. But, when time is of the essence, what to do?

I don’t know about you. But, I tend to compromise with a little o’ this and a little o’ that. I’ll tell you what I mean...

I recently recorded an interview with The Delaware Blogger that will air on September 11. So, I guess you could really say, that’s where it all really started. The Delaware Blogger has started a new podcast series where she interviews various Delawareans doing good things in their community. You should check it out.

In my interview, I reveal the code for a discount on some upcoming mini-sessions. I got the idea to do it from one of the questions I was asked for the interview about whether I had a special offer. So, naturally, with it being so close to the school year, I chose to do a Back-to-School mini for my offer. It didn’t dawn on me at the time that the interview wouldn’t be aired until September. By September, most mini-sessions for Back-to-School will be completed, giving way to fall mini session season. So, I had a couple problems to solve...One, how was I going to persuade folks to listen to my interview? I’m one of many photographers in Delaware. It’s no small feat. Two, how to give the listeners a little time to act on the code?


Well, my answer to that was to create a Back-to-School mini session marketing image. I’d make an image to promote the mini-session and announce the code for a discount on this year’s Back-to-School, Fall and Holiday sessions in the interview. Easy peasy, right?


You know what that actually meant? It meant I created another problem: I needed kids! For some reason, unbeknownst to me, most of the families I have immediate access to have kids in diapers. They’re nowhere near going to school yet. Now what?

I put a call out on my FB pages for some of my FB friends to find some people that would loan me their kids for the photoshoot so I could make an ad. I got a great response and had to close the call out within an hour. That was pretty awesome!

But, then, lo and behold. I had another problem...Where to source props on my budget? I mean, what’s the theme “Back to School” with no props, right?

I’m a creative, so I went to Michaels and looked around to see if I could get some inspiration. Of course, I found some things (well…more than a few to be precise-and I’m so glad I stayed away from the planner section, sheesh). The items I found had potential, though they honestly weren’t hitting the right notes for me. I found some baskets, some crates, some flowers and a few other odds and ends I probably didn’t need. Most of them were too…new, like these crates below.


Don’t get me wrong. I love me some new stuff! But, when I take photos, I feel like new things tend to sparkle and stand out. Sometimes, they take over an image. I like things that are muted and will stay in the background of a portrait. Old and worn stuff. Vintage stuff. Neutrals. Those things seem to balance well in a portrait and I can add colors in a way that everything doesn’t go haywire.

So, I took these new things, and with a few applications of a coffee, vinegar and steel wool combo applied every day from Monday to Thursday…



Ahhhh…Now we’re talking!

I bought some little decorations to go into the crates and the basket. I like how far they came along. And look how the color feels even more “color full” next to those neutrals (get it, color-full? Just kidding…).


The boyfriend and I were sitting around talking about this shoot when he mentioned getting me a desk for it.

Um...Hello! You don’t have to tease me twice!

I hopped onto the interwebs and found a desk set from the 1920s that I seriously loved. I must’ve emailed the link to him three times.

It was in MD and I couldn’t go get it this past week because of work conflicts. But, on Saturday, we packed up the kid and went to pick up my desk set. We were cutting it pretty close since I had photoshoots scheduled for Saturday afternoon. But, we made it!

Here are some of the photos from the first shoot using some of my new props. The basket and crates didn’t make it to this set. But, they’re more for sitting on and filling up with stuff anyway. I got a desk now! :) I’ll use the crates for the fall shoots.


Oh right! I don’t know who did it…But, somehow, my desk set got joined by a couple of vintage chairs. I just don’t know how…

Oh, okay. It was me.

Well, all is well that ends well. The parents that responded within the hour time frame were able to sign their children up for a Back-to-School mini-session on me for the rights to use their photos and I got some marketing photos for the upcoming seasons.


These last two use my favorite image from the set. I think it was a little soft around the eyes. But, I loved the expression, composition, and color! All I used for props here was a hat she didn’t like until she saw how cute she was (😂) and some silk flowers.

Fall minis 2.jpg

Cool, no?

If you like what you see here, like my FB page and see what I do next. 😉

Our Stories Matter

I’m a big proponent of photography as a tool to help tell a family’s story. Those stories aren’t always the most glamorous or happy all the time. But what they are is true and inspiring. I also subscribe to the notion that there’s a certain power in imagery that lends itself to the prophetic.

