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Who does a photographer ask to photograph her wedding?

November 13, 2015 Published by . 1 Comment

So here’s my big news for the month: I got married!  On October 3rd, 2015, Joel Ebner and I officially tied the knot.  A visual designer by trade and a musician by design, Joel and I are now legally a powerhouse of sound and vision.  Actually, the song we chose to play when we were introduced as man and wife was David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision.”  Everyone laughed and shook their head in agreement.

The wedding was AMAZING.  I mean I knew it would be fun and lovely and awesome, but seriously, I had no idea how awesome it would be.  I’m still glowing.  But what they all say about the day being a total blur– it’s spot on.  It seriously happened so fast.

With photography being such an integral part of my life (duh), I knew I wanted the PERFECT wedding photographer to capture our special day for eternity, since it will be over in an instant.  As the day drew closer, when I told clients I was getting married their first question was almost always “who’s photographing it?”  A fascination I can completely understand, because really, how does a photographer choose a photographer?  I’ve often wondered what dentist my dentist goes to, where my mechanic takes his car, where my lawyer friends go to have their own law business attended to.

But if you’re looking for some super secret special insight into how to find the perfect wedding photographer from an industry insider, my advice isn’t going to wow you.  To choose my wedding photographer I did the same thing I suggest everyone does.  I looked at portfolios for a style I admired and pictured for my own wedding, compared packages to stay within my budget, and talked to photographers on the phone to get a feel for if we would work well together and how they answered my questions.  And my questions really weren’t any different from anyone else’s questions: Can I see your contract?  Can I see a full sample wedding?  What are your plans/packages?  How long have you been shooting weddings?  What are your emergency back-up plans if you get sick on the day of the wedding?  Etc.

Okay, I did ask what equipment they shoot on, but only out of curiosity.  And I mentioned upfront that I’m a fellow photographer, but let them know right away that I won’t be asking for the RAW files or anything crazy like that.

And I will admit that out of all of the wedding planning, choosing the photographer was the part I got the most “bridezilla” about and actually made a spreadsheet of photographers to contact and their basic info to compare.  And I actually contacted 18 different photographers.  But I swear, everything else in the wedding planning process was easy peasy– I bought the first dress I tried on and I can prove it.  I have witnesses.

But enough about that- let’s get to the fun part and look at some of the photos from the wedding!

ALL PHOTOS BELOW BY SALLY O’DONNELL OF SALLY O’DONNELL PHOTOGRAPHY

Thank you so much Sally for capturing our day exactly how we envisioned it!

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My life with a Shiba Inu

July 18, 2015 Published by . Leave your thoughts

Shiba Inu, headshot, portraitIf you’ve been to my home studio for photos, you were most likely greeted by a gentle sniff from a Shiba nose before my handshake. And before we started talking photos, we most likely covered the usual Shiba intros:
“what kind of dog is that?”
“he’s a Shiba Inu.”
“is this the breed that doesn’t bark?”
“that’s a Basenji. Shibas don’t bark that much though.”
“does he shed?”
“yes. I own stock in lint rollers.”

I’ve seen a lot of articles and blog posts written about the breed tendencies of Shiba Inus, and some of them warn against getting one more strongly than some warn about pitbulls. It troubles me to see the downsides of any breed being focused on, but I do understand why it’s done: if you’re considering getting a dog you do need to know what you’re getting into. And a lot of clients who ask me questions about my Shiba are filing the info away for their own dog search.

I figured it might be helpful to some if I shared what I’ve learned from living with a Shiba for the past 4 years. But I’m not going to list his traits as breed tendencies (though some of these things are so Shiba that other Shiba owners will let out a “oh yeah girl, amen to that”). I believe each dog is an individual. Breeds do have certain tendencies toward certain behaviors and temperaments as a whole, but dogs aren’t robots and you can’t expect them to act a certain way just because most other dogs in that breed act that way. For example, my Shiba barely barks, but I’ve met other Shibas who bark like it’s a neat little hobby.

IMG_6635_bSo let me introduce you to David Bowie the Dog, or Bowie for short. And like most dog owners my fiancée and I have given him a laundry list of nicknames he responds to, such as BooBoo, BoBo, Fuzzypants, Monkeyface, Chippychips, and Numbnuts. (Numbnuts is reserved for when he humps me to get his dinner or that one time he ate his own poo.) I love that dog more than just about most of the mammals I know and would give him my kidney if he needed one. I love how sometimes he’ll lightly poke my leg with his nose as he walks by, just to acknowledge my presence. And I love how his feet smell like cornchips, his snout smells like pancakes, and his breath always smells like bacon (except for that one time when he ate his own poo).

sheddyBowie sheds.
Shiba Inus are fuzzy, double coated dogs, which means he’s got a topcoat of brown fur, and an undercoat of soft, white fur, which keeps him warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The fuzzy undercoat is constantly turning over, and when the seasons change sometimes he can “blow his coat” and it comes off in huge chunks of fur every time you pet him. On average, I vacuum about twice a week if I want it to look like nothing furry sits on the couch. He is not hypoallergenic. A few people with dog allergies have sneezed on him.

