What’s in My Gear Bag?

This post is for all the aspiring professional photographers, amateurs and Moms I receive phone calls, Facebook messages, Instagram messages and texts from asking about what gear I use and what they need to buy to get the job done…whether that be a new-to-the-business photographer getting their first clients, or the hobbyist Mom trying to get a great shot of her son on the football field during a night game, or her daughter in a dance recital. This is not a technical post on how to light, shoot and compose artistically. (Shooting skills are really best discussed in a personal one-one-one mentoring session, which I offer for a fee.) This is a post about the tools of the trade. God gave me any talent I have, and I know He wants me to share the gifts He gave me with others.

In the beginning of my business over 14 years ago, I remember staying up til 2:00 AM night after night searching the internet for information on how to shoot, what to shoot, what film to use, and what equipment and software I needed. I spent so much time educating myself with books, other photographer’s informational blog posts, websites, YouTube videos and manufacturers’ “How To” guides. It was exhausting, but I was SO hungry for information and so eager to hone my photography skills and business model.

When I first started in this business, several experienced professional photographers jumped right in to gladly help me, answering phone calls and emails from this desperate new photographer, new to the business and in search of answers. I’m forever indebted to them for all of their advice and teaching and I want to pay that kindness forward. I’m a big believer that collaboration is so much better than competition. The more pros help each other, and those new to the business, the better quality product we deliver to our clients and protect our industry.

I’m a Nikon user. It’s what I started with 14 years ago and I love Nikon products. There are many Canon users out there too. You really can’t go wrong with either brand. They are both the choice of pros worldwide. I’m not one of those arguers about which brand is superior. I think you need to use what makes sense to you. But, once you buy one brand or the other, you must stick to it, because the lens mounts are specific to the brand. If you buy all pro lenses for one brand and then try to switch, it’s a very expensive change and used equipment doesn’t always sell quickly. So, when you decide to make your camera and lens investments, do the research and go with whichever brand you plan to use for a long time.

As for bodies vs. lens investments, every pro will tell you to invest in glass right away. I never buy anything but Nikon lenses because I want the Nikon glass. And, I use UV filters to protect the glass in case of a bump or drop. Camera bodies change much more frequently than lenses. They come and go. Buy the best body you can afford at the time, then really start pouring your money into good professional lenses. By that, I mean, purchase the lenses that are fast…usually f/1.4 to f/2.8 apertures wide open. This will afford you much more leeway with your shutter speed in low light situations. You pay more for pro lenses, but trust me, they are so worth it. I love prime (fixed focal length) lenses too because they are tack sharp.

Most people who come to me frustrated about their shots shouldn’t be frustrated as much in their own abilities and eye for the shot as they should be with the limitations caused by the specific equipment they are using. There are many Moms and amateurs who have a great eye for composition and subject matter, but are limited by what their lens can do artistically in low light. Lenses that only go to f/4.5 or f/5.6 wide open just can’t get the job done like the faster lenses can, especially in low light situations like night football games, dance recitals, wedding receptions, etc. And remember, shutter speed is relative to focal length. Camera shake will produce blurry images if your shutter speed is much slower than the focal length you are shooting…unless you have a lens with VR (vibration reduction), then you can shoot with a shutter up to 2 stops slower. If you have the choice of a VR lens. Get it. What do I mean by shutter speed relative to focal length? If you are using a 50mm lens or a lens set at 50mm focal length, make sure your shutter isn’t slower than 1/50 second and so on. This is especially important if you don’t have a very steady hand. Some people can shoot one to two stops slower than relative focal length because they are extremely steady handed. Accidental camera shake blur is much more obvious that purposeful blur for artistic effect. It can destroy an amazing shot.

So, what’s in my bag? It has definitely evolved over time. And I wasn’t able to jump right into the business and purchase $15k-$25k worth of equipment from the get go. Be patient, invest correctly and you will have gear that will serve you well for a very long time. I only change camera bodies about every 5 years or so, when there is a big jump in the technology (even though I would love to have every new one that comes out!). I won’t cover lighting other than to tell you what speedlight flashes I own. On camera flash, off camera flash and strobe lighting is an entirely separate and more technical post. I’m a big believer in off camera lighting for wedding receptions, and strobes and modifiers for editorial and commercial shoots. They can take you to entirely different places artistically in your shooting. But again, that information is for a separate post.

Let’s start with the actual bag…

BAGS & BELT

Wedding Day & Portrait Session Shoot Sac
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I love this cross body Shoot Sac bag. It’s comfortable, lays and moulds on my hip so it doesn’t get in the way, and gives me quick and easy access to my lenses. I added two small pouches, which hang on the sides, for mints, lipstick and an extra pair of contacts. When you have a long wedding day, those are all things you want handy. Unfortunately I can’t remember the brand of the pouches. I purchased them at the WPPI trade show in Las Vegas years ago. I also attach a memory card pouch, which I purchased from B&H Photo. I highly recommend one that securely attaches to your bag for quick flash card changes. It’s important to choose one with several velcro closures for card safety. I also like that mine has little red flaps you can pull over the cards you have used so you don’t accidentally grab one that’s already used/full.

My opinion on bags (and straps for that matter) with girly prints and colors?…just don’t do it. I’m not a huge fan of prints of any kind so I may not be the best opinion, but unless your main subjects are babies and kids, just stick to black. It’s more professional. I don’t want to stand out on a wedding day. My goal is to be stealthy and blend in.  If I have a flashy bag, that screams notice me.

There are many other bag choices (and I’ve tried a lot of them),  but they were bulkier and more stiff. They kept getting in the way, so I kept coming back to the Shoot Sac. It’s what works for me, but I certainly believe that what works for me might not always be the best choice for someone else. Shop around and see what suits you.

