Women Build Week | Truman Heritage Habitat for Humanity

My first experience volunteering with Habitat for Humanity was in 2017 when a small group of Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce members volunteered on an unusually chilly spring Saturday. We spent the day working on the roof and insulating the packed dirt crawl space of a rehab home in Independence – on the same street as my first home as a baby. I learned a few new skills, got really dirty, and enjoyed wearing the most hideous safety glasses I could find. More importantly, however, I strengthened connections with the people who volunteered that day. In the process of giving time and energy to our neighbors in need, we were able to connect with one another on a level that I didn’t anticipate. Something about that teamwork and accomplishment brought me closer to everyone on that worksite.

But this isn’t about what I receive from volunteering; that’s simply a bonus. The greatest result of our day of work is that it was a tiny step toward helping a deserving family become homeowners. Habitat homeowners help build or repair their own homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable zero-interest mortgage or repair loan. This allows homeowners to achieve the strength, stability, and independence they need to build a better life and future for themselves and for their families. This is a crucial element of strong and healthy communities.

In learning more about Habitat’s mission and operations in eastern Jackson County, I wanted to include some of their volunteers in my Local Focus community portrait project. From there, I was given the opportunity to document the 2018 Women Build Week. I captured some highlights of the event with candid photos, portraits, and a short video as well. I met some incredible women from local trade organizations – most of them from the Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 2, young ladies studying skilled trades at local high schools, and volunteers from Lowe’s and many other local corporations that allowed their employees to take time off to serve their community. It was a great group of kind-hearted individuals coming together to rehabilitate an existing home and to build walls for a new home. It was amazing to see the progress made during this week!

Women Build Week Kickoff Event with Future Homeowners

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Check out the highlight video here!

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Kevin | Blue Springs High School Senior

There are so many details that contribute to a successful portrait session, and only a handful of them are within my control. I have my cameras, lenses, and lighting gear. I have tons of location suggestions. I know the best times of day to shoot at the location my clients want. I have backup locations to battle the “what if” issues at all times. Being a bit of a control freak and a perfectionist, I’ve got those details covered front to back. But there are a few details that are at least somewhat out of my hands. I can’t regulate the weather (which is a shame because here in Kansas City, we have wind, rain, humidity, excessive heat, hail storms, tornadoes, ice storms, and blizzards). And I can’t determine how comfortable my subjects are in front of a camera. Sure, I can help with posing, and tell a joke or two to help people relax, but what most photographers won’t admit is that our interpersonal skills and arsenal of poses can only do so much, or it can take half the session to get someone to relax. I absolutely love it when I can tell I’ve taken someone from apprehensive to confident during our photo session. To see a natural smile or a sincere laugh come from someone who initially had a hard time showing me those things is incredibly rewarding.

But, I won’t lie, it’s awesome when I don’t have to do a darn thing to help someone look and feel completely comfortable in front of the camera. Kevin is most definitely one of those people. He has style, charisma, a great personality, and a wonderful smile.

For Kevin’s session, we explored the West Bottoms, which is a perfect spot for great colors, textures, and variety of backgrounds within easy walking distance of each other. Paired with Kevin’s classic clothing style and perfectly photogenic ways, we ended up with an absolutely perfect photo session.

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Desirea | Lee’s Summit Senior Portraits

Working with high school seniors has always been, and will probably always be, my favorite thing to do. They tend to have great fashion sense and personal style, and they enjoy being in front of the camera (I wish I could say that every client is like that, but some people are forced by their bosses to get headshots, and sometimes there’s a less-than-enthusiastic member of the family who has things they’d rather do than spend their free time posing for portraits). Additionally, I’ve had the joy of working with young people who have great confidence in who they are and where they are heading in life. I love this. It makes a senior’s personality easy to capture and allows their style to flow naturally.

