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You can make AWESOME Images | Photography Workshop | + Debra

People always ask me how to take better pictures. I used to, and still do, ask Mark and Leah how to take better pictures. In a shutterbug society, we all want to take better pictures. It’s a common mantra around here that ideas are more important than equipment. It’s a mantra, and a truth. By now we all know how Leah and Mark picked up their entry level DSLR’s, and with ideas and alot of work made a thriving business, an internship program, and continue to turn out beautiful pictures ALL the time. As an alumni intern, and a plus, I have been through the Make Better Pictures bootcamp, and am a better photographer for it.

Last Saturday, Alumni Intern Jo and I went out to teach a small workshop on how to take better pictures, or as I would think it, make better images, to the Red Hots. The Red Hots are a group of youth affiliated with Refugee Family Services who meet weekly to learn new cool things, and focus on education and enrichment. I was very excited to meet the students, and thrilled to be able to teach about my own passion in photography.

There’s so many things to be said for making better images, thousands of theories, and ideas, so it was a challenge to focus on simple concepts with broad impact.

We started with discussing why we ask people if we can take their pictures. How it is polite to ask “may I take your picture/” and then once we have permission, to take pictures and have fun. By connecting with the people we are photographing we are able to take more meaningful pictures. A photograph shows how well we can communicate with the people around us, whether through words, eyes or body language. A photograph that is good and meaningful will hold a conversation, and the viewer will be a part of that conversation.

The most important things to making better, more exciting images are: (drum roll)

1) ZOOM with your feet.  Move around.   Look at the scene from all angles, and distances.

2) Focus on PEOPLE or focus on DETAILS.

3) Use ACTION to make pictures more exciting.

I also took lots of pictures, and didn’t try to get the “perfect”shot, it was fun, and relaxed.

ZOOM with your feet

Focus on People 

 When I am taking a ‘power portrait” I am focused purely on the person, their energy, their story.  Before I take the picture I speak to them, I am open, I want them to be comfortable.  I ask them to look into the lens, straight into the lense.  They don’t have to smile, or frown, or anything.  They just have to be themselves.

Focus on Details

Focusing on details tells us about the environment where the people are.  We can tell the season, the time of day.  We can show pretty leaves and shadows. Objects can convey ideas.

Ideas are always more important than equipment.  Always.


Portraits with multiple people are fun, having action included in the portrait can be interesting to look at.  Its very common for me to have people jumping in pictures.  Jumping gets the blood moving, and keeps us having fun.  it makes us forget that we are having our picture taken, and keeps us relaxed so that we can look into the lense with ease.  

Jo and I will be returning to the Red Hots in early December to help them select images for their very own show at an Art gallery. More details to come!

ATL: Acceptance, Tolerance, Love

Click here to see the Gallery of Photos:

The infamous Westboro Baptist Church has been hanging around Atlanta the past 2 days.  These are the folks who hold hate-filled signs at military funerals, Jewish community centers, and high schools all over the nation.

Grady High School student Becca Daniels wanted to spread a different message, so she organized a demonstration of her own, and Atlantans from all walks of life came out in droves to show their support and share messages of love and acceptance.

It was a pretty awesome sight.  Including angels with 10-foot-tall wings.

The Westboro group… all 8 or so of them… left after 30 minutes, but the ATL group continued their demonstration all along 10th Street.

I am proud of my city.

Click here to see the Gallery of Photos:

Graduation Celebration

Wow.  The past two years have been intense.  Filled with so many changes.  I moved twice. I worked 4 different jobs and 2 different internships.  I went to school. I took 18 classes.  I got married.  We started a business.  The business grew (and grew!).  I found my birthmother… and a bunch of awesome new relatives.  I made 60 new friends.  I graduated.

And that brings us to today.  May 3, 2010.  My life is richer and more full of love than ever.  I have credentials!  I have a basic understanding of various tools for facilitating social change.  I am even more passionate about advocating for social justice, standing up for those in our society who are treated, directly or indirectly, as less deserving, less worthy, less… human.  I am more self-aware as a result of this.  Regularly checking in with myself to make sure I am living the ideals I promote, that I am making my own microcosm a better place by treating myself and those around me with the love, respect, and compassion I believe everyone deserves.

