Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Little Nittany Lion

Last weekend I did an indoor/outdoor maternity shoot with Jen and David, who are due with their first child at the end of July.

It was fun trying to work around their height difference with David being so tall, but it definitely came in handy with some shots. He was able to wrap his arms around her perfectly!

At the end, they pulled out the jerseys they brought and showed their Penn State pride. I can't wait to photograph their little Nittany Lion.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Newspaper column: Attempting to tackle dog's weight proves an exercise in futility

When our dog’s annual checkup ap­proached, I started looking forward to getting praise from the veterinarian about his weight.

Like everyone in our house, Toby likes to snack. And we’ve been told on more than one occasion that he’s a little heavy for his miniature stature.

Because of that, I decided to make a conscious effort to stop giving him treats no matter how long he sits at my feet and stares without blinking. I outlawed table scraps and tried rewarding him with a game of fetch instead of a Milkbone.

Although I didn’t notice a physical change, he did alter his behavior. I no longer feel little furry paws scratching at my legs when I sit at the table. I don’t hear whining or anxious pacing. It seems that by changing our habits, Toby changed his.

So when my husband returned from the appointment with a fresh supply of heartworm pills, flea and tick medication and confirmation that Toby had gained a pound, I couldn’t believe it.

“How is that possible?” I asked, feeling more than a little perplexed.

Of course, he didn’t actually look slimmer, but I chalked it up to the fact that I see him every day and wouldn’t notice a slow, gradual change.

Then, at our next meal, it hit me. Toby didn’t have his nose in my lap, but that didn’t mean he was obediently laying under the table either. When I peeked, it all made sense. There he was, both front paws planted squarely on the bottom rung of my daughter’s kiddie chair, chomping on a morsel she likely handed him.

And I had thought she was such a good eater.

Apparently they had developed a system. If Allison doesn’t like something on her plate, Toby gladly relieves her of the responsibility.

Peas? The last few bites of ham she doesn’t want? An extra grape she feels like sparing? Some cheese she could part with? Broccoli? Bread crust that didn’t get any jelly?

All fodder for the furry garbage disposal waiting anxiously underfoot.

Sure, having a dog to clean up after a toddler’s first attempt at wielding a spoon on spaghetti night is practically crucial. Toby is also good at taking care of all sorts of accidental spills during meal prep, a box of cereal that I pull open a little too vigorously or even the rogue cubes that spit out of the refrigerator door ice maker on occasion.

But clearly I was missing the fact that Toby wasn’t just making away with spills and the occasional cracker from the household’s easiest target. In addition to cutting back on his snacks, I vowed to police Allison’s underhanded dealings at the dinner table, too.

Over the next few days, I started observing their relationship a little more closely. One of Allison’s first words was Tob, which morphed to Debbie and now Tebby. She clearly adores him, talks about him all the time, and when I can’t convince her to sit still in her car seat so I can strap her in, all I have to do is mention we’re going home to see Toby and she instantly stops protesting.

But Allison’s attempt at giving hugs is a little more than Toby is willing to put up with. It’s more like, well, envision a pro wrestler perched on the ropes with arms outstretched and free falling on a downed opponent. Plus, she occasionally steps on his feet, accidentally knocks him off the couch and steals all of his toys.

I guess an occasional chunk of chicken parm handed off by sticky fingers is well deserved for putting up with as much as he does.

And our veterinarian will just have to understand that.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Soaking up the summer

After having back-to-back portrait sessions and then a full week without, I was too impatient to wait for this weekend's maternity shoot to pull out my camera. So I scooped up Allison after a nap a few days ago, and we headed over to my sister-in-law's amazing back yard because I knew they weren't home and wouldn't mind.

Now that I'm thinking like a photographer all the time, I see things differently. I hadn't ever noticed that their property is a portrait-taking dream. I didn't even get to test out all the shots I wanted because in mid-afternoon direct sun and heat, Allison and I both got tired. And having to be the parent and the photographer isn't easy. Another set of hands would've made a big difference.

