Lots of updates!

I have been awful about posting on this blog and I apologize! I am going to try to get back into a regular habit of blogging each week, here and on my photography blog. Things seems like they were running at such a crazy pace for a while, working too much, too many projects with our yard, etc. I realized that months have gone by and I haven’t blogged over here at all. So here’s a recap of some highlights! I apologize they are all cell phone photos, but sometimes life gets busy and the best camera is the one you have with you. πŸ˜‰

In April, we took our son to Disneyland for the first time for his birthday. He had so much fun! He actually got tears in his eyes when he got to meet Mickey in person. πŸ™‚ He doesn’t look happy in the photo below, but it was the end of a very long day. πŸ™‚ I can’t wait to bring him back again!
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My husband and I went on a very long-overdue date night to the Magic Castle in Hollywood! When I lived in Hollywood, I always wanted to go but never got an invite. I was pretty excited. πŸ™‚ I know I don’t look excited below but were stuck in traffic for a while on the way there so I was a bit car-sick in the photo. πŸ™‚
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I had two gallery shows recently for my photography, and my little man helped me prepare for the shows. Here we were in downtown L.A., picking up my fine art photo prints. πŸ™‚ Such a little tough guy!
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He also helped me out at a recent convention, passing out my business cards to any ladies with babies lol. The kid is amazingly perceptive about what I do and who my target clients would be!

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Little man also started soccer recently!
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I think E has grown tired of our co-sleeping way of life. He has started building his own little fort of pillows between the wall and our bed lol. We have been discussing transitioning him to sleeping in his own room at night soon.
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We went for a movie night at the pier, and our little man astounded me when he grabbed my hand and started leading me elsewhere. When I asked where we were going, he pointed at a sign above a closed door that said “Fun Factory”, and said “fun!” He had never been to that arcade before but apparently recognized the word fun!

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Biggest news of all…we are expecting baby #2 in February! My pregnancies are never easy, and each has had their own set of unique challenges. This one has been no exception so far. I have been blogging about it on my separate pregnancy blog, so if you would like to follow along with more of the details, you can find that here.FullSizeRender

I’ll be posting some garden updates soon since I know it has been a while since I’ve shown any updates in that department, and I will have some special maternity fashion posts coming soon too! πŸ™‚

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Weekly Dose of E

My little baby boy is growing up so quickly. I cannot believe he is almost one already. He was sleeping so sweetly the other day, and he reminded me of a peaceful little newborn baby. So of course I did what any good baby photographer would do…I had to break out my macro lens and get some sweet baby detail shots. πŸ™‚

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Working with Myself as My Client

I mentioned previously that I wanted to spend some time working on some fine art self portraits, and I’m so happy that I’ve been making the time to do it. I’ve done a few things on my list so far, and wanted to share. πŸ™‚ There is more up at http://apluscphotography.com/fine-art. You can read about each image on my photography blog: http://apluscphotography.com/blog.

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Newborn & Infant Photography Safety

A+C Photography - Newborns & Babies Photography Safety

There are a lot of articles and blog posts out there regarding safety tips for photographers when working with newborns and babies. Most have some really great tips, but there were a lot of other things that I have learned over the years that I haven’t seen listed in most of those articles. I wanted to write this blog post to help other photographers learn how to safely work with shooting babies. I seriously cannot believe it has been almost 20 years since I did my first few baby sessions (wow that makes me feel so old)! Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been shooting babies exclusively for 20 years, but I have done it enough now where I have a good concept of what works and what does not.

If you are a new photographer, please take the time to read and review all of the safety guidelines that I have detailed below. You have a very important job of keeping someone else’s baby safe and protected while you work with them! For new parents, please be sure that you work with someone who is experienced and knowledgeable about newborn and infant photography safety when planning your baby’s photoshoots. If you have any doubts, be sure to ask lots of questions!

1. Newborns cannot regulate their body temperature the same way that we can, so be sure to keep the room that you are shooting in extra warm and toasty.

