life & light : my first photography workshop


[originally posted here]

i’ve toyed with the idea — largely due to having received so many requests — of having a workshop that would teach folks how to use their DSLRs the way they were intended to be used. it’s a real need. i mean, more and more of us have taken the plunge and purchased a nice DSLR camera, with high hopes of having better pictures to show for it, and then it somehow disappoints a bit. we realize that a good camera doesn’t automatically lead to great pictures. truth is, we have to learn how a camera works, what exposure is and how you achieve it, how to compose an artful image, how to meter and focus, etc. etc. if we don’t know how to do those things, the “Auto” setting is all that remains available to us, but “Auto” — though smart in certain ways — is not ever going to be a great photographer. because of this, i like the idea of spending a chunk of time equipping people to learn how to use the fantastic camera they’ve invested in, empowering them to take shots of their families and personal lives in a way that they can feel good about.

but there are lots of workshops out there to teach the technicalities, both online and in camera stores, and from other photographers. you don’t have to look far to learn how to use your DSLR.

so if i’m going to do something like this, i want to bring my unique self to the table, offered up as a gift to those who might feel inclined to receive me. and i think my particular gift, my niche, is this: to notice ordinary moments and to capture them in a way that let’s you see their beauty. this is the feedback i get the most often, and it’s also the gift that lays behind my two specialties of family photojournalism and birth photography. it’s how i photograph my own family, too.

that is what i hope to offer to you in this workshop. i want to invite you to sit in my living room around my wood stove on a wintery day. i want to offer you pastries and coffee while we sit down and have a conversation not just about the technicalities of DSLR use, but also about our lives. i want to take time together to practice gratitude and noticing and light.

i want to talk about how to use a DSLR with technical skill for the larger purpose of celebrating the life that’s unfolding around you, in all its glorious ordinariness. 

here’s what i’m envisioning it will look like: the first part of the day will be spent learning the how-tos of DSLRs while we sip our hot beverages, then we’ll move into conversation about telling a story with our photos and “finding beauty.” we’ll have a yummy lunch together while we talk more. then the afternoon will be space to practice what we’ve been learning and discussing, through a few different invitations.

because i want to keep this highly personal and want to give each participant the attention he/she deserves, space is limited to 6. so if this resonates with you, listen to that, get in touch with me, and register now.

i am so stinking excited.




12 hours after putting this workshop “out there” online (facebook, blog, email), it was completely filled up.

i feel like i’m onto something here. like i’ve stumbled onto a path that is right, which utilizes the unique giftings and competencies (photography, hospitality, seeing deeper beauty, encouraging women) Father has given me by His Spirit. i suppose this is because the entire vision and most of the details came flooding into my head space during a community worship session, and i had the distinct feeling it was from the Holy Spirit.

doing this sort of things — as cheesy as it might sound — really makes me feel really alive. if the glory of God is man fully alive, than i hope this brings Him glory.

feeling so blessed today.


life is art

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there is a folder on my hard drive called Life Is Art. and it is full of other folders — one for each season for the last several years — of photos of our ordinary life and the people in it. they are not photos of events, just moments, or found beauty in our home, around our neighborhood, or wherever else i’ve been.

this quirky form of photo organization might be explainable by telling you that i am a Type 4 on the Enneagram. one of the hallmark characteristics of a Type 4 is a craving — perhaps even a real need — for beauty.

Whether you are organizing your living space to reflect your refined tastes or engaging in an artistic pursuit, it is essential for your sense of well being that you express your creativity.

Profound and insightful, you have an uncanny knack for transforming the dull and the ordinary into the exciting and extraordinary.

You appreciate the special, the humane and the beautiful. You like to put your personal signature on everything that you do.


and boy is this true for me. i craft my living spaces with incredible care. i choose beautiful and unique things (that doesn’t mean expensive or name brand, just things that are beautiful to ME) and have a super low tolerance for anything tacky, common, or merely utilitarian in my home. i hesitate sometimes to share this about myself, as i know it can seem snobby or shallow. and, when i photograph these details of my life and share them publicly, like on instagram or facebook, i know it might appear that i’m presenting something more perfect or posed than could possibly be real. i want to be authentic (ha! another hallmark of an enneagram type 4), so it’s uncomfortable for me to think that i’m coming across as something other than that.

but, given that i am not a painter or a crafter, life is my art form. and the reason my photographs are beautiful is partly due to the fact that i am always trying to make everything beautiful! it’s not just for the camera, it’s for my sanity. my sense of wellbeing shoots through the roof when i can create — or reorder — a lovely space and sit within it, either with people i love or by myself.

i was the girl who brought a folder full of photos, quotes, and other pretty things to my week-long summer camp each year so that i could decorate my bunk area!! seriously. as if i could not endure even a single week without beauty surrounding me, without owning and shaping a pleasing environment to rest in.

