3 Lightroom Presets I Recommend + How I Use Them

Lightroom Presets are a fantastic way to speed up your editing and create consistent, cohesive imagery. When I first started editing my photos in Lightroom, I purchased Sarah Beth Photography's presets  and it saved me loads of time, something I needed after the birth of my first baby. I knew from that point on that presets would be part of my workflow. 

I've since had several people ask me why I use presets, and if it ever feels like I'm 'cheating' by using them. But my answer is always no. A preset is a great starting point. It's one artist's vision for tone, clarity, contrast, saturation, and so on. But each of us see things differently - some photographers are the light and airy type, while others (like me) shoot moody, or do a mix of the two. When I use a preset, I'm beginning with the creator's base, and then tweaking things to suit my style. 

boy looking through baby crib in hospital

Another preset company that I came across a couple years ago is VSCO, and I'm not kidding when I say this discovery was life-changing. Something about those green tones, the clarity, and contrast -- it really breathed new life into my work. After using the presets on a few client sessions, I knew there were tweaks I needed to make, but wasn't sure how, so I dove head first into learning the entire Develop module of Lightroom. I watched countless YouTube tutorials and tested my tweaks on hundreds of images. Whenever I found a formula that felt right, I saved those changes as a custom preset and began using it on all of my client sessions. 

family snuggling in tall grass at sunset

Fast forward to this past winter, when I discovered LXC presets, part of the Tribe Archipelago company. I love the way they utilize different aspects of the Develop module to achieve an overall desaturated image with soft, subtle tones. Once I had used these for a while, I went back to VSCO because I missed the deeper tones, but it didn't feel quite right. So I ended up creating a custom preset of my own that mixes my favorite aspects of different presets I've used in the past. I've been using this custom preset ever since on both my in-home and outdoor client sessions, as well as personal work. It feels good to have my own look, and to really love it. 

So to review, here are my top 3 favorite Lightroom Presets, in no particular order:
1. Sarah-Beth Photography - I simply love this photographer. She's incredibly talented and fun to follow. I've learned so much over the years from her online mentoring group. I originally purchased her Sunset Collection and Matte + Haze set, but she's since put out an Indoor set, Old School film set, and a Black + White collection that looks amazing. 

2. VSCO - My first purchase with VSCO was Pack 05, and I have yet to purchase any of the other packs, however if I did, it would likely be Pack 01. These two packs seem to be the most popular in the photography circles I'm part of, and they come with great tweaking tools within the pack, such as Contrast + or -, Fade Shadows, and Luminous + or -. These are the presets I recommend to anyone who's looking for a film look with plenty of versatility. 

3. LXC - I purchased the original LXC presets, but they've since come out with LXCN, and if I had the choice between the two now, I'd probably choose the latter. The website states "subtle greens, rich skin tones, and above all a consistent variety of looks to help improve your work as a whole. Rather than overpowering your photos with saturation and contrast, these presets give your photos room to breathe." I'd have to agree with this. In some ways though, this set was too desaturated for me, and only worked well with bright indoor work. However, I made some great discoveries about my personal taste, and used some of their settings in my current favorite custom preset. 

Whatever preset you end up choosing to purchase, remember to be patient... it can take some serious time to find 'your look'. Have an idea in mind of the look you're wanting to perfect before you sit down at your computer, and then keep practicing, watch YouTube tutorials, and play, play, play until you feel you've confidently achieved the style you were after. 

Remembering our Beautiful Boy's Birth | Kalamazoo Michigan Family Photographer

Today, our sweet middle boy is three, and he's by far my easiest child to photograph... always in a pretend world, or creating up some new character, and he just plays and plays. So today, I'm sharing a few favorite images of him. You can also read his birth story here. I woke up today thinking about the amazing four hours of labor, and smiled, because it was such a beautiful experience. Not easy, but certainly beautiful. 
 

silhouette of boy with sunset
boy on bike with grandfathers
boy sitting in sunlit kitchen
boy holding mom's hand
two young boys in tent
young boy kissing brother
little boy in garden full of tomatoes
young boy taking sink bath with spraying water
young boy with puppy
little boy sleeping in underwear
young boy climbing couch and hiding behind curtains
young boy in lion costume painting pumpkin at fall festival
young boy running in the fall color
young boy smelling flower

Happy Birthday, my sweet Riverbug! You are such a joy.