Here’s some shots of me wearing The Shoot Sac so you can see how it hangs…

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Pro Sports Belt Lowepro Street & Field Series

When I shoot pro sports I use a different system, called the Lowepro Street & Field Series. You can read more about it here. When shooting on a golf course, at a race track, or stadium, all of the gear you want to use must be on you. You can stash lights and stands in the media room for the interviews later, but while shooting the action, everything must be accessible. So, I have this belt (Let’s not call it a fanny pack, okay?). Most sports shooters use a belt system. You can configure it many different ways and add on different lens attachments, flash and water bottle holders. It also has built in rain covers you can pull over the entire lens pouch. I’ve had to use the rain protection several times during PGA Golf tournaments. Pro sports shooters still have to shoot in the rain, unless their is lightening or thunder, so our expensive gear must be protected.

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Here’s some shots of me wearing the belt for sports shooting…so feminine and fashionable! 😉
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Think Tank Hydrophobia
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Think Tank makes the absolute best solution for protecting your camera and lens while shooting in the rain. I’ve had to use this system while shooting two PGA Golf tournaments. They work. It’s not as convenient to get to your dials with it on, but when you are working in the rain for hours it’s a must to keep your gear dry.

 

Lululemon Backpack

While In France and London shooting for a client a few months ago, I chose to carry a Lululemon black, water resistant backpack that also fits my laptop, when needed. The link I included here is not for the exact one I purchased, but it is similar. We walked all day, every day and I needed something comfortable that would even out the load I was carrying, with enough compartments for my passport, money and other necessities, easily accessible. Plus, black backpacks like these are everywhere in Europe, so it didn’t scream “pro photographer with expensive equipment” to potential thieves.

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(Shooting in the little village of Minerve in Southern France)

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(Shooting on Tower Bridge in London)

 

Think Tank International 2.0 Carry On Rolling Bag

 

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Think Tank really does think of everything you need when in the design of their products. This bag is approved as carry on for International Travel and has combination locks all over it to prevent theft. I carried this bag on the plane to France and London last year. There are cable locks to attach it to something and then locks on the zippers. This way, not only can a thief not get into it, they can’t carry it off to get into it somewhere else. It also has adjustable and customizable padded and velcro’d compartments for all of your bodies, lenses and accessories. I also carry this bag on all shoots with extra gear in it. Highly recommend. This and the Lululemon backpack was all I needed to carry on my gear and laptop on the plane. And, it’s a good thing I did, because our luggage didn’t make our connecting flight from Paris to Toulouse and we didn’t get it for 6 days! Can you imagine arriving overseas to shoot for a client and not having any of your gear? Always choose your gear over clothes. You can buy clothes there. In my case, Delta and my Chase credit card reimbursed me for my expenses to purchase makeup, clothes and necessities to get by. Was it as ideal as carrying a few necessities on the plane? No. But I was able to deliver the job I was hired to do with the equipment I needed to do it.

 

CAMERA BODY

Nikon D4s

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I love this camera for lots of reasons. Mainly the autofocus system and it’s fast…11 frames per second fast, so it’s great for sports and fast moving action. It was the flagship Nikon body until they came out with the D5 last year. I also always carry backup camera bodies in case of emergency. Or, sometimes I have to shoot with two bodies on me and different lenses attached in the case of fast moving pro sports. Occasionally I will carry two bodies on me during a wedding day.

 

CAMERA STRAP

Black Rapid Curved Strap

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Not all the time, but sometimes I use this Black Rapid strap on wedding days. It stays out of my way and moves with me as I shoot. The strap can be adjusted so that your camera hangs right at your hip for quick draw. Again, my opinion on girly prints and colorful straps? Just say no. Unless your main subjects are babies and kids, skip them. Black is more professional and versatile.

 

NIKON LENSES

These are the lenses I own. All Nikon brand. There will occasionally be an upgrade or the addition of VR to a lens, but I could really use just these lenses the rest of my life and be just fine. Why? Because I purchased professional lenses with excellent glass. I do love getting new equipment though! Who doesn’t?!

Nikon 50mm f/1.4

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I love this prime lens. It’s the one on my camera if I want lightweight and versatility…and, bonus…it’s inexpensive! We lovingly call it the “thrifty fifty”. It’s great for 3/4,  full length and group portraits in low light. I can shoot at 1/50th sec shutter and still be fine. I also use it for details, like table settings and invitation suites. I don’t use it for headshots due to the focal length face distortion.

Nikon 85mm f/1.8

 

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This is one of the first lenses I ever purchased. It has beautiful bokeh and is great for portraits. The upgrade came out a few years ago and for over $1100 more you can go from the f1/8 to the f/1.4. Just haven’t pulled that trigger yet. Can’t justify the expense.

Nikon 105mm VR Macro Lens


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Oh how much do I love this lens! It’s a fantastic macro lens for ring shots, flowers, invitations and other tight detail shots, but also an amazing portrait lens because of the lack of distortion. It’s on my camera a lot.

Nikon 24-70mm

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Can I just be honest? This is my least favorite lens, but it’s a must. It’s the go to for most group shots and wide ceremony and sendoff shots. It just doesn’t excite me like my other lenses do. I’d rather work at a greater distance, if available, and use the 70-200mm. Don’t get me wrong, beautiful things can happen with this lens too, it’s just usually not my first choice.

Nikon 17-35 mm f/2.8

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This wide angle lens is great for tight rooms when you need to get everything in the frame, landscapes, live music shows and interiors. Be careful of the distortion wide open at the 17mm focal length and don’t put any people at the edges of the frame or they will look really strange. If you are going for a tricked out crazy shot at a concert or on the dance floor then the distortion can be really fun and artistic.

I plan to upgrade to the 14-24mm, which is what I should have bought in the beginning, but was trying to save a buck. I only had to learn that lesson once. I want that extra room, especially when I am shooting interiors. Buy right the first time.

