The Relish Store

I’m very excited to announce that I’ve been invited to participate in Amazon’s Influencer program. This is a HUGE deal for my quality of life, you guys. HUGE. And it’s going to make styling sessions a lot less work for my clients, too.

I always try to collaborate with my clients for wardrobe, and I spend countless hours scrolling Amazon since that seems to be the most universal and affordable option for most people. I have a lot of idea lists on my Amazon account. I. Mean. A. Lot. And there’s not really any easy way to share or present those ideas as a whole.

Now that I’m an official Amazon Influencer, I can have my own curated Amazon storefront. Rather than constantly searching though everything for what I think a client might like, I can just show my clients *all* of my ideas in an organized set of boards. There is a small commission for any sales made through my account, which is just icing on the cake. Really, I’m so excited for the collaboration opportunity.

You can see my storefront here:

One big thing on my to do list is creating whole family outfits, because that’s something I know clients really stress over. I’ve established wardrobe boards for women, men, boys, girls, babies, and newborns. I also have a section for photogenic toys you can surprise your little one with at your session to help get them liking the idea, and I’m going to make special collections based on style and theme.

My American Summer 4th of July shop is my first themed pop-up, and I’m so in love with all of it. My 4th of July sessions will feature a beautiful handmade wood flag by Patriot Woodsmiths and other rustic props in a beautiful setting. I can’t wait to see these images! Shop my 4th of July picks here:

As always, and even more so now, I’m so excited for the future of this grand adventure.


Working With Kids And Animals

“Never work with kids or animals”…said so many people, always, forever…..

But kids are my wheelhouse, and there’s nothing cuter than kids with animals! I see their point, though. Kids=chaos. Animals=chaos. Kids x Animals = whoa…….

Sessions with kids and animals can be super cute and fun! For little kids though, it can end up being more of a lifestyle session than portraits. That’s fine if it’s what you’re after! I’ve been enjoying doing some animal composites this season though, and I’m finding the results are sometimes a bit more magical than the real deal could have been.

girl and rabbit meet at sunset
Could this kind of calm, thoughtful interaction really happen outside of fairy tales–no less in front of an audience of kindly coaching parents and an imposing camera lens?

I shared this image (the girl in the yellow dress) on the Relish Facebook page, and I received a handful of requests for similar shoots. Folks were disappointed when I told them, “yes we can do this, but just so you know, there wasn’t really a bunny at the shoot!” I get it–it’s a super cute thought to see your kids get to play with a real bunny and have pictures of that. But in reality, that situation can be more stressful than cute. A real bunny can easily get scared and run away. She needs careful, gentle treatment, and may get nervous and nibble fingers or have an accident on that beautiful little dress. When real animals are in the shoot, I find that tensions can run high.

With a real bunny, we had to be confined to make sure she didn’t get lost, and both bunny and child were in constant motion. Daddy was trying to keep Evi from standing up and the bunny from jumping out of the wagon.

My daughter got a bunny this spring and I wanted to do a photoshoot for Easter. I made a nice flat spot in a grassy planter for her to hold the bunny. I set up my reflector. But I put her in the grass and she pitched a fit. She didn’t want to sit in the planter. The bunny climbed up the grass and wanted to chew on the tree bark. It was not picturesque. Plan B was putting them both in the wagon–not my vision for a nice color palette, and I had to quickly improvise the backdrop by changing my angle to something less than ideal. The bunny ate grass, and Evi petted her. It was cute. Super cute.

But these shots have barely a hint of the aura of wonder I was able to create in that first image, where I didn’t have to worry about the bunny escaping, and the little girl could be given a simple task without being distracted by the erratic activity of a live animal.

I asked that sweet little girl to look for ants in the bright yellow leaves that the sun was backlighting. She was calm. It was mellow. When I got home, I saw that shot and thought “that’s a perfect spot for a bunny!” …I had a perfect pose from her, and I was able to blend in a bunny in a perfect pose, in a perfect position.

