Reflecting on 2010 - A Year of Reevaluating

posted on: December 30, 2010

Before I can reflect on 2010, I almost need to go back two years to 2008- when the snowball started rolling and picking up everything in its path. My last year end review was in 2007 and a large part of that is because I hardly had a chance to come up for air in 2008 and 2009!

2008 was the boom year for everyone, right? We were all in high spirits and money seemed to be in endless supply! I served more clients than ever that year, moved from the midwest to the east coast, and spent over half the year away from home traveling to serve those clients. I learned to be incredibly efficient with outsourcing, tackling email, streamlining my workflow, etc- but the sheer amount of travel I was doing was taking a BIG toll on my personal life and I tried very hard to make sure that 2009 wasn't a repeat of that- but still ended up doing most of my wedding work outside of Massachusetts. That's just the reality of moving to a new state where no one really knows you-

It takes two years to rebuild a business after moving to a new location.

When I moved to Lowell, I made sure that I didn't make the same mistake that I did when moving to Terre Haute. In Terre Haute- I knew it was a temporary location and because of that I spent an entire year not reaching out to other people in my community- which meant I didn't have many friends that enriched my personal life. Once we knew we were going to be there another year, I decided to put myself out there more and find like-minded people to enjoy life with and it made SUCH a huge difference in my experience.

I learned that friendships are a critical part of living a balanced life.

Once I moved to Lowell, I jumped right in and sought to meet as many people as I could in order to better understand the city, the culture, and the values of my new neighbors and potential clients. I found some amazing people who Alex and I became friends with quickly and my life has been so enriched because of their friendships. They are one of the big reasons why I love living in Lowell, MA.

In 2009, I decided that in order to make room for local clients to hire me, I wasn't going to take any more clients that I'd have to fly for unless it was a client or location that was super awesome. The rush of 2008 was still weighing heavily on me and outsourcing wasn't working out as well as I would have liked. Results were only 50% to MY liking (still 90% to my client's liking) and I stopped blogging a lot of my weddings because I stopped having pride in my work. I felt like I had become a machine, pumping out images on demand, without really feeling like I was able to put my soul and full attention into them. When I turned over back end production- I lost a lot of control- which I needed to give up just so clients would get their images in any kind of reasonable time frame while I was traveling to the next wedding. This did not make me happy as an artist or as a business owner.

Something needed to change.

In 2009 I was still serving some clients who had booked me during the optimistic boom year of 2008- but who were losing their jobs quickly with little to no warning. I was worried that I was going to be scrapped from the wedding budget purely because there was no longer a steady income to cover the rest of the bill- so I made sure that I went above and beyond for my clients in order to really make their investment in my documentation of their wedding a very positive and worthwhile experience. Ironically, my highest package ever was booked for 2009- which crossed the five figure mark and gave a whole new meaning to high expectations. I took half the amount of weddings that year so that I could really focus my energy on doing the back-end production to my 100% satisfaction. I slipped on my response times in order to focus on production, but I finally started to have pride in my work again and it felt so good know that I had created something as beautiful as possible from start to finish for my clients. Granted, it took a LOT longer than outsourcing and I had to borrow the time from other aspects of my business, but my love of weddings and my creative spark were renewed to the point that I finally felt like I had a soul again!

I think we can all agree that 2009-2010 were very tight years for us all. It also didn't help that I was still a "newbie" in the East Coast market and I definitely wasn't the cheapest option on the table because I was actually trying to earn a living as an artist- not just as a part-time hobbyist.

Like everyone else, I was suddenly in a position of completely reevaluating every aspect of my life in terms of its financial and personal value.

Suddenly our big 1500 sq. ft. downtown loft wasn't all that awesome and that gorgeous $5000 table I wanted so bad wasn't as necessary. When the opportunity to become Faculty in Residence in the UMass Lowell Honors House came up- we welcomed the chance to take our rent payment and apply it to the debt we acquired during college and early in our careers when it seemed like there was no where to go but up. Don't you love how life can just laugh in the face of all the plans you've made?

2010 became the year of doing more with less. We all had to find ways to be more creative and to produce just as much with less of everything. As much as I hated downsizing my living situation, many very wonderful things have come out of that move. Since there was no longer room in our 750 sq. ft. faculty apartment for my office- I acquired a beautiful 450 sq. ft. space at Western Ave Studios in Lowell for HALF the amount I was paying to keep it inside our downtown apartment. Half! Why didn't I do that in the first place?!

Sometimes it takes an uncomfortable push to get us unstuck from our regular patterns of life, which we may not even realize are holding us back from having something better.

Now that I've been embedded in the artist studio community for over a year, I can definitely see the larger picture of advantages and disadvantages to owning a studio outside of the home- which makes me more informed for any future decisions I may want to make in my business. I can also definitely say that having a studio where people can come in and meet me face to face during open studio days has led to meeting some great people and working with some really wonderful clients. It absolutely helped increase my local client base far beyond what I was able to accomplish when I was working from home. Not only that, but being in a building with 40 other photographers has also helped me refine MY vision and identify what I do better than anyone else! Yes, everyone can have a camera, but everyone doesn't see the world in the same way or care about the same things. We are triggered by different things and drawn to different moments of beauty- and that is what makes each photographer's work uniquely valuable. I've learned that my strength and value is in my ability to capture unexpected human moments quickly and artfully as if it were as natural and reflexive as blinking or breathing.

This vision is what makes MY work unique and compelling- and knowing that allows me to spend more time focusing on it.