Nikon 70-200mm VR

 

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This is absolutely one of my very favorite lenses. Zoomed in at 200mm it gives such gorgeous compression to the backgrounds. I love it for portraits, especially during the First Look, because you can work at a distance so the bride and groom don’t feel like you are all up in their personal moment. It’s the lens I use to get closer for ceremony shots too, like exchanging rings. I switch back and forth between the 24-70mm and the 70-200mm for ceremony shots, because I want to capture the ambiance of the room and guests with the wide shots, and feel the intimacy of the moment with the tight shots. The only drawback is that this lens is super heavy. You definitely will get a workout if you carry it around for a 10 hour wedding day…and I always do. It’s always in my bag. It’s also my lens for pro sports. Sometimes I add a converter and switch to my DX crop, allowing me to get even closer to the action because I don’t own a 300mm or 400mm lens. If I shot pro sports full time I would invest in those. But I don’t, so the use doesn’t justify the expense.

I plan to purchase the 14-24mm and a tilt shift lens for architecture and interiors, which I shoot a lot of for magazine work, contractors and interior designers.

 

SPEEDLIGHTS/FLASHES & BATTERIES

Nikon Speedlight SB-910

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I purchased a few of these years ago. Don’t buy the SB900–new or used. It pays to read reviews. I was about to buy the 900 and read that it kept overheating and wouldn’t fire, so I purchased the more expensive SB-910 and it fires away with no issues.

Lumipro 180

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A few years ago I purchased two Lumipro 180 manual flashes and I love them! I always use manual flash, so it wasn’t a big deal to me that the Lumipros don’t have TTL (auto mode). Plus, because they don’t have TTL technology, they are cheaper than the Nikons! Why pay for something you never use?

Sanyo Eneloop AA Batteries

 

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You know the Energizer battery commercials that say they keep going and going and going…  Well I used them very early in my career and realized that just wasn’t so. I’ve been using Sanyo Eneloop rechargeable batteries for years, and they just never die. I always write the dates on them when I purchase new ones, and I swear I can’t really tell the difference between ones I bought 3 years ago and ones I bought 3 months ago. Just trust me on this. Plus, I rarely use them at full power because I don’t want to over power the ambient light in the room. Usually one set of batteries in each of my flashes will last me an entire wedding reception. Eneloops are the only rechargeable AA battery for pro photographers (or for anyone wanting rechargeables for their electronic equipment). They last. And, you will need lots of them if you use radio triggers and off camera speedlights at wedding receptions (see Pocketwizard Radio Triggers below).

Maha Powerex Battery Charger
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Best battery charger, hands down is the Maha Powerex Charger. Charges 8 batteries at a time with an indicator of each individual’s battery’s charge at any time. I have one. I need two more. Battery charging the night before a wedding takes a while.

 

RADIO TRIGGERS

PocketWizard III Tranceivers

 

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I love my PocketWizard Plus IIIs and own 5 of them. I want to buy 2 more for backup. I don’t slave for wedding receptions because I never want to trust line of site for my flashes to fire. What if someone jumps in front during the first dance shot at a wedding reception? Plus if you have a second shooter, slaving will cause your flash to go off when your second shooter triggers hers and so the shot you want may not happen within the recycle time. Nope. Not the way I like to work. I don’t hope for the shot, I plan on the shot. I only trust radio triggers. The radio frequency does not need line of site and can even trigger through walls. This is where off camera lighting starts to get more technical, so I’ll save that for another post.

 

A few more things you need
to get the job done…

30 inch Reflector

 

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A reflector is not necessarily IN my bag, but always nearby in case I need it. I highly recommend the white and silver combo. The white side is softer and gives a more natural look. The silver side adds more drama and contrast for a high fashion look. Reflectors can turn a pretty shot into an amazing shot. Use reflectors to grab the sun and bounce light back onto your subject. They also help to add nice catchlights to the eyes. Always face the sun with your reflector and put your subject between the reflector and the sun. Depending on the direction you need the light to go, you can hold the reflector at 45 degrees, underneath your subject, or off to the side. Best way to figure it out is to grab a friend, go outside and try it out. Sometimes I defuse the sun with my reflector to soften the light a little or even block it completely. Other times, I set it off to the side of my subject for just the tiniest bit of fill light. They really are a very useful tool of the trade.

SanDisk Extreme 32 or 64GB Flash Cards
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Don’t be cheap and buy the ones that aren’t Extreme. If you own a fairly new camera, and shoot in RAW format, the files are large, so it will buffer writing to the card and delay you continuing to shoot. You could miss an important shot while you are waiting on your card to write. Buy Extreme. They are pricey, but you won’t regret it. And more importantly, you won’t miss the shot.

Flash Card Holder

As I mentioned above, I really love the features of mine, but here is another example. And you must come up with a system for how you place used and unused cards in your holder, so you don’t get confused when you are in a hurry trying to change cards during a shoot or wedding day.

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Lexar Multi Card Reader

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I like the Lexar brand card reader. It’s reliable. I use a multi card reader because although I use all compact flash cards, some of my 2nd shooters have SD cards, so I need the ability to read and upload from both.

 

HARDWARE

Apple Mac Book Pro

I use the Apple Mac Book Pro 15″ with Retina Display and each time I upgrade to a new computer, I purchase the best processor you can buy. I don’t skimp because technology changes too fast and files keep getting bigger. I’ve used a Mac since the early 1990s. I won’t use anything else. Apple gets creatives, how we think and how we work. Thank you, Steve Jobs and Tim Cook.
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Portable External Hard Drive
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Hitachi (HGST) has been rated one of the most reliable brands, so I now only buy G Drives (made by Hitachi). I use these portable drives as my work in progress and backup drives.

 

Desktop External Hard Drive used for
Time Machine Backup

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I don’t keep everything on my internal hard drive because I don’t want to slow down my internal processor on my computer. I use external hard drives and back everything up to another, larger external hard drive I use as a Time Machine Backup.

 

Cloud Offsite Backup

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Also in the background, everything is backing up to BackBlaze, which I use as my offsite cloud backup service. Backup your backups. Period. Don’t risk losing images. Hard drives fail. I’ve had many fail over the years, but have never lost images due to backups. Peace of mind, for you and your clients.