Life is so good.  I have a job I love and care about deeply, working with talented, intelligent, kind people who I look forward to seeing every week.  I have a fun and successful business, with my amazing, artistic husband and a team of passionate interns and a boatload of ridiculously awesome clients and supporters.  I have an ever-growing circle of family and friends who surround me with love, support, and inspiration.  Other than world peace, marriage equality, an end to racism and poverty…what more could a person want?

I have to give a huge a shout out to Mark for being so supportive of me these past two years.  From cooking me breakfast, to doing tons of laundry, to working ‘round the clock so that we can pay our bills and still donate to various causes – he has been incredible, untiring, and unwavering in his support and encouragement…  and I really couldn’t have made it through these two years as happily or sanely without him.

Now I have free time!  I can blog!  I can see people!  Let’s go out!  Call/comment/tweet/email/FB me!  Oh happy day.

CARE: Share Your Heart

Click Here for the Photo Gallery.

CARE is an amazing organization that I have been fortunate to intern at since August.  What does CARE do?  Here’s our mission statement:

Our mission is to serve individuals and families in the poorest communities in the world. Drawing strength from our global diversity, resources and experience, we promote innovative solutions and are advocates for global responsibility. We facilitate lasting change by:

  • Strengthening capacity for self-help
  • Providing economic opportunity
  • Delivering relief in emergencies
  • Influencing policy decisions at all levels
  • Addressing discrimination in all its forms

Guided by the aspirations of local communities, we pursue our mission with both excellence and compassion because the people whom we serve deserve nothing less.

Yeah, that last line is my favorite.  Anyhow – CARE works in over 70 countries around the world, and has been working in Haiti since 1954.  We have over 130 staff members in our Haiti office, all but one of whom is Haitian.  So you can imagine the losses sustained by our staff when the earthquake hit.  Fortunately, none of our staff lost their lives – but they did lose homes, family members, friends, etc.  That didn’t stop them from coming to work every day and assisting with the disaster response.  And even though Haiti is no longer on the front page of our news, the rebuilding is still going on.  It’s a long, slow process.  Many of our staff members are still sleeping in tents – as are thousands of Haitians.

So while CARE USA’s fundraising team was busy raising money to help rebuild Haiti, CARE’s HR team decided to lead the efforts to raise funds for our staff – Share Your Heart.  Park Tavern generously donated the space, community members and Atlanta staff generously donated items for our silent auction, we put our noses to the grindstone and pulled off the event with only a month’s planning – and Mark took photos!

Which you can see.  Here.

Athena’s Warehouse

Athena’s Warehouse is an Atlanta-based non-profit group that provides low-income high school girls with prom dresses. Our goal is to show both girls and women that females can empower each other through personal support and public service. Our icon, Athena, embodies strength, equality, and heroic endeavor; she is accompanied by an owl that marks wisdom. She is our urban version of a fairy tale ending.

We collect cocktail dresses that are in good condition year round. We appreciate your support in helping students who are unable to purchase their own attire.

Okay. I’ll be honest with you – it’s easy to gloss over their mission statement and think “they give prom dresses to underprivileged girls” – yeah. And it’s easy to place that waaaaaay down on the list of ’causes’ that should be supported. I mean, there are lots of truly serious problems in the world and at first glance, giving girls prom dresses hardly seems like it’s anywhere near the top of the list.

But stay with me here – the reason why the work that Athena’s Warehouse does is important, is because of it’s core ideal of empowering young women. In America we have a different understanding, or rather – nearly complete lack of understanding on the true and long term benefits a community receives by simply, empowering their women – especially adolescent females.

Now – there is ‘Absolute Poverty’ and ‘Relative Poverty’.

Absolute poverty being what exists in the third world where they don’t have basics such as clean water and food.

Relative poverty is essentially extreme income inequality. We have a lot of relative poverty in America. While there are clear differences between the two types of poverty – the fact is that in America it’s very difficult for many people who are living in conditions classified as ‘relative poverty’ – to be able to overcome or ‘get out’ of relative poverty. Only recently have we really started understanding that relative poverty can be as detrimental on a psychological level as living in absolute poverty. (maybe I should type ‘poverty’ one more time… oh look, I did.)

