An ode to two lane country highways

I’ve had many country drives for both work and pleasure, and something about it makes me feel at home, despite never growing up in the actual “country.” I know that “country” is relative- I definitely took a country highway to get to elementary school, so it wasn’t far away.

On many of these drives over the past year, I’ve been compiling some of the things that make these unique roadways stick out in my mind… so without further ado:

An Ode to Two Lane Country Highways.

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I head due north, on a winding road like ribbon candy, passing hand painted business signs and small town bars.

The road narrows for bridges and train tracks, since those features were here long before wide roads and even wider trucks.

Anglers are parked at every stream crossing, tucked away between rows of corn and farm machinery. If I’m not seeing the corn, I’m blown away by fields of sunflowers or the overwhelmingly understated smell of freshly cut hay blowing through my crazy curls through the open window.

Every once and a while, I’ll make a sharp turn around a farmer’s field to hit a patch with tons of bugs making their last signature statement in a blaze of green and yellow on my windshield.

Clouds of dust are kicked up by trucks cruising down the cross streets, and the wildlife is uninterested…cows, horses, pigs, sheep, goats, whitetails.

Majestic old churches stand strong against the flat land and strong winds, and each one has its own seemingly personalized cemetery.

I don’t have to look hard to see deer stands nestled among huge, beautiful trees.

Four-wheelers and snowmobiles line up, parked, at what can only be described as true convenience stores, carrying everything from hardware and tools to movie rentals to ice cream.

Cruise control is variable- you can lock in at 64 mph then be shocked at a 90 degree turn out of nowhere.

Bald. Eagles.

Repurposed school buses are parked outside of big farmhouses, always leaving me to wonder what they’re using them for!

Little motels and inns house weary travelers next to family restaurants advertising their Friday fish fry. Don’t miss it. Seriously.

Roadkill is a regular occurrence- it always pings my heart a little as it reminds me to respect nature- they were here first. I need a few more years of fly tying under my belt before I’ll stop and cut fur or pluck feathers from roadkill, but I’m sure it’s in my future somewhere.

Unincorporated towns are based at intersections and there is a distinct individuality between municipalities.

Fresh produce is for sale on the side of the road, and my attention was drawn to it due to the custom mailbox- perhaps a spotted cow, or a largemouth bass.

Barns and silos, honey and maple syrup, dairies and cheese stores. If the dairy is open- pick up some squeaky cheese curds. You won’t regret it. They won’t even make it home- you’ll eat them in the car.

Large boulders marring farmer’s fields have been painted over time and again by inspired high school graffiti artists wishing “Happy Birthday, Rocky!” or “Class of 1999.”

When I finally intersect with the interstate, I’m not relieved of a faster speed to get home. I’m jolted back into the reality of my busy life, and I’ve often pulled an illegal U-turn to head back for another few miles on that country road.

 

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Real women don’t…

This phrase drives me crazy.

“Real women don’t…”

It’s the limiting nature of it- and the implication that we need to define “real.”

This has been on my mind since I was in a meeting with a couple other women fly anglers earlier today, and we were talking about how different we can be. Women are wildly different and fascinating creatures.:) We can’t be limited by statements like that!

We currently live in a world of memes, where everyone can go to a website, toss text on top of a photo, and you can share it with the world.

“Real women don’t work.”

“Real women don’t stay at home.”

“Real women don’t use formula.”

I’m thinking specifically of a time when I heard someone say, “Real women don’t fish in a bikini.”

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Trust me- there’s a bikini bottom under there (I was fishing with my friend, Chris, who took the photo, so I wasn’t naked!). I don’t know about you, but I’m not a virtual woman. I exist.

Technically, they didn’t say it- they typed it, and I didn’t hear it- I read it. It was online, in a forum for women anglers. Written by another woman angler.

Being online didn’t make it any easier for me to “hear,” but I’m sure it made it easier for them to “say.”

I’ve had a couple gigs where I’ve been paid to talk about/work with/give presentations on being a woman in fly fishing. I embrace my girly-girl nature, because I don’t feel any need to hide it. I am who I am!:)

I wonder if the woman who typed that statement realized that there are plenty of women who are anglers who are wearing bikinis. I caught a fish. I wore a bikini. What’s the big deal? Why the need to tear me (and others) down? Is that even the intent of the statement? I have a hunch that it was meant to empower the women who fish but DON’T wear a bikini while they’re out there. In that case, we need to find a new way to bond as a group.

The more I think about it, and the more I look at this draft before I click ‘publish,’ the more I’m convinced that we have all had an experience like this, with a different word.

Real _______ don’t_______.

One example was from the start line of a marathon. I can’t remember which one it was for sure- probably my fourth or fifth (I’ve done nine, as of now). I had my headphones on, but my music wasn’t playing- I was waiting to hear the national anthem play. I typically run in tank tops, Mizunos, my Garmin, and a running skirt. Here’s an example of one of my skirts, taken by one of Brian’s BFFs, Lem.

(And yes, Brian was very excited to be finishing this race!)

