an inspiring trip to seattle

Well well, I've just returned from one of the most inspiring experiences of my life so far. To kick off this very long post with a little overview here's a tiny, visual summary of my time in Seattle, via Instagram.

The image at the bottom left was taken by Andria Lindquist, a regram from her Instagram feed.

If you're up for the long version, here goes! As I mentioned a few weeks back, I had submitted an application to attend a workshop at creativeLIVE and was lucky enough to be selected as one of the in-studio students. This whole experience began when Brian told me a few months ago that one of the annual conferences he attends would be taking place in Seattle. I jumped at the chance to tag along, since I'd been waiting for a chance to visit the city for years. Before we'd even booked our flights, I checked the creativeLIVE schedule to see who would be teaching there that week. When I saw it was Miss Aniela, one of the most incredible fashion and fine art photographers in the world who I've always found deeply inspiring, I was thrilled by the serendipity. I'll tell you more about the workshop shortly, but first, Seattle.

We arrived expecting to be met by sheets of rain, but the forecast shifted and the Emerald City actually treated us to five beautiful spring days. After leaving behind the icy chill of Madison, you can imagine my joy upon arriving when Seattle was in its full bloom of spring. Blossom trees waved softly in the fresh, west coast breeze and green grass and hyacinths brightened the ground wherever you walked. To me, Seattle upon first glance felt like a mix of Vancouver and San Francisco, two of my other favourite places. Already I was smitten.

Our first night in town, we stayed at Ace Hotel Seattle in Belltown. Just like the one in Palm Springs where we spent part of our honeymoon, this hotel was a perfect balance of cozy and playful, with a pared-down look and feel. Oh, and a complimentary waffle bar.

We spent the afternoon and evening exploring Belltown, then woke up early to walk around a bit more and visit Pike Place Market before the crowds flooded in.

Then we moved on to our AirBnB rental apartment in Capitol Hill, where we stayed for the duration of our time in town.

Later that day, I met up with Andria Lindquist, whom I'd commissioned to take some new portraits for my upcoming brand refresh. We spent a few very fun hours together while she drove us around to some of her favourite shooting locations within the city. It was a lovely way to see more of Seattle and get to know her at the same time. I've been a fan of Andria's work for years, and it was wonderful to have the chance to meet her and watch her work. She's in the middle of a rebrand herself, so be sure to check out her blog and her beautiful new website once it launches.

 The view from our rental in Capitol Hill.

Now, the workshop. I didn't take my camera along for it, as I really wanted to just be there and soak up the experience. Here are just a few behind the scenes snaps from my phone to give you an idea of what the experience looked like:

Miss Aniela's course was a three-day workshop. The first day was in the creativeLIVE studio, where Natalie (Miss Aniela is her working name) shared her thoughts on the intersection of passion and business, right vs left-brain approaches to art, the process of inspiration, and how to pitch your work. I was completely impressed by how articulate and intellectual her talk was. It was clear she and her partner Matthew had put an incredible amount of thought and work into the course. As in-studio students, we were able to ask questions and it was fascinating to hear Natalie's thoughtful answers.

Day two was spent on-location at The Ruins, the curious and eclectic venue where the shoots would take place. Natalie and her team did two shoots: a Lo-Fi one that was representative of her approach at the beginning of her career, and a Hi-Fi "couture" shoot that is the style in which she works now. Being able to be right there, witnessing the way her team worked in concert together, watching the fog machine fill the room and curl around the model's gown, watching Natalie direct with confidence while welcoming input and feedback from her team, observing the lighting setup and the models' (Tory and Taylor) confidence and the designer/stylist's (Leonid Gurevich) creative genius... it was an almost overwhelming amount of creativity and talent in one room, during one day.

On the final day of the workshop, Natalie walked us through her image selection and a rough version of her editing process, which was really illuminating. She then was kind enough to share some of the student's images, including one of mine and give us her feedback on the tone and direction she saw for our work. She wrapped up the day by talking about storytelling, style, preparing for your dream job and marketing your work.