On a personal level, 2009-2010 also brought a deep depression into my life. In an effort to be healthier, have less stress, clearer skin, and sleep more - I quit drinking caffeine. Now, for someone who has had a regular caffeine drip in her system pretty much since birth, this turned out to be a terrible idea. I always thought that people who were depressed were just sad or lazy. Oh no, it's most definitely a chemical imbalance that is very difficult to reverse naturally. I tried to beat the blues by going to the gym nearly every day during the summer and still I was unable to achieve a sense of happiness that I had with just a regular cup of coffee each day. I had no motivation to do anything. I forced myself to take a shower and get dressed each day, but beyond that- I was pretty worthless. I lost interest in everything I knew I loved- my relationships, my photography- everything that made me happy before suddenly did nothing for me. Life felt pointless and directionless, but I didn't even have the motivation to end my life.

Everything just felt off and out of whack- like I wasn't even alive- merely existing on an artificial level.

Eventually I decided to bring caffeine into my diet again, and sure enough I got my happy back just as quickly as I put caffeine back into my system. Amazing how much one little naturally occurring chemical found in beans and leaves can change an entire outlook on life. Thankfully caffeine is cheap, legal, and easy to get- especially with a Dunkin' Donuts on nearly every corner in Massachusetts. With my renewed sense of energy- I was ready to take on the world again- which is when I decided to branch out into the world of becoming a teaching artist in addition to the photography and consulting I was already doing.

This year I also had a wedding that was cursed at every step of the post-production process. If anything could have gone wrong- it did. It put me through the ringer in every way it possibly could have. Problems which I'm normally able to solve quickly and easily suddenly took 10 times longer and were 10 times more complicated to correct. Just when I wouldn't think it was possible for things to get worse, they would. Computers would fail, files would corrupt, uploads would stop and stop and stop, and what should have been done in 3 months took 6. At one point I just decided I was going to drive 14 hours to spend an entire weekend sitting down with the clients with my actual hard drive and a back-up hard drive (which I ended up needing to use) just so we could get the job done. I'm just lucky my car didn't catch on fire while I was traveling there- because at the rate things were going, it was almost expected.

It was like Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors where everything was going terribly wrong despite my best efforts to make it all right.

Rather than chalking it up to being unlucky or cursed (though I'm convinced there was some supernatural evil at play), I used each difficulty and challenge as a learning experience and as an opportunity to be better. I became better at negotiating expectations when they needed to change for any number of reasons, I became better at dealing with tough situations over and over and over again to the point that I'm now tougher than a Las Vegas vault, and I realized that it's still worth it for me and for my clients to wait just a little bit longer to receive a finished product than to merely settle for whatever can be done quickly. I never want to repeat those experiences again, but if I have to, I now know how to deal with any number of difficult situations with grace, care, and responsible action that benefits both me and the client.

In spite of all the challenges that 2010 brought to my life, it also brought a lot of blessings.

1. I got to start 2010 with an AMAZING trip to Australia with Alex!
I still haven't even looked through all of the images I captured while I was there, but the entire experience was incredibly fulfilling and eye opening on so many different levels. I even learned how to surf (as well as learning that I need a LOT more practice!) What's even better? I may be returning to Australia for several weeks in January 2012- and I can't wait to go back!! Having fewer wedding clients and more weekday clients also meant I was able to take more weekend trips away with Alex as well as take my regular two week vacation to visit family during the holidays. After all, being able to get up and take off to anywhere in the world is one of the reasons why I started my own business in the first place! Oh yeah- on top of surfing for the first time- Alex and I also went on our first ever hot air balloon ride over the hills of New Hampshire! It was ahhhhmazing.

2. I gave back more this year than any other.

I raised $400 in just 5 hours by donating Headshots for Haiti Relief in February. I donated a year's worth of business mentoring which raised over $900 for the Thirst Relief Mentor Auction. I contributed event images twice to the Miracle Providers Northeast as well as the Revolving Museum. I mentored a starting photography graduate and an intermediate photographer as part of my business internship program as well as a writing student from UMass Lowell as part of a community service learning project. I donated my time to educate photographers during Inspire Boston, Pictage U Boudoir & Lighting Workshop, and future photographers of the Boys & Girls Club, as well as continuing to coordinate a very active and educational Boston PUG group dedicated to helping photographers grow their business. This year I was also invited to present to Lowell cultural community partners on the topic of Social Media Marketing Strategies and was able to provide on the spot individualized consultations to help community non-profits leverage social media in a way that fits their organization and outreach goals. On top of donations of time and talent- I've donated regular financial contributions to local and national environmental organizations.

3. I took my business coaching to a new level.

I've always given one or two professional business presentations each year as part of various conferences or invited opportunities, but after my Boston Inspire presentation, I was contracted by several local photographers to help them individually better define and refine their pricing and sales strategies as well as exploring more profitable product offerings and ways of providing service to their clients. I've learned a lot about individualizing plans so that they can work within the confines of what each business is already comfortable doing while still being able to help them recognize and implement new methods for greater success. I've even helped a part time photographer realize that perhaps running a small photography business isn't the golden ticket of easiness that they originally thought it was- which is equally valuable to their ultimate quality of life goals. I also branched out from photography by mentoring other businesses and non-profits outside of my own industry and helped them identify resources, tools, and marketing strategies that will work best in their businesses.

4. I've developed a team of contractors I can rely on when I need them.

One of the disadvantages of moving every two years is that as soon as you find a good team of people to work with, you're gone and have to start over again. Now that we've crossed that two year mark and my husband is pursuing tenure in Lowell- I've been able to make longer term plans and build a network of people I can hire when I need them most. The best part is knowing that I'll be able to work with them for years to come. Now my "outsourcing" has become more like "insourcing" where contractors can come in and help me with the tasks that weigh me down and get them done in a much more focused way than I can when I'm running the business and keeping all the balls in the air. This amount of human capital alone has helped me finally provide the full level of service, quality, and delivery that I want each and every one of my clients to receive. Knowing I've made my clients happy has made me infinitely more happy!