2. To keep my studio warm, I use a space heater and a rice bag near the baby. I don’t ever place the baby directly on the warmed rice bag, but always make sure there is a blanket between the baby’s skin and the bag. Rice bags are very easy to use and heat up. I just sewed together a little pouch of fabric, about the length of a newborn’s body, filled it with rice, and sewed it shut. When I am going to use it, I heat it in the microwave next to a mug of water for about a minute.

3. When shooting newborns outdoors, be sure that the weather is warm enough. Do not ever force a baby into a situation where they seem unhappy. I remember one particular session that I shot a couple of years ago where even though it was not that cold outside, the baby was just not happy in my outdoor studio area. Instead of forcing the issue, I explained to the parents that it would be much better if we went back inside and continued with some indoor shots instead where their baby was happy.

In the image above of our son, we shot this just after he was born, in March (when it is still a bit cold here). You cannot see it from the images, but he actually had 2-3 layers of clothes on underneath the knitted wrap to make sure that he was warm and cozy. Even with older babies, I never put them in a situation where they will get a chill when shooting them outdoors. If I am shooting a baby in the nude or just a diaper outside, I will only do that on a warm day, and only in very brief increments of time.

4. Never use direct flash or un-diffused strobe lighting since the bright flash of light can be damaging to their developing eyes and brains. It is much better to use natural light and/or continuous studio lighting. If strobes are used, they should be properly diffused so the flash of light is not so harsh and jarring to the infant. When I did my first few little baby portraits, all I had was my film camera and a white shirt that I wore so I could position myself as a reflector while shooting (I was in high school and did not have much budget!). I definitely recommend using a reflector whenever possible. You can even use a large piece of white foam core if you cannot afford a regular reflector.

5. Never place a baby in anything that could be breakable, dangerous or sharp. This includes any glass objects (vases, mirrors, glass bowls, etc.). Even though it may seem that newborns do not have the ability to move much and break something, they can move more than you would expect.

6. Beware of trying to mimic composite shots. I personally never shoot babies in a complex composite pose since I do not like to perpetuate the illusion that I am doing something unsafe with any baby that I shoot. I feel that this is a dangerous trend in the industry, and new photographers need to understand that no baby should ever actually be placed in things like a sling hanging from a branch, a swing hanging from a tree, on top of a mirror, etc. Most of the images that you see that show these types of things are actually composited images when done safely.

7. Make sure that you wash your hands and/or use hand sanitizer regularly when working with babies. Their immune systems are not fully developed yet, and you want to be sure that you don’t pass along any germs to them.

8. Similarly, make sure that you are up to date on your TDaP vaccines. Pertussis can be deadly to infants, and adults can often be carrying the disease but show no symptoms. It can be passed from adult to infant while holding the baby, so make sure you have your vaccine. Babies usually do not have their complete set of vaccines to protect them from pertussis until they are at least 6 months old.

9. Study charts about infant developmental stages for various ages in the first year. Realize that a 3 month old will not be able to do things like sit up on their own, and it is not safe to try to force them into a pose that they are not developmentally ready for yet. Our little guy was able to sit himself up in a baby chair at 3 months (with spotting), but that is fairly unusual.

10. Always be sure to have a parent very close at hand near the baby to act as a spotter. Babies of all ages are wobbly, and you never want to have the baby fall over while you are shooting them.

11. If shooting a baby on a bed, be sure that they are always in the middle of the bed and not on the edge. I almost had a scary incident with this kind of situation back when I was 14 years old and shooting a newborn. Even newborns are capable of moving themselves around.

12. Always do a quick check of the baby’s fingers and toes to make sure that no loose threads, hairs, or fuzz are wrapped around them. This is especially important when working with furry or fuzzy wraps or rugs. Babies can loose circulation on their fingers or toes so quickly, so you want to make sure nothing is wrapped around any of their little digits that could interfere with their circulation.

