It's time to get to know the girl behind the camera! I took myself way out of my comfort zone when I stepped in front of the lens for my own photo shoot, and even more so now as I share with you my thoughts during this whole process & why it was important to me. Bare with me as I share some deep, some shallow, and many random thoughts... or just scan the photos and move on, I won't mind!
I'm even sharing my "Before & After" photo, and a special guest appearance by my amazingly handsome husband!
But wait, THERE'S MORE! Stay tuned to see the second half of this session when I reveal the most spectacular part of this day with FOUR more special guests!!! If you know me you might be able to guess who they were, and believe me you're in for a real treat!
I started planning this session months ago, when I rebranded my website and had Heather from Moore Creations design me a killer logo based on my love for all things gold & geometric. I knew I wanted to update my head shot to match my new brand & studio space, so I actually booked myself a few weeks in advance and reserved a Friday on my calendar! To make the set more personal I combined my new logo (made into a custom wooden sign by Etsy shop Letters To You!) with my collection of vintage cameras and suitcases, including a navy blue suitcase that actually belonged to my Great Grandmother, Erma VanAllen. It even still has her name on the front. She's a significant part of my story, along with my two grandmothers, that you'll hear more about shortly!
For Photographers: to keep the self-process portrait as easy as possible, I used a wireless shutter release remote for my Nikon d750 and put the camera on timer mode, taking 10 photos at a time. It allowed me to click the remote and have 10 seconds before the first photo, and time to pose for each of the 10 shots. I also used a cable from Tether Tools to allow me to quickly view the photos on my laptop straight from the camera!
Before I show you my makeup-less "Before & After" photo, I have to tell you a quick story. I'm going to be completely vulnerable here because after talking to and photographing countless women I hear the same types of comments over and over. We all have features that we don't like about ourselves and are convinced they make us less beautiful. Statistically, 80% of women agree that EVERY woman has something beautiful about her, but only 4% of women around the world actually consider themselves "beautiful". (Source: Dove Beauty Research).
This makes me want to cry. I SEE the beauty in the women around me and they just aren't convinced. But I get it--- because I feel the EXACT same way.
I can actually remember a defining moment in my life that I unfortunately allowed to shape my self-view. This happened when I was about 13 years old:
I was at summer camp and headed to meet two girls at the pool whom I had just met the day before. As I approached the ladder I saw them glance at me then overheard one girl say to the other, "She's so skinny," and the other responded, "Yeah but you're prettier." I felt my face flush but pretended not to have heard them. Those words echoed in my head every time I looked in a mirror as a teen. "I'm skinny but not that pretty." Thankfully my self-worth was based on the fact that God created me, He adores me, and I know that grace & strength & inner beauty is SO much more important. But like most women, I could never look at myself or my photos and honestly say, "Wow, I look beautiful!" other than my junior prom and wedding day- both spent arm in arm with my wonderful husband who has tried to convince me daily of the beauty he sees!
WHY do we do this to ourselves? Why do we focus on our flaws? Why does seeing a gorgeous woman make us feel LESS? Why would we try to compare two unique & beautiful works of art? Let's NOT! Let's all see the beauty in others AND ourselves! My goal is to help women see their own beauty (inner & outer!) and capture it! It's amazing what a bit of confidence can do for you, and what it can unlock for your future! God has an amazing plan, and YOU are the only one perfectly designed to fulfill it. While outward appearance isn't nearly as important as what's in your heart, I do believe our view of ourselves plays a major role in our ability to confidently move forward in our calling.
If photographing women of all ages is part of my calling, then I'd better be willing to step in front of the camera myself and fully understand the fear, excitement, nerves, and joy that comes along with it.
So here is my official "Before & After" thanks to makeup artist Tiffany K from The Modern Face.
And a shout out to Rent the Runway for helping me find the perfect dress! I'm in love with this Badgley Mischka!!
Whoa! When I saw my first photos pop up on the laptop as the camera was clicking I kind of freaked out. I actually LIKED them!! I was blown away- and not just by the fan blowing wind in my hair! Even with my wide, rounded nose and the smile with gums like a horse, I felt like a model!! (Truthful thoughts here, people). I got so excited I kept clicking away.
