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can you believe it?


Jackie - This is a random comment but I wanted you to know you inspired me a long time ago to try and make my own baby food! Before I even knew I was pregnant I read your post about it and thought what a great idea! And the great thing was you made it seem doable! My little girl is going on 5 months so I researched it again. So today I bought ice cube trays, food saver bags, a rockin blender and 2 sweet potatoes to try first. I am excited!

crystal1011 - If you know me at all you know Im all for random. Thank you! And enjoy it!!! I LOVEd making food for all three of my kiddos…email if you have any questions!

cam’s baby book: 11 months (rocky mount, nc photographer)

Fan of the Army crawl, but starting to get on hands and knees.

Loves doors.  Any and all doors.

Loves any space he’s not supposed to get into.  And while we’re at it – with all the talk about crib safety why do they make this space under the crib the perfect size for getting stuck?

Has two bottom teeth.  Fingers are still constantly shoved in the mouth.

Has started growling and squealing when he doesn’t get his way.

Although it’s against family policy and my better judgement, he always gets his way.


Bonnie - He is such a blessing. :-)

it started like this: my story (rocky mount, nc, photographer)

Note: I have been hesitating to share this with readers and clients for a while now.  But I think it’s important for you to know how seriously I take this.  And so here it is…- so you know where I am coming from when I insist you buy every photo that you love.  When I insist you get in the picture with your children even if you don’t feel photogenic.  This is where I’m coming from when I see a moment behind my camera and actually tear up a little (and, yes, I try to hide it).  You may have called me to cover an event or special occasion or milestone in your life and I was booked but insisted you make sure you hire someone to be there, even if it couldn’t be me.  This is my story.


It’s hard for me to remember exactly when I started paying attention to the beauty in images – noticing the color of light, the depth of field, composition.  But I can tell you exactly when images themselves became immensely important to me.

I’m pretty sure it started here:

It’s my little sister Lora and I.  Nothing spectacular about it.  It was taken in a Shoney’s parking lot.  On a very overcast day.  The weekend of my college graduation and just a short couple of hours before she boarded a plane to go back to finish her freshman year in college.  No, it doesn’t look especially amazing.  But it was special.

Because as fate had it, it was the last picture I’d ever take with her.

What stands out to me about this picture, besides it being our last, is that we almost didn’t get it.  We had just finished breakfast, and my out-of-town family (including Lora) was in a bit of a rush to get to the airport.  I don’t remember who suggested it or insisted.  I think maybe me.  On second thought, it might have been Lora.   But the point is, we paused a moment to take them.  Pictures of my family.  And that last squishy-sweet one that is (was?) so us.

Just after, my best friend Ginger and I scooted Lora to the airport. I asked if she wanted me to wait with her for her flight (back when you could) but she shrugged it off and said no; our grandparents were going to be there.  She wanted to spend a little time waiting with them.  We exchanged a hurried hug and kiss good bye.  I promised to meet up with her to get the matching tattoos she’d suggested when she went on a college singing tour and would be in close-by Kentucky that summer.  One more hug.  And she was gone.

She was killed in a car wreck and taken from us just two weeks later.

That summer is the first that I remember photography and pictures – recording moments in time that you can’t really get back – became important to me.


(Photo credit: Kenton Rowe)

A husband and a baby later, we asked a photographer friend to fly out to our daughter’s first birthday party in Nashville, Tennessee.   My husband was scheduled to deploy to Iraq a second time just a few days after the party.  The assignment was a particularly dangerous one – we’d known soldiers who had been killed in such missions.  And for all I knew we wouldn’t see him again.  I wanted someone there who understood me and my passion for photography ~ and the underlying weight of my request.  I needed someone who was willing to exhaust himself to capture that day.  Just in case.

Two days later, James left, and I started a blog. And photography became about capturing time not just for posterity, but for James.   Half a world away from his baby girl.  A year of her life he would never fully understand or experience or remember.


And now.  Now it’s important to me for so many reasons.

This display is from a session I did with my children days after my son Cam was born.  I frequently look up and stare at their darling faces, marvel at how small Cam’s little features were…how excited Evyn was to hold him and how Ashlyn just didn’t know what to think of him.

I have a canvas in the same office –  a piece I proudly show off when my friends come over.  I have plans for it to travel around my house – maybe above my mantle next year, or at the top of the stairs.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost left my camera in the bag instead of snapping a photo, only to think “what the heck” and lug it out anyway.  I am always glad I did.

These images help tell my story…mark moments on our family timeline.  I imagine myself ten…twenty years from now, flipping through a shoe box, or album or coffee table book of images that remind me of the way we were.

And I imagine that for you, too.

Katie Rutledge - I knew your background, and I’m really sad for you, but I think it makes you a better photographer because of it. It’s a really great reminder how important photography really is. Awesome post!

Mysi Fortenbery - What a beautiful story. I am so glad to know there are other people who treasure photographs the way that I do. I don’t even like to crop them to fit in frames b/c the background often times tells a story, too. I am rarely w/o a camera as my family and friends will tell you and, like you, once I go back and look at the day’s “shots”, am so glad that I lug it around. I am not a professional photographer, but I treasure all the photos that I have. I am sotry you lost your sister but what a great way to honor her memory!

blogadmin - Thank you Mysi (and Katie). Obviously I support the notion of having a photographer help record your memories and interpret them artistically but really I’m just a huge advocate of capturing it however you can – Iphone, point and shoot, blogging, etc.

