my annual book and a surprise letter

i wanted to start this post in sharing a handwritten note i received in the mail yesterday, which i opened this morning... Deb, I wanted to take a few minutes to let you know a few of the ways you inspire me. First off, the way you push yourself so far into your art helps me to not be complacent in sharing my vision with the world. You help me to become a better artist.

I can tell that you're a great mom. Someone who knows what matters most in life (family) and puts their heart, soul and full energy into crafting a life that allows for the love and support kids need. I know you're raising well-love kids and they're going to change the world because that's what well-loved kids do. The intentionality in how you live your life inspires me to focus on presence with my help me become a better father. I can feel the passion / heart you pour into the words / images you share, so keep posting...

It might seem odd to get a litter from me, when we've met face to face only once, but when someone inspires me, I want to tell them in a meaningful way. Too many times we think awesome thoughts about people, then never tell them. That makes me sad so this is my way of saying you're awesome, you inspire me and to let you know how much you are loved.

With gratitude, JS

what an absolutely incredible surprise to receive this note in the mail. i'm blown away by his beautiful thoughts and so very grateful for his sharing with me -- i will treasure the card forever and already have it tacked up on my inspiration board --  a lovely reminder (especially during those challenging days) that i'm doing a pretty good job in this world.  something i so greatly aspire to do is not only be an inspirational artist, but most importantly, be a great mother, wife and friend.  i'm happy to know that this comes through in how i present myself and all that i share.

right now, i'm gratefully heavily engrossed in preparing for a portfolio review, two solo exhibitions (new orleans photo alliance in december and baum gallery in february) and the development of a fine art book of my work (edited by the amazing jock sturges and produced by gallery vevais).  yep, just wow, wow, WOW!!  did i mention that i am beyond grateful?

but i've also been recently engrossed in the design of my family's annual book, something i've been doing each year since i started photography in 2006. my family will always be my priority and, well...the making of our book each year makes my heart swell and inspires me.

i shared my book layout on facebook yesterday and received a lot of questions regarding my design process, who i use to print, etc. so here we go, a little about my process...

i use blurb booksmart application. i start with a completely blank book and then select page template  based on the photographs that i am selecting for each page spread. with most of the pages, i modify the template, but the template provides a good starting point. i design the book, keeping the photographs in chronological order. how do i select which images to share? i just do. images that mean the most and share my family's story throughout the year. i also include special artwork and writings from my kids. this is something that i keep up with all year (scanning artwork and typing their writings and place into a folder on my computer entitled annual book). i have a page, where i include each child's age and thoughts about them. this year, i'm also asking them about some of their favorites.

my book typical ends up about 140-150 pages and so i needed a book printing company that was somewhat inexpensive, but still offered great quality and blurb fits that bill for me. i not only print the book for our family, but also for the grandparents as christmas gifts.

if you decide to try a book with blurb, be sure to print with their pro paper. it's a bit more expensive but totally worth it.

here is my overall book layout, along with a few of the page spreads. each book is unique to the happenings of the year, our location, etc.  i don't ever have a specific plan when i start the book.  it just unfolds page by page. all the annual books beautifully grace our credenza and nothing makes me happier than hearing my kids reminisce and giggle as they look through previous year's books.

i hope this will inspire you to share your gratitude with another.   i hope this will inspire you to write a handwritten note to someone you love and / or care about. i hope this will inspire you to get your family's photographs OFF THE COMPUTER. i hope this will inspire you to live your life beautifully and authentically -- and cherish every minute of it.

have questions, feel free to ask in the comment section. i will do my best to answer and will edit the post to share my thoughts.

book layout

front and back book cover

some page spreads

our world | day one

It's so hard to believe that twenty-thirteen is quickly coming to a close. This year has been amazing in so many ways, but the days have absolutely flown by -- and continue to do so!! And with that, I could no longer ignore the fact that I hadn't taken enough photographs of my children this year. While I can't take back the previous months, I decided that I could do something about it now. After talking with my dear friend Rowe, who just happened to feel similarly, we decided to team up on a photo project -- one that would get our focus back on capturing the everyday of our families, while also fostering personal growth. After quite a bit of brainstorming, we decided on a fabulous photo project:  two friends living oceans apart. sharing 30 days of images, inspired each day by one word.

Without further ado, the first photograph from our joint project...


