Thursday, January 29, 2009

Finding the Beginning

You never know when something or someone is going to show up and change your life forever. Obviously there are the big dramatic things ~ like getting married or having a child. But I'm talking more about the small, quiet stuff that steps in with a whisper and suddenly leads you in a new direction. Those moments are truly unpredictable and usually appear in the most unexpected ways.

Last night Nathaniel and I were driving home from Trader Joe's, happily munching on dried mango, as is the tradition for us, and we started talking about the moments in our childhood that shaped us ~ specifically tangible memories that changed our paths.

One of the first tangible things I remember is a photograph from a magazine. I had likely seen hundreds or maybe thousands of pictures up until that time, whether I was aware of them or not. There were always newspapers, magazines and books in my parents' home, and I have always been an avid reader. I had even owned a camera since age 7 and was already an active child photographer, going through more film than I care to recall. One of my favorite activities was dressing up my dolls for "photo shoots" in the yard or at the local park. (Foreshadowing, anyone?)

But this picture was special because in the moment that I looked at it, I was changed from the person I was just minutes before. What appears to me as a very simple image now had so much impact on me in that moment, that my path changed. Gone were my varied & wishy-washy little girl aspirations of being a ballerina or a jockey or a chef. My entire life's dream was suddenly laid out before me: I wanted to be a professional photographer when I grew up.

A Google search does not reveal any information about the shop the ad was originally for or the photographer who created it. It was published in Details magazine, before it was relaunched in 2000 as a men's mag. I knew Details as a funky offbeat magazine about NYC club life. Oddly, I was about 12 when I began subscribing and found this picture. I couldn't tell you how on Earth I ended up subscribing to a monthly magazine about clubbing in the late 1980s, but I had it. Especially strange since I lived in a small town in south central Pennsylvania and had never set foot in a club.

For more than 20 years I have held onto this picture. It has been thumb-tacked to walls, taped to repair tears and is yellowed and tattered with age. It has been a treasure for most of my life and each time I look at it, I am reminded of the very moment that I knew I wanted to be a photographer. It's pretty amazing really when I look back over my life and see how this one image in a magazine took me so far so fast. There were doubts along the way, moments when I tried other things. But even when I was pursuing different majors in college, my 35mm was never far. I was always taking pictures. Having a camera strap on my shoulder feels so natural to me, I occasionally look for it when it's not there.

Because hindsight is truly 20/20, you often can't know what is happening when you live it. You may be able to sense that something is different in your world though you're not sure what has changed. I can recall telling people around me I wanted to be a photographer and no one really thinking much of it initially. After all, I had also wanted to be 50 billion other things before that. It stuck though, this photography thing. I read literally every book in the school library on the subject. Started asking my parents to get me lessons. And at age 13, my parents bought me my first SLR. It was a second-hand, totally manual Pentax and I loved it. It taught me a lot until I upgraded to my new Olympus, also totally manual. That one took me through high school as well as night classes at the local college in my senior year. Before college, my grandmother got me my first Nikon. It had auto focus and a fancy Nikon camera strap and I was elated with it. My first professional camera ~ also a Nikon film camera, came 3 years later. Got that one myself. Since then... I don't even know how many cameras I have owned. A lot.

Through it all, this black and white picture from Details remains. Today I cannot explain what moved me about this image. But I still love it. It is part of me, part of my history. And is why I do the job I love today. Simply, a girl in an old-fashioned pose, a big straw hat, white sunglasses held with indifference, and one long strand of pearls.

~ Rissa

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Precious

Literally every few days someone comments to me about my bling. Not that I am dripping in diamonds and jewels. Ha, ha! Definitely not, I'm a pretty basic girl (though my dangly earring collection is slightly ridiculous ~ ). I'm talking about my wedding band.

Women and men stop me to ask about it regularly. I've been wearing it every day for over four years now and the comments and compliments have not slowed at all.

