Life Through My Lens

Observations, Musings, and Ramblings As I See It.

Be A "Noticer"

July 2, 2018

     Let’s talk about our gifts. Some are obvious: think Taylor Swift or Lebron James. Other gifts may not be so outwardly obvious. For me personally, anything that came naturally to me never really seemed like a gift. I tended to think if I could do something, then everyone must be able to do it as well. Later in life, I learned that some of those things are unique to me, therefore: Gifts!

     One gift that I overlooked for many years, but am especially grateful for, is the gift of Noticing. For a long time I just assumed everyone notices details like I do. As a child I could always remember where we parked the car. As an adult I could find my way back to places after just one visit. To my children it’s not always an appreciated great gift… like noticing the pimple on their face that needs to be popped. I’m also the person that will always notice a booger hanging out, or something in your teeth, but I will sound the alert so you don’t walk around like that all day and be embarrassed later (that’s just the kind of friend I am, thank me later). The older I get, I think that some people might experience stimulus overload if they noticed everything as much as a Noticer does. But as a photographer, the gift of Noticing is irreplaceable.

     Noticing is definitely a subjective gift.  What may be attractive to Noticers may not be attractive to others. Mix that with a love of photography, and you have a whole new perspective on the world. Perfect example, my mentor, friend, and sister/aunt Joy Ritenour. She is gifted beyond measure in many ways, and is an Expert Noticer. She is a fantastic photographer and artist, and notices things most would overlook completely. She can find beauty and art in the most overlooked things imaginable: Trash. Check out her Discarded Series here: I am nowhere near as gifted at this type of photography as she is, but I do enjoy connecting with her when I find something particularly interesting and message her with an obscure photo. I was beyond pleased when she once responded to me with the compliment that I, indeed, had “Trash Eye.”

     Trash and discarded items may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Noticing things is becoming a thing of the past. It is becoming more commonplace to see people looking down at their phones seeing only what the tiny screen reflects back at them rather than the world that actually IS around them. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, I admit, but I do make a conscious effort to Notice the things around me.

     My favorite little personal quest is finding hearts wherever I go. I think of the hearts I find as a little reminder that I’m loved all the time, even if I don’t feel like it. I think of it as God placing a little reminder in the most random places for Noticers like me to find. Whether it’s hearts, or trash, or something else entirely, if you think outside the box and look at things a little differently than usual, you may actually See something you hadn’t Seen before. And it might just be a little bit beautiful.

Lights, CAMERA, Action!

July 1, 2018

    I have always loved the theater. My mother used to direct my elementary school plays. She was fantastic at it. When I was in kindergarten I got my first part in the play “Peter and the Wolf.” I was cast as the little bird. If you are unfamiliar with the story, my part as the bird was to alert Peter that he needed to come and help get rid of the wolf. On opening night, I decided that was much too small a part, so I killed the wolf with Peter. Needless to say, my mother changed her casting methods and found more reliable children to fill the parts in later productions. But it makes for a good story, and firmed up my love of theater (particularly musical theater).

     Over the years I have encountered so many talented teachers and students who put on the most amazing productions in both school and community theater, particularly my dear friends Emily Cory and Andrew Lincoln, who fostered a love of theater in my own children in high school productions of Hairspray, Little Shop of Horrors, and Les Miserables. My love and gratitude for these 2 individuals would take its own blog post, so I shall redirect myself back to the original intent of this one.

     For many years I have worked alongside a dear friend, Priscilla Smith, and her family. She runs the Annapolis Musical Theater and Voice Company. Through the years, my children have learned voice, acting, and dance from her, and I was able to assist in teaching musical theater at her previous school, The Art Space, in Annapolis. Now I am blessed to be a part of her productions as the photographer of her many amazing performances. This week I attended her summer camp production of “Oliver with a Twist” at St John’s College in Annapolis. In just 9 short days, children ranging in age from 5-17 put together a knock-your-socks-off condensed show, complete with casting, learning lines, choreography, and superior musical pieces. I. Was. Floored. Every year I am blown away by the level of professionalism and quality of the show, and every year it gets better. As a super kudos to Priscilla, she underwent surgery in the middle of the 2 week camp for kidney stones, and with the assistance of her amazing team of family members and friends, she still produced one of the best student productions I have ever seen. Bar none!