There is a ‘Girl Effect’ movement going on – which focuses on empowering young women in third world countries on the basis that there is a ripple effect that ends up vastly improving the living conditions of the communities involved.

Of course it’s a pretty good leap to say that giving prom dresses to young women empowers them and helps to ease the effects of relative poverty for those particular young women.  However – having volunteered at Stand Up for Kids every week for a year – I know that there are many students who have home lives that are far worse than anything we imagine – and yet they somehow continue to make it through high school.

As an adult it’s easy to apply a coat of cynicism to the whole idea of prom – but for so many high school girls – it’s still a big deal and not being able to go because you couldn’t afford a dress is… well it just seems like something we can realistically help with and at the same time make some young women very happy so they can go lead productive lives and save the world. Well – at least the happy part is true.

And we’re all about being happy here at

Now. It might seem like Leah and I support every good cause out there – but we don’t. We obviously can’t help every charitable organization that approaches us ’cause sometimes we have to eat and sleep and watch Weeds or Dexter.

However – when Kim of Athena’s Warehouse wanted to hire us to photograph their charity event next Friday March 12th, we were totally up for that. Sadly, Leah and I already had plans to be in Phoenix at the time. So then Kim asked if we could photograph the young women as they volunteered at Project Open Hand. What? Photographing two non-profits at once?! That’s awesome and efficient!

So we took photographs, we’ve posted them on our blog, and now you know all about Athena’s Warehouse, you totally want to donate your old cocktail dresses, AND you want to attend their charity event next Friday at the StudioPlex lofts. Right? Right.

Hey. It’s Friday. Have a great weekend. We’ll be in Phoenix all next week – and it’s a packed schedule.

Check out the rest of the photos of the girls of Athena’s Warehouse at Project Open Hand. Click Here.

Kiva Loans Update

It’s hard to see how much a little effort adds up overtime – especially when you’re talking about donating amounts as small as $25.

We started lending three years ago but things really picked up when we decided to donate 10% or $25 of all photography proceeds (whichever is greater).

As of today we’ve helped to fund 48 loans all over the world.

The collage above is made up of photos of each person/community to whom we’ve loaned money.

The default rate so far? Zero. 0%

In the three years that we’ve been doing this, no one has ever failed to pay their loan back.

Thank you to everyone who’s hired us recently and if we haven’t already notified you as to who your money went to help, we will let you know soon.

STIR IT 28: Food Bloggers Align for Haiti Relief


Click Here for the STIR IT 28: Atlanta Photo Gallery

I was fortunate enough to photograph STIR IT 28. Below is the event description by Bren Herrera (one of the key organizers):

…two other bloggers, Chrystal over at The Duo Dishes and Courtney at Coco Cooks, and myself have organized what we love to consider a phenomenal campaign to bring relief to the island that suffered a deadly earthquake, leaving 200 thousand souls, dead. This is our way of giving back: Through our craft of cooking and hopefully filling the gap of the basic essentials they are lacking.

……ATLANTA, being filled with diverse art and food, will represent STIR IT in an indescribable way! As the host (wearing kick-ass L.A.M.B heels),  I’m proud to entice you with some of the delicious tastings the chefs and bloggers will dish out this Sunday!

WARNING: Photography Geek-Speak up ahead.

This was actually the first occasion where I was able to try out my new DIY photo gear which consisted of Velcro + Wooden stick. We don’t have studio strobes but we do have 15+ flashes and triggers – what we arguably lack in power, we can make up in flexibility and light configurations.

Without arguing flashes vs. block strobes – with our new, yet-to-be-patented velcro + wooden stick invention, we can aim the light in many different ways and shape it however we want, bouncing light off in different directions for slightly different nuances and gradients. (ha, I will not be writing the sales blurb for Velcro + Wooden Stick – we’ll hire professionals for that).

What made this event a little more challenging is that there were essentially three rooms, each with different light conditions.

Zone 1 being a long corridor with one side well lit by windows and the other side mostly just a dark wall.

Zone 2 was even darker with no real usable light except bounced light from the doors and far windows in Zone 1.

Zone 3 had… mood lighting… (which means that if you’re strictly a ‘natural light’ photographer, you’re shooting at f/1.4 and a shutter speed of 1/30th – and good luck with that).

