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Our 2017 Shoot & Share Contest Results!

In parts of the world where the weather gets brutal, photographers have a lot of downtime in the winter months.  One of the things we do to keep ourselves in the zone and gear up for the following year is to enter some of our favorite images into contests like Shoot & Share.  What is the Shoot & Share Contest?  It’s a completely anonymous photo competition hosted online that anyone can enter, and anyone can vote on.  That way no one knows whose photos belong to who when they’re voting and the playing field is level from celebrity photographers to local small business owners.  Submissions opened in January and when voting opened it went on for a month with photos receiving the least votes being eliminated and the ones with the most moving on to the next round!  Throughout the duration of the contest, (12 rounds in all!) over 49 million votes were cast.  Here’s a little video we put together to share some big news!

If you want to check out ALL of the images that we submitted to the Shoot & Share contest this year and last year and see how they ranked, check out our profile here: PhotosbyAW Shoot & Share Profile!  Last year we visited Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, shot 20+ weddings, and over 50 portrait and commercial sessions and the best part was making memories with all of you!  We can’t wait to see what 2017 brings!

If you want to get in on the action, Contact Us and get on the schedule!

Imaging USA 2017 – San Antonio!

Every year I run away for a week to a photography convention called Imaging USA. It’s hosted by an organization of which I am a proud (though not loud) member; the Professional Photographer’s of America. It’s hosted in a different city each year that’s easy to get to in the off-season winter months. Recently, we’ve been to Phoenix, Nashville, Atlanta, and this year San Antonio. What happens at a photography convention? Think of it kind of like Comic Con for people who love making images. We all get together nerd out over new camera gear, new ideas, rehash old problems, make new friends, etc. This year was no exception. The count was estimated to be ten thousand photographers in attendance. That’s a lot of selfies. When we show up and take over a city, it seems like there’s a pop up photo shoot on every corner complete with lighting assistants dragging stands and models working in front of the camera.

   So why go to Imaging USA?

For me, it’s a chance to recharge my batteries. Making a living in a creative field is hard, and being a self-employed small business owner is even harder. Each new year brings a ton of challenges that have to be worked through. Especially for photographers in the north east, just when you think you’re past the halfway point as far as the workload of the year goes, the leaves change. We work as much September to Christmas as we do in all the other months of the year combined. Mother Nature likes to separate the herd by putting on a fall leaf finale that CAN NOT be ignored. Imagine running a marathon and then discovering on mile 22 that they decided to double the course length and from here to the finish line you have to sprint. That’s what it’s like to get through “busy season” at the end of a long year of shooting. Christmas is a finish line usually worthy of a good exhausted collapse. I clean up my house, have my family over for food, open presents, and then hibernate in my Netflix cave for a solid week. On my beanbag. In my Grinch sweatpants.

  After the fireworks on New Years Eve, the sun comes up and it’s game time again. Gotta train. Gotta update, innovate, motivate. The first wedding of the new year will be approaching and it’s like my super bowl. I’d wear war paint if I could. It’s the perfect time to gear up for the next season by going to Imaging USA!   Photographers come from all over the United States and stay at hotels near the convention center of the hosting city. Remember that scene from Goblet of Fire when all the different schools show up for the Triwizard tournament? That’s what the first night of Imaging USA is like. You can tell all the people of the northern states apart because we show up in shorts like we’re visiting a tropical destination. (San Antonio in January was pretty much like Pittsburgh in early June. It even smelled like spring dirt.) We meet up with friends from home as well as friends we usually only get to see online! The conversations are always the same. “What did you do this year? What happened that was CRAZY? Did you see the latest *insert nerdy camera equipment reference here*?”

imaging usa

  Once the convention officially kicks off for the first day, we all rush off to class like we’re back in college. There’s room assignments, lectures, live demonstration lessons. Big topics this year were lighting, posing, sales, albums, and what to do with a drone. Growth. This is always my big motivator. How to outdo myself from last year.

