Category: Pancake Sessions  |  View all recent posts

Mon. Oct 20, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

10 Ways To Keep Your Balance as a Business Owner

I think there is this thing that happens when you own your own business and become your own boss.

You go into it because you can set your own schedule and work from home and never get out of your yoga pants if you want to! Put your sensible corporate black heels on the top shelf of your closet....it's Uggs all the way for you, baby! :)

And in SO many ways, working for yourself is one of the greatest, most satisfying, exciting things you can ever do. Justin & I are SO grateful that we get to work together and travel together and build things together and go on this adventure together every single day.

But owning your own business can also take its toll. Spending too many days in a row in yoga pants can take its toll. Having work hours that blur into one another and countless hours at a computer- your desk covered with empty coffee mugs and Lara bar wrappers- can take. its. toll.

Not having a regular grocery routine. Not spending our Saturdays like normal people do. Not having a regular pay check that gets deposited every Friday like clockwork.

And the fact is, somewhere around your fourth day in a row in yoga pants and your 117th episode of the Law & Order SVU marathon you've been putting on while you catch up on editing.....you can start to feel not so human anymore.

And that's the catch 22. We started this business because we want freedom and adventure and to break the rules of normalcy. And all of that is amazing.

But somewhere in there, I think at our most basic human level, we crave some structure & routine & to feel normal too.

We've been learning this slowly but surely, and over time we've figured out a few things that we can do every day to give us back some of that normalcy but still allow us to be the great adventurers we want to be too! Here are a few of our favorite ones, in no particular order.




1. Make your bed every day. It sounds silly and small, I know. But a few things happen when you start out the day this way. First, you feel like you've accomplished something right off the bat. And that productivity is contagious....it's a small win that spurs you on to get even more stuff done. Second, it brings order to the room. And that order is calming. Which is a great way to head into the day. And finally, I just find that I sleep better at night when I'm crawling into a bed that has been made rather than a tangle of sheets and pillows. And that sets me up for a good day the following day.

2. Clear the clutter. Speaking of order creating calm, if I ever find myself feeling anxious & distracted, 9 times out of 10 it's because our work area/house is a mess. And it's a mess because we're actually here 24 hours a day, unlike people who go off to a day job. If I will just take 30-45 minutes to go through the house & do a quick straighten up before I try to tackle any work, then suddenly I feel like a) I've accomplished another thing and b) we are people who actually have it together and now I can accomplish anything. Even better: try doing this quick clean at night before you eat dinner/take off for the night. It will make dinner more relaxing & you can wake up to a clean house/work space rather than having this on your list first thing.

3. Have a morning routine One that doesn't involve email! Before I ever delve into email or the work of the day, I like to start my mornings for me. I wake up around 7am and put coffee on (this in itself is such a relaxing ritual for me with grinding the beans & prepping the coffee maker). I cozy up with a blanket, sip my coffee, do a little bible reading, put on some good music, and start my day slow. When you start the day in email, you start the day with a million people pulling you in every direction before you've even had the chance to wake up. And that sense of being spread too thin carries throughout the day. Starting the day for yourself, fills up the tank so you can be more for other people. This morning routine is a relatively new change for me & I can tell you that it's making a TON of difference!

4. Write your "Win the Day" list the night before. The "Win the Day" list is something I've been using for years now that is basically the 3-5 things you want to accomplish in a day (as opposed to a super long to do list that no one ever finishes). And even if nothing else gets done, if you can finish those three to five things, then you can call that day a win. But something that I've been realizing as I do this, is that if I will sit down and write out tomorrow's list the night before it does two things: 1) first I know exactly what I need to work on when I sit down at my desk the next morning and 2) it helps to calm my brain as I should be turning off for the night. Writing it down gets it out of my head!

5. Take breaks throughout the day. Go on a walk with your dog, drink your afternoon coffee in quiet rather than on the go, sit somewhere and close your eyes and breathe. Study after study after STUDY has shown that regular breaks throughout the day make you so much more productive. And it helps you to feel like you're not chained to your computer.