13. Go slowly and be patient. Be sure to allow plenty of time for feeding, cuddling, diaper changes, etc.

14. Always keep in mind that babies are little teeny tiny people and not a prop or a doll. They have unique personalities and preferences, just like anyone else. If a baby seems uncomfortable or unhappy, don’t force it! Work with the baby and you will find that the shoot goes much easier. Sometimes the poses that the babies puts themselves in are way cuter than how you were originally trying to pose them!

15. Never shoot a baby in bright, direct sun. Babies younger than 6 months old should not ever wear sunscreen, and even between 6 months to one year old it is better to skip this if possible. Babies are very sensitive to sunburn. The sun is harshest between the hours of 10-2 pm. Plan accordingly.

16.Β Never shoot a baby in an environment with a lot of bugs around such as mosquitoes. Babies younger than 6 months old should not ever wear bug spray, and even between 6 months to one year old it is better to skip this if possible. Mosquitoes carry diseases that can be deadly to those with weak immune systems, such as an infant. Don’t take any chances. Be safe and cautious with your choice of location and time of day. Mosquitoes are most active around dawn and dusk and near bodies of still water. Plan accordingly.

17. If you or anyone in your household is sick, reschedule the session. It is the professional and considerate thing to do since you should make every effort not to get your client’s baby sick.

18. Always have a client image release contract, even if you are just starting out and shooting for free. This is important for all parties involved. You want to make sure that you have the parents’ written permission to use images of their child for your portfolio. You also want to give the parents peace of mind about where their child’s images will be posted online (e.g. their sweet baby’s photo is not going to be seen next to some outtake from filming a bloody horror movie).

If you are interested, you can view more of my photography on our website, our blog, and our Facebook page (click on each to open in a new window).

Striving to Find Balance

After having lost a year with working on my photography business, now that I am feeling better I am super determined to get things rolling again. It has been a lot of work lately trying to get everything restarted and re-branded since we are no longer putting weddings as the primary focus of the business. I am firmly resolved that I will bring the business to the level that I feel it should be in terms of quality, service, and success.

So far, I have been struggling with the whole work-at-home-mom thing. Little E does not like to nap, which makes it difficult to get much done during the day. If he does take a nap, he tends to wake up within 10-15 minutes maximum. He sleeps well at night, but just fights sleep during the day. As a result, I end up waiting until my husband gets home and can entertain E for a while, or waiting until after E falls asleep at night to get most of my work done. Most days, I find myself spending at least 6 hours straight at night working on the computer, which means I end up getting very little sleep myself.

I keep telling myself that this crazy intense period is just temporary until I cross off all of the things on my to-do list to get the business relaunched. It just does not seem like a good long term solution though since I know there will always be busy periods, especially if the business starts to grow as I hope that it will.

My husband and I keep discussing the issue, trying to figure out a solution. As the piles of dishes and laundry stack up (some clean, some dirty), I am starting to feel a little overwhelmed. We discussed looking into hiring someone to come in occasionally to either help with taking care of E or helping with the housework. We are both very strongly committed to the decision of not having someone else raise our baby, and that I am the person taking care of him during the day. So then that leaves the option of having someone come in and help on occasion with laundry, dishes, and general cleaning up. This makes me so uncomfortable though since I have really neurotic standards about how things should be washed and put away. I picture having someone come in to help, and me spending most of my time instructing them how things should be done, not really solving any problems (the whole if-you-want-something-done-right-do-it-yourself complex).

I stumbled upon this graphic last night online, and it really made sense to me. I am going to try hard to start applying some of these guidelines to my life.

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Since my husband works an average of 50-60 hours at his full time job on a good week, we struggle to find quality time together. He assists me with most of my photoshoots, which is great since he can also take care of E while I am shooting. In the picture below, you can see them spending some time together while I was working on a recent shoot. πŸ™‚ It was E’s first time seeing the ocean and he was fascinated by it. We have brought him to the ocean in the past, but for some reason, he happened to have his rare long nap whenever we went!