To me this could only mean one thing. The artist who designed and made it, Sarah Graham, is a genius. My one-of-a-kind artisan ring is truly a testament to the hands that created it. And you will be surprised to hear this: It was not even as expensive as rings we looked at locally from jewelers.

Sarah is based in California. The year before we got married I found Sarah's website after searching jewelry artists online until about 4 am one sleepless night. The moment I laid eyes on her work, I knew I had found the person who would make my wedding band. I felt instantly connected to her style, her vision and her philosophy.

We met up with Sarah when she came to D.C. a few months later as a vendor at an arts & crafts show. She measured my finger personally, and we chatted about a design she already made and the few custom changes I was interested in.

Sarah was beyond a pleasure to do business with. One of my custom requests was that instead of all diamonds, deep red garnets be placed in the ring. When she found what she felt where the perfect stones on a trip to Las Vegas, she actually Fed-Ex-ed them to me to approve for my ring! Well in advance of the wedding -- and well before the promised delivery date -- my ring arrived: 18 karat gold with white diamonds and dark red garnets. She presented it in a gorgeous, round red leather box that I still have.

In the past five years since I got my ring, Sarah Graham's work has truly exploded onto the couture fashion scene. Movie stars like Sharon Stone and Angelina Jolie are now sporting her creations, she's been featured in Elle, InStyle, Real Simple, the Robb Report, Organic Style, Lucky and Modern Bride magazines, and models are wearing her pieces on the catwalk at designer shows. Once when we were in NY, the owner of the gallery we were browsing looked at my hand and asked if my ring was a Sarah Graham piece! I felt way cool. And even cooler that I had enough of an eye to have recognized someone's work who was going to become so popular.

So if you like truly special jewelry -- for men or women (her collection is much larger now -- back in 2003 she had 4 lines, now she has 16 and does pieces for guys, too!), check out Sarah Graham. It feels great to support an artist living her dream (she only started her business in 2000!!) and even greater to have a regular source of compliments right around your finger! : )

~ Rissa

PS If you love Sarah's work as much as I do, you can see it in person in Baltimore next month at the American Craft Council Retail Show @ the Baltimore Convention Center on Pratt Street. February 27 - March 1, 2009. She's worth the visit!!


Imagine sitting down across a table from two people. They are strangers, but they are really looking you over, assessing your every movement, every word. One of them clears her throat and unfolds a piece of unlined white paper.

"I have a few questions I ask you..." she says. And you can see that the list extends down the entire front of the page and onto the back.

Welcome to the world of wedding photography meetings. Today, you will switch chairs and play the part of the photographer...

We get asked a lot of questions in the process of working with our weddings clients. Some questions we get asked more than others. Many are answered in the FAQ of our website but we certainly don't mind giving you all the information again to help you make an informed decision about who you hire for such an important event.

Whether its in a client meeting in our studio, or a quick interrogation at a wedding show, these are the questions that come up the most:

1) Why is photography so expensive?
All photographers hear this one, be it for weddings, portraits or catalog shots.
The business of photography is incredibly expensive. It is a myth perpetuated by TV shows and other fiction that photographers make tons and tons of money. A few do, but most just make a decent living. Some barely get by. And before we get into the costs I will tell you that absolutely 100% of the time, you get what you pay for when you hire a photographer.

