The Best Kind of Love

Valentine's Day art in my son's first grade classroom.

Valentine's Day art in my son's first grade classroom.

Valentine’s Day used to be one of my most favorite holidays.  It was the day that I, just like every other true romantic, would envision hearts and flowers swirling around in a violently pink and red tornado of romcoms and dreams of “happily ever after.”

And I started young on this idea.  Back when we all got to participate.  My 4th grade shoebox intricately decorated with pink and red homemade hearts was ready for anything, sitting patiently on my desk during the class party.

In high school things changed a little.  People could buy messages from some random student council representative and have them delivered to someone – anyone really – in 5th period.  I can’t remember ever getting one, which basically means that I probably didn’t and as a result I have eternally blocked those VDays from my memory.  I’m quoted in the yearbook as saying that "I would never want to date anyone that would date me."  Sounds like me.

I had a blip of good Valentine’s days in college with my boyfriend.  He always came with the roses and poetically written cards – which I still have tucked away in a box in the attic, lovingly saved to relive every time I feel old and unattractive.  If only we could have been in the same room without killing each other.  Also, sleeping with each other’s friends was perhaps counter productive to our long term love story. 

But then – finally – I met my husband.  And history be damned – I finally got a valentine all my own, every year.  Forever.  Like forever, forever.  Every year until the day we die.   

Kids and hearts - in 2011.

Kids and hearts - in 2011.

Our early valentine’s days as a married couple were usually fun with a fancy night out – or a beautiful home cooked meal.  Sexy lingerie, porn, sex toys and strawberries typically made an appearance.  And chocolate sauce.  No one ever tells you how sticky it is…

As the kids got older, we started making the holiday more family friendly.  Instead of strawberries and naughty bits, we had valentine’s themed art.  Hearts were everywhere in our house – stuck to windows, hanging from string.  I even started putting up pink lights on the fence in front of our house. 

A few years ago, I attempted to pull the romance back into play with my husband.  As a surprise I decided to do a private boudoir self portrait session for him.  I did my hair and nails, waited for the perfect light.  I didn’t get nudie-patootie, but my version of sexy (when considering sexy of a plus sized subject – you have to get creative.)  I tried to keep them minimally edited (photoshop isn’t going to make me feel vulnerable) and I sent him the link hoping to catch pure glee on his face when he came home to tell me how much he loved them.  I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  It never happened.  After a few days, I got worried that I had sent it to the wrong person.  Checked my email – nope.  And phew.  I finally decided to ask him about them, with a sly look on my face, batting my eyelashes.   He looked surprised, then slightly embarrassed that he forgot, and finally smiled and said “yes.”  And then, he blinked a couple times, the smile slowly faded as he got distracted by something more important.  And that was it.  Like – literally – it.  He never said another word about it.  I mean, I’m not saying I looked like Kate Upton in the images – but I have to admit, I was hoping for at least one adjective from him.  A little bit later I took the link down.  And of course, it became a thing.  I would bring it up, he would act confused.  He would ask me to put them back up.  I would refuse. 

Now, with the kids older, when this holiday comes around, I still spend time picking out and buying candy.  I make cards.  I keep the tradition alive because it is something that I want them to remember.  Love is important.  And its everywhere.

I want them to remember that love exists no matter who you date. (although thankfully they aren't dating yet.) It’s the unconditional love from the people in your life that you truly could never live without. 

In truth, my most memorable Valentine’s day was a year before I met my husband.  I was 25.  I had given up on real love at the time, and spent hours upon hours drinking cheap red wine with my best friend, smoking cigarettes (I haven’t smoked in over a decade) and (I drink cheap white now).  We would laugh and talk about our lives.  We would talk about a future that we thought would make us happy.  We went so far as to dream up men who we would date.  They had names, back stories, meet cutes.  They had specific jobs, cars and dressed in a certain way.  They were brothers, and came from a city far away.  And that year, on Valentine’s day, she had roses delivered to my work from my fictional boyfriend.  I laughed and cried and thanked the universe for her.

As I sit here, in my forties, thinking about the love that fills my heart, the love that I know will never go away for as long as I live, it’s not the romantic love that I think about.   Instead it's:

Heart shaped cake, photographed by my 9 year old.

Heart shaped cake, photographed by my 9 year old.