5. My life finally has a sense of balance and peace.

The first couple of years starting a business in a new town or a new industry is tough and not for the meek or mild. There's much more quality of life to be had in starting out by working in someone else's business before starting your own- especially if you end up realizing that you don't want to invest the extra time and work it takes to be successful. Friends and family see you working yourself like crazy with little time to spend with them or to even take care of yourself. It's hard on everyone and sometimes it ends relationships. I'm sure you can imagine that having to go through that intensity cycle for five years straight instead of just two can amplify the amount of damage it can do. Luckily my husband, family, and friends are amazingly supportive and have been very understanding, they've even helped me- maybe occasionally forced me- to take time for what is most important in life. There will always be another problem to solve or fire to put out.

Work will always be there, but quality time with friends and family are in limited supply.

When I declared that friends and family are most important in my life- I made my actions match by making sure I prioritized time spent with them over time spend doing whatever extra little thing that I thought needed to be done in my business. I've learned to schedule time with family and friends far enough ahead that a last minute opportunity to take a client isn't going to change my plans to spend time nurturing the only thing that ultimately matters and always helps me get through the tough times. You know what? I didn't feel like I missed out on any of the extra work I could have been doing because...

Money no longer has control over my life.

By staying connected to a larger and longer-term perspective on life, I've been able to really tune in to where I'm happiest and what activities feed my energy versus sucking it away. It's much easier for me to let go of succubus relationships that hurt me or make me feel guilty, as well as not getting defensive when I feel like people aren't understanding me. I eliminated staying in touch with online forums that fueled my anger or disgust, and you'd be surprised how much just that one little choice eliminated a host of negative feelings that I had previously become easily caught up in. By taking my business out of my home, I've been able to be more focused on spending time with my husband when we're home together, and more focused on time with my clients when I'm in the office. Just that one little change has really made an impact on how much of my attention I'm able to focus on the things that need to be done!

Not only am I happier, but my relationships are stronger and more meaningful than they've ever been.

Now I can't wait to ring in the New Year!! I have lots of wonderful plans for 2011, and I can't wait to share them with you next week!! If you've done a year-end review, please post a link in the comments so that I can read it and share it with others who are doing year end reviews!

An Open Letter to Wedding Bloggers

posted on: December 28, 2010

Lately, something very disturbing has been happening in the blogging world.

Dear Blogger,
I love you. You've dedicated your time to becoming the most awesome curators of this crazy world we call the internet. You've defined and refined your own personal vision by selecting the best images to covey your carefully crafted boards of inspiration alongside your witty words of wisdom. Seriously, I dig what you've got going on and I think what you're doing is fabulous. Period.

I would love to continue supporting you by giving you awesome content for "free."

All of that beautiful work my clients invest into their weddings, or that I personally invest into a special creative shoot just for the benefit of you and your readers, all of that has value which you get to benefit from in ad dollars and clicks and hits to your blog. Hopefully, I get to benefit by getting at least one more awesome client out of it.

Casey Jon New England Seaside Wedding

You see, in order to continue providing that beautiful content and in order to keep getting clients who are awesome enough to design those super creative real weddings, I really need my name to be ON my work. As awesome as it is to have a link to my site under an image I provide you, it's equally NOT awesome when someone takes that inspiring image of my couple from your blog and then uploads it to another website, inspiration board, or commercial site where it provides zero credit to the creator, zero credit to the couple, and doesn't give you any credit for featuring it.

It's totally not your fault... or is it?

There's a good reason why I watermark images on MY own blog and on my facebook page- it's because I KNOW people will take those images and put them elsewhere online, but that watermark helps me track where that image goes.  That's what makes blogs so awesome! I'm totally willing to put my work out there for free because I know that if someone ends up finding my image in some random place online and loves it, they'll still know how to find the creator because my name is ON the image. That someone could be a cool client who hires me to create more beautiful images, or maybe a magazine editor that wants to feature one of my couple's weddings.

That watermark also provides my clients with an extra layer of security, so that with image matching search software, we can track usage of their image as it travels the internet to make sure it isn't being used for unapproved sites like pharmaceutical ads or commercial companies whose web designer is inexperienced or uneducated enough to think that all images Google can find are model-released or royalty free.  These things generally happen to images that don't have a watermark to begin with, or in cases where clients have uploaded images to Facebook or other social media sites, but cropped out the watermark from visibility.

nancy mike historic newport wedding

How will they ever find the content creator once the image leaves your blog if a name isn't on the image itself?

How are you protecting and supporting the work of photographers who are providing you with the yummy FREE content you need to keep your readers coming back for more which ultimately keeps your bank account full of ad revenue? Seems like the least you could do is provide a link AND let us put branding or some kind of watermark on the content we're giving you for FREE.  I've shared three different styles of watermarking on this blog- create a style that works for your blog content and style and provide the info in your blog submission details so photographers can do the work in advance for you!  We're happy to do the work when it helps protect our work and our clients.

I know it won't prevent people from cropping out the logo or watermark if they really want to- but at least you've done your part. At least YOU have been the responsible one who is committed to keeping your favorite photographers connected to their own work. Even if you created a small border around the image that blends into the background of your blog with a simple website or copyright text in the border with matching font from your blog, you'd be able to provide creator credit ON the image without disrupting the overall flow or look of your carefully designed blog or inspiration board.

Flower Girl Petal Basket

To the wedding bloggers who HAVE incorporated these practices all along,

I thank you for being smart, savvy, and for doing your part to help support your content creators.

I'm encouraging photographers and wedding vendors to invest their advertising budget with you because you really do care about the success of your content providers and advertisers. I'm encouraging brides to visit YOUR blog because I know that they will be able "borrow" the images from your blog guilt-free for their inspiration boards because you've already let the creator provide creator credit on the images at their own discretion.

