Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Self-Portrait | August 2011

Is August seriously almost over? As I was typing in the date above, it took everything I had not to type in July. Where oh where has this summer gone?

As I mentioned, I'm going to be making some changes to the blog in the coming weeks, and one of those changes is to include a monthly self-portrait.

Why a self-portrait?

Lots of reasons!

For one, I thought it was high time I stepped out from behind the camera and showed my face on the blog. As I was doing some recent edits, I realized just how few photos there are of me and I thought it was about time to change that.

For two, I wanted to do a better job of documenting my own life in photos. It's about time that I start practicing what I preach!

For three, I'm really not a big fan of using a tripod. I tend to find it frustrating and I usually avoid it when at all possible - even resorting to hand holding the camera for slow shutter speeds that really would do much better on a tripod. The best way to overcoming something is to do it, right? And it's pretty much impossible to take a self-portrait without a tripod.

For four, I wanted the challenge, and the life lesson.  I think that taking a self-portrait is much more difficult than taking a portrait of someone else. We are always so much more critical of ourselves than of others, and taking your own photo is a double whammy. Not only can I criticize myself in the photo, but my photography is also up for critique.  In recent weeks, I've started on a path toward greater acceptance of who I am.  I'm concentrating on trying to realize that I am enough, instead of always zeroing in on my perceived short comings.  I'll probably share more on that eventually, but for now... my desire for greater self-acceptance is also fueling my desire to take my own portrait every month.

August's self-portrait was taken with me sitting in the chair in the living room of our rental house in Phoenix. I seem to have adopted this as "my place" in the house, and I almost always sit there any time I am in the living room. I opted to photograph myself sitting in this chair, with my computer on my lap, because when I look back over the month of August it is nothing but a blur of day after day spent working on my computer as I updated my website and blog.

As I was brainstorming for this month's self-portrait, I had an idea of how I was going to take this photograph. On a whim, I decided to reposition the camera and I ended up liking the composition of the image much better than in my original idea. I have a feeling that taking my portrait every month is going to be a wonderful learning experience. Trying to imagine what a shot is going to look like with a person in it is very different from actually seeing it with the person already there!

Michele Whitacre is a portrait photographer serving Phoenix, Arizona and the surrounding area. Visit Michele's website at michelewhitacrephotography.com. Become a fan of Michele's work on Facebook. Follow Michele's updates on Twitter.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Power of a Kind Word

I'm giving forewarning that this is an insanely long post.  If you suffer from a short attention span, it might be best to go ahead and jump ship now.

For those of  you still with me, you might want to grab yourself a cup of coffee, or better yet a glass of milk and a couple of cookies, and make yourself comfortable

Do you remember being a child and chanting, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?"  That sure sounded good back then when another kid was calling you names, and maybe it helped take a little bit of the sting out of their words, but the plain and simple fact remains that words can, and do, hurt people.

On the flip side, words also have the power to help people.  Have you ever had a stranger give you a compliment, and it brightened your mood for the entire day?  Or how about when your spouse noticed your new outfit, and told you how nice you look in it?  Or maybe your best friend told you how much she loved your new hairstyle?  If so, then you know exactly what I am talking about.

As the final step in the process with each portrait session that I shoot, I send an email to each client thanking them for allowing me to share a tiny bit of their lives with them through their photographs, and asking them to consider writing a review of their experience that I can post on my website to share with future potential clients.

Every time someone takes the time to write something, I'm always astonished and flattered by the kind things that they say!  And I have to admit that most of them bring a tear to my eye.

I want to share with you a testimonial that I received from a recent client.  This testimonial was written by Brandon after I took photos of his two little girls as a Mother's Day gift for his wife.

At the end, I will explain why I am sharing it (and get to the ultimate point of this post)!