But despite non-ideal light and a lack of help, I got some beautiful pictures in a little less than an hour. I'm envisioning some incredible senior portraits if I could talk my in-laws into letting me pass through on occasion.

It seems silly to keep practicing with the same subject, but it really has helped boost my confidence level. And, well, I can't EVER have enough pictures of Allison around. It's nice having a cavernous stockpile of desktop backgrounds for home and work.

So, without further ado, here are some of my latest photos. I've saved two of my favorites for her 20 month letter. And my new friend Dorie can take a big sigh of relief because I listened to her pleading and used a watermark. Literally.


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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Coming from a kid who has been to Disneyland

When you're working really hard at something new, all you hope for day and night is that it starts to take off.

But sometimes it takes off so quickly, you wonder if it's too much too fast.

I guess it's a good problem to have. I've had so many people express interest in getting their portraits taken that I've asked them to be patient. Although I have the capability of taking photos, I want to make sure everything is in place to give my clients amazing service, beautiful prints with personal touches from a studio where the photographer pays attention to every detail.

Right now, I'm in the process of getting enough images to support my website, writing text, setting prices, finding a printer, ordering business cards, making appointments and swapping ideas with other photographers whose advice has been invaluable. I like to think that all the time I've taken answering e-mails from college students about the journalism profession over the years is paying off.

In addition to the creative end, which is far more appealing to me, I've cleared a little thinking space for the business end -- taxes, logistics, my direct competition -- and am even attending a three-hour business start-up seminar today at a local college campus.

The progress is slow, but steady. Jerry checked off two big things on my to-do list yesterday by setting up a business phone line and installing an air conditioner in my studio. Now I won't have to sweat about those hot summer days. Literally.

He got some help and free wood from our neighbor, Dave, to even out the plane of the window, and while they were working, his son, Nicholas, asked to go upstairs and check out the space.

The fact that he asked was strange in itself. Nicholas has always made himself at home in our place, feeling more than comfortable to venture upstairs, announce that he's hungry and even look under our beds.

So when he asked quietly, as if in awe, I was curious enough to follow him to the third floor and observe his reaction.

"So this is where you take your pictures?" he asked, rotating in a full circle from one spot to take in the room.

"Yep," I said. "Pretty soon I'll take your picture, too."

He just nodded and was uncharacteristically quiet. Then, after checking out the lights a little more closely and walking to the center of the backdrop, he made his assessment.

"This is probably the coolest thing I've ever seen in my whole life."

With an endorsement like that, I have to be doing at least a few things right.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hiding my face in shame behind my mondo camera

For lack of time to write a better entry today, I've conceded to posting the only photo I took of myself with my wings.

Fortunately, when I attempted to style it myself the next day, and opted to wear it curly, it didn't make me want to vomit or hide my head under a hat or pull out the hedge clippers. In fact, it looked kind of cute. I'm still terrified of wearing it straight, but at least it's prevented me from storming back into the salon and demanding a free fix.

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On a fun note, check out my awesome new polkadot
camera strap complements of my aunt Glrr!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Not just Red Bull gives you wings

I must have some seriously messed up hair karma.

First it was the botched bangs. Then it was the bad boxed dye. Together, I didn't think could get any worse. I didn't think there was any place lower than having ear-length bangs and two hair colors, one of which made me look like a sallow, washed-out mom summoning her inner emo teen.

Then my mother-in-law told me to go pamper myself. She offered to watch Allison this afternoon while I got a seriously overdue hair cut.

I've lived here six years and can count on my knees how many cuts I've had in Pennsylvania. I'm not sure why, but I just haven't fallen in love with a salon. I need it to be a retreat. Someplace that has shampoo that smells so good, it could pass as an ice cream topping. Where the girls are coiffed to perfection like they walked out of a style magazine. Where they offer you water or tea because, at those prices, they should.

After getting VIP treatment, I can't go back to being a walk-in at Super Cuts.