To the following wedding blogs, thank you for continuing to be awesome:
Offbeat Bride
So You're Engayged
Wholly Matrimony

Since writing this blog post, these bloggers have either declared that they allow watermarking or have committed to allowing watermarks starting now:
Rock n Roll Bride
Polka Dot Bride
Brides Up North

If you know of any other blogs who support their content creators by providing credit ON the images themselves - please let me know so that I can thank them with a link in this post! To the bloggers who insist on NOT allowing any creator credit ON images, perhaps you could at the very least disable right-clicking and dragging images off the blog, or put all of your images in a flash gallery to help protect your content creator's rights and usage of their work. We work hard to create that content you're earning money from and our clients who paid us to create it have a stake in where it ends up online- it's the least you could do.

Hugs & hot cocoa with marshmallows,
Anne Ruthmann

Gratitude Journal #5 - Power of Poverty

posted on: December 24, 2010

I forget how easy it is to disconnect from the larger things in life when we're so busy worrying about all of our own little problems. The experiences I've had teaching in the Boston Public Schools of Dorchester bring me back to that larger reality. It's a reality that private school families and children may never understand because they have paid to shelter themselves from it. A reality that even suburban public schools may never understand because they can't fathom a place where people don't go the extra mile to support their children in obtaining the best education possible. Frankly, I didn't understand it either, until I stood face to face with the problem three days every week.

When I accepted the opportunity to be a Teaching Artist Assistant for the Citi Performing Arts Center Education Department, I didn't know what to expect. All I knew was that I was drawn to the idea of teaching a creative performing arts curriculum in the public schools again (before photography, I taught elementary music.) Frankly, I had reached a point over the summer where photography was only half-fulfilling and I needed more soul fuel (more about that in my year end recap). I LOVE teaching- mostly because it's an opportunity for me to learn from others and the ways in which they experience the world differently. If you follow me on twitter or facebook, you may have seen my excitement about working with the students each day before I'd go in. They challenge me in so many ways, but perhaps the most powerful is the challenge to be a better person.

What is a better person? We often think of it in terms of our own development for tolerance, kindness, and success. However, what good does any of that do if we aren't using it to help others? It's like making a really great discovery and never sharing it with the world. Working in Dorchester has taught me the power poverty has over people and its ability to crush the spirits of otherwise amazing people. At least the students I get to work with are going to school because they have the support of their families who value school enough to help them get to school even on days when it's tough and uncomfortable to be there. You remember those days in high school, right? Now amplify that uncomfortable feeling by 100, and you might get a sense of what it's like for a student who hasn't been given a successful model of emotional stability to deal with everyday problems.

For every student I work with in the schools, there are at least an equal number of people the same age who aren't in the schools getting the experiences they need to be successful in our society. Even though, as a community, we provide these opportunities for to everyone through the taxes we pay, there are still people who don't understand our language or don't value our system of education before work, who prevent their children from going to school. These children don't learn to socialize within our diverse society, they feel shut out of opportunities because they haven't learned to communicate well with other people from diverse backgrounds, and they are intimidated by what seems to be an attempt to control their lives rather than provide opportunities, support, and empowerment. America was founded by immigrants, and only if we work together to help each other out, can we all move forward toward a healthier and more peaceful society. When I found the video below, it really tapped into the things I've seen happen in impoverished neighborhoods. I hope you'll watch it, and I hope it will inspire you as much as it has touched me and the reality of what I've experienced right here in our own back yard.

This Christmas, I am grateful that I have been able to experience these stories in person and to know that they are very real and still happening right in our own communities. It has inspired me to continue on a path of sharing everything I can with others. While we cannot solve the world's problems alone, we can make small differences that, when combined, add up to a big impact. Please visit and join me in helping to change lives.

{If you appreciated this post, please join me in my journey to have a greater positive impact on the world by writing your own gratitude journal and sharing it or a link to it in the comments below. I would love to read your moments of gratitude and share them with others!}

Making Your Own Wedding Album - Advice from a Bride

posted on: December 20, 2010

This is a guest post from Annabel, whose wedding I photographed in 2008.
(*My comments are in parentheses.) ;-)

A few weeks ago, Anne asked me if any of the pictures from my 2008 wedding ever ended up in an album. Oh boy, did they. What they ended up in is a hardbound 11 x 13 wedding album nay, volume, with a glossy dust jacket and hundreds of wedding photos spread out over 126 glorious, premium-papered pages. And the only thing more crazy than having such a hefty, museum-quality wedding album, is the fact that I did it all myself.
(*Anne: From my perspective, the paper & print quality is decent for what is available to the general public. However, as a professional I have access to much more archival quality album options, but better quality does come at premium.)

Now I know that making your own wedding album might not sound all that crazy to the average Jill, but if you’ve ever done a project like this, you might recognize that this is a task meant for only the truly ambitious (read: mentally ill) brides and/or grooms among us. Remember your high school yearbook? It was, what? 60 pages? There were probably fifteen kids on the staff killing themselves to put it out at the end of the year. And they didn’t even have jobs! So before you embark on a project like making your own album, you must ask yourself, are you feeling equal to fifteen over-achieving teenagers?

Me? I have no regrets. My wedding album is an heirloom I treasure and it’s beautiful. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either. We bought copies for all of our parents- and my mother, no kidding, makes people wash their hands before they touch it. Her friends may roll their eyes but they’re lucky she hasn’t put it in a glass case, turning only one page a day, like those illuminated manuscripts in museums. I can’t blame her- while I’ve yet to frame a single wedding picture, my giantess of an album sits propped up on a bookshelf in my living room just waiting for the day when I can afford museum lighting.
(*Anne: Storing albums with this many pages upright might cause the binding to become loose, unless it's propped on a book stand that allows the book to lean back, stay closed, or lay open with the binding sinking into the spine instead of the pages pulling on the binding. Storing flat is the best way to preserve the binding.)

