What better time of year to capture life than in summertime

One reason so many weddings are held in summertime is because the world is such a beautiful place when the sun is shining! A beautiful world makes for stunning photographs.

(The other reason is because in spring, a young man’s fancy turns to love. But that’s a different story.)

No reason exists to wait for a special occasion to take pictures. It doesn’t have to be a wedding, or someone’s birthday, or a family reunion to whip out the camera and capture some memories. And during this time of year, outdoor pictures offer the added benefit of having a great backdrop.

Another reason to take pictures this time of year? To memorialize a gardener’s hard work. I helped a client sort her mother’s photos recently, and we discovered several pictures of the rare bloom of one of her flowers. But none of the pictures showed Mom with the flower. A missed opportunity. If your dad is meticulous about his yard or if your wife grows the most amazing tomatoes, take a picture of the proud Green Thumb with the amazing greenery.

While running errands today, I found some lush blossoms in the most mundane places (thank you, Summer):

pharmacy lilies

The boulevard along the parking lot at the pharmacy was decorated with these brilliant lilies. I just love lilies this time of year. Imagine a child sitting on the curb with these beauties in the background.

post office

At the post office, this inviting photo opportunity has the added benefit of clearly portraying a sense of place.

post office close up

Here’s a close-up of the post office’s container garden. The flag is an apt addition.


This row of lilies lines a roadway near the bank. Someone has spent a little time cultivating this narrow patch, and she or he probably deserves a portrait here. I imagine a well-behaved dog (not mine) would look pretty here, too.


Even the neighbor’s driveway landscaping caught my eye today. Ahh, summer.

If you live in the northern hemisphere, find a beautiful backdrop to take some pictures of the kids or the pooch or your sweetie.


Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water (or the wedding bouquet with the trash)

In “The ABCs of Photo Organization” I teach people to throw away (yes, throw away) some of their photos. Some photos just aren’t worth keeping, especially duplicates, unflattering photos, blurry photos and most scenery shots.

But some poorly composed photos are worth keeping because they tell a story.

Like this one:

I recently ran across this image of my parents’ wedding in 1964. They’ll be celebrating their 48th wedding anniversary next month, so you can imagine there’s a lot of story in this picture.

It’s blurry, yes, but I love it because of its ethereal appearance, just a like a fairy tale. My mother’s big hoop skirt captures the feel of a Cinderella dress, and my handsome father looks tall and thin like a Prince Charming ought to. And fairy tales always end with “And they lived happily ever after.” This photo — seemingly flawed — illustrates my parents’ fairy tale relationship. So it’s a keeper.

When you run across a photo like this in your own collection, ask yourself, “Is there a story here?” If there is, the photo is worth keeping. And telling the story.

A world of photographic inspiration at your fingertips

Looking for a little inspiration?

Check out these bloggers and photographers for consistently good advice about taking photos of which you can be proud:

Assignment Chicago: Chicago Tribune photojournalist Alex Garcia writes a weekly column synthesizing experience from his work into advice for the less experienced photographers among us.

The Power of Photos: Blogger Michelle is taking a photo a week to document her life.

Sarah Takes Pictures: In this blogeroo, Sarah is taking a picture every day this year.

The Disposable Memory Project: Disposable cameras are making their way around the world and back to this website. No shortage of diversity here.

WordPress bloggers: Go to www.wordpress.com, click on “Topics,” then “Photography.” You’ll find oodles of bloggers who write about photography and post photos. It’s updated real time, so it’s different every day.

Got another site to share? Do tell.

Life as art … through images

What if you curated your family photo collection like a gallery?

Chicago Tribune art reviewer Lori Waxman poses some interesting questions in her review of three photographic shows at Chicago galleries this week in “Stories found in photos: Some images tell us clearly what is going on, while others leave the interpretation up to the viewer.”

“Words tell stories, of course,” writes Waxman, “but photographs possess a unique narrative force all their own.”

This could be said of your family photos, too. The images you capture and the way you edit them forms the story of a life.

To look at some family photo albums, for example, one could assume the family’s life is all smiles and celebrations. In another album, life is lived only during vacations. Or stops after child No. 2 begins sleeping through the night.

But what if your family album was like the “Anna & Eve” exhibition of a mother-daughter relationship at the Catherine Edelman Gallery? “Though just 16 images are on view, there must be many more,” Waxman writes. “They suggest days spent in search of poignant moments and poetic scenarios.”

What if you had to choose only 16 photos of your relationship with one of your children? Not 10 albums. Not 1,000 images. Just 16. What story would you tell?

In another exhibition at ThreeWalls, artist Laura Mackin compiled 60 years of found footage shot by a man named Dean. “It’s a horror of a life, this life as she tells it,” Waxman writes, describing the end product as “24 sunsets, 2 minutes of driving and 2-1/2 minutes of looking through a zoom lens.”