Kalamazoo MI Family Photographer | A Perfect Day with the Schultz Family

I just can't think of a better way to describe the vibe of this family than these lyrics by Holly Maher's song Perfect Day. As Audrey can attest, everything about their session seemed to be going well, but when we decided to leave the creek, her baby girl completely melted down. I felt horrible for Audrey & Dan because I know how much work it is to prepare for a session with little ones, but I also knew from experience that I had captured so many beautiful moments that it didn't matter. We moved to the field area and took a few last snuggly shots and then said our goodbyes. I'm thankful Audrey is such a go-with-the-flow sort of gal. She's an amazing photographer and family film videographer (check out her gorgeous work here!), and knows that there's no sense getting upset with a child who isn't cooperating -- it's best to just let them be and if possible keep shooting the snuggles that naturally take place. So, that's what we did! And in the end, they received a gallery filled with goodness and grace and real moments. It may not have felt like the "perfect day" at the time, but I know 10 years from now when Audrey & Dan look back, they'll remember it that way. They'll remember the beauty in these moments. 

"...this is the perfect day / from the top of the sky to the dirt under my feet / with all of my heart I know I'm where I should be / I'll follow the stars / follow the stars with you / this is the perfect day / I wanna make it last forever... the people are clamoring close, close to the ground / my head and my heart are way up / up in the clouds / this is the perfect day"

Kalamazoo MI Family Photographer | The Harkers

It's been about a thousand years since I blogged, but I couldn't resist sharing the highlights from last night's family session. My sweet friend Erica, the gorgeous mama in these photos, took our incredible newborn photos a couple of months ago, and last night I was able to repay the favor with a fun family session. We played and laughed, fed fish, picked mulberries, roasted marshmallows, and caught up on life. It did my heart good. And on the way home from her session, since I was kid free for the first time in a LONG time, I cranked the radio in my minivan, opened the sunroof, and let the wind blow through my hair. (Totally wild & crazy, right?!)

I love this life, and I love that I get to document other's lives along the way. Enjoy!

kalamazoo family photos

life update | 40 weeks pregnant

Life is a little unpredictable, yes? Today I'm sharing a bit of my heart in words and photos. I'm 40 weeks pregnant + 2 days, and it feels like I'm riding a roller coaster right now, and yet finding a glimpse of peace in God's timing as we wait for our third little boy to arrive. My first two boys each came 4 days early, so I've never known what it's like to be 'overdue' (which I realize isn't technically a thing, since babies are ready when they're ready), but it's certainly been a test of patience & has felt a bit like a mental war. On one hand, I've been able to spend extra time with my little boys - hiking, baking, origami, homeschool, and lots of farm chores, while also keeping up the house (i.e. constant nesting). On the other hand, I'm feeling a little drained from the prodromal labor I'm experiencing and the fact that I never thought I'd face my due date without my baby in my arms. 

So, I've been reading, listening to homeschool podcasts and praise music, and trying to keep my face toward Jesus instead of pitying the fact that I'm 'still pregnant' when well-meaning friends & family ask. My camera has been out more in the past week than it has in the last 3 months. When my life feels out of my control, I turn to my creative outlets and that includes journaling God's word, writing his truths in my commonplace notebook, and pouring my heart out to Him every chance I get. It helps. I won't say that I'm in a perfect head-space, but He is certainly making this journey easier.

And he is such a good, good God. I woke up the past two mornings thinking "Please Lord let this baby come today..." but my heart said otherwise - I distinctly heard the words His will, not mine. More of Him, less of me. He already knows the moment that this baby will be born, and He goes before me, and that gives me the greatest peace.

I love that the spring weather is finally here. It's lifted all of our moods and we've been able to explore the new growth and actually *see* the things we've been learning about in our nature studies. (If you're wanting a book to encourage nature study, check out Julia Rothman's 3 book collection - it's amazing!)

Our homeschool days (which right now are sporadic & extremely relaxed since Remy isn't technically even eligible for Kindergarten until this fall) have become my favorite days of the week. We read good books, sing hymns, have Bible time, and learn letter sounds. Things are simple because I've purposely kept them that way, and both of the boys have thrived in this environment. We play card games & board games for math, and because we have the hobby farm and some land, the boys are always learning something new. I honestly don't think the boys even realize they're 'doing school' most of the time... it's just a natural part of life - being curious and putting "things worth observing" in front of them (Charlotte Mason). Kyle has really embraced nature study without even realizing it, and he teaches them (and me!) the most interesting facts about our natural world. It's been amazing seeing just what a wealth of knowledge he truly is, and watching him share with our children makes me see him in a completely new light. Marriage is incredible like that. You can be married for 10 years, and still learn something new about the other person. 

This morning we made origami jumping frogs, and the boys had a blast with them. I'm thankful for these moments. I know when the baby does make his grand arrival, things will likely feel off-kilter for a while...maybe chaotic at times. As any mom of three, I hope I do a good job of giving these boys the attention and love they need as we adjust. 