Recognizing that what the mentally ill really need is a forum on which to communicate their crazy notions, Anne has asked me to share my experiences making my own album with her blog readers. So here we go!
(*Anne: Annabel is completely sane, and extremely creative. ;-)

Lets start with the cons:

It takes a lot of time - I made my album when I had what some people might call “free time” but also goes by the name “life-crippling underemployment.” I don’t know that I would have had the time to devote to making as nice an album if that hadn’t been the case. Altogether, I bet I spent forty hours or more on it during this time. Even if you’re only doing a simple and short album with no fancy layouts, I promise you, this is going to take at least a day or two of your life. Narrowing down your photos alone will take several hours. Uploading high-res photos, laying them out, dealing with the inevitable technical glitches, and proofing your album will take up what will start to seem like an infinitely expanding amount of time. If this sounds awful to you, pay someone else to deal with those frustrations for you. If this sounds like fun to you- welcome to my club! Drinks are in the kitchen and you can hang your straight jacket on the hat rack.
(*Anne: even when I do the initial design for couples, it can take weeks or even months for them to look at the album design enough times to decide what changes they want to make!)

It’s not necessarily cheaper – Although I knew Anne would make a great album, I wanted to do my own. I designed my album on, which is a fantastic site where you can lay out and print your own high quality hardcover books. You have to download their layout software program onto your computer (the program is free) and then upload your album to the site. My large format, 126 page album, ended up costing roughly $100 per copy. Considering the time I spent on it and the cost of printing, I doubt it really made financial sense to do it myself. Remember that life-crippling unemployment I was talking about? After I made my album, I couldn’t actually afford to purchase it until a month later when we could afford it. Still, for me it was worth the time, the cost, and the wait.
(*Anne: Doing the math- if Annabel's album took her a week, and if she had a job that earned her $1000 per week, than her album cost her $1100... luckily she was able to spend time instead of cash.)

Technology is frustrating – I have little bit of a background as a graphic artist and so was prepared for the technical part of creating my own album. If you are easily frustrated with technology, putting together your own album may not be for you. There’s a definite learning curve with the software on most of these book design sites. If you’re someone who picks up new technology easily and have a speedy computer with plenty of space for your photos and plenty of processing power for the software, then you’re in good shape. If not, you might want to pay someone to do it and save yourself the hassle. Sometimes the photos don’t load properly and you have to start all over again, sometimes the software is glitchy (though to their credit they are always updating it and their customer service was great when I used it a year ago), and sometimes malevolent elves crawl into your computer and screw things up for no reason at all. That last one is almost guaranteed, trust me.
(*Anne: Agreed!! Stuff happens ALL THE TIME to delay what feels like should be a simple & quick process!)

And now, some tips

Think about design – Before I started my album on Blurb, I looked through some of the public wedding albums on there and they were all kind of, let’s see how do I say this nicely?: terrible. Well, I guess there wasn’t a way to say that nicely at all, huh? It’s not that the people making the albums were terrible, it’s just that our first instinct is to try to get as many photos into as few pages as possible. Economical? Yes. Pretty? Not so much. That kind of design leads to a really hectic-looking and amateurish product. Instead of looking at other wedding albums, try looking through some of the books the professional photographers have made to show off their portfolios on Blurb or in your local bookstore. Use their ideas to organize your album and make it the piece of art it deserves to be. These people know how to use white space to draw the eye in and to use design to create a feeling. If you have ten pictures of people going nuts on the dance floor, put ‘em all on one page and let it feel crowded and crazy, just like your dance floor was. But you don’t want the picture of your dad crying in public for the first time ever to be sized down and hidden among a bunch of other pictures- give it it’s own page.
(*Anne: EXCELLENT advice! Annabel's album was BEAUTIFULLY laid out and provided just the right balance of things that went together, highlight moments, and space to appreciate the art and the memories all in the same space.)

Put a pin in it for a few days – When you finish your album and preview it once or twice, don’t go to print and buy it right away. Let it sit there for a few days without looking at it. Then, go back and preview what you’ve made. Have other people look at it too. You’ll catch mistakes easier that way and maybe realize that two pages of people eating is not as adorable as you thought it was when you were making it.

(*Anne's final thoughts:
Most couples I survey after a few years of marriage never actually got around to making their own wedding albums. They tell me they hung a photo on the wall, or gave photos as gifts to family members, but their own wedding albums often don't get created, despite their best intentions. The sad part is... I'm equally guilty of thinking I can do my own album. I've spent 5 years helping other people make their wedding albums, yet even after being married for 7 years, I still haven't made time to do my own wedding album. We all start off with ambitious visions of having plenty of time and dedication to the project, but at this point, I'm ready to hire someone else to get it done for me just so I'll finally have the whole story of our wedding day in one beautifully bound place! Annabel's story is definitely exceptional- which is why I'm so glad she was willing to share her experiences on my blog!! Thank you Annabel- you're the bee's knees. ;-)

Holiday Vacation Schedule

posted on: December 13, 2010

Holiday Photo Booth_IMG_2353
Monkey, Scarf, & photo made by Stacey Piwinski of Art Turtle Studio

Please note I'll be traveling on holiday vacation from December 17th - 31st. I'm putting this out there now so that if you've been thinking about getting in touch, you can do it before I head out of town to spend time with family! I'll be spending a week in southeast Michigan and then a week in the Kansas City Missouri area. Depending on my schedule, I might be able to arrange a time to get together with you if you're in either of those areas! Drop me an email to let me know if you're interested.

I can generally respond to emails in 48 hours when on vacation, but if you really need to get in touch, I won't be spending too much time behind the computer- so feel free to call. Occasionally my cell phone doesn't work where our families live, but I still try to check voice messages regularly.

Watch out for my year-end review!! It's been quite incredible! Last but not least, a shout out to my Holiday Photo Booth assistants during December Open Studios: Nilda, Alex, & Kathleen- you made the days so much more fun and such a breeze!!! THANK YOU!!