© deb schwedhelm

© rowe timson

the gift of time

written for the incredible motherhood with a camera blog, a gathering of images and writings, each swirling around a specific theme. this week, the topic was time and here is my submission.

time precious and fleeting unstoppable time gives time takes your past is a memory your future is a mystery all you know for certain is your time now this very moment each day a present how will you spend your time? from the time you rise till the time you rest it’s a choice your choice what will your legacy be? that you lived your life fully and spent your time well that you were kind and good and giving i hope so because time is a gift i will do my best to cherish every minute and celebrate my time but for now it’s time to say thank you for your time!


you can view the entire choir of the beautiful and inspiring voices here.

working on me

last year was my year to try and take a photo every day. for no other reason than wanting to. this year, my goal is to get in front of the camera more -- something i greatly struggle with and want to change. i don't like photos of me. i always find a way to rip myself apart. but i know in 5-10 years, i will love these photos. and i know that my kids will love these photos in 10 5 years. i know that they will love photos of me NOW! and i really do ache to be part of my family's photographs. so my goal, for the remainder of this year, is to take at least one photograph every week that includes myself.  me with one or more of my kids. me with my husband. just me. i guess this is my own personal learn-to-be-in-front-of-the-camera-and-like-it therapy. so here i am. today. nothing fancy. dreads tied in a knot (always one sticking out). leftover makeup from the day before. not smiling (because unless it's authentic , i don't like it). here i am. just me.

my portfolio review experience

a couple weeks ago, i had the awesome opportunity to attend the photoNOLA review in new orleans.  it all started quite a few months ago when i went to register for photoNOLA, only to find out that the review was full.  each year, they limit the number of participating photographers to 65.  bummed that i missed the opportunity, i put my name on the waiting list.  a few weeks later, i received an email informing me that if i was still interested, they had an opening.  it took me a couple of hours to clear the dates with my husband and then i quickly emailed photoNOLA to let them know i was delighted to attend, registered, paid and -- i was officially set to attend my first portfolio review. from that moment on... i stressed. i worried. i was anxious. i was nervous. i was super excited. and the preparation began.

on my to-do list: fine-tune artist statement (for the 1000th time) fine-tune bio & CV determine which portfolio images to bring (approx. 20) print the best quality 16x20 prints possible (which ended up being 17x22 prints) order clamshell portfolio box determine what i wanted to leave behind with reviewers design & order leave behinds design & order business cards establish editioning & pricing (i hadn't sold prints yet) review & rank reviewers (not every reviewer is a good fit) learn as much as i could about attending a portfolio review determine what i wanted to verbally share with reviewers regarding my work practice my spiel

some things i thought about during the preparation process: what do i want to say with my work? what is my goal for this work? what size would i want to exhibit this work? how do i want to sequence my photographs? which photograph will be the first? the last?

and this was only the beginning.

portfolio box, prints, leave behinds, business cards and a few other miscellaneous items in hand, i left on november 28th for my 10-hour drive to new-orleans. i had enrolled in aline smithson's creating the fine art portfolio workshop , which was the best thing ever. her lecture was extremely informative and preparatory and the workshop concluded with an optional portfolio review.  without a second thought, i opted in.  i was so nervous, i was shaking and wanted to throw up, but presenting to aline gave me push that i could do this and it got those initial extreme nerves out of the way. aline also gave me lots of things to think about over the next couple days, prior to my photoNOLA reviews.

the following day, i attended the CURRENTS show opening and shelby lee adams's lecture. both held at the ogden museum of southern art. both were incredible!!

my eight reviews were held over two days (saturday and sunday). i also won a lottery, which allowed me a ninth review. i ended up with four reviews on saturday and five on sunday. each review was 20-minutes long.

siting in the room, waiting to be told it's time to line up (to then enter the review room), i was pretty darn nervous. actually, i was really nervous. my first reviewer was jason landry, from panopticon gallery,  and he made me feel very much at ease. he opened our conversation with,

why are you here? what do you want to get out of this review? i want to know about you; i don't want to just hear your artist statement.

i shared with him that i dream of one day having gallery representation and a solo show. he commented that that's quite ambitious. i replied, why shouldn't i dream big?  seven years ago, when i bought my first camera, i never imagined i'd be attending a portfolio review -- and here i am.

once i got through that first review, i remember thinking, I CAN DO THIS!! all my reviews went really well. that doesn't mean every review was completely positive; plenty of my reviewers offered suggestions and constructive criticism. and plenty of the feedback i received was contradictory of what i had heard from another reviewer. one reviewer's favorite was another reviewer's least favorite. one reviewer encouraged me to pursue my more abstract work.  another thought the more abstract photograph didn't fit.  i wrote down as many notes that i could remember and i will continue to digest their feedback and thoughts.

saturday night was the photoNOLA walk, where all the participating photographers displayed their work, for anyone who was interested, to see.  again, i was nervous.  again, everything went really well.  i was blown away to have a couple reviewers, who were not reviewing my work during the formal reviews, stop and peruse my entire portfolio.

sunday, after the reviews, i had the opportunity to visit a gallery for fine art,which has the most diverse and awesome collection of photographs i've ever seen, and meet keith carter, whose work i have long admired.