Bowie is smart.
He was easy to train the basics- sit, down, speak, roll over, and stay. His best advanced trick is that he rings a bell when he has to go outside. But I’m hesitant to call it a trick… I think the things he’s learned can be put in two categories: tricks and communication. Tricks are the things he learned that if he does them when requested he’ll get a treat. And he freaking loves treats. Communication is the stuff that he learned he has a right to. He views himself as a clear member of the pack of mammals in the house and that the tall, hairless mammals will provide for his needs if he can communicate them. So he rings a bell when he wants to go out, he sits at my feet and lets out a soft bark when he wants dinner, and he paces in front of the stove when the chicken is done. (I don’t even use a kitchen timer anymore. He literally grabbed my shirtsleeve and started pulling me toward the kitchen once when some chicken boiling on the stove was done. If Lassie ever needs a stunt double on set we could just start boiling chicken.)IMG_5930
He also understands that the humans are mostly in charge and will stay in the house if the door opens or not jump out of the car until told it’s time to do so. This might blow some Shiba owners’ minds since Shibas are often lost because of their “door bolting” tendencies. When they see a door, they bolt. The first time a young 6 month old Bowie did that to me I put him through my own personal boot camp. Every time we went through a door I made him stop first, sit, look me in the eye, and wait until I crossed through the door and said “okay” before he could follow. It took us a long time to get out of the building, but it was worth it.
Also, like a lot of Shibas he doesn’t come when called. Most dogs come running to anyone kneeling with open arms saying “come here, boy!” Bowie just stares at you like you’re a moron.

snowed-24bBowie is independent.
I had a Giant Schnauzer as a kid and used to take her for jaunts around a park without a leash- she would disappear among some trees for a bit and I would just have to say her name quietly and she’d be right back at my side. If I tried to take Bowie for a walk anywhere without a leash he would completely ignore my calls, run toward something that smelled cool, get into a cab, and try to find Baconland. If we try to pet him when he’d rather be left alone he’ll tolerate it for a little while, then stand up, walk just out of arm’s reach, and lay down again. Shibas have been described as more cat-like than dog-like and for the most part it’s true with Bowie. Whenever he’s off doing his own thing or ignoring us we say he’s got a doggie agenda. Every so often he’ll snuggle on our laps, roll over for belly-rubs or do other things a yellow lab would do 50 times a day and we’ll stop everything and scream, “Look! Quick! He’s acting like a real dog!” But he’s still my shadow for the most part and sits at the foot of my chair when I’m at my desk working or will join us on the couch for Game of Thrones.

Bowie is skittish.
He loves meeting new people, but not in the way most dogs love meeting new people. Instead of excitedly jumping on them, barking, licking their faces, and sniffing crotches, he’s more likely to slowly investigate the new, tall, hairless mammal in his presence with some quiet sniffing. Out of instinct most people reach down to pet dogs when they’re being sniffed by them, but when a newbie goes to pat Bowie on the head he dodges the hand and backs off. Most people feel awful for scaring him and I have to explain that they shouldn’t take it personally. Like most Shibas he’s not aggressive when he doesn’t want to be pet, he just dodges it and backs off. Part of me thinks it’s some kind of con… he knows that humans will feel bad if they scare him, and when humans feel bad for a dog they’ll give him bacon. But another part of me has seen Bowie try to run away from floating plastic bags on the street, leap in the air when someone sneezes, and stop at the threshold of a doorway when carpeting turns to tile as if he thinks he can’t walk on the tile or his paws will burn off.IMG_5072
He’s especially terrified of children. I think it’s because they’re just like adults but a fraction of the size and they move very quickly and erratically so he can’t seem to figure them out. Which makes me feel like the biggest ogre on the planet when we’re out for a walk and an 8 year old asks to pet him and I say “you can try if you go slowly but he’s really shy and might run away,” which is exactly what happens. Since most dogs love kids and accept their hugs and pats on the head like manna from Heaven, when kids see a dog run from them like they have the plague they’re dumbfounded. There isn’t much out there more heartbreaking than the look on a young child’s face when a dog doesn’t want their snuggles.
But of course, not all Shibas are this skittish around children- many who grow up around them are used to them and play like normal dogs with them. Bowie just doesn’t have as much experience with them. But when he’s in the same room with kids for more than an hour I’ve seen him warm up and accept some gentle pettings and stop bolting to my legs and sitting on my feet for reassurance. One of my proudest moments with him was when we were in line at the AT&T store and a little girl hugged him and put her tiara on his head and he took it like a champ and didn’t move.
One of my least proudest moments with him was when he ate his own poo.

