Saturday, December 13, 2008

Have a Small Christmas

About two months ago I had the genius idea that this year we would make all our holiday gifts for friends and family. I was inspired by articles in Martha Stewart magazine ~ apparently it is "super easy" to make all natural body scrubs, lip balms and bath bombs for gifts. Martha even has tips on cute labeling and bottles. Nathaniel looked at me like I had lost my mind, pointing out that November and December for us means filling tons of orders, completing and delivering albums and doing fast-turn-around holiday portraits.

Well, it's December 13th today, eleven days until Christmas, and I have not managed to even make one bath bomb. He was totally right. What to do instead...

Being small business owners ourselves, we try to support other small business with our money. Sure, we love the bargains at Kohl's and Target. But small business really need you. In many cases, a small business is just one or two people, working what feels like a 1000-hour work-week to make their dream real.

For your shopping pleasure, we'd like to introduce you to several of our favorite small businesses, most local to Baltimore, one online in Illinois... so get going and put your dollars this holiday season into the economy & help keep a shop-keeper's dream alive!

For pet lovers
Mother Bunny is a wonderful lady. Out of her bunny hutch in Illinois, she makes the cutest, toughest dog toys you have ever seen. The bunnies come in variety of colors and textures, to suit any canine, and if your critter is smaller, try a heart or tribble toy. And not only are the toys awesome, but 100% of the proceeds are donated to non-profits that rescue racing greyhounds and put them into loving homes. Talk about guilt-free shopping! Visit Mother Bunny online and let some fluffy bunny toys hop into the home of your favorite hounds. She also makes dog collars and natural soaps shaped like dog bones (the soaps are for people).

Some of our favorite pet-shopping in the Baltimore area...
Try Pampered Paws Bakery & Boutique, located in historic Havre de Grace or the Yuppy Puppy Pet Boutique in downtown Ellicott City. Both shops have gifts, toys and more for dogs and cats.

For the stylista
Retopolitan in Ellicott City is insanely fashionable. Far from a usual antique store or vintage shop, this place is the real deal. This isn't a thrift store with worn out old crap ~ Retropolitan has style and class. It belongs in Manhattan or Boston, but the prices are way lower than folks in those area are accustomed to. Stop in to check out the wide array of vintage clothes, lingerie, shoes, hats, gloves, handbags and jewelry. You'll see some familar names, too , like Chanel and Pucci, on the racks. The homegoods are also amazing. From the collection of chandeliers illuminating the shop or the arrangements of crystal cordial glasses, you will find something spectacular for every one on your list.

Brand new on the scene is Sa Sa's, also in historic Ellicott City. It's a jewelry studio run by a charming artist named Sarah and her husband. All the work is done by her and everything is sterling silver. And totally hip. The designs are based on tattoo art. I'm very partial to her collections of earrings and she makes the most perfect, perfect silver hoops.

The store logo at Mud and Metal is "art to live by" ~ and it really is just that. Located in Hampden, this place is kitchy, crazy and completely original. We fell in love with the outrageous selection of housewares, decorative pieces, and fun, functional artwork. Everything in the shop is made by artisans and crafters from around the country. We promise, you will find something for even the person who has everything here.

For the eco-friendly
If you want to be Earth-friendly and pampered in luxury, try some bath & beauty products from Kaylala, based in Baltimore. The product line is based on emu oil, which sounds exotic (and it is), and is centuries-old Aboriginal remedy, good for everything from stretch marks to sunburn. Our favorites include their Hand Candy, the lavendar-lemonade body scrub and No. 7 ~ in the fabulous blue glass bottle. All of Kaylala's packaging can be recycled or reused and their products are 100% natural. Incredible ~ and right here in Maryland!

Always tres chic, never hippie-dippie is bluehouse, located in Inner Harbor East and a new location in Towson (we've been to both, but favor the Inner Habor locale). It's another one of those places where you are sure you just stepped out of Baltimore and straight into Soho. Everything is organic, recycled and/or sustainable, and is 100% green. They have the coolest furniture ever, Nathaniel & I have had our eye on a new bedroom set there for several months. There's stuff for home, baby, kitchen, pets, garden and even office supplies. And the Inner Harbor shop has an in-store cafe that serves fair-trade coffee and tea. Just stop by bluehouse, you will instantly feel like a cooler person.

For the Chocophile
Do you know someone who looovvvves chocolates? Try a box of truffles from Emily. She's based in Owings Mills and makes fabulous truffles and other chocolate treats by hand. We have feasted on just about every flavor she makes and though we both have different favorites, we recommend the banana cream dream, chocolate lemon tango, chocolate chili pepper, white chocolate almond, smooth earl grey, double chocolate and black sesame flavors. And that is seriously less than 1/2 of the delicious flavors she offers. The company is Truffles by Emily and you can buy in boxes of 2 to 100.

