Give because you can

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I wrote this article for Pinhole Pro Magazine and am sharing it with you here today in honor of our bride Karen, pictured below with her daughter Addison and featured at the end of the post, who just completed chemotherapy and is in surgery today. We love you, Karen!


When I was a kid volunteering was like drinking milk with dinner, you just did it.

I credit my parents for taking it one step further, for recognizing and gently fostering an interest in helping others. They understood when I wanted to donate my Christmas gifts and when I asked to make Easter baskets for those in need at my birthday parties. They encouraged me to volunteer my time as much as I could through the local youth group and as a summer counselor at the Boys and Girls Club.

Life now is clearly very different than it was then. Kids and adults alike are overscheduled, spending less and less time outdoors and it’s not surprising that the US Bureau of Labor Statistics report that the volunteer rate in the US continues to decline.

During college I helped build a house with Habitat for Humanity in Georgia for spring break. A photojournalism major, I brought my camera along and documented every step of our experience. A light turned on within me and it’s a moment I can easily pinpoint as the first time I felt a deeper purpose in my pursuit of a career in photography. I accepted an offer to join the photography staff at USA Today when I graduated, and as a young professional in Washington, DC, participated in walks to raise money for breast cancer and later photographed them. I count a recent trip to photograph a New England fitness team visiting St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis among the most moving and rewarding opportunities to volunteer with my camera.

Photographers have a unique ability to help a charity by providing more than just our time. We are historians to the cause, capturing the mundane and the momentous. By sharing our skill, a charity can boost its fundraising campaigns, website and every visual touchpoint within their organization using our professional photographs. No other occupation comes close to such grassroots involvement.

It was in DC that I started my business, emilie inc. photography, but it wasn’t until I moved to Maine a few years later that I decided to develop my longstanding annual donation to breast cancer research into a formal organization. Founded in honor of my mother’s best friend who passed away from the disease when I was an impressionable 12 year old girl, PinkInitiative was recognized as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2008. We are a collection of wedding industry professionals and private donors who share a common dedication to spread awareness and help fund a cure for breast cancer. From caterers and coordinators to photographers and pianists, our membership runs the wedding vendor spectrum.

Each year we select a different recipient for the monies raised. In 2011 we gave to the Triple Negative Breast CancerFoundation, an organization doing great work for this rare subtype responsible for approximately 25% of breast cancer deaths. In 2010 we partnered with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s mobile mammography service and sponsored a van day in a low-income area of Boston, gifting mammograms to 35 women who otherwise couldn’t afford this important test. Five of those screenings came back with abnormal results. Gives me chills to think we had a hand in potentially saving five lives!

Members are encouraged to go beyond a cash donation and host an event within their own community to help bring attention to the cause and further our reach on a local level. Chicago coordinators at Engaging Events hosted a charity golf tournament with a raffle, silent auction and awards for best dressed in pink. Houston event planners Event Craze dedicated the launch of their business to Pink Initiative with a swanky party of pink food and drink. Tampa planners Elan Event Studio threw an over-the-top networking soiree including go-go dancers adorned with pink wigs. Corporations have also gotten involved including Prepare to Wed, a national wedding planning resource that donates a percentage of its membership subscription dues to Pink Initiative. InvitationConsultants, an online invitation and stationery store, has a special line of cards whose profit is donated to Pink Initiative. Likewise, Seabags created a custom tote bag from recycled sails featuring our logo for our website’s marketplace. Profits from sales are donated back to Pink Initiative.

It’s been truly inspiring to see the enthusiasm, involvement and sense of community Pink Initiative has become. It’s not all administrative for me, I’ve enjoyed taking part in the fundraising as well! In addition to donating a portion of the profit from every wedding I photograph, I once raffled off an entire wedding photography package. The winner was a wedding planner in Costa Rica who gifted the prize to two brides marrying on back-to-back days and each shared my travel expenses. I also went on a weeklong 5-city portrait tour from Maine to Virginia a few years ago. Most of the couples, babies, families and their pets were former wedding clients, a great way to stay connected long after their wedding day. I timed it for the early fall and included a set of holiday cards. All of the money I collected was donated, including any additional print sales.