 

SOFTWARE

Adobe Creative Suite/ Creative Cloud

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I use Adobe Lightroom Creative Cloud for editing and Jared Platt’s system for workflow. I only use Adobe Photoshop when absolutely needed for additional retouching. It’s the industry standard and will make your workflow faster and more efficient. I use Adobe In Design to create investment guides and marketing pieces.

 

BUSINESS MANAGEMENT

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For business management, including job tracking, communication and online contracts, I use 17hats. If you decide to sign up, please use my referral code.

 

EDUCATION & CONTINUING EDUCATION

WPPI and Imaging USA

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If you are interested in workshops and trade shows, I highly recommend WPPI, which is held every year at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. PPA’s Imaging USA is held in a different location within the United States each year. If you are located in the southeast, it lands in Nashville and Atlanta pretty regularly.

Birmingham School of Photography

If you really and truly want to understand light and correct exposure, get my friend Bahman Farzad’s book The Confused Photographer’s Guide to Photographic Exposure and the Simplified Zone System.  Bahman passed away last year, but his photography teaching and his friendship has impacted my life forever. He was my first photography instructor and the one who taught me the most about lighting. He was passionate about photography and his desire for his students to succeed. He is greatly missed. However, if you live near Birmingham, AL, you can take classes from his daughter Paris. His legacy lives on through her and Birmingham School of Photography, the school they started together.

 

BUSINESS CREDIT CARD

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Also in my bag is my Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards VISA for all my business purchases, especially helpful when I travel abroad, because there is no foreign exchange fee. Make sure you choose a business credit card that gives you something back. Nothing better than earning miles to fly for free with no blackout dates or seat restrictions. I LOVE to travel! Work hard. Play hard.

 

INSURANCE

Hill & Usher Package Choice

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Last, but certainly not least, something that should always be with you is insurance. Insurance for liability and equipment. Make sure you and all of your investments are protected for accidents and theft. You hope you never have to use it; but when you do, you are quite thankful for it. Once, I had to make a claim on a $2400 lens that got dropped and bent the mount while I was shooting the SEC Baseball Championship. My insurance company at that time gave me a check immediately so I could order the lens, have it overnighted and continue to shoot the tournament without missing a beat. I recently changed to Hill & Usher Insurance. They offered me better benefits for less money a year than I had been paying. You want an insurance company that truly understands what photographers need and the urgency of when we need it.

PPA Photo Care

And, if you are a member of the PPA like me, you can opt in for their Photo Care Basic Equipment insurance, which gives you even more protection. See their coverage comparison for members.

Whew! I think that’s it for now.I hope you find this post helpful. I’ve officially shared all of my secrets and ask that you use the information for yourself and share it with others. I truly believe there is plenty of business for everyone and God gives me the clients he wants me to have. No need to keep the knowledge and not share it! Sharing is caring!

And if you are interested, I offer mentoring, tailored to your needs, which can be done in person, by phone or FaceTime. Feel free to contact me for pricing and information using the contact link at the top of this blog page.

 

A FINAL WORD

Be a great photographer, not just someone with great equipment. The images you take are much more about the person behind the camera, than the camera and equipment itself. Shoot. Shoot. And shoot some more. Shoot in Manual mode. For every mistake you make, figure out why you made it and get it right the next time. Making mistakes is okay if you learn from them. Don’t ever get complacent and feel like you’ve “arrived”. I believe there is always more to learn and there are new ways to be challenged every day, with every shoot. Keep on shooting…it’s a great big world out there with so many stories waiting to be told and opportunities to let your imagination and creativity soar!

 

MENTORING

If you are interested in a phone, FaceTime or in-person mentoring session, give me a shout at heather@heatherdurhamphotography.com. It’s always exciting to meet and work with new talent.

 

 

 

 

 

DIY Coffee Table Project

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I want to post a little something different today. I love home projects and home decor, but as my business has grown over the past few years, work has kept me too busy for “nesting” in my home. I’ve missed it so much. Now that I have an intern to help me with some of my workload, I’ve been able to take on a few projects lately. So, I decided to share one of them with you in case it’s something you might want to try in your own home. Photos and instructions are included below.

I’ve owned a Pottery Barn black iron and glass coffee table for over 20 years. I still love its lines, but was tired of the black that was too harsh with the other furnishings in my living room. It also had black slats that showed through the top glass that distracted from what was displayed on the table. I had been eyeing an amazing gold coffee table with an aged mirrored top at one of my favorite local home stores. It was pretty pricey though, and there are other things of urgent priority, so I decided to give my own black coffee table a fresh new face with some spray paint. I had seen similar projects on Pinterest, so I used them as reference.

I hope this post inspires you to find an old piece of furniture and give it new life.


In my excitement to get started on this DIY project, I failed to stop and take some before photos, so I found an old snapshot with the table in it.

Here’s what it looked like BEFORE I started…

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Here’s what it looks like AFTER I finished…

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I wanted the mirror to look aged, not perfect, and the slats to show through subtly so I didn’t spray it completely opaque. HDP-CoffeeTable-5_-WEB

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HDP-CoffeeTable-13_-WEBHere’s what you’ll need:

4-5 cans (depending on size of table) of Krylon Metallic Brass Spray Paint
Note: Do not let the can top fool you. It is NOT shiny gold like the top. It sprays much duller and looks like aged gold. 
1-2 cans (depending on size of glass) of Krylon Looking Glass Spray Paint
White vinegar
Water
Spray bottle
Painter’s drop cloth

Approximate total cost of project: approx $60 (instead of the $569 x 2 square coffee tables I had been wanting)

Instructions for coffee table base:

Begin your project in a well ventilated area. I worked on the coffee table in my backyard and the glass in my garage with the door open so it could dry overnight. 

Put down the painter’s drop cloth.

Begin with the table base and spray with Krylon Metallic Brass according to directions. Let dry between coats. I used 3 coats to completely cover the black.

After it has dried completely, flip the table over and do the underneath and bottom sides with the same number of coats.

Instructions for making glass top look like aged mirror:

Spray the UNDERNEATH side of the glass. If you spray the top side it will be rough painted to the touch and will scrape off with wear and tear. 

Spray a light coat of Krylon Looking Glass Spray Paint. Let it dry for just a minute or two. 

Spray a light coat of mixture of 1/2 water & 1/2 vinegar and let droplets form. You can lightly wipe or dabble very small areas with a folded up paper towel or slightly damp rag. Be careful not to take off large sections of paint.

Add a few more thin coats layering Krylon Looking Glass Spray Paint and water/vinegar mixture, depending on if you want it to be slightly transparent or if you would rather it be opaque.

The less perfect it is, the more authentic it looks.

Let it dry completely before putting it on the coffee table base.

Fall, Football and Family

It was a gorgeous fall day, in the mid 60s and trees full of golden color…a perfect day to be on campus in Tuscaloosa! I took today to spend a little time with my family since I’ve been a little MIA on Saturdays for a while. 🙂 We had a great time! I love being on campus and it makes me miss college. What a great 4 years that was! Roll Tide!

But my favorite memory on campus today was Luke finding a new football at the Supe Store and our family throwing it around on the quad right before sunset. ♥

My image on an official Indy race ticket!

Oh the adventures I get to have with my camera! This year I was hired by Bruno Event Team to cover several sporting events in Birmingham — the SEC Baseball Tournament at Regions Park, Regions Tradition golf tournament at Shoal Creek Club, the Triumph Superbike Classic at Barber Motorsports Park, the Vintage Festival at Barber Motorsports Park, the Magic City Classic at Legion Field and the upcoming College Cup Soccer at Regions Park. I’ve had a great time taking on this new photographic adventure!

I found out last week that one of my images would be the feature image on the 2013 Honda Indy Grand Prix official tickets. I was thrilled! It seems surreal for my image to be used to promote this event and these sponsors. I am extremely humbled and grateful to the people at Bruno Event Team who believed in this kids, family and wedding photographer and encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone to turn my camera lens on sports events. I’m having a blast!

Here is the official 2013 Honda Indy Grand Prix ticket featuring my image from last year’s race event. The Indy Grand Prix is a fantastic event at the beautiful and world renown Barber Motorsports Park. Besides watching the races, there are also some fun things for your kids to do — zipline and Ferris wheel rides just to name a few. So, mark your calendar for April 5-7 and bring your kids to watch some race car driving!

Back to School!

Hope everyone is having a great 1st week back to school! I can’t believe I have a 4th grader and a kindergartner. How is that possible?! Thought I would share my kids’ 1st day of school shots I grabbed quickly before we had to jump in the car.

Here’s my 4th grader hamming it up with a little bit of sassy for the camera. She chose the blingy sparkly rockstar looking backpack from Justice. I’m reminding myself to let her win the battles so I can win the more important wars…sigh. I love this girl!! She’s a drop of sunshine in my life every single day.

Here’s my baby headed off for his first day of kindergarten. He was so excited to be “so big”! Thankfully that made it a little easier on this mommy’s emotions. Love my spunky baby boy!

Thunder on the Mountain [Fireworks over Vulcan], Birmingham, AL

As I have done most all of my life on the 4th of July, we went to watch the fireworks show “Thunder on the Mountain” over Vulcan Statue in my hometown of Birmingham, AL. We have watched it from different venues over the years, but this year we chose to go back to our old apartment in Southside where my husband and I lived when we first got married. The apartment building sits right below Vulcan on 21st Street, so you can easily walk up to Warwick Rd to get a great view. I’ve photographed fireworks before, but never with Vulcan in the shots; so I was determined to get the mythical god of fire and Birmingham icon, in my shots this year!

If you are curious how to photograph fireworks, there is definitely a technique in getting them right. You must use a tripod due to the very slow shutter required. Don’t try to cut a corner and shoot them handheld, because all you will get is blurry images and jagged light streams. It is also helpful to use a remote trigger, if you have one, so you don’t cause any camera shake by holding down and releasing the shutter with your finger. These shots were taken on Manual mode with my 24-70 mm lens. Metering was set to Matrix (Nikon’s method of reading light from the entire scene not just one spot), single servo focus and autofocus of the entire scene (solid rectangle on the autofocus dial). I adjusted the shutter based on how bright the colors were in the streams of fireworks and how they were casting light on the Vulcan statue. I chose the aperture of f/16 so that I had good depth of field to get everything in focus. My shutter was set to BULB so that I could completely control the mirror up and down motion. The shutter speed on my shots varied anywhere from 1.0 sec to 8 sec, depending on how long I held down the shutter button before releasing it. The longer you hold the shutter open the more bursts of fireworks you get in one shot/frame. Press the shutter once and hold it open for several bursts then release it to close the shutter. Try to get the bursts at the beginning, otherwise you get more smoke than streams of color. You can find a helpful article on shooting fireworks here. Give it a try! It’s fun!

Hope you enjoy the images I took from this year’s Thunder on the Mountain.

Vulcan Park with my kids – TWICE in one day!

Most of the time I blog about client sessions; but sometimes, I blog about personal shooting adventures — shooting purely for the love of the lens. This is one of those posts.

Today the UPS man delivered my brand new super wide angle lens. It was burning a hole in my bag and I just had to “take it out for a spin”. So, this afternoon after school, the kids and I headed to Vulcan Park. It was an extremely short walk through the museum since it wasn’t a guided tour; and I couldn’t keep my 9 year old and 6 year old interested in the history of Birmingham and Vulcan when they were so ready to go up in the tower! They had fun seeing the city from way up there and pointing out the new Children’s Hospital where their daddy works. When we bought our tickets, the lady at the counter told us that we could come back the same night at no additional cost. We left the park and went home to do sidewalk chalk in the driveway and eat dinner.

