How to Take Great Cell Phone Photos in Dim Lighting

Last week I did a post about taking better photos in outdoor lighting conditions, with natural light. Today I want to address the more challenging conditions of low light, indoor photography. While shooting in low light can be challenging, there are a few tricks that you can use to vastly improve your images.

Well, you say, "low light, no problem, just use a flash". Yes. Yes, you can use a flash. It's very easy to default to flash by pressing that lightning bolt symbol, but, in all honesty, it doesn't look very good. Cell phone camera flashes end up making an image look cheap and ill exposed. Take these two images for example, I bet you can guess which one is with a flash:

The first is with ambient indoor light, it is slightly yellow and a bit fuzzy around the edges. Cameras have a hard time focusing in low light and have to "collect light" by keeping the shutter open longer. This is the case even with digital as well, the sensor needs more time to gather the info. Thus a slightly blurred image. 

The second one is with flash. It is a lot clearer because the flash shortens the time the sensor needs to be exposed to collect light, thus no blur. However, there is a cut-out quality ( due to the cast shadows) to it that I just don't like. It throws a cool light on the subject which is different from the warm light around them. Often the flash leaves shine marks or "hot spots" on the subjects face. I would choose the image on the left and adjust the yellow cast using filters. There is a time and a place for flash- namely at a party, with revelers goofing off for the camera. In that instance the subject being sharply highlighted by the flash in all their glory with the background fading to black is acceptable. That is the one exception.

Here is a set of three images, 1. No flash, 2. Flash (in Selfie mode which is inadequate), 3. No flash and adjustment filter:

In number one the shadows are terrible. Number two looks just too blown out. Both one and two have bad shadow placement and uneven light. Number three is shot with no flash and a simple adjustment using the phones built in filters that evens out the shadows, de-saturates the color, and in my opinion looks the best, not good, but better than the first two.

Okay, so if we are going to avoid using the flash, what kind of light should we be looking for?

Look around you for the sources of light. If it is overhead lighting, make-sure that you stand a little ahead or behind the light, not directly under or you will look like this:

 Narly, unflattering shadows as a result of standing directly under can lights in the kitchen.

Narly, unflattering shadows as a result of standing directly under can lights in the kitchen.

The easy fix is to stand a little back of the direct light and to tilt your head upwards:

 

 By stepping back a bit and tilting my chin up, I achieve more even lighting on my face, though there are still a few shadows around the nose (unfortunately the camera back-focused, but that's another problem entirely).

By stepping back a bit and tilting my chin up, I achieve more even lighting on my face, though there are still a few shadows around the nose (unfortunately the camera back-focused, but that's another problem entirely).

Better yet, look around you for white or light, neutral walls. White is your friend, your handy dandy natural light reflector (conversely, very colorful walls are your enemy since the color will be cast back onto you). Take a look at these two photos up next. In the first I have my back to the bright white of my kitchen walls and cupboards. In the second, I simply rotate in place and I face towards the white. Tell me which one you find to be better lit (hint: the second one!), even the color of my skin is better and more accurate as white does not have a color cast.

I took a shot of the space, our kitchen (don't tell my hubs, he'd be mortified by the clutter). On the right the wall is bright, but not as much as on the left which has under cabinet lighting that bounces around against the white tiles and cupboards.

Okay, here's another tip that might seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be amazed how often this rule is not followed: Face towards the source of the light. Unless you are going to use flash to fill you in, never put the light behind you when it's dark.

Here's a shot of my hallway. The light in the bathroom is on. In the first shot I stand in the doorway facing out to the hallway. In the second I stand in the hallway facing the source of light:

So simple, right?!

Okay, last bit of advice. Our phone cameras are pretty smart these days. They automatically adjust to lighting conditions as best as their amazing tech can, quite frankly I'm amazed at how well they can take photos in low light. Even in how the camera tries to calibrate color.

Here's the thing, if you are in mixed lighting, i.e. you have a good ol' tungsten light on (think yellow cast) alongside a fluorescent or more likely these days, a cool tone LED overhead light, your camera is going to start flipping-out a little. It will do it's best to adjust half way. But it's not always going to get it right.

So, here's how you help your poor camera sensor out: Choose one light source and eliminate the other (if you can. If you are at a club, forget about it- just go with whatcha got!) by turning it off.

