No need to say sorry

13055580_1102154663140949_8544702587552633492_nA few days ago I was packed up and ready to leave the house for a session when the client called to cancel. Fortunately (and surprisingly) this has been one of the few cancellations I’ve ever had.

The client was up in arms, distraught, apologetic and full of guilt. She thought she had committed the worst of crimes, and all due to a sick baby.

As a mother of three who has taken children, babies and family photos for years, I am very aware of the work it takes to make clients comfortable in front of the camera. There are a lot of games played in between the flashes of camera. We take a lot of breaks in order to get the shots I need.

Comfort is key. If the family I’m shooting or a newborn is uncomfortable, we are facing an uphill battle.

The last thing I would want is a baby that doesn’t feel 100% to have to sit through a photo session, and a worried mama anxiously awaiting the session’s end. I want my sessions to be fun and full of good memories.

So please, please, please families, if you are not feelin’ it, just say so. I understand. Feel no guilt. You do not have to apologize. We’ll reschedule.

Client comfort comes first :)


My newest assistant

Today’s morning photo session with the lovely Herndon family was a delight. We had perfect fall weather and enjoyed gorgeous scenery at Yates Mill Park in Raleigh. Molly and Jason (mom and dad) are always good sports and their two sweet daughters – Madeleine and Avery – have smiles that melt my heart.

Madeleine and I shared a special few moments today when she asked to take pictures with my camera. And who could deny that request!?

She’s nearly three years old and super friendly, offering hugs to me throughout the session. So of course I let her control the camera, just a little bit. Here is what she produced:


For a three-year-old, isn’t she amazing!? I asked her if she wanted to be a photographer when she grows up. The girl has talent, already.

“No, I want to be an Octonaut,” Madeleine replied.

And that’s why I love toddlers. They have dreams. Big, glorious, superhero-sized dreams.

But if that falls through, she has a future in photography.

A magic smile

There is this crucial thing in outdoor photography known as the magic hour. Essentially it’s this breathtaking pocket of daylight found at both dawn and dusk that provides “magic” light that brings photos to life.

It’s amazing and somewhat hard to come by for family portrait photographers. Our session hours revolve around the lives of the families we photograph.  We can’t really photograph a family at sunrise.  We must avoid naptime, and dusk usually occurs near dinnertime.  Families are busy and we understand that.

Often, my sessions must be scheduled midday, even though a 12 o’clock bright sun can be disastrous for a photo.

For Avery’s midday, sunshine-filled session I couldn’t rely on magic light.  But Avery gave me a gift that day — her magic smile.  Just look at her gorgeous expressions.  She worked the camera!  I love this sweet, 6-month-old baby girl.


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A different day, a different toddler

Meeting a new family is always exhilarating and always keeps me on my toes. As a photographer, I go into each session confident with expectations on lighting, posing and the technicalities of my camera. But meeting new families creates an ever-changing environment in which to work.

I get excited to learn – if the family has children – the kids’ names and ages. Before shooting the King family’s session, I discovered their daughter, Dolan, was almost exactly the same age as my daughter.

Oh, this should be a piece of cake, I thought. Relating to Dolan will be exactly the same as relating to my daughter. Dolan will offer smiles galore at the mention of puppies and chocolate, just like my daughter.

But, in the world of photography and families it doesn’t quite work that way. Each child is so very different, and each child performs differently in front of the camera. Some choose not to perform at all.

Lucky for me, that wasn’t the case with sweet Dolan. She and I made friends quickly, though of course it was a different friendship than the one I have with my daughter.

Dolan led us all through the park, as if she knew the way, as if she had been there many times. Dolan’s favorite game was throwing sticks and rocks in the river to watch them make a big splash. Dolan loved finding structures to climb – rocks and steps and bridges. We held hands on the walk back to our cars.

I treasured my time with this sweet two-year-old gal!

Summer perfect

I have a sister who lives on the West coast.  It feels like a lifetime away since we only see each other once every few years.

So I could appreciate when a client contacted me to request a photo session for a visit from her sister who lives on the West coast.  I said, yes! Let’s make it happen! Of course we need to capture the memories of that visit with your sister and her sweet children!

We selected the day, we prayed for rain to hold off, we fought mosquitoes. My client and her sister showed up at the session location – a downtown park – on time, impeccably dressed and with four precious kids on their best behavior. I was clearly impressed.

The children were so fun to work with and they truly made this session seamless. They posed as if they’d done this before. They smiled the perfect smiles. They were well behaved. The photos capture just how wonderful a family this is.







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A balancing act

Hope everyone is enjoying the first hot weeks of summer.  My husband and I kicked off the season by spending a relaxing long weekend away at Sunset Beach, NC with a couple of close friends.  The memories we made over those four blissful days are priceless.  We stayed at a gorgeous condo, awoke early for hot coffee and delicious breakfast, spent many hours poolside and at the beach, and kept evenings simple with card games, tunes from 10 years ago and a decent amount of cold beer.

When I travel and take time off, I am often torn between experiencing the moments and capturing the moments on film.

A few years ago I had a realization.  I spent a lot of money on some really great tickets for a concert by one of my favorite performers.  Instead of truly enjoying the show, I made the mistake of taking video and photo for the entire 3 hours.  So I ended up with great footage, but no real memory of the concert.  Sad indeed.

From that moment, I decided I would try to let “photographer Melanie” relax and just enjoy myself.  Believe me, I L.O.V.E. photographing all the time, but I needed to find a healthy balance.

This weekend at Sunset Beach I practiced that balance.  I snapped a lot of photos with the low-quality camera on my phone and with my pocket Canon, but I only pulled out my real camera once, at the beach, for this moment.

My husband Jed tossing our 2-year-old daughter Natalie into the air at Sunset Beach, May 2014.

I discovered that when I focus on enjoying myself instead of documenting every second of every minute of every day, the real, precious, perfect moments that matter most appear right in front of me.  And luckily my lens was there.


Soothing techniques

Every newborn photo session is unique just like every baby is unique. Thus, my job meeting and photographing these little ones never gets boring. I have a new experience every time. I get to know families personally, as I am invited into their lives at such a precious, intimate time.

Being a newborn photographer means not only making sure a great photo comes to life. It means engaging in private moments with a family – sometimes brand new parents. Some of the finest compliments I have received during these moments are words like, “You are so good with my baby. You are so patient with my baby. Ohhh, so that’s how you soothe a baby.  I’m learning new techniques from you.”

This means so much to me. Knowing that I’ve comforted both baby and parent is a really critical part of the process. I thank every parent that trusts me with their sweet bundle and with capturing these priceless moments. It is a true honor.

Baby Kate was one of my latest sessions with brand new parents. At nine days old, she was alert enough to know what was going on, but still young enough to need many baby zzzz’s. The parents and I spent some time together calming her, rocking her and patting her to sleep.  She was such an angel and I loved that her parents got to be a part of the session in that way. I always try to capture some of the behind the scenes, candid moments. Those are the ones parents think they will remember forever (because those early days seem soooooo long); eventually it all becomes a faint memory.



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The moment before the photo

A significant portion of the photographer’s time during a photo session is spent watching and waiting for the photo to happen.  We get in place, we get our exposure perfect, we spend time getting to know the subject and family members.  Many times I find myself with my lens focused on the space that the subject is about to occupy – where the swing is about to enter the frame or where the baby is about to crawl. This photo is a perfect example of what I mean.

I am squatting in front of a tree, my camera focused on a 2-year-old girl’s shoe, waiting for her to muster the confidence to step up into the tree where she’ll enter my frame. It is a funny part of photography how we really inspect the photo from outside and in.



Of wonder and leaves

Madeleine has been such a joy to photograph since birth.  I have had the opportunity to capture her newborn photos, 6-month photos, and now her 1-year portraits.  She is such an amazing little lady who is a natural in front of the camera.

For her 1-year portraits, Madeleine’s parents had the idea to take photos at West Point on the Eno.  Many families and photographers frequent this outdoor venue, though it was a first for me.  I visit the Eno River a few times a year, but never had I been to West Point on the Eno, the entrance to which is off of Roxboro Road in North Durham.

The park is fabulous, perfect for hiking, adventure water sports, picnics, and those who love history.  Madeleine’s family and I got to visit on a cool fall day.  Spending time with my clients is always a joy, but spending time trekking through a gorgeous location with my family is even better, especially when the location is a place my client has selected.  Kudos to them for leading us to this ideal setting.

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Innocent afternoon

Early autumn afternoons outdoors make for great photography conditions.  The sun is low in the sky and hits subjects and surrounding elements at unique angles, making dramatic impact on a photo.  Not to mention that children just want to be outdoors, exploring and creating.  When kids can just be themselves it makes for a better photo.
This photo was taken in early October around 3 pm.  I wouldn’t typically suggest that time of day as ideal for shooting – it still can be a little harsh.  Four o’clock and later makes for even better lighting. I got lucky with this shot.  Her face was just beyond the boldest rays of the sun, but her hair and dress wasn’t.  Her hair and dress highlight the innocence of her age, so I appreciated that they were in such direct light.
The hazy air is another benefit to shooting early morning or late afternoon.
She was so focused on her game that I couldn’t have paid her to look at the camera…but I’m glad she didn’t.