  • the card with a heart shaped button I got from my mom when I was 9.
  • the gardenias that my dad delivered a couple days ago, because its my favorite flower.
  • the heart shaped cake that my daughter made for me when she was 9.
  • the necklace I bought myself 7 years ago for $6.
  • the flowers from my friend when I was 25 and single.
  • the hearts I made with my kids and hung on strings.

This year, on Valentine’s Day, I sit here, not dreaming of roses or candy.  I'm writing a blog about love.  But not the romantic kind.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure that kind lasts. 

The love I feel today is the unconditional kind.  The love that comes from within, regardless of whether I look like Kate Upton.  It’s the kind that comes from my kids, whether or not I’m a great cook.  It’s the love that comes from the unrelenting tribe of women that I have inside my heart every day, no matter whether I am killing it, or being killed by it. 

And that love will always be more than enough.

 

 

Big Ideas, Pretty Pictures and How to Recover From a Bad Year

This is Megan.  She is a badass.

This is Megan.  She is a badass.

I like to call myself a “creative.”  Basically, what that means is that I get distracted by pretty pictures and big ideas, and spin in circles trying to get things done unless I have a deadline.  Like, a major deadline, where people will die if I don’t get done whatever I have signed up for.  Ok, maybe no one will die, but you know what I’m talking about.

While that sounds like a solid business practice (it isn’t), I am here to say it really hasn’t worked for me these last few years (why would it?).  In fact, I sometimes wonder if my real full time job isn’t just constantly sabotaging any real business efforts and goals I create for myself.  Oh yeah, and goal creation?  That’s another thing I kind of suck at.

Don’t cry for me yet.  I’m actually lucky.  A few years back I joined a collective, which you may have heard me talk about before, called The Hivery.   Back then, it was just like 10 of us women, cuddled in the top floor of an art studio on Caladonia, talking about where we would all be in 3 years.  Well, it’s 3 years later (oh my gosh, I can’t believe it – also maybe its 4 years later – have I mentioned my inability to register time linearly?)  Let’s just say that while I was chasing butterflies and magical moments, my friends at The Hivery have accomplished some serious stuff.  And they all have one thing in common – they listen to the gospel that is Megan Flatt.

Yes, I saw the writing on the wall years ago.  (Literally, she has a “Next 90 Days” mini class where she gives you a huge poster and you cover it top to bottom in ideas via her signature post-it note process.)  I stared at that post-it note poster every day for a year.  But analysis-paralysis kept me from making even one big decision.  Should I redo my website before I get a new big editorial client?  Is that work portfolio worthy?  Am I a total hack that needs to just hang up my camera, and go back to chasing a career that kills my soul?  Self doubt, poor time management – and let’s be honest - a double dose of pre-menopausal depression – was getting in the way of any real progress.  Sure, I had my business, and I was working with clients.  But was I really challenging myself?  Was I really finding my next big adventure with my photography?

I signed up last year for Megan’s MasterMind group, and I quickly turned into Eeyore.  Everyone (but me) had huge business disruptions (in a good way) that catapulted them into 3x the success they were when they started.  But, me – I didn’t.  I convinced myself that I was an anomaly and my creative process couldn’t be rammed into a to-do list with buckets and post-it note ideas. 

This is last year's planner that I didn't fill out one page of.  Until December.

This is last year's planner that I didn't fill out one page of.  Until December.

 And, my worst decision yet – last year I bought her CEO Planner and (don’t kill me Megan) I didn’t fill out a single page until December.  Yes, December.  Let’s be clear, the decision to buy the CEO Planner was smart beyond belief.  The decision to not use it – well, maybe not so smart.

So this year, I am doing what any creatively inspired, procrastinating, poor time manager would do (if they were smart, that is). I’m finally using all the tools that I have been thinking about, staring at, shifting around on my desk. And this year, thanks to Megan, I have a freaking plan.  I have goals.  Real goals with metrics, and timelines, broken down by the the month, week and day.  I now know what I need to get done every day to track towards what I’m trying to accomplish.  And I am finally breaking down how I plan on achieving them.  Novel – and Megan, if you’re reading this, you’re a total genius (which, for the record, I’ve always known.)

So, what are the tools I’m using?  Well, there are lots my friend.