Here's an example for you again:  I am in my art room. I've got the overhead light on which is tungsten ( conventional light bulb) and I'm standing by my patio door with natural light spilling in (cool light). My camera was working over-time switching between making me look blue or yellow as it tried to decide how to read the situation. It settled at this:

 Here I am looking decidedly blue.

Here I am looking decidedly blue.

I decided to have mercy on my camera- I turned off the room light and was left with only the light from the window.

 Me looking decidedly more human and less like an alien from Star Trek.

Me looking decidedly more human and less like an alien from Star Trek.

And that is it! Simple fixes for getting the best shots you can in low light, indoors. I hope you found that helpful. Try out some of these fixes and let me know how it goes.

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With gratitude,

Sharolyn

How to Take Great Cell Phone Photos in Outdoor Lighting Conditions

Cell phone cameras are amazing. They have come a looooong way. We take them for granted, but this technology is sci fi come to life. In our lifetimes, our phones also functioning as cameras became a thing. Before that, it was something out of Star Trek. Don't forget that.

The ease with which we can now take images, without buying film and loading it, without even having to bring along a bulky camera body that does only that one function (gaw! It doesn't make phone calls?), has lead to an explosion in the quantity of images we possess. 

Yet, even with all the built in auto focus, color correcting, exposure, etc.etc. built into these amazing feats of technology, we can still end up with lousy shots. Tech cannot correct all our errors...at least not yet...

So, while we wait for that, here are a few tips for great images in a variety of outdoor lighting conditions.

Before you can make these small adjustments to vastly improve your images, you need to know the basics of assessing light quality. This might sound daunting, but it's not rocket science. Simply ask yourself:

Is the mid-day sun blazing down on me with nary a cloud in the sky? Okay, that's intense, full sun. Think: dark shadows, unflattering, contrasty.

Is it an overcast day with nary a sliver of sun shining though? That's diffuse light. Think: even light, flattering, not as much light, very few shadows.

Is there sun one moment and then overcast conditions the next? You've got mixed light, baby! This will keep you on your toes. But the same rules apply...you just have to adjust to which rules to use as the conditions change.

(Then there's night time, but that is a post for another day).

None of these types of light quality negate photography. Au contraire, if you know what light you are dealing with, you can adapt to it in order to get the best shot possible.

Full Sun:

This is the type of light professional photographers who like to use natural light, shy away from like vampires emerging from the crypt prematurely. Why? Because intense sun creates too much contrast. So much so that one end of the spectrum, either the light or the dark is not going to register in the image. It can also be very, very unflattering on a subjects face: dark shadows in bad locations, squinting subjects.

So, if professionals don't want to shoot in it, should you not take any shots then? Of course not, photographers have to take shots in full sun all the time at weddings and other engagements. They have some secrets that help them deal:

1. Find solid shade (not mottled as this will be far worse!) and take a picture there. Easy peasy. Just don't try to include a background that is in the full sun, like a mountain range, flower garden with open sky etc. All of the background that is in the sun lit area will be blown out beyond recognition. Frame in only what is in the shade.

2. If no shade can be found, place your subjects back to the sun and shoot towards the sun. Have your subject block the sun with their body, or use a tree to block the strongest rays. Turn on your flash mode to force a flash. You will need this to fill in the big shadow that is your subjects face. You want the person to be perfectly exposed for and let the background blow out. Expect to have some crazy flare and haze in your shot...but it can be really cool and desirable to have depending on where the flare is placed. Experiment with your shooting angle.

3. Use the environment to help reflect fill light back onto the subject. Think white, or light. Have the subject stand on a light walk-way with the sun behind them. The light ground will take some of that light and reflect it back onto the subject and fill in some of that shadow.

I want to show you how dang easy it is to improve a shot on a sunny day. Below,  yours truly, taking a rare selfie with her phone just to prove a point:

 Direct, unfiltered sun.

Direct, unfiltered sun.

Here I am in the first shot. The sun is directly infront of me, it's about 2pm, I have to squint to see anything. The light has thrown dark shadows under my eyes, the shadow lengthening along my nose is unflattering, my eyes look dark, I even have a shiny spot on my forehead. Not a keeper.