I didn't think there was a salon of that calibre here, but when I was looking to purchase a pedicure for my sister-in-law, I stumbled upon a gorgeous little place that at least passed the smell test. The product aromas were so enticing. And the bubbling water feature in the lobby didn't hurt either.

So when Jer's mom offered to give me a little personal time, I immediately dialed the salon and, as luck would have it, got scheduled with the owner. Can't get any better than that, right?

Wrong.

She was in my face the entire time, bitching an uninterruptible streak about a faulty waterslide she purchased for her annual Fourth of July bash. She yakked incessantly about the difficulty of using her warranty, how she was going to be in the newspaper for robbing the store if that's what it comes to and how her friend has bail money all lined up.

If she had paused to take a breath, I would've related to a lot of it. Like how our TV is still broken five months after we called the warranty company. And I probably would've cracked a joke about how I'd be writing her criminal headline on the front page.

But I couldn't because her lips never closed. The entire time, I was wondering to myself how the hell she was able to concentrate on cutting my hair when she was waiving the scissors around for emphasis. Frankly, I should just be glad she didn't cut off a part of one of my ears.

When it was done, the cut that had been supposed to "blend my bangs in" turned into an angle so severe, it looks like I'm the "after" example in a Ginsu knife infomercial. Then, to add insult to injury, she took a curling iron and flipped the ends up, making me look like Farah Fucking Fawcett circa 1974.

As my mom put it when I told her, "YOU HAVE WINGS?"

Yes. I have wings.

I may use them to fly to her Fourth of July party and piss all over her broken waterslide.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Best. Segue. Ever.

Instead of sipping on a cosmo at the bar of our hotel right now and raiding Jerry's pillow of chocolate, I'm home helping Allison battle out what I think is a case of the two-year molars five months early. Which, judging by how early her first tooth came in, is right on schedule.

Of course I'm upset Jerry and I couldn't have our free getaway weekend to Atlantic City compliments of his morning show, which is doing some live broadcasts from there this week, but it just wasn't meant to be. First they switched weekends which didn't match up with the time I had requested off, then I threw out my back, then Alli got a fever, then I just gave up.

My side of the hotel bed went to our neighbor, Dave, who was able to step in and go last minute. And, frankly, with as much as he has helped us around the house, he deserves it. He's saved us way more money than a two-day trip to Jersey.

In the meantime, I have plenty of time to write, read and stick my thumb up my ass. And speaking of putting fingers in anal cavities, here's this month's letter leftovers:


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Alli loves to play on our bed while I'm putting clothes away.


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A few weeks ago, I pulled out my old shoe container and made it into
an impromptu swimming pool. The water was filled with grass and dirt
and rocks and flower petals by the time she was done.


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At the time, we were watching Dave's dogs. Must be amazing
to not have any inhibitions about running around naked.


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Allison likes to play makeup. She got the cap to my face lotion off
and started applying it closer and closer to her mouth very slyly.
If you look closely, she's covered in yellow.


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Jerry was kind enough to help me test lighting before
a session the day the Pens won the Stanley Cup.


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I think I took too long.


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Hanging out in our yard after the library.


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It only took 10 years to get her to leave this bow in her hair.


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When Jackson was in town, we took the kids to the local amusement park.


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Alli liked having someone to sit with, but Jax wasn't so sure.


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After the park doctor gave Alli drops to get the sunscreen
out of her eyes, everyone had a good time.


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Especially first-timer Jax.


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And, as promised, an anal cavity. I'm guessing you
can put together what Jerry did with his fingers next.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Preparing for our trip!