6. Shower & get ready. When we were at the Pursuit 31 Conference this year, I had a bit of an a-ha moment: I was getting up & getting showered AND getting ready every day. And I felt a million times better. When I work from home on the other hand, I'm (usually) showering but then I'm skipping the getting ready part because I'm just going to be working from home. So why put in the effort? And that has meant a LOT of days in yoga pants and buns on top of my head. And I realized that even though that sounds amazing, it was actually taking a toll on me. I just started to feel blah all the time and that's how I was approaching every day. When we ran out to grab lunch or run to the bank, that's how I was approaching other people too. When I shower & actually get ready, I feel better and more productive. And then I act that way too.

7. Download. On a very regular basis, sit down and write out everything that's swirling around your brain. Keep it somewhere safe like a notebook dedicated to just this. This way your brain will know that it's somewhere safe and it won't try to keep track of everything, which keeps it constantly racing.

8. Have designated days Have set days when you do your grocery shopping & run errands. Have set days when you do all of your meetings. Have days when you sit home & edit uninterrupted. This will foster focus in your life. And help eliminate those days where you feel like you just ran one place to another and never really got anything done.

9. Keep a notebook with you I pretty much always have a notebook with me in my purse. It never fails that as we're going somewhere or running to pick up something or grabbing lunch, suddenly my brain starts spinning with a hundred things I need to do. Having the notebook means I can write it down & then forget about it for the time being rather than trying to remember it all.

10. Shut down for the night. We like to have a couple of rituals, if you will, to signal to our brains that we're shutting down for the night. I'll shut my office door or Justin will turn out the light in his, I'll light candles, I'll turn on music for us to cook to, we'll have a plan for what movie we're going to watch that night or where we're going to go. Having that ritual & that reward to look forward to makes us work harder when we should be to get everything done & then it helps our brains to shut down for the night and actually feel rested when it's time to turn off.

We hope this helps if even in some small way!! Here's to chasing the adventure...AND feeling like you have a life!
xo
M:)

** So tell us, which one of these 10 are YOU going to try this week?? Here's to finding the balance!











Fri. Oct 17, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

Pancake Session: 5 Ways to Get Published More

On Tuesday, Justin & I were SO lucky to be invited as two of the featured guest speakers at the Two Bright Lights workshop that is going around the country right now! We have been using TBL for years now as a way to streamline our submissions workflow to magazines & blogs and have everything in one place and we absolutely LOVE it!

So we were super honored when they invited us in to speak not only to the photographer's point of view on getting published more & what shots to go for, but also from the publications side of things now that we are also editors with our own two wedding blogs The Black Tie Bride & The Well Groomed Groom. Those two blogs have just exploded in ways we could have never imagined this year, and they are becoming a bigger & bigger part of who we are now! The other day I was introduced first as the Editor in Chief of The Black Tie Bride, and that was SO crazy since for so long I've been introduced as a wedding photographer first! It is definitely an exciting season for us & we are SO excited to see where it all goes from here! We're just super grateful for all of it and I think it's crazy the places that life takes you!

But anyway, back to the event! :) I think it was such a cool place to be in, to be able to see both sides of things at once. Both to know the shots that we, as editors, are looking for, but also to know as photographers all the challenges that go in to getting those shots. For example, some of the other editors who were speaking (there were some AMAZING other folks there that night including Bridget Clegg from The Knot, Kunbi Odubogun from Aisle Perfect, Maggie Lord from Rustic Wedding Chic, and Ragan Kensington from Two Bright Lights ) had mentioned that they love room shots before the guests get in there & pictures of the escort cards before any of them are taken! We totally agree! And we also understand, as photographers, how tough those shots can be to get if the room isn't finished until a minute before guests are let in or the escort card table is left visible to guests before the ceremony (what IS it with guests wanting to grab those cards up as soon as possible?!)

So it was really fun to both speak to what editors are looking for & also to give some practical tips from the photography side of things on how to get them! I've included 5 of my favorite things we went over below & we hope it helps both in approaching the day AND getting you featured more! And if you haven't been submitting to publications yet because you feel like you just don't have the time, definitely check out Two Bright Lights as a way to streamline everything!



1. Match your Messenger Rather than tying yourself in knots and pretending that you & your work are something that they aren't just to get published somewhere, instead figure out who you are and what you want your work to stand for and then submit to wedding publications that fall in line with THAT! Remember that one of the best advantages of getting published is that it will send brides your way, but if you are constantly trying to get published somewhere that doesn't really stand for what you want your work to stand for, then they aren't going to be sending you YOUR kind of brides. List three words you want your work to be known for & then seek out the wedding publications where you would use those same three words to describe them!