This was definitely the case with Desirea, a Lee’s Summit North High School class of 2017 student on the verge of graduation and exciting next steps. She knew from the start that she wanted to explore Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District for her portrait session, as she is an art student who often spends First Fridays at galleries in the area. I could tell that she felt right at home in this area, which is pretty much a photographer’s playground. The interesting doors, grungy alleyways, wide array of architecture, and colorful façades make this one of my preferred locations to shoot any kind of session, but it worked especially well for this young artist. Hopefully one day not too far down the road, I’ll see her back in the Crossroads in a gallery of her own!

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Christine and Ryan’s Engagement Session | Kansas City I’m So in Love

These two adorable love birds celebrated their engagement with a Kansas City-style photo session. It was the first bitterly cold day of the season, and after enjoying such mild autumn weather up to that point, the sudden shift in temperatures solidified the KC experience for us. And they enjoyed lots of snuggles in the process. Because hypothermia is no fun.

We began our journey at the Country Club Plaza on a walking bridge where Ryan proposed to Christine. I love incorporating such meaningful locations in photo sessions, so this was a perfect place to begin. After exploring the area, looking for any place that could offer a break from the brutally chilling wind, we moved to the Crossroads Arts District to visit the recently famous “Kansas City I’m So in Love” mural on the south side of Fortuity at 19th and Baltimore. Christine and Ryan were troopers to say the least – they wore their Charlie Hustle KC t-shirts (while I was bundled in several layers and still freezing, so I can imagine they were certainly numb at this point). We took a quick walk around the block to capture some street scenes in the background, and I fell more in love with Kansas City in the process. The area we were shooting in felt alive and bright and modern, when not too long ago, it would have felt more like a ghost town. The revitalization of the Crossroads has done amazing things for the city and for people like us who love and adore it.

Congratulations to Christine and Ryan, who are so in love!

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Christina and Wendi’s Unforgettable Wedding at The Stanley Event Space

Every wedding is different and special. No doubt about it. Every time two people make such a simultaneously heavy and joyful promise to one another, it’s a pretty epic thing.

But some weddings are… more.

More groundbreaking. More exciting. More emotional. More unique in the fact that, not too long ago, they couldn’t have taken place. Christina and Wendi are my first brides to tie the knot, and I will never forget their incredible wedding. It will be with me forever as one of the most beautiful celebrations I’ve had the honor of documenting. It was so full of love, not just from the brides, but from their wonderful families and friends. You could feel it. Really feel it. I literally got chills when they read their vows to each other. Their words reminded me very much of the truths I’ve learned in my own marriage, probably because they’ve been together for fourteen years – about the same length of time that my husband and I have. The vows were incredibly accurate descriptions of what love and marriage really are and really should be. I wish I would have written down their vows so I could read them when I need a little reminder about what my role as a wife is (but I was kinda busy at the moment with a couple cameras in my hands). The one part I didn’t need to write down, because I’ll remember it forever, was when Christina ended her vows to Wendi by saying “I’ve seen the best of you. I’ve seen the worst of you. And I choose both.”

That’s love.

Love is a choice to put someone else – and all of their dreams and needs – ahead of yourself. Love is a promise to never give up. Love is forgiveness and grace, and recognizing that they’re needed most when they seem to be deserved the least. Love is creating and celebrating joy daily. Love is building a life full of incredible experiences with your best friend and soul mate. Love exists abundantly beyond boundaries and expectations. It’s that simple, and that complex. And on this perfect summer evening at The Stanley Event Space, Christina and Wendi embraced all of that simplicity and complexity, said “I do” to forever, and wrapped a big old party around it.

Congratulations to these beautiful women – my new friends – as their love story continues to be written and celebrated.

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Kansas City Band and Musician Photography

When I rebranded my photography business in 2012, I wanted to convey a focus on the other artistic love of my life, music. I wanted to begin working with more bands and musicians, both on stage and in the creation of promotional photos. I’ve loved having the chance to shoot some incredible shows this year (with a few more on the horizon that I’m super stoked about), and to create promo images for a wide variety of artists, duos, and groups. This avenue of my business allows me the opportunity to merge my two artistic passions, which is a dream. Shooting promo photos allows me the chance to envision and create a concept based on a band’s sound, and shooting live shows gives me the challenge of working in an ever-changing lighting environment while allowing me to enjoy a show from in front of the front row (there’s a bit of fangirl joy in that), for the first few songs. And it has widened my musical tastes as well. Almost every time I shoot a live show, I’m introduced to new bands or individuals that I didn’t know before. Every time I get to work with a new group for promo photos, I need to listen to their work to know what their style and sound is like, so I can do my best to ensure that my images match their style. I’ve fallen in love with lots of new albums and genres in the process. I’m thankful for that.