Here is what he wrote:
First and foremost, please take the time to read this, as you will see what a satisfied customer Michele has made my family. 
There are some people that try at a hobby or profession and struggle with it no matter how much they like it and want to try and be good at it, and then there are some people who are just naturals.  Michele is a natural when it comes to photography.  Please take the time to look at her pictures and you will see what I mean from her different perspectives.  She sees things through the lens like no one else. 
I was looking for a different Mother’s day gift for my wife.  I have a two and four year old daughter, and Michele and I talked and came up with what would be the best gift I could have given her.  I left all the planning to Michele as she is the expert, and I went along for the ride.  She discussed a few ideas she had, and gave me a list well in advance of what I should bring.  She helped with the outfits (as being the dad I am not the best at that).  Her communication before the shoot was impeccable. 
The day of the shoot came, and I was nervous, as it hit me, I was taking a two and four year old with attention spans of a millisecond outside for photos.  I started to worry if this really was going to be a good idea.  Michele was already there scoping out the landscape and looking for great areas to shoot in.  I am used to the professional dress environment and Michele showed up in casual, which later I found out why. 
Michele took the time to get to meet the girls and see that they had distinct and different personalities.  Then the photo shoot began.  I have to compare her photo shoot to her going through army basic training.  She would lie on the ground, army crawl, and contort her body to get what would later to be shown as phenomenal shots. 
I was nervous because the girls would not always pay attention, or listen and they were running around.  I was getting more and more nervous as time went on because I did not think they were paying attention long enough, but as it later proved Michele’s camera is faster than the girls!  The shoot was done in what felt like a blink of an eye.  I would not have believed that an hour would have gone by so fast.  I kept on asking if she thought there were any good ones, and she told me not to be so nervous.  Michele left and the shoot was over.
Within a few days she sent a sneak peek of the pictures and I was in awe of how great she captured their personalities on camera!  Then I got the CD with all the pictures.  WOW, is all I could say as I looked through them.  I invite you to look through the pictures Michele took of my children and see how unique they are, and how you can see their personality in the pictures.  Since Mother’s day wasn’t upon us yet, it took every bit of will power I had not to show the pictures early. 
The most wonderful thing about pictures when done by Michele is the moment is captured for a lifetime. It will never fade away, and can always be looked back upon, no matter the event.  I can assure you, if you get a photo shoot you will not be disappointed.  It is not something that should be put off, because the longer you wait, the more memories pass that are not captured.
The unique thing about her shoots is she does them in an open setting where the fun can be captured, unlike a studio.  I am sorry to see her move to Arizona, and hope she will be back from time to time to be able to get some more from her.  Arizona, you are lucky to get such a gifted photographer, and I really hope you take time out of your schedules to capture the most important thing in your life - your family and each other - with photos.  Memories fade, but what Michele captures is the moment that will last a lifetime, and can be passed down to each generation.  She has a wonderful gift that she is willing to share with people, please do not pass it up.  I cannot tell you the expression on my wife’s face when she opened up the pictures and viewed each one of them over and over again! 
In summary, Michele offers a great service, is very accommodating, talented and worth your time to hire for your photography service. Her photos speak for themselves."
Obviously, he had a lot of really nice things to say about my work, and obviously it would be wonderful if someone out there reading his words decided they wanted to hire me to take photos for them.  But that has nothing to do with why I am posting this.

So, why am I posting it?

Because his kind words made a difference.  A very big difference.

When Brandon sent this to me, I was going through a particularly rough point where a lot (and I do mean A LOT) of things were going wrong with almost every aspect of my life.  My husband's car had been totalled in a car accident (he is fine!), the company we had hired to move our stuff from IN to AZ more than doubled the quote they gave us two days before we were due to move, the deal on our house fell through AFTER we had packed the entire house and I had given notice at both of my day jobs, and the new day job that I had lined up in AZ "fell through" (their words not mine).  So, Kevin and I were facing trying to figure out how to get all of our stuff across the country, and trying to survive with one car, no jobs, and two sets of bills.  Needless to say, I was terrified.  I was feeling beaten down and broken, and I didn't know if I had what it was going to take to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I wanted to curl up in a ball in the corner and never get back up.

But then a funny thing happened.

One afternoon, I opened my inbox and saw Brandon's email sitting there containing his kind words.  I had actually received the email a few weeks earlier and had it sitting there as a reminder that I wanted to add it to my website as soon as I had time.  Something made me open the e-mail and re-read what he had written, and then the tears started to flow and I had a hard time stopping them.

Amidst all of the terrible things that were happening in my life, there was proof that I had brought joy to someone and his family through my photos.  It made me feel like I made a difference, and I could continue to do so.  It reminded me that I didn't have control over the actions of others, but I do have control over my own.  And that reminder helped me pick myself up out of the shambles that my life had become and refocus on moving forward.  It got me motivated to begin working towards establishing Michele Whitacre Photography in Phoenix, because it was the ONE thing that I could do and that I did have control over.