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There were two women standing behind me, and we were all nervously shuffling and keeping warm, as it was a chilly, early race morning. I heard them comment to one another on my pink skirt… “Real runners don’t wear skirts.”

Were they kidding me? How many marathons would I need to run before I became a “real” runner?

The worst part about me overhearing their honest judgement of me was the doubt that I felt. They didn’t know I could hear them, so they told me exactly what they thought about my outfit. I don’t look like your typical distance runner, and I let their opinion of my outfit change the way I felt about myself in that race. It took me five miles to shake off that negativity!

These examples of women judging other women are just a couple, among many.

Women: please stop tearing each other down! We need to build our community. I’d love to see us lifting each other up.

If there’s anything that I’ve learned in my time as an entrepreneur and adventurer, it’s that you can’t let negative and judgmental statements get you down. Figure out what it is that you want, make a good plan, dedicate yourself, then… you do you!

As always, thanks for reading, friends.:)

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Testify. 

Someone needs to do it.

There are a few overlaps with my experience in local politics and state politics, and one of them is that our elected officials only know what is important to their constituents if we tell them.

So go testify, and tell them what matters to you!

Read on, and I’ll tell you what it’s like… a real woman’s story of speaking my mind in Wisconsin.

Today’s adventure started on Saturday, when I was with some of my TU friends, and our colleagues at the River Alliance let us know that the hearing for AB847 (Assembly Bill 847) had just been scheduled for today, at 11:00.

In a nutshell, this bill has to do with permitting high capacity wells and how we want to deal with the permitting process for these wells in the future- granting permits in perpetuity, regardless of the well being repaired, replaced, or the property being sold.

Those of you who know me politically will not be surprised that I advocate for science in groundwater, and support periodic review as our technology improves and we are able to get better data.

This bill is the opposite of what I believe in, so I planned to rearrange my schedule to attend. Out of our legislative committee for Wisconsin TU, two of us could attend the hearing.

This hearing wasn’t as rushed as some are- I am always angered when a bill only gets the minimum 24 hour notice before a public hearing. How can our legislators expect the public to come to a meeting with less than a day to rearrange our schedules? From what I understand, in that situation, they don’t. They don’t want us to come and voice our concerns.

Even though I had a couple days to get ready for this hearing, I didn’t make time to prep my testimony until today. It wasn’t so bad, since I testified at this bill’s Senate partner (SB239), so I know what the bill is about, and I was thinking about my statement in advance.

In preparation for this hearing, I woke up early this morning, typed out my testimony, and packed up to hit the road by 8:30.

Once I got to Madison around 10:30, I had a major “country mouse in the city” situation. I know of two public parking lots near the Capitol. I’m sure there are more, but I’m not familiar with them.

Both lots were full. I drove a loop between the two lots probably five or six times, and couldn’t decide what to do. I didn’t see any street parking beyond 25 minutes, and the last hearing I went to lasted over four hours. What do I do? Keep driving around? Turn around and go home? Cry? I started to sweat a little bit, and wondered if I could manage to take off my winter jacket while driving in downtown Madison traffic.

I kept driving. It was 10:42. I found a spot on the street, for maximum two hour parking. I pulled a U turn, snagged the spot, and jumped out of the car.

The -10 windchill hit me like a ton of bricks as it took my breath away. I grabbed my wallet and ran to the parking meter, praying that I had enough change to feed it. I put in every quarter, dime, and nickel I had, including a Canadian quarter. That one didn’t count, but I’d bought myself one hour and 58 minutes.

I grabbed my purse, camera bag, and coffee, and hustled up the hill to the Capitol. It was 10:46.

I made it, took a photo with the sun shining beautifully on the Capitol building…

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…and ran up to the second floor, North wing, where the hearing was being held. I found my TU friend, Mike, and we sat together. My friends from the River Alliance and Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters were there to testify and lend support as well. It was a beautiful room, despite the stifling feeling I get when in a room full of passionate people in suits who are better at playing this game than I am.

When you come to a hearing, you sign in. You can register to testify, if you want, or you can just sign in and indicate whether you’re in favor or in opposition to the bill in question. I filled out my paperwork and gave copies of my testimony to the clerk to distribute to the committee members. I was nervous, because I needed to be back in Stevens Point by 3, so I hoped that they’d call me to testify within the first two hours.

I mentioned that to the clerk, and she was very kind, saying she’d see what they could do.

When a hearing starts, usually the author of the bill is the first person to speak, and the committee can ask them questions about the bill and the process of developing it. They are followed by people who are lobbyists or represent organizations, then individuals. I didn’t register to speak on behalf of TU- since Mike was representing us- so I was expecting a long wait, as I was sure to be grouped with “concerned individuals.”

It kind of was a long wait- the committee had their executive session first, where they voted on other bills. The hearing for my bill itself didn’t commence until around 12:15, and I started to get nervous. After the legislators were done asking each other questions, the lobbyist for manufacturing was called up. I was just checking my watch when the clerk caught my eye and mouthed, “You’re up next!”

