Outdoors

Dreams & Realities, Friends & Rockstars -- National Down Syndrome Society New York City Photo Shoot

***This is one in a three-part perspective on the #rockinNDSSstudios experience with the National Down Syndrome Society. To see more of this journey, visit my co-photographers Nicole and Sherri who are also sharing their adventures in blogs today. ***

 

 

Months of planning, new and old friendships and a gathering of wild imaginations and big dreams came together earlier this month in what will most definitely be remembered as one of the absolute highlights of both my professional and personal stories.

A little background and then a lot of fun memories:

In mid-October I shared my friend and newborn photographer Nicole Starr's donation of photography sessions to families affected by Down Syndrome with my never-met-but-feel-like-true-friends friend Sara Weir, President of the National Down Syndrome Society. I thought it was a long shot and I thought I might be bothering with Sara's already busy schedule, but lo and behold, Sara requested a conference call with us. We were excited, but puzzled. Perhaps, we thought, Sara had some connections in Nicole's Boston area for some well-deserving families to receive photos.

But Sara is a dreamer. A big dreamer and a big believer. And that's what makes her and the NDSS so fabulous -- they're almost afraid of the word "no" when it comes to advocacy, human rights and possibilities and futures for those with DS.

She offered up her idea that maybe, just maybe, we could all collaborate for a NYC rock-and-roll-themed photo shoot to use for the NDSS annual fundraising Gala, held in March at BB King Blues Club. The rest of that phone call is a blur because I felt such extreme emotions overtake me.

When Nicole and I hung up with Sara (after agreeing that YES YES YES we were in!), we of course called each other and simply alternated between shocked silence and excited squealing. And we took off running from there. We joined forces soon after with Kandi, Kristie, Maddy, Amy and several others from NDSS. There were conference calls and Pinterest boards and model calls on Facebook and then e-mails, phone calls, Excel spreadsheets and travel plans.

Sherri, a mom to a daughter with DS and Nebraska-based photographer, volunteered her time and efforts, too.

Before we knew it, a sunny, mild December Monday morning arrived.

I sat on my seat on the plane, smiling out the window as I texted a picture of the plane to my aunt for the kids to see. I half-wanted someone to ask me where this plane was taking me, just so I could answer, "To the most INCREDIBLE opportunity I've ever been given! You would not believe how lucky I am!"

At the NDSS New York offices on the 600-block of Broadway in the heart of the NoHo neighborhood, it went from a big dream to a huge reality. We tested our lighting and camera settings, took a tour and scoped out corners. Poured some coffee, grabbed our lenses and for about the longest five minutes, just stood in our own little quiet worlds. Then the first models arrived, hair and makeup began their work and it began!

We had more than 200 volunteer applicants and wound up with more than 50 models. We represented just about every genre and style of music and every age between infant and 50 years old. Men and women, boys and girls. Quiet and shy and confident and strong.

You know how they say, "It's the little things in life"? It is. Truly.

I felt so many powerful moments.

Many of my 15-minute sessions were outside in a side street off of Broadway, with cobblestone and wrought iron gates, graffiti, cool staircases and a true NYC skyline and vibe.

I remember crossing over the cobblestone with one of my older models holding my hand, tenderly gracing her feet over the bricks as she told me in one breath about her recent ankle surgeries and a trip abroad for advocacy work.

A teenage boy was painfully shy and his parents warned me he may not come out of his shell. But just a couple of minutes later, I saw the most beautiful smile. His mother wrote me that the photo shoot has changed his confidence and self esteem.

My Billy Joel sang "Uptown Girl" while acting smooth on the front steps of a nearby business. My Elvis Costello suggested wonderful poses and locations along the street and nodded, "That looks so good!" when I showed him the back of the camera.

I received hugs and got so many hand squeezes. I took selfies with my new friends and just couldn't stop smiling.

