I’ve done a handful of photo shoots in Chicago, and one of the best things about this city is that not one of them looks them same. There are so many different spots to take photos and so many incredible backdrops that each photo shoot in the city is really incredibly unique.

Tyler came my way through one of my teaching colleagues and friends. After several years of dating, Tyler had decided that 2018 was the year when him and his girlfriend were finally getting engaged. He had shared this with my colleague, and she connected us on capturing this special day.

I met up with Tyler on that cold Chicago morning, and we scouted out the best spot at the very end of the pier by the Adler Planetarium. The cafe that they have there was a lifesaver because Tyler had a scavenger hunt for Katrina to complete before her final destination was the planetarium. After the location had been set, we waited. I gave Tyler a couple of pointers, I shared some of the mistakes when I proposed to my wife (make sure you place the ring on her left hand, your right), told him how to position her and where I would be taking photos from, and we waited.

Thank God for Snapchat. It helped keep Tyler’s anxiety in check about the whole situation. He was supposed to receive text updates, but he was able to keep up through a Snapchat story instead. Once they were at the final stop, we waited outside for the moment of the day.To say the least, it was a success! She said “Yes!” Take at look at their special moment. This is an engagement I will never forget. 

Christmas season means Christmas photos for Christmas cards. Here are a few highlights from a photo shoot this past Sunday.

This was such a fun photo shoot. The lights were set up for me when I got there, and the twins had these fun ornaments to play with. If you try to emulate this look/style, make sure they are shatterproof ornaments. These ornaments were, thankfully, since the twins loves smashing them together. It was such an easy set up, and part the part that I loved the most is that it is so easy to recreate in anyone’s home. I brought my off camera flashes with some light diffusers, set one up on a tripod and the other on the floor, and I was able to create this nice soft light in their home.

Now that my wife and I have Logan, we’ll have to send out a Christmas card to our family. Here was our trial run with Christmas light photos.  He was more intrigued by what they would taste like than smiling at us. More photos to come later.

It’s my favorite time of the year. Now the weather just needs to check itself and remember that it is supposed to snow during the holiday season instead of being warm and having shorts weather. I can’t wait to take some more holiday photos for Christmas cards. These holiday photos can be done as mini sessions in your home. Let me know if you want to set something up.

 

At the request of the couple, I’ve been holding on to these gems for quite some time. Finally, their wedding day came, and they gave me the okay to post these once they were married. This was such a fun day in Chicago. Both the couple and I had done our research on locations that we wanted to photograph, and we were off to start photographing. We started at the courthouse where they obtained their marriage licence, and we walked down Clark to the Chicago Board of Trade building. We knew that we wanted that as the background for some of the photos, and we were in for some fun with cars driving by honking their horns and congratulating the couple.

From there, we hopped in a taxi and requested to go the Kinzie bridge. Our taxi driver, possibly feeling somewhat creative himself, took us to the array of bridges on Wacker. We spent most of our time on those bridges capturing the beauty of couple and the architecture of the city. We started on the N Orleans bridge and walked walked underneath the bridges along the river as well to get a different perspective of the city eventually making our way to the Lake Street bridge. There are so many hidden gems in Chicago that I love discovering every time I photograph down there. 

One of my favorite shots came on the Lake street bridge. In a quick traffic break, we ran out there and captured this moment. The construction crews were holding up traffic, so we had some extra time on there. I just love how the L frames this picture.  After the bridges, we made our way to Millennium Park to capture some of the new, cool architecture in Chicago. I felt a bit like a tourist with my camera in hand capturing all of the architecture in the city, but it is such a beautiful city that continues to amaze me.
Finally we ended up at the iconic Chicago Theater marquee. There’s nothing that says Chicago like a literal marquee that says Chicago.

There is something about the fall that is just enamoring. The crisp air. The mild weather. Sweaters. Apple cider. Spiced candles. Beautiful colors. When you combine all of these, you get the perfect ingredients for fall family photo shoots. These photo shoots are fun, especially when the weather works out and the sun provides the best colors. Here are some recent portraits from this fall’s family sessions.