After dinner, it started to get dark and the kids said “Hey! Let’s go back up to Vulcan!” I happily agreed, and with camera in hand, we hopped in the car to get there before the sun completely set. We are so ready for summer and these longer days and perfect temperatures just make us want to stay outside.

When we got there the kids ran…and leaped…and rolled around the grassy areas before we went up into the tower and ruined every couples’ romantic date night! Who knew Vulcan was such the perfect date?! I kept thinking there might be a proposal while we were there, but then again…my kids talking about “Vulcan’s booty facing Hoover side” kinda ruins the mood!

I’ll share with you some of the images I took while on the two visits with my kids today…with an intermission of chalk art in between.

Oh! And when I’m not with my kids…it is an iconic Birmingham location for engagement shoots and weddings! I second shot a wedding on the Fox 6 rooftop and Vulcan Park last August with my good friend Emily Kicklighter Photography. You can see a post from that wedding here. It’s a beautiful venue with an amazing view of our city!

::AFTERNOON VISIT::

:: INTERMISSION ::

::EVENING VISIT::

iPhoneography 101 – Tips for taking better photos with your iPhone

Let’s keep it real. Sometimes it’s just not that convenient to lug around the big DSLR wherever we go. And, I’m saying that as a mom and not a professional photographer. Our kids roll their eyes when we bring it with us because they know they are being documented. Sometimes it’s good to go undercover with your iPhone. Our phones are with us ALL THE TIME. It’s a convenient way to sneak photos of your kids without them even suspecting…or anticipating. You can become a quick draw, whipping it out of your pocket and back in before anyone even realizes. And in the meantime, you’ve grabbed a shot you might have otherwise missed because we all know kids are fast! Remember…the best camera is the one you have with you.

For a little personal (and somewhat professional) challenge, I decided to use my iPhone and the Instagram app for our Disney World trip last week. No fancy Nikon camera and lenses to control everything. It was all about fundamental lighting. Oh yes, I did carry my DSLR. Like Linus and his blanket, I needed it for security…just in case I caved. I also borrowed my parents’ point and shoot. (I even flipped through the manual before we left since I’ve never owned one.) I had to warm up to the idea of having way less control over my images on such an important trip. And I admit, I carried the DSLR for a few character shots at Chef Mickey on my son Luke’s birthday and when he was in Jedi training fighting Darth Vader. But, I was also shooting with my iPhone at the same time. The funny thing is that my favorite shot of my son fighting Darth Vader with his light saber was taken with my iPhone! It just happened to be the best action shot. My DSLR shot count was probably 50-100 in only one day, which is nothing short of a miracle. The rest of the trip it stayed in the hotel room. Just one day into our trip and my iPhone and Instagram shots were becoming a fun little shooting adventure for me. I also decided that our Disney book would strictly be all iPhone photos processed with Instagram so they would have that consistent quirky/artsy feel in the more square format. I also kept thinking to myself that shooting, editing and processing is my job, so why not let loose a little on vacation and not have thousands of photos to edit when I got back from my trip. [Insert sigh of relief]

I was able to upload photos from the day to Facebook and Instagram from my phone each night, and friends and clients began following my captures from the trip and commenting. Many of you made comments that you wished your iPhone shots could be better. Are any of my shots perfect? No. They won’t be with an iPhone. But they captured the moment in a fun and creative way for us to enjoy, without Mom always worried about bumping or dropping my good camera, or getting it wet on a ride. It was my attempt to be a more enjoyable and Hands Free Mama on our trip.

I promised I would post a few tips with example images so here goes. Different coloration filters and frames were applied with Instagram.

1. Change your perspective and use prepositions.

Don’t shoot everything and everyone straight on. So many shots would be dramatically better by just a simple change in angle. Remember the list of prepositions you learned in elementary school? Above, across, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, and so on? Use them. Shoot above your child because when they look up at you their eyes capture all the light in the sky, shoot across a bridge to get the long angles of the rails making your subjects the focal point, shoot from behind flowers to get them blurry in your foreground, shoot below your child up into the rope bridge they are playing on to get texture, shoot between tree branches to frame your subject, etc. You get the picture.

Make sure your camera is focused where you want it to be. While looking at your composition on the screen, tap the screen where you want the camera to meter exposure and focus. This will make a huge difference in how your images are exposed and the sharpness of your subject.

Example 1: Shooting beside your subject. While waiting on my husband and daughter who were in line for the Aerosmith Rockin Roller Coaster ride, I watched everyone photographing themselves close up in the smack front and center of the huge guitar that was at the entrance. I’m not making fun. It’s what most people would do. I’m just saying to approach it a little differently. Their shots probably only had the person and a small portion of the guitar section in them. A much better angle was beside the guitar so you could get that curve of the strings that made it’s way overhead. I wish I had taken a photo straight on so you could see the comparison.

Example 2: From below your subject. In the next two shots my kids stood on a short wall and I shot from underneath them making them look larger than life in front of the Epcot ball. (Notice they have on their sunglasses — refer to tip #2)

During one of the afternoon parades, some of the cast members were on stilts. This guy stepped in front of the castle so I shot up at him, making him look larger than life and as tall as the castle.

Example 3: Shooting all around, close up and wide. These shots of Main Street and the castle all have very different perspectives due to one being on the ground, one being from a balcony overhead, and one from being underneath. Also, some are tight, whereas others are wide.

Example 4: Put something directional or interesting in the foreground of your shot. We walked into Hollywood Studios one morning right when it opened and all the store clerks and cast members were waving with Mickey hands. I asked one of the cast members to wave a little further out into the street so I could include it in my shot. It’s Disney World, the happiest place on earth, so of course he happily agreed. I also love that the word “Go” was in my shot. Small details like this help to tell a story in your image.

In this next shot, I put my daughter in the foreground watching the Disney Rocks show because she was so excited about seeing it. The sun was causing a sun flare on her head which also added some interest.

In this last shot, a vendor was carrying Mickey and Minnie balloons on Main Street, so I put them in the foreground of this castle shot.

