Category Archives: Helpful Articles

Making (Competition) Magic

This year (Or last year, since that’s when I bought the ticket!) I made the decision to attend the NAPCP Retreat, no matter what life kept throwing at me! However, talking with lots of my fellow attendees, I was really surprised to hear that not everyone was using their 2 free image credits to enter Image Competition. When I asked them why, I was met with a the same response, just said slightly differently. “I didn’t feel like my images were worthy.” “No way are my images good enough to enter.” “I didn’t have anything I thought was good enough.” The same thing. Over and over and over.

We still have a full day until the deadline. (Editor’s note: The 2017 First Half International Image Competition closes Thursday, 2/23, at 11:59 PM EST.) I challenge you now to pick up your notebook and plan your Image Competition entry. Submit something completely out of your comfort zone or shoot something tomorrow that you’ve been wanting to, but never got around to!

This image won first place in the July 2016 Competition. Let me tell you something: I’ve photographed maybe four seniors in my entire career! I wanted to try something different, found a willing teenager to come play with me, and we made magic happen! (Okay, what actually happened was we pulled up to the location and it proceeded to rain HARD and storm for the next 45 minutes! But we stuck it out and I’m so glad we did!)

So get going! Get out there tomorrow and photograph something amazing and enter it! Go through your favorite sessions, find a stunning portrait, and enter it! It’s always hard to put our work out there, but if we don’t do that, don’t get constructive criticism from peers, how are we supposed to improve and grow? You got this!

4 Styles of Photography Explained

There are many different styles of photography, and if you aren’t familiar with them, it can be hard to know if a photographer’s style is right for you when considering them for your family portraits. It is also useful to know a bit about the photography style you gravitate towards so that you can communicate your vision to your photographer. Here are four of the most common styles of photography used in family portraits.

Lifestyle –

Lifestyle photography is exactly what it says it is. It is capturing the subject living their life in their natural environment. This can include the home, workplace or a location in their hometown. These pictures lean towards a more candid feel, but can include some setup or staging. Lifestyle photography can actually encompass elements of the other three styles. I love this style because of the authenticity of it. When a family chooses a location that is meaningful to them, and is encouraged to simply be themselves, is when the real emotion is captured and makes for the types of photos that are enjoyed for generations.

Documentary –

Documentary style photography is usually associated with a chronological series of events. It is storytelling of a visual nature. The beauty of this style is that it tells the story while capturing the associated emotions. These type of photos can be both staged or candid, depending on the event or subject. For instance, a staged documentary session would involve setting up an area in the kitchen with all the ingredients and supplies with which to make cookies and then photographing the process of kids making cookies with mom and dad.

Traditional or Posed –

Traditional or posed photography is a common portrait style. The subject of the photo is positioned to capture the light or a particular pose. In the past, these type of portraits were usually taken inside in a studio using backdrops and skillfully placed artificial lighting. A welcome change has many of these portraits now being created in natural light. Outdoor settings have become a popular choice for posed portraits.

Artistic –

Artistic photography allows both the photographer and the subject the most freedom. They work as a team to create a piece of art with no guidelines or rules to follow. With artful backdrops, costumes, and make-up as well as heavy post-processing to achieve the look of a fantasy, there are also no limits to the creative touches and ideas used to help the vision come to life.

Selecting a photographer that you are comfortable with is of prime importance. This person will be working with you to create heirloom quality images for your family so clear communication on your expectations as well as familiarity with their style of photography is critical.

Visit the NAPCP Directory to find a member photographer in your area!


Featuring the images of the following NAPCP member photographers (in order of appearance): Erika Rigger / Erika Rigger Photography, Molly Garg / Molly Garg Photography, Willy Wilson / Life Unstill Photography, Heather Floyd / Floyd Family Photography, Hannah Drews / Hannah Drews Photography, Kerry McFarland / Earthdarling Portraits, Katherine Jackson / The Mirrored Image Photography, Suzanne Taylor / Suzanne Taylor Photography



Tips for Capturing Effortless Newborn Images


Whether you are a professional photographer, or a parent seeking to capture beautiful images of your own little one, the single most important, yet simplest, thing you can do to set the stage for a successful newborn portrait session is to ensure that your tiny subject is as comfortable as possible. (Although it is a topic for another day, I would be remiss in failing to note that safety should always be a newborn photographer’s highest priority. In my view, photographers who plan to photograph newborns should, at a minimum, participate in a workshop or receive instruction on the safe handling and posing of newborns from a knowledgeable source prior to accepting any clients.)