I looked around, pointed at myself, made the question mark face, and mouthed, “Me?”

She, and the chair of the committee, both smiled at me. What luck!

While I’d been disheartened by the partisan politics of other water bills during the executive session, I was filled with hope that these legislators actually did want to hear from an average, authentic person.

Of course, then I realized that I was going after (and, as it turns out, between) a professional. A lobbyist.

So, I did what I do best… I took a photo to document the moment. The chair called my name, “Next to testify is Heidi Ob..er…mumble.”

I sat down in the leather chair, and made my token name joke. “It’s Oberstadt. I married a German man. Taking that new last name is a sign of the depth of my love.” The committee gave a little chuckle.

Then, I took a deep breath, and started my planned testimony.

Good afternoon, Committee on Environment and Forestry: Thank you for staying for this hearing and giving me this opportunity to speak with you.

I’m Heidi Oberstadt, a small business owner in Stevens Point, right in the Central Sands.

I’d never driven down to testify until I saw this bill’s partner, SB239, in the Senate… so I’m new at this and nervous, but this bill’s possible impacts are important to me. I hope I’m in good company here with people who care about our environment and our water.

I don’t fit the stereotype of a serious angler, but I am. It’s amazing how fishing has taken over my social life, and I now spend a lot of time on our waterways. In fact, the first time I told my friends that I wanted to spend my weekend standing in a stream in rubber pants, they thought I was crazy! ::smile here::

With all the time that I spend playing outside, I’ve seen some pretty clear signs that we have an existing groundwater problem manifesting itself in visible surface water problems. If you haven’t seen them yet, you will- photos of our troubled Central Sands water- with visible stream beds and docks that seemingly lead to nowhere.

This isn’t a future problem, it’s a current problem.

You are being pulled in a million directions on recent legislation, so as someone who has literally watched this growing problem, I can offer a unique and authentic perspective.

To be completely honest, this bill worries me. Where is the science? Without using science to determine the language and content of this bill, you might as well ask me to write it. ::smile here::

With this visible problem, the only legislative option that I can support is a science-based solution that not only helps our citizens who are currently affected, but ensures that science will be used in the future to protect our groundwater for generations of Wisconsinites.

I don’t have children yet, but I want to be able to show my future children the beauty of my home water someday. Please help me do that, and oppose this bill.

Thank you for listening!

When I finished, as per usual, the chair asks the committee if they have any questions. Only one member raised their hand, and my heart skipped a beat. What could he possibly ask me about?

“You did a great job.”

Big smiles from me. I stood up, and was immediately replaced with a lobbyist for big dairy farms.

I wish I could have stayed for the rest of the hearing, but I had to leave. I still have work to do! In fact, I’ll be working late tonight to make up for the hours that I missed while driving and testifying.

I know that testifying isn’t convenient for most people, and it isn’t easy- my voice was shaking the entire time I was speaking!

The reality of the situation is that I don’t know if my voice will make a difference, but I hope it does. If we waited until it was easy for us to speak our mind, we will have missed our chance.

Be brave, friends. If something matters to you, fight to protect it! I’m here to help, if you need a pep talk.

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Celebrating A Slow Race: a.k.a. Life Without A Thyroid

A couple years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed that I would celebrate a 48:47 five mile race. 9:45 mile splits weren’t something I was drinking champagne over…

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…but that was my time in the Frostbite race last weekend. Things have changed, and I want to explain why.

Here’s a little bit about what life can be like without a thyroid, especially because the last few months have been terribly difficult. I’m not a doctor, but I’ve seen many doctors about this, so here’s my story, with incorrect medical terms and all.:)

A bit of background: our thyroid glands basically control all the “speeds” in our body, and they affect the function of almost every organ, too. They control our cell growth, skin cell turnover, body temperature, moods, weight, hair growth, intestinal function… basically, everything. Having the right amount of thyroid hormone is important and simultaneously difficult for me, because I had my thyroid removed five years ago. Our bodies normally fluctuate the amount of thyroid hormones they produce, so when you take a static synthetic drug instead, things get complicated.

About this time last year, my endocrinologist changed my thyroid medication combination, and dropped me from two hormones to one. Our bodies (thyroid gland) typically make many different thyroid hormones. When you don’t have a thyroid, like me, doctors often supplement with just one or two, and the cells in our bodies convert those to the different types of thyroid hormones that we need to live. Historically, I haven’t had very good luck with the conversion part, which wouldn’t normally be a big deal, if I had a thyroid that made the full variety of hormones.

When we made that switch, I didn’t feel immediately terrible, but after a few weeks, I started to feel just a little tired. It’s difficult to explain, but the best analogy that I can come up with is that I’m on the highway, and when I put the pedal to the metal, instead of going 70, I can only make it to 60. That’s still fast enough for me to get where I’m going, but it’s frustrating knowing I used to be able to go 70 and get more miles covered, faster.

Each month, despite my workouts (training for and running my ninth marathon was in there this spring), I gained a few pounds. In September, I found myself 20 pounds heavier than when I’d started the year, and my hair had started falling out.