Too busy to post, but I'm updating on Twitter.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A few updates

  • Totally screwed up my back pulling weeds two days ago. Hurt so bad I couldn't move for more than 24 hours. Jerry was my complete hero by making dinner that night, carting everything upstairs, putting down a blanket and having an impromptu picnic in our bedroom.
  • I'm traveling to Atlantic City with Jerry and his radio morning show crew this weekend while they do some live broadcasts. We're riding down in the station's truck and get a free room for two nights. Although I'm not looking forward to the drive and will miss Alli like crazy, it should be a fun little getaway. The trip is sponsored by a local tattoo parlor and all those guys are going too. Thankfully, Troy and Jerry's intern is a girl. Otherwise, I'd be completely surrounded by testosterone.
  • I have 10 million things to do before I'll be ready, but right now, I need a nap.
  • Jerry bought me the really nice laptop bag because he knew I'd never be able to do it myself. It'll be great to have a computer in the hotel room while he's working. I'm also thinking about buying a new book for the trip. One of Dooce's maybe.
  • Alli is now saying suck. As in, "Mommy! SUCK!" Wonderful.
  • When I was writhing in pain with my back, trying to get onto the bed, I was screaming, "OhGODohGODohGOD!" Now Alli says, "Oh got! Oh got! Oh got!" making me incredibly greatful I wasn't saying something much worse.
  • I have a bunch of people interested in portrait sessions while I'm in New York for vacation next month, and I should at least have the capability of selling my prints online within a few days.
  • I'd like the popup screen for software updates on my computer to shrivel up and die.
  • I'd also like nachos. A big, fat pile of overloaded nachos.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Next up? Newborn photos!

When I wanted some hands-on advice about exterior lighting, I e-mailed my friend Jason, an amazing photographer who has had his work showcased in Sports Illustrated.

His reaction to my new business was one I worried about most, but he was incredibly supportive of the idea and not only encouraged me, but agreed to come over, check out my setup and give me some advice.

Within minutes, he assessed my studio, rearranged a few things and showed me a few others. To thank him for all of his help, I photographed him and his wife, who almost didn't have a maternity session because she gave birth the next day.

Not only was Jen a complete trooper for mustering through poses that had her lying on her back, sitting and standing for more than an hour, she also was very understanding while I played with the lighting and made adjustments as I went.

When I asked Jason why he wasn't doing portraits, he said very matter-of-factly, "It's boring. I need something to be running at me."

I guess years and years of shooting Steelers games has had its impact.

Both Jen and Jason read my blog, and this will be their first glimpse of their shots -- if they can stop kissing their son long enough to turn on the computer.

Congratulations, guys. I can't wait to meet your little bundle!

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

1 year, 7 months

Dear Alli,

Well, it took 19 months, but I officially missed the mark on your letter. I'm a day late. Years from now, I hope this isn't the first thing you mention to a therapist as the turning point that pushed you into a life of criminal activity.

To explain the lapse, I have been a bit busy this month. I'm starting a photography business. Every spare ounce of energy has gone into getting it off the ground. And I hope by the time you're old enough to read and understand these letters, you'll know it turned into something that is going to help put you through college. That is my biggest wish.

You should also know that you were my very first portrait. Even though you're not interested in the slightest when I have a camera slung around my neck, you're always a good sport. You love going upstairs to get funky on the dance floor -- otherwise known as my backdrops -- and play with the quickly growing pile of props.

Eventually you'll probably hate going up there as I ask you to help me try out a different lighting setup or practice with a new prop or backdrop, but one thing's for sure, there will be a ton of pictures of you over the years.

Thanks for being such a photogenic muse.


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Since all of my head space has been taken up by worrying about what to name my company, scheduling sessions, making business cards and mastering all of the manual settings on my new camera, I haven't really thought about what I wanted to tell you this month. Normally I spend the days leading up to your letter jotting down little notes of things I want to mention.

But lately my jottings have included reminders of what I need to tell my web designer.

So I'll just wing it. You always give me plenty of material.

I've noticed how meticulous you are with your food. If we serve you something in a little glass bowl, you take a bite then take everything out and pile it on the side of your placemat. Then you take another bite and pile it everything back in the bowl. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

It's fine with something like honeydew chunks or Cheerios and raisins, but meatballs with sauce gets a little messy.