At the risk of stating the obvious, babies are more likely to be content, and to sleep, when they are comfortable. In that regard, the temperature in the room in which the baby will be photographed should be set to a balmy 80-85 degrees, as the baby will likely be at least partially naked for much of the session; space heaters can be particularly helpful in containing the heat to a particular area or room of your studio or home. White noise machines or other products designed to mimic the sounds of a mother’s womb are also very comforting to newborns and, thus, are likely to facilitate sleep. And, of course, a nice full tummy typically translates to a happy, sleepy baby, so it is best if the baby is fed just prior to the start of the session. Finally, although it is nearly impossible to predict or control a newborn’s sleep schedule, I have found that, as a general matter, the late morning hours seem to be a naturally sleepy time for many babies, so scheduling your portraits during that time period might be advantageous.


Although no particular equipment is required to create beautiful newborn portraits, a wide angle lens is particularly useful. Unless you are fortunate enough to live in a location with a year-round temperate climate, you will most likely be photographing newborns indoors, where space may be at a premium; a wide angle lens will allow you to work comfortably in those tighter spaces. In addition, a wide angle lens will allow you to remain within arms’ reach of your subject. Such proximity, in my view, is important from a safety perspective, and it additionally enables you to make adjustments to a pose or prop and to quickly capture the shot before the baby shifts positions. (For example, babies frequently move their hands within several seconds of them being placed in particular positions, such as the one in the image below.)


Although I prefer to use my 35mm 1.4 lens for newborn portrait sessions, any lens in the 24mm-50mm range would likely provide the same benefits discussed above.

A macro lens – a lens capable of a 1:1 reproduction ratio — is another invaluable tool for newborn photography. A macro lens allows you to perfectly capture those tiny details – the button nose, the squishy lips, the fuzzy shoulders, the swirl of hair on the forehead, or the tiny little toes – that make each baby unique. Because babies’ features change so quickly as they grow, parents generally adore the sweet detail shots that preserve their memory of their little one during those fleeting first few weeks of life.




Posing is commonly thought to be one of the more challenging aspects of newborn photography. Although, as with any skill, posing technique necessarily improves with time and practice, there are a few simple tips that you can implement that will not only keep your sessions moving smoothly, but will also make a significant difference in your resulting images.


Just like adults, newborn babies are unique individuals with their own personalities and preferences: Some babies love to stretch out their tiny little hands and legs, while others prefer being snugly wrapped; some babies have a strong startle reflex, and would much rather lie on their sides or tummies than on their backs; and some babies simply insist on keeping their hands near their faces.

Follow the baby’s lead.


Some babies sleep through an entire session and are content in nearly any position. If a baby seems to be happy in only one or two different positions, you can still capture a variety of different images simply by varying your shooting angle, as in the images below.



Alternatively, you might switch out props (for example, add a wrap or replace a hat with a headband) or keep the baby in the same position, but move her to a different location.


Regardless of any particular pose, there are little “fixes” that can make a dramatic difference in the visual appeal of your portraits. First, check to ensure that no portion of the baby’s face is covered. Blankets or wraps sometimes edge up near the baby’s chin or mouth and, similarly, baby’s hands can occasionally obscure a portion of his face (as distinguished from poses in which baby’s hands are resting sweetly on his cheeks or under the chin). Second, when possible, un-clench a baby’s balled-up hands; this simple act of flattening the baby’s hands will make her look eminently more peaceful and relaxed.

Inevitably, there are occasions on which a baby is unsettled, even after being fed, soothed, and diapered. In such situations, I have found that a snug wrap and some patient lulling nearly always puts the baby to sleep.


But even if a baby simply doesn’t want to sleep, a wrap will often keep him/her calm enough to capture some beautiful wakeful images.


And what parent doesn’t love a portrait that showcases their little one’s bright, beautiful eyes?