I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to attend Natalie's workshop in person. I have to say, of the dozens of workshops I've watched on creativeLIVE over the years, hers stands out as one of the very strongest. Her joy in her work is evident, and it was so refreshing to hear from an artist who approaches her work with both passion and practicality, and who has a keen head for business as well as a right-brain dominant way of "feeling her way" towards her goals. There's so much I will take away from this course, and will carry with me into my own practice. It's hard to describe the depth of my appreciation for this experience, but I hope I've given some sense of it.

If you have any kind of interest in fine art or fashion photography, or are simply hoping to stretch yourself and grow as an artist, I can't recommend this course enough. You can actually purchase it here!

Our final day in Seattle was spent enjoying the sunshine. While Brian and Andrew finished up their conference, I wandered around with my camera for a final few hours, loving the city and already looking forward to returning.

And lastly, here are some quick shots from instagram from the previous week, as I missed my chance to share that week in pictures. I've been working with some wonderful models from an agency here in Madison on some springtime shoots that I can't wait to share with you in the near future. 

Have a wonderful week!

i'm going to creativeLIVE!!!

Okay, time for the most exciting news I've had to share in a while, guys. In a few weeks, I'll be going Seattle to attend a workshop at creativeLIVE!!!

It's a staggering honour to have the opportunity to study with Miss Aniela at her Imaginative Fashion Photography workshop. The workshop will be broadcast live from March 20-22. You can stream it live for free from 9am-4pm PST, and it's also available for purchase. As I've mentioned countless times, creativeLIVE has influenced me enormously since its launch in 2010 and I can't recommend it enough to everyone I know.

I believe that being a successful creative involves being aware of your shortcomings, and recognizing the areas in which you can improve. Although I'm quite confident in my technical skills and my ability to create good quality work, there is always room for growth.

I'm very happy with the work I create for my clients, as I pour my heart and soul into every shoot. But when it comes to my own personal products, that's where I've been struggling to really stretch my abilities and realize my vision. As I prepare for my first gallery show of creative photography in late 2014, I want to do everything I can to push my work to the next level. I aspire to take the ideas that form in my head for creative, conceptual shoots and translate them into surreal finished images. I also dream of infusing those newfound skills into my wedding and editorial work.

Miss Aniela is a master of conceptualizing ideas and creating stunning, dreamlike images, and I can barely believe I'll have the chance to meet her and learn directly from her. Honestly, just look at her flickr account to see some examples of her spectacular work.

In case you feel like a giggle, here's my (slightly shaky) audition video, where I lay all my cards on the table and speak with a lisp I never knew I possessed. Don't miss out on the chance to watch this wonderful free workshop while it airs. See you on the internet!

photo q & a: new camera — now what?

Today I'm introducing a new series called Photo Q & A, which I've created in order to answer some of the frequently asked questions that end up in my inbox, and hopefully help out more people in the process.

A few years ago, I wrote about simple things that had made a big difference for me in my how to be a better photographer post. You can check that out to learn how tips like doing a 365 project, finding mentors and defining what inspires you will transform your work.

I'd like to start this series by addressing a question that I often get after the holidays:

"I just got a new camera... now what?"

If you were lucky enough to receive a new camera as a gift, or scored one during a great holiday sale, that's awesome! Congratulations and welcome to a whole new world of photographic possibilities. As exciting as the acquisition of a new camera (especially a dSLR) can be, it can also be a bit intimidating. You're now the proud owner of a powerful piece of equipment, but aren't sure how all its bells and whistles work.

Let's start with the basics today and I'll share more tips in the next post:

1. Read the manual. Seriously, I know the technical writing within is as dry as a winter day, but it's really important that you crack open your new camera's manual and read it cover to cover. Familiarize yourself with every button and wheel on your camera and its purpose. Take note of anything confusing or any unfamiliar terms along the way and look them up as you go along. Understanding your camera's features will make you a powerful photographer.