I will always ask clients before the session is over if they have any requests for pictures. The last two pictures were a request, and I was more than happy to capture it. I never want to force clients to take photos that they are uncomfortable with, and with the power of Pinterest, many clients have seen photos that they want to take. It’s always fun when you replicate something that you see online, especially when kids do something all on their own. 

When I’m not photographing, I’m teaching high school English. Recently, I wrote this post simply as a class example for Tim O’Brien’s “How to Tell a True War Story.” In his short story, O’Brien gives several elements of what factors go into a true war story. Students had to select at least two elements of a war story and write one as an example. My example utilizes that a true war story is never moral, and a true war story has no end. I have the pictures to accompany the story, so I figured why not just share the story online? This will probably be a work in progress as I continually reflect on this day. It took me this long to share the story for the first time, so I’ll continue to revise it in the future. 

The day he was born, I spent a portion of the first 24 hours of his life with another couple. I will never forget the day that he was born. I hadn’t gone to sleep since Wednesday night, and that night was spent asleep on a hospital sofa. Those are not made for comfort. He decided not to make his grand entrance into the world until Friday morning. The day started off pretty casual with regular conversation and visits from family and friends. As the day progressed, the contractions became more powerful and his mother had to pause from a regular conversation because of what was happening. The in betweens and tantalizing minutes of every contraction that my wife had seemed like they would never be ending, and he was never going to come out. As the day got closer to evening, we thought that he was never going to come out and that our biggest fear was starting to become true. We tried avoiding drugs and surgery at all possible cost, but it seems like he had different plans in mind about how he decided to make his homecoming.

Finally at 11 PM on Thursday night, close to 24 hours since his mother felt her first contraction, we had decided enough is enough, or really the doctor had said that for his mother. He finally suggested an epidural even though he knew that his mother did not want one, but it seems like it was the best choice in order to avoid the biggest intervention that we did not want. The epidural was a godsend. It finally allowed his mother and myself the ability to fall asleep. Her body kept working, but it was all behind the scenes work as we caught up on sleep, or so we thought. At about 4 AM, the nurse came in and woke us up and said, “It’s about time to start pushing.” The next two hours were the most primal, mesmerizing hours of my life. There was so much power in that room behind his mother, and with each push, more and more of my life was being delivered. Finally at 6:08 AM, my true dad story began.

I remember being so tired yet so full of bliss that this had finally happened. Ten hours later, I had already left him to go attend a wedding ceremony that I had already committed to photographing. Some of you might know the bride, and although I was torn that I wasn’t spending time with my newborn son, I was exuberant to see two of my great friends get married and capture their moments together knowing that one day they would be experiencing the same emotions that I did that morning. 15 hours after he was born, we were reunited again as a family for a little amount of time. That first night, we had actually asked the nurse to take him because we needed a break.

My true dad story had just started, I would have literally a lifetime of memories to fill. One more night without a baby wouldn’t hurt him.

 

I’ve never really thought about this idea that clients need to prepare for a photo shoot. I do have a couple of reminders that I tell clients when I meet them, but I never thought to be more extensive about the tips that I give them before their shoot. I was listening to a podcast where they were describing the best things to do in a shoot, and when they stated that clients need to be prepared for a shoot, I thought “Why hadn’t I thought of that before?” I’ve never really needed to prepare anyone for a photography shoot beforehand, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to prepare someone or for them to have some pointers before they are in front of a camera.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind during your session. The most important is that you should enjoy your photography session. You will remember the sessions totally differently than a photographer will, and you will also have a bias of your pictures based on how your session went. Someone can look at a beautiful portrait of you and your fiance and think it is the most beloved picture they have ever seen, yet you may have a different idea about the photo because you had a bad experience during the photo shoot. It is difficult to separate the emotion from the moment in time. I’m going to be talking mostly about engagement sessions because I believe that they are extremely important to have prior to a wedding day (check out my post about that), but some of these tips can also apply to your wedding day.

You should be relaxed during your engagement session. It should be fun. Think of your engagement session as your chance to get to know me as a photographer and a person, but on the flip side, it is also my chance to get to know you as a model. It’s helpful to have that fun, no pressure, engagement session before your wedding so you get a sense of what it’s like to be in front of the camera.