     But wait! There’s more! The love of all things theater has followed me to Fredericksburg as well. The Riverside Dinner Theater in Fredericksburg has served the region around Fredericksburg for 20 years now producing Broadway quality shows and children’s theater productions. In an effort to spread the love of theater to even more communities, The Riverside Foundation offers a 2 week camp free of charge to students who may otherwise not have access to theater camps or classes. Each year, professionally trained actors and actresses teach these young people musical theater as well as classical/Shakespearean type numbers and skits. The end of the 2 weeks culminates in a stellar showcase of a wide variety of theatrical gems. I am always thrilled to watch how much heart and soul these young people put into these fantastic productions. I enjoy giving to the theater community and supporting the Riverside’s outreach efforts by offering them photography and head shots for all the performers.

     I look forward to working with both of these groups for many years to come. Thank you to all who make the arts a priority in our society! But I do have to admit, I have a heart for all those little birds who decide to stay out and slay the wolf instead of obediently fluttering off stage, my hat tips to you with your crooked tutu and smudged stage makeup.

So this is how it begins.

June 30, 2018

     Ok, concerning blogging. I’ve read the articles, listened to the podcasts, heard the encouragement from friends…. but still I’ve held back and postponed and procrastinated. I know it’s important. Yet, I was holding back and just could not bring myself to do it. Well, in all honesty, I have already done blog posts on my old website, and I liked them well enough… they showed my work, highlighted photos that I had taken in a session, and I spoke truly about my experience with these special people who had shared some of life moments with me, big and small. But I couldn’t keep it up. Not because I didn’t feel like what I did was important. Not because I didn’t truly love what I was doing. Not even because I was lazy…. well, maybe a little because I was lazy (??), but that was not the main reason.

     For me, writing is something I have always done. I feel like I have all these words just swirling around in my head, and I need to write them out just to make space for other stuff! But writing has always been an outlet for truth; an expression of beauty, anguish, or even fantasy. The thought of writing about each of my photography sessions in a way that may become redundant and cliche not only felt forced, but like an injustice to the people with whom I had formed a relationship (albeit for a brief period of time) as I recorded in still frame the fleeting moments of their lives. My experience as a photographer has been this: To get images that are truly meaningful and capture the true person (people), it is necessary in a small span of time to coax from that person their true personality. I need to catch a glimpse of their true inner self so that the photograph is more than just a quick capture of a smile looking at the camera. That smile without the twinkle in the eye that shows the happiness is true and not contrived is the difference between a “nice picture” and a “treasured moment”! Call it “Sm-eyes” (pronounced SMIZE) a smile that comes from the eyes. Like, you know, actual, real life happiness. Once that connection has been made with actual people, to report in some rote manner the minutiae of the angle of sun, the colors of the leaves, the smell in the air….. felt too contrived to fully appreciate the actual feelings of our hour(s) together. So to sum it up, I trashed it altogether.

     But I get it. Blogging is important!! I DO want people who are looking for a photographer and stumble upon me, to KNOW me and actually know what they are getting in to. So it occurred to me that I do not need to conform to what I’ve seen or heard, or have come to believe are the “rules” for blogging photography. As my dear friend reminded me last night, “You need to do YOU!” So here I am. This is me doing me. And in my future posts, you will find just that. Observations about life: the good, the bad, the nutty, and sometimes a little on the crazy side… but it’s me. It’s Life, Through My Lens. Thanks for jumping on board and pushing through to the end of the post. From this point forward, I promise to make it worth the trip.

Ten More Pounds and I’m Getting Family Photos, And Other Ways We Rob Ourselves of Memories

July 13, 2018

 I’m going to start this journal post with some disclaimers: 

1- I’m NOT saying this to guilt you!

2- I am the WORST and most guilty of this very thing

3- You do not need to call me and book a session for this…. iPhones catch memories all the time, I’m cool with that.

     About 2 years ago I lost a lot of weight. I lost 38 pounds and was so so so proud of myself! For the first time in years I was ready to get in front of the camera instead of hiding behind it. So I had one of my very talented daughters take some pictures of me for my profile pictures (I probably have at least one on this website???) I was so excited to look at them. I downloaded them and then thought: “Wow! When did my neck get so wrinkly??!!” Quickly followed by “When did I get so many wrinkles???? My fat actually pushed out and flattened my wrinkles!!” Trade off for chubbiness, noticing my age…. ugh. We all do this to ourselves on the daily. Why are we so mean to ourselves????