The number one tool for me (and it works a lot better if you use it) is her CEO Planner.  I’m happy to report that I’m actually filling out the pages this year (in January).  Unfortunately, if you are reading this and didn’t already know about her CEO Planner, you’re slightly out of luck.  For one, she sells them in small numbers only at the end of the preceding year.  BUT the good news is, she has a few left that you can nab, if you’re quick. (just email her at megan@meganflatt.com)

Beyond the CEO Planner (and yes, this sounds like a commercial for Megan - but it’s really a love letter because she is truly a genius) she can offer up one-on-one sessions with you in what she calls a Private Mentorship.  It really doesn’t get any more helpful than that.  I have notes from some of my sessions with her from last year, etched in gold, and framed in my office, so that when I do finally get around to revamping my pricing, I know how to do it.  (Well, OK, maybe not framed and etched in gold, but that notebook is my lifeline.)

I’m begging you – don’t chase pretty pictures and big ideas.  Well – actually do.  BUT at the same time, check out her website, and listen to her.  Turns out, she really knows what she’s talking about. 

For Megan Flatt products, Mastermind programs and (the awesome-est) Private Mentorship – go to her website.  It’s a game changer.  You can thank me later.  And if you don’t believe me, she has some free offers that might just change your mind.

http://meganflatt.com

P.S. While you are at it, sign up for the event at The Hivery on Feb. 15th.  I did.  Hopefully, I will see you there.

https://www.thehivery.com/events-calendar/entrepreneurs-circle-feb-15-2018

Photo Emergency

So it's December 1st, and some of you are looking at your calendar and freaking out.  Not all of you, sure.  But some of you, and not just about the weather or North Korea.  You’re thinking about all the tiny little things on your December to-do list that you were hoping to get done before now.  I get it.  I’ve been there too.  However, as it turns out, I might be able to help you procure some adorable images of your darling kids.  Or your darling dog.  Or your only friend the goldfish.  Doesn’t matter.  You can use these tips for all of the above, and more – for gifts, calendars for the grandparents, or perhaps even holiday card.

Whether you already have an image or need to create one (or several), here are some tips to get you there before time runs out.

 

1.)   Grab your camera!  If you need to collect some images that are grandparents-worthy, take a couple minutes with your camera.  Get to know the light meter function (usually the same as the auto focus square in your view finder).  If you are using an iPhone, just tap your finger on the screen where you would like to focus.  Your iPhone camera will meter light in that spot as well.  If you are using a point-and-shoot or a camera that has a manual function, it's best to stick to a “shutter priority.”  That way you can be sure to capture all the action when it happens.  And don’t forget to turn off the flash.

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2.)   Head to some natural light.  If you live somewhere other than California or Texas and sunlight is hard to come by, then I have an option for you as well (see #6.)  But for those of us lucky to still see the sun regularly, head outside or to a room with lots of windows.  The more natural light the better.  But be sure your subject is not in direct light that might cast shadows on the face, or have the bright light directly behind your subject.  The best light is in shade with the entire face lit up.  At this time of year, just about all day is beautiful light, but I prefer around 3:30p.m.  I successfully shot images just yesterday in my back yard, and the light was perfect.

3.)   Stick to someplace familiar.  If you are shooting with kids, bear in mind that a place that’s familiar could be the difference between a photo shoot of a screaming toddler and a laughing one.  I always tell my clients that when I am shooting kids, home is always the best.

4.)   Let them be themselves.  One thing I run into all the time when shooting, especially people, is the idea that we have to pose our subjects in order to capture the best version of them.  I completely disagree.  Yes, you will have to remind kids (and some adults) to point their chin down, move a little to the right or left.  But, for the most part, try to be a fly on the wall. The images that my clients love the most – and the images that I cherish the most of my kids – are the ones where you see the personality coming through.  Maybe it’s a mannerism or a genuine laugh, but anyone can see the difference between an overly produced image and a genuine one.  And remember what I said about shutter speed.  The faster the shutter, the more likely you are to capture the giggle when it happens.

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5.)   Let your kids be comfortable (or your dog or goldfish).  I know folks like to have color coordinated outfits, or things more formal than everyday.  I totally get it.  If you want your shoot to be a success, the more comfortable your subject is the more likely they look that way in your image.  Let your kids wear things they always wear.  When I shoot my kids, I usually just tell them to grab their favorite outfit, and meet me in the front lawn.  If the colors are too crazy – I can always turn the image into black and white.  But allowing them the flexibility to participate in the decision on what they wear usually makes them more cooperative.  And comfortable.  Which means you, the photographer, can focus on the shot, and not whether they are tugging at their fancy shoes or ruffled collar.  I love looking back at the images I’ve taken over the years where my son is climbing on his big sister or they are laughing hysterically.  The ones where he is wearing his bacon and eggs tee shirt and she has on the pair of jeans she couldn’t part with for a year.  That was them at that moment.  And I am so glad I captured it.  If you have a toddler that doesn’t care, great.  If you have a 7 year old that likes to wear only his batman costume – start with that.  You will get some amazing images that you will laugh about for years to come, AND you can likely get him/her to remove the mask and maybe wiggle out of his disguise as the shoot goes on.  It usually takes about 30 minutes before everyone starts to loosen up and forget the camera is there.

