Ask Me Anything! | Hampton Roads Maternity, Birth and Newborn Photographer

Today is the first of a series I hope to continue called, "Ask Me Anything".  I love to teach and sharing a little bit of insight into the world of custom portraiture is very rewarding to me.  There are the questions that were submitted.  Enjoy!

How did you get started in photography? Did you go to school for it or are you self taught?

I got started in photography after my daughter was born - like many new(er) photographers, the lure of digital photography was so great when I was wanting to capture those precious moments, but my camera didn’t seem to cooperate.  Babies and toddlers are FAST and I was constantly frustrated by only catching the back of her head or missing that flash of smile.

First, I made the classic mistake of asking a photographer I knew, “What kind of camera do you have - I want to take pictures like yours!”  Not knowing how rude it was to assume that the quality of her portraits was just the camera in her hand.  (eek!)  Now I realize it’s more than just the camera - and it’s not as easy as pressing the button on a fancy new camera!  ??I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education, but no formal photography training.  I do believe strongly that my foundation in child development helps me to have a successful business with babies and families, though.  Working with children, you must know the difference between the ages and stages - and when to employ a certain type of humor or have that extra minute of patience.  :)

Do you use natural light or studio strobes in your home studio?

Every shot you see from my studio is completely natural light.  I do use a speedlite during overnight, dark births but my portraits are all done either outside or in my home studio (which is a windowed-in sun porch attached to my home).

When it comes to simple image editing what do you recommend?

For simple image editing of family snapshots, I think iPhoto is very good.  You can crop, edit red-eye, change the brightness/contrast, etc.  If you are a budding photographer, investing in Photoshop Elements is a must.  It is a more basic version of the ‘big’ Photoshop program, but honestly has everything anyone would need to begin learning the program and learn how to edit photos more professionally.  If you are a student (or have a student in your home) you can get a student discount on Photoshop (any version!) and it’s a HUGE savings!

I’d love a great starter DSL what do you recommend and why?  If I could only purchase one lens.... ?

I recommend Canon or Nikon if you are going to invest in a starter DSLR.  They are the two most professionally recognized brands and you really do get what you pay for!  If you have never owned a DSLR before, the base model will absolutely be enough for you.  No need to spend hundreds of extra dollars on buttons and settings that you will most likely not use.  I started my business with a Canon Xti - but because I had learned how to shoot in manual and use all of its functions, it served me very well.  I upgraded when I NEEDED to - when I wanted to do more with the camera than it would allow.  Here is a really great article I recommend reading if you are considering the purchase of a DSLR:?http://katelynjamesblog.com/dslr-vs-the-point-and-shoot/

If you’ve decided to go for it and are committed to learning more about how to use your camera in manual mode (or aperture priority), the first lens to buy is the 50mm 1.8.  It is relatively inexpensive, but will help you to master that camera in no time!

Where is the best place to order images on canvas? And why?

The best place to order your image as a gallery wrapped canvas is from your professional photographer.  Seriously, I’m not just saying that!  Canvases have become very popular recently with the Groupon deals.  But what most people don’t realize is that when you add a gallery wrap to an image, the company takes 2 inches off EACH SIDE of your picture to wrap around the edges.  That means that if there are heads or hands or limbs anywhere near the edge of a photograph, they are going to end up wrapped around the top, bottom, or sides of your canvas.  Sometimes, this is not a big deal - sometimes, the picture ends up looking very odd or choppy!  There have been very few times where I have not had to adjust an image in my editing software to make it look right on canvas - by adding space or background or even going back to my original shot and cropping the file differently so that it gives the company enough room to wrap the edges.  Also, some canvas companies will color correct your image - which means they could add a layer or contrast or sharpening or color to the file before printing it on canvas.  Some canvases end up darker than the image looks on the screen because of their printing process or the quality of materials they are using.  Printing through your photographer (who took the image and painstakingly edited it) will ensure that it looks on canvas exactly the way it should!  ??Now, I cannot speak to the quality of all consumer canvas companies.  Canvas on Demand often runs Groupon deals which are SUPER cheap. $45 for a 16x20 gallery wrapped canvas is almost obscene.  :)  If you’ve never had a canvas and want to try them out to see if you like that look, I say try it out with them at that price - you can’t beat it.  But if it comes down to a showpiece in your home, trust your photographer.  It’s worth the extra cost!