If photos or home movies are the only artifacts you leave behind in this life, what story do they tell? Would it be poignant and poetic? Or horrific?

Pump up the jammy color with pop art

Wanna have some fun?

Turn your images into pop art. Pop art turns a commodity, like an advertising image or celebrity likeness, into high art. Back in 1962, artist Andy Warhol used Marilyn Monroe’s image to great effect this way:

Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol, 1962

Nowadays, you don’t need paint, canvas or color theory to pull it off. All you need is a digital image and your computer. And an eye for a lively crop.

Here’s my attempt:


I used a single image for my Facebook profile, but this type of treatment would make funky wall art for the right wall. Use a photo with good contrast. I can imagine images of cherubic children and cute dogs would be delightful.

Do your research to get the result and quality you’re looking for. Here are a couple of websites that will turn your images into pop art:

Study portrait photography to take better portraits

Coffee table books can be instructive as much as they are entertaining.

2008 National Geographic Society

I was the lucky recipient of the tome “Odysseys and Photographs: Four National Geographic Field Men” as a prize at a Christmas party this year.

The 224-page book is filled with striking images taken by four world-traveling photographers and their stories. Amid photographs taken under water, from mountain tops and in the middle of exotic cities are portraits of ordinary people. Wearing loins cloths or sporting fezzes or holding rifles, they may not be ordinary here in northern Illinois, but they are, at least, ordinary in their geography.

Even though I no longer travel to far-flung places across the globe, the images of the people in these places can be reproduced with the familiar people in immediate realms. When in Rome, do as the Romans do; if you live in Rome, figure out what makes the Romans special, even if it’s commonplace to you.I cannot reproduce the dramatic lighting or incredible detail a professional photographer has mastered, but you and I can try to capture the essence of a loved family member or dear friend in an image.

Photographer Thomas Abercrombie

All four National Geographic photographers shared iconic portraits, but Minnesota native Thomas Abercrombie’s pictures are especially eye-catching (it is, perhaps, because of the four he is most recent and therefore featured more color images). The face of his Japanese calligrapher isn’t even visible, but the viewer can see what is important to this man. The Saudi Arabian holding a gun is wrinkled but distinctive. The Indian baby is covered in dirt and looking intently into the camera.

This, then, is what I learned: Capture your subject doing what comes naturally, do not ask your subject to dress up and do not wait for the dust to clear. Sometimes, the best portraits are the least expected ones.

Tips for making the most of your engagement photos

It’s the most wonderful time of the year … to get engaged.

I read the other day that December is the most popular month to get engaged, and it’s no wonder. The holidays can be romantic, and an engagement ring is pretty darn nice Christmas gift! Plus, it’s fun to show off the ring at all those family gatherings, especially the ones with the relatives who’ve been asking if you’re married yet.

Besides showing off the ring, one of the first tasks at hand is getting engagement photos. If not immediately, it’s a good idea to get engagement photos taken as soon as you book a wedding location. Those images are lovely accompaniments to announcements and “save the date” cards.

Despite the leafless trees and potentially white landscape in Northern Illinois, winter can be a beautiful backdrop for images of your official coupledom.

“Don’t be afraid of taking engagement pictures in wintertime,” says Cheslea Jaynes of Chelsea Corinne Photography. “The winter season is just as pretty as any other time of the year.”

Photographer Jane F. Smith favors Geneva’s Fabyan Forest Preserve in the southeast corner of Kane County. “It’s a good spot with various places for backgrounds — it’s good year-round,” she says.

Snow lends its own romance, says Jaynes, who once captured romantic images amid falling snow. “You can still have fun in the snow throwing snow balls.”

Here are some other tips from Jaynes and Smith for making the most of your engagement photos:

Choose a location that reflects your interests. Consider yourselves country folk? Go out in the country. Cosmopolitan couple? Interesting buildings in an urban setting might make a good backdrop. If one member of the couple plays guitar, use that prop in a setting where you sing to your mate.¬†“Make it about you,” Jaynes says. “If you sit and read books together on the weekends, then let’s put you together in the grass reading a book.”

Does a particular location or building play a role in your relationship? A building that’s special can represent you, Smith says.

Dress smart. Look for coordinating solid colors like whites or dark colors, Smith suggests. “Not anything too bright or patterned.”

An outdoor setting in mid-winter may require a certain wardrobe — like winter coats. “Add little accents like cute scarves and mittens,” Jaynes says. “Not matching — more coordinating.”

Relax. Think about each other, not the camera, says Smith, who suggests looking at each other and staying relaxed.

“Be creative and have fun,” Jaynes says.

Click here for a link to Chelsea Corinne Photography.

Click here for a link to Jane F. Smith’s photography blog.