6.)   For those where shooting in natural light just isn’t an option, I recommend this as a last resort.  Not that it's bad - it's just harder, and the images take on a very different feel.  This approach requires a flash (very deliberately used) or some make-shift studio lighting.  Studio lighting could be as simple as a lamp with the shade taken off and directed towards the subject – or something more elaborate.  I did a version of this for my holiday card this year, simply because I had been wanting to try it, and it was super fun.  Pick a place in your house that you can set up a background.  Maybe it’s a white wall, maybe it’s a dark wall.  Maybe it’s a roll of Seamless paper that you have up on a backdrop stand - because eff it, you went all-in this year.  But pick a place, and make a photo booth.  For my family, I ordered props off of Amazon for like $9, and we made a night of it.  I used my rule of having people pick out what they wanted to wear, and nobody felt uncomfortable.  Just don’t have folks stand too close to the backdrop.  You don’t need to see its detail, just the super cute kiddo in the frame.

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OK.  Now you have images.  If you just captured them, you might not need to make adjustments.  But if you uncovered something from your yearly archive of adventures, and they are not production ready, then here are some fun tools to use.

 

1.)    Adobe Lightroom (www.lightroom.adobe.com)   I’m a photographer, so of course I have Lightroom.  I learned it quickly, but I think most people could.  There are auto settings, dials to move to correct exposure and temperature, and lots of preset filters that you can have fun with.  There is also a mobile app (which truthfully I have never used.)  And it's available for approximately $10 a month.  The draw back is that it's a robust application, and you will likely have to sign up for a year.  But if you are into it, I highly recommend it.  There is a free trial, which may be enough for what you need.

Snapseed Tools Screen Shot

Snapseed Tools Screen Shot

2.)   Snapseed  (available on the iPhone App Store) I use Snapseed for all my iPhone editing.  I like it because the tools are extensive for an online app.  It has image tune, cropping, white balance, and also has more robust functions like healing and brush tools.  There are filters as well, but the super fun thing I like about it is it also has the ability to add text to an image.  And, it's free.

3.)   Photoshop.  Duh, right?  This is obviously awesome, but unless you are shooting in RAW format and/or want to Photoshop a dragon into your image, it's likely overkill.

4.)   Pixelz (www.pixelz.com) This is a great app that you can use to request image editing for $1.45 per image.  It's perfect if you want a background taken out of an existing image, but there is a minimum fee of $25, so you would need to have several existing images to take advantage.

5.)   Fiverr (www.fiverr.com)  Kinda like Pixelz, there is a collection of photo services at Fiverr.  On Fiverr you can request all kinds of services for your images starting at (you guessed it) $5.  The freelance artists there have skills ranging from graphics, digital marketing, photo editing, as well as audio and visual editing  - and on and on.  It’s a little hit or miss, and could end up taking a couple of days, but a great resource to have in your “last minute” tool belt.

Artifact Uprising Screen Shot

Artifact Uprising Screen Shot

6.)   Artifact Uprising (www.artifactuprising.com)  This iPhone app (and it's also fully functional photo commerce site at www.artifactuprising.com) is great for not only iPhone photos but any photos.  The app is a super easy way to take your edited photos and turn them into holiday cards, or prints, or whatever you need really.  Stylistically, they have completely nailed it, and their pre-formatted holiday cards are Pinterest worthy.

7.)   Paperculture (www.paperculture.com)  These guys have nailed the whole green Holiday card thing.  They also have great pre-formatted options for all kinds of stationary, but they take it a step further.  For every order they plant a tree.  And they use post-consumer waste and wood alternatives to produce your order.  I use them for everything I can - because, well, I care about that stuff.  If you do too, then check them out.  I used them for my photo booth holiday card, and I think they look super fun.

 

There are definitely many more tools you could possibly use. But as a quick and dirty approach to crossing this item off your to-do list while nailing the perfect image, this should get you there.  Happy Holidays, and be sure to have a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for me.