For Kids
Tired of the usual junky toys and video games? Check out aMuse, a Fells Point store committed to selling innovative toys that engage children's minds and creative energy. They offer everything from the traditional wooden blocks and cars (remember those?) to complex marble racing mazes, stuffed toys that are also nightlights that make the ceiling look like the night sky to clothing. There are toys and goodies for kids of all ages, from newborn on up. I'm rather partial to the twilight ladybug, myself.

Well... that should get you started on your shopping. As for me, I'm likely not going to be making homemade lip balms anytime soon, so I better get going myself!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My employees, the worms

I am a big fan of my friends the worms. They turn my leaves into beautiful compost, which make my plants very happy and healthy.

Composting is easy. Sure you can buy fancy compost balls or bins, but I prefer a much easier method. I have a corner in my yard where I pile my kitchen scraps and yard waste in a big pile. Every couple of months I mix it up a bit. Last years leaves are now a great big pile of dirt. So this year as I raked my leaves into a great big new pile, I spread the compost from last year over my garden. It is hard to imagine using a rake right? I can't stand leaf blowers and honestly, it took me less time to do it manually and I don't mind the excercise.

The thing to remember with kitchen scraps is that only raw, uncooked scraps go into your compost. Eggshells are fine but no meat or cooked food. Meat and cooked food will compost fine but it will also attract rodents. So if you want to boost your blooms and buds, don't send your leaves, yard waste and broccoli stems to the dump, turn them into beautiful rich dirt, and get your hands into it!


Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Laughing is key. You gotta have fun, or what is life worth, anyhow? We recently photographed a couple that really, really get this: Lynne and AC.

See, we knew Lynne. We photographed her and her twin sister, Leslie, a few years back, and before that, I did Lynne's acting headshots. Lynne lives near us in Catonsville, so we run into her around town -- usually at the local Indian place. : ) But we hadn't met AC yet, so because Lynne is friend and was one of my first clients almost a decade ago, we definitely had to check him out. Needless to say ~ he passed our test in under a minute.

Not only were they have loads of fun on their photo shoot, but Nathaniel & I were laughing so hard at all the hilarious-ness between them, we could barely focus the camera. At one point, I had to stop shooting, I was literally doubled over in a stomach cramp because I was laughing so much. What a ridiculous problem to have, right?

Lynne and AC were incredibly funny interacting, but they were really sweet too, and so thoughtful of each other. After the shoot, we all sat down at Sarah & Desmond's Cafe to chat (and laugh some more) over coffee, tea & muffins. We heard tales of their trip to Texas, how they met and how Lynne's dad reacted to AC's long hair. (Nathaniel can relate!).

Thanks to you both for a riotous good time and all the belly laughs! Oh -- and we have a few more of your picts on Flickr, check them out, everyone -- they are too cute!

We're green with pride

Balance is proud to announce we have been accepted into the organization Greener Photography!

Many of you know us, so you know our commitment to be eco-friendly in every way we can, both personally and professionally.

Our history in this movement goes back far in our lives. Nathaniel's parents are both environmental engineers (as is his bro) and they run an environmental engineering firm. Additionally, he grew up on a family farm -- in a preserved 200 year old frontier cabin, surrounded by acres and acres of farmland and forests. He's second generation green. Far from just buying recycled office paper or using CFLs, Nathaniel truly has lived the life of a conservationist from day one.

Though my tale is not so eco-fabulous as his, I started the environmental club at my high school before it was chic. Me and my dedicated group of 7 or so teen-ecologists used to literally sort thru all the cafeteria trash every few days and pull out all the recycling - glass, cans, plastics - and take them to the county recycling center. Shortly after, the school district implemented a recycling program that exists to this day. It was one of my proudest moments as a teen-ager.

Moving forward almost two decades from high school (yikes!), we are both still dedicated to preservation, recycling, reuse and conservation. Seriously, what photographer could truly say they don't love nature, don't love natural light, don't appreciate the beauty of the Earth? Even the most die-hard studio shooter has got to admit it... they occasionally take pleasure in capturing spring flowers, majestic trees, a perfect beach scape.

We were really excited to be accepted into GP and are 100% behind the principles the organization is built on, directly from their website:


  • Preservation conserves all of the resources that go into creating photographic images. It is the single best thing we can do to reduce the impact of our photographs.
  • Reduction

  • Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. While we are trying to produce the most archival products in our industry, we will do so while using the least energy-intensive products available.
  • Local Production

  • Shipping and transport are some of the biggest sources of pollution. Anything that can be produced, manufactured and assembled locally will have a significantly lower environmental impact than components manufactured overseas.
  • Cruelty-Free

  • Animals and people are as much part of the eco-system as water, air, and trees. We do not see a difference between environmentally harmful products and those produced in harmful working conditions.

  • At balance, we are constantly trying to find ways to be greener, local and sustainable. We offer green albums to our customers ~ both local, resourced and recycled (ask us-- they're too cool!), Giclee prints made on watercolor cotton rag paper and in 2009, we are going to expand our press-printed products to include more recycled paper options!

    Go green!
    ~ Rissa

    PS To all you Apple computer fans... you need to check out their new, greener laptop! This one I'm typing on is fine, but, um, as soon as I need a new one ~ the new Macbook is made of recyclable materials, runs on 1/4 the energy of a lightbulb and contains no mercury! Go Mac!

    Monday, December 8, 2008

    Recycling Christmas

    Ever wonder what happened to film photography? And all those little plastic film canisters?

    Well, we had saved ours because for the longest time, Baltimore County wouldn't recycle the plastic. Then we found a use for them... a festive, happy use for them. A Christmas tree!

    Nathaniel made this little cutie from piles of Fuji Film canisters and piles of hot glue sticks. We love it. It's a reminder of all the good things in our lives this time of year.

    Wishing you all a Merry, Jolly Season!
    ~ Rissa

    Sunday, December 7, 2008

    The Pretty Filter

    It seems like I just talked about this on here. Girls who don't think they're pretty in pictures. Sigh. We just met with a bride and groom, and the bride was SO PRETTY... but she told us one of her concerns was that she often doesn't look good in pictures. If you saw her, you'd get what I mean. Her features and skin were flawless, and she had great bone structure for pictures. It boggled my mind...

    Let's discuss that right now. Cuz I hear it a lot. Like at least once a week.

    First things first. When I was in my first college photography class, in the first 30 minutes the professor said something I have never forgotten: There are no bad subjects, there are only bad photographers. It was a lesson I took to heart because I truly do see beauty in the faces of my subjects. If that does not come thru, it's my fault, not theirs. Over the years I have learned more and more about light, posing, angles, lensing ~ all of it makes the person in front of my camera more beautiful in their pictures.

    In fact, many clients have asked us how it is that everyone in our albums, studio samples and websites are always pretty. It's lead to one of our favorite jokes. A question really... The first time I heard it, I laughed out loud. It originated with a couple getting their engagement shots done and the groom -- kind of a rough, ragged manly type -- blurted out... "Damn, do you have a pretty filter on this camera? Cuz even I look good!" He became one of our biggest fans and has sent us many clients over the years because of "the pretty filter." We always know his references because they come in and ask specifically for the pretty filter.

    It's no coincidence that our clients are all pretty. And we don't really have a pretty filter (sorry!), and we don't only book with gorgeous people. The common denominator is that we work really hard and make sure everyone looks great before we call our job done. A skilled photographer can bring out you at your very best. You as a rock star. And that is before Photoshop even enters the picture, too!

    We recently did holiday portraits for a returning client named Stephanie. Her old headshot was incredibly popular on our website for years because she has this huge, heartfelt smile.

    When she came back to us last week, she looked really different. Her sweetness was still there, the smile was just as warm, but she had grown up from being a cute girl to being a more sophisticated and elegant woman.

    When she saw her photos she reminded me of the guy who coined "the pretty filter" -- Steph said "Oh my God -- I look so, so PRETTY!"

    Well, duh. Of course you do -- you are pretty. And it was our job -- our privilege, to remind you just how pretty you are!

    And really, it's not just the ladies. It's guys too. Years ago we had a call from a young actor who told me first thing on the phone just how ugly he was. "I need all the help I can get -- call your make-up people and hair people, " he said. We were braced for the worst. I mean, yikes. But when he walked in... he was handsome. Not ugly at all. Photographing him was like working with a male model. His pictures changed his life. Six months later, he called and told us that he had moved out of his mom's house, got a girlfriend, started working out, found a better job -- and landed a role in a play. That's the pretty filter for you.

    So hopefully this has put to rest some of those worries about looking good in pictures. We will take care of you. You'll be gorgeous.

