Olivia | A Springtime Off-Camera Flash Ranch Model Session

Olivia is a young, relaxed, go-with-the-flow lady, that so kindly modeled for me while I was in Minnesota. My favorite thing about photographing her was her ease in front of the camera. It was such a breeze! She walked into the session with the utmost trust and sense of confidence, which I think ultimately made her such a joy to photograph.

The reality of photography is that you will need flash eventually, but natural light photographers (sun-lovers like me!) are sometimes a little resistant to artificial light! Thankfully my friend Shelley was kind enough to show me her flash set-up for portraits. We played with the light, with a gorgeous sunset as our backdrop. It made for some soft lit sunset moments that were some of my favorites from the session!

Shelley, Headshots, and Pets | A Pet-Loving Session on the Farm

Shelley is a person who cares on a very deep level, not just for the people in her life, but for her animals. The relationship she has with them is something she takes very seriously and is incredibly dedicated to. Moving to a farm recently meant that she actually got to live with her horses for the first time and have one, big happy fur-family. When she asked me to join her for her birthday in Minnesota, I was so looking forward to the chance to photograph her at her new home with her newest additions. Her sassy horse Fritzie and her rescue schnauzer Charley made for the sweetest models and even brought out an extreme outpouring of gratitude from Shelley.


This moment was especially meaningful to Shelley for two reasons. The first being that her regularly temperamental mare Fritzie became a more gentle, kinder horse with the help of supplements. While in the past Fritzie might have been a little hard to handle and had been difficult to fully trust, because of the change in her diet, the relationship between Shelley and Fritzie has started to mend. Since Shelley had yet to get pictures alone with her newest horse, now seemed like the perfect time to remember this period of reconciliation that they are going through.

The second reason this moment is meaningful is because of Charley.

Charley, her sweet, newest dog, spent all three years of his life in a puppy mill in Missouri. Because he was treated so terribly, his personality is nearly void of trust and full of fear. Living with him meant being incredibly careful of every action they made in order to gain trust. However, shortly after Shelley and her husband brought him home, he ran away. Desperate to find him, an entire team of people searched tirelessly for him. Because of the fresh rural community that farm-life surrounded her with, a kind person managed to locate him and return him to Shelley. He suffered a vehicle-related injury, as he was bleeding terribly and had minor brain damage. Even though finding him was a relief, it was clear that a new and difficult journey of healing was ahead of them.

Shelley, who suffered a mild traumatic brain injury herself years prior, was filled with compassion for her new family member. Even though Charley was slow to trust her, she loved him deeply and wanted him to be well. She knew from experience, however, that healing takes time. Through tears, fundraising, and entire re-training (even potty training), Charley managed to recuperate. While he still struggles with fear, he has a springy sort of joy about him and the most adorable ability to love deeply---much like his owner! Seeing him first hand after knowing what he had been through was like watching a miracle on four legs.

While Shelley might not have known how grateful she was for Charley, she had an emotional moment, an outpouring of gratitude, while she was taking a few one-on-one pictures with him. While it felt like Charley's photos were almost done, I asked her to lean in for one more snuggle with him to make sure I got enough shots. Then one of the most beautiful mid-session moments of my entire career happened. Something came over her, and she began to weep. "I'm so grateful," she said, as she hugged him closer and buried her face in his soft coat. Maybe it was the chance to have pictures with him for the first time. Maybe it was getting to hug him freely without him pulling away, but Shelley's heart was opened in a way she hadn't yet experienced. She was filled with an extreme thankfulness for being Charley's mom, rescuing him not once but twice, and seeing him happy.

It is stories like these that give me passion for what I do. Jumping in on stories that are in the middle of being written, and will one day prove to be life-changing, is one of the kindest privileges I've been given. Even though this story is far from over: Shelley is still training Fritzie and gaining trust with her, while Charley continues to walk a road to healing; taking the photo now (before the happy ending) matters. It is in documenting the journey that she'll be able to gain understanding looking back and know that this moment had an effect on her life.

My heart was to give Shelley pretty pictures with her babies, but I had no idea that what would happen that day would impact both of our hearts. Not only I was I taken aback by such an emotional moment with her pup, but when I got home I discovered her gratitude had been contagious! I came home and hugged my sweet dog a little tighter than normal, grateful for the presence she had in my life, knowing that time with my sweet dog (below) is such a gift. That's why I jumped at the opportunity to photograph her when I got home! Even though I'm not sure how much time we'll have together, I want to make sure I can remember her well when she is gone. I'm going to pretend I didn't say that though! Excuse me while I run off to endlessly hug my dog and feed her peanut butter, and I expect you to do the same with yours.

