Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 In Review

As 2012 comes to a close, I cannot help but feel sad and relieved at the same time.  The past year was filled with so many joyful moments and milestones, but it has also had it's fair share of sadness.  With each passing year, I realize more and more that there will never be a year of only happiness, no matter how promising it might feel on New Year's Eve.  So perhaps it should be of no great surprise to me that as eager as Mike and I to turn the calendar to 2013, to have a fresh start in so many ways, that there is still much unknown that awaits us in the new year.  That's why I am holding on tight to June 15, 2013 - our wedding day!  No matter where these next 365 days lead us, I know we will be just fine next to each other.

At the end of each year, I like to go through the photos I have collected through the past 12 months.  From an emotional standpoint, there is no better way to nicely wrap up the year than to relive some of my favorite moments.  From a photography standpoint, I imagine, like me, you will enjoy seeing the progress you have made as a photographer.  It was somewhere in these photos that I started feeling confident in myself, that I am ready to take my longtime hobby to the next level in the coming year.  When I began switching my files over to my new computer, I found photos from four years ago!  I loved going through those photos, both for the smile they put on my face, but also as a reminder of just how far my constant practicing has taken my photography.

So as the bubbly is chilling today, I encourage you to go through your own photos from the past year - whether on your computer or the snapshots embedded in your memory.  Hold tight to these moments that are writing the story of your life.  And embrace the excitement you feel about all the moments that await you in the coming year!

The opening photo is of Mike at my parents house in Virginia in April.  This is one of the few places we visit where we can truly relax and unplug from our busy lives.  When I took this photo, just happy to see him unwind, I had no idea he had asked my father's permission to marry me just a few hours before.     

This photo is of Sadie, my parents Golden Retriever.  Normally a bit wild and crazy, I caught her intense stare at my mother puttering around the kitchen, just seconds before she was up and running around again.

It was really difficult to chose just one photo from the Crowder Family's photo shoot in Central Park.  There were so many that I loved, so many I felt captured the sweetness of four year old Caleb.  But this photo - completely unposed as we were walking from one location to the next - really captures both the family and my enjoyment of mixing in some journalistic photos.

I snapped this photograph at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, just after we had finished our lunch at Blue Hill Cafe.  We were just about to head out to explore the farm before our official tour.  While I was trying to get my exposure just right on a beautiful, intensely sunny day, Mike was looking at the map trying to find the perfect location to ask me to marry him.

On our official tour of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, we saw lots of farm animals - something us city people don't see too often!  I love this moment of the sheep looking right at me, lazily eating her lunch.  And despite the brutal heat, the dogs kept a very watchful eye on their herd.

This photo makes me laugh every time I stumble across it - Mike doing a handstand in front of Twin Lakes in Colorado.  That week together was so relaxing, exploring Denver, Aspen, Fort Collins, and Boulder.  I remember how great it felt to just forget about our stress for those days.

Also from our trip to Colorado, this was a quick snapshot I took while we were exploring Boulder Beer.  I love the harsh light on the keg.

It was so much fun to photograph two competitions this year at my gym, CrossFit Metropolis.  This is from the Holiday Throwdown - an inspiring moment from one of our strongest members at the end of the workout.

This is sweet Doug, my sister and brother-in-law's Golden Retriever.  At Easter, just eight months old, he was just starting to realize he was just as big as Sadie, even though he was just a puppy.  He was a bit shy at first, but once he had his momma (my sister) close by and he heard the click of the camera shutter, he started enjoying the outdoors.

My baby sister, getting dressed on her wedding day.  Like most weddings, the morning turned out to be more rushed than expected, but we somehow lucked into having a few moments, just the two of us.  I helped her into her dress, and photographed the last minute touches.

On our last day in Aspen, Mike and I woke up with no plan for the day ahead.  What a luxury that morning felt like!  I made a coffee run, while Mike prepared breakfast.  Later in the day drove to the Maroon Bells to hike to Crater Lake.  This is just after we had parked the car, with Mike looking in awe at the beauty of the mountains.

This is from the first CrossFit Metropolis Team Competition I photographed.  The workout was simple but brutal - rowing and burpees.  This is one of our coaches working through the last minute of competition.

Haven's Kitchen was one of my favorite finds of this past year.  It has delicious coffee and treats, but it is just a beautiful, inspiring place, build in an old carriage house.  The light on the ground floor shop is incredible and highlights all of their beautiful items.