I called my endocrinologist, he ordered blood work, and he adjusted my dose. They usually just call me and make the adjustment- it’s such a small amount that I usually just take an additional half a pill per week or another very minor change. That’s pretty typical- I have blood work done every 3-6 months, and they adjust my dose 5% or 10% up or down. When his nurse called me this time, though, she said they were cutting my dose in more than half. I immediately panicked.

I said, “This has to be a mistake. I don’t think I can live on that!”

She was insistent that this was the dose the doctor wanted me to take, and reminded me that they wouldn’t refill my old prescription, so I was expected to take this very low dose.

When I got off the phone, I burst into tears. I imagined myself slowly turning into a sloth, gaining back the 100 pounds I’d lost, and going bald.

When I was done being upset, I was mad. Flaming mad. How could they do that to me? I’ve seen this doctor for years. I’ve been a good patient! When I raised my concerns, why didn’t they listen to me?

When I was done being mad, I worried. I cut my dose to what they asked of me. I was okay for about a week, then I started being very VERY tired. Lots of naps. I gained an additional ten pounds in the first two weeks, and I had to buy some new clothes. I left the store, and cried in the car. I struggled to keep my positive attitude in our community and among my friends. I didn’t want to tell anyone what was going on because I was afraid people would judge me for gaining weight, or not want to hire me because they don’t understand thyroid function and they’d think I was permanently sick (and thus, unreliable, or the illusion of such).

My hair fell out in large amounts. I estimate that I lost about a third of my hair this year. I’m pretty lucky that I have such thick hair- it doesn’t look bad, and I’m thankful for that.

I also started losing some of my muscle strength. I don’t look very different, but I definitely feel different. All of my workouts are so much harder now. A perfect example of that is a plank- I used to be able to hold a plank for a couple minutes, and last week I tried it, and struggled after 20 seconds. I barely believe I can run at all or sit upright with that kind of poor core strength. Running is harder, and I’m slower, and it lingers in my body longer. Recovery takes more time than it used to.

My skin started breaking out, I was upset with mood swings all the time, and (the final straw) I didn’t get my period.

Something was obviously wrong with my body.

I was scared. This is like something out of a nightmare. I knew something was wrong, I tried to say so, and yet, I was completely at the mercy of my doctor and his staff. How sick would I need to be before I could call back and tell them, again, that there had to be some mistake?

Well, I made it three weeks. Then I called, and turns out, yes, it was a mistake.

I think that it was a typing error.

This whole thing shook my faith in the system so terribly that I have nightmares about it. When something is wrong, and I know it, I feel powerless. That’s one of the worst places for a patient to be. It bothers me at my core to know my doctor could kill me and even if I saw it coming, there’s not a damn thing I can do about it (for the record, I did get a second opinion at the UW, and they agreed that it was a mistake).

I feel so silly for thinking- five years ago when I had surgery- that the worst part of this would be that I’d have the big scar on my neck… so I actually had a plastic surgeon do the closing part. You can hardly see my scar, unless you’re looking for it.

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I really thought that I’d feel better after surgery. In reality, sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.

So, back to the story… I called my endocrinologist’s office, and said, “Hey, I’m falling apart, what gives?” I also requested to go back on my medication combination from last year, and my doctor obliged. I didn’t even care how the mistake happened at that point, I just wanted to feel better.

I haven’t seen my doctor yet- I have an appointment at the end of this month. I wrote him a letter to take with me, since I’m afraid when I get there, I’ll just lose it and I won’t be able to adequately express my frustration and hopelessness.

The good news is that I’ve been back on the combination of medications for a few weeks and I’m feeling really well. I lost 12 pounds in the first three weeks, and I think my body is responding quickly, considering what had just happened.

That, my friends, is why I’m wildly celebrating that slow five mile race time. I worked my ass off to run that, and even though I’ve run much farther, much faster, and both farther and faster in the past, I’m learning to accept that I’m on a journey. I won’t ever take feeling good for granted.

As said in my kick-ass yoga class this morning, “Nothing is permanent. Everything is temporary.”

This race time is the best that I could do at the time, and I’m very proud of my performance.   Photo: Jim Gill

Cheers, friends!

Miles this year: 382.15

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Picture, or it didn’t happen.

As someone active in social media, there is a very serious undercurrent of the concept, “Share a picture, or it didn’t happen.”

As a photographer, the pressure is even higher, since the concept becomes, “Share a fantastic picture, or not only did it not happen, you’re not good at your job.”

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Well, maybe not quite like that, but that’s what it feels like to my overly motivated, dedicated, creative mind. Living life as a creative image producer is awesome and simultaneously difficult. It’s hard to live with that pressure- sometimes I just want to actually experience my life, and not capture all these moments. As soon as I take the time to step away from my camera, though, I see something gorgeous and I’m immediately kicking myself for not bringing it.

