Sometimes Being a Girl is Hard

Sometimes Being a Girl is Hard

I live in the lovely north east, along the coast. Yes, it is the land of lobsters. You wouldn’t think that Maine is an unsafe state, but every area of the US has its crime problems. I learned all about what can happen anywhere at any time when I took a self defense class in high school and from what I read on Facebook. It scared me enough to carry pepper spray at all times when out late at night after a photography shoot or when in odd locations where people loiter. If you have ever walked by a bar, you have seen drunks wavering on the sidewalk. I don’t know what they are waiting for, but I fear them as their judgment is gone. Most of the time, these are not your typical assailants. Aggressive youth or young men can lurk around any corner. I haven’t heard that women are muggers, have you? Rather, more often than not they are the victims. Being a girl can be hard out there in the cold, cruel world.

Women are well advised to learn a few protective moves as I did at the ripe age of sixteen. I take refresher courses now and then. It is all about personal safety and survival and you can’t take too many precautions. Maine is pretty quiet over all, and while I travel extensively for work and carry pepper spray after buying some from Self Defense Guide, I have seldom had to use it. I have heard a few horror stories nonetheless.

A friend had been bowling around ten o’clock and her tournament went on until midnight. The lanes were not in the best part of her town and she was reluctant to leave alone even though the parking lot was well lit. She asked her male bowler she knew briefly and he accompanied her outside. In the far distance of the lot where a light had burned out lurked a few young men drinking beer. Judging from the number of cans on the ground, they each had more than a few. As she and her friend were saying goodnight, she felt a tremor of fear. Nonetheless, he walked toward his car and she approached hers.

Then the most frightening experience happened: a drunken kid was in the back seat of her car. This didn’t mean that he was going to be aggressive; but rather, he might have been seeking a comfortable place to take a nap. Best not to panic, she thought. However, she grabbed her pepper spray tightly and kept it at the ready. He stirred a little as she reached to open the car door. She had it ajar when the man put his hand on her shoulder. A frisson of fright ensued. She froze. She turned to face him, but something deep inside told her to stop. No spray was needed tonight. As it turned out, he was the cousin of an old friend in town and he recognized her at once. He smiled, relaxed into the seat, and fell asleep. This is not your typical assailant. She went home safe and sound.

Those “Getting Ready” Photos of the Bride

I get excited when I get new studio photography work. It never gets dull no matter how many brides-to-be I shoot or family portraits. I know how to set up the lighting to make people look bright and happy. I know how far the camera lens should be, what people should wear to make for a balanced composition. Sometimes the ladies want to be a bit more glamourous than usual since they come really dressed up. I can help with makeup to make sure their skin has an even tone. If the foundation is done well, I won’t have to do too much touch up work. Brides are the most challenging. I like to shoot them as they prepare for the formal photos. I get some funny ones of them getting into tight shoes and memorable images of them trying on their veils. They primp and preen. I was particularly intrigued when a makeup artist came along to help one bride and pulled out a heated eyelash curler. What on earth does that do, I asked? The curler works better than mascara, he said. It lengthens the lashes and makes them stand up. It almost looks like you have just applied false eyelashes, but it is less time consuming and is easier. You can use it as often as you like, he explained, until you get the desired results. It only wears out when the little rubber insert starts to split after a few months of use.

Mascara is the finishing touch after the lashes are sufficiently curled. I must admit that the results were very dramatic. I did get that one amusing shot of the curler in action, which was my goal. The bride was very pleased to look her best. After all, these prep photos should last a lifetime. All the family members will see them and the children to be. I play a big part in establishing mementos. Who know that an eyelash curler would be part of a bride’s wedding memorabilia? I am almost tempted to keep one in the studio in case there is no makeup artist present. Many brides like to do their own and I could suggest this trick to finish the makeup job. You can go overboard with too much makeup, especially really long and thick eyelashes, and the photos won’t look natural. It is a gift to know when to stop. You can usually convince a bride that she looks like Bridezilla with threatening deep dark eyes.

I have a variety of props in the studio including veils, silk roses tied with ribbons, a velvet seat cushion, a fancy brocade drape, and a tiny pillow to display an engagement and wedding ring set. Adding an eyelash curler that you can heat with hot water is pretty amusing to me. I have enough enjoyment just from seeing those beautiful couture wedding dresses, but makeup application is a close second.