Best Tips for photographing the constantly moving toddler??

First tip:  Lower your Expectations!  If I am photographing a toddler between the ages of 15 months (or whenever they start walking really well) up to about 3 years old, I mostly follow them around and capture what they are doing, interacting with them and getting their attention every once in a while.  You very rarely can pose a toddler - so expecting them to sit in a certain spot and smile for the camera is asking for a bit much.  Some toddlers are more active than others - depending on your child’s personality, you can attempt things.  I usually allow them to explore their environment or give them little activities to do (sit with a bucket and shovel on the beach, smell the flowers at the park, sing a song, blow bubbles, etc.) and then use squeaker toys or shakers to get their attention and have them look up momentarily!  Remember that toddlers have the attention span of.....well, they really don’t have one - so you have to be constantly changing your approach and bring lots of energy and positivity with you!  ??A side note:  I hire other photographers (yes, actually pay them their going rate!) to photograph my children.  They don’t listen to me - they know all my tricks, and I get frustrated WAY too easily with them.  It’s much easier to be patient with someone else’s children.  So, if you want those beautiful portraits of your children, invest in a custom photography session at least once a year! I do!  :)

Do your clients come to you mostly by word of mouth or is it a mix of word-of-mouth and advertising?  Have you ever advertised in a local magazine, if so - did it work?

Nearly all of my clients have come to me by word of mouth or finding my website on Google.  I have not yet paid for advertising.  Thankfully, I have clients who are wonderful and pass my name on to others.  I’m always amazed at what a small world it is.  I was recently showing a sample product to a new client who said, “Hey - I work with that guy!”  Plus, Facebook is an amazing resource.  When people share my photos on their Wall, 300 of their friends and family members see them instantly!  I love that!

Do you use any actions or lightroom presets? If so, would you share which ones?

I do not use any particular actions or presets on a regular basis.  Depending on the ‘mood’ of the photo or the lighting in the photo, I will run an action and adjust it to my tastes.  The best set of actions I ever invested in is a set from MCP Actions called “The Quickie Collection”.  They include quick actions to warm up, cool down, brighten or sharpen.  Just little boosts to help the process.  As for newborn portraiture, I have made my own special action including some from the Quickie Collection.  But on the whole, I like to process each photo individually.  I don’t think there is one ‘right’ action for very photo in a session. Also, when using actions PLEASE learn layers and masking.  Texture and actions almost always need to be erased from the skin (especially on babies!!) or you risk having a very odd looking person in your photos.  If you don’t know how to use layers or masks in Photoshop, google it or go to youtube and find some tutorials.  Most Important Photoshop Lesson Ever!  

Hope you enjoyed these Q&A's - if you have a question for our next Ask Me Anything post, feel free to send it to me at kimberlin.gray@gmail.com!

What's the Difference? | Custom Photography

There have been quite a few photographers who have recently written blog posts about why custom photography costs more.  Many of them are spot-on and very informative for people who may not have ever had the experience of a custom, on-location photographer before.  In fact, most of us are so used to the "in-and-out mall studio" experience and their super-cheap promotional pricing, that when presented with the price list of a custom photographer, our eyebrows raise sky high!  Some people even look at the cost of custom photography and say, "Oh, my!  Why would someone spend that much money on pictures? Is it really that much better than the mall studio?" Well, folks, better is a subjective term.  Is a $300 Coach bag really better than the knock-off $20 version you can get at the purse kiosk in the mall?  Ask anyone who owns a real Coach bag and they'll tell you.  Is your $4 cup of coffee from Starbucks really better than brewing it at home for pennies on the dollar?  Many people obviously think so - there's a Starbucks on every corner and they always seem busy!  So, the value of any item is subjective.  It's just a purse...it's just a cup of coffee...it's just a picture.  It's not about brand name (although we all know that branding is a big part of US consumerism) but the difference in price on any item is often a direct result of the quality and experience.  In this blog post, I'd like to address a question that I know some of you are asking yourself.  "Is a custom portrait session with Kimberlin Gray Photography really better than the mall studio? Is it worth the extra cost?"  Let's take a moment to compare the two on a few key points:

Personal Attention: When you go to Studio A, you may have an appointment or you may walk in.  A receptionist checks you in and you wait until your photographer is ready.  You may or may not have ever met that person before and went into the experience totally on your own as far as clothing choices.  But, when you choose Kimberlin Gray Photography, you are getting personal attention and service.  I will chat with you on the phone or via e-mail before our session to be sure you know what to expect and we discuss location and wardrobe in detail.  I will give you suggestions, helpful hints, and even help you choose outfits and accessories.  I want to be sure that the portraits you have taken reflect more than just what you look like that day.  There is no waiting around entertaining your child in a 10x20 room.  It's all about you!