Photo taken by Alex Ruthmann... my hubby and not normally a cameraman.

No More Boring Holiday Cards!!!

posted on: December 11, 2010

Only two days left to visit my FREE Holiday Photo Booth so you can get some holiday photos that won't suck this year! If you're lucky, we'll even give you a chocolate chip cookie. ;-)

When? THIS Saturday 12/11 & Sunday 12/12 from 12-5pm
Where? Western Avenue Studios, 122 Western Ave, Lowell, MA
Who? You & me baby
Why? Because you like to have fun!!

Gratitude Journal #4 - People Who Anger Me

posted on: December 5, 2010

People who know me are often surprised when I express anger or dislike toward someone else. If there were a poster child for Optimists International, I would probably be nominated. In fact, I actually won an award at the age of 12 for an Optimist International Oratorical Contest, speaking on the topic of Love. Despite my sunny outlook on life, I still have moments of anger and intolerance. I am only human.

Lately, one person has angered me so much that I twittered about feeling really good about punching someone's face in:

While I tried to put a humorous spin on it and it help several other people feel good about expressing their anger that day, the feeling of disliking someone that much didn't really feel good deep down. As Buddha would say:

"You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger."

"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."

Knowing that I am the one holding onto these negative feelings, regardless of how the other person is feeling toward me, my first thought is to try and neutralize my own anger. I start by recognizing and publicly declaring the angry feelings- but while that helps me release some tension, it also just adds more hate to the world... which kind of sucks. It means I'm not really dealing with it; I'm just passing it on to others- which can then magnify and intensify.

"Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule."

One of my methods of shifting my energy quickly is taking a shower. There's something incredibly magical about water, especially in the shower where it literally washes away anything on your body. It's also a great private place to meditate and listen to your own inner dialogue. This gave me time and space to bring some perspective to my feelings. I realized that part of what made me angry was not being able to get my way- a very selfish motive. While I felt that what I wanted to do was actually going to help and benefit others- the anger came from a place of not getting what I wanted. How selfish of me to think that somehow what I wanted was more important than what anyone else wanted. That's all anger really is... selfishness. I thought I was more enlightened than that. I also genuinely thought that what I wanted to do was going to benefit others. I had completely convinced myself that my requests were completely selfless, when in fact, my anger made me realize they were selfish. I really don't identify with selfishness being one of my character traits, so I appreciate people who anger me and help me realize when I haven't been true to the person I'd like to be.

With a greater perspective on my own anger, I was able to see that this person wasn't trying to hurt or punish me for what I wanted to do. They were merely trying to take into consideration the thoughts and feelings of everyone that I would potentially be affecting, and how my actions would be perceived by others. They may not have sugar-coated their message or responded with our usual word-softening niceties, which may have made me interpret things more harshly, but they also weren't making it personal... I was. With a perspective that was now flying at 200ft instead of 8ft, I was actually able to express gratitude for the person who helped me see that my actions may not be received as positively and helpfully as I was hoping they would. Thankfully I never expressed my anger directly to the person who triggered me- or else I might have damaged a relationship with someone who might also be able to help me in the long run. I've burned a lot of bridges in my life, intentionally or not, and I've learned that building bridges actually brings much more wealth and happiness into my own life. I'm so grateful for moments and people who help me recognize the opportunity to be a better person.

{If you appreciated this post, please join me in my journey to have a greater positive impact on the world by writing your own gratitude journal and sharing it or a link to it in the comments below. I would love to read your moments of gratitude and share them with others!}

Free Holiday Photo Booth!

posted on: December 4, 2010

Buy unique & local handmade gifts this holiday season! Holiday Open Studios this weekend and next from 12-5pm! Directions available online:

Holiday Open Studio Photo Booth

Freshy Fresh on Facebook

posted on: December 3, 2010

Facebook has become such a strong platform now that I often have to ask myself, should I put this on my blog or on facebook first? Lately, the answer has been facebook. I'm sorry people, but resistance is futile. Facebook is where my clients are, it's where future referrals are, it's where my family and friends are, and it's much more interactive and engaging than waiting by the inbox wishin' and hopin' for a blog comment. This doesn't mean I'm giving up my blog - it's still completely relevant and useful for things like google-ability, but for right now, if you'd like to see the freshest stuff from me, head on over to facebook where you can find things like:

On my Anne Ruthmann Photography page:

An invitation to my Free Holiday Photo Booth this weekend and next:
Free Holiday Photo Booth Event on Facebook

Some wedding photos from Nancy & Mike's Jamestown, RI wedding:
Facebook Captures

An awesomely awkward family photo for a holiday card:
Facebook Captures

On my personal Anne Ruthmann facebook page, you can find my twitter feed even if you don't "twitter":
Facebook Captures

Just a note so you don't feel bad: I may not friend you right away on my personal page (I have a list of over 400 friend requests I need to sort through), but you can still become a fan at any time on the Anne Ruthmann Photography facebook page!

LOVE IT: 100 New Yorkers Engagement Proposal

posted on: December 1, 2010

When I saw this video, it filled my heart with warm fuzzies and I just had to share it with you. I think I will always be in awe when it comes to little acts of love. I found myself pausing the video frequently just so I could read each page! There are some really funny and wise quotes among the many photos.. you just have to see it for yourself! Click play to watch the youtube video below:

To read more about the story behind this video, visit: A Special Marriage Proposal from New York and Seoul

Thanks to Sheng Chen for sharing it!

Gratitude Journal #3 - Will You Join Me?

posted on: November 26, 2010

Today I'm so grateful for you. I'm so thankful that you take the time to read my blog. Even if you've never left a comment, I know you're there and that you care. You've seen that I've started a gratitude journal on my blog to share the ways in which I'm inspired by the thoughtfulness and kindness of others. I would like to expand this experience across multiple blogs to encourage more people to recognize and share the beauty of others around them. Together our small stories can make a big impact.

