The Importance of Scouting a location for family portraits

Dear Friends,

last week I had the opportunity to do a family portrait session at a beautiful location here in Colorado with a sweet family of 4.  The session lasted about 60 minutes and we had lovely evening light on a cloudy night.  It went smoothly and I felt very much at home at the venue, even though I have only been in Colorado for a few months.

Why did I feel at home?  Because I had scouted out that location months ago!  I took pictures of the location, and went at about the same time of night I knew I would be booking an appointment.  I was familiar with the proximity and availability of parking, nearest restroom facilities,  possible hazards, animals on the property, (in this case, there are abundant bunnies!) possible background textures, structures on the property, and the physical address to give my clients so they could get directions.  I even knew that the access road was under construction so I could tell them to allow extra time to get there.

Are these details important?  I created a whole gallery on my website of “Memphis Photo Shoot Locations” with photos of each location, with and without models to illustrate lighting and features.  That gallery was accessed 2,190 times in the last month!  I have thought about deleting the gallery, since I live in Colorado now, but it’s obviously filling a need for photographers, parents and other folks in the area, so I will leave it open.

When I have scouted out a location and educated myself about everything I can, and anticipated the questions my client might ask (where is the closest bathroom??) I am free to focus on my client and move them from one location or activity to another in a smooth manner.  That way, my energy and attention is completely on providing them with a memorable and positive experience.

If you are a portrait photographer, or aspire to be one, please consider scouting out several locations in your area.  Take a few photos so you can remember what you’ve seen.  You’ll feel more comfortable, and will be able to focus on what’s important:  your client and her family!  🙂

-Laura Lee


Of Love, Loss and Hugging your Honor Guard

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Dear friends,

sorry to have dropped off the face of the earth for a while.  My father passed away in August of 2014, after a long battle with cancer.  We drove out to Utah for the services, and there was an honor guard present from the United States Air Force.  (My Dad served 20 years in the Air Force Reserve, as a Fireman/Crash/Rescue  and was on active duty during Desert Storm 1.)  They stood immovable and stately, reverent in demeanor.  We had our son with special needs in his stroller, and he was content to be there until the honor guard arrived.  He kept pointing to them and asking to be let out.  So, as any good mom-of-a-special-needs-child, I let him go, and as a photographer I had a camera ready.  All he wanted was to give our servicemen a hug.  I wasn’t sure what the rules were…are the Honor Guard allowed to hug while on duty?  Our son didn’t know, and didn’t care.  He wanted to thank these young men for their service, and for escorting his Grandpa to his final resting place.

Does the world need children with special needs?  Do they contribute anything to society? Anyone observing the scene would have been able to ascertain that our son, at that moment, did the one thing we all wanted to do, but could not.  He loves people unconditionally, regardless of race, social status, religious beliefs or political party.  He represents the very best of us, the part that is moved with compassion and gratitude.

Though the challenges are many, I am happy to call him son.  I am humbled by his innocence and humanity.  Yes, there is a place in this world for children with special needs.


CARPE DIEM – seize the day!

My Dad and I have a favorite saying…it is simply Carpe Diem!  This is the Latin form of “seize the day”!  I love this simple saying.  Instead of think about the day, or fear the day, or get through the day, it’s SEIZE the day!  It implies action.  It is active, not passive.  It implies control.  What exactly can we control?  The events of some days seem very much out of our control.  But I do believe we can control our attitude toward events and people.

I believe that all good gifts and talents come from a loving God, and that when you share your talents with others, you often help them as well as yourself.  In photography, I love the concept of “paying it forward” and that photography can be a gift to others.  In the last year, I have adopted the City of Germantown.  I have done numerous photos for Parks and Recreation, including the Bobby Lanier Farm Park and the Special Recreation programs, all free of charge.  This year, I was asked to do the PROM photos for the special recreation department.  They provide an outstanding evening for individuals with mental, physical, emotional and other challenges.  Their decorations were beautiful, they provided food and drinks, music and entertainment for about 130 people in the Germantown area, all without cost to participants!!!  The participants really dress up for this event.  It’s a dressy, formal evening of fun.


I had a great time, and I know they did, too!  Have I ever photographed a formal event before?  no.  130 formal photos in a short time? no.  But I believed in myself, my equipment, and decided to seize the day.  I learn something new every time I get my camera out.  So, here’s to taking charge, paying it forward, and deciding to seize the day!  Try it!  You just might surprise yourself!

Photography + Keywording + Graphic Artist = Stock Photography

Hi there!