What’s our general rule? No on-camera flash. Ever.

(okay, 99.999% of the time – that’s for you six-sigma fans out there… oh yes… I am more than just a photography geek).

Like my fancy light schematic? I know. Impressive huh? The lightning bolts are where I put the flashes – and then the arrows show where I moved them at some point. Down in Zone 2 I had to move the flash over closer to the doors – because although there was still light outside, it wasn’t coming far enough into the room – and there isn’t a bright wall in that spot – so I ended up bouncing the light off of a big stand-up poster that Montaluce Vineyards had setup right in that spot… and it worked as you can see in the very top photo.

I was really impressed by all of the hard work that went into organizing this event + the number of chefs that came out and participated. Bren did a really great job of pulling this together and I think everyone had a great time.

Check it out! The Gallery. Micro-Lending


We’ve been ‘donating’ to since May of 2008 (see here).

For those who have no idea what micro lending is, the main concept is that in developing (third world) nations, the people who need loans the most, are unable to get them because they do not have the credit/collateral and banks just don’t give loans for less than $1,000. Sometimes as little as $100 will make all the difference in the lives of an entire family – from generation to generation – simply because they got that small initial financial assistance that enabled them to break themselves out of the prison of extreme poverty.

If you think about a situation where they’re surviving on basically pennies a day (in American dollar terms) – a loan of $5 all of a sudden makes their life exponentially greater – and gives them the chance to continue raising their quality of life.

We’ve decided that we need to give more.

We’ve also decided that we will donate $25 or 10% – whichever is greater – from every portrait session or wedding to Kiva business owners.

Here is our Kiva Lender Page.

… and now for something totally unrelated:

Talk to us about your wedding or portrait session:


My Letter to Congress


Dear Congress,

I am a 28-year-old graduate student living in Atlanta, GA. I grew up reading books – hundreds of books, because I loved to read. My family was middle-class, but not wealthy. They couldn’t afford to buy all the books I wanted to read, so I got my books at the public library. I could check out up to 10 books at a time, and I could even get movies and music and foreign language tapes!

Thanks to all this reading, I did fairly well in school. I went to public school, which my parents really appreciated, because it didn’t cost much money to send me there. I took A(dvanced) P(lacement) classes in high school and received over a semester’s worth of college credit…for free! My parents were also happy about that, because it saved them some money when I went off to college in Massachusetts. I was able to graduate a year early and join the AmeriCorps program.

Since I got all these free books and education, I thought I should give back. So for a whole year I worked 50+ hours per week for a nonprofit agency in Arizona, and only made $800 a month. It’s not easy to live on that amount of money, but I met so many other low-income families who somehow managed to make ends meet, that I figured I could do it, too. And I managed, with some a lot of help from friends and family. AmeriCorps provided me with health insurance for that year. It wasn’t great coverage, but at least I didn’t have to pay an arm and a leg for it, because there is no way I could have afforded insurance on only $800 a month.

After my year of service ended, I worked for nonprofits for a few more years before I decided to go back to school for my social work degree. I had just started grad school full-time when the doctor found some pre-cancerous cells that needed to be removed. I had two quick outpatient procedures, each lasting less than 30 minutes. I had really good insurance, so I wasn’t worried. Insurance would cover 80% of the cost, and for two short procedures, I figured the cost couldn’t be that high.

I was wrong.

The hospital bills (just the portion I owed, after insurance covered its 80%) totaled over $5,000. I was a full-time student. I received a $500/month stipend for being a research assistant. How was I supposed to pay $5,000 in medical bills? I had to beg and plead with the billing staff to let me pay just $50 a month – and even that was more than I could afford to pay. I thought I was going to have to drop out of school and just work full time.Except the economy tanked and no one was hiring. Luckily, I was written off as a charity case, after months of threatening letters from the hospital, tearful phone calls, faxes of bank statements, and letters from my school.

And I’m one of the lucky ones.  I know my story is nowhere near as sad or infuriating as many of the stories out there – and I’m so thankful for that… but this whole ordeal was such an eye-opening experience for me. Up until last year, I just assumed that should I or any of my loved ones need medical attention, we’d just…. get it. Without having to go into serious debt, have our credit scores threatened, or have to stress out about how to pay for it. We have insurance, and that is supposed to cover our health care costs.