Now, take a look at my second shot. I literally took two steps to change my location and vastly improve the results. What did I do? I stepped in the shade. Note how the light is now even on my face, there are no gnarly shadows where they shouldn't be. I look like I'm glowing in comparison to the background that is in shadow. You can even see the detail in my eyes which are now nicely lit up. I can also smile and look at the camera without squinting.

 Fixed! I let the shade be my light modifier.

Fixed! I let the shade be my light modifier.

 The location. One side is in full sun, the other in shade.

The location. One side is in full sun, the other in shade.

As you can see, I simply had to move from one corner of the building to the other. A few steps. This was at the Children's Museum in Santa Rosa. I took these two images on the way to the car with the girls. It took all of 30 seconds and most of that time was taken with unlocking and pulling up my camera on the screen. Simple fixes, folks.

Overcast Days: Diffuse Light

These are the best days for portraits/selfies. Overcast (even rainy) days are like stepping into the shade on a sunny day, only you don't have to find any shade because there isn't any (at least not much). The cloud cover provides a defused light, much like photographers achieve with light boxes in their studio.

The only caveat is that the filtered light provides less light, so be careful of blurry images because the sensor can't collect enough light quickly enough. Stick to subjects that are going to stay relatively still.

Some helpful pointers:

Tilt your subject's face slightly upward while you shoot downward...this allows more light to fill in under the eyes. Shooting upwards at a subject is inherently unflattering and in this type of light, you will not have enough available light to fill in the subjects face very well.

See here, another example. This one I shot quickly as we exited the house and the sky was completely overcast. When I shoot from below everything is a mess, namely I look like a gremlin that is all cheek and jowl, and nostrils! Don't forget the nostrils! The shadows overwhelm my face, there's just not enough ambient light to light my face properly. Then in the second I simply hold my camera at an angle slightly higher than I am and I tilt my face towards that beautiful light box in the sky and voila! Much better, don't you think?

Dull days can be...well...dull. So make sure that you use color to your advantage...pops of color in the background or better yet, on you, will make your image more interesting. During overcast conditions, colors are at their best, not blown out, not in shadow but lit just perfectly. So go find that patinaed barn door you love, that rock wall with glowing moss, your electric blue corvet, put a red rose in your hair and take some pics!

I hope you found this helpful. Please comment below, ad your tricks for improving photos, or ask any questions that have popped up for you.

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Alexandria & Jonathan

This past Sunday I had the pleasure of meeting up with Allie and Jonathan for the second time. The first time was several months back  to discuss wedding packages and let them suss me out and see if they wanted me as their photographer for their wedding in July.

Happily, they did choose me and I am so very excited for their special day!

As part of their wedding package, they had an engagement session. Allie and Jonathan already had a beautiful engagement session at Disneyland where Jonathan proposed, but I thought it would be a great opportunity for them to get in front of my camera and do a "practice" so to speak, before their wedding day.

Allie and Jonathan are such sweet and down to earth people. They let me know that they felt awkward having photos taken and that they would prefer doing it somewhere not too public ( I completely empathized, I as the photographer don't like being the center of attention!). 

I did a few scouting missions leading up to the day. Allie had mentioned a few wineries, but when I directly inquired with one of them they shot me down immediately. I knew that rules and regulations for weddings in the Napa Valley are strict, but was shocked to learn that it even extended to professional photography related to weddings. Very disappointing.

Luckily, in a previous scouting mission for mustard fields, I'd found a great public access space in St. Helena. No fear of being shut down and a relatively quiet place with the occasional dog owner taking their pooch for a walk. It ended up being perfect because Allie wanted their dog Zoe in a few shots and it was a great environment for her.

The day started off overcast and rainy. In fact, both Allie and I had been monitoring the weather all week and the forecast stubbornly insisted it would be nothing but gray. I arrived at the site a half hour early to scout and figure out how to light for a dreary day. I even had a prop umbrella and plans to do some rainy day shots. But literally, just before Jonathan and Allie pulled up, the sun burst out from behind the clouds. Gorgeous. However, I now had another set of challenges with light. Because of the sun's intensity, I decided to find shaded locations while we waited for the golden hour glow. We started under some redwood trees and then did a small walk-about, stopping at various locations that suited the ever changing light. By the end, Jonathan and Allie seemed totally in their element. When Allie's mom arrived mid session with their dog Zoe, everyone was instantly even more relaxed (should have started with her!), I caught some of my favorite images of the day right around then, at the end of the shoot.