2. Think of your submission as an overall collective first. I can tell you from the editor's point of view that I am ALWAYS getting my first impression of a submission by looking at the overall gallery as a collective (kind of like a pinterest board) in thumbnail view. That means that even if you have a couple of killer individual images in there, it's still most likely not going to get accepted unless I feel like overall this is a really strong submission. So what makes a strong overall collective? a) make sure you tell an overarching story of the day and give me extra coverage of emotional/candid moments, details, and portraits of the couple. b) make sure that the images as a collective are processed in the same, clean way. We see it all the time where none of the black & whites match because a slightly different action was used on each one or where the color balance is all over the place. Consistency is key. And c) don't water down your submission with sub-par images just to show more. Curate your work & show your best stuff! More is not always better and in fact if, as I glance through that overall collective, I see too many images that are a no then it waters down that whole submission and makes it very unlikely that it will be accepted.



3. Remove Visual Noise. Bridget in particular did a GREAT job of talking about this and showing examples of how a clean background makes for a much stronger image! Remember that magazines in particular & sometimes blogs are looking for images with clean negative space so that they have the potential of adding copy (text) to them. Also we're just more attracted to clean, simple images because they aren't as confusing or distracting. So that means having the time to get in there and take out distracting elements like the salt & pepper shakers, butter, or waiter trays in the background. In general, try to shoot straight across the details so that the background falls off even more with shallow depth of field. And don't forget to shoot both collectives of the details (i.e. an entire table top), but also clean, individual shots of details such as an individual shot of the centerpiece without the table number, an individual shot of the table number, an individual shot of the menu. That's because the editor might love everything about the table except for one component & having those individual options will still allow them to be able to feature the whole wedding!

4. Make time to shoot & style the details. But as a photographer, I know what you're thinking! "I usually get five minutes to shoot the details, when am I going to have time to do all that?" The answer is Justin & I have learned to make time by educating our brides early and letting them know that we need about 45 minutes to shoot the details and that if getting published is a priority for them, this is a must! And then we also work to educate them about keeping guests out of the reception until cocktail hour is over. We even have a place on our "info sheet" where we ask "Will the reception area be closed off to guests during cocktail hour" and then in parentheses (so we can get great shots of all those details before they come in!) Just this one simple change has made a WORLD of difference in us getting time to shoot the details the way we want to! You can find our info sheet by clicking HERE & feel free to use it for your own couples too!



5. Avoid stiff or cheesy posing. Finally, as I was writing this talk I had sort of an "a-ha" moment about something that influences editors that they might not even be aware of and that is stiff, cheesy posing. For us at The Black Tie Bride, this is definitely something we filter out because we are photographers ourselves and one of our guiding words is "authentic." But I think across the board, editors are paying more attention to the posing than anyone would think because they've come to realize that the really good photographers out there (who are getting & submitting the really good weddings they want to be featuring) tend to have the much or authentic, organic posing going for them. There have been a number of weddings that we have turned down at the BTB because even though the wedding was a very elegant day at an iconic venue, the whole day felt cheesy because of how the posing was handled. It makes a HUGE difference! So when in doubt go for more authentic, natural looking poses and the best way to do that is to add MOVEMENT into what you're asking them to do.

As always, we hope that helped! Feel free to leave any questions (or just say HI) in the comments below!

Have an amazing weekend you guys!
xo
M:)











Thu. Oct 9, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

Pancake Session: The Benefits of The First Look

For the longest time, Justin & I didn't push one way or another on whether or not our couples would be doing a First Look with their wedding day timeline.

It's always been really important to us and one of our guiding goals on the wedding day that we "tell the story without becoming too much a part of it." And so for the longest time, we shied away from talking too much about the First Look even though we knew that it would make the day flow SO much more smoothly because we didn't want to recommend something simply because it would make our lives easier.

But then we started realizing what a HUGE difference it makes in the kind of day our couples were having. It was completely night and day and the difference between a rushed, stressed out, no time for photos, missing half the party to play catch up and missing all the good food at cocktail hour kind of day.....and a relaxed, fun, get three times as many photos, family & bridal party photos are actually fun, spend more of the day together, enjoy every second of your party kind of day!