In the Dark

Most days in the photo studio are mundane and everything moves along according to plan. When I have larger projects such as shooting page after page for a catalog, I appreciate that nothing out of the ordinary happens to mess up the progress. You are always on a schedule for these jobs and you can’t afford for anything to break your concentration. I am always fully aware of my environment. I know where all the photo equipment can be found from force of habit When I am working on a catalog display there are a lot more items strewn about the studio so you have to maintain your footing so as not to disturb a thing. In effect, your studio has taken on a different aura which can disturb your centering. It is always best to keep things in an orderly fashion so you feel organized and on point at all times.

I bring this up because there was a power outage that effected my studio one night. During the day, such an unforeseen event wouldn’t have mattered as I have large windows, but there would still have been a problem with my spotlights. I would be left to do only preliminary composition work and would have had to finish the final shots at a later time. During the evening, unless there is some street light streaming through a window or two, I would be truly in the dark during an outage, literally and figuratively. I would be tripping over equipment and might even stumble into some of my catalogue pages set ups. I can’t think of anything worse. It would be pure chaos. At the very least you have to have a tactical flashlight to avoid more mayhem. I wondered if I could do any work at all that night beyond conceptualizing a few shots. The flashlight was able to allow me to sort through what I had done to date and to plan my next moves. At least that was something. All was not lost and I could perform a few tasks relevant to the catalogue job. But of course, the outage seriously affected my progress and I would have to make up the time somehow in the wee hours of the morning. You can’t make time when you lose it, so you have to be creative and efficient. It takes everything you’ve got.

Thankfully, such outages do not occur that often seriously compromising my work. So, it has seldom been a crisis situation. With the catalogue project completion date looming in the near future, I was in a bit of a panic, the likes of which I had experienced any time before. I have never failed to come through on the due date. So now I was in the throes of pressure and anxiety. I did start to store a lot of ideas in my head so that when the lights went on, I would execute them efficiently.

A Good Spring Cleaning

I always close the office for two days during the week at the beginning of May. I wish it was so that I could take a fabulous vacation to some dog-friendly hotel in a gorgeously tropical location, but it is really so that I can clean the office inside and out. Anybody that knows me would never mistake me for a clean freak. However, I do keep the studio much cleaner than my own home. It is partly because of all the expensive and dust-sensitive equipment that is here, and partly because I know what I would notice if I were a customer. Because cleaning doesn’t come naturally to me, I follow daily and weekly cleaning schedules. They help me to keep the photography areas, bathroom, office, and my equipment in presentable shape. If I bring the dogs into the studio for whatever reason, I vacuum and dust the minute they’re out of the building just in case clients have allergies.

It’s the OUTSIDE that gets grubby no matter what I do. I sweep the outside in front of the shop every morning and wash the windows once a week. I keep the sidewalk clear and maintain my parking spaces and the alleyway behind where the dumpster is as clean as I can. However, there is one thing that it is hard to do much about. Maine’s autumns and winters can be incredibly pretty to photograph but they can wreak havoc on aluminum siding. By the time the ice and snow start to melt, the outside of my building is practically unrecognizable. It’s supposed to be white, but after the rain and pollen give it a greenish tint in the fall, it starts to go gray from the salt and snow in the winter. Not really attractive, and I would imagine that customers might not believe I have a good eye for details and beautiful compositions after seeing something like that.

The landlord doesn’t care what the outside looks like as long as I pay my rent and don’t blow the place up. But I am always afraid that it will discourage customers from coming inside. Since it is such a concern for me, I bought a little electric pressure washer from the hardware store down the street a couple of years back. It’s nice and light enough for me to carry around without hurting myself. I take my time and hose down the whole building until it is white again. I can even destroy weeds that are trying to take root in the sidewalk cracks around the building and keep my parking spaces looking clean and safe to park in. I am sure I look ridiculous wearing my safety goggles and rain boots when I’m out there but I’m fine looking a little stupid if it increases business. Once the outside is done I do the inside and then it is open for business once again. I don’t like spring cleaning but I certainly like the end result!