Being very aware of how Jonathan had expressed his discomfort with being photographed, I tried to be better about explaining how it would go, give some tips on posing etc, and remind them both to just have fun and enjoy being with each other. This was good practice for me as I can sometimes be so excited to get shooting that I don't give enough of a preamble. Always learning!

Well, I think Allie and Jonathan nailed it. Going over the photos to edit I was laughing at their interactions and feeling all warm and fuzzy looking at how much they love each other, so visible in the images. What a gorgeous couple, I can't wait for their nuptials in July!

What Should I Wear?

 

Trying to figure out what to wear for a shoot can be the number one struggle when preparing for a session. Nearly all of my clients have expressed their stress and/or uncertainty around it.

Hopefully I can eleviate some of that uncertainty, and thus stress, for you:

You have choices, you can go all out and buy all new outfits for everyone or you can work with what you've got.

For those of you who love an excuse to go on a shopping spree- this is an excellent one! It doesn't have to be pricey- Old Navy and similar stores have a ton of awesome, current, trendy or classic outfits, often at deep discounts if you catch a sale.

If you are doing a maternity shoot and want that flowy gown, specially designed to enhance your gorgeous belly, look to online sellers, I've heard from many that that is the way to go as actual stores specializing in maternity are hard to find and tend to be expensive.

You can also go the route of...what do we currently have in our closet? This is fine too. I don't know about you, but my kids have WAAAAY too much clothes, there's always something in there that is dressy that has not been used. You yourself must have a few go to pieces that will serve you well. Simple and elegant or classic is what we're going for- your clothes are not the subject, you are!

Essentially, what I want is for you to feel great in the clothes you choose. If you are comfortable and feel good, it will show in the images. Kids DO NOT respond well to wearing tight, scratchy clothes- you will get a lot of shots of them tearing off your thoughtfully assembled outfit!

The main rule of thumb is to wear something you feel really good in, and, if you are doing a family session, to choose outfits for everyone with a unifying color. We’re going for a harmonious look. I do not suggest that you all wear identical outfits- maybe the kids at most. Looking identical has its place and if you are looking for a comical family portrait, we can totally do this. However, if you want a less humorous, more dreamy, calm, beautiful family photo aesthetic, the best look is when everyone is wearing the same color palette, but entirely different pieces. For example, Dad might wear a gray sweater and blue jeans with a navy blue hat. Mom wears a navy blue dress with gray shawl or scarf, kids wear blue jeans and navy shirts with gray sweaters.

Additionally you can think about where you are taking the shots. Outdoor in yellow mustard fields? Contrasting colors like blue are great. White or off white is very dreamy and light. Are you in an industrial gray location? Then be the pop of color- red, orange, teal would look AMAZING!!

You might also be choosing seasonal colors depending on what type of session it is.

If all else fails, Pinterest and other amazing sites on the web are bound to give you some great ideas.

As always, we can message each other and work it out. I don’t want this to be stressful for you!

 

Another question that comes up is: Should I do hair and make-up? The simple question that leads to the answer is: "Would it make you feel more confident?" If “yes”, then yes!

Make-up can really make you pop in an image, and great hair, is, well, great hair! But if you are more of the au natural personality, I dig that too!

I want the photographs to celebrate you. When you look at yourselves, will you see you? If you are going to judge yourself on specific things, then attend to those things for the shoot. If what matters most to you is that moments, expression, emotions are captured, then I've got you covered!

 

S

Please, if you found this article helpful, comment below, like and share. 

You can also follow me on Instagram and my Facebook Group: sharolyntownsendphotography- deals, inspiration and events.

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What to Expect When Booking a Photography Session

I'm going to be honest here, it is very hard for me to speak for other photographers because the way that photographers set up their booking system is so varied.

I've been on sites where you can book a package without ever talking to the photographer, you just click on the package you want, scroll through the pop up calendar for available dates et voila! The magic of automation.

I am impressed by that photographer's ability to dial in their package what with all the possible variables and their skills with setting up automated intake.