(Photos below are camera phone behind-the-scenes shots:)

 

It wasn't just the rockstars. It was the tough Momma who gracefully balanced her other children with love and attention. The Dad who wasn't afraid to make a fool out of himself to get his son to loosen up in front of the cameras and strangers. Proud aunts and grandparents and friends, too. Big sisters who helped little brothers and all of those behind the scenes, holding fans and lights, grabbing coffees, allowing flexibility and not worrying about who won't wear their wig or whether or not glasses are part of the costume. Some of the best moments were when I wasn't holding my Nikon -- instead I was blasting and dancing (poorly) to some Taylor Swift or asking about hobbies and hometowns and listening, truly listening.

Moms who learned I have a son with Down Syndrome offered resources, phone numbers and the best of bear hugs. The kind that say "I get it" and "Our lives rock!"

There was talk about fighting for the right classroom, open-heart surgeries on sweet babies, scars from tubes and so many battles that are fought on a daily, hourly basis. But there was no complaining. There was no 'why me.' Over the course of two days, we had one common purpose with some sunshine and a lot of love. We created beautiful art with our experience and equipment and all of those big dreams. But our models and their families are the reason for the success of those days. Their patience and open-mindedness and their incredible positivity.

 

I was keeping it together pretty well.

And then, in the most unlikely of moments, it all hit.

Nicole was photographing our little Buddy Holly and he needed a little encouragement from his big sisters and Mom who were watching from the back of the room. They were great -- a little dancing and some laughter and he was ready for his time in the spotlight. But the moment that truly defined his time as a rockstar? Not the solo photo that Nicole nailed in the camera of him with a guitar and a little black suit. It was the instant before when he stood in the center of four of his family members, all of them grooving and giggling. THAT, is what NDSS celebrates and strives for and that is why I think we all wanted to be a part of this. That reminder of hope and beauty. Of a life that is absolutely remarkable. A life lived like a dance party.

But, I couldn't put that in words, and I quietly retreated and broke down in tears in the hallway.

I apologized for being weak and creating a scene, but then Kandi of NDSS, also a mom to a little boy with DS, held my back and said "This is all for Zack."

But this is for all of them. The 400,000 people living with DS in America today. The moms and dads who have been through it all and the new parents of the 1 in 691 births with a DS diagnosis every year. This is for my new friends who have college degrees and who dance or sing or act. It is for their past accomplishments and their future successes. They are all rockstars. They are all role models for us all.

 

 

Several families have sent me/us thank-you messages. I am appreciative and yet I shake my head and whisper, "No, thank YOU."

You who rearranged doctor appointments and missed school and work. You who traveled five hours in the morning for one hour in our little makeshift studios just to turn around and drive five hours back home -- because you told us you 'just had to do this.' You who trusted a stranger with a camera. You at the NDSS who travel multiple times a month, endure difficult phone calls and long Senate meetings and House bill lingo. You who march and fundraise and do not sit quietly with the status quo.

 

(Images below are of some of the models I worked most closely with, emulating the following rockstars: Usher / Pink / Elvis Costello / Billy Joel / Elvis / Michael Jackson / Lenny Kravitz / Lady Gaga / Gwen Stefani / Janis Joplin / Pat Benatar.)

 


Images from this photo session will be used in promotion for and on display at the NDSS 30th Annual Gala and Auction. This year's honorees include ABC and actor and advocate Chris Burke. Final posters of our rockstars will be available for purchase. All proceeds from this event will go toward the NDSS.

Yellow and gray and a beautiful wedding day {A New Jersey Wedding for a Texas Couple}

After getting to know my couples for sometimes two years before their big day, I always experience a moment or two that's most like a Proud Big Sister when it's time to capture their wedding day. 

For Mallorie and Eric, that was even more so the case. Mallorie's older sister and Matron of Honor Allison is one of my dearest friends from childhood. I didn't know Mallorie as well as I wish I had but I've been lucky enough to watch her journey from afar over the years. 

And with a backdrop of weeping willows and lakefront rows of white chairs on a sunny September afternoon, I watched Mallorie's parents walk her down the aisle as her REAL big sister proudly watched. 

I'll come back to Eric in a minute, but let's talk first about the INCREDIBLE Mallorie. She chose a lace-sleeved, tea-length dress with insane Betsey Johnson heels. Mallorie rocked some gorgeous long, sideswept curls and some Old-Hollywood red lips and she looked so fun and elegant, twirling, hands in her dress pockets (um, yep!). 