There’s also the feeling, as a creative, to have a perfect life. I’ve seen so many stylized shoots that make it look like I should lead a very organized, perfectly decorated, color-coordinated life. You know- a white office with fresh flowers and a feather pen with an inkwell, perfectly placed next to my vintage film camera. In reality, it’s not like that. My desk still has some leaves from a fall shoot, a recipe for maple salmon that I intend to try with steelhead, paper covered in scribbles (notes, lists, inspiration), memory cards, pictures, coffee (of course!)…

…you know what? Here’s an honest look at what life looks like in Heidi’s office right now.

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One of the many things that I do as a business owner is write this blog. Some of you have been reading for years, so you know it’s a total mix of race reviews and work I’ve done as a photographer, time on (and in!) the water, with a little fly fishing thrown in for fun, and plenty of dancing and beer drinking with friends. What I’ve found, as a part of trying to keep up with “day in the life” kinds of posts, is that I end up taking photos of my life that show it how I want it to be seen, not the way it actually is. It even interferes with the way I end up living my life- as if it’s just for the images that I will capture. Have you found yourself thinking, “Oh, I’m going to do _________ for the Instagram photo that I’ll be able to post later?”

I’ve definitely done it, though it was partly because I also REALLY wanted to eat this delicious treat. This bakery didn’t hire me, I just wanted to take a picture of it and share it on Instagram to show off all the new skills I learned in my last food and beverage photography class.

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In fact, if you look at that photo, the white space between the cookies on the far left is where I took a huge bite before the shoot, so the plate shows through. I could have edited it out, but I left it as a sign of my weakness (and addiction to chocolate).:)

I’m not sure how I feel about that. I do know that I find myself wanting to take a photo at every single awesome moment in my life and share it with my 1,000,000 closest friends on social media. And, since I’m a photographer, and I also love going on solo adventures, in order to capture those moments, well…I apologize for all the selfies.

I’m a notorious selfie-taker, as many of you know. Granted, you won’t find a selfie of me making a duck face in a bar bathroom, but you will find selfies of me waist-deep in a cold stream, at the top of a mountain, with a group of my friends or family, with my crazy smiley pup, or halfway through a marathon.

I find this “picture or it didn’t happen” phenomenon to be the most disturbing in my fly fishing life. When I’m out, chasing trout or smallies, hiking around, or floating, I find myself mentally framing images. It’s hard to separate my photographer brain from the part of my brain that just wants to take in beauty. I constantly reassure myself that it’s more than okay to just look. To observe, and absorb, and enjoy, without trying to figure out how to capture for posterity. Sure, part of the “problem” is that trout live in absolutely astonishingly beautiful places. It’s hard not to want to take pictures non-stop.

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When I’m fishing, I almost always take a camera. It’s rarely a little camera, since I’m afraid I’ll miss the opportunity for the “shot of my lifetime,” so it’s usually one of my bigger DSLRs. Sometimes it hinders my ability as an angler, because I know with 100% certainty that when I’m mentally producing my next image, I’m not reading the water or listening or trying to catch the bugs to match the hatch. When I take my camera and I’m out with friends, I catch great shots of them chasing fish, and I end up switching my brain to “photographer mode” instead of “angler mode.”

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I wish that I had a foolproof solution to this. I wanted to title this blog post, “How to Actually Experience Life Without Needing to Capture It,” but I haven’t quite figured that out yet.

The only thing that I do know is that capturing a moment does make it easier to share those moments, but it doesn’t mean they’ll never happen again. We’re in charge of our own lives, so if there is something that I love to do (fly fishing!), I will seek it out in the future. Whether or not I captured a great shot from my last adventure has no bearing on whether I can go on others. As I actively work to reduce stress in my life, I’m officially letting go of the feeling that anytime something awesome happens, it won’t happen again. I’m a grown-ass woman. I can make my dreams come true!

If you know anything about me, I love a good adventure. I’ll always be looking for the next one, and in the meantime, I’ll be trying to find my balance between living in the moment and trying to pause it in an image.

Miles this year: 387.15

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Coming home: Wisconsin Summer

I love coming home from a trip- I am so thankful for my husband, and my home, and my own bed… and of course, my little pup.

With that said, I apologize for the next few posts, as they’re a little behind schedule.:)

My first morning home, I had lots of work to catch up on, including errands. I hooked Abbie up, laced up my running shoes, and ran to the post office and the bank. I even ran through the “drive through” at the bank, since I can’t take Abbie inside, and when the tube came back through the little vacuum thing, there was a biscuit inside!

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She sure earned it, as she did a great job as District 4 Alderdog and welcomed everyone we saw on the run. Thanks, Chase!

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This is random, but we picked up some sweet corn, and I just LOVED this middle cob. Why have straight lines, when you can be crazy?:)

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I was able to squeeze in an engagement photo shoot with Brigitta and Stryder. They’re such a neat couple, and we were so excited to work with them!

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We had gorgeous weather, and we went for a little walk on the Green Circle. Lovely!