Will you join me?

When you're ready, post a gratitude journal of your own on your blog and leave a link to that blog post here in the comments. Once I get your link, I'll visit your blog, read your gratitude journal and leave a comment with a link back to my latest gratitude journal. We can do this exchange as often as you'd like! To be consistent, write "Gratitude Journal" in your blog title so that it can easily be found. I would love for each gratitude journal to serve as a starting point for exploring the ways in which we can all be more beautiful, gracious, and loving people. I can't wait to read your stories and be inspired by you!!!

Hugs and love,

Photo taken at Pizzuti Studios!

Do I Need A Second Photographer?

posted on: November 21, 2010

I have the ability to work solo or as a team, which means I'm often asked if couples need two photographers on their wedding day. I don't believe in one-size-fits-all solutions, so here are a couple things to consider when it comes to one or two photographers:

1. How big will your wedding be?
Are you going to have over 200 guests, or less than 70 guests? While I've covered a 500 person wedding on my own with no problems and great images, sometimes the sheer size of a room with many guests in it is better covered with two or more people. However, if what you want is an intimate wedding with a relaxed feeling, two photographers may be overkill and might make your guests feel as if they're always being watched. The images below are from an intimate wedding of only about 30 guests. You see three completely different perspectives from one person, and I didn't feel limited by trying to avoid another photographer being captured in my shots:

2. Will there be important moments happening in different places at the same time?
Obviously one person can only be in one place at a time, so if your wedding events involve important moments that you'd like documented simultaneous in different locations, you'll obviously need a second photographer. The next question would be, is it necessary for the second photographer to be just as skilled as the primary photographer? Some photographers bring along an "assistant" to every wedding, but that doesn't mean the "assistant" is a capable photographer- they may be more of a bag wrangler who might grab a photo if needed. Determine the importance of that second photographer and their ability to capture events when the main photographer is not around.

3. Does your location have restrictions on where photographers can be and how they can move?
Many couples may not realize the policies and implications that their venue places on photographers or videographers. Some churches won't let photographers into the sanctuary at all during the ceremony, which would completely kill the need for a second photographer. Some will allow photographers to be stationed in different parts of the church as long as they don't move around, which might mean that a second photographer can get a different angle without movement. A photographer's favorite place to shoot is obviously one in which they aren't restricted. Know what restrictions your venue has so that you can speak with your photographer about how they feel they can best cover the events.

4. How does your favorite photographer prefer to work?
As someone who shoots both solo or as a team, I can see the benefits and drawbacks to both situations. What it really comes down to in the end, is selecting a photographer for their images. Images that make you fall in love when you look at them. If you start your decision with the work, than you can allow the photographer to decide what they need in order to capture those images. Ultimately, no matter how many photographers there are, there's only one editor deciding which images are worth keeping. Some people create their best work in a team and feel completely off without a second photographer in the same room, while others create their best work when they are the lone gun, getting all of the shots they want on their own without worrying about where a second photographer is or what they're capturing. There's really only one best angle or shot at any given point in time, so even if two people are shooting the same moment, it's highly likely that only one of those images is going to be worth keeping. Whatever your wedding requires, trust that your photographer will make the best recommendation that what will allow them to get the best images for your particular event.

Myth: A second photographer means better images
Quantity does not equal quality. Hiring two inexperienced photographers over one experienced photographer isn't a better "deal" if you're ultimately disappointed with the quality of the images that were produced. The best "deal" is to hire the best quality you can afford, no matter how many people it takes to achieve that quality.

Q2 '07 WPJA

Myth: More photographers means more images
There are times when I've worked alone and captured more images than I did when I had a second photographer. Each photographer has a different style of capture and editing images down to the final selection. Ask your photographer approximately how many images you can expect from your wedding, and ask to see an entire proof gallery featuring the images of the photographer that you're going to be working with. Take notice of how many posed vs. candid vs. detail images they capture and decide if that's the same balance you'd like from your wedding day.

Myth: Males & females see things differently
Any two people will have different perspectives no matter what their chromosome structure is. Bigger factors in the way that people perceive the world may be how tall or short they are, if they are near sighted or far sighted, what lenses they prefer to use, if they like details or people more, if they prefer to be in control or go with the flow, or if they get more excited over candid or posed images.

Myth: Guests and family members with cameras will provide acceptable additional coverage
First off, if you're getting an album from a photographer, a guest's images are not going to be included in that album. Secondly, I've seen the photos your guests and family members take and I'm in no fear of losing my job to them even if they do have a "fancy camera". They aren't very good at anticipating moments, they don't know how or where they can get the best angle, they really don't understand lighting at all, they generally limit themselves to taking pictures of only people they already know, and they don't have back ups of things like batteries and memory cards in case their camera dies or they run out of memory. Oh, and you may never actually see the images they took if they forget to upload and share them.

Myth: Two photographers is more expensive
Everyone has different expenses in their personal and work life, so you can't automatically assume that two photographers will be more expensive than one. Sometimes intern photographers join me as a second shooter for free just to get experience and build their portfolio, but I also don't guarantee the quality of their work or rely on them for important moments. If all you want is an extra photographer as a back-up plan, ask the photographer if they can provide that for you rather than hiring or inviting someone else who is going to try and compete for the same important moments.

Emotional Toast

Hopefully my responses do not elicit a definitive yes or no answer, but rather points to consider. First and foremost- look for a portfolio that has imagery you can fall in love with- then talk about the rest with the photographer who created that portfolio and make sure they're a great personality fit as well. Most client relationships with wedding photographers last 1-2 years- so you really want to make sure you enjoy working together!