I love this lifestyle image of a little girl with her new baby sheep. Images like this have more of a documentary feel, and are a lot more difficult to achieve with smaller animals.

So… yes, we could bring a bunny out for little kids’ sessions. I do have a real bunny, and she’s super sweet and friendly. But it wouldn’t be very fair to that timid little creature. The reality of live animals in a session is a lot more chaotic and less picturesque than it plays out as in the mind’s eye. I’m not saying I’ll never do it–I gladly will any time if folks have their own animals they’d like to include! But to make something like the really magical composite above, I need to be able to have more control than a real “kids x animals” experience can usually give.

Even when the animal really was at the session, those shots are also often composites. The animal and the child so rarely do the right thing at the same time that I often blend multiple shots to create one final image. With over 20 years’ experience with Photoshop and photography, I can create a full composite that is even more magical, and nobody has to get tinkled on.

Dream Big Dreams

See that it’s possible.

I feel pretty lucky that I was born to live in this time. The age of global information brings a lot of new complications to our lives, but it also allows light to fall on a lot of things that used to stay in shadow.

When I was in college, I was the first woman to arrange music for our University’s marching band. A friend was the first female drum major. When we were kids, the band didn’t allow female members at all.

We blazed through these firsts without giving them much thought, and that is amazing. We didn’t feel like pioneers, it just felt normal. Thank goodness for change! It has become much more widely accepted for all of us to follow our hearts, even if we don’t fit the traditional mold.

My little daughter is in love with airplanes. When she goes out wearing her tiny bomber jacket, people call her a cute little fella. Female pilots are still considered somewhat remarkable–women aerobats actually compete separately from men even now.

So, we watch a lot of documentaries about women pilots and we go to air shows whenever we can. I want her to know that people like her can do that–that it’s not reserved for someone else. Maybe as she grows older, her interests will change. But we’ll always be there to support her vision and help her find ways to follow her ambitions, even if there’s no example before her to follow.

Times keep steadily changing, and by the minute, it becomes less and less remarkable for anyone to do just about anything they want to do. It’s pretty exciting. And knowing where we came from, I’m so happy when I can lend a little boost to help her envision herself following her dreams.

“She believed she could, so she did…”

Giving The Gift of Legacy Photography to your Parents and Children

a large family portrait session in amador county, California by Relish Photography
A recent Relish family legacy session

Day to day we all go along, busy, immersed, often overtaxed. We take a lot of snapshots. We give lots of hugs. Maybe not as many as we’d like. If we’re lucky, a lot of people lean on us for what they need to get through life, and if we’re REALLY lucky, they’re there for us to fall on when we need it, too.

Family, right? We love them and they drive us crazy. But they’re always there.

A selfie of me and my husband on our first anniversary. This is a beautiful memory, but I wish we had some nice portraits from this year!

Stuck in our regular routine, it’s can be easy to put our folks on the back burner. We all have obligations and there’s a limit to the energy we can spend in a day. But as life has unfolded, I’ve realized how important it is to make time for family.

In the past I’ve always found ways to make our own family portraits here and there, usually by handing off the camera to a bystander for a snapshot. We all have bills to pay, and a portrait session doesn’t immediately rank as necessary. But this year, I made it a priority to invest in a portrait session for my family.

It felt right to honor my mom with a quality portrait of our three generations of women together, and I wanted my daughter to have a beautiful visual legacy to hold onto throughout her life. A professional portrait gives a level of honor to the family that the dearest snapshots can’t match; and there’s a transformative quality to seeing your family through the eyes of an outsider.

Two sisters throw dry leaves in the air while mom and dad steal a kiss in the background.
A Relish family session. This is more than just a pretty Christmas card. What a gift this image will be to these sweet girls as they grow older!

I’m so fortunate that I can give other families the opportunity to create family legacy portraits. These images are are so beautiful to create, and fill my heart with love and reverence. If you haven’t had a family portrait made lately, it’s time! Get everyone together, get dressed up, and celebrate your family’s legacy. Do it for your kids, do it for your parents, and do it for yourself.