Sweet Shots: Give Teaching a Try!, by Amy Tripple of Amy Tripple Photography


Six-and-a-half years ago on a cold, snowy January afternoon, my husband and I found ourselves sitting and staring at each other across the kitchen table. Unfortunately, we weren’t staring at each other with stars in our eyes. Instead, we were filled with anxiety about how we’d ever create a sustainable, livable balance in our photography business.


We’d taken the business from a part-time hobby to a full-time, sole income business about year prior to this moment; those twelve months had been, hands-down, the most trying and exhausting years we’d ever experienced. Low session prices led to long weekends of shooting and late nights of editing; any family or free time we’d previously had disappeared into the black hole of the photography hustle.


That cold January afternoon, Jonathan and I decided that somehow, someway, we would turn the tide. Seventy hour work weeks were not going to be the norm for our family. Though raising session prices seemed like the most logical answer, we had a reasonable fear that doubling our prices would put us in danger of losing too many clients in too little time… a risk our family couldn’t afford to take in that season of life.

I brought up the idea of teaching DSLR classes to parents, an idea we’d entertained a number of times before but dismissed for a long list of reasons. We decided to list out all the risks and benefits of teaching these kinds of classes to our clients.


We felt there were to big risks to offering classes. First… what if our clients stopped coming to us because they knew how to take their own beautiful pictures? Second… would our class participants learn enough to become photographers themselves and create local competition?

There were also quite a few benefits that we could foresee, the biggest of which was an opportunity to bring in some extra income and lessen my session load.


We decided to go for it.

I put my first “Sweet Shots” curriculum together and announced the class on my blog and Facebook page. It filled up within an hour. We quickly opened up a second class, which was full by the end of that night. We limited the class sizes to 12 participants and charged $99 for each 2 hour class.


It was such a great experience that we decided to keep offering them… first quarterly, then monthly, then every other week! As the classes grew in popularity, we saw quite a few unexpected results that gave our business the boost it had been needing.

The demand for photo sessions skyrocketed because I was able to connect personally with so many parents in our area through our classes. Surprisingly, we found that the classes led to more, not fewer, bookings! The increase in demand led to (you guessed it) an opportunity to raise our session prices to be more sustainable.


The classes themselves brought in a fair amount of extra income, but they brought so much more than that! Paired with raised session prices, my schedule eased up considerably… and suddenly I was down to the 40 hour work week I dreamed of. The classes led to a number of other fun avenues in our business as well, including one-on-one mentoring, photographer workshops, and opportunities to partner with local fundraising efforts by offering classes pro-bono.


Six years later, I’m amazed by the fact that we’ve taught our Sweet Shots classes to nearly 2,000 students, and I love teaching more than ever! And yes, a good handful of parents have become photographers after taking our classes, but they have become both friends and allies in the industry, and our bookings never suffered as a result.


As someone who’s been down the road already, I love to encourage other photographers to give teaching parent DSLR classes a try! Remember… you’re the expert. Your clients are dying to know about photography… and they’re just waiting to learn it from you!



Back to Basics: Film


“In a day of instant, film brings with it the anticipation and wait and the beauty in reliving those moments weeks later. There is a forgiveness with film, a little blur and softness adds to the beauty where with digital the expectation is super sharp & crisp. Life is soft and blurry so i think that is why people tend to be drawn to the film images, they just don’t really know why!”

Mandy Meece Johnson, Mandy Johnson Photography


I first started photography, like most of us did, by picking up our parents’ cameras and snapping images. The first camera I remember was one of those old Instamatic cameras with the flash cube. I moved on and began using my dad’s Pentax 35 mm camera when I was in high school, and that is also when I learned to develop my own film in the darkroom. Time moved on, as time is apt to do, and my parents bought me my own 35mm, a Nikon N65. I dragged that camera around everywhere with me. When I first began my professional career, the industry was still shooting film so my life involved a lot of time with a scanner. I invested in my first digital camera in 2002, a Nikon D100 with “ an incredible, film-rivaling 6.1 megapixels”. It was heaven. No more scanning, just these cute little cards that went straight into my computer. Bye bye, film!