Want to know what’s really bothering all the photographers of the world? Here it is:

  • Why don’t people DO anything with their photos? Why does our work seem to always be condemned to the digital dungeon?

  •  Why are people so afraid of BIG pictures?

  •  How do we get people to stop hating themselves and see that they are all each uniquely worthy of being seen inside a frame?

  •  How do we make enough money to pay the bills when our job is to sell a “luxury item” in these uncertain times?

 

And you thought it was just clicking a button.  Photographers as a whole are OBSESSED with figuring out what you – our audience/our clients and our friends think. We spend lots of money to go sit in rooms together in big groups and talk through every client discussion we’ve had all year analyzing it’s nuances collectively and trying to figure out what was really going on behind the scenes. We want to know how we could have done better. Trust me, classes are mostly heavy. One I attended this year reminded me of a Martha Stewart recipe, it should have been titled “The 777 easy things you need to be doing immediately or you’re probably a big failure.” Insert laughing/tears emoji here. Classes can be heavy. Sometimes it’s just the kick in the knees you need though to push you through an obstacle. Like this blog post. (Look, Ma! I’m talking about my feelings! )

imaging usa

It’s not all hard work and introspection though. If classes are the motivating buzz kill of the convention, then the trade show is Christmas morning. All the big names come out and show off the best and brightest they have to offer. I get to walk the floor and spend time talking face to face to the vendors we use to make all of our prints and products when we’re back here at home. We talk about what we love, and also about changes we’d like to see in the future. They listen intently because they want to know what WE think too! It’s also a time to say thank you in person to the people whose names I don’t know and whose hard work is rarely recognized who lovingly bind the wedding albums I shipped to clients the week of Christmas. They are the same hands that packed boxes and boxes of prints tied with ribbon that were given as gifts. These are the people who take the photos we pulled out of light and love and thin air and put them physically into the world in a way that people can hold in their hands and make permanent.

Much, much love to our print lab, Millers, in Pittsburg, Kansas and Columbia, Missouri.

imaging usa 2017

      ^^ This dog’s name is Nikon !                                                                                   ^^New album covers from Millers I can’t wait to share!

Here are some cell snaps of the happenings at Imaging USA over the past couple years!

imaging-usa-trade-show

imaging_usa_tradeshow

imaging_usa_nashville

best-part-of-being-photographer

imaging_usa

When we come back from Imaging USA, I always feel recharged and ready to take on the next year! Stay tuned in the future for some of our photos we shot in Texas throughout our trip to the hill country! Follow us on instagram at @photosbyaw for photos of cute critters and terrific travels, and at @storiesbyaw to see what’s happening with all of you, our clients!

If you’re a photographer and want to join the community, get in on the action at www.ppa.com !

Behind the scenes in 2015

New Year’s Eve is here and I thought it would be fun to do a look back behind the scenes in 2015!  We did a post earlier this year about the rough life of a photo assistant and what they have to do in order to get the awesome images we show on our website.  The rest of 2015 was no different!  Every day is a reminder that what we do is always always a TEAM effort.

 

We did a fun engagement session all over Pittsburgh’s north side and Point State Park this summer.  It was a gorgeous night to be at the fountain and we witnessed a live proposal just a few feet away!  Ashley and I grabbed a few test shots while our client couple was changing outfits.  Instead of moving the car and looking for a parking space in the middle of the regatta, we decided to walk back and forth across the bridge.  By the end of the night, my UP band logged close to 4 miles from this session!

point state park pittsburgh photographer

 

 

 

 Another fun night in the ‘Burgh was the day we shot Megan and Johnny’s summer engagement photos at Kennywood.  We wanted to capture the true Kennywood experience right down to the food which meant potato patch fries.  Ashley is all time prop master when we’re working.  Of course when we’re done using them, the props have to go somewhere.  You can’t waste good patch fries!

kennywood engagement photos

kennywood photography

 