Here is a little bit of why:
*On average, high end cameras cost between $1500-$5000. They must be replaced every 150,000-500,000 pictures, or about 1-3 years, and there must be several backups in case they go down.
*Photographers need peripheral camera gear: professional grade lenses usually cost $600-$3,000 each, of which several are needed and they must be professionally cleaned/serviced every year and replaced every 4-5 years. Flashes cost $300-$500 each and most photographers own 5-10. Extra batteries, digital cards, camera bags, etc. etc. These add-ons quickly rocket into the thousands.
*Computers that can process the necessary volume of images start at $2,000-$5,000. Multiple computers are practically a necessity for batch processing of images, and they will need to be replaced or updated about every 5 years. Don't forget printers and a scanner!
*Software for processing and production of images can add up to several thousand dollars and must be updated every year to every other year. Photoshop CS4 alone costs $699; Adobe Creative Suite4 costs $2,499. These programs are just the basics, you still need other specialty stuff too, to be effective and efficient.
*Backup DVDs and hard drives are used to store, manage and safeguard clients photographs.
An average photography studio invests at least $1000 per year in DVDs & CDs; Hard drives, at least another $1,000. Professionals must be very serious and cautious with storage in the digital age, lest they lose your pictures.
*Products such as albums, prints and studio samples really add up, too. Not only are many of these products expensive to produce, you must have multiple samples to show in your studio and update them every year. Cost this in the thousands annually as well.
*Studio rent or mortgage and all associated utilities, internet and phone needs (Whether at home or commercial)
*Studio equipment such as lights, umbrellas, backdrops, gels, cords, props, furniture.
*Professional memberships, website, marketing materials and graphic design, business cards.
*Liability insurance and insurance on all the above listed equipment and studio space.

Is this boring yet? Because this list is not comprehensive by any means.... Ask any high school guidance counselor and they will even tell you that photography is the most expensive major you can sign on for as a student. It doesn't get cheaper when you go pro. It's very expensive to be a professional photographer. Now you get it.

2) What is your style? What does photojournalism actually mean?
Our background IS photojournalism. We are actual photojournalists with real training and real experience. Being a photojournalist means that you can tell a story with a photograph. You can capture fleeting moments of time that show raw emotion and evoke feelings that are seen in the picture. A photojournalist can be thrust into any situation at any place, at any time and deliver stunning images capturing real moments.

3) Who will actually shoot my wedding?
Rissa and I are the principle photographers and nearly always photograph weddings together. We have two assistants and two second shooters who accompany us at larger weddings. We don't employ just any photographer, our team has been carefully selected over the course of many years and they uphold the very high standards that we built our business on. To be a part of our team at Balance means that you are on the cutting edge, creative, technically sound, and highly professional.

4) Will I get a CD of my pictures?
We feel that in today's highly visual multi-media world, there are incredible options for you out there to consider for your images. We always give CDs to our clients for just that reason and even share a list of fun websites to order photo gifts from with their files. Once again I want to emphasize, you get what you pay for. The products and services we offer for your photographs can't be found outside our studio and are one of a kind. We want you have the freedom to do what you want with your pictures, yet also have the opportunity to get products only offered to professionals as well.

5) Where are you located?
We are located in Catonsville, MD but also have mobile offices anywhere Starbucks is located.

6) How far will you travel?
Anywhere in the world. We all have valid passports, too.

7) Have you been to my venue?
We have worked at a pretty extensive list of venues but we always love to go someplace new. Being a photojournalist means that you can go anywhere and make great images so not having been to your venue should by no means be a deterrent to hiring us.

8) I hate being photographed! Can you make is easier in any way?
There are no bad subjects, only bad photographers. We have years of experience photographing people of all sizes, shapes, colors and tempers. Our clients always look good. We have a pretty filter, after all. : )

9) How many formals do you take? How many candids?
We take as many formals as you want, and focus on documentary images the rest of the time. Also we prefer to do something called "informals" which you can see on our website. We are truly flexible in this and really try to deliver to you exactly what you want. If you want nothing but formals for your wedding photos however, we are really not the right people for you.

10) When should I book? How far in advance?
1 year in advance is best. 6 months out is a gamble for your date especially during busy months like September/October. About once every 2 or 3 years, for various reasons, we will book a wedding 1 week before the date! Talk about procrastinating.

We are an exclusive studio. If you want us, you will get us, not "Joe the photographer." We are only two people and to offer our skills and creative ability to droves of people is not possible. We limit the number of weddings we take on each year to 35. This allows us to truly give each client all the attention and service they deserve. Currently we have 15 spots left for this year.

11) My church won't allow flash photography. What can you do?
No worries, our skills and our equipment are top of the line. We will capture your ceremony no matter what, and even have a few tricks up our sleeves -- especially when dealing with grumpy church ladies and dark chapels. Trade secrets.