A Studio Project of my Own

I have been trying to come up with a concept for something to advertise the studio—something that I thought would appeal to the wide range of clients who walk through my door but that also says something about who I am and what I do. A friend suggested I make a calendar. That sounded like a great idea to me. People can always use a calendar, and it lasts the whole year. That’s an entire year of advertising for my photography studio! Then I had to come up with a concept.

I didn’t want to use client photos. I would have had to get permission from everyone to use the pictures and it didn’t really seem like I’d be advertising myself; instead, I’d be showcasing what I’d already done for other people. It wasn’t what I wanted. Then I thought of taking scenery pictures—nothing screams four different seasons like living in Maine. But I’d have to either pull pictures out of my archives (which if they were good enough, I probably would have done something with them already) or wait a whole year to take the appropriate pictures.

This was a dilemma.

I went home that night feeling dejected. Here I had this great concept but no ideas to realize it. My dogs greeted me at the door as usual, and that got me thinking—my dogs! They’re cute! I could make a calendar about them! That certainly would showcase my love of animals and my ability to work with “clients” who don’t always respond to directions—aka kids. I wanted to make the calendar fun and cute, which my dogs already are, and seasonal, which my dogs are not.

And then I realized—through a series of backdrops and costumes, I might be able to pull off the different months! You know, like making one look like cupid or a leprechaun and things like that! I went straight to my sewing nook and looked at the different fabrics and notions I had from the last time I’d made a backdrop. I made a list of everything I would need for the fabric store the next morning. There was a sale so I was able to get everything I needed at a great price. I took that to be a sign that it was going to go well. I got everything home and got started hemming fabrics and creating cute little pieces for the dogs to wear. I love my sewing machine: it is really easy to use and it works well with a variety of fabrics; it’s really important to me because I use heavy or thick material for backdrops that need to be hemmed and sometimes I find pretty fabrics to use as floor coverings or little blankets to add color to newborn shots or something. It is honestly the best sewing machine for the money I paid for it – it goes through them like it’s gauzy cotton, which makes life soo easy for me!

It took a few days to get everything sewn but it was really worth it once I got it all into the studio and saw it all come together. My dogs are used to me doing dumb things to them so they had no trouble with the costumes. They were really good about “posing,” too. I got some great photos. I just sent it off to the printers. I cannot wait to see the finished product and find out if it is going to be something my clients enjoy. Maybe I will give them out as holiday gifts at the end of the year!

Turned Down a Job Today. Here’s Why:

I hate to turn down clients. I usually only do it when I am forced to for scheduling reasons. I try to remind myself that many of the people that walk through the doors of my studio are stressed out or on tight budgets or strict deadlines. I am not always seeing them at their best and most relaxed so I try to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Rarely have I ever had such a frustrating meeting with a potential client as I did today. I had a feeling it was going to be bad when the first thing he said was, “I’d like to speak to your boss. Is he here?” I patiently explained that the name on the door is Renee Minnetteo Photography, and that I am Renee. Then he looked at the photos I have up on display and asked me if I really took them all. I was tempted to say no, that sometimes I just cut things out of magazines because they look pretty. I assured him that yes, I took them all. That I could discuss them with him if he wanted further proof. He rolled his eyes at me like he was a teenager and told me that he was looking for someone to do a catalog shoot for his company.

We talked details for a few minutes. He kept interrupting and asking if I was sure I could do things a particular way, if I had the room to do things “properly” here in my studio, what recourse he had if the photos weren’t up to his high expectations. It was that last one that did it. I realized then what kind of client he would be to work for. The kind that will find something—anything—wrong with the pictures and then demand at least a partial refund. Or try to lower the final payment because I wasn’t able to satisfy his ever-changing demands and requests. I’ve been there before a few times and I have to say, it is never worth it. You end up with bad choices like taking less than you deserve or risk hugely negative reviews on social media or bad word-of-mouth.

I did not want this guy’s business in any way, shape, or form. The beauty of being your own boss is that although you make your own wallet suffer, you don’t actually haveto take every job that comes your way. You can actually say no to people like this. I very politely asked him for the dates he would need me, then went over to my calendar and frowned for a few minutes. Then I told him the “bad” news—that I was booked at that time. Then I handed him the name of a fellow photographer who would definitely be able to hold his own with this guy and sent him on his way.

I was so happy to hear my office door close! What a relief!

Completely Lost!