Other photographers will have no info at all. It's basically a "call me" scenario. I don't know about you, but that scares me off instantly. Clearly I'm not their consumer if they don't even want to tell me a round house figure. What am I going to be quoted? $500? $1000? $10000?!? I'm too embarrassed to inquire and find it is way over my price range.

So really, I can only speak to what I do and hopefully you can gain some understanding of one process and tentatively apply it to other photographers you are looking at (keeping in mind their system could be entirely different).

On my pricing page you will see a general portrait commission price of $200. This is the fee that any 1 hour session, be it newborn, engagement, grad, maternity, boudoir starts at. This fee covers the session time plus editing and communication. It will also cover a certain number of digital files (this is not the case for all photographers- some do not give any files away, some require that you pay for every file you get). I like to include some files because I know that these days folks like to have the images on their phones, or have consumer grade print work done on online sites like Shutterfly etc. That said, I don't give them all away. Each file represents a piece of visual art crafted by me. Additional files to what you get in your session package and printwork are extra and you will be given a price list to peruse if you are interested. Printwork packages start at $200 and are the best bang for your buck, however you can order a la carte as well.

I have not automated my booking, though sometimes it is tempting, because I like to communicate with my clients one-on-one via email, text or messenger to get a more detailed picture of the type of session you are looking for. Hiring a photographer is like commissioning an artist, the artist needs to understand the elements you hope to see in the work before they can figure out the amount of time and expenses that will go into the project.

Another piece to know is that every type of session comes with its own rigors, so to ask to have a family photo shoot, but also a few newborn shots, or combining family photos with maternity, or even including the family pet introduces a whole other shooting scenario. Don't be surprised if the price goes up because of this. The more elements in play, the more the photographer has to do to achieve the shots.

For the most part, most sessions are very straight forward, no extras, so that fee you see on the pricing page is the exact amount you will be paying. The other great thing to know, is that because I really, really, really want to encourage you to print some of your favorite images, if you order a print package I will always apply $100 of your session fee to your print package order. So you're already starting ahead there!

To give you an idea, when you first inquire about my services I will ask for your email so that I can send you a basic intake questionnaire. Following your response I will be able to quote you a session price based on your parameters. If you like it, we move ahead to the nuts and bolts of a contract and reserving the date with a retainer fee. If it's not quite what you are looking for, you let me know and we try to tailor it to you more accurately. I always appreciate the interest and will not be insulted if, after inquiring, you are not ready to book. I get it, hiring a photographer is a big decision. 

Once you agree to the type of package, your photographer should send you a contract. This could be a paper contract sent via mail, by email for you to print and send, or online. I am now set up to send contracts via ShootProof and you can digitally sign the contract, and I will as well (all hail technology!). You should also receive an invoice for the retainer or reservation fee (usually a percentage of the total session fee) which is non-refundable. Once that fee is paid, the date is set and will be given to no one else. This is one of the reasons why the fee is non-refundable: the photographer is potentially turning down other clients requesting this date and time. Each photographer should have a cancellation or re-schedule policy. I allow for one reschedule with one week notice.

As far as final payment goes, the photographer should specify. I always ask for final payment before or on the day of the shoot.

And, there you have it. It should be a fairly straight forward process. Enjoy the search for the best photographer for you. The images that are created will last a life-time!

 

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What Should I Expect at a Session?

This is an excerpt from my welcome package after you book a session with me. For those of you who have lots of questions and really want to know what to expect so you can be prepared, I hope this helps!

Arrival on-site:

I will be at the location ahead of you, barring something unexpected, to scope the light and possible locations for shots. I’ll be that gal with the camera; please wave and let me know it’s you if we haven’t already met! We’ll get a bit of time to chat (If you arrived a little early! Always ideal.) I will take payment if that hasn’t already been dealt with ahead and then we will jump right into it.

Shooting:

I often call the first few shots my “throw away shots”, they are really to get the light exposure and to get you used to my lens pointing at you. DO NOT WORRY, it is TOTALLY NORMAL, to feel TOTALLY AWKWARD. Unless you are a celebrity, it’s unlikely you are used to being the focal point of a shoot. The biggest thing to remember is to breathe and try to relax your body and facial expressions, I will be there to guide you!