Photographers, we’ve seen, are the most active within our group. Hosting mini portrait sessions in the fall, for Valentine’s Day or for Mother’s Day tend to be our members most popular fundraisers. Mini sessions are several 30 minute portrait sessions in succession that take place in one location, usually at a park or beach. A fee is set, likely a reduced rate from a regular portrait session, and is a donation to Pink Initiative. The beauty is that there is very little preparation work involved once you’ve settled on the logistics of when and where. Announcing mini sessions to take place in two weeks, let’s say, creates a buzz of excitement and motivates people to reserve their spot right away. Part of the fun, I think, is the timed element on the day of the fundraiser, and it is communicated very clearly ahead of time that everyone must stay on schedule for it to be a success.

I was recently interviewed for an article and was asked if aligning with a charity boosts business. Indeed it does, but it’s certainly not as if I slapped a pink ribbon on my brand to hook clients. I give because I can. It’s part of me and I love that I have my business as a platform to share my message with a larger audience. I tend to gravitate towards businesses that give to charity or give back to the community in my own life, and have found the same to be true for our emilie inc. clientele. Including information about my work for breast cancer research prominently on our website is intentional. I want prospective clients to know what is important to me, what I stand for and how they are a part of that process. It also opens the door for couples to share how breast cancer may have touched their lives from the very beginning of our relationship.

My heart aches at weddings when there’s an empty chair at the ceremony or the obvious absence of a parent dance during the reception. As a new mom, I could not fathom that scene without me in it and hate that it is so common. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. I have photographed more than 300 weddings. That’s at least 37 emilie inc. brides who will come face to face with this disease. Last month we received this email from the first.

Dear Emilie,

I was always struck at how proactive you are in breast cancer awareness and advocacy. I had considered going to your Pink Initiative photo shoot but with a 4 month old daughter I wasn't sure we could make the trek up from Nashua, NH. Little did I know that on November 22nd our lives would change forever when I received the phone call, at the age of 34, that I have breast cancer. I am one month into my four month regimen of chemo to be followed by surgery and radiation. It is a scary time for sure and one that has seen plenty of tears. But I vow to do something like you have. As Lance Armstrong has made it his motto "it is the obligation of the cured."

I'm not even sure why I am emailing you except that I've had this sense that I should and I'm no longer ignoring those little quiet still voices that prompt me as it had when my doctor told me the lump in my breast was nothing to worry about back in August. Thank God my mother prompted me in November to get it checked and that I listened to her voice.

Be well and keep doing amazing things.

With gratitude,
Karen


For more information and to join our cause, please visit pinkinitiative.org.



family vacation

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Since I met J, all of the trips we have taken together- no matter how cool the location- have been business-related conferences, destination weddings we have photographed or to see family. Certainly nothing wrong with that, but with our little Will finally sleeping through the night (thank you, Cameron!! Need a sleep coach? Call her!), and wedding season sneaking right up on us, it was high time for a vacation in its purest sense. No responsibility, no work, no agenda, just f-u-n. And where else might you have the most fun ever? Why, Disneyworld, of course! March was the perfect time to sneak away and play. Will loved every minute, as did we, and it was a delight to watch everything around us through his eyes. The moment he saw Mickey Mouse for the first time? Oh, what they say about Disney being a magical place is so.very.true! Enjoy a few of the traditional and not-so-traditional photos of our week, some of my favorites just from our hotel room as we were waiting for our bags to arrive. I packed light, just one old camera and a 35mm lens.

Dirty toes from scooting about the balcony There's something about the back of his head I just can't get enough of! Gazing at Magic Kingdom from our balcony. And the train. And the boats. And the buses. Lots to see. Mickey Mouse poncho. Classic. Animal Kingdom character breakfast, spying Mickey Mouse Every penny spent was worth it at this exact moment. Wonder and joy. Can't we bottle that? Just had to kiss this piggie, even if he was asleep. We ordered food from a local grocer and had most breakfasts in our room. Bracelets on and off. Kissed every character on the nose Parade view atop dad's shoulders Little nibble on my favorite Disney treat :)

happy monday

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It's Monday morning and we've got the window cracked at the office for the first time this year! Coming off a weekend of flip flop temps, our cheeks rosy from the sun and fresh cut tulips, I'd say this is a pretty good way to start the week. What did you do to enjoy this lovely weekend?

talking points from WPPI, Steve's perspective

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Over the past year you've likely noticed a new name now and again on wedding posts: Steve. We met Steve literally by happy chance while J was covering a live music Greendrinks event a year ago. New to town and talking up as many new faces as he could (and is so good at!), Steve approached J and the two hit it off. Fast friends and with frequent conversations about their shared love of photography, by the time wedding season arrived we knew we wanted to have Steve with us at events. A second photographer to start, we are starting to book Steve for weddings on his own this fall as well. We all enjoy having Steve as part of our team (tho I think J might be the most excited to have another male in the group. Ha!). Steve was our token guy on our recent trip to WPPI in Las Vegas since J stayed home with Will, and below are his thoughts on the experience.