Experience with Children: Studio A reminds me of a line from a book my daughter likes to read:  "You get what you get and you don't get upset".   The photographers at Studio A may or may not have ever worked with children the same age or with the same type of personality as yours.  You never really know what you're going to get as far as the personality of the photographer or his/her experience (both with photography and with people).  But, when you choose Kimberlin Gray Photography, you are choosing to go with someone with plenty of experience with children - and their parents.  I have a Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education and over 10 years experience teaching young children.  I also have my own children - a spunky 4 year old girl and an active 15 month old boy. This is what makes your experience with me different.  I know kids. I engage with children, I talk with them, I capture their true smile and their real personalities.  With newborns and babies, I am patient.  I understand that it takes time and coaxing to capture such a precious and fleeting time.  At Studio A, they give you a certain number of shots and finish within a set time whether or not your child has warmed up or even cracked a smile.  You either get a white backdrop (which does not always look good with certain skin tones or outfits) or a color/fake scene backdrop.  With Kimberlin Gray Photography, there is no limit to how many shots I take or how many "poses" or "backdrops" you choose.  We walk around, we play, we take our time.  I strive to give my clients a variety of poses and groupings. For example, in a typical family session you'll see photos of the family all together, but also each individual child, siblings together, mom with the kids, dad with the kids, mom and dad together....I don't stop at 20 poses. :D

Image Detail - One of the hallmarks of Studio A is the idea that you can walk out with your pictures that same day - even in just a few hours!  Unfortunately, what you sacrifice to get those pictures so quickly is quality and attention to image detail.  The photographer loads your photos on the computer in the back and quickly adjusts basic exposure and cropping to maximize the image for presentation.  You see basically a straight-out-of-the-camera shot.  And, that's what you get to take with you from their big, industrial printer in the back room.  They print how they print and that's what you get.  However, after a session with Kimberlin Gray Photography, your images are looked at individually and processed one-by-one, not as a big batch.  I have many digital techniques that I use to help make your family's images really pop!  I also work with people when they have special requests.  I have taken bruises off little boys' faces, smoothed out distracting fly-away hair, touched up stretch marks "love stripes" on pregnant bellies, and made a few new mommies look just a bit less tired under the eyes!  If I convert an image to black and white it isn't just by pressing a button.  I am very careful with my black and white conversions to be sure that they really enhance and make an image beautiful.  Sometimes I see images from Studio A that make a baby or child look like a character from Twilight - a little too gray and "undead" for my taste! :)  The bottom line is that while Studio A takes about 30 minutes to process your photos, Kimberlin Gray Photography spends hours and hours in the "digital darkroom" so that every image you see in your gallery is a perfect representation of your family.  Then, the image is sent off to a professional lab who specializes in printing on premium paper and it is lustre coated for longevity.  Finally, I package them up beautifully for you so that when you see the final product, you are blown away!

Unique, Specialized Products: When you go to choose your pictures at Studio A, they have packages based on "poses".  You can get 50 pictures for $9.99!!  WOW!  What a value, right?  Well, yes and no.  What you get is 50 of the exact same picture.  After that, you pay their premium price for a sheet - and again, all photos on that sheet must be the same.  So, you are proofed 25 photos, but you have to choose one.  Okay, maybe two.  At Kimberlin Gray Photography, you get what you want.  You are not bound by certain sizes and you don't have to have the same picture printed in a hundred different sizes.  Not only that, you get to select between unique and fun products like canvas prints, storyboard collages, magnetic mini-albums, and cool photo storage tins!

These are just a few of the reasons that a custom portrait session with Kimberlin Gray Photography is different than the studios you are used to.  So when you see that my minimum order requirement is $200, you now know some of why the cost is higher.  You are not paying $200 for a few pieces of paper - the cost is not for the paper that the image is printed on.  The cost is for all of the custom work that goes into the session - from before we even meet until after you receive your portraits.