And that was what made us change our mind about recommending- even pushing for- the First Look. That as the experts and having seen hundreds of these days happen, we KNOW what a difference this can make. Finally this year, we put together the top 7 reasons that a First Look makes the entire day better and when our couples are on the fence about whether or not to do one, we send that list over and they almost always opt to see each other beforehand....the biggest reason being, they hadn't realized just how much it impacts the entire day! (**Note that if after seeing the list, they still decide to wait until the ceremony to see each other, we always respect their decision! We just like to make sure they have all the info before deciding!)

I know a lot of us realize how amazing a First Look makes the whole day go, but it can be hard putting that into words to explain to your clients when they haven't had the benefit of seeing it go both ways. So we are going to be sending out our full list of the 7 things we tell all of our couples now in favor of the First Look that does the work of explaining it for us, this afternoon in our next J&M newsletter! We've included a sample from the list below & just be sure to click "receive our email newsletter" at the bottom of this post to get signed up and receive all 7 reasons later today!

4. It makes the family photos go three times faster! When we do the family photos before the ceremony, we can usually crank them out in about 15 minutes using our "family photo football" approach. But when we have to wait to do the family photos until after the ceremony, once all the guests are there & there are plenty of distractions from that and cocktail hour going on, these photos can take up to 3-4 times longer usually taking up all of cocktail hour. The reason for that, is that with so much else going on and so many more people to talk to, some family members always end up wandering away either to talk to some one or help take care of something. And that holds every combination that they're in up. Usually what happens next is that someone goes to get them, and now we're missing two people! And so on! Add to that fact that you can actually see the party going on without you, and now not only are the family photos actually taking three times as long to do....but they FEEL like they're taking 10 times as long because all you want to do is get to the party & start enjoying your day! We can tell you from years of experience that this leads to a lot of tension and snapping at family members on what should be such a happy day. When we can get these photos done before the ceremony, everyone is present, focused on the task at hand, and we can all actually all have FUN with the photos!

Happy Thursday friends!
M:)

**Note that if you're interested in learning more about how we run a whole wedding day including the timeline, family photos, managing the bridal party, portraits in a time crunch, dark churches/receptions & more, we have only SIX spots remaining in our last Walk Through a Wedding workshop of the year taking place on November 5th in New Haven, CT. Click HERE to reserve your spot today & be sure to use the code "EARLYBIRD" to grab $150 off our seat!!















Mon. Oct 6, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

The Iconic Bridal Portrait

At every wedding we do, Justin & I try to make a point of taking what we call "The Iconic Bridal Portrait." This is a portrait of the bride, by herself, usually during the getting ready portion of the day because we love all of the anticipation that that part of the day holds. (We also take a portrait like this of the groom too...we like to call that one The Iconic Groomal Portrait :)

We always like to say that we take this picture not so much for the bride, although she loves it too....but for her future granddaughter to one day find. For her to be able to see her then grandmother as the young & in love version of herself- the one full of hope, full of joy- that started their family. And to know that their family always started with love.

Justin & I realize so much that every time we push the button on a wedding day, we are capturing the moments and slices of life that will tell a story for generations to come. That WE get to show the world years from now who these two people were on Day 1.

And for us, the best stories are the ones that start with love.

M:)

**here are a couple of our favorite iconic bridal portraits we did for Sheila & Jon yesterday in Chicago!
















Thu. Jul 24, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

Pancake Session: 5 Steps to Better Bridal Detail Shots

One of my favorite parts of the day is shooting the getting ready. I love all of the anticipation, I love when things get emotional, I love that we're photographing a part of the day when the bride & groom aren't together so that through our pictures they can still see what the other was doing as they were getting ready to promise forever.

And I also love it because I really do just love shooting all of the pretty details that a girl will put on as she gets ready to become a bride. Her grandma's locket, that beaded belt she spent months searching for the perfect one, her perfume that will remind her of the day every time she smells it, that amazing pair of shoes.