in conclusion, this was an absolutely amazing, surreal experience -- one full of inspiration, meeting new friends, networking, sharing, dreaming and so much more.  i HIGHLY recommend attending a portfolio review, to anyone that has a cohesive body of work and feels ready. what is ready?  well, each person is different and only you can decide.  something to keep in mind -- participating in a review is a large financial and time commitment (much more than i had originally anticipated). for me, it was really important that the first impression i was presenting was a great one.

i am beyond grateful for the friendships that i made (some who i have LONG admired), while at photoNOLA. i met so many kind, supportive, wonderful people that i would have not otherwise had the opportunity to meet. and i learned so much through this process, not only about my work and the industry, but also about myself.

and my biggest news of all... I WON PHOTONOLA REVIEW'S FIRST PRIZE!!!

and as part of my winning, i will be exhibiting november 2013 at the new orleans photo alliance gallery  -- a SOLO SHOW (#5)!!

i'm blown away. i feel like i'm living in a dream world. and i am so incredibly grateful to all those who have encouraged, supported, helped and believed in me -- and simply been my friend.  from the bottom of my heart, i thank you!!  work hard and dream big, my friends.  DREAM REALLY BIG!

if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comment section. i am more than happy to answer / offer my thoughts, in a subsequent blog post.

screenshot of some of the photographs that i brought to photoNOLA...

at the lake

let yourself be open and life will be easier. a spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. a spoon of salt in a lake goes unnoticed. [buddha]

beyond grateful for my week in minnesota and all that it offered me...

questions & answers regarding my underwater shooting:

Q: what camera do you use? A: i shoot underwater with my D700 and 35mm f/1.8.

Q:  do you use a waterproof camera? A: i don't use a waterproof camera (refer to next Q & A).

Q:  what underwater housing do you use? A: i first purchased an equinox housing, but it was way too big and heavy, for the type of photography i was doing. i later purchased an SPL housing, which is what i am currently using.

Q: what are you able to adjust once your camera is in the housing? A: i'm able to adjust aperture and shutter speed, once my camera is in the housing.

Q: were you able to stand while shooting the lake photos? A: i was able to stand some of the time. other times i was doggy-paddling or floating in a tube (so not easy).

Q:  are you wearing any special gear or clothing during the shoot? A:  no special clothing; i wear a bikini and sometimes a rash guard. if i'm shooting in the pool and need to stay underwater, i sometimes wear a diver's weight belt (refer to next Q & A)

Q:  how do you stay down?  do you use weights in shallow water? A:  if i'm shooting underwater, in a pool, i sometimes use a diver's weight belt.  if i don't, i'm pretty quickly floating back to the surface.  when i'm shooting in the ocean or lake, no weights with me.

Q: do you use the lensbaby or filters on these shots? A: i cannot use any other camera or lens in my housing except D700 and 35mm. and no filters.

Q: how do you keep things so sharp? A: same principles apply as regular shooting (out of the water).

Q:  do you do much to your photographs post-shooting? A: no, i don't do much to my underwater photographs in post-shooting. basically just standard post-processing, similar to my regular (out-of-water) photographs. i never add any additional blur, textures, etc.

Q:  my questions are a little different as i'm interested in how you fell into this - if you are open to sharing the images that sparked the idea, any thoughts around the creative experience - roadblocks or challenges you found along the way and how you worked through those to these today.  A:  i'm not exactly sure what initially sparked my interest in underwater photography, but i do know that it wasn't images.  i think it really was just something i wanted to try. my first attempt with underwater photography took place about four years ago when i lived in san diego. i rented housing to do underwater maternity photos of a friend.  while it was definitely challenging, it was at that moment that i fell in love with underwater photography. even back then, i dreamt of shooting underwater in tampa.

it didn't take long for me to purchase underwater housing here in tampa, since we have a pool in our backyard, we're surrounded by water and it's hot as shit half of the year. and i quickly confirmed that underwater photography is not easy!! but i continued to experiment in the water -- shooting of my kids and friends in my backyard pool. recently, i moved into the ocean and then last week, i had the opportunity to shoot in a lake.  i've come to prefer the ocean and lake, to shooting within the constraints of a pool.

some of the challenges / roadblocks with underwater shooting -- it's a bit challenging to adjust settings and things on the camera are hard to see. a lot of patience is required.  i also have a problem with the 35mm lens i'm using, and when the problem occurs, i have to take apart my housing to reset the lens (very frustrating!).  the simple task of getting someone to the ocean or a lake, to shoot, is not exactly easy (i'm about 50 minutes from the ocean). and my dreads. :-) they take forever to dry, so getting them wet often can be a bit problematic.

regarding the creative experience -- for me, the creative process is the same; i shoot no differently in the water than i do out of the water (martha can attest to that, as she was with me the entire week, while at the lake in MN).  it's what's in me. it's how i shoot. it's what i see.'s difficult to explain.

if you look at my underwater work over the past year, it's definitely evolving and growing -- and i'm trusting. it will be interesting to see how things feel when i get back in the pool. it will be interesting to see how things continue to progress.  one thing i know is that i absolutely LOVE shooting in the water. i can't help but feel it's exactly where i'm meant to be!!

i'm not sure where the water will take me, but i'm sure enjoying the ride and oh-so-grateful!  you can see more of my recent water images HERE.