2. Take a class. If you finish reading your manual and are still a bit overwhelmed, or if (like me) you learn better from a person than a book, taking a class would be really helpful. Your best option would be to see if photographers in your area are offering workshops. There's nothing better than getting in-person lessons and the opportunity to ask questions and get feedback. Another fantastic option is to check out CreativeLIVE, a company I've deeply loved since its launch. You can watch their courses for free when they're airing live, or purchase them to stream/download after their air date. I've bought about eight of their courses and watched countless others and they have powerfully affected my work. Browse their photo & video section for the full selection, or check out one of their intro courses on Digital Photography Fundamentals (this one is live today, January 23!), Basics of Lenses or even one of their camera-specific courses such as this Canon Rebel T4i/T5i class.

3. Take advantage of free resources. There is so much information available that it's tough to know where to start, but if you can find a few helpful resources that communicate in a way that makes sense to you, you'd be amazed at how much you'll learn in a short period of time. Start by visiting Digital Photography School and subscribing to their newsletter. Once a week, you'll receive a "Photography Tips for your Weekend" email and it will be awesome. I still read this every single week and click on any post that's of interest. Also, browse their site and search for anything in particular you'd like to learn. Photography Concentrate is another fantastic resource. Subscribe to their newsletter too. Just today they shared a great post about road trip photography which I loved. They also sell simple and effective tutorials which you'd find really helpful.

4. Start looking for inspiration. Now, while you're an eager sponge, is a wonderful time to look for some photographers who do work that makes you wonder, "how on earth do they take such heart-stoppingly beautiful images?" Learning whom you admire teaches you a lot about your style, about your potential, and about your vision that will one day take shape once you've mastered the basic skills of photographic self-expression.

5. Just start. Take out your camera and just try taking photos of everyday life. Things you think are interesting or beautiful. Practice every day and try out the new techniques you're learning thanks to steps 1-4.

We'll pick up next time by talking about basic equipment and lens selection. If you have any questions in the meantime, just leave a comment!

guest lecture: photography for writers

Yesterday I had the honour of being a guest lecturer (via skype) for my former colleague Richard's class at McGill University. Richard's class is called "What’s your Story? – Magazine Writing" and it's geared towards students who are interested in freelance writing for magazines, both online and print. Richard asked me to speak about photography for writers, to share tips on how to take stronger images, should they be called upon to provide photos to accompany their articles.

This topic was personally significant to me because until recently, I straddled the worlds of writing and photography. Longtime readers of this blog will know that before leaving my job in December to pursue photography full-time, I spent the last 4-5 years balancing photography with various writing and media jobs.  At many points, I took photos to accompany the words that I'd written. I love writing almost as much as I do photography, so I was very excited to speak about this topic and hopefully help a few people in the process. In case it's of interest to you guys as well, I thought I'd share some of the advice and examples that I gave to Richard's class. Here we go:

1) First and foremost, DON'T UNDERESTIMATE YOUR VALUE AND SKILL AS A PHOTOGRAPHER. We are all capable of taking great photos. As a writer, you often have a more intimate understanding of the story you’re covering than a photographer may have. Your goal, above all, should be to take photos that illustrate and complement your written words.

2) COMMUNICATION IS PARAMOUNT. Always start by gaining a solid understanding of your assignment by asking clear questions when you speak to your editor. You want to approach photos with the same hunger for details that you have as a writer. What is the thrust of the story? Is there a certain feeling to convey? Who are the primary people in this story?

Questions to ask your editor:

- what is the deadline? (most important question!)
- how many photos should I deliver?
- how many final photos do you hope to have?
- should the photos be vertical or horizontal, or both?
- do you have a preferred file format (jpeg, tiff)
- what resolution do you require (e.g. 300 ppi)
- would you like me to resize the photos?
- what is your preferred delivery method i.e. should I send photos by file delivery service (e.g yousendit.com), upload by ftp, etc.?