this has interesting implications for me as a photographer. see, beauty is such a large prerequisite to my creative inspiration that if i’m working with a situation/client that isn’t immediately aesthetically pleasing to me, i really have to dig deep within myself to find inspiration in the midst of that. i have to choose not to write it off as un-lovely, and instead to put on a new set of glasses that will enable me to see the beauty that is really in all of life. wherever i go, i’m learning, there is beauty to be found, whether or not it matches my personal tastes.

so then, this is also the gift that i hope to give to my photography clients, especially those who do the family photojournalism style sessions: to notice and then to capture the beauty in their ordinary lives, so that they will feel seen and celebrated and blessed with the gift of the life that they’ve been given to live. i want to hold up a mirror to them and say, “see?! do you SEE that? you, your family, your home, your life… they are truly beautiful!”

at the same time, if there’s any counsel i could give to someone who wants to take better photographs of their own life or family (a question i get relatively often), i would say start with this: see your life as art. fill your home with objects that make you feel peaceful and satisfied, dress yourself in fabrics that feel wonderful on your skin, fling open the drapes each morning so the light can come in, tidy up and simplify your rooms, cook colorful food.

as children of a Creator God, i’m beginning to allow myself to say that beauty does matter, that it is okay to pursue beauty, and that perhaps that might even be part of my offering to the world.

and that’s enough rambling from this Redeemed Type 4. 🙂

if you’re still with me, and you want to see more of my Life As Art, click here.

when you ask God about an iPhone

iphone5for months i’ve been going back and forth in my head about whether or not to upgrade to a smartphone. i am, afterall, one of the only people i know who still uses a “dumbphone.” and the iPhone 5 has really caught my attention because of the camera in it!: a camera that good, that fits in my pocket, plus all the really great photo apps out there that i’d be so geeked out to play with…. yes please! for financial reasons, it wasn’t a real option for a long time, but then a couple pieces came together to make it so that suddenly i could consider it as a real possibility.

but the decision — in spite of my initial “heck yes i want the phone with the camera and the photo apps!!” — has been super difficult. like ridiculously so. there is a large part of me that is inclined to steer clear of it entirely, going to the grave with my “dumbphone” in hand. you see, i have a tendency to internet addiction. not in any naughty way, just in the “i-got-on-here-to–check-“just-one-thing-real-quick”-but-then-i-clicked-a-link-that-led-to-a-link-that-led-to-over-an-hour-spent-reading-blogs-and-looking-at-photos-instead-of-doing-my-chores-or-playing-with-my-kid.” you know what that’s like, right? i bet lots of you can relate to that phenomenon.

so i’m asking the question, “will this get me closer to the life i want to live?” and what is the life i want to live?: one in which i am truly present to my real life. the physical, touchable one. the life that includes my children and my husband, my home and my neighborhood, my friends and my God. i don’t want to see them only a instagram-worthy images or status-update material. i want to live my life beautifully, whether or not the world is watching me through my facebook page, instagram account or blog.

and i’ve been worried that if i got the iPhone 5 that it would make it much, much harder to live that kind of a life.

BUT i just kinda want it. and it would be nice to fire off a note to someone when i’m thinking of them, to pull up a recipe in the kitchen, or to take a photo or video of a beautiful moment. right now, those activities are very tied to my desktop computer and my large DSLR, which puts natural boundaries around my access to them, for better or for worse.

anyway, all this to say that eventually my dear husband got weary of listening to me deliberate while ringing my hands together in fear of making a bad decision, and so he said, “maybe you should just ask God about it.” oh. right. i can do that. 🙂

so i listened, and i wrote as i heard His voice. here is some of it:

” i am proud of you. you are free. you get it and I’ll give you guidelines. don’t be afraid of yourself; i’m greater in you…. [some practical guidelines].. pray — use it as inspiration for prayer.”

at this point i interrupted to ask, “but why would i have one? what’s a good reason to have one?”

“fun! joy! i made you to be geeked out about things like camera apps. anything you put in my hands i can use for good things! like [you already do with] your camera!”

then, as in response to my “i’m not sure i’m buying this, God”:

“you don’t have to have one, darling. i’m just telling you you’re free and i will walk with you through it if you do get one. if you will trust me with it. in this really practical way, trust me. i can teach you how to master it.”

alright, then. that’s not quite was i was expecting to hear. (truthfully, part of me is still doubting it was His voice, so i’ll ask Him for some confirmation.)

but He showed me that i was rejecting having this useful tool and fun toy out of fear that i wouldn’t be able to control myself. now i see that the reason i can be free to get one — or not — is because He gives me a spirit not of fear, but of self-discipline, if i’ll lean into Him and trust Him for it.

and then i got to thinking that in some ways perhaps God is most glorified not when we remove ourselves entirely from good-things-that-can-become-idols so much as He is glorified when we invite Him into those places, yielding and surrendering to Him each step of the way as He teaches us how to order it rightly. you see, if i just swear off smartphones or facebook because they can get to be too big in my life, i’m still relying on myself to keep myself righteous. but if i step forward to receive them as good gifts, holding His hand as i go, i must rely on Him to show me how to live with them well!

what do you think of this, reader-friend? seriously. does this sound like the voice of the Good Shepherd to you? are you surprised by what i heard?