12) What happens if it rains on my wedding day?
You might get wet, your plans may slightly change, but you will still get married. That is the most important part and don't you forget it! Consider having funky umbrellas and go with the flow. Try a clear tent, that's what we did. We can always find a pretty place for pictures no matter what happens.

13) You guys look young. How many weddings have you done?
Over two hundred. People have not hired us before because they "thought we were too young." Well, we've been in business about a decade and have been shootign weddings since we were teen-agers. We are both in our thirties now. Ask us our anti-aging secrets when you meet with us, we'll be glad to share.

14) Can I build a custom package?
Absolutely. One thing we are all about is getting you exactly what you want. Not everyone wants the same thing and no single package is right for everyone. Our packages are based on what most couples have wanted.

15) Can you do special effects, like black & white, fisheye or sepia?
We can do and have done just about anything you could imagine. If there is something specific you are looking for, don't be shy, tell us and we will make it happen.

16) How long does is take to get the photos back?
Two to four weeks based on when your wedding is and which package you get.

17) Do you put pictures online for my guests and family?
Always. The pictures go out to you first, followed by your friends and family. If you have a list we can contact them for you. We proudly use to host all of our images online. You can view your wedding photos as a slide show, compare images, order prints, email photos to friends, and view them as color, B&W or sepia.

18) What kind of albums do you offer?
We use 9 different album companies and each offers multiple variations. We can offer you over 1,000 album options (literally!!) and once again try to get you exactly what you want. Leather, wood, cloth, acrylic, metal, glossy, matted, flush, mounted, press-printed/coffetable, accordians, you name it, we have access to it. All the album companies we work with create top quality, archival products that you will be proud to own and share.

19) What is your background/education?
Rissa attended NYU's Tisch School of the Arts for film-making & screenwriting, and also studied photojournalism & art history at Western Kentucky University. She graduated with honors. She has been a photographer for most of her life and got her first camera at age 7 for selling Girl Scout cookies. Nathaniel studied photojournalism at Western Kentucky as well, and is a 3rd generation photographer. His grandfather, Jack, is considered a legend in the photojournalism industry and trained not only Rissa & Nathaniel, but many of the important photographers alive and working today.

20) What kind of equipment do you use? Do you have back-up equipment?
We use all Nikon equipment.We have both digital and film camera, use all Nikkor lenses and Nikon flash units. we like Lexar and Sandisk digital cards. Our computers are all Macs. And yes, we do have back-up equipment. Always!

So... as we end this interrogation session, I hope you have learned a little more about us and the photography business in general. And if you have more questions ~ seriously, don't hesitate to call or email. We are happy to answer any and all!
~ Nathaniel

Destinations/Travel Weddings

Imagine yourself getting married on a white sand beach. Tropical breeze blowing your hair, the scent of exotic jasmine in the air. The palm trees sway as you say "I do" and your make your grand exit ~ barefoot, down the beach. Nearly every bride has dreamed of a destination wedding. Each dream is different ~ some are in the warm, sunny Caribbean, others are in California wine country; some imagine gondolas in Venice and still others see the picturesque mountains of Aspen.

Photographing destination weddings is like a dream come true
to me, too. It fulfills two of my loves: documenting weddings and being a travel photographer, all in one swoop.

Derrick & Heather in the rainforest of Costa Rica

But why would you pay to take a photographer across the country or even to another continent? Isn't that like paying for their va-cay? (We have heard this question before...)

Really, nothing could be further from true. Yes, you're paying to transport someone to another place geographically, but it is hardly a vacation for the photographer. Let me explain the difference and why it is incredibly smart to take a photographer with you for your destination wedding.

First and fundamental is reliability. If you hire someone local to your exotic destination, there is no guarantee that they will show up at all. There is also no guarantee that a local photographer will be professional, talented or even take decent, usable pictures. We had a college friend who got married in South America four years ago. She hired a photographer recommended by her hotel and to date, has not received any pictures from her wedding besides a dozen 4x6s printed on an ink jet. Those are the only memories she has to share with her children from that important day - because she totally relied on a local photographer who took her money and did not deliver. Being that she lives in the states, had no contract and does not speak his native language, there is absolutely nothing she has been able to do about it.

