On Traveling, Work and Life

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Before I get into my rambling blog post about unplugging, I want to briefly talk about something I would LOVE to do more of this fall – adventure sessions.

Adventure Sessions

Adventure sessions are basically a couples or family session where, for the price of a regular couples/family session, we spend half a day or so together hiking or climbing or swimming hole finding or whatever adventure you have in mind, and I document it. Think of me as the friend with a camera who's just kind of hanging out and grabbing moments as they come.

As far as I know, I'm the ONLY photographer in West Virginia advertising something like this. So if this idea resonates with you or  your lover or friend group or family, shoot me your idea! I would love to plan an adventure with you!


New River Gorge Adventure with Friends

Launching a small business while continuing to work full-time is no joke.  Basically, it's awesome and exhausting at the same time =). So when three of my closest college girlfriends came to West Virginia a couple weeks ago for a long weekend of camping, hiking and swimming hole jumping, the break was desperately needed.

Here are a few of my favorite shots from that weekend!

Travel and Thoughts

Sometimes I dream of the freedom to hit the road full-time, traveling from national forest to river to coast with nothing but the dogs, Austin, and a good camera by my side. Because, as anyone trying to do this adult thing knows, oftentimes, the daily grind is just that, a grind. Even though I love my day job and business, keeping it all together is really hard most days.  I'm guessing I'm not alone in this, though.

It's not the work itself that gets overwhelming, I LOVE working with clients and helping their vision come to life. It's more the other part of life - the constant pull of responsibility, financial obligations, family, job(s), school, debt that tugs at you in a thousand different ways until you feel ragged – like your psyche has stretched as far as it is capable of managing and needs to spring back for a while so it can stretch a little farther next time.

Maybe that's why there's been such a movement toward simplicity, minimalism and embracing the slow life. In an effort to find balance and prioritize the one commodity we never get back – time – people are shedding things, mortgages and long work hours.

The Forest

This morning I took the dogs on a long walk in the state forest. I don't have cell phone service there, which is always a bit of a relief. I'm a little addicted to my cell phone and social media. Not in the sense that I LOVE it, but in the sense that I check my phone and accounts all the time. Too much. On the bright side, if you ever email me, I'll probably be the most responsive photographer you ever work with.

Being in the forest and spending time with good friends is a little bit like hitting reset for me. Like suddenly being able to take deep breaths that I've been holding in while trying to swim underwater.

I need to carve out more time for those breaths.

If you've made it to the end of this super rambling blog post, KUDOS. It was a long one. Until next week, folks <3. Kara

 

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A Deep Creek Maryland Wedding

There was something incredibly precious about this Deep Creek wedding I shot with Kristin Hurley Photography. Kimberly and Dalin had been together for several years and already had two adorable daughters together, as well as a sweet son from a previous relationship.

One of my favorite moments from the day was the father-daughter dance. When Kimberly's dad came to dance with her, he was already holding Dalin and Kimberly’s younger daughter. Watching the three generations dance together nearly brought me to tears. 

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A Sweet Outdoor Family Session

Family Session Time

Folks, kids under the age of seven don't want to sit still. You might be able to catch them for 3-5 minutes, IF you are lucky, but chances are they don't want to cooperate. And that's ok - they're kids. So given a contained environment and a few toys, you can create some magical, authentic moments like we got here. You see that family picture? Yeah there's only about three of those, but this is real and it's pretty darn beautiful. 

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Five EASY Tips to Improve Your Writing

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Hey friends! I just had my husband snap this picture of me while I was working from my in-laws' house in yoga pants and a "strong to the core" tank. I brushed my hair at 5:00 this morning when I got up and have been going ever since.

If this sounds a little bit like your life, this blog post is for you! It's all about super easy ways to improve your writing, whether you own a small business, craft dozens of emails a day, or aspire to blog. Regardless of what you’re working on or why, words are important. So here are five tips to improve your wordsmithing that I’ve learned over the last few years. These are super easy to implement and require no sentence diagramming! 