Posing:

The truth of the matter is, that most of the great looking “natural” shots you see are at least partially posed if not entirely. This can seem counter to what you desire, if you want to just feel like yourself and not feel “fake”. I totally get it, I’ve always come from the approach that I want it to be as natural as possible. I will be shooting a lot of candids, (I love them so much!) but I will be tweaking stances and positions to be as flattering as they can be for the camera. I will also suggest poses to try as we go along.

End of Shoot:

Either the light will be what ends our session, the designated time, or the fact that I’ve already gotten all the shots I need ( yay for efficiency!). I will, no doubt, continue to shoot even as we wrap things up and you breathe a sigh of relief….I find I often get some of the best shots at the end, when you think you’re done. LOL!

We will go our separate ways, but you will be seeing sneak peaks in the next one or two days via Instagram (if you opt into that by signing a model release). You can expect to get your edited files within a week or two and print work anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks after a session depending on the type of print work (more on that later!).

If this is helpful to you, please comment below and let me know. Likewise, if you still have additional questions, fire away! I will be happy to answer them.

I will be posting more write-ups about "What to Expect..." in the coming weeks!

Follow me on Instagram and join my Facebook group: sharolyntownsendphotography-deals, inspirations and events.

 

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Krysteen's Journey

 I've recently been pulled in this direction of boudoir photography, which has been a bit of a surprise to me; but I go with the flow and with my gut. I see boudoir as not just "sexy" photography but as a celebration of the female by a female (me!). My goal is not to objectify the body but to create art and in the process, an experience for the client that is liberating: Liberation from hesitance, self hate or judgement and insecurity. I believe the feminine holds so much power. And believe me, as I've done these sessions, I have felt the raw power of the female energy- it's sensual and magnetic, it's joyful and intense, a bit scary, I'll be honest! For a woman to feel comfortable baring a lot of herself, not just physically, but emotionally to me as she learns to forget the lens and tap into the essence of herself, is an honor. 

About a month ago I put out a model call in search of women who might be interested in the experience of being my model for a day. I got quite a few responses for the model call which was very exciting. As I weeded through the applications, I chose carefully, looking for those that fit my "mission" if you could call it that. I want to photograph real people, moms, teachers, insecure librarians, doctors, you get the picture. Not real models that would treat this like a job. I wanted women who looked at this as an opportunity to tap into themselves, go out of a comfort zone, explore a new possibility.

Just after my model call ended, I got an application from a woman named Krysteen. She'd found me through Instagram, my call had shown up on her feed, and though it was past the deadline, she felt compelled to reach out.

I always play things straight and fair, so I couldn't include her in the model call, but I was intrigued enough by the little bit she told me of herself, that I extended a special offer boudoir session, which she happily agreed to.

Over the course of our session together I got more and more of her story, and it truly floored me. I wanted to share her story and asked if she might write a bit in her own words. I didn't want to leave out the details. 

"The best way that I can describe my story is that it's raw, it's real. My life has been made up of chapters of transformation. And only up until recently have those transformations manifested into a physical form as well."

She had her first son at the age of 16, got married at 18 and then had three more boys. She considered motherhood the greatest most singular accomplishment of her life.

"I quickly jumped into the nurturer for everybody else forgetting myself along the way. As much as I pride myself on the title of being a mother, I almost got lost in it. I struggled with my weight like most women do through multiple pregnancies. Finally after the birth of my fourth son and at the heaviest weight that I could have been I decided enough was enough.

Krysteen made the difficult choice to take care of herself, to do something for her and to know deeply that it wasn't selfishness on her part, by taking care of herself she was not taking away from her boys, but actually giving them the gift of a healthy mother.

" After a year of making choices to not just change my physical appearance but to try to get my spiritual and mind aligned I decided to undergo gastric sleeve weight loss surgery.  I really  struggled with taking this route because the stigma of weight loss surgery is 'taking the easy way out'.

And absolutely having the surgery is an easier alternative to helping lose the weight but for the last five years I have put in the hard work of keeping the weight off. By not only changing eating habits but changing my mindset as well. Any weight loss surgery is only meant to be used as a tool. Just like gym equipment it is a tool to help you become a healthier you if you just stand there on the equipment it does no good you have to put in the work. 

My hard work paid off within about a year and a half.  Getting rid of 175 lbs. Notice I didn't say LOSING 175 lb because typically when you lose something the intent is to find it again and I have no intentions of ever finding that weight again!!!!