Example 5: Use reflections, shadows and mirrors for a different perspective. My son got his face painted like a pirate and the woman doing it held up a mirror for him to see. I chose to take the photo of his expression in the mirror so I could get his first reaction.

The second photo is of my daughter and me on our way into one of the parks. The shadows were so fun that we stopped to capture us that way. I asked her to put her hands on her hips to add her arms and a little more interest into the silhouette since I was having to hold the iPhone to get the shot.

2. It’s okay to be a little shady and go undercover.

When possible, shoot in the open shade where sun is indirectly falling on your subject. There are SO many opportunities for this at Disney World because there are overhangs, doorways, umbrellas, pavilions and covered walkways while waiting on rides. There was beautiful filtered and indirect light everywhere! But, when you want your photo taken right in front of Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom or Mickey’s magic hat in Hollywood Studios, there isn’t any cover in the middle of the street and sometimes it just happens to be straight up noon when you get there. Don’t miss the shot waiting on the perfect light. If everyone is squinting in the bright sunlight, whip out the shades. When everyone is wearing sunglasses, no one is obviously squinting.

Example 1: The future’s so bright you gotta wear shades. There was full sun in the middle of the day for both of these shots. Are we squinting? Absolutely. But you can’t tell because we’re wearing sunglasses. (Notice how much larger the ball looks in the first photo here than it did in the photos above — yep, perspective.)

Another shot in full sun, but we all have on our sunglasses which hides the squinting.

Example 2: Undercover. These next few images worked because of indirect light coming from somewhere other than overhead. In this one, Lightening McQueen was under a shade tent, so the light on my sons’s face was just right.

In the next photos, we were waiting on line for rides, so there was a roof overhead and light was coming in from all sides.

3. Don’t be flashy.

Not sure why I didn’t list this one first. TURN OFF YOUR FLASH. I repeat… TURN OFF YOUR FLASH. I didn’t use my flash the entire time I was at Disney. Honestly, that little straight-on flash that comes out of your camera is death to a good shot. It’s a tiny bright flashlight pointed right into your subjects eyes, which will always be red from using it. It’s also a mood killer. If you are watching the Electric Light Parade in front of Cinderella’s Castle at night and there are all these beautiful colored lights in the dark, WHY would you want to light up the area around you and the people’s heads in front of you, and ruin capturing those vivid colors in the dark? If you need a little light on your subject, try putting them in front of a light source, like underneath a street light or in the beam of headlights. Look around and use the light that is available to you.

Example 1: Use available light to illuminate your subjects instead of flash. This photo would not have captured the 3D movie feel if I had lit up the room with my flash; and I would have lost the projected words on the wall that also happened to be illuminating their 3D glasses.

Example 2. Fireworks are done in the dark, so don’t turn on the lights. Use the ones that are there! If I had turned on my flash here, all I would have done is lit up the people’s heads in front of me and they would have become the focal point. Yuk. Without flash they are nice silhouettes of a crowd watching.

Did I mention to TURN OFF YOUR FLASH? That brings up the next point…

4. Slow and steady gets the shot.

If you are in a low light situation then the iPhone really struggles and your images will have noise (little dots of graininess) in them, especially if you don’t use flash. Any camera that is not built for low light situations just can’t do the job. The key to using your iPhone with the flash turned off is steady hands. Keep the phone as still as you possibly can with your arms close into your body or resting on something to steady it. This will keep you from getting blur from camera shake due to the slow shutter speed. Most of the night parade I sat with my knees up and my hands steadied on my knees holding the iPhone as still as possible. And don’t forget that you can use that top, side button to take the photo, not just the one on the screen. In the horizontal position, this helps you hold it more steady.

Example 2. Capture the magic. Don’t try to create more light in this kind of scene. Again, if I had turned on my flash I would have lit just the back of people’s heads in front of me and it would have ruined the shot.

In this second shot, a little girl in her stroller right beside us was playing with her light up Minnie spinner, so I chose to include it in the foreground.


And speaking of movement…

5. You can’t bust a move in the dark.

The one thing the iPhone just can’t do is capture quick movement in low light without blur. If the light is low, then the shutter speed is slow and movement will register as blur. I tested this the entire week at Disney. Quick head movements and hand gestures were always blurry, whether it was an indoors shot with less than adequate light, or nighttime. It just can’t handle it like a DSLR can. Stopping movement in full sun or sufficient light was no problem.

Example 1: The headless pirate. Here’s a great example of a low light movement disaster. My son looks like he’s carrying his head near his waist. I took this while he was playing around with his pirate’s sword at the Electric Light Parade. Look closely. [Insert theme from Friday the 13th] It’s like something out of a horror film! I cracked up when I saw it. The things you see in the sky are bubbles, but they look like little lines of light because the shutter was too slow to stop the movement.

Example 2: Blur has its benefits. Sometimes this movement blur can be to your benefit and make for a neat shot, like this photo I took of my daughter when we were in the American Idol Experience. I love that you can see the movement from her clapping her hands.

6. Don’t get fired up, keep your cool.

White Balance can make or break a photo. It’s the temperature of light. Have you ever noticed your shots being really warm (yellow) in the sun or really cold (blue) looking in the shade? It can make a huge difference in skin tones. If you have iPhoto, use the slider that adjusts temperature and see how it affects your photos. You will be amazed. You can also download the Photoshop Express app that allows you to make white balance adjustments as well as exposure, cropping, etc. I don’t worry as much about white balance using Instagram, because the filters apply interesting color tints and it’s just part of the look. I only adjust them in the Photoshop Express app if it looks extremely bad. Again, Instagram images aren’t about everything being spot on color correct. They’re quirky and artsy.

7. HDR and you’ll go far.

For landscapes and city shots without people in them, try turning on the HDR feature. HDR takes three exposures of the same composed image and merges them to get the best dynamic range and detail. You can turn it off and on on your screen just like you can the flash. Here are two examples of images I took using HDR.