Q:  I would love to know if you are ever worried about water leaking in? A:  the first time i put my housing and camera in the water, i was a bit nervous, as i ever-so-slowly submerged it under water.  but now, i do a quick initial dunk, check if any water leaked in -- and start shooting.


if you're interested in purchasing underwater housing, i highly recommend renting one  before purchasing, as many are custom-made, not returnable and NOT cheap (around $2000).  or maybe even play with an underwater disposable camera, point & shoot or casing for your phone first.  for a very casual underwater shooter, i'm not sure expensive underwater housing is the answer.  just my honest two cents.

i'm not sure where the water will take me, but i'm sure having fun and enjoying the ride!  you can see more of my in-the-water photographs HERE.




Q: I am wondering what else you need besides the housing for the camera. Do you need specific rings? What if you want to use a different lens. Is it possible? Are you happy with your housing? Have you ever heard of Sea and Sea? I

i don't need anything else besides my housing. if i wanted to use a different lens, i would have to buy a different front piece for the housing, which would cost about $700. i cannot use a different camera, as my housing is designed to fit only the D700. yes, i'm happy with my housing. i have never heard of sea and sea.

what _____ looks like | month ten

wow! hard to believe that it's been 10 months that i've been working on this monthly project.  beyond grateful to those who invited me to participate. without further ado, THIS is a bit of what our may looked like...

a san diego business trip, shooting portrait clients and an editorial

two of my most favorite people in the world

joey's last photo :-(

me...right before dropping my camera and smashing this lens

a gymnastics meet

hearing for the FIRST TIME, while in the water

lots of swimming

a star student

favorite color: green favorite book: hop on pop favorite movie: avengers favorite sport: soccer when i grow up, i want to be: a zoo keeper i'm special because: i am nice favorite food: popcorn i have a pet: 2 pets -- a fish and a dog the person i most admire is: my mom and dad my favorite school subject: math

a brave little girl, who got seven shots, 6 scrapings and a mole biopsy

and a bunch of everyday life, which so often revolves around our living room.

there’s a small circle of photographers participating in this what ____ looks like monthly project.  i hope you’ll check them all out [clicking link to link] -- starting with stephanie moore | tucson family photographer.


what ____ looks like | month eight

march madness.  another month that has come and gone in a blur.  a month that involved... location scouting after gymnastics


chillin' out after school


building lincoln logs

building forts

spring break and...

lots of beach time with friends

the beginning of swimming in our pool

riding with turkeys

st patrick's day pranks

saving a catepillar

some serious glimpses of my baby growing up

lots of laughter

and you can see more of our days here.

there’s a circle of 12 photographers participating in this what ____ looks like monthly project.  i hope you’ll check them all out [clicking link to link]. next up… chubby cheek photography | child and family photographer.

ETA:  we've decided to extend the wallflower friends retreat raffle for another couple days.  winner will be announced this wednesday!!

what ____ looks like | month seven

where has february gone?  it seems to have just flown by.  but i guess, really, every month seems to feel that way.  here's a bit of what our everyday-kind-of-days in february looks looked like... as with every month, four trips to the horse farm / petting zoo.  always a new friend or two. and many old friends.

the new barn kitten had an eye infection, but my kids loved all over him anyways. and a rat got loose but didn't go far from his hairless friend.

fighting for attention.

falling off the new horse.

and bravely getting right back on.

barn windows.

the reptile room -- one of his favorites.

tire swing at the farm.

his new walking path.



the aviary.

my boy.

dirty feet -- more often than not.

boat ride with friends.

seeing dolphin along the way.

our almost-private island.

heading home.

hands off!

a visit with jen.

and shooting with jen.

one minute up | the next minute upside-down.

sky and ryder with my camera.


few quick photos during our shoot.

balancing act.

trip to the state fair.

building the snail a home of shells.

which ended with the boy yelling in the girl's ear and the girl giving a throat punch.

after gymnastics.

portraits with my new lens.

chicken, for the school 'moosical'.

his first speaking line -- "but others are boiled and made into chicken soup...buccbuuuuuuk."

the gift she made her best friend, using the separation of cool and warm colors.


there’s a circle of 12 photographers participating in this what ____ looks like monthly project.  i hope you’ll check them all out [clicking link to link]. next up… chubby cheek photography | child photographer.