You know that expression “If my head weren’t attached to me, I’d have lost it a long time ago?” That’s me. I’ve got this great messenger bag specifically because I put things down and forget where they are. I have it on me most of the time when I am out on location taking pictures. I like that I can have my stuff on me while keeping my hands free to take photos.

Normally, I don’t book two different clients for the same day (unless they are all coming to the studio. If it is indoors and they’re all coming to me, that’s different) but a friend asked me to do a studio shoot for her daughter’s third birthday the same day that I was doing an engagement session across town with some new clients. It was the only day our schedules aligned so I agreed.

The bride-to-be had asked for the photos to be taken at a park near their house. It turned out to be a very nice place, the weather cooperated, and it wasn’t too crowded. The shoot was actually ideal. Afterward, I sat down with the couple on a park bench and they decided to book me for their wedding. I had brought along my planner and a blank contract in my messenger bag specifically with this hope in mind.

With their date booked and contract signed, I said my farewells and raced back to my studio to get there in time to meet my friend and her daughter. The shoot was going well until I went to grab a different lens. It wasn’t in the pockets of my pants, where I thought it was. I figured I must have put it in my bag when we first sat down on the bench to talk wedding plans. I went to the front where I tossed my jacket when I first came in and the bag wasn’t with my coat. I checked all the pockets but no lens there either. Then, with a sick feeling in my stomach, I went to the car. No bag.

I explained to my friend what happened and she told me not to worry, we had enough photos (we did, I think I had taken about 30 already) and that I should retrace my steps and find my bag. Luckily, the address to the park was in my GPS from having gone there earlier. I got there as fast as I could and ran to the place we had been sitting.

But there was no bag.

Oh man. That planner has everything in it—clients’ contact info and all my assignments. Project ideas. My own appointments. I try to put everything in my phone as well but I work so much better when I have it all right in front of me. I am not very diligent about copying it over into a calendar app.

Feeling pretty dumb and also quite sorry for myself, I drove back to the studio. I discovered I had left my cell on my desk in my haste to leave. It said I had voicemail and when I listened to the message, a huge smile formed on my face. It was the engagement shoot couple, who saw my bag and figured out what happened. They took it with them when they left and it was safely at their house waiting for me to pick it up.

Whew!

I gave them a discount off their wedding package as a thank you when I went to get my bag.

All That and a Green Thumb

Photography started as a hobby for me but once I started doing it for a living, I needed to find another hobby. Sometimes you just gotta do something that doesn’t feel like work, no matter how much you love your job. I didn’t know what that was, so I decided to do some exploring. I tried my hand at stuff like hiking (ended up bringing my camera and taking lots of pictures), shopping (only ended up buying camera equipment), reading (fell asleep reading anything other than photography guides), all of which defeated the purpose of trying to find something separate from photography. There was a bunch of other stuff that I just failed outright at. There are a lot of indoor and outdoor sports here in Maine, and it turns out I am not good at many of them.

Then a friend suggested gardening as a hobby to me. She has a gorgeous flower and herb garden of her own that she knows I love (to take pictures of, naturally). She gave me a few small terracotta pots and some herb seeds. She chose these particular herbs for me to start with because when they grow, they don’t look all that pretty. The only thing they do is make food taste better, and the one thing I really don’t do is food photography—I only do it in the studio under strict lighting conditions and prefer taking pictures of fake food over real food, which degrades under the necessary lighting. Knowing all of this, she figured I would be less likely to take photos of the herbs and resulting meals, and instead would be more interested in growing and eating them. As it turns out, she was right! Apparently, I am a good photographer and have a green thumb as well! This was all news to me.

And so, a new hobby was born. Now I grow a few different herbs. I keep the little pots up on the windowsill in my kitchen, which is right over my sink. This is incredibly convenient for me because I can take each pot down and water them using my kitchen faucet, and then just put them back. I usually do it while I am rinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. The special pull down kitchen faucet that I bought gives me just the right amount of water without having to fill anything and lug it around the house. It helps that everything is right there or else I might forget about it entirely! When I am away, I leave the plants in the sink and the dog sitter knows to water them for me.

I have also learned how to make some great meals using the herbs from my little above-the-sink garden, which makes it almost a two-for-one hobby. I love being able to say that I grew some of the ingredients! I would love to expand my garden, but I’ve run out of space on the windowsill. I’m afraid if I go out into the yard the dogs will “fertilize” the garden for me, eat everything before I get to use it, or I’ll be too tempted to make it pretty and take pictures.