And Eric was handsome and happy, smiling every minute of their day. The way he looks at Mallorie is so, so beautiful. He just worships her and respects her and it's obvious with every glance. 

Mallorie and Eric chose to do a First Look (peeking at each other prior to the ceremony) and we set Eric up at the bottom and Mallorie at the top of a tall wooden staircase at the historic inn where their reception was held. After some quiet moments alone, they and their bridal party did some photos there and at the ceremony site, a beautiful former convent on a huge plot of land with the aforementioned trees and water. 

I promised Mallorie that some gorgeous images could be captured if we trudged down a hill of tall grass to the water's edge and there, with gorgeous light shimmering through the leaves and the love and comfort of those two, we froze in time some of my favorite wedding photography moments so far. 

A sweet ceremony (complete with their pup!) led to a delicious cocktail hour and hours of impressive dance moves back at the inn. 

They grabbed the mic with five minutes to go, thanked all of their loved ones and danced together, swaying in each other's arms as 100 friends and family circled them, applauding and cheering and dancing. Eric picked Mallorie up in his arms and twirled her once, twice and I couldn't help but feel those Proud Big Sister vibes I always feel during my weddings. All of their planning and preparing and thoughtful gestures for their loved ones created this beautiful day, this beautiful moment. 

 

Congratulations! Here are some of my favorite images!

 

Be sure to visit some of these amazing vendors, too:

Ceremony Venue: Rutherfurd Hall, Allamuchy, New Jersey

Reception Venue: David's Country Inn, Hackettstown, New Jersey

Florist: Calico Flowers, Hackettstown, New Jersey

Cake: Palermo's Bakery, Ridgefield Park, New Jersey

DJ/MC: This is It! Entertainment, Red Bank, New Jersey

Videographer: Noah Rosenblatt, Red Bank, New Jersey

 

Heather and John {Engagement} -- Silly Adventures in Wilkes-Barre, PA

I love a lot of things that came into play while exploring the nearby city of Wilkes-Barre PA last week with Heather and John -- obvious affection, lots of laughter and an adorable puppy. I have had a blast with this young, fun couple since we first talked about their Sept. 2015 wedding a couple of months ago. John asked great questions during a phone interview and apparently was impressed by me! He told Heather, "We don't have to look any further, I found our photographer." How awesome is that?! And then when I met with Heather at a nearby coffee place, we happened to pick a night with a slew of fire trucks on display, free ice cream and long lines weaving around costumed walking coffee cups. We laughed a lot and just really hit it off.

So this past weekend, we captured some love and laughter at three locations -- a riverside park along the Susquehanna, the campus of Wilkes University and then at nearby Kirby Park and it's dyke path.

Heather and John had a lot of ideas for outfits and props and posing but were equally flexible and open-minded with my suggestions.

Heather's ring is gorgeous, yet it was almost overshadowed by their new puppy named .. wait for it... Captain Bacon! (And he even has his own hashtag!)

I hope you can feel the fun in these photos! I can't wait to see them surrounded by their loved ones in just a few months for their wedding. I have no doubt I'll be smiling the entire time!

Heather and John

Engagement Session 7-3-15; Online Gallery delived 7-8-15

Location: River Common Park, WIlkes University, Kirby Park in Wilkes-Barre PA

Wedding: 9-19-15

Chris & Shannon {Wedding} -- A Long Beach Island Love Story

If rain on your wedding day truly is good luck then Chris and Shannon are most certainly blessed in their marriage. Even with 35-mph wind gusts, sideways torrential downpours, collapsing tent walls and a few more unexpected curve balls, these two lovebirds kept calm and didn't let Mother Nature or anything else dampen their dream beach wedding.

Despite being two of the most laidback people I've ever encountered on what should be a stressful day, the details laid out beforehand had most definitely been planned out with such care and consideration. Blues and reds and yellows popped in and out of beautiful wooden signs from Rustic Drift, a gorgeous ring, and sea-themed table runners, centerpieces, even the bottle openers! Guests signed an anchor and munched on Swedish Fish.

