From Strangers to Friends

Cameron’s first birthday session was a big hit. It is something very different. Instead of smashing a cake, he smashed spaghetti.

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Chef’s guide to perfect spaghetti recipe.
1. Make sure veggies are fresh and taste delicious. (They are from the photographer’s own garden, picked one hour prior to session!)
2. Stir well during cooking
3. Check tenderness
4. Enjoy!

Cameron’s Mom Lizzy and I have become friends through all these portrait sessions. This is the 3rd time they came to me for pictures. I feel so grateful that she always opens up to my ideas and willing to try new things with me.

They were the winner of my session donation in support of East Brunswick Youth Council on 2016 East Brunswick Day. Lizzy had always wanted to have professional pictures taken of her family and the children, but it just never happened. Coming across the donation I made at the silent auction made her think that this would be the best time to try to win something! And She did. “A fantastic photographer who is creative and listens to input and produces beautiful pictures!”, said Lizzy.

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Portrait was done on location in their house.
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Ron, the dad, football and sports nut who is also into memorabilia and collectibles.
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Liz, the mom, loves craft stuff and shopping!! “lol and spending time with the kids.”, according to Lizzy herself.
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The couple love taking the kids on outings… Central park, the beach, zoos, etc.
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Arianna, now the 14 year old, artistic and funny. Great at drawing cartoon and animation as well as more classical pieces. To visit blog on Arianna’s Bat Mitzvah, click here.
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Bryce, the 3 year old, silly kid that loves to make people laugh. “He is our little superhero.”

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Cameron, now the 1 year old, “our little butterball of happiness”. He has figured out how to get around, but he really loves his pacifier and his mommy. He celebrated his first Hanukkah last holiday season.

“I love how well Karen interact with the kids and family, its not a simple task to get so many people to focus and smile and get a great picture! I also love that she let me help get involved and pose and make suggestions during our session”, said Lizzy.

 

For Cameron’s first birthday session, we came up with the spaghetti smash idea. Lizzy had purchased a large pot for Cameron to fit into and I provided the fresh veggies from my own garden and chef’s hat that we used for the props. The other props Lizzy rummaged through her drawers for the rolling pin and spoons.

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Safety tip: always put heavy weight at the bottom of props like pot, bucket, etc for babies to prevent accidental flipping. A 10 lb weight plate from any sporting good store would do just fine.
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Lizzy was worried that Cameron would not co-operate at all for the pictures and the entire session would be wasted, but he did great!

 

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“Have fun with the entire experience, and don’t expect your 1 year old to do what you want them to do :)”, shared Lizzy. She loves this picture because it captured a real moment of a 1 year old.
2017 Silient Auction Ad
From MuSen: I am donating again at this year’s East Brunswick Day to support EBYC. Visit the FB event page for more details.

To learn more about the Sequoia package, click here.

To learn more about the First Birthday pacakge, click here.

 

Meet Piney

(This article has been proof-read by Piney’s Mom.)

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. During this month, I gifted a birthday/family portrait session to a local warrior – 3 year old Piney who was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) when she was 18 months old.

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(Image source from http://www.childrenscancer.org/. Spread the word on social media with #GoGold)

How I got to know Piney and her family is a good story to share of its own. Many of you might have already known that I am a Girl Scout co-leader for my older two daughters’ troops. It has been our troops’ tradition that each year, we will identify a cause and donate about 1/3 of our cookie money to that cause to help others. This year, we toured the Make-A-Wish® foundation castle located in Monroe, NJ. It is a beautiful place filled with touching stories that will make you tear, however none of us would ever wish any kid ever use the wishing place.

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Image source from http://nj.wish.org/about-us/our-chapter/samuel-and-josephine-plumeri-wishing-place

Shortly after the tour, the cookie Mom from one of the troops approached us and introduced Piney to us. At the time, Piney was about two-and-a-half years old, just reached the eligibility for the Make-A-Wish® program and the family was considering filing an application.