Now it seems that everything old is new again, from vinyl to Pokemon. I was drawn to some of the work I was seeing on Instagram, and after a little research, determined that the much sought after look many photographers were going for was actually based on FILM. Hold on, I remember that stuff myself. I dug out the Nikon N65 and starting remembering how to photograph with it. Here are some of the things that I discovered about working with film again — and a great little preset that emulates film pretty nicely as well.

So, what is the draw? To me, film is so perfectly imperfect. It’s soft, dreamy and romantic and, as photographers, it can really help you relearn the basics of what we all love.

What is film?

Film is essentially a plastic with a light sensitive coating either in rolled paper (medium format – in various sizes) or a metal canister (35mm). It reacts to the light and creates what we call a negative.



Film is a little different from digital in how the light affects the negative. With our digital cameras, if we over expose and lose highlight detail, we usually cannot get those highlights back. With film, it is much more challenging to blow out the details but it is very easy to lose the shadow detail. A properly developed negative will retain plenty of shadow detail. When we measure the settings we need to properly expose the negative, we take our meter readings from the shadows and not the highlights. If we use a light meter with our digital cameras, we would take the same reading from the highlights.


Because exposure is so important to a great image, I have really tried to force myself to meter, meter, meter. And still, my lovely editor, Alex Legget, at The Find Lab, sends me my scans with notes that they had to lift my exposures a half-stop or so!

A light meter is a handheld device that measures the available light. Different photographers meter differently, but the Mastin website suggests the following: “With the bulb on your meter in the retracted position (not popping out) meter your subject’s face. If there is a shadow side of the face meter that side. Use the shutter speed your meter tells you to use for your f stop.”


How do I change my ISO? ­

When we work with digital, we are accustomed to working with our Exposure triangle. This gives us control over:

Shutter Speed



With film, it is a set ISO per roll. Some films, like Portra 400, are very versatile and can support a variety of ISO settings from ISO 200-800.



Focus is a particular challenge for me! I find myself missing my 51-point auto focusing system. My Pentax medium format is definitely the harder of the two and my favorite lens is manual.



The good news is that you can get started with film, probably today, and for very little initial startup cost. The bad news is that you will start spending some of that savings to develop your images! Almost everyone has a 35 mm film camera lying around they are hoping to give a good home, and Facebook has some fabulous support groups for everyone getting started.


Mastin Labs

I know there are several film emulation presets out there but my favorite, by far, are those produced by Kirk Mastin over at Mastin Labs. They were developed by film users for film users, and I find them to be easy and accurate to use.

Mastin offers 3 presets: Kodak, Portra and Ilford and they match these film stocks with very few clicks. The nice thing is that when you match one, you can copy your Lightroom settings over to the others of the set and you are good to go.

According to Jeremy Chou’s “Mastin Labs Presets: A Complete User Guide for the Hybrid Photographers”, to get started with the light airy look that Mastin is known for:

a. Shoot wide open

b. Use good light, avoid extreme and jarring light, and choose open shade and softer light instead.

c. Rate your film at ½ box speed when metering

d. Use a custom white balance between 5200-5700


Film Stocks

Portra 160: I love the way that skin tones look on Porta 160 with perfect light which I have only managed once. I rate this one at 100.

Portra 400: The most versatile and forgiving film I use, and my go to for pretty much all situations. According to The Find Lab, it should be rated at ½ box speed or ISO 200.

Portra 800: While it seems that this should be double the speed, it is really not. It is a warm, bright light-hungry film and I rate it at 320.

Fuji 400 h: This is the light, airy film made famous by wedding photographers around the globe. It needs LOTS of light and gets rated at 200. Rumor has it you can expose up to a full 6 stops before you have any issues, but I haven’t tried it.


Film Labs

If you live by a great film lab, you are in luck. If not, you will be shipping your film out to one like the rest of us. Here are some very popular labs, with different looks and feels. They also all offer differing degrees of services. I work with The Find Lab because I enjoy learning from my editor, Alex, and I like to receive the fully edited premium scans they offer.

Here are a few others you might like to check out as well!


Indie Film Lab

Richard Photo Lab


Why do I love film?

Mandy Johnson said it best:

“I kinda love everything about it, the sound of the film moving, the texture and depth it brings allows you to feel something more in the image. I love the modern advantages of digital for a lot of reasons, too, but with film it is a must to slow down, really breathe and think about what you are looking at and feeling with your client.”



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