And you should have seen the way Chris looked at his bride, even after seeing her all dressed up and ready to go. He just beamed. And even more touching were their loved ones. There was undeniable support and love in a white tent on a corner of Beach Haven that night. Groomsmen smiling with pride, bridesmaids fighting back joyful tears, moms who nodded as if they knew they raised a good one and dads who stood back and took it all in. New babies passed around and kiddos twirled on the dance floor. And gosh was there some dancing! The dance floor was never empty!

Couples years into their marriage could take lessons from Chris and Shannon. Roll with the punches, remember the reason for it all and always, always laugh.

Chris & Shannon

6-27-15

101 Centre St/LBI NJ

Boho Bridal Shower {Styled Shoot} -- Part Two

Yesterday, I shared some of my favorite images of the details of our boho-themed bridal shower styled shoot -- the food, candles, table set-up and all of the fun decorations and favors. Today, it's all about the models! This part of the shoot is where I am most in my comfort zone and at my happiest behind my camera. As fun as a creative detail shot like ring close-ups or flowers can be, capturing a story -- friendship or family or a love story -- is what brings me greatest joy!

We had eight female models who portrayed our bridal shower attendees at various stations along our shoot and then one of the ladies and her boyfriend who were not only SO cute but also SO in love! They braved a super-quick rain shower right before sunset photos and were patient as three photographers directed them towards their own styles. Me? I love a good romantic, fun shot. If there's a serious face, my camera might get sad, haha!

So, we created a calm, fun, laid-back atmosphere and we tried not to make any photograph too boring, slow-paced or uninteresting. Conversations, questions and always planning your next move while working out your current one make the entire process a little easier for everyone involved.

Enjoy the photos and please check out the amazing vendors who shared their talents, time, space and love with me this week! And a very big thank-you to our fantastic models!

Patchwork Planning {Planner}  Forget Me Not Vintage Inc {Rentals & Styling}  Monzie's Floral Design {Flowers}  Peculiar Culinary {Desserts} Woven the Shop {Dreamcatchers} The Hunter Collection {Pillows}  The Post Home and Body {Soap Favors} Christine Conrad {Jewelry}  Make Pie Not War {Rings} Thrift Store Decor {Candles} Ryan Kenton {DJ}  The Dusty Daisy Shop {Feather Name Cards and Driftwood Decoration} Momental Designs {Invitation Kit} TattooByYou {Tattoos} Confeteti Warehouse/Lavender Linens {Linens} Jammin Barefoot (Karen) {Jamberry Favor} Erica {makeup}

Wendy also worked with some FANTASTIC photographers, including: Kelley Spurlock Photography / Elizabeth Lilly Photography / Chelsey Travelpiece / Photography by Seneca -- thank you for sharing your talent and many, many laughs!

*Special thanks to Mandy and Doug Chapman, for allowing us to use their property and disrupt their lives for a few days! Your family is beautiful and we are all so grateful to you.

You can see more images, including behind-the-scenes snapshots at WZP Instagram and WZP Facebook!

Boho Bridal Shower {Styled Shoot} - Part One -- The Details

Sometimes, when all of the T's are crossed and I's are dotted, and a group of amazing creatives gather together and rainclouds hold off, magic happens. When models are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside and everything around you inspires you, special moments are captured. Such was the case with a styled boho-themed bridal shower shoot that took place earlier this week. Led by Candice of Patchwork Planning and Renee of Forget Me Not Vintage Rentals and Styling, our images now inspire others!

We were surrounded by the most beautiful color palette -- pinks and greens with a touch of whimsy --  and the most beautiful textures -- woven vibrant rugs and decorative dreamcatchers, lace dresses and floral crowns. Fabulous food with even more delicious displays and the blingiest chandeliers ever!

Tomorrow, I'll highlight some of my favorite moments between our models -- a group of eight lovely ladies (and one handsome guy!) near a fabric teepee, enjoying a delightful dinner set-up, wrapped up in a sunset in a field and more. Today's blog, however, is showing off all of the tiny little details that helped create a one-of-a-kind atmosphere.