     I hear so frequently some version of: “I’m going to call you as soon as I lose some weight, we haven’t had family photos in YEARS!!” OR “Just 10 more pounds, and we are doing this!” OR “As soon as I fit back into my pre-baby clothes I am calling you for pictures with the new baby!” This makes me sad, and it has nothing to do with not getting new business. Because when we say these things about ourselves and avoid the camera when we are not where we want to be in the looks department, it diminishes what our families look at and love! My kids don’t come look at me and say, “Boy Mom, when you lose 10 pounds I’m going to love you so much more!” Nope. They love ME, the ME that is right before them today. They don’t look at my waistline, or my roots growing out needing a long past due dye job, or my facial topography… they see the mom who just loves them more than anything in the world. And you know what? They love me right back. Just Me. Even with all the junk and imperfections that scream at me from my own reflection, and mean nothing to anyone else.

     I don’t want to be too dark with this post, but I just want my friends and family (and anyone else who may happen to read this post) to consider some serious truth bombs I’m going to drop now. Over the past few years I have lost several people in my life to either tragic and sudden loss, or even just to the end of a long life but who are still just as missed. All we have left of these beloved people and their beautiful smiles and quirkiness is the photographs that have become beyond priceless. We have our memories, absolutely; but the legacy that we pass down to all the future loved ones who will not know them is photographs. Very few people look at photos of those who have gone before us and say, “Wow. I wish they had just lost 10 more pounds before they got those pictures taken.”

     So my PSA today is step out of that comfort zone of hiding in the shadows in pictures, or just blatantly refusing to get anywhere near the front end of a camera, and just jump in, warts and all. The people who love you most will thank you for it. They will love you for it. They won’t judge you for it all. They will just love you for you, and that’s a memory worth keeping forever.

Rest, Refresh, Reconnect, Repeat

A Summer Post as We Head Back To School

July 13, 2018

I love summer. My birthday is July 3rd, so I’ve always been a fan. Growing up I was convinced my day started the morning of the 3rd and ended when the fireworks had finished. Better still, they were for me. It’s my blog… I’m sticking to that as a fact. But obviously it’s not ALL about me…. Summer is the time to head off and do something out of the ordinary. Sleep in late, or better yet, get up early and watch the sunrise with someone special. Stay out all night and sleep under the stars (I’ve done this… it’s amazing…. bring bug spray).

In July, my family wrapped up a weeklong vacation in Myrtle Beach, SC. We didn’t have a lot of money to spend on the trip, so we didn’t plan a lot of extra activities. Most of the trip was spent toes in the sand, face to the wind, and wave-jumping in the Atlantic. We saved our big excursion of visiting the aquarium for the last day before we hit the road for home. We read books, watched movies, ate together, and enjoyed ice cream. We made friends with people we didn’t know from around the country, and even met a family who is actually a neighbor of ours in Virginia (really! Our kids go to the same schools!) Small world. We watched the sun set, watched it rise, watched the storms blow in and out. Most of all, we took the time to put our family first, and just enjoyed one another and being together.

We spend so much time rushing from one thing to the next, and so little time just enjoying one another and all the wonder around us. The world keeps on moving, there is always a kitchen to clean or a bed to make, but when we just stop and step away for a bit, it feeds our souls. Whether it’s at the beach, from a mountaintop, or just in the cool shade of a backyard tree, take those moments and treasure them. Breathe in, breathe out, savor the connection to the world around you. And if you think of it, grab a photo for later. So when you are back at your desk, or in the middle of homework, or heading out to the next errand on the to-do list, you can take a look at that photo and Remember.

A Day Spent With Friends Is Balm for the Soul

July 13, 2018

After I started writing this post, I realized that I’m going to need to make this an ongoing blog post to highlight some of those who matter deeply to me, and what makes them so special, but this first post will be dedicated to my dear dear friend, Christalene. There are many people who could have been top of this list, but because she is the catalyst and inspiration for the idea’s genesis, she gets poll position.

Over the past few months, it has become abundantly clear who my friends are, and who they aren’t. I’ll start by saying that I am a people lover… something I really love about myself (that may sound conceited, but I’m learning that I need to acknowledge the things that I do love about myself, maybe that is a future blog post). On the flip side of the coin, I am also a people pleaser, that one, regrettably, is not one of my finer qualities. It gives a lot of power to other people, and some of those people will really take advantage of it, and even use it be controlling, or on the far end of the spectrum, downright abusive. And to make it worse, because I am a people pleaser, I realized I was basically handing that power over to people on a silver platter. There have been times in my life I could have worn a name tag that read “Hello! My name is Robyn. Please feel free to use me and abuse me as you see fit! I’ll never say no, I’ll smile, and gleefully do whatever you ask if you will be my friend.” Unfortunately, this ridiculous behavior came as a detriment to those who truly loved me and needed me most, my family first, and my true friends as well. Don’t get me wrong, I will still jump through hoops for the people who I love, but that sphere of people has become so much smaller than it used to be, and it’s a lot harder to get into that circle than it used to be. Why am I sharing this on my blog? Well, because maybe somebody reading this does the same thing, and maybe my 47 years of experience can save that person some pain in the future, and I have promised the good, the bad, and the ugly here “through my lens.” So there it is.