In an effort to try to be as mentally and emotionally present for my family as possible, and still feel that I am giving my own goals as much attention as possible, I am trying to come up with a set of guidelines for myself. So far, these are the rules that I have set for myself:
1. No photoshoots on Sundays (with only a very rare exception). Sundays are our family day, so we can go to church in the morning, and spend the rest of the day together, either doing something fun, working on a project for the house, etc. Most clients like to schedule photoshoots on the weekend when they are not working, but if I book up both of our weekend days, I will end up never spending any quality time with my husband, and that is not an option ever.
2. I am trying to set aside two designated times per day to work on emails. It is tempting, especially with a smartphone, to try to keep up with emails and messages in real time, answering everything as soon as it comes in. That is exhausting, and does not allow me to give my full attention to E when he needs it. If something is really urgent, it is much easier for me to talk on the phone than answer an email. I am convinced that part of the reason he is such a happy baby is due to the fact that I try very hard to give him my full attention when he is awake, and stay positive and happy around him.
3. I am trying to not feel so guilty for allowing E to have a bit of tv time some days. I struggled with the desire to keep him from watching tv much, especially since he already turns into a little tv zombie when one is turned on. However, some days I have found that is the only way that the laundry or dishes really get done. This baby has a ton of energy and likes to be entertained!
4. I am not going to worry about feeling guilty anymore about not putting 100% effort into some of the friendships where I feel like I am doing all the work to maintain the friendship. If someone does not reciprocate the effort to maintain a friendship and expects me to be the one to always initiate plans or phone calls, that friendship is going to be put on the back burner for a while.
5. If we are invited to a party or event, the only camera you will see in my hands is my iPhone. I have too high of standards to allow myself to just shoot a bunch of images and spit them out for a friend, even if it is just for a family event. I have fallen into this trap in the past, and often feel like it is expected since I am a photographer. I am a perfectionist, and have to spend time perfecting in post-production every image that I take. That all ends up taking up a bunch of my time that could be spent focused on other things, and I will not do it to myself any longer. If you have a friend who is a doctor, you wouldn’t expect him or her to go around a party giving everyone a quick checkup, right? So why is it that people expect a photographer to always have a camera in hand, and be willing to shoot everything?
6. I am going to allow myself to continue to work a bit at night since it is the only time of day when the house is quiet, but I am going to start setting a timer for myself so I don’t force myself into chronic sleep deprivation. Things that are not finished by the time the timer goes off will have to wait until another day.
7. I am also going to start forcing myself to take a couple of nights off per week. E and I had a nice relaxing day yesterday with a couple of playdates, and I was determined to not do any work for one day. Yet once he fell asleep (and my husband was at work stuck in a lab overnight), I found myself bored and started working again. Before I knew it, it was 3 am before I went to sleep. It would have been much better if I had just taken an entire day to relax!
8. With my huge list of food allergens that I have to avoid, I am going to start prepping meals ahead and freezing them again. We literally have to cook almost every meal we eat from scratch, and it gets quite overwhelming on some days. There are so few places where I can actually eat without having a problem, and it gets old. A selection of homemade frozen meals would really help cut down on some of this stress.
9. I am not going to stress too much if the basket of clean cloth diapers never makes it back into the individually sorted baskets on the changing table. Just being committed to cloth diapering (and line drying them) is an accomplishment on its own.
10. With the exception of my husband’s work clothes, I am going to try to stop stressing out if every piece of laundry is not completely wrinkle-free.

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I normally do not welcome unwarranted advice from others about parenting, but in this particular instance, I am curious if anyone else has any wisdom to share. Any other small business owner moms/work-from-home-moms have any advice for me on how to balance it all?

My Journey As a Photographer

A+C Photography

I often get asked how I got started as a photographer. Since I had to take over a year off from shooting while laid up with my pregnancy and my difficult postpartum recovery, I feel like I have had to start over with the photography business (link here). My husband (and business partner) and I had to make the decision that we will no longer be shooting weddings since I can only handle being on my feet for about two hours at a time before the pelvic and leg pain from the pregnancy comes back. Since weddings were the primary focus of the business before, I have been working on refocusing and re-branding the business to just focus on portraits, primarily babies & families.

It is interesting to me how everything with my photography has come back around full circle to where I started as a photographer, many years ago. When I was in high school, I started taking an interest in photography. My dad, a former photographer, got me a camera and started teaching me about photography. I signed up as the photographer for the community service club at my high school. I went around photographing all of the volunteer events and absolutely loved it. I loved focusing on the joy and happiness of the interactions. There was one place where we all volunteered where I really took an interest in photographing the events, a local shelter for women and their babies.

His Nesting Place is a house in Long Beach, CA where women can go with their babies when they don’t have a lot of options. They are an alternative to abortion, and provide a safe haven for women and children at risk. I loved volunteering there so much, and started photographing all of the new babies that came through there, gifting the mothers with some prints of their babies. This was many years ago, before the digital photography revolution, so those prints were very precious. I received so much positive encouragement with my photography from the staff of His Nesting Place, and it really helped spark my confidence as a photographer. I did not have any fancy props or elaborate set ups, but I took some beautifully simple pictures with just window light, a bed, and a baby. Back in those days, I was spending most of my babysitting/pet sitting/house sitting money on film and lab development. πŸ™‚

Every year, our club went to a tri-state convention where our yearly scrapbook with all of the photos from our events was entered into a competition. My photos kept winning out of all of the high schools from three states. I got so much encouragement from the staff at His Nesting Place to consider pursuing a career in photography. When I spoke with my high school guidance counselors, I was strongly discouraged from doing anything of the sort. To a prep school guidance counselor, apparently photography is not a valid career path, especially for a student who showed strong aptitude in math and science.

I put all thoughts of becoming a photographer aside while in college. However, whenever I was stressed out, I would find myself wandering around campus taking photographs of the architecture, flowers, etc. The guy at my local photo lab at that point thought I was crazy for studying engineering when clearly I had a strong creative side that was begging to come out. When I made the switch to fashion school, we had a lot of marketing classes where I really started to have fun with my photography again.

After I finished school, I found my way into working in e-commerce in the fashion industry. It was the perfect mix of my engineering background and my creative, fashion-loving side. E-commerce obviously is very photography dependent, so it was a natural progression for me to start using my photography skills at work. Years later, and a few different jobs later, I entered a very challenging phase in my life.

My grandmother was suddenly sick with cancer and dying. We were very close, and she was one of the few people I talked to every day. The stress of knowing she was dying flared up a very large cyst/non-cancerous tumor in one of my ovaries. Work was getting out of control also. My boss’ plan was to get rid of much of my support staff, and increase my workload significantly. I left work early one day to go see my grandmother at her house when I found out how sick she was. I tried to not tell her that I was feeling sick myself, but she knew right away when she saw me.

I had a long talk with my grandmother about the stress at work, and the strain it was putting on my body. I had been showing her various pictures that I took both for fun and for work any time I saw her. She urged me to consider a career change at that point to lessen the stress on myself. She told me that she had been watching my photography progress over the years, and that she strongly felt that it was time for me to get rid of all the stressful parts and just focus on what I love, the photography. She was very wise and I really valued her opinion, especially since she was right from the start about my husband when I had some reservations about him (he was very anti-religion when we started dating but soon had a conversion of heart).

When the time came and my grandmother was about to pass, the growth on my ovary ruptured and I had to go to my own hospital across town.Β  While I was in the Emergency Room, the doctor was concerned about how many times I had been in there in the few years prior with similar situations. He told me that I was at extremely high risk for developing ovarian cancer, and he highly recommended that I have my ovaries removed right then and there. Since my grandmother was sick, we had moved our wedding date up to a.s.a.p., in the hopes that she would be able to attend. I refused to have my ovaries removed then, especially since our wedding was going to be taking place in just a few days. I still had hopes that maybe, by some miracle, I would be able to get pregnant, and I was not willing to give up on that hope.