Work, Play, and Other Vacation Struggles | Thoughts from My Brief Journey to Minnesota

Something I'm growing in ferocity with is work-life balance. In fact, I'm beginning to think that living in and enforcing it is part of my calling. Freedom has come to me, because I've learned how to put healthy boundaries on my life (and get more work done than ever). However, this past season has been one of growth for my business, where I am sowing seeds and making room for new things to come along. With that has come a bit of an obsession with growth, and it has left me feeling considerably less than balanced. I've been over-worked, restless, and all but running on empty.

This April, my friend Shelley invited me to Minnesota to celebrate her birthday. She turned forty...something. Who's counting?! And I did not hesitate to book my ticket! Even though I was busy at home creating work for myself, spending time with her (and about a week away from the office), was an easy decision to make! Despite wanting to get a little work done while I was there, I made a point to keep laptop time to a minimum, as I was being to feel in my gut that so much work-focus was wearing me down.

We got some cupcakes from the Mall of America to celebrate Shelley's birthday! Mine (the middle one that reads "Yay!") was vanilla filled with chocolate mousse. Heavenly!

We got some cupcakes from the Mall of America to celebrate Shelley's birthday! Mine (the middle one that reads "Yay!") was vanilla filled with chocolate mousse. Heavenly!

Apart from being an inspirational equine photographer and videographer, Shelley recently purchased a farm with her husband Tracy. For the first time ever she gets to live with all of the animals she loves: her two schnauzers Toby and Charley, her three barn cats Casey, Five, and Gale, and her gorgeous horses Maggie Sue and Fritzie. As you can imagine, being there was a very interactive experience: from early-morning animal feedings, to stall-mucking all with countless hours of furry snuggles!

Shelley let me borrow her rain boots to wear in the barn. I made sure to get them nice and muddy for her!

Shelley let me borrow her rain boots to wear in the barn. I made sure to get them nice and muddy for her!

Their lifestyle required rest and healthy rhythms. Chores combined with sunrise chasing and the general sense of busyness that happens when you're visiting friends left me feeling more tired and hungry than normal. Because of that, I felt like I didn't have the usual energy to sit with my laptop. Even though I would naturally worked a lot more, I had to close my laptop and rest because of my lowered energy. It was the ultimate gift.

An inception flatlay styling moment. Don't I made a great hand model?

An inception flatlay styling moment. Don't I made a great hand model?

In between shop-talk, YouTube watching, sight-seeing and photoshoots (from our model Olivia, to Shelley's headshot + animal photos, to practicing flatlay styling, and finally my own moments as Shelley photographed me with Maggie Sue), we managed to snack to our hearts content, delighting in homemade guac, charcuterie boards, Instant Pot meals, fresh berries, and so much La Croix. Even though we played hard; we rested well and fell into natural rhythms of work, play, hunger, and rest.

Ah the joys of snack time and Instant Pot meals!

Ah the joys of snack time and Instant Pot meals!


Something that I noticed in Shelley the whole trip was her ability to stop and enjoy the moment. She adored watching her horses eat peppermints, reaching for them with their curly lips. When it was time to feed her dogs, she would tease them and build up the suspense as they got excited, jumping and dancing for their food. What I would have made into a mindless daily to-do, she made into an opportunity for enjoyment.

Casey, the proud retriever of mice, and one of Shelley's adored cats!

Casey, the proud retriever of mice, and one of Shelley's adored cats!

When I got home, I hit the ground running and got straight to work the next morning. While at first it might have seemed like nothing changed, the most miraculous shift occurred: I wanted to read. Ok, so reading might not sound like a big deal, but as someone who defaults to Netflix to zone out and call it a night, I couldn't believe that I actually had a desire to read a book. My desire to read didn't feel like alternative entertainment either, but it instead felt like an uncanny desire for fruitful rest and mental growth.

Not only did traveling to Minnesota help to recalibrate me to do what gives me life (make room for slow conversations, cook delicious food, have less screen time), but Shelley helped me see the joy that can come from lingering in a moment and being just a little more present in the daily tasks. Even though I still feel a little work-worn and awfully task driven, I'm thankful to have been whisked up north to remember what it looks like to squeeze every drop out of this precious life I've been giving. What Shelley thought was a gift for herself was actually an unexpected gift for me, and for that gift I could not be more grateful!

See my video blog of the trip here: