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Pushing the boundaries.

Over the last several years I’ve been really inspired by some pretty dark artwork… which is funny, I’m not a very dark person. As far as I’m willing to admit… bwa haha… Anyway, I have been particularly drawn to conceptual fine art photography and just kept thinking “Dude, I want to do that…”  I shut that idea down pretty frequently until finally I decided I had to just give it a shot. I just had to try it.

I put together a concept (four, actually), got some models who generously worked for free as my guinea pigs, was given access to an amazing location and tried to put my vision into action. After the shoot, I came home anxious, a total ball of nerves ready to break into the photos and get on to the editing process. I picked the first scene and started work. And continued to work. And continued… For like, a month. On that one photo.

It got to where I really hated the photo, the whole process and pretty much decided this is not an art form I’ll be pursuing. That feeling hasn’t changed much, but I have to say I’m proud of myself for pushing my boundaries with this challenge. That was the whole goal – the goal was not necessarily to create some masterful artworks, though that would have been a pretty rad and bodacious outcome for a first attempt at something pretty ambitious… (I really need to keep reminding myself this is SO out of my comfort zone and perfection was not the goal… very very hard for a perfectionist to wrap her mind around let me tell ya…)

I have learned an insane amount about Photoshop manipulation and compositing and just through the process of creating a vision, doing all the prep-work and having a finished product to show for it is pretty rewarding.  While I have three other scenes to edit at this time, I’m definitely taking a break from this project for awhile.  I really did not anticipate how draining it’d be… and how much I’d kinda suck at it! But it’s awesome to have a challenge that’s pushing the boundaries and that will surely push me in my “regular” work as well.

I have been hesitant to share because I’m really not sure what to expect the reaction to be (seriously, I don’t know what my own reaction is right now…) but this is part of the process for me. So here is the first concept… with all its flaws and imperfections. They are kind of growing on me.

Edit to add… Each of the scenes are snapshots into the character’s dream – this particular dream takes place in a room that’s filled with water… just a little snapshot into the backstory that maybe I’ll share more of someday. :)

Model // Kristin Jones


On being a hermit.

If I were to give the past year a title, it’d be The Year Carly Became a Hermit with the subtitle …and Learned a Lot of Life Lessons. I’ll spare the internets the course of events that preceded this hermitism, suffice it to say that due to a perfect storm of things, I found myself in a place of soul searching, prioritizing and change.

What used to be a very frenzied, busied, hurried existence filled with work and demands and deadlines and dummies is now something much more akin to “sanity” and peace.

Here’s a bit of what I’ve learned.

#1… If you find yourself making statements repeatedly, it may be that you’re trying to convince yourself of something that isn’t necessarily true. i.e. I was repeatedly saying, “My family is my top priority, they are my everything.”

Now… my family is and always has been my number 1, after God, but does that mean I was living my life in a way that was consistent with that ranking? Short answer… no. And I just kept trying to convince myself it was true. Cue a major change, a shift in how I was working (and where!). Bringing my work home was hard – I had moved my work away from home for a reason. For me, working out of the home was not, ultimately, the ideal situation it seemed it would be. While my work time was much more productive, generally, there was just way too much I was missing out on. I’ve now adjusted my schedule and tailored things to ensure I get all my work done, but my kids aren’t constantly begging me to play with them or pay attention to them because I already have been playing with them all day! By strengthening family bonds and having a better, stronger marriage, I’m happier and more at peace. Once your family is your top priority, everything else falls into place. It’s spooky. Spooky cool. (Every time I hear/say/type the word “spooky” I get Werewolf Bar Mitzvah stuck in my head. 30 Rock fans should be feelin’ me right about now…)


#2… People that spend a lot of time talking about other people are also spending a lot of time talking about you (you know, behind your back…). These people are not worth your time, so run quickly for the hills rather than spend your time listening to their b.s.

Isn’t this a lesson we learned in jr. high? Well, some of us need reminders, I guess, and sometimes those reminders are ever-loving painful. Stay away from gossipers. You know what is the worst part of hanging out with gossipers? You become a gossiper too. (Is it technically called a “gossip”? I never know what it’s called.)