8. Supersize your fries, not your iPhone pics.

iPhone shots don’t enlarge well. Stick to printing them up to size 5×7 or using them in a book. After all, I can’t give you so many tips that you don’t need me anymore, right? Save your crisp, clear and perfectly color correct 8×10 prints and larger for a professional. Don’t leave your portraits and special events in the hands of an iPhone or point and shoot. 😉

Give me a shout by leaving a comment on my Facebook page if you want me to do a blog post with tips specific to using Instagram and how to print Instagram books. And, thanks for your interest in my work! I try to return the love with helpful tips like these so check back often.

For now I’ll leave you with more images from our trip…



And if you aren’t tired of reading yet, check out this article on the handy little Joby Gorillapod tripod for the iPhone (pictured below). Wish I had brought one for this trip. I have a Gorillapod for another camera and it is such a great gadget because it will wrap around anything to steady the camera or so that everyone can get in the shot! I’ve even wrapped mine on the top of a lamp shade to do hands free videoing of everyone opening their Christmas gifts. Here’s a few pictures of the Joby gadget. Retail price $39.95 and here is where you can buy one.

6/26/15 Update: Since this original post was in 2012, there are definitely some new apps for iPhone photo editing. Some of my recent favorites are Pic Tap Go, VSCOcam, Afterlight, Facetune, PhotoGrid and Snapseed. Check them out and enjoy playing around with your images!

Easter

I hope everyone had a Happy Easter! I’d like to share the lyrics of one of our family’s favorite Easter hymns we sang in church today…

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia! 
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia! 
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia! 
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia! 
Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia! 
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia! 
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia! 
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia! 
Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia! 
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! 
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia! 
Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia! 
Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia! 
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia! 
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia! 
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia! 
Hail the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia! 
Praise to thee by both be given, Alleluia! 
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia! 
Hail the Resurrection, thou, Alleluia! 
King of glory, soul of bliss, Alleluia! 
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia! 
Thee to know, thy power to prove, Alleluia! 
Thus to sing, and thus to love, Alleluia!

After church we headed to my parents’ house for the annual Easter lunch and egg hunt…

This makes me laugh! My kids gave me a taste of being on the other side of the camera. They were taking a photo of us at the table while I was taking a photo of them with my phone! 😉
My daughter has such a sweet relationship with her Nana (my mom).

I'm actually in a photo with my kids!!

An Evening with Jasmine Star

Jasmine Star is an international wedding photographer that has been celebrated and widely published as a photographer and speaker. I follow her work and her blog because she mentors other photographers with her workshops and speaking engagements, is enthusiastic and real. I love the REAL part! I went to several of her workshops last year at WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographers International) in Las Vegas and they were quite inspirational.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to go to Atlanta with a few other local photographers to hear Jasmine speak again at her workshop called The Fix. I had thought about going, but put it on the backburner because arranging for my children and covering my two classes at the gym on a Monday just seemed like a lot of trouble. Well, at 9:00 yesterday morning when I talked to my friend Stacy Richardson who was going, I decided it was worth the effort to be able to go, learn from Jasmine, and mingle with other photographers. So, after many phone calls, emails and texts, my children were taken care of, my classes were covered and I was off to Atlanta at noon to hit a few stores and grab some dinner before the workshop.

Stacy and I met a few months ago since she moved from Annapolis, Maryland to Birmingham and we have become fast friends. I meet several other photographers for the first time, one of them was Alisha Crossley who rode with us. Once we arrived in Atlanta we made mad dashes through IKEA and Trader Joe’s. I’m a huge IKEA fan and go there every time I’m in Atlanta, but this was my very first introduction to Trader Joe’s and now I’m obsessed! WE NEED ONE IN BIRMINGHAM! It’s an organic food market with a little bit of everything! LOVE! Stacy had talked about how amazing it is since she shopped there all the time in Annapolis, so she took me through aisle by aisle and indoctrinated me with her favorite items. She had been going through withdrawals since her move, so she was absolutely giddy…as you will see in the photos. It was cracking me up!

After our quick shopping sprees (I’ve NEVER left empty handed from IKEA and it felt strange), we headed to find dinner near the workshop venue. We landed at Figo, a little Italian spot that had a yummy Caprese salad and grilled chicken. There was a huge free-standing Anthropologie across the street, but much to my disappointment (and Brad’s relief), it was already closed. It’s on the list for my next visit!

It was time for The Fix workshop! We headed into this really neat warehouse called The Foundry at Puritan Mill…my kind of atmosphere with huge old metal windows, exposed brick, wood beams and huge white linen drapings of fabric. The room was filled with 200+ photographers from around the south, and that many photographers in one room is always exciting! You could hear lots of clicking as Nikons and Canons roamed the room, and everyone was glowing from iPads and iPhones lighting up their faces.

Jasmine delivered her presentation as she always does, full of passion, inspiration and conviction (even tears) to share her experiences with eager listeners. She gave challenges to set goals about specific aspects of our business and encourage us to push through change even if it’s uncomfortable and a struggle sometimes. Change can be good as it’s often improvement for a better version of ourselves and our business. I love that! So true!

The Fix was worth my time and efforts to get there, but I also got so much out of just riding in the car with Stacy and Alisha talking shop – ideas, vendors, methods and dreams. I’d say The Fix was just the fix I needed right now as a mom, girl, friend, photographer and business owner!

our navigator, Stacy
Stacy and her Trader Joe's addiction
The actual "Fix"
Wonder if my kids would eat Edamame if it was covered in dark chocolate???
Going home happy with several bags full
For Milanese teenagers, “figo” labels the outstanding, truly appreciable or much-loved. Their tagline is "Be Yourself", which seemed very fitting for the evening.

I only brought one lens with me, so you’ll have to excuse some of these wide shots being less than perfect!

Jasmine and me
She thinks I'm funny - yay! 😉
From left: Stacy, me and Alisha
Some of the other photographers from Birmingham and Tuscaloosa that attended. It's so fun to meet new friends!