Now, if your goal is to simply get a few photos of your child and buy an 8x10, two 5x7's and a few wallets to give to family, then Studio A is a fine option.  My intent here is not to say that the mall studios are inherently bad or that you should not use them.  In fact, I have taken my daughter there many times and have some very cute photos of her.  But, I always went in thinking it was cheap and somehow ended up spending between $100-150 and never felt like the photos were truly that good.   With Kimberlin Gray Photography, you are choosing to spend more - but you are also guaranteed to have a fun, personalized experience that results in beautiful portraits of your children and your family to display on your walls with pride and treasure for years to come!

Two on Tuesday {Balance} |Hampton Roads Portrait Photographer

**Disclaimer:  Long, rambling post ahead**

I'm writing this post from my heart today - not to share client photos or talk about a contest or give a sneak peek.  I'm writing this as a New Year's Resolution.  I know, we typically expect New Year's Resolutions in January, right?  That's the time of year when we think of new beginnings and naturally assess our lives and take stock of where we are and where we thought we'd be.  But, this past January, I didn't make any resolutions...I was knee-deep in preparations to launch my business and set up this blogsite.  It was a huge leap of faith - I had a few really great friends and clients who were referring me to their friends and family, but I had no marketing plan, paid for no advertising, and was still working with a designer on my logo and trying to figure out how to become "legit" (licenses, tax forms, etc.).

I could never have imagined how fast my business would take off! It's been an amazing 5 months - 43 sessions from the beginning of February until the end of May!  And while I'm absolutely THRILLED that I have so many people who have chosen me to capture their special memories, I feel as though I've forgotten that I already have a full time job.  And here it is:

No, not the picture...the subjects.  These are my babies.  And they're growing up too fast.

Two things happened last week that tipped me off to the fact that I may need a 12 step program - or at the least, a little balance.

1.  I fell asleep on the couch, sitting up, with the laptop on my lap at 10am.  Which is not necessarily surprising since I've not been to bed before 1am in months.  The only time my house is quiet without anyone who needs mommy/wife/sister/daughter/niece/friend is between the hours of 10pm and 2am.  So, that's when I work, editing, putting together storyboards, uploading client galleries, ordering prints, burning CD's, oh, and maybe getting caught up on Facebook.  ;)  Then, I'm up between 6:30-7am with my little ones who never nap at the same time during the day.  As all of you stay-at-home moms know, it is a full time job when you have children under the age of 5 in your home.  And yet I'm squeezing in about 40-50 hours of work each week.  (Yes, that's about how much time it takes to complete 3 sessions a week from start to finish, plus respond to new client inquiries!)

And then this happened:

2.  My 4 year old was drawing on her doodle pad and when I asked her a question she replied, "Don't bother me, Mommy - I'm editing."  Wonder if she's heard that a few times recently? :(  The same day, my 1 year old was playing while I was desperately trying to respond to some e-mails.  He was doing that whiny-attention-cry that babies often do when you don't pick them up immediately when I said, "Just a second, honey" (trying not to lose my train of thought).  He quickly came over to where I was sitting and pushed the lid of my laptop down as hard as he could as if to say, "ME, Mommy!  Pay attention to ME!"  He looked at me with those gorgeous big blue eyes and I realized that I'm missing it.  I'm capturing all these memories for the families who hire me, but I'm missing my own memories...the ones happening right in front of me, all day long.

So, I'm in search of some balance.  I love this job.  It doesn't even really feel like a job.  I enjoy hanging out with people, making kids giggle, playing peek-a-boo with babies, snuggling with newborns, and oh, my - when I'm privileged to witness a new life entering the world?  I feel totally blessed by the opportunities I have right now.  But, is it possible to do it all?  Maybe.  But in order to do it all right, I'm going to have to make some changes.

With that in mind, here are my Two on Tuesday steps toward some balance.

1. I'm instituting "office hours".   I always try to answer client e-mails within 24 hours, but realized that I'm answering them 24 hours a day!  I am often pulled by the "ding" or pop up notification window when I'm doing something else that tells me I have a new e-mail.  (Or the lure of the notification on my new phone if I'm not sitting with the computer).   I need to turn that feature off and only respond to e-mails at certain times of the day.  I'm thinking one hour in the morning and a few hours in the evening  - and only M-F.