I'm going to let the images tell the story, but please take a moment to acquaint yourself with the terrific vendors I've listed below!

All photos taken with my Nikon D700, switching up between my 24mm/50mm (with and without macro filters) and 85mm.

Patchwork Planning {Planner}  Forget Me Not Vintage Inc {Rentals & Styling}  Monzie's Floral Design {Flowers}  Peculiar Culinary {Desserts} Woven the Shop {Dreamcatchers} The Hunter Collection {Pillows}  The Post Home and Body {Soap Favors} Christine Conrad {Jewelry}  Make Pie Not War {Rings} Thrift Store Decor {Candles} Ryan Kenton {DJ}  The Dusty Daisy Shop {Feather Name Cards and Driftwood Decoration} Momental Designs {Invitation Kit} TattooByYou {Tattoos} Confeteti Warehouse/Lavender Linens {Linens} Jammin Barefoot (Karen) {Jamberry Favor}

Wendy also worked with some FANTASTIC photographers, including: Kelley Spurlock Photography / Elizabeth Lilly Photography / Chelsey Travelpiece / Photography by Seneca -- thank you for sharing your talent and many, many laughs!

*Special thanks to Mandy and Doug Chapman, for allowing us to use their property and disrupt their lives for a few days! Your family is beautiful and we are all so grateful to you.

You can see more images, including behind-the-scenes snapshots at WZP Instagram and WZP Facebook!

Ben & Megan {Engagement} -- An outdoor engagement session in Central Pennsylvania with Wendy Zook Photography

A lot of things have to happen in order to create a flawless, magical engagement session. And boy did the stars align on Saturday!

Equipment. Check! It was my first opportunity to use only my three favorite prime lenses and no zooms and I was SO pleased with the results. Sharper, in-focus images with beautiful bokeh.

Location. Yup! We used Ben's family farm (Picture field of wildflowers and tall grass perched on top of a mountain overlooking rolling hills of green as far as the eye can see), and two waterways nearby that had particular importance to Ben and Megan's relationship (like near the place where he proposed!). OH, and my apologies to the owner of the field on the drive to the reservoir. See, we were driving by and almost all three of us yelled to stop at the same time. You know you have magic then!

Weather. Partly sunny skies leading into a golden sunset. No one had to squint and there was no harsh light to deal with! The temperature was rather comfortable, too!

A cooperative groom. Um, yep! Ben actually suggested the first spot as we walked towards the aforementioned field on a mountain. His idea of a large apple tree was the perfect place to start! He was such a good sport, though -- jumping in a creek with cowboy boots still on and driving his brand new (like hours old!) truck down dirt roads!

A beautiful bride-to-be. Whoa. Megan is stunning, but she's radiant inside and outside. Her eyes are so gorgeous, she greeted me with a giant hug and she thanked me at least a thousand times. I loved her outfit choices and she looked like a model!

Authentic love. This is the most important part. Couples can be stressed from a busy day or from planning, can be self-conscious or feel unphotogenic. But you know what? None of that matters if you keep them comfortable and just let their love shine through above everything else. There are some beautiful catchlights in their eyes and mouth-dropping vistas in so many photos, but my favorite ones are where love is in the foreground. The way she looks at him... the goosebumps from listening to him tell the story of how they met... the kindness to each other.

Ben and Megan are getting married in November and I can't wait to get more time with them and capture more of their love story.

Portage, PA -- May 9, 2015

Ashley is beautiful (glamour/senior portraits)

While family was out visiting our home the other day, I picked up my Nikon and grabbed my niece and we disappeared for a few minutes taking photos and having Girl Talk. Like most teenagers, my niece's Instagram account is covered in selfies and, again like most teenagers, she looks in the mirror and picks apart her flaws far before anything she loves about herself.

So I told her to put on her makeup and trust me and away we went!

In her first couple of minutes, just like many of my clients, Ashley was a bit too aware of herself and questioning every position. But barely a block away from the house, the comfort and trust settled in and she let down her guard. I loved seeing her sassy side and her goofy side. She started to get excited about different backdrops and poses and I think we were both sad to see my house come back into view.