3) UNDERSTAND THE STYLE OF YOUR PUBLICATION. Does it require a photojournalistic or editorial approach?

Here are some basic differences between the two:

Show a story as it happens Create or enhance a story by directing and/or styling
Blend into the background Interact with your subjects
Work alone as a "fly on the wall" observer Work as part of a team, often with an art director, stylist, etc
As often as possible, shoot without flash Utilize flash, lights, or other equipment
Don't manipulate or move anything - photograph as-is Don't be shy to move objects around to make a setting look better

In the above example, I snapped the photo on the left as my client (Jessica) was making final preparations to the desserts I would be photographing for her. Although it's out of frame, she still had curlers in her hair when I took this photo, and we wouldn't officially start shooting for another 15 minutes. The photo, however, captures what it's actually like to be in one of her baking classes, and all the deliciousness that entails. Unposed and unplanned, it shows the story as it happened. The photo on the right is a posed portrait, which you'll notice was taken in front of a relatively clean background, to create more simplicity. I gave her direction and positioned her in relation to the best light.

The above photos were both taken at Jennie and Zach's wedding. Wedding photography is a great example of a case where both approaches can be utilized. The photo on the left was taken during the couple's first look, when they saw each other before the ceremony. During the first look, I always step back and photograph from a distance, to give the couple a semi-private moment to themselves before the chaos of the day sets it. The photo on the right is a photo that would be appropriate for publication, as it's slightly styled, clutter-free and focuses on just one detail. Editors often prefer photos like this, as it would work well in a layout that features many separate detail shots.

This final example shows two photos taken at the same party. The one on the left shows a very cool and excited grandmother photographing her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter on her first birthday. I love that she's using an iPad, as it created a lovely frame-within-a-frame. This moment not only showed baby Abby and her parents, but the excitement and the fact that this day was a milestone worth photographing. The photo on the right is a posed photo in more of an editorial style, with just Abby and her parents.

4) QUICK TIPS FOR BETTER PHOTOS. These are short-term tips to help you take stronger photos in a pinch.

- make sure you shoot at the largest setting your camera has
- whenever possible, focus on finding good light--good light can make any space a great location
- look for clean backgrounds and avoid clutter at all costs
- look for surroundings that tell a story, and don't be afraid to photograph small details
- give your subject clear direction; this will help put them at ease
- give positive reinforcement; let them know they're looking good on-camera

5) SIMPLE WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY. These are longer-term tips to help you take stronger photos over time.

- consciously open up your eyes and look for beauty, details, stories, and moments everywhere
- keep a camera (even a smartphone) with you at all times to document what you see
- try a 365 project – take a photo every day for a year
- ask your friends and family to pose for you
- set challenges for yourself (e.g. try your hand at street style portraits, or photograph quickly moving objects)
- pick a theme (e.g. colour, season) and create a series of photos
- offer to assist a photographer, even for one shoot
- or, if you're not up for that, offer to take a photographer out for coffee or lunch and ask lots of questions

5) MAKE THE MOST OF WORKING ALONGSIDE A PHOTOGRAPHER. In the case where your writing gig does have a photographer assigned to it, you're in luck. Not only is the pressure off of you, but you can learn from him or her, and make a valuable connection. Here are some of the best ways to build a healthy working relationship with a photographer.

- provide them with as many details as you have about the story being covered
- remember that by helping the photographer take better photos, your story will look better and your editors will be happier
- swap contact information at some point during your time together
- if you enjoyed working with that photographer, recommend him or her to future editors and it's likely the photographer will return the favour

6) IN CONCLUSION: understand your assignment, use your people skills, find good light, deliver on time, and have fun!

If any writers are reading this, I'd love if you'd share any tips you have for photographers working with writers in the comments!