How I wish we’d done this with my dad, too. I have mostly snapshots of my dad. He left us before I became a serious portrait photographer myself, and we never really knew the value of professional family portraits until the opportunity was gone. I can’t go back and recreate those legacy images for my dad. But going forward, I can honor my family with professional portraits regularly. And, as a photographer, I can give others the same opportunity to create a lasting, visual legacy for their families with every family session I schedule.

Me and mom. ZAMS Photography by Zita Makkos

Why I Don’t Use Presets

One of my images with a popular preset applied. The white patch on the right is burning my eyes! that highlight was not blown out in the original image.

My feed’s always flooded with ads for photography presets, also known in the social media world as filters. These pre-made sets of editing actions can be mass-applied to a whole photoshoot at once. Some photographers use presets as a tool to save time and give all their work a consistent look.

When a stylized preset is applied, the image can become more about the preset than the actual image itself. For this reason, presets can help increase the impact of images that are lacking in interest or quality. But they fall far short of hand editing when they meet with great image quality and attention to detail.

Clients and colleagues have complimented my processing and asked if presets are a part of my workflow. So, I wanted to take a few minutes to write about my approach to processing, and explain why I don’t use presets.

If you’ve ever followed a photography feed or even talked about photography near your phone, you’ve probably seen preset ads. Brixton film, Jake Olson, who else sells presets? There are so many out there. The example photos look dreamy–bright, rich, deep and intense, or soft, muted, and tranquil. Surreal in a really good way. It’s easy to think that mood was created by the preset alone.

But, no. A professional photographer shot those images, and although the preset was applied, many other actions were also taken to create that final product. When presets are simply applied wholesale, one-and-done style, the effect is not always so dreamy.

Left: My hand edit; Right: a popular preset with no other edits

When I began studying as a photographer, I was incredibly fortunate to have a very patient and technically-minded mentor who taught me in depth how to shoot and edit for the best possible image quality. It was a major milestone for me in my path to begin shooting professionally when I was accepted as a contributor for Adobe Stock and Getty Images–two separate commercial image sources, each with a strict insistence on impeccable image quality. My artistic editing springs from that foundation of technical excellence. I start with a clean image, and branch out to create a little fantasy in my editing without losing that integrity.

Consider the images above. On the left, in my hand edit, I kept the blacks dark and the whites bright, making space for the midtones. I clipped the blacks gently to give a soft matte look. I softened the green but left it a natural hue. I augmented the direction of the light. I removed some distractions from the background and minimized the prominence of the textures in the road and grass. I pumped up her hair and subtly straightened her posture, and I processed her skin first by hand and then by applying my custom look with a sophisticated skin texture algorithm.

Left: My hand edit; Right: the same popular preset as above.

In this detail crop of the same image, you can really see the difference in the level of detail between the hand edit and the image with the preset applied. The preset made her white shirt look blue and her face look orange. Her hair is not flattered, and her eyes are darkened so much that the light in them is almost totally lost. The preset brought out unwanted detail in the background and flattened her face, making it appear more broad. The same broadening and flattening effect can be seen in the preset-applied image below right. The skin tone is unnatural, and popped details in the gate steal attention from her face.

Left: My hand edit; Right: another popular preset–her face is flattened and broadened by detail loss.

I love an artistic, stylized edit, but presets don’t give me that. For my workflow, they remove detail and rob the processing experience of its intention and artistry. There’s nothing a preset can do that I can’t create by hand, which gives me so much more freedom to create.

Left: My hand edit; Right: original image straight out of camera with no edits

Presets do serve as a great reflection of popular culture. In 10 years, we may look back on them with nostalgia the same way we look back now on Glamor Shots, In Living Color, and JNCO pants. SO cool at the time, right? So NOW. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the love may not last.