I might be biased, but I think there is a beautiful young lady peeking out from her shell.

Drew D. - Business Headshots

Are you looking for a knowledgeable, caring realtor with a fantastic personality in the Lansdale-Doylestown  area? I know the best one for you! untitled shoot-020

Drew is joining forces with a family member's longtime realty business in southeast Pennsylvania and asked me to take some headshots and business images for him. We met in gorgeous Jim Thorpe, PA, amidst an icy afternoon. Drew was so awesome though, handling bitterly cold drops and a harsh breeze as well as me asking him to pose near beautiful brick and darling doorways.

Headshots are a fun departure from regular portrait photography. Instead of telling a tale like a couple's love story or recent engagement or depicting an entire special day like a wedding, business images need you to depict the story of a person and what they bring to the table for you.

I like to take some time and get to know the person and their business. Do they want to come across strong and serious? Or perhaps more friendly and warm? A mix of the two? And backdrops matter, even in business portraits -- rural versus urban and so on and so on.

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I've said it a thousand times, but I love photography. I love telling stories with my camera. Other than being a mom, this is the best job I've ever known!

Mentoring with Hope Taylor

If you want to be the best, you have to learn from the best.And the lovely, lively Hope Taylor of Fredericksburg, Va., is one of the best in the future of photography. Her use of style and keen fashion sense plus a consistent beautiful golden light in all of her photos is going to take her so far. I was beyond blessed to have spent a day with her, soaking in all of her ideas, watching her in her happy place behind the camera and starting a very long list of things I am excited to do with Wendy Zook Photography.

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Hope reminds me of why I love photography. It's not just the fun hobby or even the occasional paycheck I get to bring to the family; it's about capturing moments and telling stories.

I am so excited to do many great things with WZP in 2015. My mentoring session with Hope is just the beginning. She has given me tools, but more importantly, confidence, encouragement, support and empowerment.

Below are some of my favorite moments from my day of braving the "cold" (those Southerners thought 40 degrees was chilly!), putting it all together and taking those very first steps in the very awesome direction of my future and my potential. Morgan and Johnny are a young couple who are so in love. They are just smitten with each other and it's incredible to watch. It doesn't just stop when the cameras go down. They were so patient with Hope and I talking technical jargon about ISOs and aperture and wide-open lenses.

And the Fredericksburg area is so lovely! This amazing and historic town with tons of character just comes out of nowhere as you travel down a quiet highway for a couple of miles. We did photographs at a Civil War battlefield site, an old silk mill, a gorgeous field draped in ivy and golden sunbeams and then caught a sunset at a nearby railroad station. Amazing!

I'll begin sharing some new things soon, so stay tuned! Make sure to check out this page to catch the last few days of my Valentines' specials!

A & G (engagement)

It's not very often as a photographer that you're able to watch a future client/couple in real life before you're even hired. With Andy and Gina, though, I knew there was going to be a ring before she did! (Well, OK, I'm sure she had a hunch, but still...!) You see, I was the Maid of Honor at Andy's sister's October wedding, and while we were talking, Andy told me he was going to propose to Gina soon and he wanted me to photograph an engagement session.

I remember watching the way he looked at her with such love as they spun around on the dance floor and I can still hear her laughter at something he said to make her smile. I knew they were the epitome of love and I was keeping my fingers crossed that I would indeed be able to attempt to capture some of their story with my camera.

Fast forward two months to a chilly night at Peddlers' Village, New Hope, Pennsylvania, with a giant, gorgeous ring on Gina's left hand and a lot more of their laughter in the air.

Gina and I had shared ideas together on Pinterest, which is a huge help in making sure the photographer and the client are on the same page. (We even incorporated her love of running and the fact that he proposed at the end of a race into our session!) We had photos near a carousel, along quiet wintry paths, breaks along benches and inside of coffeehouses and so many "picture-perfect" stops in between.

I am so grateful for this time with Andy and Gina and look forward to watching more of their love story unfold.