Taking us along assures that you will have professional coverage, great photographs and reliable service after your wedding. You will absolutely want to be able to chat with your photographer after the wedding about your album, retouching, prints and other post-production needs.
Post-production accounts for almost 80% of a photographer's service to a bride & groom. Another plus is that if you use a photographer from the states, you can sign a legally binding contract that will protect you and guarantee that you will get your pictures. And it can be enforced because both parties are state-side.

Stephen & Jessica in Miami

If you are traveling to an amazing locale for your wedding, you don't want to be disappointed with what the photos you end up with. Rissa & I have a depth of experience traveling the world and feel confident in our ability to capture incredible images no matter where we are.

We've noticed another trend lately, too. People around the U.S. are calling us to photograph their weddings. There is no shortage of photographers throughout the states and the world. We suspect the reason we are called beginning to be called to so many different places is because we have a unique style. Our photography is not simply a mimicking of other photographers work or a series of technical executions. Our work is a culmination of years of training, experience, artistry, passion and love all combined to create a unique vision of photography and a unique style all our own. Our clients recognize that hiring us as their photographers makes their lives part of this vision, and captures beautiful moments in their lives in our own unique way. A favorite quote we first heard from photographer Joe Buissink, "An original is hard to find, but easy to recognize."

In the past we have traveled outside the DC/Balitmore region for weddings to Nashville TN (several times), Asheville NC, Virginia Beach VA, Miami FL, Louisville KY (several times), Deep Creek MD and Rehoboth Beach DE (several times). This year so far we are scheduled to photograph weddings in Phoenix AZ, New Orleans LA, Nashville TN, Knoxville TN, Charleston SC and in L, England. The list of foreign countries we have traveled to and photographed in include Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Rissa and I got married in Nashville while we lived in Baltimore, so we have real life experience with destination wedding planning. We hired a lot of our vendors locally during visits: food, tent, flowers, musicians, DJ, hair stylist, chocolate fountain, favors, hotel & shuttle service. But we flew in two as well because they were important to us... Rissa's make-up artist, and our photographer. Paying for their hotel and airfare was no problem to work our budget around because we deeply valued their services.

While it is pretty much impossible to pack up a cake and fly it to Brazil, or to move 12 table centerpieces from Baltimore to San Francisco in your carry-on, we strongly encourage you to include your photographer when you take your wedding on the road. It will insure your memories will be there to share with your family, friends as well as children and grandchildren.

Nik & Crawford in the Black Mountains, NC

It truly goes beyond a "job" for us and is an honor to be involved in capturing our clients memories. When you bring a photographer to your wedding ~ be it from around the block or around the world, it is a huge commitment on the part of the photographer. It is not a vacation, no matter where you are making your commitment. Not all photographers will even accept destination weddings because the travel adds an extra layer of effort and responsibility for them. Last October I photographed a wedding in Costa Rica. Friends at home asked if I laid on the beach or went sightseeing ~ and really it was the exact opposite. It was one of the most intense work experiences I have ever had. Far from a vacation, I worked constantly ~ we did multiple additional portrait sessions, there was the wedding, reception and also a rehearsal.

Weddings are monumental events where you will experience feelings and moments that will never happen again for the rest of your life. Documenting those moments is an incredibly beautiful experience, a privilege, and extremely challenging work. Make sure someone you trust is behind the camera!

Safe travels and happy planning!