Thanks for the kind words – Our family still feels the pain of losing Lora. We get to keep her in a lot of ways, though. One of mine is photography. My mom recently reminded me of all the “SP’s” (self portraits) she used to do…she’d get a kick out of my business, I’m sure.
~ Crystal

kristi - I am speechless……for your tremendous loss, and for the beauty of what you give to others…..

Josephine Casanova - Wow, that made me cry. I think all photographers have a special reason why they became a photographer. I guess my story is similar to yours, and that is why I can relate. I am so sorry for your loss, to loose someone you love so much is so hard and life altering. I love your work and I will be following your blog.

Joanna - Hi Crystal! I just want you to know, that your story is so touching, I am literally sitting here in tears. I’m sure that you sister sees all of the amazing moments that you are capturing for families and she has to be exceedingly proud of you. I myself now have a 7 month old daughter and I am constantly following her around with a camera (I wish so badly that I could have a gift like you do)! I am very glad that you are following your life’s passion.

back from Afterdark Vegas! (rocky mount, nc, photographer)

So, if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to actually land in a Photovision dvd, I think this might be the closest thing to it.  Add very late nights, a few cirque du soleil performers, and a couple hundred very cool photographers and you have my trip to VEGAS for Afterdark.

Quite possibly the coolest concept ever – starting at one in the afternoon and going until 2 a.m. (or later), well-known mentors (such as Lori Nordstrom, Ben Shirk, Jordan Chan) hosted workshops ranging from Basics of OCF to managing your studio to fashion photography – simultaneously.  There was no signing up for workshops; just decide what spot to sit in on and if it wasn’t working, float to a workshop that did work for you.   As a natural light, on-location shooter, most of the studio setups were outside my comfort zone, but I appreciated the challenge and I learned quite a bit.

And before you go thinking I’m all awesome, we had a hand in posing and positioning, brainstorming for light setups and (obviously) composing but the light in many of the studio bays was already set up by mentors.

This girl is in high school.  Don’t kids in high school wear braces and glasses anymore?

At one point we had a chance to shoot outside on the strip using only available light, which, in Vegas is pretty much everywhere.  It was almost midnight.  And there were 30 of us shooting one, sometimes two models at a time.  Basically, we looked like a mob of paparazzi.

I even got a chance to try Off Camera Flash (OCF) –  a look that I usually shy away from but that I found a lot of fun to experiment with.  A huge thanks to Cody, Mike, and Jordan for breaking it down to the actual basics.  And for not batting an eye when an attendee dared to ask “how do you turn this thing on?” Marco/Polo anyone? (you had to be there).

Probably one of the coolest treats was the Cirque Du Soleil performers who decided to drop by after their last show.  These folks are incredible athletes and performers.  Every photographer still awake asked them to do tricks and jumps.  I could tell they were worn out and didn’t have the heart to ask them to flip for me.  Still, this wasn’t a quick shot – she actually held this pose.  In heels.

The atmosphere was incredibly energetic, and I learned as much from fellow attendees as I did from the mentors, who were incredibly giving and gracious.  Everyone there had something to share and they did so freely.  I came away with a long list of things to try immediately.

As well as a nagging urge to hit the gym.


To view some amazing images from other photographers, visit the Afterdark Gallery.  And if you missed this one…don’t worry.  There’s another one around the corner.  They meet four times a year and are already planning a workshop for Cincinnati.

lori nordstrom - So glad you loved AFter Dark!! Me too!! I keep saying I’m going to attend one of these times as just that – an attendee!! sooo much to learn and wonderful people to learn from!!

Loved seeing your images! Hope to see you again soon!

personal effects

Today is Valentine’s Day, and I imagine Willette had love and marriage in mind when she posted her photo challenge for the day: wedding bands/jewelry.  I actually have a very sentimental pair of wedding rings I could have photographed; rings that belong to my parents  – who are celebrating their anniversary today.  But for some reason these rings came to mind.

Her personal effects.

I don’t know why, but I never liked the term.  Ironically, the term seemed impersonal to me.  Far too plain a phrase to describe what has become the last physical representation I have of her.  The last things I could ever hold.  Her promise rings from our parents.  Rings she treasured so much and held with such importance that the last time she stayed with me she refused to take them off before bedtime, even after I complained that her fingers would swell.

The last time she stayed with me.

I have almost lost them twice.  And both times I was so frantic I became almost physically ill.   The thought of losing those rings was like losing her.  I know better now.  That our 18 years together as sisters is woven into my life in a way that can never be lost.


Today was the first time I’d taken them out in a long time.  On a day about love, it seems fitting.

Mom - just came back from taking a small stuffed bear with angel wings out to lora’s grave, reminiscing on the drive home of the last-ever valentine’s box i sent her feb 99.. how crazy happy it made her to receive, how crazy happy it made me then hearing her ecstatic voice on the phone, how unbelievably grateful i am today for sending that box… came home & decided to get caught up on your various ‘places of posting’ – and saw this picture. stopped me in my tracks. made my heart catch in my throat. and blessed/warmed my heart to hear your ‘lora story’ of these rings. how blessed we’ve been to have shared her short life <3 love u, c xo

Yasher - Absolutely gorgeous shot!