So after all this hard work and determination, you are left with the aftermath of what your body looks like.  

As proud as I am of my amazing transformation, there is a sad reality most weight loss people are left with: the loose skin. It robs you a bit of all the hard work. I share this not to take anything away from the weight that is gone or minimize the accomplishment,  but I share because I have chosen to be raw and transparent and share the Before and After transformations not usually shared ! But this is my truth and reality."

And it's the willingness to share her "raw truth" that lead to the opportunity to be part of a reality show, Beauty and the Beach, where Krysteen was flown to Thailand for 21 days to have major surgeries to remove the loose skin from her arms and legs and reconstruct her breasts which she says were left completely deflated. All of this, while being filmed, interviewed and documented.

" During the course of the show The Producers asked me, after my surgeries were performed, if I felt more confident about my new body. 

 I had to stop and really think about it.

Because these surgeries meant more to me than just the cosmetic aspect; they really were a transformation of Mind, Body and Soul. My confidence came in the form of freedom! Freedom not to hide behind one single identity, to know that I was made up of so much more. 

But my story doesn't end there or my transformations. Transformations are more than just physical.

In July of 2017 myself and the Band of Brothers (her sons) relocated to Sonoma County. I had lived in Merced County for 30 years and all my boys were born and practically raised there. So this was a huge transition for us all.

Within a few months after arriving we experienced with all of what Sonoma County had to experience the devastating fires. Although we were fortunate not to lose are home it was a very scary time.

In November of 2017 I survived  a stroke that was caused by a dissected carotid artery, which created a clot that caused the stroke.

Though the size of the stroke was fairly big I was left with virtually no adverse visible side effects. 

Come to find out later I have recently been diagnosed with Fibromuscular dysplasia. Which is a disease of the arteries that causes thinning or abnormalities in your major arteries. This leads to being more susceptible to dissection and tears of your arteries.

Apparently this is a very rare condition. I have always been a rare individual but now it's been medically proven that I am! lol. The great news with a diagnosis is that now I know how to manage it to help prevent any future strokes."

Krysteen sees all these obstacles and chapters in her life as having made her who she is today and going forward into the future. I love her description of herself:

"I am a Wonder Woman, I am a survivor, I am a mother, I'm fearfully and wonderfully made. I'm a transformation , I'm hope to not give up, inspiration to share your raw, your truth, your real. I am a story that is still being written. I am Wonder Woman!!! 

So thank you for giving me an opportunity to take these photos as a reflection of my journey."

It was an honor to capture her and help her see her transformation through my lens.

Sharolyn

An Attempt to Give to Those Affected by the Fires: Family Portrait Sessions

My heart has felt heavy for a while now. I've been struggling with feeling impotent in the wake of October's fires. I am stunned by the destruction which I slowly took in, over time, as I drove unavoidably into areas where the devastation is the worsts. The fires came close, but we were the lucky ones. Now, the last thing I want to do is forget about those still dealing with it, unable to move on like we have because they are in the thick of recovery. 

I have no spare money to donate other the than $5 here and there that I manage to put in fire relief jars at my local grocery stores. My time, as a full time mom, is sparse in regards to being able to dedicate it to volunteering in any capacity. But I do have one skill that might be of use, my photography. And I know that many lost some very treasured memories when they lost their photographs. I decided that maybe I could offer my services, free of charge, to those who lost everything in hopes of helping to rebuild a collection of treasured family images...or at the very least, make them feel a little bit special by aiming my camera in their direction for a brief moment in time.

It took some time, not sure how to get the word out. Finally, in conversation with a fellow mom at a toddler dance class, I learned her cousin was nine months pregnant and had lost everything. With heart racing (worried she'd think I was being too pushy) I gave her my card and said, please give this to your cousin if you think she might be interested in newborn photos when the time comes. A few weeks later, I was delighted to hear from Erin. She'd had her baby and would love a newborn photo shoot. We set a date a few weekends later- her newborn, Gwen, would be three weeks old.