It is so hard going on vacation during the middle of wedding season, and I have so much to try and catch up on. This year was even crazier, as I am also staying very active as a new alderwoman, and trying to learn as much as I can from everyone around me. This brings me to Bob. Meet Bob!

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Bob runs Poky Pedaling, a totally free group of organized bicycle rides around our community. He’s an active advocate for pedestrian and bicycle safety, so I had my meeting with him on our bikes, and we rode around the city. Thanks for sharing your thoughts during our “mobile meeting,” Bob!

I made it home in time to help stack some wood near our shed, and I amazed at this piece that I found…

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Bark beetles do some beautiful work. Art by bugs. They must have been incredibly busy before the bark fell off, revealing this masterpiece.:)

We worked up quite an appetite working in the yard, and we were more than happy to have dinner with Brian’s family, at Dale and Sheri’s house.

Fish fry, jalepeno poppers, french fries… yes, we’re spoiled.

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It was really awesome. I sure love these people!

We got home late Friday night, and I was exhausted, but I climbed out of the covers just early enough to run the Violet Thompson 5K, a fundraiser for a very special little girl in town. I had no idea if I’d know anyone there, but sure enough, I found George and Marc around mile 1.5.:)

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Great run, boys.:)

I’ll leave you all with a few photos from paddling out on the chain. I just can’t get enough of my SUP and Marl Lake.

I made us SUP hatch-friendly blackberry mojitos. I muddled the rum and mint and berries before we left, and the rest is a delicious memory. We know how to spend a day on the water.:)

So many more shoots to share with you- it will be an engagement and wedding explosion here for a while!

As always, thanks for reading, friends!

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Print releases: to give, or not to give?

This is probably one of the toughest blog posts I’ve written, since the topic is pretty controversial in my world:

Print releases.

Even though I work with my husband, I’m writing from my own point of view, but he is the other half of the “we” that I talk about.:)

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As a portrait photographer, I’ve gone through phases. When Brian and I first started shooting weddings together in 2006, we gave our clients a disc with an unlimited release. I didn’t know anything different, at the time… I’d had an internship with another photographer, and he also gave away the rights to his images. As a result, my clients were able to print their photos anywhere they chose. They could put them online, in their full size. They could edit them, crop them, add filters, or do whatever they wanted.

And I had no problem with that. I ordered photo books for my friends and family from Shutterfly when I got a killer deal- the quality of the printing had completely eluded me. We were in college, I was planning on being a music teacher, and photography was just something “fun” that I did with my husband to help us pay our rent. We charged next-to-nothing, we didn’t have an in-person sales model for our clients, we hadn’t worked with different print companies, and we didn’t really care what happened to those images once they left our computers.

Until suddenly, I cared.

As I worked more and more, and studied more and more, and experimented more and more, I began to discover my own style.

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We raised our prices.

I worked in this photography medium to create my own kind of art. I practiced, and practiced, learned tons of tips and tricks, and made lots of mistakes.

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We raised our prices again.

I started to take A LOT of pride in the images I was creating, and in the moments that I was capturing.

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We raised our prices again.

When I was able to shoot fully manually, both camera and flash, and I was able to catch the perfect moment between a bride and groom or a mother and child, I was pumped.

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Then everything changed, and we made a big business decision. This is why…

A moment sticks out to me in particular: we did a family photo shoot for a local woman. I was really happy with the way her images turned out, and I was so pleased to burn those to a disk and deliver them to her. The next time she saw me around town, she pulled out a little plastic-sleeved album of prints she’d made from my session. She’d printed them at Walmart, and I couldn’t believe how terrible the clarity was. Photo after photo looked AWFUL. They were all too dark, or too overexposed, and the contrast was inconsistent. The color also looked pretty bad, and I realized the problem at the same time that the words came out of her mouth,

“I had so much fun playing with these photos in iPhoto. Don’t they look great? Don’t worry, I told everyone that you took them. Maybe you’ll book more families in our neighborhood!”

She beamed with pride, and I slunk into my imaginary shell. I was mortified! Those were not my images, it was not my art. Not my vision. I didn’t want my name attached to those in any way! I can’t remember exactly what happened after that- I think I said something about being happy that she was so pleased, and I hightailed it out of there.

Shortly after that, we had a bride and groom of ours from several years prior contact me and ask if they could have another copy of their disk. They’d lost theirs, and they were thinking about finally putting wedding images up around their house. I was so sad that they’d spent their newlywed years without any of my beautiful images in their home. Of course, I burned them another disc, then Brian and I had a discussion about how we wanted to take care of our clients… how long were we going to keep these images? Where were we going to store them? Stacking hard drive upon hard drive seemed less than ideal, but that’s the direction we were headed. We started shooting RAW, and we were filling up space like crazy.

We decided to pony up the cash for an off-site storage company, so we would be protected in the awful case of a flood or fire in my office. We were capturing incredibly special moments for our clients, and I wanted to make sure that their images would be protected. You can’t recreate a first kiss or a new baby!:)

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I quit my part time job, and became fully invested in creating this business.

