Why I shoot in RAW

We’re going to start things off with a before and after shot because I feel like this is the type of post I’ve seriously neglected in the past. And I think this is a parlor trick that will interest both photographers and innocent bystanders alike.

Last month I was in Hawaii for Jon and Katye’s wedding (I’ll be blogging a lot more about that later) and of course, everywhere we went, the scenery was incredible! When you’re photographing a destination wedding, that location tends to become the “theme” and it’s important to include that in as many of the pictures as possible. You want to bring home that feeling of awe and excitement with you to relive over and over. So for this picture, I found it absolutely necessary to include the ocean and the palm trees in the picture. It just wasn’t going to be an epic moment without it! But if you’re a photographer, you know the lighting nightmare I have here. They’re in half shade while the palm trees and ocean were in full blazing sun. The camera can’t get a good exposure on both…you’re going to lose one or the other. And since they were at the edge of a balcony three stories up, there was no way to get a flash out in front of them. And I CERTAINLY wasn’t going to use on-camera flash (don’t get me STARTED, don’t EVEN get me STARTED!! haha). Some might wonder if I could have bounced some flash off of the balcony above but it didn’t stick out far enough to light all the girls and I didn’t want to curtail the moment by directing them to easily lit locations. Also, the direction of the light would have still given it an unnatural look and I loved how the natural light was looking.

So what did I do? I went halvsies. I under exposed the girls a little and over exposed the sky, the palm trees, and the ocean. And it looks AWFUL, doesn’t it? This is an example of one of the FEW pictures I’m totally embarrassed to show people on the back of my camera. I mean, EVERY picture gets some special treatment in Lightroom and some sharpening in Photoshop, but usually the effect is still completely recognizable so I show many of them to my clients as I go. But this is one I would hide because I don’t have time to explain my vision for the end result and how much different it will look…and why!


Believe it or not, this is the same picture and all I did was use Lightroom to increase the exposure on one half of the image and decrease the exposure on the other half using the brush tool. If I had shot in jpg, there would be no pulling those clouds and blue sky back out of this picture. But in RAW, there’s so much more information still there. It’s really incredible. Shooting in RAW isn’t something you should use as a failsafe to catch you if you screw up the exposure…it’s a means of expanding the latitude of your pictures.

Now, does this mean that the next time you try taking that picture of your niece in the shade of a tree and the background is white that all you need to do is turn your camera to RAW and you can come home and make it better? NO. That will look horrific and fake….don’t do it. The background and the subject should be lit SIMILARLY, not entirely different. Please use this trick responsibly! 🙂


I hope this has been enlightening (pun intended). Enjoy discovering RAW!


First of all, I want to say THANK YOU all for being SO supportive and patient as I took some time off from the business to focus on my family. It was an incredible year that flew by at the speed of life (which is even FASTER than the speed of LIGHT in case you’re wondering). I was able to sleep in every morning and snuggle with my baby girl, take walks in the park, catch up with long lost friends, make new friends, read books (best of all GOD’S Book), craft, bake, uncook, garden, and take pictures just for fun any old time. It was a GREAT year and even though it feels like one of the shortest years of my life, it was one of the BEST.
The only hard part was turning down the many requests and not being involved in the picture taking part of so many lives I care deeply about. Picture taking isn’t just shutter clicking to me…it’s an emotional investment, the communication of a compliment from my heart to yours, my way of saying how much I admire you. It is HARD to have the desire to give that away freely, but to have it tied to a business and counter balanced by the responsibility of a family. And that aspect of life won’t get any easier because even though I’ve decided to come back to work, I’ve tasted the balanced life and I’m not letting it go!! This year’s limited schedule was booked up before the year even began. BUT, at least this year I can say I would be happy to give you one of my limited appointments for NEXT year! That’s far better than just “no, no, no” all year!
Since my time is limited, I know I have to be intentional with it. I can’t just throw minutes around like wedding rice! This blog needs to have a purpose besides just another place to post the same pictures you’re already seeing on facebook. There needs an extra spin on the information…some behind the scenes, some how-to’s, some before and afters, some stories, and some give aways. Not every single favorite picture will be posted here…it’s not the best format for that kind of sharing. But feel free to email me with special requests if you’d like to see a specific image explained or featured.
I can’t sign off without sharing a picture with you! How about one of my favorite shots from Jon and Katye’s wedding in Hawaii? There are so many, they’re not all going to fit in one or two (or ten!) blog posts anyways 😉 More coming soon…

A Fond Farewell…

It is with seriously mixed emotions that I formally close this chapter of my life. It has been such a whirlwind to this point that it feels kind of sudden. But with so much to look forward to and so many blessings to look back on, I can’t find any greater emotion than gratitude to express at this time. I feel so cliche saying the same types of things I hear so often from others in this business…things like, “I have the best, most beautiful clients in the world!” and “I couldn’t have done it without you!” But the truth is, I truly feel these things to my very core. As I think through each person I’ve met or each relationship that has grown through photography, I feel exceptionally blessed. I couldn’t feel more lucky if I had met a thousand Rock Stars! Each person I’ve photographed has inspired me so much! And trusted me so much. It’s not always easy to let go and see yourself through someone else’s eyes, and relax in the process. I feel as if each person who trusts me this much is giving me the greatest compliment I could ever recieve. So many of my clients are now friends…some of which I’m looking forward to spending more time with next year! I can’t recall EVER having a “bad” client…we’ve worked through some tough circumstances, but the people I’ve been blessed to meet have been INCREDIBLE. This year in particular my jaw has dropped and my heart has swelled because of my clients, students, and colleagues…some have sent me baby gifts, many have gone out of their way to accomodate my pregnancy and closing business, students have been VERY patient with me while I worked through excessive delays, and EVERYONE has made very sure that I know that my presence in the industry will be missed. I feel as if the love I have for all of you is returning to me tenfold. So thank you!!

I want to take a moment to thank a few people who I’ve never publicly acknowledged in one place before. As I think back to how my interest in photography started and developed, there are people along the way who have marked a distinct change in me. I almost used the analogy of rungs on a ladder, but I don’t want to give the impression that I stepped on them or left them behind as I went. 🙂 I feel more like they were each a helium balloon and as I met each one, my journey became lighter and easier.

My parents — for buying me my first camera and for keeping their promise to develop all the film I could buy, even when it went a bit farther than they expected!

Melita Quance — for being my willing subject so many times and for making me jealous by taking photography classes in high school! 🙂

Jennifer Feeney — for becoming my muse and inspiration in high school and for telling me for the first time that I remember, “You should do this professionally.”

Mom and Dad Sturm and Mrs. Ager — for taking my senior pictures and completely changing my perspective on photography.

Andy and Mickey Sommers — for loaning me my very first SLR and enthusiastically being some of the first people in my portfolio.

My church family at FBC– for being my first clients, my biggest fans, and my friends.

Erin Prichard — for being one of my first photography friends, for 2nd shooting, for equipment sharing, information sharing, and learning together.

Eileen Dimino — for being the first professional to tell me my work was really GOOD and giving me the confidence to forge ahead. And for introducing me to Josef Samuel.

Jasmine Star — for teaching about branding in a way that allowed me to move past the confusion and proceed with confidence.

Josef Samuel — for approaching me with the idea for The X/Stop Project, encouraging me to network more, and for providing a constant source of inspiration and friendly competition. 🙂

Jerry Ghionis — for truly transforming the way I see light and the world around me and for teaching me the true keys to success.

Pamela Speck — for being an oasis in a desert, a moment of clarity, and showing me that God is still working in my life.

Rebecca Lily — for being my friend the longest, and my fastest learning student EVER, and for being a focused and upbeat 2nd shooter this past year in spite of having so many more important things on her mind.

Jennifer Budzinski — for being an inspiration in business ownership and management, and for giving me a place to stretch my creativity and display it. For helping me LOOK like the artist I felt like.

Tim Cocanower — for being truly reliable in an age when reliability is hard to come by. For driving in Chicago. 🙂 For somehow always being one step ahead of me and never once complaining when things went wrong. (and thank you Stephanie for all the time you spent without him after work hours so he could help!!)

Bridget Dix — for being my right arm, and sometimes my left. For sharing my excitement, for being my favorite model, for saving me from myself sometimes, for putting up with my oddities. For synchronizing your vision with mine and loving it almost as much as I have. You are fantastic and I am going to miss you SO much.

My husband, James Nelson — for being my hottest model EVER, for always believing I could do anything I set my mind to, for sacrificing so much of yourself on behalf of my dreams, for working SO hard to support me in both my decision to start AND to stop shooting, for always being a reliable and patient father to our children even when you should have been too exhausted to do so, and for loving me in spite of all my craziness.

There are many others to thank, I could go on all day. It’s always scary to thank some specifically for fear that I’ve overlooked someone very important unintentionally. But I think it would be even worse if I let the fear keep me from thanking these people who have influenced me so much. It is because of the generosity of these people that I have been inspired to help others, so if you have been influenced or helped by me in any way, I hope you’ll thank these people as well.

Many have expressed concern at how permanent my decision sounds sometimes…am I coming back? When? I have to say, I honestly don’t know the answer to either of those. I DO know two things. 1) I need to feel complete freedom from timeframe and obligation. I need a break with no expectations so that I can sort some things out in God’s time, under no pressure. 2) If and when I do come back, I want to have the ability to move the business out of our home, for many reasons, one of which is that our family has filled it! There are many factors that will determine if and when this can happen. I have no idea what the personality of our third child will be, how our familiy dynamic will change, if home schooling will be the best option for my children long term. All of these factors can only be determined by time, so there is really no way I can predict a return date right now.

For those of you (some I have already spoken with) who are hoping and praying that I will return in time to shoot your 2012 wedding, I will decide sometime around June of 2011. Until then I will hold your date on my calendar, but I won’t sign any contracts as I take my comittment to your wedding VERY seriously. Those interested may continue to inquire about availability as long as you understand that nothing is set in stone or guaranteed without a signed contract and downpayment!

I wish you the very best year (or more!) in my absence…take care and God bless!

The Rawk Hard Workshop

On Friday, June 6th, I held my VERY FIRST workshop. I can’t even begin to describe how nervous I was!!! Months of planning and effort had gone into this one single day…I am SO relieved to say that I survived and that it went off quite well!

Our fabulous catering was provided by Thyme of Grace in Mishawaka. I was disappointed I didn’t get a picture of breakfast because it was a work of art as well!


To each attendee, we gave a gift box filled with homemade cakeballs…Bridget’s special recipe. I was pretty proud of the whole design because each branded box was hand crafted and wrapped with care. 🙂


We had two outdoor photo shoots. For the first one we focused on basic lighting principles with one model. Our lovely model, Carrie, did a fantastic job and now I can’t wait for another upcoming session I have with her this summer!







Between photo shoots we talked about branding, personalization, pricing, and post processing.

For our second shoot, we had the gorgeous Michelle and Mike model for us so we could work on posing, personalization, and properly lighting two people. I absolutely adored this session and could have photographed them ALL. DAY. I could have listened to Mike play his guitar all day!!!! I think I’m going to have to bring live guitar music to every photo shoot now…it certainly makes for a serene and romantic mood!

Michelle’s hair and makekup was done by the talented artisans at Emblazon Salon.








To top off the fabulous lineup, our sponsors provided some amazing door prizes! Showit gave away one free year of Showit Sites and a discount on Showit Web. WHCC gave away a free hard bound album and a free custom image box as well as 3 free months of PicPick proofing. Rebecca Lily gave away a complete set of her artistic presets. And B&H Photo provided Lighting Guides and 2 free copies of OnOne PhotoTools!

We wrapped up the day with dinner at Villa Macri’s. Saying goodbye to new friends was bittersweet. But what a wonderful day. Thanks to everyone who made the day a success!

2008 Picture of the Year! {CONTEST!}

It’s really HARD to narrow down my own artwork!!!! REALLY REALLY HARD! I am VERY emotionally invested in every single one of my customers and subjects!! And 2008 was a VERY amazing year!! One that will be hard to top as far as amazing photo-ops go! I was in Oradea Romania, San Francisco, CA, Napa Valley, CA, Myrtle Beach, SC, Cape Coral, FL, Madison, WI, and Mackinac Island, MI…all in one summer (and I probably missed a place or two in that list)! I knew before the summer even started that it would be a roller coaster ride and it certainly was that! It kind of left me with that same crazy feeling too…a little dizzy, glad I did it, but wow my head hurts and I’m not sure I’ll walk straight for awhile!!! I owe one enormous hug to all my wedding clients from this year who have been so patient with me! My traveling, a couple of unexpected broken bones, and tyring to juggle family, church, homeschooling, and sanity (or lack thereof) have pushed back my turnaround times more than expected. But EVERY single one of them has just been amazing and this endears them to me even more than before. I’m proud to call them all FRIENDS. My customers really mean the world to me and I am so excited to be involved in their lives and to have them in mine. They have each changed me every so slightly for the better, made me look at the world differently, they have challenged me to improve and grow and stretch myself! They inspire me with their trust and their amazing lives! I’m a lucky girl. I thank God every. single. day.

The fact that this post comes two weeks into 2009 is proof that I was floundering on this project by myself! I took my friend Leah up on her offer to help me out! Being a highly successful children’s photographer herself, she was MORE than qualified to narrow down my favorite 180 pictures (I had multiple favorites from every single session!!). It took her a couple days, but I was SO impressed…she managed to get it down to 53! I decided not to alter her list at all…I respect her opinion and I’m relieved that I didn’t have to pick because I don’t think this post ever woulda happened! (when you’re done voting here, go check out Leah’s site here!)

Now let’s see if we can narrow it down to #1! In order to vote, use your google account and leave a comment listing your TWO favorites…you’ll probably vote for your own or the picture of someone you know, and then I want you to vote without bias on a 2nd. (I will not count single votes or annonymous votes. You MUST choose two different subjects…if you vote twice for the same person, even if they’re in two different pictures, both votes will have to be discarded) ! The person pictured in the image (if possible or applicable) with the most votes will receive a free 16×20 on matboard of that image! I’ll leave the voting open for one week (last day will be Tuesday, January 20th).


























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