I thought I would take a couple of minutes to talk about Stock Photography and why I love it!  When you sit at your computer and read the latest news on yahoo or other online sites, there’s almost always a photo for the article you are reading.  If the story is about debt, maybe the photo is a stack of dollar bills, or a stack of papers that look like overdue bills.  Chances are very good that you are looking at a stock photo, chosen from millions of photos available online through different agencies.  Every agency has different requirements for contributors, but in general, the photo has to be technically correct (proper lighting, “copy space” for copy to be added if needed, in focus, correct white balance, no harsh shadows, etc) and it needs to be able to sell an idea, a product or a service.  (Or it could be an abstract background)

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples:

1304BlogThis is a close up (macro) shot of some brightly colored leaves that I took in the fall.  Although someone might want this as fine art to place above their orange sofa, it really doesn’t sell an idea, a service or a product….Also, since it’s not in focus 100%, it probably wouldn’t be desirable as a stock photo.

Here’s another one:

1304Blog-2This is a photo of my little guy playing with water in the pool.  It was taken at a very fast shutter speed, to freeze the movement of the water.  I believe that patterns like this are what he sees when he splashes and plays!  The water is beautiful, but it also feels “alive” in this photo…

I submitted this photo to one of my stock agencies, and it was rejected. You become very good at accepting rejection when you first start submitting for different agencies!  I think the process keeps you humble!

Here are a couple others, that are currently for sale at

1304Blog-4 1304Blog-3My friends weren’t crazy about the first one.  It’s a self portrait (selfie) taken right after a big ice storm here in Memphis.  There was a thick layer of ice on everything, including my car.  I set up my tripod and camera and took some shots looking through the glass.  Although it may appear as though the photo is out of focus, it is, in reality, in perfect focus through the thick ice.  Keywording is everything in stock.  It’s how your potential customer finds you.  This photo reminded me of people with alzheimer’s and dementia.  It’s as though they are there, but there is a thickness or fog around them that you have to get through!  The title is “Hope through the Winter”.  It’s selling very well!  Other keywords for that image would be depression, health, mental, medication, therapy, therapist, etc.

The last one is a close up of hens at our local community garden and farm park.  It’s in focus, no harsh shadows, there’s copy space, and backyard suburban farming is making a comeback!  I noticed a chicken coop for sale in my catalog for Williams Sonoma!!!  If you need more information about how to get started in stock, look into some of these:

shutterstock, bigstock, fotolia, dreamstime, and istock

Even if you decide it’s not for you, there are some wonderful tutorials on these different sites (for photographers) that will help you improve your work!  My favorite right now is shutterstock.  They market to many different countries, so even if something isn’t big in the USA right now, you have a global community of buyers that have a chance of finding you through your keywords!

That’s it for now.  Enjoy your week!



….he fills my days with endless wonder…

hey friends!

Recently I attended the movie “Les Miserables” with some friends, and was reminded of the spectacular music and lyrics that brought Hugo’s work to life.  The lyrics include “he filled my days with endless wonder” and I cannot help but feel that way about my son, my youngest of 4 children.  Now, when I say that he fills my day with wonder, many of you will think of the meaning of the word “wonder” as awe, majesty, surprise, serendipity.   The kind of “wonder” that you feel when you see a beautiful sunset, the vast expanse of the ocean, or the majesty of God’s creations here on Earth.  Certainly, my son does often help me to feel this kind of “wonder”.  And, certainly, he is full of surprises.  The diagnosis of down’s syndrome was not really a surprise, but the diagnosis of autism along with that, at about age 3, was.  And, the third diagnosis of Crohn’s disease at age 7 was more than surprising.  It threw me completely into a tailspin, a mommy “meltdown” of sorts.  Certainly, any one of the 3 diagnoses would put most mortals into a shivering, quaking, fearful, depressed mess of humanity.  However, I am not a mere mortal.  I have my roots in divinity.  My father is a great genealogist.  Some of our family lines go back to women of distinction.  Among them, Joan of Arc, and Mary (Queen of Scots).  Surprised?  don’t be!  If you do YOUR genealogy and get it back that far, you will probably find you have royal roots too!  Does that make a difference in how you see yourself?  Does it give you hope to make it through your challenges?  I think it must.  I think I also tend to treat other people like they have divine roots and royal heritage as well.  Well, back to the idea of “wonder”…In addition to the awe kind of “wonder”, I find myself wondering about some other things.  I wonder if he’ll ever be completely potty trained.  (he’s 12…should I give up?)  I wonder if we can stay on top of all the outside appointments with specialists and therapists.  I wonder if he’ll live with us forever.  I wonder if I’ll ever have an empty nest…??

When we moved to the mid-south, I wanted to work part time, but my experience is in the Airline Industry.  Anyone that has ever worked in the airline industry will tell you that getting the schedule you want is all about seniority.  The people working day shift with weekends off often are the most senior employees.  I dreaded the thought of more shift work, working weekends and holidays, and after 14 years in the airline industry, starting over once again.  That is when I decided to turn to Photography!