After several messages exchanges, we learned more about Piney and her battle against AML: the risky and extensive procedures that she had to go through in order to be able to accept multiple rounds of aggressive chemo treatments, the life threatening side-effects of the medication, how unfortunately a bone marrow transplant is not a very viable option for her since she has Down Syndrome, and how the entire family’s life has changed to accommodate such situation. The troops, along with several parents, decided to further contribute some gifts to show support of Piney and her family. In August, I together with the cookie Mom represented our troops to deliver the gifts, and that is when I met Piney’s Mom in person for the very first time.

She is a beautiful, confident, super intelligent and sensible lady. It was very comfortable and pleasant chatting with her. We went pretty deep on all sorts of topics including children’s education, the struggles trying to get balanced as a Mom, and just life philosophies in general. She is incredibly strong, but when she shared with us how she just had a major breakdown prior to coming to our meeting after learning one of Piney’s buddies at the cancer center lost his battle, she got quite emotional. I held her hands as I could sense her fear. It is hard to image how much she and the family needs to go through on a daily basis. I wonder what else I could do to help and I wish I could do more than just donating some gifts. What about a family portrait? I assume every family needs one at one point to preserve their memories. This is something I could do for them. So I offered Piney’s Mom an on-location family portrait session. I was so glad to hear that is exactly one task on their to-do-list.

August was a busy month for me (well, which month isn’t?). I exchanged emails with Piney’s Mom several times and we tentatively set a date in September for the portrait session pending how Piney feels. September came and I got the good news to go ahead.

On the date of the session I was super excited. I arrived their house, a very warm and cozy place with a golden ribbon sign standing for child cancer awareness on their front window.  On the wall of the entry way there is a very nice black and white portrait of the whole family. I later learned it was taken by a volunteer photographer from Flashes of Hope at the hospital when Piney was under treatment around her 2nd birthday. Piney was with very little hair in the picture and both parents look a bit tired.

Mom was nervous at first. She was concerned that Piney wouldn’t cooperate and I might end up wasting my time coming over. I eased her concerns and said “the most we can do is to give it a try and I think I am pretty good with kids.”

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Piney was sitting on the floor in her playroom playing with her big brother J. She is super adorable and looks quite different from the picture on the wall. I love her full, curly brown hair, which the family often jokes as the “hot mess”. She greeted me with a soft and polite voice, a bit shy. She got interested in watching me setting up the backdrop and strobe lights. While I was asking J to pose for me for a few test shots, she stepped in and before we all knew it, the session started with Piney and J comfortably posing for me like pros. Even Mom and Dad were surprised.

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The rest of the session went extremely smoothly and we had lots of fun. While Piney was getting changed for her next outfit I took some solo pictures of J and had a great conversation with him. He proudly showed me his music instruments and shared soccer stories. I told him how I chickened out of soccer completely at one point because I couldn’t take the pressure and responsibility of being a goalie. The guitar in the collage that I created for J is a birthday gift he received on his 10th birthday. J told me his only wish is for his baby sister to get well and be healthy.

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We also captured beautiful and loving family portraits, some are even for the holiday season. I would leave the family to enjoy those portraits at their own private setting.

While everyone changed, relaxed and set up for the next set, I kept on taking pictures. This is when I captured the lifestyle moments.

I came out of the session feeling extremely great. Almost a year into my business, I often ask myself why I would pick up more tasks and responsibilities, especially on a part time basis and not really a source of major income.  Like any business, mine should have a mission. But almost every photography business has a mission of “helping people to capture memories”. Can I do more than that? After this session I think I found my own mission. My mission is to help others with my skills. I have shared this vision with my VIP group members: “Professional Photography is a luxury good. Everyone deserves it but not everyone can afford it due to various reasons (time, energy, health, money…). Professional Photography is also an art – that can inspire and influence people.  I love children, I support youth education, I am an advocate for seeking a cure for cancer, I believe in empowering women and helping local small businesses to thrive. There are so many different ways I can help by contributing my skills. I don’t need to be big and famous. Instead I will do my best with my small platform and hope one day, like minds will work with me together to make it bigger.” Through Piney’s session I am making my first step toward accomplishing my mission.

Many awesome news followed Piney’s session. Her latest blood work came back good and she is now enrolled in a public school program. I wish more great news to come. And let us continue to bring awareness to childhood cancer and to support finding a cure for cancer.

To follow Piney visit her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pineysposse/

Piney and J

Inside my Newborn Session

Newborn photography is rewarding but also difficult, especially when studio style is involved. I belong to many Facebook closed groups for photographers and actively participate in all sorts of discussions. Almost everyone agrees newborn photography is one of the most challenging categories. Why? So many unknown factors: newborn behaviors, parents emotions, siblings (and very often they are at young ages)cooperation, safety, settings, posing, props, timing…it takes lots of practice to get it done right.

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I am still pretty new to studio style newborn photography. I am not going to lie about it. Then why people want to choose me? Well…everyone needs to start somewhere. Your portfolio on other young children, your reputation, your personality, or perhaps even consider build your portfolio by gifting a few sessions followed by offering a nice trial discounts for the next few subsequent clients…can attract the ones that really have faith in you. Then…practice at home with a doll, take training classes, read books/blogs, participate in discussions…all these can help you better prepared for a studio style newborn session.

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The best time to conduct a studio style newborn session is when babies are within 2 weeks old. Otherwise, babies tend to be more alert and therefore more difficult to be posed. My goal is to provide parents a completely stress-free session experience. Therefore, I conduct sessions on location at the comfort of the clients’ houses. I also provide all props. I never told parents to go all the way preparing for a newborn session because understanding how tired they already are and how unpredictable a newborn session might be, I do not want to make the parents feel more frustrated when they follow all instructions then things still don’t go quite right. However, it is important to make them understand newborn session does have a timing constraint so that they can confirm booking with you as soon as possible. Ask them to identify an area about 5ft x 5ft with plenty of sunlight available to set up the bean bag, etc. Do inform them about controlling the surrounding temperature to be around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Plan workflow prior to the session is very important.

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Newborn usually gives a smile-like reflex during a session. I love to capture that. Sometimes, Moms might have tricks to make them smile as well.

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To add more varieties to the session, use different accessories.

Be very patient with your newborn session and also set the same expectations for the parents as well. On average a good newborn session will take about 3 to 4 hours. You should expect several feeding in between, plus time for burping, and diaper changes. Babies might get uncomfortable with gases and become fuzzy. Allow parents take time to soothe them. It is very likely babies will choose to release themselves or vomit on your props as well. Therefore plan wisely. For rugs that are difficult to clean, consider choose a prop that allows the baby to wear a diaper. Do let parents know all these are normal.

While parents are soothing the baby, why not take some candid/lifestyle moments?

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If there are siblings, try to take some solo for them as well while baby is being fed or comforted.

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And…don’t forget to capture a various combination of images such as siblings and baby, Mom and baby, Dad and baby, the whole family, etc.

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What did I learn from this session? Be prepared, be patient, be communicative, make every single moment worthy, and safety first. Newborn session is about helping the family to document the very early moments of the baby’s life. It is not about trying to gain yourself personal fame as a photographer. Put your clients’ concern above yours. Show them that you care. Practice good hygiene – tie your hair up, trim your nails, wash your hands frequently throughout the session, and be sure to sanitize all equipment and props prior to the session. Understand your own limits, never force or push too far. When posing babies, allow them to fall into their favorite position. My philosophy is there is no need to attempt advanced posing in order to impress. Instead, fill it with loving candid moments. Gain your clients’ trust with your professionalism, high ethical standards, and a loving heart.

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To book newborn session, visit Baby’s First Year Plan for more details.

Interested in finding out what the parents say about MuSen? Read their testimonial here.

What is composite – a unique Twins First Communion Session

I had the honor to capture a unique First Holy Communion portrait session for a pair of girl/boy twins back in early May. In this session, I used digital backgrounds frequently. Such technique is referred as “composite”.

 

 

My session always starts with pre-consultations. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for me and for my clients. Very often, clients’ dissatisfaction arises when photographers failed to meet their expectations. And in most cases, it is because expectations have not been communicated well before the session. I can communicate with clients in various ways – emails, texts, instant messengers (Facebook, WeChat, etc.), phone calls, or even in person meetup. I encourage clients send me favorite images they collected elsewhere or from previous portrait sessions to help me understand their preferred styles. (A picture says a thousand words. It helps to facilitate communication. The exercise here is not the same as trying to imitate other photographers’ works.)

 

 

For this First Communion session, Mom sent me images she collected from Pinterest. They are mostly outdoors. For example, a girl sitting on a flower swing in her First Communion dress, a boy praying under the sky in his First Communion suit, etc. I clearly understood what she wants but also realized there was a challenge: those outdoor locations and props are difficult to find around us and weather had not been in our favors to conduct a session outdoor.

 

 

The thought process led to the decision to utilize digital backgrounds. A wise use of digital backgrounds can help clients to achieve certain desired realistic looking outcomes without having to go through the extra miles and thus save both the photographer and clients time, energy, and costs. The entire session was then set up indoor with a dark gray muslin backdrop as the main theme. A few images were taken with a beach backdrop. There are two reasons to choose dark gray – it is a medium color between white (the girl’s dress color) and black (the boy’s suit color) and it also is a preferred background color for preparing digital cutouts to be used with digital backgrounds.

 

 

Most of the session images were delivered on traditional, classic dark gray background. Some are on the beach background. Each image was touched up lightly (in order to preserve children’s natural beauty) with color correction, skin tone balance, and blemish removal. Selected images were given black/white and/or light cast effects for a different look and feel. Qualified poses were further edited with digital backgrounds.

 

 

There are two types of digital backgrounds. One is a flat wallpaper type. And the other is called 3D or with layers where you can insert your subjects. Some 3D digital backgrounds even come with more editing tools to give your images more dreamy and realistic look. In my session I used both. Please always remember to obtain your digital backgrounds from a reputable source and pay attention to terms & conditions of use, especially if it is provided to you free of charge. Things like whether it is allowed to be used for commercial purposes, whether attributes are required, so on and so forth, need to be checked before you decided to use them. Just like photographers don’t like their work to be stolen, you don’t want to steal other people’s work even sometimes you might not do it intentionally, thus obtaining them from a reputable source can give you a peace of mind.

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Most of the time, I start with a pose I like, and find the digital backdrops suitable for the pose. I let pose lead to backdrop choice instead the other way around. It gives more natural feel that way.  This is an example of a 3D digital backdrop. Subject is inserted into the layers.
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Sometimes I would purposely pose my subject in order to be able to use certain digital backdrops. In this example, because Mom wants a floral swing look, we posed to make this happen.
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One trick to make composite images look realistic is to identify the light source and play with shadows.
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I found a digital backdrop to work with this sitting pose. This is an example of a flat wallpaper backdrop. Again, I played with shadow in order to make it look more realistic.
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Flat wallpaper
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3D Layered

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TwinFirstCommunion-6Other composite techniques involve applying overlays and digital props.

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An example of light cast effects. The process is actually more complex than it appears. After identifying the suitable light cast pattern, a series of modification techniques such as layer effect, image distort, blurring, gradient filtering, etc. were applied to achieve this look.
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The bouquet is a digital prop. It was post edited into the girl’s hand.

I don’t recommend anyone to go overboard with composite. There are many other techniques and approaches to make images interesting and beautiful.

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Detail shots add lots of interests to a portrait session. I always love to include them.
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An elegant Black and White effect

 

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Shoot at different angles, try different poses, capture subtle expressions. And don’t forget to play fair among siblings. I make sure to capture equal amount of images and poses with each one of them.

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To book a portrait session, visit here for more information.

For a list of MuSen’s digital services, visit here.

Interested in finding out what the parents say about MuSen? Read their testimonial here.