A Rare Day Off

I had yesterday scheduled as an off day for the last three weeks. I’ve been working every single day and I felt like I was forgetting what my dogs looked like, you know? Just work, work, work, all the time. Studio portrait sessions. Weddings. Studio time for catalog/brochure shoots. Meeting after meeting with potential new clients. It is great—fantastic, really—to be so busy. However, it can’t be good for every day to consist of only waking up, working, going home, and sleeping. Hence the off day. As my calendar got more and more crowded, it was tempting to fill it in with assignments. But I desperately needed a day where I wasn’t behind the lens.

I had groceries delivered because I was pretty much out of food, but was also determined not to spend a minute of my off day doing errands. I made myself a really tasty omelet after I put all my purchases away. After that, I took the dogs outside for a super long walk. It was supposed to rain later in the day and I knew if I didn’t make the effort to go outside while we had the chance, I would end up regretting it.

After the walk, I gave the dogs some treats and some fresh water. After pigging out, they crashed hard on the nice cool tile in the foyer. With the dogs happy and settled, I decided it was self-care time. For me, that means a home pedicure. I usually wear these fancy shoes to meet potential clients—what can I say, I like to look well put together at the initial meeting—but as many of my fellow blog readers will attest, fancy shoes don’t always equal comfortable shoes. I end up with these callouses on the sides of my pinkie toes from where the shoe rubs all the time. I met with so many clients these two weeks that I felt like my callouses had callouses, you know?

I grabbed my trusty foot callus remover and foot soak. I have a little plastic basin just like they use at salons for just this purpose. I soaked my feet and used the pumice stone to make them nice and smooth again. I dried off my feet and cut and filed my nails. Then I went under the bathroom sink to pick out a new color to paint them. After my toes were freshly coated in something called Midnight, I just bummed around and read a magazine until they dried. Once that was done, I put lotion on my feet and threw on some flip flops to wear around the house. I felt like a new person.

The rest of my day was just as uneventful. Filled with a nice dinner, doggie snuggles, and a glass of wine before going to sleep—with fresh clean sheets. As much as I hated pushing things around the last few weeks to keep this day open, I am really glad I did!

A Little at a Time

I fell in love with the house I live in the first time I saw it. I loved the big open space in the yard, the cozy kitchen, the nice sized bedrooms. The only thing I couldn’t stand was the bathroom. I let the real estate agent fill my head with grand dreams of gutting the bathroom and redoing the whole thing. It has this very weird 1970s metallic gold wallpaper and terrible light fixtures. And I didn’t know they ever made porcelain in pea green, did you? Because—why?

But then I actually discovered how much it would cost to gut this decades-old nightmare and make the upgrades I really want. I already have student loans and a mortgage, so I wasn’t about to go even more into debt just so I could have a pretty bathroom. However, I knew I couldn’t live with this bathroom the way it was. I had to come up with a plan. Since my pay fluctuates from week to week and I have to set aside money to pay my taxes, it meant that it would be slow going to save the money to do everything at once. But if I was smart about my money and did it a little at a time, I could get a better bathroom as I went along.

The first thing that I did was take down as much of the wallpaper as I could and paint the walls a fresh coat of white. Doing that alone made the whole room look better. Maybe three months into living there, the toilet—which was probably original to the house—broke. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of having to replace a major piece of the bathroom so soon but I hired a plumber and chose a newer, low-flow model in white. I spent ages researching the best toilet online before I settled on this one. I figured white would be easy to match for the vanity and tub when was their turn to be replaced. The new toilet decreased my water consumption quite a bit. That made me wonder if there was something wrong with the old toilet long before I moved in, but it was too late to do anything about it. It’s visually more appealing, it works better, and it saves me money. That makes me happy.

I almost have enough for a new vanity and light fixture. All I need is a couple more good photo shoots or one really good sale and I’m there. The shower might take longer because I want something that I can also use to bathe the dogs—that requires a handheld nozzle and a larger drain with a hair catcher. All those things cost more money than your standard features. I want to do it right, so I’m fine with waiting. Even if every once in a while I do google how to paint your bathtub to see if the process has gotten easier to the point where I feel like I can do it myself (not so far).