Welcome, Steve!!...

While it is true that I left Las Vegas exhausted and depleted, I was not exhausted and depleted in the ways commonly associated with leaving Las Vegas. The WPPI show was stocked with the best wedding photography talent from around the country, and we were in town to binge. Photography-till-you-drop perhaps, but the inspiration we felt will not be fading away anytime soon.

Rolling deep with the emilie inc crew was a great way to be introduced to the massive trade show. I was able to get much more out of the experience thanks to knowledge and recommendations from our WPPI veterans. Not to mention traveling as a group was good, clean fun. Setting out together, it reminded me that emilie inc is different from most studios in that we have a a small group of shooters as opposed to just one or two. I am seeing that this arrangement has many advantages, not the least a very rewarding experience at WPPI.

The MGM Grand was the venue that housed our four day photo bender. As Megan mentioned, we did not set foot off the (considerable) lot until hours to go on our last night in town. Did not breathe fresh air except during the occasional step out to soak up the desert sun between classes. On the inside, it was all about absorbing as much info as possible. Two enormous expo halls were packed with vendors. I made an effort to filter as I browsed the many aisles; concentrating on the relevant, the new, the industry standards. I stopped by Canon and Renaissance Books, Pinhole Press and Dynalight, Radio Poppers and Manfrotto. A gentleman at Lowe Pro replaced a broken buckle on my Stealth shoulder bag. I ran into Jason Esposito, program director at Maine Media Workshops in Rockport, Maine. Was fortunate to stumble onto one of my favorite talks of the week, a short presentation at the Nikon booth by Amy Deputy. Inspiring person, inspiring imagery. Though I'm a Canon guy.

The presentations held in the numerous conference rooms surrounding the expo were the highlights of the week. Photographers lined up and packed in for Dave and Quinn, an energetic husband/wife team who lit up the 8am audience with tales of their greatest failings (and recoveries). Another hot ticket was Jasmine Star, mentioned by Whit in a previous post. A favorite of mine was David Beckstead, who encouraged us to experiment and work outside of our comfort zones. David had a highly entertaining talk; at one time explaining how someone once told him never to shoot with lens flare, so he decided to become a master of lens flare. His work is worth checking out.

Flying home, my head was swirling with thoughts about what I had seen and heard. As mentioned, I left Las Vegas exhausted, but more so I left inspired and creatively invigorated. And the timing couldn't be better. Bring on the warm weather, bring on the spring, and bring on wedding season 2012!

Thanks very much to the amazing emilie inc. team, and a big shout out to all the talented presenters.

loveME wedding mugs

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I adore the addictive can-do attitude of Maine's small business community. Have an idea? Go for it! Not sure where to start? Oh, there's a zillion networking/workshop/support options to help with that. Most ideas start small or by accident, and balloon into the very cool stories I so enjoy reading in the "about" section (the first place I always look at every website I visit). So is the story of liveME, the once T-shirt only, now mug and other accessories, too, online shop that speaks to other Maine lovers with beerME, sailME, hikeME, surfME, etc messages paired with the state outline. Owner Chris Avantaggio recently shared about the growing popularity of their loveME mason jar mugs' popularity at weddings on Love & Lobster, and sent us the sweetest note and samples. You know I'm a sucker for handwritten notes! Thanks, Chris, and if anyone is looking for a cool mug to raise on St. Patty's day this Saturday, check out their current special beerME promotion going on now!

Whitney's thoughts on Las Vegas and WPPI

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Heading into Whitney's fourth year with us (how on earth did that happen so fast?!), she returned to WPPI again after representing emilie inc with J last year while I was home with a weeks-old Will. Whitney is one of the most hard working and brilliantly wired photographers I know, and it's always a treat to spend time together. It was especially exciting for me to watch her in such a creatively-rich environment, learning new things, getting pumped about a new product and generally just being Whitney- curious and chatty with anyone and everyone, always eager to hear even a total stranger's story. Her storytelling never turns off. I love that.

Here's Whit...