The focus of this blog post, however, is not about the friends who are not anymore. It is about the friends who are. It’s a little tribute to some of the people who truly make my soul sing just by being around them.

I met my friend Christalene while I was teaching at another friend’s musical theater company (she’s on this list, too….) She was bright, bubbly, talented, with a can-do personality. We hit it off IMMEDIATELY! She is an artist, entrepreneur, and amazing cook. She is quick to laugh, smile, and just make you feel at home. Not long after we met, she asked me to take photographs at an art show she where she was presenting and doing a body painting. We realized quickly that not only did we work well together, we really truly liked one another. Not only that, she made me be a better me. I had a habit of always apologizing for everything. I must have said “I’m sorry” 6,000 times a day. For stupid things. Ridiculous. Now I’m down to about 20 times a day, but hey, it’s growth, and major progress.

Right this minute I am sitting at her kitchen counter, crunching ice (if you know me you get this reference), and just feeling at peace. And do you know why I’m sitting here? Because at the last minute (like yesterday) I needed a place to stay in Annapolis so I could work in Maryland today, and without hesitation I called her. Because she always has an open door for me! (likewise I always have one for her, but I use the door more often)

Walking through her door last night, I and 2 of my daughters were greeted with warm hugs quickly followed by grabbing the arms of both daughters to create a unique and beautiful henna tattoo on each of them. It’s actually a greeting in this house, “Hello love!! Let me make you even more beautiful!” She is able to show how much she loves a person by painting on their bodies how she feels about them! She creates spectacular freely inspired works of art on our bodies, and in the process makes us feel truly good about ourselves. Then, then, oh and then…. she FEEDS us!!! I mean, she looks at us and says “Let me make you some Greek bread!” From scratch. Right now! And water! You need to be hydrated! She waters her friends…. no wonder they grow and bloom like flowers when they are with her. Who else does this? I can’t stop smiling like an idiot when I’m with her. She is real, and true, and authentic, and I always know just where I stand with her. Do you know the comfort of being allowed to just be who you really are with someone, and know they are not going to drop you when the see the ugly things? I cannot express enough the gratitude I have for someone like this in my life.

Lessons I’ve Learned: How To Make the Most of Your Photography Session

July 13, 2018

Whether you decide to hire me to be your photographer, or you go with someone else, I want to share some tips and some insights about how to make the most out of your time together during your photo session. Some of these may be obvious, some of these will be “I had no idea about that” insights.

1- Go with the flow. This goes for any photo session, from a family portrait session to a wedding day. Something will always come up, or something may not go exactly as planned. Keep an open mind, and make the best of whatever seems to be thrown at you during your portrait session. There have only been two occasions that I had outdoor portrait sessions that I thought might be better if we rescheduled, and it was FREEZING. The first time, the little guy I was photographing had tears streaming down his face, and a nose that would not stop running… both from the wind and cold. We did reschedule. The second one we plowed through because rescheduling was not an option… it was beautiful. On the back end there was a little more editing time added on to remove the red from noses and cheeks, but a good photographer will do that for you, because they CARE! As for a wedding, most likely no matter what mother nature or venues with poor lighting, etc., throw your way, rescheduling is NOT an option, and you need to make sure you have an adaptable photographer who thinks on the fly. I’ve many times gone into a situation with plans A, B, and C, and ended up using Plan D, thought up on the fly. But like I tell all my couples… happy trumps perfect weather and matching outfits every time! Keep your spirits up and you will have some treasured images, I assure you!

2- Good sessions cannot be on a time clock. With little ones, my number one rule is to keep the session as fun and comfortable as possible. Sometimes that means they are DONE if 10 minutes. I have six kids. I know there is no forcing a toddler (or stubborn teenager… or grumpy husband for that matter) into pushing through another 30 minutes of what they see as a miserable experience. It sets an unpleasant tone for the photo session that carries on into future sessions, so not worth dragging it out. Not only that, you can’t force happy into someone’s eyes. They may “cheese” out a smile, but it won’t cut it, so go with what you already have from the pleasant (albeit few) moments. If you get a GREAT 15 minutes with a toddler (or puppy!), it’s worth so much more than a miserable hour. On the flip side, when a session is AMAZING, don’t stop! Unless you and/or your photographer has another appointment to make afterward, just stay in the moment until you’re both exhausted! Also, don’t think since one session was short because it fell apart that it sets a precedent for all future sessions. (See number 1- go with the flow).