So please, ladies and gentlemen of Congress, please, please, please listen to the PEOPLE you are supposed to be serving. Hear our stories. We need affordable health care. We need our insurance companies to be kept in check. We need you to pass legislation for health care reform. And we need you to do it NOW. We don’t have lots of money to sway your votes or lobby aggressively. We’re too busy trying to find jobs that will pay for our insurance and health care costs. You have been elected to serve us, and, excuse my rudeness, but – I’m talking to you Senators Chambliss and Isakson – you’re doing a piss poor job of it!

We need a public health insurance option. We need regulation for private insurance companies.

The public library and my public school education have served me well. Extremely so. Can I please get public health care, too? I will gladly and willingly pay more in taxes for this service. And all you tea-party folks – well, I will save that letter for another day.


Your displeased constituent,

Leah T.


“Men take it for granted that their sexual organs can greatly increase in size and then become small again without being ruined.  If obstetricians (and women) could understand that women’s genitals have similar abilities, episiotomy and laceration rates in North America might go down overnight.”  – Ina May Gaskin, midwife


Ok, sorry folks, sometimes I come outta left field with randomness like that.  Mark is used to it.  Y’all might not be.  So I shall explain…  one of my heavily-research topics of interest, of which there are a number because I am a big nerd, is childbirth.  Specifically women’s choices in childbirth.  And after doing lots’n’lots of research, I have come to the conclusion that far too many women, especially American women, are not well informed on the process of childbirth or their options – or, even, their state’s rules and regulations that limit their options in childbirth.  Most women spend more time researching what type of carseat to buy than they do researching HOW to give birth.  The kid has to get here before you put them in that carseat, right?  And too many women just assume the doctor will handle their labor and delivery.  The doctor will get the kid out of the mom, and the mom will safely and lovingly put them in the expensive, installed-by-a-fireman, researched-for-20-hours carseat.

And if our infant and maternal mortality rates, and medical intervention (pitocin, C-section, etc.) rates, and increasing numbers of women who had unsatisfactory, disempowering childbirth experiences (blogs, y’all.  read the blogs.) are any indication, it seems that both the quantitative and qualitative evidence show that the doctors can’t guarantee your kid gets out of you with the same safety and love with which you place Junior in that carseat.  There are many different reasons for this, ranging from OB/GYNs schedules, to hospital profit margins, to poverty hindering women’s access to health care, nutrition, and educational opportunities.  But there is one – yes, ONE – way to combat all of the reasons for our less-than-great childbirth outcomes: Maternal Education.


No, not education as in high school, college, etc.  Education about childbirth.  Beyond the basics that everyone knows.  Baby gets made, baby grows, contractions start, cervix expands, baby comes out. Education about women’s bodies.  Beyond knowing where the girly parts are and what they are called.  Education that empowers, that challenges the dominant “fear/pain/only doctors really know about birthing babies” mentality that currently overrides women’s intuitive knowledge.  Education that we would hope the doctors we trust would give us, but sadly, this isn’t stuff they teach in med school.  Exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor, to relax the sphincter muscles.  Techniques for managing contractions, for working with each contraction to help your child down the birth canal and out into the world.  And, most of all, support and encouragement to help women confront their fears, trust their bodies, and be the ones in charge of their own labor and delivery, instead of sitting in the passenger’s seat and letting someone else call the shots.

I don’t believe that every woman should have a homebirth, a midwife, a doula… or anything, anyone, any place they aren’t comfortable with.  But I do think women should be educated about ALL of their options.  And I think every woman should know just as much about childbirth as the doctors they are trusting to deliver their babies.  The information is out there.  And it’s free.  So when you are 10 cms and pushing with all your might and the doctor decides you need an episiotomy, you can give that doctor a piece of your mind.  Your educated and empowered mind.  (Although, it’s probably best to have someone there advocating for you, because I think when you’re 10 cms and pushing you aren’t really going to be processing anything the doctor says.)