Nothing feels worse than realizing that not only were you in a gossipy-conversation but that you had contributed to it… ugh, makes my stomach ache and there was a time where I’d found myself guilty on frequent occasion. It’s all about the people you surround yourself with… I’d rather have zero friends than be surrounded by son-of-a-beestings that can’t help but keep their mouths shut. Breaking up with bad friends is not easy, but it’s so worth it. The best feeling in the friendship-world is finding people who do nothing but speak positively of others and are always serving others. Those are the real friends, those are the ones that really get it, those are the people you can trust. And hey, women must vent, it is in our DNA, but vent wisely. I literally can count on half of one hand the very few friends I’ve gathered over the years that I can safely vent to, that understand I’m simply venting and that once the vent is over I’m over it and it no longer needs to be discussed. Oh, I love those sweet friends… those sweet trustworthy angel-women are worth more than diamonds to me.

#3… Never say never and listen to your gut. These two things have gone hand in hand this year, repeatedly, but the biggest example has been the choice to switch my oldest from public school to home school.

This was an intensely gut wrenching decision. I love public school. I love the classroom, the work, the smells, the other kids, the playground… 90% of the time I wish I was back in the third grade, let’s be totally honest. But, as that isn’t possible, my plan has been to live vicariously through my children’s classroom experiences. I’ve gone so far as to say, repeatedly, “I could never homeschool!” I’m the kind of mom that deeply loves my children, but that also appreciates a little “me-time” now and then. I have always believed that with the time my kids spend at school, away from home, I’m allowed the sanity to be a good mom while they are home – it’s a perfect balance, right? Well, imagine my surprise when I found myself making a completely out-of-character gut-reaction decision to end that wonderfully balanced existence and begin schooling at home. Um, hello, it’s like I wasn’t even present while that decision was being made. No sane person does this!!

Well I am here to tell you I have never been more wrong (and at this point, you’ve realized my affinity for hyperbole, I’m sure…). I don’t even know where to start, and I’m sure this will be a major blog post, if not a major theme of it’s own throughout multiple posts, at some point in the future. This experience has taught me that not only am I capable of homeschooling, but that it’s an incredible joy. Surprisingly, I don’t feel like maiming anyone at the end of the day, the stress level has gone way down, and I’m loving my kid in a whole new way. I’m getting to know her in a way that I didn’t realize I was missing out on. More on this later… but, never say never. You have no idea what you might be missing out on! Trust that gut. It’s never wrong.

#4… Eliminate the negative… in this case, Facebook.

This past week I’ve chosen to avoid Facebook as much as possible. I had found myself checking in all the time, on my phone whenever I had a free moment, on the computer when I was supposed to be working, etc. Sick. I do not like being addicted to anything, that’s just not something I’m proud of or that I want in my life. So I chose to take a little break. Over the past week I’ve logged on about once a day to check my inbox and make sure I haven’t missed anything important on my business page (like, an inquiry or something). I deleted the app on my phone and log out each time I check it on the computer so that if I’ve found myself habitually going there the login screen reminds me I’m taking a break. Of all social media, I think Facebook is the worst. I can’t give up Instagram – it’s like my little diary almost, where sadly without it I wouldn’t have a fraction the photos of my kids to hang on to…

By simplifying daily rituals to no longer include this time-suck, I’ve found myself disgustingly more productive. In addition to being more on top of chores (not perfect, remember, I’m pregnant, homeschooling, running a business and have two kids… the work is never really caught up…) I’ve read two novels this week. TWO. Do you know how long it’s been since I read two novels in a week? Well, my oldest is almost 7 so it’s probably been almost 7 years. :) Not only am I more productive, but I’m so much happier! I had no idea to what extent other peoples ridiculous Facebook-complaining and public airing of problems was bringing me down. Now, I believe Facebook can be a tool. I use it for my business and will not give that up. I also use it to keep in touch with long-distance family and friends. Can’t give that up either. But using it as a way to avoid daily responsibility and in replacement of personal-growth activities is just plain dumb. I hate that I have to set boundaries for myself, but I do. Cut the crap and start seeing the good!

Each of these lessons has led to me becoming quite the hermit. Bringing my work home, adjusting my friend-priorities, homeschooling and giving up social media (to an extent) has given me a lot of at-home-time to really think and really consider what’s important in my life at this point. And while being a hermit is not the goal, it’s what it took to open my eyes to some areas that were in need of a little extra attention and it’s given me a greater drive to become a better me.

What’s important in your life right now? What are the lessons that’ve been big for you recently?