1. Read Aloud

If you’re only going to take my advice on one of these tips, this should be it. Never send something off without first closing your door and literally reading every word aloud. Reading aloud helps you catch dropped words, weird sentences, long sentences, grammatical mistakes, inconsistencies in argument, and so forth. This is THE most powerful tool in your writing toolbox, and it just takes an ounce of patience to make it a consistent practice.

2. Find a Second Pair of Eyes

We all make mistakes when we write. And we all fail to be as clear as we could be. Reading aloud will catch some shortcomings, but you also need a second pair of eyes – even an untrained pair of eyes – to catch mistakes that aren’t apparent to you. So, if you can, send your text to a friend or colleague to read before hitting “publish” or “send.”

3. Write, Rewrite and Rewrite Again

I like to think of a piece of writing as a beautiful tapestry that can be unraveled and rewoven a hundred different ways. Thoughts can be displayed in many combinations of words. Sentences can always be rewoven to make the threads tighter. So here’s a rule: your first draft is never going to be your best. It should always be reread and rewritten, with sentences shortened and grammar checked, before you consider it done.

4. Shorten Your Sentences

If a sentence can be two sentences, it should be. Long sentences are harder to read and harder to understand than short sentences. This is not to say you should never have long sentences – they serve a purpose – but, typically, short sentences make stronger writing.

5. Write Like You Speak

If you speak in big, flowery sentences that sound like they’ve emerged from Lord of the Rings, then of course, write that way. Otherwise, try to write like you speak. This means a conversational tone, simple sentences, and language people don’t have to Google to understand. The more you write like you speak, the more you sound like YOU. And the better you get at communicating your message.

Have anything to add to these? Let me know in the comment section. And good luck on your next project!

You Are Never Too Old for Love and Other Life Lessons

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Luckily August was a slow wedding month for me, otherwise I never would have been able to pick up Lana and Butch's super sweet, short wedding. Lana's son gave her away and the guests were almost all family. The day was very simple, but probably one of my favorite weddings to date. My takeaway? You are never too old for love and the most beautiful part of weddings is happiness. 

Five Years Later - An Anniversary Session

When I was growing up, my brother James and I were best friends. Probably the credit for this relationship belongs to him. Unlike most older brothers, he actually seemed to want me around, saying to his friends, “This is my little sister – she’s going to be hanging out with us.” Being the cool, super-athlete he was, his friends would usually shrug and accept the statement, and then I was in for whatever adventure or game was on the agenda that day. He did this from the time I could toddle until he left for college, three years ahead of me.

When James got married five years ago, I’ll admit I felt a little abandoned – he was MY brother AND best friend. But the woman he married, Mary, has been an amazing partner for him and a great addition to our family. (I got over the abandoned feeling quickly, in case you were wondering , and came to appreciate my expanding circle of loved ones, especially now that I'm married too.) James' 29th birthday coincided with his and Mary's 5th wedding anniversary, so we did an anniversary session on her parents' farm near Charlottesville, Virginia, which is where their wedding celebration was held. Here are some of the results!

What is a Copy Editor Anyway and Why Do I Need One?

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On the left is mom, also known as my copy editor. In the middle is grandma, her copy editor (sorry for the bad photo - the waiter at grandma’s 90th birthday brunch took it ;) ). Grandma is probably the best, most particular copy editor I know, always tapping her knowledge of Latin and expertise at diagramming sentences. To this day, she’ll call me to bemoan grammar or spelling errors she found in The Washington Post, which she reads cover to cover every day. So I’ve been taught to treasure effective writing, and I'm about to argue that everyone should, even if they have to hire help to achieve this.

Copy Editing

But what is a copy editor anyway, and why do you need one?

Basically a copy editor is someone who looks over your copy (text) and fixes any glitches in grammar, syntax, punctuation and organization. No matter how well you write - no matter how many A’s you earned in high school or college English - you are going to make mistakes. A good second pair of eyes is invaluable to making sure those mistakes don’t end up in your final product.

For instance, what if you accidentally type the wrong version of your/you're, to/too or their/they're in your blog post? Such errors won't be caught by autocorrect; they may even be caused by your spelling program. You'll look ignorant regardless. A copy editor will catch these mistakes. Sometimes you do know the right word to use, but you are just tired, busy or in a rush. It doesn’t matter - that’s why you need an experienced second pair of eyes, even if you have to pay to get them.

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Editing

Good editors go further than copy editors. They will strengthen your text. They will tighten your work and make it easier to read, more understandable. They can suggest fresh wording that better articulates what you are trying to say. Like copy editors, they will catch simple mistakes you don’t want lurking in the final draft.

Ghostwriting

Ghostwriting represents a different process. Ghostwriting is basically where someone writes your blog or book or bio for you, aiming to capture your words, voice and tone. This is an awesome option for someone who wants to have a blog, but isn’t comfortable with writing or doesn’t enjoy it!

Someone once said to me, “‘If you outsource your website, your photo editing or your logo, why wouldn’t you outsource your writing, if that’s not your specialty?” Yep. I'm happy to ghostwrite for folks because my longest and most enduring training has been as a writer. It began with my English-teaching grandmother and continued through years of tutelage by my journalist mother, besides mentoring by other teachers and professional editors. So, not surprisingly, that’s where the majority of my professional experience lies.

So, if you are struggling with writing your blog, or if you feel like your existing text lacks punch and connection, I would love to work with you to make it stronger. Let’s chat!

Why You Should Chose to Do Your Engagement Session at Home

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Why should you chose to do your engagement session at home? Three words: authentic. visual. storytelling.

Let me preface this post by saying, you don't have to be living together to do an at-home session. If you spend a lot of time at one apartment/home/townhouse - that works! It's all about creating space for you to be you.

Visual Storytelling

Something you'll hear me talk about a lot is this idea of "visual storytelling." For me that means soft forehead kisses, snuggles with tea, the kitchen dance and including pets in sessions. I also love kids that don't behave, unexpected moments and rain. Why? It's real. And in a world where sometimes we do things JUST to be able to share them on social media (guilty! - sorry hubby for all the selfies), authentic moments are almost sacred.

In-Home Sessions

To capture authentic moments, you have to be comfortable. It's super hard to be natural and uncontrived in spaces where people are staring at you out of the corner of their eye, like a coffee shop, or are walking by, like a popular arboretum.

This is not to say that you CAN'T be natural in traditional engagement sessions, but it's really important to pick a time and space that allows the personality of your relationship to shine through.

At home, it's easier. You can let your hair down, walk barefoot through your kitchen, splay out on the couch and give the dogs belly rubs. Basically, in-home sessions offer the opportunity to document life together in a genuine way.

At Home with Bonnie and Chase

In this session, Bonnie and Chase welcomed me into their morning routine. For the most part, I just let them make breakfast, snuggle on the couch and play with their pups without a whole lot of direction from me. We had so. much. fun.

In each room, as they were wrapping up their routine, I'd make suggestions - "why don't you lean into him for a few beats" or (my brother's personal favorite) "Chase, I'd like you to whisper all the breakfast cereals you can think of in her ear in your sexiest voice." Such prompts really help produce natural, unposed expressions and LOTS of laughter.

And after the gallery was delivered I got a message from Bonnie. "Oh my goodness Kara!...They are beyond amazing! Brought lots of happy tears! Thank you!”

 

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How to Pick the Right Photographer (Hint - It May Not Be Me)

Frankly, I might not be the right photographer for you. And that's totally OK. I truly believe that if you don't like my work, there is someone else out there who offers something that aligns with and affirms your vision. If you do you like my work, then we can work together to create something incredibly intimate, beautiful and unique that fits you perfectly. I can't offer everything for everybody. But I can be exceptional for a few.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, how do you know who the perfect photographer is for you? ...Especially if you don't know a whole lot about photography?

First, consider these five things as you narrow your search: style, mood, personality, light and experience.

OK, let's break these down.

Mood

The first thing to do is to look through your Instagram or Pinterest… Are you drawn to bright, airy, romantic images or do moody, darker pictures resonate better with you? This is seriously the easiest screening tool… If an entire portfolio is dark and moody and you want light and airy this is not the right photographer! Move on! There are so many options within each grouping.

Style

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Then ask yourself, do I want more traditional, posed pictures? Or do I want someone who will take a more photojournalistic approach to documenting my wedding day and will just capture moments as they come? This is actually a great thing to ask your photographer if you aren't sure. And kind of like when you go to get a haircut…It's a good idea to bring along examples that you really love from social media or magazines. That way if you don't know what it is you like about an image you can just show it and say, "I like this…Is this similar to what you do?"

Light

Is your photographer a natural light photographer or does she prefer to use flash and artificial lighting for most the shoot? Some photographers bill themselves as only natural light photographers while others prefer to emulate the type of image you might see from a studio or magazine. Natural light is beautiful and soft, but can also be really challenging if you are getting married in a dark church, for instance, or a great urban restaurant in the evening. Even if someone is mostly natural light, make sure they have a solid grasp of flash as well… And ask to see some reception pictures… Most receptions happen in the evening with little natural light available and seeing these will give you a good idea if they can handle dark spaces.

Personality

If you are an adventurous bride who wants to hike to the top of a mountain for an elopement, make sure your photographer is on board and super excited about that too. She is going to be spending a lot of time with you on your special day and a good personality fit is essential! Have a meeting with her for coffee or tea before the big day. If possible, do an engagement session to try her out in a working environment. If that's not possible at least talk to her on the phone or Skype. If something about her doesn't click with you, it's OK to move on and find someone who does. Just let her know you've decided to move on :-). No one likes being ghosted.

Experience

How experienced is your photographer? It's totally OK to ask her how long she's been in the business. Experience brings both expertise and usually cost. If you're on a tight budget, then you likely can trade experience for a deal on your wedding photography. However, inexperience also comes with the risk that the photographer doesn't know what she is doing! So know what you're getting into and what the trade-offs are. Fundamentally, though, hire a professional, even a young professional. After the party is over and the cake is eaten, photographs are what you have for the rest of your life!

That's all for now folks! Next I'm going to be blogging an amazing in-home engagement/maternity session. I can't WAIT to share it with you! Check in next week on Monday!

Intro and Philosophy

Photo by Lauren Love Photography

Photo by Lauren Love Photography

I was a big reader when I was little - especially fantasy books like Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. When the story finished I'd make up my own, inserting myself as a character in the storyline. This was my favorite game for years.

As I grew older I began to write, and for the last three years I've made my living as a journalist. 

My love of stories has never left. 

My philosophy at Kara Leigh Creative is that, fundamentally, I'm a creative visual storyteller. That means I prefer to catch you in action, rather than to ask you to put an arm here, stare at the camera, and smile like my husband and I are doing below. Although, not going to lie, I really like this picture of us ☺. Just because I'll rarely tell you to look at the camera doesn't mean we won't get a few traditional shots. 

Honeymooning in Iceland

Honeymooning in Iceland

What I will do is take the time to get to know you and your story. Then I'll help you tell it. It's not easy being in front of the camera, but it can be comfortable and fun. 

What I will do is give you prompts designed to help you relax, laugh and enjoy the session like "whisper something dirty in his/her ear," or ask you to write love letters beforehand to read aloud at the end of the session. Whatever seems to fit with YOU as a couple. Are you awkward? That's totally fine. Nervous about how you look? No problem. Everyone has a story worth documenting.

Finally, I'm totally willing to try whatever you want. Want to go on a hike with your dogs and take photos in the mountains? Yes, please. Interested in a Sunday morning in-home session? I'm there. Want documentary family pictures during the annual beach/lake vacation. Yes!

Love, 

Kara Leigh (but really I just go by Kara).  

Photo by Styrmir Kári & Heiðdís Photography

Photo by Styrmir Kári & Heiðdís Photography

Photo by Lauren Love Photography

Photo by Lauren Love Photography

Photo by Styrmir Kári & Heiðdís Photography

Photo by Styrmir Kári & Heiðdís Photography