Radio City Baltimore

Last night I was especially grateful to be featured on a blogtalkradio show focused on wedding photography. The host was wedding coordinator Aisha Whaley from Whaley's Outstanding Weddings. The interview was really fun and featured myself and another photographer from the Baltimore area. We went through lots of questions about photography and answered specific questions from callers. In case you missed my ridiculous flurry of twitter and FB posts and missed the show, you can listen to the archived file through the show name Picture Perfect: Wedding photography and photos to remember

Friday, January 9, 2009

Feel the Burn

Freshly updated for your viewing pleasure... the balance boudoir website. I have been toiling for some time over the new slideshow and portfolio additions. Hopefully you will love them as much as I do.

Welcome also, the Exotica packages ~ what not to love about a beautiful woman covered in flowers or a body smeared in paint? We are so proud to be teaming up for these not just with our partners at Up Do's for I Do's, but also Carole Langrall @ A Garden of Earthly Delights and the talented Kim Reyes, fine artist & body painter.

So sit back, click thru and enjoy the show. Again. : )

It really gets better & better...
~ Rissa

Hit the ground running

2009 is already taking us by storm. Since we returned to Baltimore we have been working nonstop. It seems like many other people have been as well. As much as we were all sitting around waiting to see what the economy would do, now we are all rushing trying to get back on our feet. Good for us all! We plan on working hard for it and are really gratefull for everyone out there doing the same. But all work and no play makes for a trite and meaningless life! So enjoy this fascinating and somewhat scary YouTube clip sent to me by a great agent friend of mine at GreerLange and have some play in your Friday.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

We're Everywhere!

And we're back ~

After traveling for the holidays and visiting family and friends, we're back in the swing of things here at balance. Not only in the swing of things, but we're going to be everywhere it seems in the next few weeks!

If you are a bride and thinking of your wedding photography ~ come check us out at one of the following wedding shows...

Sat. 1/10 & Sun. 1/11 at the Maryland Wedding Professionals Assoc. Bridal Expo at the Timonium Fairgrounds. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The Expo will be in the York Rd. Exhibition Hall and the Vista Room. Entry fee is $15 and the show is huge, huge, huge! Loads of vendors, wedding gowns and of course, we'll be there too! : )

Tues. 1/13 at the Baltimore Museum of Industry Bridal Show, 1415 Key Highway in Federal Hill, 21230. From 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Entry is free and the show is intimate, low key and very sleek. After all, it's in a museum on the waterfront! 

Fri. 1/16 at the Turf Valley Bridal Extravaganza and Fashion Show, 2700 Turf Valley Rd. in Ellicott City, 21042. From 4 p.m. to 7:3o p.m., with a formal runway fashion show & seated dinner to follow the bridal show. This is a medium-size show and takes up all the various ballrooms and hallways of the huge Turf Valley facility. Entry to the show is $27 and the show and dinner are fabulous ~ worth planning to stick around for!

Sun. 1/18 at the Baltimore Bridal Showcase at the Hilton Columbia, 5485 Twin Knolls Rd., Columbia, 21045. This show is from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and the entry fee is only $7. This is another more intimate show with 40 vendors, models in gowns and excellent catering.

Sun. 1/25 at the Historic Savage Mill Bridal Showcase, at 8600 Foundry St., Savage, 20736. The show is from noon to 3 p.m. in the Great Room at the Mill and is always a packed crowd. We've seen brides lining up outside 30 minutes before the show! Secretly, I think it's because the show is catered by Puttin' on the Ritz and word has gotten out about their glorious garlic mashed potatoes. I'd stand in line 30 minutes for them anyhow.

Sat. 2/21 at the Wedding Innovator's Challenge at the Liason Capitol Hill,  415 New Jersey Ave., NW, Washington DC. Entry is $20 and this will be no usual wedding show. "Whose Wedding is it Anyway?" featured planner Vicky Johnson will be hosting and six teams of wedding designers will create showcases of the cutting edge in special event style. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  Not to be missed! 

Sun. 2/22 at the Dream Event Wedding Showcase at the Gathering Place, 6120 Day Long Lane, Clarksville. The showcase will be from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and admission is $5 in advance or $8 at the door. With door prizes, live entertainers and more wedding madness!

So stop by and say hello! We love wedding shows and love to see our brides out and about!
~ Rissa