Returning to WPPI for the second time was maybe even more exciting than the first. I had my maiden year under my belt, so I was able to soak in a little more of all the 2012 happenings. Plus, having almost all of the emilie inc. crew there to experience it with me was fabulous! Though not quite the veteran Em is to WPPI, I reveled in knowing the little things that can make the long days seem not as long -- like knowing when to hit the Starbucks and food court to avoid the crazy lines, navigating the MGM Grand without getting lost, and replenishing my trusty water bottle at the coveted bubblers in the hallway leading to Canon's Professional Services lounge. I even brought my sneakers, prepared to attack the two massive tradeshow floors. The throngs of fellow photographers weren't as overwhelming to me this year. I was happy to see some new and familiar booths, and sad to find a couple missing. I think I crave the exciting energy and education at WPPI even more, since it is held during the middle of our non-shooting season. It makes me extra amped for the fast-approaching weddings.

This year my classes centered around inspirational advice, what to do, what not to do, but make it your own. Dave and Quin Cheung's positive energy was infectious, and I'm excited about my purchase of their post-production software Motibodo. Jasmine Star encouraged us to really show ourselves in our marketing to better connect with our clients. Jim Garner reminded us that every thing we do in our business has a meaning and that albums are the important story books of a couple's wedding day. Jose Villa beautifully presented prints of his (yes, I will be framing some!) and reminded us the value of critiquing our work tangibly through prints, not just the computer screen. Mike Colon demonstrated how fairly simple on and off-camera flash can really enhance a photograph. David Beckstead challenged us to shoot for ourselves, to try something new and if we fail to have the burning desire to get it right. Amy Deputy's emotion and passion pulled at my soul-strings as a documentarian and reminded me why I do what I do, why I love what I do, and why what I do matters.

Thanks to Em, I have quickly learned that WPPI is more than just a tradeshow. It is the perfect time of year for us wintering New Englanders to fly to the warm West of Las Vegas, catch up with old friends, meet new photographers, bond with our emilie inc. team, and be absolutely inspired to continue to strive to make beautiful photographs.

Megan's perspective of WPPI

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You know her, you love her. Our studio manager Megan is that calming voice on the other end of the phone or the kind email awaiting you with a smile in your inbox. With us for nearly a year already, Megan helps keep the day-to-day in order at the office, but is also quite a force with a camera. She was a second photographer for many weddings last summer and will be doing the same this summer, too. This WPPI was Megan's first, and she wants to share a little about her experience with a few images with you, too. Making her blogging debut, say hello to Megan!....
  
Going into our Vegas trip I was both excited and nervous. Emilie warned us that we would experience four long days of go, go, go and very little sleep, so to prepare I packed paper and pens, power food, comfortable shoes and, of course, sparkles. She was right. The four days I spent at WPPI were a complete whirlwind. There was so much to take in, listen to and see, there were times when it was difficult to prioritize and you certainly couldn't experience everything. I listened to inspirational speakers, had a number of aha moments and oogled at new products and gear. Among my favorite presenters were Andrea Joki, Melody Hood, Amy Deputy, Jessica Claire and Colleen Wainwright.

By the time Wednesday rolled around, the night we were to fly out, it dawned on me that I hadn't left the MGM (did I mention that our hotel, conference center, casino and restaurants were all in the same complex?!). So, cameras in hand, Steve and I took a cab to the Bellagio and wandered back along the Strip. Here I was hit with another onslaught of imagery: blown glass art by Chihuly, a fountain show set to music, the "Eiffel tower," New York, New York and many spaces gold and glittery. I left Vegas that night exhausted inside and out, but wow am I excited for wedding season to arrive!

Pink Initiative breast cancer statistics infographic

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A few years ago I had a little idea for a non-profit to raise money for breast cancer. Pink Initiative is now a solid organization representing some of the most kind and sincere wedding professionals I've had the pleasure of meeting and the best board of directors I could dream of. In addition to fund-raising, it's also very important to us to help spread awareness about this awful disease. We collected some of the most staggering statistics and our fabulous designer Alina created a gorgeous infographic for our members. Are you familiar with infographics? Oh, we just love this trend. Eye catching, it is our hope this illustration will be passed between colleagues, clients, friends, and families, making a memorable impression of just how terribly common and frightening breast cancer is. Please feel free to download and pass along to those you love, too, here.

Brides and grooms, did you know you can peruse our vendor directory to find caterers, florists, planners and the like who support our cause? Is breast cancer important to you, too, and your vendors aren't listed? Ask them to get involved!

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