Then I heard from a woman I hold dear to my heart, Hanna, the student midwife who was there for the birth of my first child. She ferried me through that intense experience with a calm certainty I will not ever forget. She also happened to be the reason I started up my photography business last year, when she remembered I had majored in photography and contacted me to see if I'd take pictures of her and Nate and their then brand new baby Abel. I did, and after that, just didn't stop, I kept taking pictures for people and started up my official business. So, when I heard from her again this year, wondering if they could book a shoot, I said yes! And then I remembered that I'd seen her post about the loss of their rental in Glen Ellen and all her precious photos and memorabelia of her mom. I knew those things she'd lost were priceless, but I could do some small thing and help her rebuild her photos starting from this point on.

So this was my wonderful past weekend: doing my art in service of those who have lost all. I am grateful to have been able to do something for them. My heart feels a little less laden.

S

PS, It's now the New Year and I've been holding off with this post in order to ad one more family's story and photos: Christine is a wonderful lady whom I met randomly a handful of time at playgrounds in our neighborhood where I'd take my kids and she hers. I later came to see her more often at my local barre studio where I workout and also do childcare and watch her son Brayden now and then. It was coming on Christmas and I got to talking to Christine at the studio, only to discover that she had recently moved from our neighborhood to Fountaingrove, where they promptly lost everything in the fires. When she found out I was a photographer she immediately said she wanted family photos for Christmas. I, of course said yes! but there would be no charge because it would be my honor to do this small service for them who have lost so much. 

Without further ado, here are the photo sessions!

Little Baby Gwen and Big Sister Gen

I wish I had taken a context shot to show you what you can do in a small space. When I arrived for the shoot Erin showed me to the window where she said they had some available space. Because they were temporarily living with her mom, they had a very full house. Unfortunately the light was not coming in the available window, but the sliding doors to the right had light pouring in. Perfect! We shoved their dining room table to the side, swept the floor and and I set up a little arrangement with the cloths, basket and flowers I'd brought. With creative use of my reflector to block the most intense light, a few clothes pins to pull the drapes in a way that they would not cast shadows, we were on our way. Gen, a sweet five year old, was anxious for me to be done with the baby shots so she could get in the shoot too. She lay on the limited floor space, unwilling to leave in case she missed something, so I sometimes had to crouch right over top of her while I angled for a shot of the very sleepy and compliant Gwen. It was fun to tease her and say "don't worry, I won't sit on you...well, maybe a little". A chair was the perfect perch from which to shoot some of the straight down shots. When it came time for Gen to join the shoot, she knew just what to do. The love these little girls have for each other already is very apparent. At the very end as I was snapping a few final shots (it's always so hard to stop when the subject matter is so cute), Grandma suggested I try saying "Genevieve" to the sleeping Gwen because she usually smiles at the sound of her sister's name. I tried it, and gosh darn if it didn't work! The last shot was of baby Gwen, on her side, eyes closed and grinning dreaming of her sister Gen!

Hanna, Nate & Abel

Driving up to this amazing location I felt relief for Hanna and Nate, knowing that at least they had a place to stay surrounded by the beauty of the countryside.

Unlike many of my shoots that take place an hour before sunset for optimal light, we'd agreed to a 9am shoot. I had half expected it to be overcast, but it turned out to be bright and sunny. The light was intense already. It definitely ruled out a lot of locations. I found a space under the shade of a beautiful oak. Not only did I get to take pics of this beautiful family, they had their new puppies there too! So much cuteness!!!

I kept the sun at their backs for the most part, having to let the background blow out to a large extent. It was to be a half hour shoot but I couldn't help but take a ton of photos. Abel has grown so much in the intervening year. What a treat to get to take their family photos again.

 

Christine, Steve, Brayden and Baby to Be!

I was really excited to do this shoot for Christine and her family. I absolutely adore Brayden, he is such a bright spirit and one of the most easy going kids I know, so I knew he would probably feel alright with me pointing my camera at him. And I was right, he seemed to really enjoy it. Christine said she couldn't believe he was actually looking and smiling at the camera. 

I couldn't quite believe that on top of having just moved...then lost their home in the fires...now struggling with insurance and renting a much smaller place, Christine is also pregnant. What a joyful thing but what a time! I was happy to spend some moments at the end of the shoot taking a few maternity shots as well so that they would have ample record of this time in their lives. 

The best part? Receiving their Christmas card in the mail with their happy smiling faces, using the photo I had taken. 

What a fabulous way to end the year!

S