I started “trying out” print companies to see which ones I liked. I was pleasantly surprised that some offered the option to submit annual test prints to make sure the photos looked just how we’d intended. We picked one of those, and also invested in a monitor calibration system, to make sure that the colors and lighting on our screens matched the finished product. I started researching wedding albums- you know, the beautiful, leather-bound, lay-flat kind. I discovered that some companies required an “audition:” I had to submit some of our work to their design team, to show that we were professional. I applied to three, was accepted to three, and chose my favorite album company. I was kind of surprised to discover that these albums weren’t available to the general public, and I wondered where normal people went to order that kind of thing, if they weren’t offered by their photographer.

We upgraded our main gear (currently a Nikon D4 and D800) and purchased TWO beautiful D700s as backups, in case we both dropped our cameras at the same time. We purchased liability insurance.

We raised our prices again.

I started to consider ourselves an investment for our clients, and wondered if I was doing them a disservice by letting them spend a considerable chunk of their wedding budget on us, but letting them order discount prints? I think about this all the time… can the majority of people tell the difference between photos from a pro lab and photos from Target? I came across this blog post a couple years ago when researching this subject, and if you have a few minutes, it’s a good read that shows the difference between a couple major labs… and it’s a little funny, too.:)

All the work that we put into selecting top-of-the-line gear, learning to use it and adapt to sudden changes or unexpected moments, practicing our skills for years, finding (or creating) the perfect light to make their skin glow, capturing a clear image of a bouncing baby or dancing couple, calibrating our monitors, testing the prints, using the best editing software, spending hours editing and perfecting their galleries (and crying, oh, I always cry!), only to have them spend $0.29 on a 4″x6″ print that could (and sometimes does!) negate several aspects of that workflow?

It was then that we decided to go “whole hog” in this business and stop offering print releases to our portrait clients. I set our print prices in the lower-middle of the price range for our area, and set up all of our wedding packages with a built-in print credit so we could rest easy, knowing our clients would never go years without prints and products from their wedding, and that we knew what the quality would be. We can’t stand behind a product when we don’t know where it comes from, and that doesn’t sit well with me. This is my work, and I want to be proud to put my name on it.

Even if our couples empty their bank account for their wedding, they will still have a credit to use to purchase standard prints, or canvas wraps, or metal prints, or whatever they’d like- and it’s not small. The credit I made yesterday for an October wedding was worth $500! We want to fill their homes, and the homes of their friends and families, too.

The income from our prints isn’t much, it’s much less than 1/10 of our total photography income, and we want to keep it that way. Our goal isn’t to make money on extra print sales, it’s to get this art (in the form of quality work) in the hands of our clients.

It is truly heartbreaking for me to see our work printed in places that just don’t do it justice. I firmly believe that my clients deserve magazine-worthy prints, and I strive to capture these authentic moments while I’m working! I don’t think they should have average-looking images in their home when the people that we work with are truly awesome. I want everyone to look at the results of our session and beam with pride that they started their family/pulled off their dream wedding/have a gorgeous baby bump/adopted the perfect rescue pup.

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We have had a few clients who come to us and don’t understand why we run our business this way. They often imply that we are selfish for “keeping” these files to ourselves. I even had a groom stand over me, yelling, arguing with me over copyright law. He firmly believed that if he was IN the photo, that he owned the copyright to it- and by not giving them copyrights to their photos, I was deceiving them or doing some kind of shady business deal. When he was done yelling, I was sitting there, shaking. Brian and I usually do our consults together, since we shoot all our weddings together, but for some reason, I was doing this one alone. I didn’t have the business sense or confidence to get up and walk out of the consult, and they ended up booking us for their wedding. After that, I was nervous at every meeting or shoot that we did with them, and I’m still kicking myself for letting someone walk all over me like that.

We also have clients who hire us and just assume that they will have all rights. We lay it out in our contract, but we have couples ask us for copyrights all the time. Giving a client copyrights and giving them a print release is DEFINITELY not the same thing. When a photo is taken, the photographer immediately retains the copyright to the image. If I gave them away, it would mean, essentially, that my clients could take those images, edit them, destroy them, modify them, enter them in contests, use them in advertisements, etc… and the photographer (me!)  would have no right to use the images themselves. Not in portfolio work, or on their website, or in ads, or on their Facebook page or Instagram- I don’t believe photographers should ever give away their copyrights.

I’m not sure why people ask for copyrights, instead of print releases. I’m guessing there is a wedding planning book somewhere that says to do so, or maybe some kind of portrait tip website…?

I actually have a kind of embarrassing story about print releases and Walgreens. One Christmas (a couple years ago), we decided we wanted to give our family gifts of photos we’d taken. I ordered them all from my pro lab ahead of time, and everything was matted, framed, wrapped, and all set when we were getting ready to head out Christmas Eve. Of course, I’d forgotten one image that I wanted to print, and I thought about printing it on my small office photo printer, but we decided to hit up Walgreens on our way out of town, with the intention that I’d also order it with my next pro print order, and replace the Walgreens print when it came in. I uploaded the image to the Walgreens website, and we stopped there as we left to see our family. When I got there, the photo clerk informed me that I couldn’t take the print, because it looked professionally done, and I didn’t have a print release. I explained that I was the photographer, and that I’m a professional, so that’s why it looked that way.