One of the best things I did this year was renting camera equipment to figure out which brand's equipment would best suit my needs down the road.  I was waiting for Mike to finish work before heading to South Carolina for Thanksgiving, so I ventured outdoors to start learning the new camera body and lens.  I just love this photo of a tree dressed in holiday lights - I find it both happy and haunting at the same time.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Very Special Christmas Gift & My New Workspace!

Leading up to Christmas, Mike was growing increasingly concerned that his gift to me would not be here in time.  It didn't matter how many times I told him not to worry, that I was an adult and could wait until it arrived, he continued to fret.  He knew how upset I was to spend my first Christmas without my family; he explained that he just wanted me to have something to look forward to opening.

On Christmas Eve, as I was busy pushing our tiny oven and KitchenAid mixer to their breaking points, I heard a little yelp and then the hurried scuffing of his slippers across our hardwood floors, followed by the door slamming shut.  A few moments later I heard the turn of the doorknob and him demanding, "Stay in the kitchen!  Don't even THINK about turning around!"  Soon he emerged from the bedroom, suddenly curious when I would be leaving the apartment to run the last errands of the day.

On Christmas morning, we snuggled up in the soft leather of our couch and began opening an impressive collection of gifts for just two adults.  We sipped coffee and admired the gifts our family had chosen for us.  We saved our big gifts for each other until the very end, with my small envelope for Mike looking quite puny next to an enormous box.  I started opening the paper, unleashing the tape from the shiny wrapping paper, wondering what could possibly be underneath and where we would possibly have room for it in our apartment.

Suddenly I was staring at the box for the brand-new, wasn't even supposed to ship until January, 27-inch iMac.  I fumbled for words and tears welled up in my eyes; Mike knew what was coming next and motioned for me to sit next to him on the couch and put his arm around me.  He soothed the pit in my stomach, telling me to stop comparing the costs of our gifts to each other.  He explained that more than a gift, the computer was his investment in me, in my budding photography business.  It was a means to replace my 13.5-inch Macbook that I had pushed to the limits, especially over the last year.

With just an hour before we were set to leave to see his family,  I started baking brioche rolls for breakfast and Mike ventured into our bedroom to begin setting up the computer.  He cleared off his desk that previously housed his own laptop and had served as his command center for studying and applications over the past year.  We got it up and running in no time at all and then checked-in with my family over Facetime.

I have had the past two days off from my job and have enjoyed setting-up the new workspace.  There just isn't space in our cozy 750 square foot apartment for two desks, let alone an actual office, so it is now a shared space, where I can work, blog, and edit photos (at lightning speed!) and Mike can remote into his office when needed and read his favorite sports websites on this huge, crystal-clear screen.  Mike's small Batman figurine (his good luck charm) watches over the desk. 

I absolutely adore my new computer and have loved working in our bedroom, as it is the only room in the apartment that receives sunlight.  I have hooked up the monster external hard drive my parents gave me, meaning my photos are now not only backed-up properly, but they are also off the hard drive, ensuring this computer stays super fast.  My parents also gave me a Wacom Tablet for Christmas and I am looking forward to adding my handwriting and doodles to some of our photos this year!

Though I have only had it for a few days, my biggest concern with having a desktop - feeling as though I was removed from Mike when I am working - hasn't really been an issue. Instead, it has made me recognize a stopping point in the evening and turn off the computer so I can go be with Mike.  With my laptop, I always had it on and was always working or reading blogs, even if I was sitting next to him, meaning it wasn't actually quality time together.  The past few nights, after I have turned off the computer, we have either played a game or read - actual books!  I am hoping this remains true once we are back on our normal, non-holiday schedule.

I feel like the luckiest girl in the world - not only to have this beautiful new machine to work on, but mostly to be marrying someone so thoughtful and sweet, someone who believes in me and everything I dare to dream.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

City Sidewalks, Busy Sidewalks

A winter chill blew into the city last night along with gusts of rain, sleet, and snow.  I'm sitting here, cozy in one of Mike's fleece-lined flannel shirts and wrapping my hands around mug after mug of coffee to stay warm.  I have the next few days off from work and I'm looking forward to catching-up with friends, resuming our wedding planning, and spending lots of time organizing everything from the past year.  After a very hectic, very draining holiday season, these next few days will be just what I need to refuel for a new year.

I have lots of fun things to share - including a very special Christmas gift! - in this little space that I love so much, but feel as though I have neglected a bit this month.  But for today, I will just share one of my favorite photos from the season.  Stay cozy and warm today friends!

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Crowder Famliy Central Park Photo Shoot
NYC Family Photographer

The morning was dark and dreary from heavy rain showers overnight.  We emailed back and forth trying to determine if the weather and sweet four-year-old Caleb would hold out long enough to successfully capture the Crowder Family in Central Park.  But we all put on our cold weather gear and rain boots and decided to take a chance exploring the pathways of the park.

Central Park was nearly empty - a photographer's dream! - and just enough sunlight filtered through the fog to cast a beautiful light on this equally beautiful family.  The Crowder's were wrapping up a whirlwind tour of New York City, celebrating Caleb's birthday and Christmas, and even after a schedule-packed few days, they were all so happy to have me snap away and explore the park.  Caleb was just as sweet as he looks and made my job so much fun with his kind smile, dancing moves, and complete ability to ham it up!  We wound our way through Central Park, stopping here and there to set-up the next set of photos, though some of my favorite shots are (as always) between the posed photos.  Everyone cuddled up for a few cozy shots in the Central Park Dairy - which Caleb and I referred to as a secret playhouse.  As we neared the end of the shoot, Caleb refueled on chocolate milk  and listened to his mom, Laura, tell "campfire stories" just before our last shots of the skyline and outside the Plaza.

Mark, Laura, Carol, and Caleb: thank you all for making this morning so special and sharing a glimpse into your sweet family!  I had so, so much fun capturing these moments for you in Central Park!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Duke University

In October, Mike and I took a very quick trip to Durham, North Carolina to visit Duke University for his first MBA interview.  We stayed in a hotel that I'm pretty certain was a set for a horror movie, so we weren't exactly excited to return once the interview was complete.  Since it was a game day, we were pretty limited from driving on campus so, after meeting with some of the current partners, we walked the winding stone paths campus.

The chapel was just as beautiful as we had remembered from touring many years ago.  We ventured closer to the dorms, with students gleefully enjoying the festivities of the day.  I leaned over to Mike and whispered, "I feel old!"; Mike nodded in agreement.  We watched the first half of the football game in the sweltering Carolina sun and then walked back through the campus towards a delicious dinner at Mateo.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Canon vs. Nikon Debate & Photos in the South Carolina Sunshine

Like many emerging photographers, I find often find myself wondering which camera brand will best suit my needs and vision. I’m not sure if this is typical for everyone, but I have lost many night’s sleep over the debate in which each person seems to have a steadfast opinion: Nikon or Canon?

I know! Who needs to read another blog post about this debate?! They are both great brands! Well, I will forewarn you, sweet reader, that this post is long and will not get into the technicalities of each brand or camera model. It will be entirely subjective. If you are looking for a good starting point for an all-encompassing, technical review, I suggest reading Gizmodo’s review of the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800. Also, just it case it isn't readily apparent, everything below is purely my own opinion. I am not being endorsed nor sponsored by either brand in any manner.

First, a little background. Throughout college, I worked as a photographer for my college newspaper, college athletics department, local minor league teams (baseball and hockey), and for a few freelance projects with a local paper. After my first season as team photographer of the Norfolk Tides (then the AAA affiliate for the New York Mets) I took the lump sum of my earnings from the summer and purchased a Canon Rebel (whichever model was current in August 2005). It was a kit that came with an 18-55mm lens and 70-300 mm lens. If you are also a photographer, you are probably grinding your teeth thinking about the word “kit” and those lenses. Not to worry – I am too! It took many more years for me to start to understand and appreciate the different qualities of lenses.

I shot with that camera for almost two years, mostly in shutter priority and auto modes, until the spring of 2007, when, at the very last hockey game of the Norfolk Admirals' season, someone accidentally knocked the camera onto the ground as I was reaching in my bag for a fresh memory card. The shutter was broken and I didn’t have the money to have it fixed. That camera body is still sitting in my closet at my parent’s house – I couldn’t bear to get rid of it.

In the spring of 2010, after a year of happily blogging my way through pastry school with a point-and-shoot, I decided it was time to invest again in a DSLR. I purchased a Nikon D90 with a 50mm f/1.8 lens. What made me switch to Nikon, you ask? I’m not exactly sure. I hadn’t had any complaints with my Canon Rebel. But I really liked my point-and-shoot (which was a Nikon) and one of my favorite bloggers used a Nikon. I am a bit ashamed to admit that I secretly hoped that if I had the same camera, it would help me take pictures just as good as hers.

Okay! I’m going to assume I only have non-photographers reading at this point, because I’ve just referenced low-end lenses, kits, admitted that I used to shoot in auto mode, and thought a camera was responsible for taking great photos. Let’s move on to the good stuff!

I’ve shot with the Nikon D90 for almost three years now, using a variety of lenses. The best lens I own, which is almost always on my camera, is the 50 mm f/1.4. I’ve spent the last three years teaching myself to shoot exclusively in manual mode, learning to meter my subjects correctly, and how to shoot in a variety of lighting situations. I’ve studied my camera manual cover to cover; I’m at a place where I feel I have learned everything I can about my camera and, while I still have tons to learn about photography, I am now ready for the next level: a full-frame camera.

To be clear, that purchase is still in the very distant future, but I decided it would be worthwhile to try both brands to figure out which would fit me the best. Having shot a few times with a Nikon D700 and D800, I had been itching to try the Canon 5D Mark III. A few weeks before Thanksgiving, a local store sent out an email with the offer I had been waiting for: a five day rental for the price of just one day AND 25% off for first-time renters. That was me! I picked-up the Mark III, along with a 50mm f/1.2 lens and flew to South Carolina for the holiday. The trip gave me all the time I wanted to start learning about the camera and practice shooting with these new lenses. All of the photos in this post were shot with the Canon.

Between the camera body and that magical 50mm f/1.2 lens, I fell HARD! Mike was sweet enough to let me snap some photos (I’m lucky to be marrying someone so photogenic!) in the South Carolina sunset and was patient when I would stop and say, “Hold on! Don’t move! Where is that feature on this camera?!” Now, that lens is super expensive, but the scrumptious bokeh and crystal-clear sharpness that it provides is unmatched to anything I’ve ever shot with.

Here’s the thing that sold me the most – the color I got SOOC (straight out of camera) was exactly what I wanted! With just a quick increase in the brightness and contract during post-production, I had EXACTLY the image I had visualized. On my Nikon, I constantly feel as though I am fighting with almost every single image SOOC. That’s not only frustrating, but also a waste of time. The sharpness and clarity of the images from the Canon were so impressive that I let out a little squeal when I could clearly read the words on Ish’s dog tag.

Sadly, I had to return the camera and lenses after our trip. I held out hope that by giving up my subway seat to a sweet elderly woman that the universe just might repay me by somehow letting me keep all of the equipment. No such luck. I photographed the CrossFit Holiday Throwdown last Saturday with my Nikon D90 and my 35mm f/1.8 lens and was shocked by how accustom I had become to the buttons on the Canon. I missed the weight of the camera and lens in my hands. I missed that f/1.2 aperture (Nikon only makes autofocus/manual lenses up to a f/1.4, which makes, surprisingly, a big difference). And I REALLY missed that 61-point focus system on the Canon.

So, you can probably tell where I am leaning in terms of where I will invest my money in the future on better equipment.  It was so worthwhile for me to rent that equipment so I could make an educated decision on which brand fit my vision and my hands (button placement is quite important) the best.  I’m not yet at a point where I can invest in the equipment, but not only do I know confidently know which I prefer, but I also know to make no investments in lenses or accessories for my current camera.

I realize this quite long review is entirely subjective (I warned you!). So here is my advice: rent the camera bodies and lenses you are debating between. Shoot with them in non-pressure situations (i.e. not on a paid shoot) and determine which feels better in your hands, which has the button placement that feels most natural for you. Spend time going through your images SOOC – which sharpness do you prefer? Which gives you the exact color you saw while shooting?

Don’t blindly invest thousands and thousands of dollars into a top-end camera body and lenses without knowing which brand you prefer and why you prefer it. Do not be satisfied with basing your decision on what your photographer friends or favorite photographers use for equipment; YOU are the only one who can determine which brand feels like an extension of what you are seeing.  The cost of renting equipment for a few days to make that decision is far more cost-effective than potentially needing to reinvest that money into another brand’s equipment down the line.

Happy shooting!

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