I can live with these! And I LOVE creating portraits like this for my clients! It makes my day when they come back to the studio to view their printed proofs and say things like, "WOW, I look GREAT!" and "I love them ALL, and I don't usually like ANY photos of myself!!" I'm not trying to promote vanity or to say that appearance is everything; quite the opposite. When a woman becomes comfortable in her own skin & shape, it allows for FREEDOM for her to operate her life on a deeper level because she spends LESS time being concerned about how she looks or what other people might think. Having a healthy image of yourself can help you let go of the time and energy spent worrying about it- and both extremes are a form of vanity because both spend too much time caring about how the world views them. It's awesome to get beyond that and have a quiet confidence and humbly move forward.
Now back to the inspiration from my grandmothers.
Recently, in February of 2018, we lost my Grandpa Darrel after many health battles. I was with him during his final day and watched my Grandmother Lois and my Mom, Aunt, and Uncle (their 3 kids) take care of him and stay by his side. It was such a beautiful and heartbreaking day, but to see someone surrounded by the ones he loves the most was precious. As we worked together on funeral preparations we came across some old film negatives. I took them to Woodward Camera, who graciously rushed our order for prints, and had tears in my eyes when I picked them up. I'll share a few here and can't mention enough how important it is to document our lives, but what really got me was a portrait session done 3 months later with my Grandma Lois.
I had made arrangements to do a 4-generation Mother's Day Portrait for my Aunt, Cousins, & their new baby. When my grandma arrived early I asked if I could photograph her. She looked lovely, with her hair recently done and a bit of makeup. She laughed a little and said she hadn't been professionally photographed since like 1984. I didn't expect to be so moved, but when I took her photo I saw this beautiful, strong, kind woman who had been through so much and I knew my grandpa would be so proud of his wife. I'm so proud she's my grandmother, and so happy to have these photos that document her strength & beauty.
I love the story these tell and seeing how they've loved each other for nearly 6 decades! And I promise I'm going to come back around to my own photo session and share the photos that my own husband joined, but let me give you one more piece of background that has impacted my views on women's portraits.
In my home I am blessed to have a small collection of heirloom photos from my father's parents. Many of them are stored in a tote on a shelf, but a few are placed in my house where I can see them often. My favorites are of my Grandma Marilyn and my Great Grandma Erma in what would be considered their Graduation Portraits. All I know is that 1) They are so beautiful, and probably wouldn't believe it if you told them (in fact, Gma M is probably going to pinch me for posting this!) 2) It wasn't cheap to have a professional photo taken even back then. 3) I am SO THANKFUL that they did, because I treasure them!!!
I guess my main point is that there are a number of reasons why I love photographing portraits, especially of women. Whether it's for a boost of confidence, a beautiful heirloom, a fun girl's day out, or a new business/brand launch, these photos become something priceless. My goal is to capture the beauty, and to awaken the light! Hence my business name & tagline!
Awakened Light Photography, "Capturing the Beauty."
These ones I will also cherish forever because of THIS amazing man!! We are celebrating 14 years of marriage this month and somehow my already full heart keeps growing to love him even more. I'm pretty sure it could explode at this rate, because I was madly in love with him in the beginning and it's been exponential since then! He's seriously the best husband & father I could have imagined and more and I love that we documented this season of our busy, mid-30, four-kid lives!
He's my favorite. He doesn't love photos but he was willing to join me which only makes me love him even more.
I have 4 more people in my life who are very special to me that I'm excited to introduce you to next time! The kids joined us in the studio and we had a blast. (Or at least, I did.... and they cooperated better than I could have imagined!) Keep an eye out for Part 2 soon!
Thanks for following my portrait journey- maybe someday I'll see you in front of my camera!
p.s. Mom, I think it's your turn. We need to get you into the studio! :-)
All photos copyrighted by Awakened Light Photography, LLC.
If you're interested in a portrait session, click here for more info.
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Located in Oxford, Michigan; serving Oakland and surrounding counties.
Additional (vintage) photo credits to:
The Camp Publishing Co Studio of Ypsilanti
Chandler of Owosso, MI
Nikki Schuler specializes in wedding photography and portraits and is the owner of Awakened Light Photography, LLC. She has traveled to over 40 countries using creative arts as a ministry and resides with her husband & 4 children in a cozy vintage farmhouse in Oxford, Michigan.