Tips to guarantee you don’t hate your family pictures

This post has been brewing for over a year now – it’s about time I wrote it! Here are some tips that, I believe, will help you have a successful portrait session with your family. Be sure to comment if you have more tips, below!

Pick the right season for your photos. If you’re expecting sweeping landscapes with green lush fields and gorgeous purple sunkissed mountains in the background, we can not get that photo in the middle of January. It isn’t realistic. That photo, however, would be a realistic creation in late summer.

If mud, brown dead grass and leafless trees is your thing, plan a November or February shoot! (Obviously, I’m saying, let’s avoid November and February… and really the months in between unless you’re going for a festive snowy lodge look, cover of the November LL Bean style, or something… then the winter is the clear choice.)

This gorgeousness happened in June. We would have this kind of a look all summer!

Shot in October - golden light, fall tones and an opportunity for wardrobe layering is only possible in the fall time.

Hire the right photographer for you. Here are a few things I personally would look for in a photographer.

  • Style. Does the style shown in their portfolio reflect our style as a family? They may be an amazing photographer but you will not love the photos if your styles did not mesh. If a lifestyle/candid approach is what you’re after, hiring someone that specializes in formal posed portraits does not make sense. And vice versa.
  • Personality. Pick someone you can relate to. You don’t have to know them well to know their personality and general vibe – spend time reading their blog, social media posts, etc. Personally, I’d rather work with someone who is going to be funny and relaxed then someone who’s really formal and reserved. It’ll be hard for the kids (and, heck, the parents too) to feel loose and comfortable if the photographer is not a fun crazy person. Fun and crazy may not be important to you, so consider what vibe you put out and try to find someone that will “get you”.
  • Professionalism. That doesn’t mean your photog wears a pantsuit to your shoot. I’m referring to the way they conduct their business, the way they treat you as a client and person, and the outcome of their shoots. Are they reputable? Do they come recommended from friends you trust? Do they pay taxes on their earnings? I’m not saying ask if they pay taxes, but you should be able to tell if they are running a legit business or not. And if it’s a legit business, odds are you’re going to be much happier than if you went with someone who just doesn’t care about going to jail for tax evasion and fraud – I think it’s safe to assume they aren’t going to care much about you and your photos, either.
  • Portfolio. Spend time looking at past shoots. Make sure you are really aware of what this photographer likes to shoot and what sort of images are in their portfolio. Can you imagine your own family in those images? If not, you probably need to keep shopping.
  • Quality. This goes along with style and professionalism, but don’t hesitate to ask to see some finished products before you hire. If a coffee table book is really important to you, don’t go into that blind – make sure you know they are capable of providing you with a beautiful coffee table book before the booking is even finalized. If getting all digital images is important to you, make sure that’s something they offer and that it fits your price point. Ask to see a full session, start to finish, so you know what you’ll be receiving when you pay for the digital files.
  • Flexibility. Hire someone that is understanding. If your kids are throwing up the day of the shoot, know beforehand what your photographers policy is and make sure they are flexible.
Trust the photographer. Once you’ve chosen the photog that is the right fit for you, trust them! Go into your photos with the expectation that they are going to be awesome, but without specific expectations of the specific poses and specific photos that are going to happen. You will be disappointed if you’ve created a vision in your head that either a) isn’t communicated to the photographer and b) isn’t realistic for the shooting circumstances. Your photographer should have experience working with a variety of circumstances and will work the situation to your absolute advantage – sometimes, that means that specific things you’d planned to have happen just don’t happen because it wasn’t realistic under the circumstances. So, be loose. Be flexible. You will be happier with your photos if you trust the vision of your photographer. You hired them for a reason, right? You loved their other photos. And I promise you, those photos didn’t happen the way they did because the client was directing the shoot. When the client trusts the photographer, that’s when the magic happens. If you have a hard time giving up control (hello, I totally understand because I’m a control freak) then hiring a custom photographer may not be for you. It only works if you can trust your photog and give them creative control. Does that mean you can’t have opinions or ideas? Of course not – but leave those for the planning meeting or booking phone call, try to curb them during the shoot itself. If there’s something very important to you that just isn’t happening, speak up – but again, be realistic.

It may feel totally silly - do it anyway! Trust that the photographer is speaking from experience and with a clear vision in mind.

Don’t be a cheapskate. I think the biggest mistake people make is thinking that price is most important, but it isn’t. Quality is most important. Sure, it’s going to cost a little more to work with a true professional, but it’s also going to be done right the first time. Always, when it comes to your family’s memories, go with quality. You won’t regret it! If you’ve purchased the digital files and plan to do your own prints, do not print them at WalMart for the love of all that is holy. Head to and get yourself some great quality prints – they aren’t even that expensive. Seriously. Don’t be a cheapskate. This is your heritage, this is what you’re leaving for posterity! Do it right! (Do I sound like a drill sergeant? That’s totally what I was going for… That or Oprah Winfrey. I hope I’m really inspiring you right now.)

Coordinate, don’t match. So, I’m probably about to offend a lot of people here but it has to be said. White shirts and jeans was a hit in the early 90′s. Black polo’s and khakis was a GAP campaign that affected family portraiture for the entire decade of the 90′s. Everyone in the same outfit was awesome… in the 90′s. Do you realize that the mid-90′s were 20 years ago? Tweennnnnttttyyyyyy. That, folks, is outdated. Modern family portraiture is all about coordinating, not matching. While that sounds really intimidating, it’s actually way easier then finding the same outfit in each individual family members size! I promise! Some quick tips for coordinating – not matching…

  • Pick a neutral. Look around your home and see what neutral you’re using the most, because you’ll want the prints to coordinate and look good in your home. Grey is my favorite.
  • Pick a main color. Or colors. Again, make sure it’s a color you actually love to decorate with because let’s hope it’s going to be all over the house once your prints arrive. If you aren’t into color, pick another neutral.
  • Make sure everyone has shades (note, not necessarily the same shade) of the neutral and a shade of the main color(s) (again, not necessarily all the exact same shade of that color – a variety will add interest) and don’t hesitate to mix prints and patterns. It sounds crazy but this will create a very pulled together, well coordinated wardrobe that shows personality, texture, depth and a modern but timeless style. No one is going to identify your normal outfits as 2014 the way they’ll identify all white shirts with jeans with the early 90′s. There doesn’t have to be a huge dynamic difference between each person, just don’t all wear the same outfit.
  • I have created a Pinterest board all about this topic, head on over for some inspiration.

Tooting my own horn here. This is my own family's portrait this past year - didn't we do a good job coordinating without being too matchy matchy? I think so... :)

Loosen up and have fun. Don’t we all want a real in-the-moment shot with our kids? I know I do! That only happens if you are willing to let your guard down and get comfortable.

Be in the moment. Let what's real be captured!

Going with the flow is important as a couple, too! This shot took, literally, 30 seconds and they didn’t even know I was taking the photo. We were back on track with the family in no time – totally worth it!

A few quick tips for moms of young children. Be aware of nap time, how your kids do in the car (so you won’t want a location 40 miles away if they are going to be super cranky once you get there), make sure the kids are well fed and that circumstances are as good as they can be for happy children. This still won’t guarantee they’ll be thrilled with a stranger holding a huge camera in their face, but it will at least help. Leave the entourage at home, the photographer will get more natural expressions out of the kids if there aren’t a pack of human monkeys acting like goofballs behind them. Just trust me on this one… it rarely works. Too much pressure on the kids to perform a certain way is sure to sabotage an otherwise successful shoot. Pack snacks that won’t spike their blood sugar and make them crazy. Bring water bottles. Promise them Happy Meals.

And for moms in general. Try not to knitpick your kids expressions or attitude. If that’s a fake smile, it won’t get any more natural if you draw attention to it. Let the photographer take them to the side for some one on one time to get more comfortable. Some of the best and most authentic portraits are going to happen when no one is pressuring them to pose or act a certain way.

Lastly… make it happen. Don’t wait. If you really truly can not make your budget work to hire a professional photographer, do all you can to get the best photos with the resources you do have. It may not be a popular thing amongst other photographers for me to tell you this, but, your memories are important and your family is worth documenting and if that means you set up a tripod and do it yourself – do it. I promise that the experience and outcome will be better when you invest in a pro, but don’t sacrifice documenting your family just because you can’t afford it. Make it happen. And then save up for next year – this is worth saving for.

There is never a great time to do family photos – 0ur schedules are busy, we’re not as fit as we’d like to be, our kids acne is out of control… don’t let these be reasons to wait. As much as I hate scare tactics, I will tell you that I have personally seen first hand several of my clients experience losses or changes in their family soon after having their portraits taken. They have always expressed such gratitude that they had those photos done at a time when they were possible. They shouldn’t be thanking me, though, they need to thank themselves for doing what it took to get it on the calendar and make it happen. This is important and it’s important right now. PSA over.


Now, it may surprise you to learn that I don’t know everything. Shocker, right? If you have some great tips for successful family portraits, leave them in the comments!

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rainy days are my homegirls.

Found on, click to view the Vol 25 shop

For the year of first grade I lived in Puyallup, Washington. My dad had taken a teaching job in Fife and we uprooted and moved to “the big city.” We were only there for one year, but man that rain got into my soul so deep I just can’t get rid of this love I have for it. While I can find a sunny summer day enjoyable, I cringe when it’s been “too sunny for too long” and I welcome the grey cozy overcast that comes every March to Eastern Oregon. I feel most creative, connected and happy when it’s overcast and rainy.

When I meet new people and tell them I’m from Oregon they assume that I’m in a very rainy area like Portland. Eastern Oregon is actually high desert and we welcome the rain with open arms because it’s greatly needed for the crops and livestock (clearly I’m not a farmer nor a rancher, so I have no idea how dire the need is. But it seems like kind of a big deal around here…) Like the high desert ground, I crave these rainy days.

All I want to do on a day like today is grab my worn copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and a cup of hot herbal tea and just read the day away in my pjs. The last time I was able to live that fantasy was like 8 years ago so clearly I’m in delusional-ville. Instead, today, dear reader, I’m going to share a couple tidbits of news with you and while I can guarantee the writing will be nothing akin to C.S. Lewis, feel free to grab that cup of hot tea and don’t bother changing out of your pjs.

First… I’m pregnant. Like, seriously. There’s a baby in my belly. I’m due in September, I’ll have a c-section (it’ll be my third, I’m not even a little nervous about it – old news, easy stuff…) and I look like I’m probably 6 or so months along. Omar the Tent maker will soon be commissioned for all my wardrobe needs.

Second… Because I’m pregnant, I’ve been exhausted for the last 3 months. Everything has suffered and I’m basically sucking at life right now. The energy has to come back, right??

Third… I may be having a baby but… Carly Carlson Photography is going nowhere. But, it is going through some big changes this year and there’ll be some maternity leave to consider. It seems like every year the business goes through some form of reinvention and this is going to be a big year of changes that’ll outdo all the others. I can’t go into too much detail right now, but I will say that I’ve hired a graphic designer as part of this reinvention (the fabulous Sara Seeton… very stoked) and I’ll no longer have an office downtown… and it’s not Carly Carlson Photography anymore… it’s just Carly Carlson… Have I said too much? Or too little? I think I’ll just leave it at that and you’ll just have to wait and see what happens. :)

Fourth… The “third” makes it seem like I have everything perfectly figured out and well-planned. Let’s be honest here, I have no idea what’s going on. I am optimistically throwing caution to the wind and saying “come at me, change!” and we’ll just see how that goes for awhile…

Fifth… Okay, I do have a plan and it does have structure, I’m just not sure how it’s going to play out. I hate being along for the ride because I’m a control freak but I’m pretty sure I’m on the right track here. I love my business and I can’t quit photography because photography won’t quit me! Okay, that was way more dramatic than necessary. Deep breaths, Carly.

And sixth… Juan Pablo is the worst bachelor in Bachelor history. Just throwing that out there, on a totally unrelated note.

Enjoy this rainy day, like it’s the best friend you’ve got!



Side note: Writing a blog post with a six year old sitting next to you is extremely difficult. I have been interrupted more times then I can count. And I loved every moment of it.


Thoughts on being “mom” to my red head

One of the best parts of being a parent is watching all these wonderful experiences happen to your kids and knowing that those moments become memories you’ll talk about for years and years. Today, after church, Stella was looking for her daddy. She saw someone that seemed to fit the bill, hugged around his waist super tight saying, “DADDY!!”

When to her horror she realized it was not, in fact, her daddy, but our friend Caleb. I have never seen her cheeks so bright red and I still giggle every time I remember it. She was so embarrassed that she didn’t want me to tell her real daddy that she had hugged the wrong man. I probably shouldn’t share this so publicly, out of respect for her sweet innocent embarrassment, but she is so special and sweet that I just bust at the seams and can’t help but share all her cute parts. When we came home she let me know she was going to “hide out” in a blankie fort for a few hours or days so she could get over the embarrassment alone.