Pinteresting Birth

because it’s become such a huge interest and passion of mine, i’ve been collecting articles and photos about pregnancy, natural birth, and newborn care on pinterest for a while. part of my reason for doing this is so that i can share it with other women on the brink of motherhood. if that appeals to you, you might appreciate that board.


photography: becoming a specialist

after spending more than 10 years with my eye pressed up against the viewfinder of an SLR camera (first it was 35 mm, then digital), after pointing it in the direction of so very many things, places, and people, some things have come started to come clear.

you look at my portfolio right now and you’ll see i have been a generalist: weddings, engagements, families-who-are-posed, mini-session portraits, babies, kids, graduation and anniversary parties,  multi-generational family groups, seniors, boudoir, and birth.

what a lovely, lovely world filled with a billions of beautiful faces and thousands of good reasons to celebrate and document those celebrations. i’ve seen the fresh love and creative pinnacle of a wedding day, the flirtatious adoration of an engaged couple, the traditions of families stopping to commemorate, the sensual daring of a woman who’ll be photographed in her undergarments to give some joy to the man she loves, and the tentative coming-into-self of a graduating senior. i have loved it all, each in its own way.

today, feeling now so blessed to have been allowed to witness and document so many sorts of breath-taking people and their moments in time, i feel i can now step back and ask myself: out of all of this varied glory, what is the one thing that resonates most deeply, that brings me so much life that i want to spend as much time around it as possible?

i might have answered this question differently 5 or 8 years ago, had i bothered to ask it of myself, but i didn’t. so today, the answer to this question is this:

that which is raw and ordinary, which is family, which is life. 

more specifically:

family photo-journalism

(the kind where no one gets especially dressed up, and they probably stay home and just do the sorts of things that families do while i just happen to be present to make note of it on film)



birth stories

(the sort where women – and their men – are transformed as they undergo the process of giving life to a new little person, and are brave enough to allow me into that space to witness it through my camera’s eye)


mmmm, yes. those things get my heart pumping. these are the ones that i look forward to doing more than any other sort of photography job.


what if those two things became unapologetically my specialty? what if i began to say “no” to other sorts of work so that i could indulge in and master these two sorts? what if i gave myself over to that which i really love, and that which i think i do best?

there’s a degree of risk. will it shrink my client base too significantly? will it disappoint certain folks? will i be going back to square one to re-establish myself within these new parameters?

yup, risky, but it feels right.

this is the new plan, friends. website and blog and facebook page will begin to reflect said changes very soon (well, maybe after my maternity leave).

i’m very much looking forward to this new chapter of my photography career.

*i am sort of test-driving this post here on my “personal” blog before i post it to my professional blog.

anja noelle


my newest little niece was born to my brother justin and my sister-in-love marguerite on may 1st.

she was born the morning after my own birthday, thereby making her the best birthday gift perhaps ever.

and i was honored to be in the room when she was born, and to have the satisfaction of seeing her placed on her mama’s chest, first thing. to hear her first cries, to see her brand new naked little body, to hug her daddy in his joy.


today she is three days old. i took a few more photos of her bathed and clothed. she has loads of near-black hair, and a pouty little mouth that looks a lot like her big sister’s. Image🙂


waiting for babies and celebrating my own

i am waiting for babies to be born. four of them, in fact. four babies due this month, one to my dear cousin in philadelphia, who is already 12 days past her estimated due date, so i can only imagine the emotional space she is occupying as she waits for little August to make his debut. another one is due to my cousins in the lansing area, and i will be going to the birth to photo-document it. and two more due to women i only recently met, but whom are allowing me the privilege of coming into their homes and documenting with my camera the miracles of small lives being born into their homes. i am carrying my cell phone close at all times, awaiting the calls announcing labor has begun, so that i can begin to pray and to pack my camera bag.

my own baby turned 9 months old on thursday. she is sitting on the rug in the living room right now, talking happily to herself and playing with her toys, stopping to look at me and laugh. she understands “can mama have a kiss?” and “where is da?” and “do you want some mama milk?” and “goodnight” and “more”. it’s incredible to see her respond to words, to begin to comprehend their meaning, and to respond accordingly. how does this happen?! it astounds me.

she has begun to take steps within the last two weeks. she’s getting rather good at it. i haven’t got a good photograph of her in action yet, because both of my hands are occupied with holding hers will she makes her way across the room. she wants to stand and to practice walking all the time these days, which is a lot of spotting and supporting work for me. still, she does not crawl. not even a bit; she just wails whenever she finds herself in the unfortunate position of being on her belly.

she loves thai food and roasted chickpeas, egg yolks and strawberries, and to drink water out of her own little cup.

her hobbies include pulling all the books off her bookcase, playing peek-a-boo by averting or covering her face then popping out with an expectant smile, being turned upside down over and over, dancing to music with strong hand-drum rhythms, eating food, and playing with toddlers.

what a miracle this continues to be.


born // birth photography

i am so very excited to begin photographing births this year! after having my own photographed, and knowing what sweetness it has been to have those images to look back at and to aid me in reconnecting with my experience of giving birth to hazel… well, i want to be able to offer that gift to other women, too. in the interest of full disclosure, i will tell you that i have not yet photographed a birth, though i am confident in my capacity to do it well both because i have the right gear (read: camera/lenses that perform well in low light without a flash!) and because being with people in the midst of significant emotional/spiritual/physical experiences is something that i do well.

so, if you’d like to join the three other beautiful mamas who are already having me photography their births, and allow me incredible honor of photographing your birth, please choose any of the following three packages and knock the price down by 50%. we can, of course, sit down and talk it over before you officially commit. 🙂 (note: offer good for only the first two respondents who end up booking me. some restrictions may apply). spread the word!

package A – 

  • labor/deliver coverage through 1.5 hours after birth  (up to 8 hours, 50+ images)
  • maternity session in last month of pregnancy (1 hour, 30+ images)
  • newborn session within 1 month of birth (1 hour, 30+ images)
  • CD of all edited images w/ copyright permissions for printing AND web-sized, watermarked images for sharing online (facebook/blog)
  • slideshow on DVD (3 copies) and posted on private youtube link

 package B – 

  • labor/delivery coverage through 1 hour after birth (up to 6 hours, 50+ images)
  • your choice of maternity OR newborn session (1 hour, 30+ images)
  • CD of web-sized, watermarked images for sharing online (facebook/blog)
  • slideshow on DVD and posted to private youtube link

package C – 

  • labor/delivery coverage through 1 hour after birth (up to 5 hours, 50+ images)
  • CD of web-sized, watermarked images for sharing online (facebook/blog)
  • slideshow on DVD and posted to a private youtube link

optional add-ons

  • complete, boxed set of 4×6 “proofs” — $
  • additional prints made through my pro lab —
  • rights to all edited images w/ copyright permissions for printing — $


  • we’ll sit down before you book me and we’ll talk about all your expectations and hopes for how your birth will go and how you see me (the photographer) moving in and out of your birth experience. it’s a collaboration.
  • i take the role of a mostly silent, unobtrusive observer. my goal is that when your birth is through, you will have almost no memory of my presence, and certainly not any memories of me uncomfortably close up with a camera.
  • i schedule no more than two births in a month (with due dates at least 2 weeks apart) in order to maximize my ability to be available. i will be on call around the clock for the ten days leading up to your due date and ten days after.
  • all photography will be done with available light only. you don’t need any flashes going off to distract you as you labor, nor blinding delicate new-born eyes.
  • i am happy to photograph any kind of birth: hospital, c-section, home birth, or birth center. for now, i am only taking on births within 20 minutes of Grand Rapids, MI.

*****UPDATE 2/11/2016 :: I have removed the specific pricing from this blog post. I currently have only one package and the price structure is quite different than it was when I began shooting births in 2012. For current information please visit



i am being challenged by these three quotes, each stumbled upon during my shameless internet meandering. (sometimes web-browsing really can be life-giving).


“I was going to get closer, close enough to shoot with my 24 and fill the frame. Today I shoot life, weddings, friends, family and everything up close. Personal and intimate.”

-sean flannigan, photographer, here.


“i believe a strong woman may be stronger than a man, particularly if she happens to have love in her heart. i guess a loving woman is indestructible.”

― john steinbeck, east of eden


‎”if you’re clinging too tightly to your things, to your plans, to your comfort and convenience, to your idea of what your family should look like — God cannot move in your life.”

— shelly owens, adoptive mother, here.


photo by jill devries (

my favorite (am i allowed to pick favorites?) grand rapids photographer, jill devries, photographed our wee little family this past week. i’m so pleased.

you should check ’em out here on her blog.

and, i want to say thank you again to my mom, grandparents, aunts, uncle, cousins, brother and sister-in-law for chipping in to hire jill to do this. it was my birthday gift, and one of the best to date, i think.