2. I will adhere to the times stated to clients for getting their sneak peek and galleries up and for getting orders to them instead of pushing myself so hard to complete them early.  Sneak Peeks are up about 48 hours from a session and full galleries are stated to take about 2 weeks.  Most of the time, I feel pressured to get them up within a week.  I'm not sure if it's my Type-A personality or if it's simply knowing that someone is waiting on something from me that makes me feel as though I need to stay up until 2:30am to finish it before the deadline is even looming.  It's funny, too, that I feel such enormous pressure when, on the flip side, I give 10 days for clients to order and almost always, it's the full ten days before I hear back from them!

So, that's it.  No more 2am bedtimes, no more "just a minute, honey" to my kids.  I am resolving to put my kids and my husband first.  I love all of my clients and I am honored that you have chosen me out of the countless photographers and studios in the area and I truly hope that I can continue to offer you superior customer service and beautiful portraits of your family's precious memories.  But my New Year begins today, June 1st, 2010.  And I'm so excited to share it with my family and yours.

Much Love,


Bigger IS Better {Product Share & Promotion} | Virginia Family Photographer

I have recently been thinking a lot about the products that I offer and how I can make my business stand out from others -- especially those chain studios where you can get a bajillion prints for $9.99.   Honestly, I know I can't compete with their prices.  And truthfully, I don't WANT to.  It's just not the same kind of business and not the same experience for the customer.  My goal is to provide something different, something unique and custom to my clients.  I strive to provide exceptional customer service, starting with the time it takes to capture your children or families just as they are and ending with superior prints for your wall or high-resolution images on CD.

One of the hallmarks of the mall studios are their packages - usually some quantity of 8x10's, 5x7's and wallets.  However, custom portraiture is different in that it is meant to adorn your home, to remind you of that special moment that is now frozen in time...it's, well, not to be overly dramatic, but it's wall art.  If you notice in my pricing structure, 5x7's and 8x10's are called "Desk/Gift Prints" and sizes larger than that are called "Wall Portraits".  I know that 8x10's are the largest size typically offered at the chain studios.  Personally, I find 8x10's too big for a desk, but too small for a wall.  Here is a photo comparison for you.  I recently had a client order a big print - 16x20 size.  I put it on the shelf in my daughter's room with an 8x10 right next to it for you to see the difference.  Which looks like it belongs on the wall and which looks like it belongs in a scrapbook?

Amazing, isn't it?  The faces just disappear in the smaller print, but you can see all the detail - even the sparkle in their eyes- in the larger one!  (Okay, maybe not in my crappy product photos, but in real life for sure!) Another perk of going BIG?  Prints 11x14 and larger come mounted on matboard and lustre coated to preserve the color and finish for years and years.

I would love to help my clients break out of the 8x10 box and GO BIG!  Once you order your first big print, once you see it hanging on the wall in your home, I promise you will never order a bunch of 8x10's again!

With that in mind, I would like to offer this special to my previous clients.  If you have had a session with Kimberlin Gray Photography (even when I was building my portfolio in 2009!) I would like to give you a nudge forward into the world of LARGE prints!  So here it is - the BIGGER you go, the BETTER the deal! Choose your favorite photo from a previous session (or ask me which I think would be the best) and choose a BIG size for a discounted price! E-mail or call me for details.

ABC Challenge | Virginia Beach Child & Children's Photographer

I have entered a fun challenge on one of my photography forums called "The ABC Challenge".  The rules are to submit one photo for each letter of the alphabet - but they had to be taken AFTER March 12th of this year!  So, I went back through the sessions I had between March 12th and April 30th.  Some of these are a stretch, I admit, but it was fun to try to find these 26 photos from my last few sessions (I had a lot of newborns this past month!) and I hope you'll enjoy browsing through them, too!

A is for Anticipation

B is for Bokeh (click here to find out what that photography term means)

C is for Cocoon

D is for Doorway

E is for Eye Contact

F is for Flag

G is for Grin

H is for Hands

I is for Induction

J is for jewel

K is for Kooky

L is for Love

M is for Macro (another photography term!)

N is for Nature (or Newborn!)

O is for Outline

P is for Peekaboo

Q is for Quiet Moment

R is for Rosette

S is for Sunshine Sisters

T is for The Thinker

U is for Unconditional Love

V is for Vanilla Cake

W is for Waiting

X is for eXit Sign

Y is for Yarn Hat

Z is for Zonked Out