    Now, it's true that there are things YOU can do to look better in front of a camera. Here are some tips, and some of this is common sense, but is truly good advice...
    1) Drink lots of water & be hydrated -- it makes your skin and hair look great naturally.
    2) Get ample rest. Dark under eye circles are never cute.
    3) Groom yourself! Not to be weird... but I mean brows, nose hair ... stuff like that. On men and ladies.
    4) Take care of your teeth. A bright, beautiful smile is always attractive.
    5) Relax. Pictures are about body language, so if you look tight and tense, the people looking at your pictures will intuitively see that. Just be chill!
    6) Don't use shiny, sparkly or glittery make-up, ladies -- it reflects light back into the camera and makes you look washed out and sick.
    7) Buy and use blotting papers. They're cute little sheets of rice paper that magically suck shiny oils or sweat off your skin and don't disturb make-up on girls.
    8) Consider a professional make-up artist for important portraits and days -- they know about camera ready make-up and can contour your face like a movie star.
    9) Learn to pose. Be like Zoolander and seriously stand in front of a mirror and practice posing -- stuff like looking relaxed and having a great on-camera smile can be done easily with practice.
    10) Be yourself. Of course you want to look like Jessica Simpson or Tom Cruise or Angelina Jolie -- me too! But we're not, so make peace with yourself and be who you are! Nothing is more gorgeous than that!

    And after all that... we've got the pretty filter.
    ~ Rissa

    Wine made with Greyhounds

    Peanut and Smiley are greyhounds. The hounds' parents hired us to photograph them for two reasons: This year's Christmas cards and for the next vintage coming out of Peanut and Smiley's basement.
    Maria and Jeff got some fabulous pictures for their cards because the two hounds were hamming it up big time. It is so funny how "media savvy" some pets can be!!

    As for that vintage...Jeff makes wine in his basement as a hobby. It becomes gifts for friends and donation auction items to raise money for greyhound rescue organizations. (Which makes it an impressive pressing to me!) I thought it was really cool that Jeff got to do something fun as a hobby, and also found a way to make it work for charity, too.

    One of the things that Maria said to me during our shoot was awesome. "It must be nice to do what you love," she said. It's so true. It is great! But even better than that is that other people recognize that I am doing what I love and can see it in my work and even while I'm working. For my efforts to be acknowledged by clients is so rewarding.

    And Jeff and Maria have rewarded me -- they hired me for a second time as their photographer, and love my photos. Nothing makes me happier than to go into someone's house and see my work on the wall or on a mantle.

    I have had work in museums, galleries, newspapers, magazines, catalogs, newsletters, websites, blogs, on clothes, labels and record albums.

    And coming soon, on Canine Cellars wine bottles! Look for them exclusively at your local greyhound rescue fundraiser!
    ~ Nathaniel

    the Wine Jester

    Sandy Navarro is a character. There is no other way to think of her. She's led an incredible, rich, fascinating life and has more stories to tell than women four times her age. Life has led her from South America to Hong Kong to Wall Street and now, to Baltimore.

    We met Sandy recently as a hostess at a wine tasting. She is the Wine Jester and runs a small business where she leads the most fabulous and FUN, non-pretentious wine parties you have ever seen! Don't get me wrong, Sandy knows wine. It is her passion. She researches wine, studies wine, knows wine-makers, eats-sleeps-breathes wine. Her knowledge is extensive and impressive.

    More impressive, though -- her lightness, her sense of humor and her ability to truly select the perfect bottles to rock a party. Sandy's belief is that wine shouldn't be so unapproachable. And I can totally relate to this. We've met various wine experts before in our travels and some (not all), managed to make me feel like a clown because I didn't taste oak or cherry or plum or whatever in the wine they gave me. No one outright called me a moron, but you know, you can see that look people get. You know what I mean, right? Sandy just loves wine and wants her friends & clients to share her love. She can find great things to say about $20 bottles of wine, not just $400 bottles of wine. Her excitement about wine isn't just for people who live in mahogany-paneled drawing rooms. It's for the rest of us, too.

    Between the two of us here, Nathaniel is the wine guy. He drinks wine, knows more about wine, has more experience with wines from different regions and such. I just know I either like a wine or not. I can't always explain it. What's cool about Sandy is that at her parties, she doesn't judge on your experience or lack of experience with wine. She's witty, warm and the perfect person to make even novices like me feel excited about wine.

    The business is a new concept, and we recently met up with Sandy and did some promo pix for her to help promote this new and totally fun service she offers. If you are having a holiday party, bridal shower or other gathering -- even the cocktail hour at your wedding -- consider bringing in the Wine Jester to amuse and entertain your guests with wine. Oh -- She also comes with a posse of male models in tight shirts called the "Winendales" that serve the drinks. Bonus.

    Best of luck to you Sandy! We think you're the coolest!
    Oh - and Nathaniel is still talking about that Shiraz you gave him...
    ~ Rissa