Then there was that time we were all set up to shoot and big group of girls showed up to do selfies right in the middle of our shot and we had to just wait it out.

kennywood engagement bloopers

 

It’s not all bloopers and outtakes, you’ve got to have some serious skills.  Ashley tied the best bow of her life on the back of Anne’s gown that day.

wedding photo assistant

 

 

What’s the secret to success?  Being able to multi-task, being willing to push the limits, and making friends 🙂

photo assistant at work

^^^^^  Seriously look at the skill here! ^^^^^^

The lighting was so crappy in this spot.  Here, Ashley is standing on one foot providing my main light and shading a hot spot with the umbrella gun and then fill light with the reflector balanced on her toe which allowed me to completely cut out the sun.

 

 

Christina Montemurro shot Stephanie and Jason’s wedding with me in June and caught this photo of me fixing up the ring bearer’s suit and boutonniere before the group shots.

photographer and ring bearer

day in the life of wedding photographer

Thanks to Christina for the shot on the left and Jen Mcken for the shot on the right.  Workin’ it at two different weddings this summer.  I’ve gotten a lot of comments on my new camera harness I’ve been rockin this year.  It’s called a Holdfast camera harness and folks have asked me if it’s everything from a gun holster to bondage gear!  (Thanks 50 shades of grey! LOL) Actually it’s just a slick way to carry two heavy cameras at once and evenly distribute the weight across my shoulders and get it off my neck.  We had a camera strap fail us in 2014 and a whole rig with telephoto lens attached crashed to the cement.  This year I wasn’t taking any chances.

 

Speaking of Jen Mcken – here she is going ninja on the dance floor.

jen mcken photography

 

You have to be prepared for the unexpected!  This one was a near miss 😉

bride and groom rowboat

 

 

Being a team isn’t just about who we bring with us to a wedding, we love to work as a team with ALL of the vendors.  After all, we all want the same thing, for our couples to have a great experience the day of their wedding and make memories!  Awesome wedding coordinators are the BEST.

wedding bloopers

 

What happens when your wedding coordinator is super cool and someone spills a drink on the dance floor during the Whip Ne Ne ?  Not to mention coordinators usually end up being the subject of all our lighting test shots.

fun wedding coordinator

funny photo booth

 

Test shots are a huge part of photography and often times it’s the photo assistant that gets sent to scout out the location and see if we’ll be able to get the shot we want before we have the whole group walk over.

water reflection photography

 

We have found help everywhere we’ve looked this year even frequently deputizing members of the wedding party to help out with lighting when we were under a tight time crunch and needed all the hands we could get.

speedlite umbrella

 

 

I’m not sure what I’m doing here… maybe singing show tunes or something.

wedding photographer holdfast

 

 As the seasons shifted from September to October we spent most of our sessions in the woods.  This engagement session required a mile long hike first thing in the morning after a wedding double header, a waterfall scramble, hill climb and before it was over I was knee deep in the freezing Allegheny river.  Pretty much every photo you see us post, there’s a photo assistant working just off camera.

photographer outtakes

 

 Sarah came along for a lot of sessions this year and was a huge help!

westcott umbrella

 

 

October was a month to power through as usual.  Two back to back double headers, wind, rain, AND snow!

I give major credit to all the brides who withstood the crazy unpredictable weather this year.  At least we had coats and boots on, they were usually standing there in a strapless dress which takes WAY more determination!

photographer outdoor wedding

 

 

Of course I did catch people lying down on the job sometimes.

photographer getting the shot

 

 

And we had to be patient when we got in each others’ way.

photographer working with horses

 

We shared and took turns just like our mother taught us.

wedding photographers working

professional wedding photographer

 

All said and done, 2015 was a darn good year for photos.  There’s 16 weddings already on the books for next year.  We can’t wait to see what 2016 brings!