As anyone who has ever heard Justin & I teach on pretty much anything can tell you....we're big on starting with Why. On doing everything with purpose. And letting every choice you make as a photographer flow from that place

And for me, getting amazing shots of the shoes, the jewelry, the dress....this all fits with our own Why because we believe that the fashions of the day can be as much a part of the nostalgia of images as what's happening in them. Think about Jackie Kennedy in a pink Chanel suit or Grace Kelly in long lace sleeves, I think about my own parents on their wedding day with my mom's lace flower child dress and my dad's powder blue suit. Or my grandparents at City Hall, and my grandma's suit and pillbox hat. When I see those pictures, when I see what they were wearing...it makes me feel like I was there. We love giving that gift to the future kids and grandkids yet to be.

And, over time, we've figured out a few things to make those shots even better.



1. Shoot the details where they feel natural. In keeping with part of our Why which includes the phrase "exercise the restraint to tell those stories through the veil of authenticity," it is very important for us that, even if we are styling the details and changing where we found them, they should still be placed somewhere that it's reasonable that they might have actually been found. So for example, shooting the shoes on a chair or side table, which is normally where we find them anyway...we just move them to some good light. Or hanging the dress on an armoire or on a door, where a bride would most likely hang her dress. So in keeping with our own Why (and we know that our Why is not the same as everybody's out there! and if it's not yours that's ok!), for us we would never want to hang the dress in a tree or put it in the bath tub or do anything with it that a bride might not actually herself do. Because when she gets those pictures we want her to remember how excited she was to put on the dress.....not wonder "hmm...when did my dress go outside!" :)



2. Create simplicity of background. If you're shooting something like the dress full length, remove as many distracting elements as you can out of frame. Either crop them out or actually move them. Simple is beautiful. And nothing will ruin a beautiful shot like having a plant in the corner of the frame or random things sitting on top of the armoire. In the same vein, when you are shooting the small details, try going closer. For example, when I'm shooting the shoes on a chair, I almost always try to have the background of the chair fill the frame. It gives me a nice clean background and makes the eye focus in on the subject!





3. Try to shoot across the subject rather slightly down at it. When I'm shooting those smaller details like the shoes & jewelry, I'll sit down right on the floor so that I can bring my lens to be able to shoot right straight across it at an even height as the subject. What happens when I do that, is that by shooting at a wider aperture I am able to keep the subject tack sharp but then use that shallow depth of field to make the background fall off really quickly which makes it soft & pretty. I'll even make sure I enhance that effect by moving the subject toward the front of the chair & even further off the background. If I were instead shooting slightly down on the subject then the subject would be in focus, but so would a good bit of the "seat" of the chair because it's not that far from the subject and the planes of focus wouldn't fall off fast enough. The result is that it looks like I'm shooting at much more stopped down aperture, which tends to have more of a point & shoot look. Also, because we now see so much more of the detail & fabric of the chair, it becomes a lot busier (i.e. not as simple) of a background! I will say though that sometimes shooting straight down on the subjects can make for a really interesting shot...just stay aware of your background!





4. Keep your lens parallel. In addition to shooting straight across the subject, we also take care to make sure we're holding our lens in a way that it is staying parallel to the subject. What I mean by that is that even if you are low enough to shoot across the subject but you are tilting your lens up or down, then it will distort the parallels in the background of the image (like the lines or edges of the chair). Our eye is really attracted to images with very little distortion because we understand them more. They make more sense/look how they should look in real life. So just that simple change can create a much more simple, beautiful image.





5. Try to make it feel like they were found that way. Now obviously this rule has kind of a gray area, because the truth is that we often find the shoes still in the box or the dress still wrapped in plastic. But I guess what I mean is to try to shy away from setting up the details in an overly staged/too perfect/shot in every combination possible way that makes the viewer feels like "oh look what photographer did" and instead feels more like someone is just getting a behind the scenes glimpse into what that morning really felt like. What the dress looked like hanging there waiting to be put on. What the perfume bottle looked like that she was about to spray on. Which is really what we're trying to capture! So allow in some of what we call "benign neglect" where it's pretty but not necessarily perfect, to make it feel more like real life. And so sometimes, the best way to get details shots is to simply shoot them as the bride is actually about to put them on!



As always, we hope that helped!! And if you would like to receive even more free tips & tricks, be sure to get signed up for our newsletter below! We are going to be sending out one next week about "5 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Portfolio" and it's going to be a GOOD one! :) You don't want to miss it! We have been really loving our newsletter community so far & we've had thousands of people sign up in just the past few weeks! We would love for you to join 'em so you don't miss out on a single one!












 
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