IMG_2809smallBowie doesn’t stink.
Again with the cat-like qualities, Bowie grooms himself incessantly. His fur is also kind of waterproof and it’s like trying to hose down a duck to give him a bath. Thankfully he only needs baths if he rolls around in something gross or goes for a swim in the lake. He can go months without a bath and still smell like roses, unlike most dogs that smell like, well, dogs. Also he HATES baths and having his nails trimmed and anything else that’s forced grooming. He does tolerate having his teeth brushed, however, because the doggie toothpaste tastes like chicken.

Bowie doesn’t bark.
Much. He does bark, but it’s not usually like an average dog bark that sounds like “ARF!” or “BARK!” or “RUFF!” It’s more like talking. He’ll let out a solid “ARF!” if there’s a knock at the door, but he’ll stop at one. It’s like he knows one bark is all he needs and he doesn’t have to keep repeating himself. Unless he’s hungry or wants to play, then he’ll keep making noise until he gets his way. During those moments instead of barking he does something closer to talking. Like “Aroo roo roo.”
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Bowie is a purebred. And a rescue dog.
I knew I wanted a Shiba Inu before getting one and I also knew there were plenty of breed-specific rescue associations out there filled to the brim with good dogs that needed good homes. A friend of mine knew she wanted a Dachshund and followed a Dachshund rescue for a few months until they got a dog that was perfect for her. I got lucky and checked out a local Shiba Inu rescue association at the exact moment they had Bowie up for adoption. He was 6 months old and in foster care for his shots and neutering, after being rescued from a puppy mill at 3 months old. The puppy mill was breeding puppies to sell in pet stores for Christmas and the puppies that don’t get bought by this mill would be destroyed if rescue associations wouldn’t step in to beg and plead to take them off their hands. (Actually let’s change that word “destroyed” and not sugar-coat it: the mill was known for taking puppies behind a shed and shooting them.)
I’ll never chastise anyone who goes to a reputable breeder because they want a specific type of dog because it’s not my place. But I will say that rescue dogs are the best dogs in the whole world. Especially when you can get a purebred or equally awesome mutt for a fraction of the price and he or she will already have all the necessary vaccinations and been spayed/neutered. And rescue groups who spend so much time, effort, and money to spring dogs from the klink who are literally on death row are absolute angels. I owe so much to the individuals at the group that nabbed Bowie who volunteer so much of their resources to save Shiba Inus from mills, city pounds, and step in to help Shiba owners who want to give up their dogs and make sure they get a loving home. Without them I wouldn’t have my Bowie and I can’t imagine life without his fuzzy little face.
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In a nutshell, I hope this better explains the Shiba Inu breed to those of you considering adding one to your family. I had a client come by for headshots a few months ago and she said she was looking for a dog that would fit in with her lifestyle and Bowie was so chill during the photo session she thought a Shiba would be perfect. But when I started to explain other parts of his personality her face sank a little- she was looking for a more snuggly dog that slept all day since she worked so much and couldn’t come home after a long day at work to a fetch-aholic. I told her to look into retired Greyhounds and she thought I was nuts, “they’re greyhounds! That’s so much energy, they run so fast!” I said, “not anymore!” A retired greyhound is usually only 2-3 years old and the laziest dog on the planet. They were bred for short bursts of energy and long periods of rest so they sleep like 22 hours out of the day and just want to lay on the couch with you and snuggle for their 2 hours spent awake.

But again, every dog is an individual and I’m sure someone out there is saying, “I’d love to finish reading this but my Greyhound is humping my leg for his dinner and running in circles trying to get me to play fetch.”

Photographing pianists, volume 5

July 10, 2015 Published by . Leave your thoughts

pastI found myself back in Nichols Hall in Evanston this week- this time photographing a husband and wife piano duo who have been tickling the ivories together for about a quarter of a century!  Ralph and Claire Neiweem meet with me for some updated press photos on Tuesday, and brought with them samples of past photos they’ve had taken through the years.  They were an absolute pleasure to photograph, and wonderful pianists.  Every time Claire fixed her hair and I moved lights around Ralph would provide us some background music.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I’ve got the best job in the world.