Case in point, a few days ago, I was contacted by a lovely lady who needed some headshots. Although I don’t have a studio, I agreed to do the headshots in her home. That can be tricky because you often have to prepare for an environment you’re not accustomed to, making lemonade out of lemons whenever necessary. Note to self: Start packing a stash of black curtains. I was as prepared as I could be for a dim lighting situation. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was that the headshots would be used for such an astonishing story.


Sheila Walker, pictured above, was born in Arkansas, the home of the Elaine Massacre. If you have never heard of the Elaine Massacre, you’re not alone. Even though this September marks the 100th anniversary of the Elaine Massacre, many Arkansans are still learning about it for the first time themselves.

According to Mrs. Walker, “It was not in the history books. People in Arkansas didn’t know about it. It’s just…I would say in the last twenty years there was even something on it, besides what Ida B. Wells wrote and other people wrote. It was just buried in history. Buried. This is so much of our history-American history, that’s buried. ”


In September 1919, a group of black sharecroppers had a meeting in a church that resulted in one of the deadliest riots in history…all because they wanted to form a union for fair prices for their cotton and to own their own farms. When two white men, in a pursuit “to protect life and property”, were shot and killed in an altercation with guards at the church, posses from all around descended upon them, killing black men, women and children in order to thwart the “uprising”. The governor called upon 500 soldiers to help with the perceived threat of “the heavily armed negroes.”

In a matter of hours, 12 sharecroppers were rounded up and sentenced to death. This kicked off a series of events leading to the first intervention of the federal courts in the affairs of state courts, removing the protections that the state had in robbing citizens of due process based on the color of their skin.

“I believe in Dr. King. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Love triumphs over hate.”

Mrs. Walker’s uncles, Albert and Milligan Giles, ages 15 and 19, were among those who were convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Fortunately, they were eventually cleared of all charges and released. But, not right away, and not without scars. Not only were they wrongfully imprisoned for years, but her younger uncle remained stripped of the right to vote following his release.


Years later, upon reading books about the event, Mrs. Walker decided to contact an author who in turn put her in touch with someone from the other side of the riot-a poet by the name of Mr. Chester Johnson. They along with Mr. David P. Solomon connected over history in a way that seems to have brought some healing to the trio.

When I asked her what did they hope to accomplish through the symposium, she said, “It’s about reconciliation…and what I’m going to be talking about is why I have forgiveness in my heart.”

Mrs. Walker is referring to the time when she told her friend Mr. Johnson that she forgave his grandfather for participating in the riot.

With great resolve, Mrs. Walker said, “I believe in Dr. King. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Love triumphs over hate.”

Headshots are seemingly a basic kind of photo. The operative word here being ‘seemingly.’ But, I’m so grateful to have had this small part in helping her carry such a great message to others. This is not the face of someone embittered by the past. It’s someone who is intent on making the future a better place to be.

I can get behind that.


If you’d like to learn more about this piece of history, please see the following links:

Also, check out the upcoming documentary Bound By Blood in which Mrs. Walker’s daughter-in-law, Producer/Editor, Franziska Blome, Producer/Director Llewellyn Smith and Producer/Researcher Annie Stopford seek to unfold how the event continues to shape the lives of locals.

Putting It All Together - Capturing Your Story (Part 4)


We’ve been talking about the exposure triangle and how to use manual mode to take better control of our cameras. It’s an especially important skill that goes hand-in-hand with mom’s who normally take the mantle of being the heart of the home.


Not to diss dad at all, but many times moms are the family narrators. They take on the responsibility of collecting, displaying, and preserving the family history, sometimes even delving into sites like to rebuild what was lost. All the imagery she assembles records the beautiful relationships of the family she loves and eventually is handed down to her children for future generations.

With that said, sometimes, adding a camera to that mix can get technical. But it’s worth it when it comes to your family’s story!

Since the aperture, shutter, and ISO are the building blocks of the exposure triangle, once those are familiar, the journey to storytelling is inevitable.


Setting them involves a bit of math as discussed in my previous post. But, photography is a game of light. So, the triangle needs a helper to determine how much light is needed for a subject.