You've also stopped eating meat for the most part, which is driving Dad crazy. He's worried you're becoming a "stinking vegetarian." Because, to him, who would voluntarily want to give up the best food group? The one with hot sausage and steak and bacon? If he was forced to choose, he would easily give up everything else and just exist on meat for the rest of his life.

When something tastes good, you now say "nummy, nummy." One of the songs on your Wiggles CD talks about making fruit salad, and at the bridge they sing, "yummy, yummy."

One afternoon this month, in the space between that song and the one before it, you looked at me and said, "NUMMY! NUMMY!" It was amazing to realize that you knew which song was coming next. I'm constantly wowed at what you comprehend when you're able to convey it.

When it's not nummy, you're Mmming. A bowl of blackberries at breakfast? I get serenaded with Mmm Mmm throughout. The same goes for any kind of fruit.

Your friend Jackson came to visit last weekend and his mom brought some mandarin oranges that she was kind enough to share with you. When it became clear you would not be content with just one or two wedges, she offered you the whole container. And I'm not kidding, you ate it in two fistfuls.

Then, with your mouth jam packed with oranges, you looked at me with raised eyebrows and asked for more.

What you lack in meat, you certainly make up for in fruit.


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You're still saying Mommy frequently enough to make my ears bleed, but now it's interspersed with "more." Only when you say it, it sounds like mir.

Mir? Mir? You always want mir.

Mir grapes? Mir swimming? Mir milk? Mir music? Mir books? Mir juice? Mir everything?

But sometimes there isn't mir. Sometimes that's the end. And when that happens, you still shrug your shoulders and say "go." Which means gone.

Toddlers really should come with an interpreter.

You aren't old enough to argue with me yet and I'm really thankful. You can't say things like, "Actually Mom, there's more juice in a container in the fridge. Nice try." You just accept that when I say it's gone, it really is gone. Then in miraculously regenerates itself overnight so we have mir juice the next day.

You did, however, say two full sentences this month. You said, "I got it." And "What is that?"

The first sounded like "Eyegoddich!" But the second was clear and concise.

You've been waking up with nightmares, which probably scare me more than they do you. When that happens, I try reading you a story then putting you back to bed.

The latest was a bit tougher than usual, but once you calmed down enough to sit in my lap, I cracked a book to a page with a lot of pictures of individual items. We've read this book a thousand times, and I always ask what each item is because you know enough to say most of them aloud. Cup. Nana. Spoon.

But this time, when I opened the book, you pointed to the banana and said, "What is that?"

I'm sure you'll understand when I tell you it took me awhile to respond. I had to regain my composure first.

No one would've needed an interpreter for that one.

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Another word you like to use is "tee" for teeth. You love to brush your teeth, which probably has more to do with the taste of the trainer toothpaste than it does the actual action itself.

We keep a cup with your toothbrush and your paste on the dresser above your changing table and we ask you to brush in the morning after breakfast and at bedtime after your bottle. But you want to brush every time you get your diaper changed.

During that time all I get asked is, "Tee? Tee? Tee? Tee?" When I say no, you still ask again.

"No? Tee? No? Tee? Tee?"

A lot of times, you know when the answer is going to be no, but you still ask anyway. You'll stretch your hand toward something you're not allowed to have and look back at me and ask, "No?" Like you need confirmation.

You use the word no in lots of different ways, but my favorite has to be nokay. You love saying OK when I ask if you'd like to do something, but when you bump your head or if something doesn't meet your approval, you whimper, "Nokay" and run over to pat my back and say "huggie." You take comfort in comforting.

I'm sure the next phase of language development will be honing your vocabulary to make each sound correctly, but nokay is so cute I don't want you to lose it.


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I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but your favorite thing in the entire universe besides Bunny and Bear is the TV show "Yo Gabba Gabba."