Here are some tips to be totally prepared for an engagement session:

  1. Outfits: Usually, couples will have two outfits for an engagement session, a casual one to start and a dressier one to finish. When planning these outfits, think about coordinating your outfit instead of matching. Matching can look tacky, especially if similar patterns or designs are on the clothing. Think about wearing colors that are in similar families. Ladies, big jewelry (besides your ring of course), scarves, bold colors, and stand out shoes look great in this sessions. Have fun with your outfit, but make sure that you look and feel comfortable.
  2. Preparing the Groom: In my own experience and having had my engagement photos taken, I can say that it is usually the bride’s idea to have these photos done. Most grooms don’t go on Pinterest and pick out favorite poses or coordinate outfits, but if they do, more power to them! Let your groom know what style of photography they are in for. Maybe show him a couple of your favorite poses before the session. I think that some grooms are aware that they will be asked to nuzzle their fiance, but there are others that think they will only be smiling into the camera and that the entire session will be maybe 15 minutes. Help him know what to expect by showing him some of your favorite poses.
  3. It might be awkward at first…and that’s perfectly okay! I don’t expect any client to be a pro at modeling, and it usually is better if you’ve never modeled because I can position you how I want you to look. Out of all of the weddings and engagement sessions that I’ve photographed, only one had been a model, and that was a brief stint. I usually tell couples that it might take a good 15-20 minutes to warm up to the camera, and that is totally reasonable. That’s why engagement sessions are at least an hour long because I want you to relax and enjoy the session. Don’t be nervous, and don’t worry if you’ve never been photographed and are worried about looking natural as you stand with your fiance in the middle of a prairie and look off into the beautiful horizon as the sun’s golden light gleans on your faces…most people haven’t.
  4. Timing and Location are Everything With natural light photographers, being on time is one of the most important parts of your shoot. Thankfully, I’ve never had a client be late to a session. Actually, most of them arrive early while I’m re-reviewing their information. If your shoot was scheduled 2 hours after sunrise or 2 hours before sunset, that’s because that is the best timing for natural lighting, and you won’t be squinting because the sun is too strong. I totally get it that some events like accidents or traffic are out of your control, but always try to be on time. When choosing a location, I love it when clients pick a place that means something special to them. It rekindles some of the pure emotion attached to those locations. If that isn’t possible, then we can create a new, memorable location. The pictures below show some of the beauty of natural lighting, but they also show the possibilities of set lights for a shoot.
  5. Hair, Makeup, and Ring Cleaner: Much like how an engagement session is a trial run for your wedding day, if you are getting your hair and makeup done for your wedding, you might want to try a trial run for your hair and makeup for your engagement shoot. If you don’t want to do that for your engagement shoot, apply a big more eye makeup than usual to really make your eyes pop. I will be taking at least one ring shot (after all, don’t you want to show it off?). You might want to get it cleaned before the session so that it really shines.
  6. For the people that want “natural shots” or “candids”: I’ve never had a client tell me, “I want all of my pictures to look posed,” yet I pose couples and clients in all of my photo shoots because a photo shoot without direction is very confusing and awkward. Don’t be totally against posing for a picture. A lot of candids happen when you are placed in a pose. Rarely will an experienced photographer tell you to stand in a certain spot, both look at the camera, and say cheese! There is a combination of the bride looking at the groom, the groom looking at the photographer, looking at each other, talking to each other, kissing, and thousands of other poses that will produce the candid, natural look that everyone is after. Follow all of the previous steps on this post to get ready for your experience and let the photographer worry about getting the “in the moment” shots. I say this tongue in cheek and with a smile on my face, but don’t worry about the photographer and, more importantly, don’t look at the photographer unless you are directed to do so. During your wedding day, you might notice the photographer stand behind a crowd of people and point the camera at you. It might be unnatural at first, but keep doing what you are doing. It’s your wedding day! Enjoy it! Be with others and have a blast, and let the photographer capture those memories. Personally, I’ll wave at the couple to direct them that I want them to look at me for this particular photo.

Hopefully these are some helpful tips for your session. Even if you are skipping the engagement session and only getting wedding pictures done, some of these tips can still apply to your wedding day. I think engagement sessions are so important that I offer them as a part of the wedding package. I like to think of them as your wedding deposit.