As much as I enjoy being gently swayed by the changing tides of style, it’s important to me that I stay rooted in classic beauty. I want to make sure the work I’m creating will still be relevant and just as enjoyable in 10, 20, or 50 years. And, above all else, I want my portraits to be about the person, not the processing.

Using Photography To Find Purpose and Say “Thank You”

A group of Jackson firefighters after our first firehouse studio session

We all have something we can give to others in life. It’s easy to feel like what you have to give may not be as special or important as what others do. Maybe that feeling might keep us from giving sometimes. Isn’t that too bad?

It’s taken a while for me to find my niche in life. I’ve had so much rich life experience but it’s taken a lot of trials to find where I really belong. On the flip side of exploration and diverse experience has been a feeling of searching for that one right purpose that could give me a sense of meaning in what I do.

My dad, Captain Franck Tremaine, at mom’s house.

My dad was a firefighter for 40 years and was admired by many for his courage, candor, and commitment. With a role model who had made such a massive impact on life in my community, I put a heavy expectation on myself to do the same. I could enjoy my work or studies, but the question always remained, was I making a difference?

This week, I’m creating art to glorify, celebrate, and THANK the incredible men and women of the Jackson Fire Department. Their job is unbelievably taxing, and alienating in ways that most of us are fortunate not to understand. My hope is that I can use my particular set of abilities to give them something that will fill them with pride and confidence.

After a lot of searching and a lot of growing, I’ve come to realize that there are so many different facets to our lives, and they’re all important. The people on the front lines of life can’t do what they do without a really great support system behind them.

So here I am, finally accepting that I have the soul of an artist and the mind of an engineer, and not at all the body of a firefighter! And that’s ok. It’s better than ok. I can use what I can do to lift up other people who have different things to give than I do. We all do this for each other and it’s what makes life amazing.

If you’ve struggled with feeling like you don’t have much of value to give, take a second look at where your strengths lie. You have something in there that someone else really needs.

Driving The Back Roads: Crafting the Relish Senior Session

I watched the weather all week and Friday was looking spotty but I decided to keep my appointment with Bella unless it was literally pouring. I know that might not be the right choice for everyone, but Bella was one of my high school senior models and we were going out to play and experiment. Sometimes a little rain can make magic. 

A beautiful shot of senior model Bella in Jackson, CA

We met up after school on a Friday afternoon. After chatting a little about logistics and taking some opening shots in the spot where we met, we hopped in my car, bound for the Amador backroads via downtown Sutter Creek. Our plan was to drive slow and stop wherever we felt the pull to shoot. I saw a side street that attracted me so I parked on Main. But after a few shots and a little wandering, The Antique Gardener caught my eye and I put two and two together.

I was elated when we were graciously welcomed to shoot in the back garden. The Antique Gardener is one of my favorite spots in Amador County. There is something about that space that reaches me at a great depth. I would move in if they’d let me.

The Antique Gardener in Sutter Creek, CA was an amazing location to explore.

We relaxed and took our time shooting in that beautiful garden. After a few more stops throughout town, a little good natured heckling from “The Locals” (I’m looking at you, John Campbell) and a fun surprise bump into John Michael Poulson of Lexie Jean Photography (one of the area’s leading real estate photographers), we loaded back up and cruised on toward Amador City the back-back way (because since the highway got bypassed, the old highway is the new “back” way).

All along the back roads we stopped here and there to shoot in the beautiful spots we saw, and we wrapped it up by setting up studio lighting in a wide piece of road to catch an amazing stormy sunset. 

Stopping wherever we wanted was fun and relaxing.
The sunset was so worth the few drops of rain we felt!

Through the whole session we got just a few drops of rain, but the sky was gorgeous and it couldn’t have been a more perfect day. I’m so glad we went, and I’m so glad we worked this way. It’s usual to set a time limit on a session, or plan to shoot in a certain location because that’s convenient. But there could be no comparison to the rich story of Bella we created by tripping around together and following our hearts for the whole afternoon. I hope I can always work this way with my seniors.