She still wouldn’t let me take it.

I showed her my business card, but she still wouldn’t let me take it.

I offered to grab my camera out of the car, if that would help, but no luck.

I asked for the standard print release form, then filled it out for myself. She was not pleased.

It occurred to me that Walgreens isn’t designed for professionals to print their photos. I was sort of relieved to know that Walgreens wouldn’t be printing any photos that my clients brought there without a print release, but it was embarrassing, nonetheless.

I don’t think that the top notch photographers that shot my senior portraits or dance portraits in the 2000’s would have EVER given their files away with a print release, so I’m wondering if I’m grounded in the past, even though times are changing. I know tons of incredible photographers who give out print releases. Am I old fashioned?

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Granted, we include several images with a print release for our clients to use- I know that people want to put their photos on Christmas cards, birthday invitations, or thank you notes, and we are a two-man operation, with not nearly enough time to do all the design work to make these ourselves. I do want our clients to be happy, and we’re walking the line between making them happy/letting them do what they want to do -and- doing them justice, since they’re paying for a professional service. We decided to offer additional images for a small charge per file- I found that asking my clients to pay $10 for a file was sort of an insurance policy that they wanted to do something cool with it (like print it and transfer it to wood, like one of our brides!), and not just find the cheapest place possible, where I might be embarrassed to put my name on our work.

Those print releases are just for that use, though… printing. I don’t want to find our images floating around in cyberspace unwatermarked, and that is for a very specific reason. As I started to get more involved in the global photography community, I joined several organizations and forums of photographers. Occasionally, stories would pop up of wedding photographers who were vendors at a bridal show, booked brides and grooms, and took retainers to secure the wedding dates. Sure enough, those “photographers” wouldn’t show up on the wedding day, leaving the poor couples out a major chunk of money AND more importantly, without a photographer to shoot their big day!

I started wondering where those fake photographers were getting the large files they needed to print big beautiful display prints for their bridal show booth… and then I realized that there are wedding photographers who give their clients full size files of their wedding photos. A quick google search later, and I found tons of beautiful wedding photos, ripe for the downloading.

I decided then and there that I didn’t want to contribute to that in any way. That’s why you’ll see photos of our weddings on social media and on my blog, but they’re always a small size, and they always have a watermark. In fact, I post additional photos with watermarks anytime our clients request it. I’d love for them to share the photos online on social media, but I don’t want them to be stolen and used for anything other than their intended purpose. All of our clients also receive their own website, with password access, so they can share their photos with anyone that they’d like. I’m not trying to keep our images behind closed doors, or anything- we want them to be shared!

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In all honesty, I think that watermarks are distracting. If I think about some of my favorite timeless photos (the romantic return-from-war kiss in Times Square, the workers sitting high atop NYC having lunch on that beam, the beautiful eyes of that anonymous Afghan woman), they’d be very different if the photographer had thrown a big watermark on them. I’m kind of torn about it, but I view watermarks as a necessary evil.

I know that, in theory, I could put a clause in our contract saying that any photos with a print release are not meant for online use, but they end up there anyway. I don’t take it as a direct insult, I just know that many of my clients don’t understand copyright law the way I do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scrolled through Facebook or Instagram and saw dozens of memes (or inspirational words on pictures or funny cartoons) that were screenshotted and re-posted without any credit to the original content creator.😦 I’ve also seen our watermarked images downloaded and printed, and even though that’s NOT the purpose of sharing them online, I haven’t ever said anything about it to anyone. I don’t want to start a fight or argue about it, so I’ve just let it go. I’ve even seen our viewing sites screenshotted and posted on social media- I don’t know if the average person doesn’t know that it’s illegal, or if they just don’t care. Which is worse? As a photographer, do I have an obligation to help educate my friends and family?

Gosh, my heart is racing. I’m going to take a break to pet my pup…

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I know that this is a touchy subject for people, and I definitely don’t want to offend any of my many photographer friends who give print releases to their clients. I don’t want to drive a wedge into our community, but I’m interested in how other photographers handle this. We can have different business models, and that’s totally okay. In fact, my commercial photography business model is very different than our portrait business model. My commercial clients often use the images of their products on their websites and business cards. I know they email headshots to places where they have been booked to give presentations, and they print their own business fliers through their graphics teams. I give different releases to our commercial clients than I do to my portrait clients, and we’re okay with that.

I am writing this post because I’m interested in what you all have to say about this issue. I know I have many VERY successful, talented, fabulous photographer friends who wouldn’t dream of giving their files to their clients. I also have many VERY successful, talented, fabulous photographer friends who give their files to their clients. Every once in a while, I think maybe we should do the same thing. It would certainly be easier! Clients, future, present, and past- what do you think about it? Photographer friends? I’d like to start an open conversation about it.

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