So, what is my point?

My point is this... Your words have a power beyond measure, and you never know the huge impact your kind words may have on someone else's life, if you just take the time to share them.   So in the future, whenever you have the opportunity to share a genuine, kind word with some, please do so.

And to Brandon, Thank You a hundred times over for making a difference in a way that you never planned or intended!  Your kind words brightened my world, and continue to do so.

Has a kind word ever made a huge impact on your life?  I'd love to hear about it!

Michele Whitacre is a portrait photographer serving Phoenix, Arizona and the surrounding area. Visit Michele's website at michelewhitacrephotography.com. Become a fan of Michele's work on Facebook. Follow Michele's updates on Twitter.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tips + Tricks | Photographing Dogs

I've been getting a lot of requests lately for tips on how to take better dog photographs, so I decided to write up my tips and tricks in a blog post.

Please keep in mind, I'm not claiming to be an expert pet photographer!  I certainly have taken more photos of dogs then of all other subjects combined, but 99% of those have been of my own dogs. When they were puppies they were growing so fast that I took hundreds of photos of them every day. Now that they are older, I don’t photograph them every day, or even every week, but they are still the most available subjects for me to shoot any time I feel like breaking out the camera.

What can I say? Most people abuse their children with their cameras, since I don’t have kids I have to use my dogs.

So, here is what I have learned over the years about taking photos of dogs:

1. If you do nothing else, the number one thing you can do to get better photos of your dog is to get down at their level. When photographing them, you want to be at eye level (or close to it) with them. So, you are probably going to have to sit or lay on the ground with them.

2. A tired dog is a good dog to photograph! The more worn out a dog is, the more likely it will be to stay in place when you tell it to sit or lay down. So, try to make sure that the dog gets a lot of exercise before you start taking your photos.

3. If you are photographing the dog away from it's normal environment, make sure you allow it plenty of time to check out the surroundings and get used to all of the new sights, sounds, and smells before you begin.

4. Don’t try to photograph the dog alone!  It is much easier when you have someone there to help you out.  They can help get the dog to sit or lay down in place, and then help get their attention for the camera.  Never be afraid to ask for help if you needed it, especially if the dogs you are taking photos of aren't yours.  The owner can probably give you a lot of helpful tips about how to get their pet to respond to what you want it to do.

5. Treats, treats, and more treats!  Whenever I am photographing dogs, I keep my pockets well stocked with tiny treats.  A favorite toy, or anything that the dog really likes would work, too!  I use the treats to get the dog to look where I want it to look.  So, if I want the dog looking straight at the camera, like in the photo below, I usually take a treat and balance it on my camera lens.  Lexi is really staring at the treat right above the camera, but you can't tell when you look at the picture.

If you want the dog to look off to the side, like in the photo below, then just hold the treat or toy there and get the dogs attention (this is often easier if you have someone else hold the treat/toy for you. Or sometimes you can just have the other person stand where you want the dog to look and call to it.)

6. If all else fails, use a leash or tie out. Sometimes you just can't get a dog to stay in place, and it will keep walking up to you for attention. If this is the case, then you may have to hook the dog to a leash or tie out to keep them in place. We are so used to seeing dogs on leashes, that even when they are attached in the photos, we rarely notice it. Plus, you can usually place the tie out so that it is behind the dog and barely visible.  In both of the photos below, the dogs are attached but I bet you didn't notice until you looked for it...

7. Sometimes photographing pets doesn't go like you plan.  You just have to roll with it and do the best that you can.  Even if your photos don't turn out perfect, they're still cute photos!  That's the best thing about photographing dogs and babies - your subject is so cute that no one will notice the small flaws in the images. In the photo below, I wish that I hadn't cut the edge of Zoe's ear off along the left side of the photo...

And here I wish my shutter speed had been just a little faster and Lexi's tongue wasn't blurry, but I still think the photo is a keeper! Would I present it to a client? Probably not. But would I put it up in my own house? I sure would!

8. And finally, photographing two dogs is crazy hard. If you thought trying to get multiple people looking at the camera at the same time is hard, try photographing dogs! It takes hard to a whole new dimension. But, with time and patience it can be done. Just don't expect to do it on the first try. If the dogs you are trying to photograph aren't trained to sit, lay, and stay, you're in for quite a challenge, but just keep at it and eventually you will succeed.

Of course, it’s awesome when you get great shots, but if you ask me one of the best things about pet photography is the hilarious out takes! Here are two of the funny photos from recent sessions that had me laughing out loud the instant I saw them!

And there you have it! If there is something I forgot to address, leave me your questions in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them.

(You may also want to check out this post full of tips for capturing photos of your dog's personality.)

Michele Whitacre is a portrait photographer serving Phoenix, Arizona and the surrounding area. Visit Michele's website at michelewhitacrephotography.com. Become a fan of Michele's work on Facebook. Follow Michele's updates on Twitter.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What Makes You, You?

As a photographer, it is my job to figure that out.

My goal for each of my portrait sessions is to get to know my clients and find out who they are inside.  I want to know what makes them tick, and then figure out how to show that uniqueness in their photographs.

For example, here are a few photos of my past clients where you get a great glimpse at what makes each of them the unique and wonderful people that they are!

Tammy has a sassy side and is always up for anything (for this photo, she jumped into the middle of the street, struck a pose, and told me to take her picture!  So, I turned around and clicked.  I love when clients do stuff like that!)...

Vicki needs her yoga to remain balanced in her life...

And Kelli is happiest with her nose buried in a book...

That's all well and good, but what's my point?  The point is this... I've been so busy getting to know my clients that until recently I never realized that I had been leaving out a very crucial piece of the puzzle.

What makes me, me?

Like the fact that my favorite time of the year is fall for lots of reasons: I grew up in the Midwest, and love the fall colors that you can find there.  My birthday is in September, and I'm one of those people who looks forward to celebrating every year.  Also, I always loved the start of a new school year when I was a kid, and even though I'm not in school anymore the feeling of the fall being a time to embark on new things has stuck with me....

(This photo was taken by my husband in our neighborhood in Indiana last October. We decided to stop for a few quick photos as we were on our way to a wedding.)

As I've been working with the designer on the brand for my business, he has been asking me a lot of questions about who I am, and about what makes me unique.  Quite frankly, the questions haven't been the easiest to answer and he's really giving me a lot to think about.

You see, being a photographer is different than other occupations in many ways. We are our business, and there is very little separation between the two. So, when you market a photography business, you market the photographer. In some ways that is really fun because I pour my heart and soul into each session that I shoot, and I leave a little bit of myself in each photo that I take. But, sometimes that makes it difficult to separate myself from my work. When people don't like the style of my photography, it is hard to remember that doesn't automatically mean that they don't like me.

When I made the decision to keep the blog strictly business, my thought process was that by doing so I would be keeping things professional and not be boring everyone with incessant photos of my dogs or ramblings about my boring life (and anyway, isn't that what twitter is for?). Now I realize that I was also avoiding putting myself out there and allowing everyone to get to know me out of fear. We never really grow out of asking ourselves, "But what if they don't like me?" Or "What if I say something that upsets someone and they stop following me?" Or "What if I pour everything that I have and everything that I am into my blog, and my business, and I fail?"

I now know that by not sharing more about myself, I am doing a disservice to my clients and to myself.  How can I expect you to open and up and share who you are with me, when I'm not willing to do the same in return?  And in all honesty, wouldn't everyone be better off if we realize upfront that we aren't a good match?  If you hate dogs, and even hearing mention of them sets you on edge, I'm probably not the photographer for you because my dogs are the light of my life and it's impossible for me to refrain from talking about them all the time.

The truth is that everyone isn't going to like me, and I'm not going to like everyone I meet in life, either.  It's no big deal.  If that happens, then we just politely go our separate ways - no harm done.  For every person who won't like me, there are probably five who will, but how can you decide if I don't share with you who I am?

Well, from now on I'm going to do just that!

And the first thing to know is that I'm an explainer.  No, not a complainer.... an explainer, meaning that I don't really like surprises all that much and I don't like to surprise other people, either. So instead of dropping in and changing things all around with no warning, I will usually explain what I am going to do before hand.  In keeping with that idea, here are a few new things that will be popping up on the blog in the coming weeks and months:

1. I think it is important for me to never forget what it feels like to be in front of the camera, so each month I will be taking a self-portrait and posting in on the blog.

2. I will be sharing my Birthday Bucket List with you, and adding updates as I experience each of the items on my list.

3. I may or may not decide to add some sort of weekly or monthly feature, but I'm still tossing around ideas and open for suggestions!

4. I'm going to be sharing A LOT more photos from my personal life, especially of my hottie husband and my cutie patootie dogs, so prepare yourself!

As always, thank you for reading!  I love to hear from you, so feel free to share your thoughts, ideas, or suggestions in the comments at any time.

Michele Whitacre is a portrait photographer serving Phoenix, Arizona and the surrounding area. Visit Michele's website at michelewhitacrephotography.com. Become a fan of Michele's work on Facebook. Follow Michele's updates on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

LuLu + Benson's Sneak Peek

By now, I'm sure that everyone knows I'm a sucker for an adorable dog!  Tonight, I got a double dose of adorableness when I got to photograph LuLu and Benson.

Meet Benson...

And LuLu...

Seriously, could Benson get any cuter?...

And is there anything better than a little doggie tongue peeking out? I think not!

Amanda, thank you so much for allowing me to photograph your sweet dogs. It was a pleasure getting to meet them, and Zoe & Lexi say thanks for bringing them over to play!

Michele Whitacre is a portrait photographer serving Phoenix, Arizona and the surrounding area. Visit Michele's website at michelewhitacrephotography.com. Become a fan of Michele's work on Facebook. Follow Michele's updates on Twitter.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Makin' Friends

I'm really happy to report that Kevin and I have made a new friend here in Phoenix already. He lives in the leaves that are piled up on our front porch. (Now that I know he lives there I feel like I shouldn't clean them up!) He greets Kevin every time he leaves the house. Our new friend has been a little bit shy with me, but today I was able to take a few photos of him...

I think he needs a name. Does anyone have any suggestions?

We've also meet a handful of scorpions in our garage and laundry room, and some cockroaches in the living room, but I decided to spare you the photos of them.

Michele Whitacre is a portrait photographer serving Phoenix, Arizona and the surrounding area. Visit Michele's website at michelewhitacrephotography.com. Become a fan of Michele's work on Facebook. Follow Michele's updates on Twitter.

Friday, August 19, 2011

I'm Back!

Wowsers, I never planned on my blogging hiatus lasting quite this long!

After all this time, how about if we just jump right in with the good stuff?...

First, I have done a complete update on the content of my website, so swing on by and check it out!  I've added lots of new photos, and tons of information.  But, that's not all!  I've decided to have a brand designed for MWP!  The new logo should be completed early this fall, and once it is finished my website will be getting a new look to go along with all the new content.

Second, Michele Whitacre Photography LLC is officially a legal business in the great state of Arizona, and I couldn't be more excited!  The final step is to have a handful of legal documents drawn up, and MWP will be ready to start back up in Phoenix.

Now that both of those huge steps are behind me, it is time to turn my attention back to the blog!  So, here I am!

I still have to do some major clean up on my blog to fix some broken links and missing photos, but no reason why I can't do that and add new content at the same time, right?

As I redirect my focus back to blogging, I've decided to make a few changes to how I do things around here.  If you've been a reader since the beginning, then you know I've always kept the content of the blog strictly business, so to speak, but I think it's high time for us to take our relationship to a new level, don't you?

As a start along that path, I'd like to share with you a few photos from my wedding day. Kevin and I just celebrated our one year wedding anniversary earlier this week!

We were married aboard a cruise ship in Nassau, Bahamas. The good part about that was that our wedding was a 4 day floating party, and too amazing for words. The bad part was that we weren't allowed to choose our own photographer, and the photos of our wedding day are mediocre at best.

However, we did end up with one amazing image....

Since I knew I probably wouldn't get the best photos of the wedding itself, I took my camera along so that I could get some shots of us at the Atlantis Resort after the wedding.  I basically did my best to set up the shots, and handed my camera off to a friend to snap the photos.  Together we managed to get a few cute ones...

This one is my absolute favorite!...

I just want to say Happy (Belated) Anniversary to my hubby, Kevin.  He is the most amazing and supportive husband, and I'm so very lucky to have him in my life!  My wish is for everyone in the world to experience during their lives the kind of love that my husband and I are so fortunate to share with one another.

Stay tuned for more details about the changes you can expect to see here on the blog!

I'm so happy to be back, and I can't wait to open up my session schedule and start shooting again!

Michele Whitacre is a portrait photographer serving Phoenix, Arizona and the surrounding area. Visit Michele's website at michelewhitacrephotography.com. Become a fan of Michele's work on Facebook. Follow Michele's updates on Twitter.