Christmas traditions

Since we were kids, our family always had one special Christmas tradition.  We never had an artificial tree.  A live tree was one of the most special parts of Christmas.  It was like bringing a piece of the woods into the house.  The way the needles smelled when you walked into the living room in the morning, or came home through the front door after school meant that we had entered that time of year when there was something nice to look forward to.  Going to find the perfect tree always started with one of us standing up on top of my mom’s hope chest (this was where the tree always went because our living room was very small) to see how big of a tree we needed to find.  They would use my height that year as a measurement (I was the tallest for many years) and when I got so tall that my head touched the ceiling, we used Ashley.  Once we got to the tree field, we walked around for a long time sizing up each one looking for the best color, the straightest trunk, and the nicest shape.  There were usually several candidates and we would take off our hats and gloves and put them on the top of the tree like a star to mark them for comparison before we chose the one to cut.  No matter how the year had been, whether work was plentiful or paychecks had been scarce, going to get the Christmas tree was a day of fun with Mom and Dad.  As we grew up, the tree itself took on the meaning of the Christmas spirit.  We have a lot of stories over the years of what we went through at times to preserve that, some funny, some not.

In 2011, Sean and I were married and bought our own house.  That year we had to find two trees.  One for our new home which still didn’t feel like home, and one for my parents’ house.  It was exciting – First Christmas Tree together!  It was also bittersweet because it meant things were changing.  I remember on the drive home from the field that day feeling relieved and hopeful that in a year where everything had changed and was new and scary that tree day was one thing that was still fun.

First Christmas Tree became a milestone worthy of capital letters.

In 2013, Sean’s sister Nikki and her husband Josh were married, and ready for their First Christmas Tree.  We convinced them after a lifetime of artificial trees that First Christmas Tree was an event worthy of going to the tree field and cutting their own as a right of passage.  After that first year they were hooked.  It’s not just the tree, it’s getting up early and piling in the truck like we all did as kids and riding out to the tree field to walk around comparing height and branch density.  It’s choosing to spend time together being a little silly.

This year, 2015 was special – Ashley and her fiance Nate were looking for their First Christmas Tree together.  Mother Nature gave us the perfect morning with a heavy frost which made it feel like a snow covered December for a few hours in the midst of a winter that has felt more like spring.

 

christmas tree field

christmas tree tradition

The crew assembled to talk strategy.  This might be my new favorite picture of Ashley.  She was grouchy we had to get started so early on a sunday morning – but when you’re trying to make 8 people’s schedules line up when at least half of them work seven days a week – you have to do what’s necessary!  It was worth it just to see the beautiful sunrise.

funny bomber hat photo

heavy frost on grass

Nikki and Josh were there for the third year in a row.

couple photos in a christmas tree field

Perusing the blue spruces.

cut your own christmas tree

 

Selection is still a very serious business.

christmas tree field

 

After four months of working far apart and barely seeing him, this face is all I want to see every day.

black and white winter photo

 

christmas tree farm

Ashley and Nate were undecided about what kind of tree they were looking for as their First Christmas Tree (no pressure).  Mom and Dad chose a small white pine for the second year in a row for its soft needles.  Sean carried it back to the truck for them and we grabbed some extra branches off the ground to take home to decorate with.

cutting your own christmas tree

 

 

christmas tree field photo session

 

Since we knew what kind of tree we were looking for, Sean and I took the group to the same section of the tree farm we’ve been cutting trees from for the past five years.  Every Christmas tree we’ve had at our house since 2011 grew up within 50 feet of the one we took home the year before it, and I like that.  It’s like they’re each taking their turn.  They leave the field, get decorated and stand tall in the sunroom December thru January (or once – easter) and when it’s time to take them down, we save the branches to start our campfires on the deck.   In a way, we honor our tree all year.  It left the field as part of a family tradition, we sit around it and spend time together for Christmas admiring it’s light.   Then in the warmer months, we sit around the campfire together with family and friends.  There are those that think cutting down a live tree for one day of holiday is a horrible waste.

For our tree, it will leave the field but it will be the light at the center of the circle of my family for a whole year, just like the tree it grew next to.