Here are a few highlights of some of my favorite shows and sessions so far this year:

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Elle King
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Mike Franano
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Gary Clark, Jr.
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Ehrnman and Pearson
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Echo Collider
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Mystik Catering – Kansas City Food Photography

Inspiration is such an interesting aspect of a creative career. It can’t be forced. It can’t be bought. It comes and goes on its own terms. I don’t mind sharing openly that, so far this year, I have been under a cloud of worry and doubt about the future of my business. I’m nearing my ten-year anniversary of pursuing this dream of mine, doing work that I’m incredibly proud of, yet this is shaping up to be the slowest year I’ve ever had. I can blame the continually increasing everyone’s-a-photographer industry, or the ever-slow economy. I can question my prices, my style, or my marketing techniques. I can sit around trying to figure out what’s going on, or I can focus on making myself better. And that’s what I chose. I am choosing to become more versatile and to increase my skills. With that decision, accompanied by determination to release my worry and doubt, a gust of inspiration came my way – I can shoot food! The depth of colors and textures can be absolutely gorgeous, and lighting a plate is crucial for communicating those things.

Once I have inspiration to shoot something on my own terms (as opposed to being contacted by a potential client), my next step is to find someone who can benefit from the project I have in mind. I teamed up with Nicole, who is the executive chef of Mystik Catering. She created several gorgeous plates for our session, including seared lemon tilapia with shrimp and rice, braised short rib with grits, stuffed pork chops, and a beautifully layered mixed berry sponge cake paired with champagne. It was almost painful to have to be so close to such exquisite-looking and amazing-smelling plates for so long without being able to devour it. I highly recommend contacting Mystik Catering for your next event that requires a remarkable spread of incredible food.

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Knowing I would need to be well-prepared for our session, I spent the week practicing some different lighting setups for a variety of photogenic foods and drinks. I know I still have much room for improvement, but I’m really happy with how these turned out. I learned a lot (in trial and error mode) about photographing food – not just from a lighting and styling standpoint, but from the aspect of the food’s colors, temperatures, and sitting time. Here are a few of my favorites from my week of practice:

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Brian and Phil’s Kansas City Engagement Session

Brian and Phil warned me several times that they aren’t fans of having their pictures taken. Maybe that’s partially true? And they also claimed that they’re not photogenic. That certainly isn’t true. I’m not sure that they were looking forward to their engagement session, but I definitely was. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to document their engagement and work with them prior to their wedding this fall, which I’m fairly certain is going to be the celebration of the century!

…And I think they ended up having fun at their session. That’s always a relief for me!

The location they chose – the Crossroads Art District in Kansas City – is not only one of my favorite backgrounds for photos, but it is especially meaningful for these guys. They love the beautiful KC skyline, which can be perfectly viewed from the north lawn of Liberty Memorial, and they were excited for the opportunity to take some dusk and nighttime shots with the city lights in the background. With plans to end the session there, we wanted to start the session closer to the heart of Crossroads. I asked them to meet me in the parking lot at Lidia’s, not knowing until later that Lidia’s is where they enjoyed their first date… fourteen years ago.

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Michelle’s Modeling Portfolio Session

Michelle and I spent an evening in the West Bottoms creating some fresh looks for her modeling portfolio. It was a cold and windy evening, but like all quality models, Michelle was a trooper throughout the session and didn’t let it bother her (or didn’t let it show, at least). As a result, we captured some solid, stylish images that highlight a variety of looks. I wish Michelle the best in her modeling career and can’t wait to work with her again!

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