Studio Shoots vs On Location Shoots

This is always a dilemma for me. I live in Maine, one of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth. There are gorgeously colored leaves in the fall, picturesque snowfalls during the winter, beautiful flowering meadows in spring, and some of the most scenic beaches anywhere in the world for the summertime. However, not all of these things are easy on a camera, or on photography subjects. Bring people outside on a typical Maine winter day and within a few minutes, you are going to have bright red noses and frosty fingertips! And you know how people say that sand gets everywhere? They aren’t kidding. Sand is not very friendly to my very expensive camera equipment, to be sure.

I tend to prefer the studio for pictures. I can be in control of the lighting, the temperature, the props, everything. We don’t ever have to reschedule due to weather problems. There’s no constant adjustment to the lighting because of cloud cover, no rushing for cover when it abruptly starts to rain, no racing to get done before it gets dark. I find there is less stress on me and on the clients. Doing indoor shots at a venue like a client’s home is the second favorite of mine, for the same reasons.

The problem is that nothing really compares to the outside. No matter how realistic of a background I put in the studio, it is never going to look like the real thing. And no amount of fiddling with lights in the studio is going to meet that perfect goldenhour lighting I can get outside. I can’t control most of the variables when I’m outside with a client but the pictures come out so beautifully most of the time—if that’s what they want, then I am always happy to comply.

It’s one of the reasons I like weddings. They are often indoor and outdoor, so I can take pictures in both settings. I often have the bride and groom, or even the whole bridal party, come into the studio either before or after the wedding to get a few shots done, too. This way, if the weather is really challenging that day, I usually have an alternate place to go and take the requested shots. But if the weather is great, there’s nothing better for wedding photos than being outside at some of these gorgeous venues.

It is kind of a balancing act. If the client wants something specific that I know is going to come out better in the studio or outside, I will make my recommendation. I always explain why I would prefer to do it my way, and sometimes they agree and sometimes they don’t. I haven’t lost too many jobs over it. Mostly because I tell the client I’ll do it any way they want, regardless of my opinion.

What Wedding Photographers Do Between Weddings

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I actually get asked this question a lot. I am not really sure why. It probably varies from photographer to photographer, but here are a few things I am doing when I am not chasing somebody in a white dress around:

I’m editing photos. After a session, I’m looking at the .raw images and working with them to make sure that the photo looks exactly the way it should. It is incredibly time-consuming and important work.I want the clients to be happy with every single shot the first time around. If the client has asked for anything special to be done to the pictures, I do that also.

I’m also ordering prints and photo books. My clients often order copies of their pictures through me, because I get them done at a professional place which gives them high-quality images. I used to do it in-house, but the printers got to be too expensive. Now I use a service. It is cheaper for me, and my clients really love the quality.

I also frame the pictures once they come in if that’s what the client is looking for. That means I am cutting mats, mounting boards, and installing frames. I work with the clients to figure out exactly how they want the end result to look and then I make that happen for them. If it is a really odd sized print or very large, I’ll have that done at my printer.For the most part, though, I prefer to do it myself.

I’m also doing boring stuff. I’m uploading photos to my client website so they can see them. I’m doing invoicing or paying bills. I return phone calls and confirm appointments. I call venues to verify information. I am cleaning lenses and other equipment. I am packing up for jobs that I will have later on in the day or week.

Then there are meetings: meeting with potential clients. Signing contracts. Going over details with clients and collecting payments. I love meeting people and talking with them. It helps me to learn exactly what they are hoping to get from me and from their photo sessions.

I also do catalog and brochure sessions when I don’t have weddings to shoot. There is a lot of strategies and artistic vision required to achieve the perfect look for each photograph. Lots of manipulating props and creating interesting displays. It is extremely time-consuming but I love composing shots and getting them perfect. I always enjoy seeing the finished product.

I’m also doing things that have absolutely nothing to do with photography, believe it or not! Since I often work nights and weekends, I try to carve some time into my schedule every week where I can have a day to step out from behind the lens. I usually take my dogs for a walk or go for a long drive. It helps me to keep that balance between work and my own life!

Don’t Just be the Family Photographer

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I am writing this post specifically to the family photographer. You know who you are. You are behind the lens at every family event. You faithfully document all birthdays, while on vacation, and every holiday. You love photography, and you love recording memories. All of that is great.