And you know what?  Episiotomy rates ARE dropping.  Considerably. “[R]esearchers have found that routine episiotomies don’t prevent these problems after all. Recovery is uncomfortable, and sometimes the surgical incision is more extensive than a natural tear would have been.” – Mayo Clinic

That’s great!  Except it does leave me wondering how many other common obstetrical practices maybe aren’t necessary… or, worse, harmful.  So do your own research.  Make your own decisions.  Mama knows best.

Some links to start your on your education journey:

Public Health Final

NPU-V Final from on Vimeo.
Ha, I’m such a nerd that I’m posting my final project for my “Social and Behavioral Aspects of Public Health” class.  We were supposed to look at social determinants of health in Neighborhood Planning Unit V, a primarily low-income, African American section in south Atlanta.  This could have been way better if we had spent more than a few days on it, but it is what it is and I’m so glad Mark was able to help us with all the editing.

Anyways, the main reason I’m posting this is because there are many very dry presentations out there.  And no matter how smart you are or how important your message is, if people can’t pay attention for more than 5 minutes because they are falling asleep in their seats or would rather be tweeting or Facebooking or blogging or texting to relieve the boredom, then your message is lost.  End of story.  In this day and age, it is not easy to get – and keep – other people’s attention.  So make it interesting.  I’m not saying this is the most interesting presentation ever.  But my classmates watched it.  All of it.  And they liked it, and they got the message.  So I would call that a mission accomplished.

I’m also a fan of shortcuts whenever legal, properly referenced, and relevant…so I borrowed a bunch of YouTube clips done by folks more professional and with bigger budgets and timespans than I have at my disposal. And there you have it, a quick, painless presentation that is at least somewhat more interesting than a PowerPoint or paper.

Again, many thanks to my talented husband for his video editing skills.  =)  Hopefully one day my videotaping skills will be on par with his editing.  Haha.  Motion sickiness bag, anyone?


When Working Isn’t Working – Part II

So let’s say a single mom with 2 kids in DeKalb County finds one job that pays $11.00/hour and another job paying $7.50/hour.  She has to work both jobs full-time.  She has one child in elementary school and one child in daycare.  She works 80 hours a week.  She rarely sees her children.  She makes too much money to qualify for any public assistance, so she must juggle food, housing, childcare, transportation, and other basic living costs on her own.  She can’t afford a car or car insurance, so she relies on public transportation to get to and from work, the grocery store, the after school program, etc.  This adds at least an hour to her daily commute.  She can only manage to grab around 4 hours of sleep a night.  What is the quality of her life?

I’m not saying this isn’t doable.  On the contrary, hundreds of women are out there working two jobs and doing whatever they can to support their family.  It’s certainly possible and a very common reality.

But is this the way things SHOULD be?  Should people be paid so little for the work they do that they must take on second and third jobs, must sacrifice precious time with family and loved ones, must forego playing an active role in raising their children… just to survive?



When I lived in Phoenix I worked with a Sudanese refugee family.  The breadwinner, Elizabeth, was 28.  She had moved to the U.S. with a 4-year-old son, a 11-year-old nephew, and her 17-year-old sister.  For 2 years I did my best to help them survive.  My best wasn’t very good.  I watched as Elizabeth found a job, signed up for subsidized day care and food stamps, and still couldn’t pay rent.  So Elizabeth found a second job, but was not given full-time hours at either one, and lost her subsidized day care and food stamps were taken away because she “made too much money”.

I watched as they still struggled to pay rent, and as the 17-year-old turned 18 and dropped out of school because she was needed to watch the 4-year-old and work, as well, trying to pay rent.

I was there when the 4-year-old got a cockroach lodged in his ear – not once but TWICE- and had to go to the emergency room to have it removed.  Because even though the family kept a very clean house, the mismanaged, dilapidated apartment complex they worked so hard to live in would not take care of a severe infestation problem.

I watched as their spirits were crushed.  As Elizabeth – who was once so thankful to be here in the U.S., the land of possibility – slowly sank into a depression.  Her relatives had been killed or were living in refugee camps, so she certainly had a somewhat better life in the U.S., in terms of basic survival.  But the cost of that survival, the toll it took on her health and her happiness… it was a bigger sacrifice than she expected and it is a sacrifice that I believe no one should have to make.

Apat, Aguer, and Goch

Apat, Aguer, and Goch