I needed something where I could control my schedule around doctor appointments and Gavin’s health.  Something I could do with small blocks of time.  Something creative and rewarding.  Thus, wallybird photography was created in 2012.  My first year in operation was very busy.  I applied for a federal trademark through the Patent and Trademark Office.  (USPTO) So, wallybird photography is a federally protected, registered trademark.  I studied almost everything I could get my hands on about photography and took classes online on how to improve my technique and how to process and edit in Adobe Lightroom.  I became a contributing photographer to shutterstock and some other online stock agencies.  I’ve met some of my goals, and have new ones for 2013!  I’ve run in to some wonderful, free, internet sites that will help you take your photography to the next level.  Check out  and find answers to everything from aperture to white balance.  Even advanced photographers can find something there of interest!

Here are some photos of our little guy, and here’s to another week of “wonder”!!!

1303Spring Boy

Parenting and Photography – Continuous Improvement

hey friends!

Today I’m going to introduce the concept of “continuous improvement” for both parenting and photography, which is an idea that has kept me sane!

Long ago as a young parent, I tried to follow the books and do everything perfectly.  I have since given up on perfection (after 4 children) and embraced the idea of “continuous improvement”.  Are things a little better today than yesterday?  Is some small facet of my life improved?  Have I helped someone else’s life improve in some  way?  This concept has been especially helpful with parenting a child with special needs.  Sometimes, you have to look hard to find the rays of sunlight on dark days, but they ARE there!

Here are 3 quick things that might help you to become a better photographer:

1)  Add a lens hood to your Digital Camera!   Lens hoods are designed to prevent stray light from hitting your lens and causing “lens flare”.  They are ideal for very sunny days.  Using a lens hood does not affect your settings (aperture, ISO or shutter speed).

2) Polarizing filter – remember the last time you hit the slopes to ski or snowboard, and you put on your polarized glasses or goggles?  A polarizing filter screws onto the front of your lens and reduces reflections on water, glass, and other reflective surfaces.  It also helps to normalize the level of light between the sky and ground.

I use lens hoods and polarizing filters on ALL my lenses.  They also protect your expensive DSLR lens from getting scratched and may even save your lens from breaking if you drop it on the ground!  The other day I was taking team photos for my son and his buddies with my 50mm lens.  He threw a basketball full force right into my camera.    The lens hood and filter prevented any damage to the lens itself, and I came away with just a small cut in my eyebrow and some bruising!  ’nuff said!

3) post your work so you can see progress (there’s that idea of continuous improvement again!) and print out wallet sized copies of photos you love.  On each photo, write down your aperture, shutter speed, ISO and anything else you were doing right.  I promise, you’ll see progress, especially when you take the plunge to manual settings!  I attach the photos to the wall with painter’s blue tape, so I can get them off without damaging the paint.

work space

I was editing some photos one afternoon and my son brought this up and I put it on the wall next to mine!  (of course, his is more COOL than mine!)

other work space

That’s all for now!  Have a good week, and try to find joy in the small, continuous improvements in your life!


Motivational horses and people!

hey friends!

Have you ever had one of those days where you feel content to just chill in a chair and let the world go by?  How do you get motivated to get to work?

My son participates in therapeutic riding at a place in TN called Trinity Farm.  (for more info, their website is  )

Many years ago, our family lived in Montana.   My grandpa had a ranch with 2 quarter horses named Queen and King, and a shetland pony called Prince.  My earliest memories from age 0 to 5 included the horses.  Feeding them, brushing them, drawing pictures of them, riding them, and helping when I could.  In my teen years, my folks let me take english riding and jumping classes.  I loved it, but in high school at some time I gave that up to run track and dance ballet.

When we were looking for a sport or activity for our son in Minnesota, therapeutic riding was suggested and we started with that at about age 6 or 7.   We would get to the facility, and the horse was already tacked up and ready to go (western saddle).  When we were done, they led him away and we left.

After moving to TN, I asked again about therapeutic riding.  Gavin didn’t do well with soccer, and I wanted something he could do almost year round.  Our pediatrician recommended Jason and Poppy Doyle.  After filling out the forms we started working with Poppy and their therapeutic riding coach, Jenna.  I was impressed with the approach they used.  The students were encouraged to help with everything!  Grooming, hooves, tack, all of it.  This gave Gavin great practice with fine motor skills, (buckles, brushes, etc) proprioceptive input (handling a heavy saddle, wearing a helmet, riding breeches, and half chaps, and of course trotting) and required balance and coordination.  Wow!  It was like several therapy sessions built into one!

We still have behavioral issues.  He still has days where his standard answer is NO!  In the first set of photos, Gavin couldn’t seem to get out of his chair.  So, if you can’t get the rider to the horse, you take the horse to the rider!  Jenna took Teddy (the horse) over with a bucket of toys and Gavin found a car he was interested in.  Finally, he was on his feet!

1302Trinity Farm2

In this set of pictures, Jenna introduces the car to Teddy, who seemed very interested in checking it out.  In the next frame, Teddy is wearing the car on his head!

1302Trinity Farm-3

Finally, we get to the business of riding!

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Thanks to everyone at Trinity Farms TN for providing a safe and loving environment for these special kids to learn!  Have a great week, everyone!  

p.s. I was using my Canon 50D with the 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS for these photos!  🙂