Organic Headshots, headshots, chicago headshots, piano duo, musician headshots Organic Headshots, headshots, chicago headshots, piano duo, musician headshotsOrganic Headshots, headshots, chicago headshots, piano duo, musician headshots

My small business hero is my mechanic

April 28, 2015 Published by . Leave your thoughts

rod-60I drive all the way from Logan Square to Forest Park every 3 months for my oil changes because I freaking love my mechanic. Rod at Elite Tire was referred to me by an old friend of mine several years ago after I had this conversation with the Honda dealership I was taking my car to before:

Dealership:  “You need to have your oil pan replaced.  The threads on the cap are all worn and the cap could fall off at any moment and your engine will explode.”

Me:  “Umm… how on earth did the threads get worn?’

Dealership:  “It usually happens when the morons who change your oil tighten the cap too hard.”

Me:  “But I only come here for oil changes.  Wouldn’t that make you guys the morons?”

Dealership:  “I don’t see the connection.”

My friend insisted I go to Rod instead because he recommended she get a new car when her old beater-mobile was giving her some trouble.  He said she’d be better off selling the car while it would still get Blue Book value and getting a newer, more reliable car.  She was impressed that instead of bleeding money out of her by insisting on costly repairs to an old car (as the unfortunate mechanic stereotype goes), he gave her honestly good advice about her car- advice that makes his bills and income lower than if she kept her old car.

Portrait chicagoFor my first oil change I sat in the waiting area and watched Rod have the absolute most patient conversation with a customer I have ever witnessed in my entire life.  A little old lady with a bit of a nasty attitude was angry because she needed some parts replaced since they were worn down and corroded.  She threw her hands in the air and said, “I can’t see how they possibly need to be replaced!  I’ve had the car for 10 years and only drive it once a week and have never had anything go wrong with it.”  She was actually the quintessential “little old lady who only drives her car once a week to church and back and is terrified of being ripped off” right there in the flesh.  Rod brought out an example of what her car’s parts looked like, and a fresh sample, and proceeded to not just explain, but physically demonstrate exactly what was happening, why, and how.

He stayed with her and talked to her like an intelligent human being for a solid 20 minutes until she was confident and satisfied.  He never talked down to her or lost his cool.  He stood next to her instead of talking to her from behind a counter.  I sat there thinking THIS IS MY MECHANIC FOR LIFE NOW.

Every time I see Rod and his crew for my oil changes I’m visiting a model for how I want to run my own business.  The office is a well-oiled machine where every task gets the time and attention necessary to get things done right, and each customer who walks through the door is treated like a good friend.  Someone always answers the phone and is always at the desk to greet the next customer (99.9% of the time it’s Rod himself), and everything is done quickly as a priority but without it feeling like a frantic, high-stress environment. rod-31a-bThere’s no clutter in the workshop or the waiting area: everything is clean and under control at all times.  At my most recent trip one of the mechanics had some time between cars to service so he thoroughly cleaned an already spotless bathroom.

When I talk to a new client about their photography project I channel my mechanic and treat each client like they’re my only client while I talk to them.  We work together to figure out what their photo needs are and how I can take photos for them that are exactly what they need and that they can be proud of.  When they have questions, I have quick answers.  When my answers don’t suffice or there are follow-up questions, I keep with the conversation until there is mutual understanding and trust.  I’ve had hour-long phone conversations with clients who didn’t even book me and I don’t see it as wasted time.

Keep up the good work, Rod- you’re my small business hero.

PS- there may actually be a post-it note on my desk that says “how would Rod handle this situation?”

Time lapse photos of teeny seedlings

March 16, 2015 Published by . Leave your thoughts

Wow, I really don’t get creative with blog post titles, do I?

So about a week ago I started planting some seeds for a little garden I plan to start in my new backyard- some tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, green beans, chard, kale, and a plethora of every type of herb commonly grown in small gardens.  Also lavender and some giant sunflowers- which I’m ridiculously excited about.  A few days ago I noticed some little seedlings had started popping up when I walked past them on my way to bed.  The next morning I looked at them and, hand on the bible, they doubled in size overnight.

So this might be like one of those “yeah, whatever” things to more veteran gardeners but I totally lost my mind at how awesome it was.  I kept screaming “NATURE!” and scaring my dog.

Then I thought, “wait a minute… I’ve got a timer attachment for my camera…” and I plopped my camera on some books next to the seedlings, set the timer to go off every 2 minutes from 9am to 9pm, and BOOM.  Now we can watch my little seedlings sway in the sunlight and get a little bigger.