imitation is the highest form of flattery

I just got this kind email from one of my blog readers and couldn't believe it!:

"As a blog stalker of many blogs, I saw your August 29th cartoon and post and thought it was funny. It was even funnier to see the exact same post, words and all, on the September 21st post of another photographer's blog:


Imitation is the highest form of a compliment, so I hope you are flattered ;)"

Can you believe this! Click here to see my August 29th post. It's EXACTLY THE SAME! Word for word! No worries if you're reading this Horatio, I'm not mad. But this is a good example of how NOT to blog for those of you out there who are wondering. It's ok to pass on the same cartoon but change the words and let your readers know where you found it by linking to the original post. That's just good blogging etiquette.

Too funny.

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For Photographers

f.a.q. -- my "secret"

I get a lot of emails from other photographers asking me questions and I definitely want to get back to everyone but I've decided to start posting my replies on the blog so that everyone can benefit. So here's my first "Frequently Asked Questions" (FAQ) reply :).

The questions is: "Your images still astound me as to the quality sharpness and overall exposure. Please let me know your secret."

This one made me laugh a little. There's really no "secret." I'm flattered but it's not like I've found this one magical thing that makes good photos. But I'll try to share a little bit of my approach as it involves exposure and sharpness.

Exposure. #1 Know how your camera works. I shoot all manual. I leave the aperture wide open and modify my shutter speed as needed--never going below 1/80 when hand-held. I change my ISO when I change lighting situations as needed. Many photographers I've seen err on the side of under-exposing. I used to struggle with this myself. We meter through our camera and expose for the brightest part of the image. The problem is that rarely is the subject the brightest part of the image. We end up exposing for lights in the background or something that isn't important to the image. So I keep that in mind when I'm shooting and "over-expose" images (according to the meter) when there is any type of back-lighting or bright spots in the image that are not the subject. It's important to get the exposure near perfect in camera. But I also shoot RAW so that allows me to make adjustments afterwards. Don't be afraid to use Photoshop to bump up the exposure as well.

Sharpness. I use back-button focus (see this post) and keep my focus point in the center. I also use the "smart sharpen" filter in Photoshop on the images I blog.

That's the whole "secret" :).

Ok--so I'll give you a few before and after images and explain what I did to them in Photoshop to achieve the final image.

As you can see in the above image, I shot it ok. Could have bumped up the exposure even more to blow out the background more. In Camera RAW I bumped up the exposure and contrast. Then I opened the .jpg in PS and ran a Kevin Kubota action I customized. It's his X-Process Combo. I think it's REALLY strong as it comes so I dilute the opacity of the action layers down to around 20%. I built it into the action so that it does it the way I like every time. Then I smart sharpened and that was it!

On this image I exposed it for the blue sky so the dress is a little under-exposed as you can see above. In Camera RAW I just left it alone and converted it to a .jpg. Then I used Kevin Kubota's "Digital Fill Flash" action at around 20% to lighten up just the dress. I love this action. It functions kind of like the dodge tool in PS but in a much more subtle and realistic way. Then I ran my X-Process combo and sharpened. That's what gave me this:

So those are a couple of my favorite, oft-used actions that I love. There's so many action options out there and they are good when used to enhance the image. But I'm a big believer in not over-using them. I see many photographers whose images look way too processed to the point where that's the first thing you notice about the image. I'm not a fan of that.

Hope that answers the question! That's all the "secrets" I have :).

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Album Design Templates


hand-made christmas cards

It's already time to start thinking about holiday cards! Can you believe it? It's still in the 90s here but I know Christmas is just around the corner. I am SO busy this Fall with weddings but I want to also make time for all of my clients who may want a fun family portrait this time of year. The only Saturday dates I have available are:

October 20th
October 27th
November 24th

If need be I will also open up Friday, November 23rd for portraits. But you need to schedule your session as soon as possible because time slots are limited! The cut-off date for getting your prints by Christmas through Pictage is December 7th so November 24th is my cut-off date for holiday sessions.

This year I'm also offering these great hand-made photo cards in sets of 25. They're each 5x7 in size and come with envelopes as well. The outside is designed as shown with your choice of photo and the inside is left blank for a hand-written message.

These work great for family photos but also--for those of you who got married this year, or will be in the next month or so--what a great way to send out a wedding photo to all your friends!

As I mentioned, these cards come in sets of 25 and are $5 each--comparable to greeting cards that you would find at Hallmark--but these ones have your cute mug on them :).

We have six designs to choose from. At the top is our "snowflake" card--love the stripes :).

Here's our "plaid" card:


"Vertical Stripes":


And my personal favorite--the "envelope card." On the left is the card as it comes. Then you pull on the little cloth tie and the photo comes out--as shown on the right. Fun!

I'm really looking forward to connecting with many of you for holiday portraits! Remember to call or email me soon to schedule your session!

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One Light Workshop -- 5 spots left!

I just came across the new website for the One Light Workshop. It's awesome! Especially since one of my photos of Zack is on the front page :). For those of you who haven't heard, I'm hosting a One Light Workshop here in Phoenix at my very own home in January. And for those of you who don't have a clue what the One Light Workshop IS, click here to see how it's impacted my shooting. I emailed Meghan today and found out that there are only 5 spots left. And I just talked to a photographer who is planning to fill one of those spots. So...if you've been thinking about it--now is the time to sign up! Don't wait any longer because it's going to be sold out soon! Click here to find out all the info and follow the instructions to register. And make sure to let me know if you register so I can be excited and also know how many spots are left. :)

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Weddings by MJ

Chris & Vanessa

Chris and Vanessa got married on Saturday at L'Auberge de Sedona on what turned out to be a very rainy day. I was so bummed for them because they are from Brooklyn, NY and all of their family traveled in from far and wide to enjoy beautiful Sedona. They had a gorgeous outdoor ceremony and creekside reception planned. But the weather didn't cooperate. So the ceremony and reception both had to be moved inside. But the rain did take a break in the afternoon to allow us to get some beautiful portraits around the property.

As always, the day started with some preparation. Here is a detail shot of Vanessa's gorgeous gown:

Both Vanessa and Chris's families had me cracking up all day. Vanessa's mom was especially hilarious. Here's Vanessa, her mom and her sister sharing the bathroom mirror:

I love this shot of Vanessa's mom getting her hair done. Doesn't she look SO young?

A sweet moment between mother and daughter:

Vanessa should be a model. She was so photogenic all day:

Here's a great shot my second photographer, Mandy Hank, caught of Chris getting ready:

Chris checking out the rings before the ceremony:

SO many great portraits of this couple:

Right at the end of our portrait shoot with the bride and groom it started POURING. The top shot is us stranded under the overhang of a building. After that we had to run for cover with our cameras under our shirts. We decided to finish up the group photos in the lodge. Vanessa got transported in this cool golf cart:

The ceremony took place in the lodge on a beautiful staircase with guests encircling the balcony:

Check out these cute place markers:

A sweet moment during one of the toasts:

Such a great couple.

Thanks Chris and Vanessa for allowing me to be a part of your day!

Click here if you'd like to view a slideshow of more images from the wedding day.

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