The doctor recommended that I seriously evaluate my life and cut down on my stress levels since I refused to have my ovaries removed. My grandmother passed that night, and her funeral came a few days later. Our wedding took place a few days after that, despite how upset we all were.

I ended up taking a week off work for my hospital visit, my grandmother’s funeral, and our wedding. When I had a meeting with my boss, she said that it was “very inconvenient” that I had taken a week off, and I would not be eligible for a raise since I had taken that time off. I had barely taken any of my allowed vacation time in the years I had worked there.Β  My husband and I decided at that point to add me onto his insurance, and that I would quit and start working on starting our own photography business.

We started out primarily focusing on weddings, but I also started shooting babies, children and families again. It felt so easy and fulfilling, without being stressful like a “regular” job. I felt like I was really getting the hang of things when everything got put on hold with our move and then my pregnancy.

After our baby E was born, I could not wait to be able to start shooting again. Before E was born, I feel like I approached the photography business in a certain way. I wanted to make sure that I got most of my weddings and engagement shoots published in wedding blogs, so I tried to mold my photography around what it seemed like the blog editors were looking for. Props and styled shoots are popular, so I worked hard on incorporating lots of props and styling into my shoots. Certain styles of photo editing and actions are popular, so I started editing my photos using a combination of those techniques. In retrospect, I feel like I put aside my own creative voice a bit in order to try to get my work to conform to what the blog editors wanted. Don’t get me wrong…I still love the work I did before I was pregnant with E (and it definitely got us published in many places and won a prestigious award), but I still felt like a bit of my own creative voice was missing from it all.

Recently, I started trying to prepare myself to get the photography business back up and running again. I evaluated my portfolio, and even went back through and looked at some of my really old photos and editing, from before I started the business. I started thinking back about all of the photos I used to take at His Nesting Place, and the clean simplicity and beauty of them. I wish I still had some of them to reference, but I made the dumb mistake of letting the school convince me that they were their property, even the negatives, even though I paid for it all with my own money.

I came to the realization that I would let my own creative voice dictate my photos going forward, and try to ignore what the “trends” are as dictated by blog editors. I loved some of my customized photo editing before I started purchasing Photoshop actions, and have been inspired by those to try some new things lately. I decided to do E’s three month photoshoot with inspiration from my memory of my old photos that I used to take at His Nesting Place (example from this shoot seen above). I contacted His Nesting Place to see if I could start volunteering there again and photographing the babies again. I am so grateful that the Lord has blessed us with E, despite all my infertility problems, and really want to find a way to give back.

A lady from His Nesting Place called me the other day and let me know that unfortunately, they cannot utilize my services to shoot the babies at this time since the house is currently vacant. Apparently they had some major plumbing problems, and have had to turn all of the women and babies away for now. Many of them are living on the street until HNP can raise enough funds to have the plumbing repaired. I am excited that I will be helping HNP with a charity fundraising event later this month. I really hope they can raise the funds quickly. Their cause and mission is so close to my heart, and I feel especially supportive of them since they were so encouraging and supportive to me when I was just starting out with my photography. I find it so amazing that I started feeling my love of photography when photographing babies at their house, and now my journey has come back around to focusing primarily on photographing babies. If you would like to help His Nesting Place get back on their feet, please click here to contribute!

I Love Finishing Big Projects!

In our downtime during E’s first month of life, I focused on trying to get all of the photoshoots I had planned executed. This was not an easy task given my difficult post-partum recovery from the Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction symptoms. During my free time in his second month, I worked hard trying to get all of the pictures from his first month edited and processed. It was a LOT of pictures, and it took me a long time to go through them all (multiple memory cards full!). I am so happy to say that I just finished blogging the rest of the pictures from his first month! Time to do a two month photoshoot now! πŸ™‚ Be sure to check them out at www.apluscphotography.com/blog.

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