3- Location Info. Make sure your photographer cares about where you are taking photos. Most photographers have ideas about great locations to do sessions, but sometimes clients request different locations. This is a point that I cannot emphasize enough, please please please make sure your photographer knows the rules and regulations for the location you choose. Part of a photographer’s job is to make sure they pick locations that are SAFE, PICTURESQUE, AND LEGAL! A good example is taking photographs in Washington, DC. I am not going to say it is not a gorgeous location, because WOW! It is! But permits are necessary, and they take time to obtain. And! They are very costly at times. I know many professional photographers who have told me “I just risk it and hope for the best.” I once asked “What do you do if you’re approached and get a fine?” One person answered me they would pass that cost onto their client. Heads up: the fine for getting caught without a permit in DC is to the tune of $3000!!! Yep, that is THREE ZEROS! It’s no joke. While being approached for a permit can be embarrassing, if you are there with all the right documents and fees paid you are GOOD! But if not, it can be kind of devastating. It’s not just DC, though. National battlefields right in Fredericksburg where I live have one time use permit fees of $150 and you need an appointment. I know why they do it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to some of my favorite locations and find the remnants of some photo sessions that were there before: graduation glitter made of plastic, trampled flowers, chalk drawings on the ground… come on folks. I learned from the Girl Scouts: leave it better than you found it…. seriously!! The photographer you choose should absolutely without exception follow that simple rule.

4- What To Wear, and What Not To Wear. I get asked this question a lot. I’m not a big fashionista (obviously if you know me). My kids look like little models, for me it’s long skirts and a comfy top and sandals most likely made by Crocs. Pinterest has some great Pinners who have a gift for matching up some stupendous outfits, so that is a great place to start. But some rules of thumb:

a- Coordinating outfits over matchy-matchy is always a better bet.

b- Comfort for little guys will never steer you wrong. I try to take any variables that may cause a meltdown off the table with little people. If those shoes hurt or that top is itchy or that dress is so long she can’t run… nix it. See #2 about happy winning every time, that does not happen when articles of clothing are making blisters or wedgies.

c- Some patterns are ok, but mingle with some people who are ok going with solids, and pick large patterns over busy ones every time. And stick with the color scheme. Don’t add more colors to the theme that you intended. In fact, if mom has a favorite dress with a pattern, just pick colors out of it for everyone else’s outfits, that’s a good place to start.

4- Hair and Makeup Dos and Don’ts. Makeup for little ones, Don’t. Unless they are doing a pageant and the pageant specifically requests a little makeup, even then keep it light. A little mascara and a touch of blush and lip gloss is adequate. Other than that, chap stick is really all they need. Portraits for older teens and adults: Do! If you can manage it, hire a pro (I have LOTS of talented professionals I can recommend). If not, don’t try anything crazy right before the photo shoot that you wouldn’t do for say, a fancy date. Use some concealer (boys too) and bring it with you if you have a breakout. Although I am quite adept at photoshop, it’s very time consuming to edit lots of blemishes from every photo, and just covering with a bit of concealer can cut down the editing time substantially. Also, false eyelashes are super pretty and photograph well, so if you’re on the fence, they make your eyes look great ladies. Give them a try if you are feeling adventurous.

5- Speaking of Pinterest… What an amazing place to go for inspiration for your photo session! I look at Pinterest ALL the time for posing tips, lighting ideas, tricks and trends. I always am open to suggestions and inspiration photo boards from clients that are appealing to them to use as a guideline. However, remember that part of being a good photographer is being creative, and unless you are actually hiring the photographer who took the actual photo on Pinterest, your photographer may have a style that differs from the inspiration one you love. When you are doing your research you will get a feel for your photographer’s style by their own portfolios, so remember to pick someone who lines up with your tastes as well. It’s very hard to replicate someone else’s art. Think Picasso trying to be Monet…. it doesn’t quite work.

The best final piece of advice I can give you for being well prepared for your photo session (because I know that they are not inexpensive, and you want them to be the best they can be to get the most bang for your buck!) is to have a trusting relationship with your photographer. Be comfortable enough to ask him/her questions about any of the above suggestions (or anything else that may come up before your session), and be open minded enough to take their suggestions and try them out. Working together as a team to make yours the most comfortable, fun, and personal photo session is key to getting the beautiful images you will treasure forever.

Good luck to you, and if you have questions about anything at all here… message me! I’m always happy to give advice to anyone who asks.