There’s just one problem.

You aren’t in any of the pictures. When you look back, you’ll see that there is no record of you being at anything. Maybe every once in a while, you are visible as a shadow in the foreground of a picture, or maybe there’s a piece of your thumb covering the lens once or twice.  But when you flip through the photographic record of your family, you are shockingly absent. As far as family pictures are concerned, you may as well never have existed.

I am sure you have your reasons. Maybe it is even intentional. Perhaps you don’t like the way you look in pictures. Or it could be that you are the best picture-taker of the bunch and get the job by default. Or maybe you just really like taking pictures. All of these (except the first one, you really need to just get over yourself) are acceptable reasons not to be in pictures. However, whatever your reason is, there is still one end result: there are no pictures of you.

Think about your family. If something were to happen to you, your family wouldn’t have anything other than their memories to look back on. After a while, it will be hard to remember the exact way your eyes crinkled when you smiled, how great you looked in that awful sweater you insisted on wearing every Christmas, or whether your eyes were more green or blue. I know that sounds morbid but it also has the benefit of being true. These things are important. You are important. You are worth remembering.

My advice is to get in front of the lens every once in awhile. I know it is hard but it is doable. Take a selfie if you have to. Or turn your camera over and let someone else take a few pictures of you. You don’t have to like the pictures. You don’t even have to display them if you don’t want to. These pictures aren’t actually for you. They are for the people who love you. They deserve to have pictures of you. They want to remember you being on vacation with the rest of the family, they want to see your smiling face with the birthday child, they want to be able to see you doing your traditional New Year’s toast—or whatever it is that made you memorable and special to them.

An even better idea would be to hire someone to take the pictures professionally. It will take the pressure off you. Maybe this isn’t practical for everyday things. But for significant events like special birthdays or family reunions, it can be a real lifesaver. Everyone can be in the picture. Just think about it the next time you are planning a big family get-together. Even a couple of hours with a professional will be worth it in the long run!

However you go about it, remember the most important thing: get in a few pictures every once in a while!

How Do You Protect Your Memories?

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Whether they are pictures of your wedding, a child’s first birthday, the greatest vacation ever, or the last family reunion with Great Grandma in attendance, your photos are precious memories. Unfortunately, they are also extremely easy to lose forever.

Back when pictures really became a common household thing, it was difficult to take care of photographs. Negatives were notoriously hard to store and easily damaged. Pictures faded or were lost in moves, fires, or thrown away. With the advent of scanning technology, people were able to scan older pictures to make them last longer. Then digital cameras came on the scene and pictures officially moved to digital images instead of being captured on film. But memory cards can become lost, damaged, or unreadable. Hard drives were (and still are) a decent option for storing pictures. But older disk drives, which require spinning for the computer to access the information, are prone to damage—especially in laptops. The newer digital ones are more durable, but they are still suseptible to viruses or computer failure.

Then we were all taught that the best thing to do was to back up your pictures on a CD. But, sadly, it turned out that writeable CDs did not have the lifespan people expected. Just a couple of years later, trying to view photos on a CD—even if they were protectively stored—became impossible as the CDs degraded and were rendered unreadable.

Even the way we take pictures has changed. Lots of people now mostly take pictures with their phones. But if you aren’t backing them up, it is extremely likely that you will lose your pictures at least once. Phones are easily lost or stolen, broken or damaged. Batteries stop holding a charge. I had my SD card reformat itself once. When you’re switching carriers or upgrading your phone, sometimes you have to trade in your old model.

So what should you do with your photos? Many companies offer backup services for computers and cloud storage. I strongly advise you to take advantage of one for your digital pictures. Even a photo sharing site will keep your pictures safe for you; keep in mind that some require an annual purchase in order to maintain your photos for you. Another alternative is using a flash drive. They are getting better and better as well. With no movable parts, they last longer than traditional hard drives. There are even models that are fire- and water- resistant, adding peace of mind for a reasonable price.

No matter what route you go, I recommend saving your photos in more than one place. Even if you print them out and stick them in an album, you should still have another copy of them somewhere. If you save them digitally, definitely have a backup in the cloud, a photo sharing site, or something similar. This way, if one storage method fails you, there is still another way to access your pictures.