And like a good climax in any story, enter the light meter...

The Light Meter

When you take a shot (or an exposure), in manual mode, you want to tell your camera where to take a reading of the light falling on your subject. I like to think of it as giving the camera a baseline. Your camera is a highly capable piece of equipment. But, it’s not as smart as you are. However, if you tell it where to place your lights and darks, it can arrange a great photo for you.


In most digital cameras, the light meter itself usually looks like a horizontal or vertical line with a center of 0 and an indicator to show you the value that meter is registering at any given time for light. For most modern digital cameras, you can see it in the viewfinder and/or on your camera’s screen.


Many times along the line there are a number of tick marks with the center tick mark (0) being bolder or longer than the others to designate the midpoint. In my camera, the meter goes from -3 to +3. When you point the camera at any given subject, if your camera is in manual, it will take a reading and the indicator will move accordingly to show you how much light the camera believes is falling on your subject. When the camera’s indicator rests on 0, it is reading the light falling on your subject as about 18% grey.


In most modern digital cameras, there is also a way to tell your camera /how/ you want to meter for the light. You may want to meter light mostly in the center of your frame (like center-weighted), or in a broad way across the frame (like an average or evaluative measurement), or a more pinpointed, more specific way in the frame (like spot-metering across a few pixels). To find out how to set your camera’s light meter for one of these modes, consult your camera’s manual. While all cameras that have a manual mode share certain basic features, getting to the settings themselves can vary.

Whichever way you tell the camera how to meter, when you point the camera at your subject, your camera wants to spit out 18% grey. It feels that’s the safest way to get you a good exposure. Using that indicator, it will go up and down that scale saying, “Nope that’s too light.” or, “Oops that’s too dark.” Until it can lead you to dial in settings that it likes around that 0 midpoint, it just won’t be very happy. So, many times, you will need to find that midpoint using your exposure triangle to adjust the cameras settings. Then, you may need to /lie/ to the camera, or override it to get the actual exposure you really want.

A good way to start off with your light meter is to determine which parts of your photo are the brightest areas and darkest areas so that when you take a photo, you can use that to determine the best light reading for your subject. For instance, let’s say in a spot-metering mode, you point your camera at the brightest area in the shot. Well, as soon as you do that, your indicator will act as though it wants to jump off the deep end toward the positive side of the meter. If you take a photo like that, your photo’s brightest areas will appear blown out- all white with no information in your digital photo. This can also happen if it’s indicating that it wants to jump off the negative end except those areas will appear very dark and have little to no detail. If these are important parts areas of your photo like the snow angel your daughter has made or your black fur baby playing with your son, you want to preserve them. So, you may need to adjust your aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings until the indicator registers 0 for the time being. Once it has calmed down, you can tell the meter, “Well, that area is a little brighter than that. I want that to be set at +2 actually. But that’s as high as you go for that reading.” So, you can readjust your triangle’s settings to show that. When you’ve corrected the camera’s thinking, you can get a better photo where you get as much information as possible and a much better quality of an image. Note that in some cameras, you can also use an exposure compensation dial to do this while in manual.

But, to remind you, to manipulate the triangle means you will likely have some trade offs.


Attempt to trade off in keeping with the story. If the most important part of the story requires you to freeze motion, try to rearrange the other aspects of the triangle so that you can keep the shutter speed you need to freeze it. If your story requires an isolation of your subject, manipulate the parts of the triangle that allow you to keep a wide aperture. Sure, your photo may be grainier because your ISO is high....or you may need a tripod to lessen camera shake.


It can be a good amount of effort. But it’s all for the family narrative that you are building, and that’s priceless.

Now, when you take out your camera of choice, you mean business. You don’t just want to point and shoot anymore. Now, you want to tell your story.

Being a narrator in this sense means knowing how to tell a compelling story, visually. When we can show this through our photographs, even our everyday experiences and adventures become richer.


When we can get control of our tools, we can tell a much more accurate and beautifully rendered picture of our families that shows why we love them so much.


Of course, for those times you want to focus on the family and be in the frame, don’t forget to get in touch. I’ll be here with my camera. ;)

I just loves a happy ending.