I think that counts for something.

fall leave frost

christmas tree field

 

Every year we go back and forth over how big of a tree can we get and still fit it in the house.  It’s a lot like the Grizwolds.  We wander through the rows comparing them all looking for the one with the little light shining on it that says “this is the one!”  Many times this happens when the most important part of the Christmas tree trip takes place – naming your tree.  After all, they are coming home to be a part of the family – you’ve got to give them a name.  This year Sean and I were wavering back and forth between two or three trees.  I said we should take the taller one because not as many people will ever buy a tree over 8 feet tall and so the taller the trees get the less likely it is they will ever get to be chosen.  I rationalized if we take the taller tree this year, then next year the shorter tree will still be there and be a little taller.

cutting christmas tree

I had my eye on this tree.  An 11ft tall Serbian Spruce that was thin with sloping branches.  Sean stood there and looked at him and said, “he looks like a Stanley.”  And he did look very much like a Stanley and once he had a name, there’s no way we could leave him behind.  We called everyone over to bring the saw.

spruce christmas tree

It took all of us to get Stanley loaded into the truck.

christmas photos in tree field

 

 

After that we drove back up the hill to the spruce section of the farm so Nikki and Josh could collect the tree that they had picked out earlier – a six foot beauty named Sheila.  Along the way we saw some interpretive tree hauling methods.  (We gave the driver a thumbs up.  He said he was driving with “camoflauge”).

hauling christmas tree on roof

 

Sean had to leave for work so he and Nikki and Josh took our trees to be shaken and wrapped for the ride home, while I hopped in the truck with Mom and Dad.  Ashley and Nate were still searching, deciding what kind of tree will be your First Christmas Tree is a big deal!

 

looking for the perfect christmas tree

Ultimately they decided on a seven foot Norwegian Spruce and Ashley named it, Spike. 😀

family christmas tree

Dad handed the saw to Nate to do the honors.  Sawing your first tree is a big rite of passage.

first christmas tree

 

By then the weather had warmed up and the frost had all melted away.  We took a bunch of silly selfies between the trees.

photos in christmas tree fieldfirst christmas tree

We attempted our annual self-timer group photo in the tree field.  That botched one on the right is what happens when you turn 30 and realize that your 10 second dash time is weak.  Luckily, Santa brought us a remote trigger!

family photos in christmas tree field

Here’s to many more years of Christmas traditions.

Behind the scenes | it’s never boring

I know I’ve said this a hundred times, but I love my job.  When people ask me what it’s like to be a photographer, I always say the same thing.  “It’s never boring.”  In the past ten years we’ve shot all across the country in every kind of environment and weather imaginable.  Time constraints, obstacles, crisis – photographers have to learn to eat that stuff for breakfast, because Murphy’s law of photography – you’re going to throw the plan out the window.  Anything that can fall apart, be late, or go wrong – will do just that – and it’s our job to capture the day no matter what.  You have to keep your energy up, keep smiling, be resourceful and get the job done.  If Martha Stewart and MacGyver had a love child – that’s a wedding photographer.

In the field, you’re only as good as your team.  Photo assistants deserve serious street cred (especially when they work with me!).

Actual things I have said to photo assistants:

  • “Bring me a red leaf with orange spots from that tree”   *torrential downpour and the tree was like 200yds away*
  • “Give me your shoes.”
  • “Hold this frog.”
  • “Stand on my shoulders.”
  • “Can you get taller?”
  • “Watch for cops.”

 

Today we wanted to share a little behind-the-scenes action with you from weddings and photo shoots over the past couple years!