Recently I heard a very disturbing story about a local photographer who tells couples they'll have two photographers for their wedding day, only to send one "second" photographer to the wedding to tell the couple at the last minute that the "first" photographer was too sick to make it. In reality, this "first" photographer is booking multiple weddings on the same day, hiring a bunch of "second" photographers to tell couples the same story, while he may not even be photographing a wedding at all that day! It's people like this that make me sick to my stomach. The couples end up just being glad that the second photographer is still there, even though they've paid for two photographers and the person they met with isn't the person shooting their wedding. Please make sure you do your research before hiring a photographer. Check for online reviews and ask for references from three recent couples before hiring someone to document your once-in-a-lifetime event. Make sure that the quality of the images on their website represent the quality that you'll receive. Since a wedding day is something you can't do over, you want to make sure you're getting the best you can afford so that you'll have no regrets later.

Doug - A Personal Lifestyle Portrait in Greater Boston

posted on: November 18, 2010

When Doug contacted me about doing a portrait for him, I naturally assumed we'd be doing professional headshots for his online business presence. I had originally met Doug over coffee at Brew'd Awakening to discuss website development for the project and I learned that he had developed the website for my local Aveda Salon: Salon City. I was a little surprised when I asked him where he'd like to use the images and the response was not for his business website, but rather for a personal profile. I was so delighted that not only would I be creating something more personality driven, but also something that might lead to an attraction. I'm a total romantic and I can't hide it. Just the thought of love makes me all giddy inside and turns my cheeks into pink squishy balls of joy! I still wanted to make sure I got at least one good portrait for professional use, just because it's good for everyone to have, even if only for a Linked-In profile:

Doug Personal Lifestyle Portrait

For me, the key to a great personal lifestyle portrait is to capture images that are friendly, inviting, and tell a little story about you. If a picture can say a thousand words, we want to make those words a clear and honest reflection of who you are so that they attract someone who shares your values and interests. When I asked Doug what kind of things he likes to do when he's not behind the computer, he mentioned that he loves riding his bike and he's currently in the middle of some home renovation. So, we hung out at his home for a little bit and then took his bike out for a short walk in a local park. The other key for me with personal portraits is to make the photo look as if a friend with a really nice camera could have taken it - not too posed or overly creative, just natural and relaxed, as if it were happening in the middle of an activity. We want to make sure it doesn't come across as if someone is a model or that they are using a stock photo of someone else, but that it just happens to be a really great picture caught on the fly. Why can't anyone do this? Because not everyone knows how to use all of the technical tricks to make people look more beautiful while doing it. (Thanks to another web guru, Lara Swanson, for the link!)

Doug Personal Lifestyle Portrait

I actually like that he's talking in this one because it feels more candid...
Doug Personal Lifestyle Portrait

Doug Personal Lifestyle Portrait

So, I'd love to hear from you... do you think I was able to create something that matches his story and is flattering to him?

Actor Headshots - Suburbia

posted on: November 16, 2010

The UML Off Broadway Players contacted me about doing their actor headshots again, this time for their production of SubUrbia by Eric Bogosian. Since the show is a little more in your face and comical rather than emotional and dramatic, I went with the subway tile background and the actors decided to choose images that were more casual in nature. There are only 5 shows for this performance, so make sure you get out to support student driven theatre!! For showtimes and info on reserving seats: {CLICK HERE}

Suburbia Headshots for UML Off Broadway Players

Suburbia Headshots for UML Off Broadway Players

Suburbia Headshots for UML Off Broadway Players

Suburbia Headshots for UML Off Broadway Players

Suburbia Headshots for UML Off Broadway Players

Suburbia Headshots for UML Off Broadway Players

Suburbia Headshots for UML Off Broadway Players

Suburbia Headshots for UML Off Broadway Players

Suburbia Headshots for UML Off Broadway Players

Suburbia Headshots for UML Off Broadway Players

Suburbia Headshots for UML Off Broadway Players

Suburbia Headshots for UML Off Broadway Players

Cabaret Show Fundraiser - The Miracle Providers NorthEast

posted on: November 15, 2010

On Saturday evening I had the joy of seeing my first FULL Cabaret Show done by the Miracle Providers NorthEast. The theme was Fairytales & Fantasies, and WOW. Just, WOW. It was an INCREDIBLE show. The costumes were AMAZING, the makeup was phenomenal, the dancing was insane, and the lights, sound, and set made the Lowell Elks Lodge look like a fabulous cabaret club. I was in awe for most of the performance but still managed to take some photos from the back of the room behind the crowd (no flash, mostly 135mm, 1600 ISO, f/2.0 - 2.8, 1/160th sec, tungsten white balance, captured in large JPG.) They did a great job of performing in the round, and the set up allowed everyone to have a fairly intimate experience with the performers as they roamed the room. The best part of the evening is knowing that almost all of the proceeds go to benefit families and children who are affected by HIV/AIDS. If you're interested in volunteering for a show or any other events, please visit:

Here are some of my personal favorites from the evening:

Fantasies Fairytales 352

Fantasies Fairytales 428

Fantasies Fairytales 431

Fantasies Fairytales 358

Fantasies Fairytales 363

Fantasies Fairytales 373

Fantasies Fairytales 376

Fantasies Fairytales 382

Fantasies Fairytales 390

Fantasies Fairytales 398

Fantasies Fairytales 406

Fantasies Fairytales 426

Fantasies Fairytales 437

Fantasies Fairytales 449

Fantasies Fairytales 454

Fantasies Fairytales 458

Fantasies Fairytales 481

Fantasies Fairytales 493

Fantasies Fairytales 501

Fantasies Fairytales 497

Fantasies Fairytales 532

Fantasies Fairytales 540

Next time I'm going to have to buy my ticket in advance to secure prime seating so I can get even better images!! To view the full slideshow of 197 images, click play below:

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