I'm not sure how your father stumbled upon it, but he decided that would be the show you guys would watch together and now it has morphed into an obsession. You have stuffed animals of all five characters and scream like a 10-year-old girl meeting Hannah Montana in person when I turn on an episode for you.

The whole neighborhood hears it.

You love that show so much that when we ran errands last week and I told you we were all done and going home to see Toby, you looked at me from your spot in the shopping cart and asked, "Gabba? Show?"

Screw Toby, right? He can't dance and sing about not biting your friends.

In fact, that's one of the few words you say very clearly. And often. I figured Grandma wouldn't be too far off from Gabba, but apparently I'm wrong. Maybe if we could get your grandmothers a guest appearance on the show, you'd be able to say it.

Until then, I'll tell them to put on a red suit with one eye and dance around saying "Grandma."

Short of that, they're shit out of luck.


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We have so many Gabbas on our DVR that I've learned all the songs by osmosis. I like to use those 20 minutes to get things done around the house without you trailing behind me tearing up what I'm trying to clean, but the songs are so repetitive, they're impossible not to pick up on.

The lyrics to one song, and I'm not making this up, are: Snacky snack snack snack snack snack. Snacky snack snack snack snack snack.

The songs have become something we sing to you in context during the day, and every time we do, you light up like, "Whoa! You guys GET my magical Gabba universe."

In the process, you've also started to sing. We ask you to sing a song about Toby and you tilt your head back and forth as you sing the word Toby amid indiscernible garble. Then we ask you to sing about a cup and you'll do the same with cup as your primary lyric.

You have the sweetest singing voice. It's soft and lovely.

In contrast, however, you also know how to sing to Daddy's music. When he puts on a metal song, you start head banging, pumping your fists and growl "Raarrr, rarrrrrr, raarrrrrr."

I've tried to get it on video, but you like to watch yourself as soon as I pull out the camcorder. But now I have a secret weapon. My new camera takes video. So there.


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Lady, this month has been just as wonderful as the rest. Well, besides the tantrums, of course, but we're working on that.

You are an absolute joy to be around. You are constantly becoming more and more of a little girl and less and less the baby I cooed over. But you're not grown up enough yet to resist when I ask for a hug or a kiss. You still lean your head on my shoulder when I carry you up the stairs when you're exhausted. You love sitting in my lap.

After a day of shopping with you and Jackson and taking you guys to the park, Courtney and I stayed up late talking about how much our lives have changed since high school. And how much you guys have changed them for the better.

I admitted that there was a time I didn't want kids. Until my early twenties, I sort of cringed at the thought. It really wasn't something I pictured in my life.

Perhaps I just hadn't met the right guy yet because when your Dad and I got married, I knew we would have you.

Courtney and I wondered aloud why anyone would willingly pass up the opportunity. Yes, raising you is the most demanding job I've ever taken on. But the joys far outweigh the responsibilities.

You bring another dimension to life. You've reintroduced me to the simplest pleasures.

Even if it's just how nummy blackberries are.

Love,
Mom

Monday, June 15, 2009

Gives the federal government reason reason not to arrest me for Googling kids' photos so frequently

I am a professional photographer.

After only two photo shoots, I now have the confidence to say it with certainty. I knew I could do it, but to actually have DONE it has squashed any remaining reservations I might've had.

Sure, I fumbled with the camera settings a few times, causing me to lose a couple shots, but you can bet I won't make those mistakes again.

I've only toned the photos from my shoot on Saturday. I know the couple I took maternity pictures of on Friday won't mind that I haven't finished theirs because she had her baby today. And I'm pretty sure they'll be preoccupied for awhile.

Instead, I edited the shots of my favorite 10-month-old, Jackson. Not only was he an absolute joy to work with, he is at the perfect age where he loves to look at the camera. I noticed such a huge difference shooting him versus Allison, who is very much over looking in my general direction when I have a camera around my neck.

Sometimes when I checked the images to make sure the lighting was set properly, I felt my heart burst they were so beautiful. I only hope his parents like them half as much as I do.

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