Our unofficial motto when we’re working to get THE shot – “whatever needs to happen”.  Even it if means standing in a lake.

behind_the_scenes_senior_session

 

  Overcoming danger -like that time that Dana helped Lauren & Dan climb out onto a slippery waterfall after a rainstorm.

club_at_nevillewood_wedding

Or when I saved Britta & Andy from the Loch Ness monster.

behind_the_scenes_wedding_photos_on_a_dock

Or the time that Ashley almost got set on fire – yes – that is a flash strapped to her chest.

lighting_wedding_lanterns

 

Or the time that we were photographing waterfalls and rangers told us we had to evacuate for hurricane Sandy.

ricketts_glenn_state_park

 

 

When you’re on the job you have a lot of responsibilities, like communicating with challenging subjects.

wedding_photographer_goose

 

And wrangling the veil.

ligonier_pa_wedding_photos

 

 

Ashley takes protecting the veil extremely seriously.  No one touches the veil.  No one.

behind_the_scenes_wedding

 

You have to pay extreme attention to detail.

photography_assistant_behind_the_scenes

 

 

Be willing to go the extra mile.

photographer_in_the_field

 

And not be afraid to get dirty!

wedding_ceremony_behind_the_scenes

 

It really helps if you have no shame.

wedding_photography_behind_the_scenes

 

Seriously.  Shame will only hold you back.

wedding_photographers_having_fun

 

You’ve gotta know your equipment.  There’s no substitute for a well placed reflector.

how_to_use_five_in_one_reflector

photography_reflector

Or being able to create mass quantities of bubbles without hyperventilating.  (Pro tip – just get the battery operated bubble machines from Target.)

behind_the_scenes_photos_with_bubbles

 

You’ve gotta have good aim with the umbrella gun,

umbrella_grip

 

 

 

and hold the line with the other pros.

wedding_videographer_pittsburgh

You also have to practice what we call ‘photographer yoga’ – sometimes being able to be your own tripod and lightstand in a tight space, or bending around things you can’t move out of the way.  (Thanks Jen Mcken for these snaps 😉 )

photographer_yoga

Sometimes you have to know where to turn to find good help 😀

wedding_photographer_flower_girl

And no matter much your feet hurt, or how many hours it’s been since your last meal, you’ve gotta have fun!

photosbyaw_photo_booth_xmas

Like that time that Ashley proved she could hula hoop with the camera.

wedding_hula_hoop

Usually at the end of the day we look like this.  (Thanks Sean for the cell phone snap LOL.)

asleep_on_the_job

 

 

But we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t love it.

heart_hands_sunset

 

 

Thanks to Ashley, Dana, Megan, Amy, Megan U., Kayla and Nikki for being a great team 😀

Do you have a great story or memory to share from shooting with us?

Please share it in the comments section at the top of this post – we would LOVE to hear from you!

It’s here! A bright new look!

It’s been four years in the making, and now it’s here! We are rolling out a bright new look for photosbyaw.com! The new website features updated galleries, product examples, a fresh pricing structure with tiered options for every budget, and at last – the return of my blog! I’ve really missed writing over the past few years. They have been a journey to say the least. I got married, we bought a house and moved away from our families for the first time (though not too far!), and I brought my sister, Ashley, into the business! We’ve done a lot of traveling and photography has opened doors to many new adventures. I’m looking forward to catching you all up on what’s been going on through future blog posts recapping some of the past.

 

For now, have fun exploring the new website! We’ve organized the galleries into three sections: weddings, portraits, and adventure. I’ve always believed that good photography should tell a story, and preserving someone’s life history is it’s highest purpose. From proposals and engagement portraits that capture that first spark, to your wedding day celebrating with all of your family and friends around you, to all of the firsts that come after that. First anniversary, first Christmas, first baby, the first five years, the next ten, all so precious when you look back on a lifetime of memories. Preserving your life story is my life’s work. Here’s to all of the good times ahead!

 

Check out the website, you might see yourself! Share with your friends on social media and if you have any questions or feedback about the new site, send me an email at PhotosbyAW@aol.com – I’d love to hear from you!

BlogPost1_photosbyaw_website

 

If you want to see photos from our old blog posts and take a wander down memory lane, the older pre-2012 blog will be parked here  Click here to read the old blog