Isaiah 40:31 says "...but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." I'm placing all my hope in Him and I'll keep praising Him, even if I'm feeling the weight of being 'overdue'. I'm so excited to meet this baby boy (and finally share his name!), but I also know that life happens in a blink, and all too soon, he'll be 5 years, 10 years , 20 years old... and I'll be holding back tears wondering where the time went. Thanks for letting me share my heart today. 

~Elyse

Kalamazoo Michigan Family Photographer | The Combs Family

Blogging is one of those things I rarely find time to fit in, but I knew this session needed to be shared. The Combs family is one of the sweetest you'll meet and since they knew they'd be putting their house on the market soon, they wanted to document life as they know it in their current home. These sessions are bittersweet... filled with your typical, beautiful everyday moments, but of course in the back of their mind knowing they'll soon be moving on to a new chapter. Their kiddos will continue to grow and change. But these photos will be around forever, and I hope they'll help this amazing family to look back on the memories they created there. It's all about leaving a tangible legacy (which is why I always tell my clients to PRINT their images! No grandchild of yours will know the password to your Flickr account 30 years from now...).

Combs family: wishing you all the best & I can't wait to see your new home when you move! I LOVED spending the morning with you and feel absolutely blessed to call you friends.

Enjoy.

Kalamazoo MI Family Photographer | The Austins In-Home Session

Pregnancy insomnia leaves me plenty of time to think in the middle of the night, and since I'm smack dab in the middle of editing their in-home documentary session right now, this beautiful family was in my thoughts. I always leave their sessions in the happiest mood, and I couldn't put my finger on what exactly it was until just last night (because they do so many things right and good and well) -- but it's the way they encourage closeness - between their children, between themselves as spouses, and as a whole. I overheard so many kind words about eachother while I was in their home, and I'm realizing how much these documentary sessions changes ME as a person and mother, too. I go home to my own children & feel like I have a new chance to make the best of this day - to see my children and give them all the grace they deserve while spending ample time filling up their cups. If I can do that, then I know I'm succeeding in one of the biggest goals of my life. 

Thank you Austin family for always inspiring me to love wholeheartedly. You are such beautiful examples of what it means to put eachother first.

Enjoy!

Kalamazoo MI Family Photographer | DeGroff Family In-Home Session

Meeting my clients in their most cozy, happy place -- home -- is such a joy for me. It just feels right. I get a glimpse into their ordinary, beautiful moments and then document those moments to last forever.

Seasons change quickly. Children grow in a blink of an eye. But these photos will remain. 

Enjoy. 

***PLEASE change video quality to HD in the settings area. Thank you!

Workshop for Moms: Documenting the Everyday

Black Friday is coming! And this year I have a special little something for moms....

I've had this passion burning in me for so long, and I'm so excited to share it with the world!

My hope is that this workshop for moms, Documenting the Everyday, will breath new life into the photos you take of your own children, and that months and years down the road, your children will have a splendor of images to look back on - ones that help them peek back into their past. Photos are a piece of our history, and tangible evidence of the lives we lived. 

Join me on Saturday, January 14th from 10 to 11:30 in a beautiful Downtown Kalamazoo location. To ensure you snag one of the 10 available spots AND save $25, use the coupon code BLACKFRIDAY on 11/25 from 12:01 am to 11:59 pm. 

Here's the link (and remember, the coupon code won't work until 11/25!):

Kalamazoo Michigan Family & Maternity Photographer | Baby Love + Sunshine

A great adventure is about to begin. -Pooh

This evening was filled with a golden sunset, playfulness, and loads of baby love. I'm so excited to meet their newest little one - their great new adventure - when we meet at their home for the newborn session. Anytime a family invites me in to capture them in their coziest environment makes me smile. It's such a blessing to meet and then get to know such amazing families. 

Enjoy!

Kalamazoo Michigan Family Photographer | The Loftis Family

Who knew November would hold the most beautiful weather for fall 2016? We were so blessed with gorgeous color, warm sunshine, and lots of laughs on our evening together. 

These four people are some of my favorite in the whole world. And I'm so grateful they saw the importance of documenting this season in life. With their girls in college, they know that a year from now, or two or three, could look and feel very different from today. My hope is that these photos will be a transport to the past when they pull these images out in 10, 20, or 30+ years, because we all know how fast those years go by! I love seeing families make the choice to get in front of the camera because future generations will LOVE these images.

Enjoy!

kalamazoo michigan family photographer | the weinberg family

Plenty of mama-baby love, snuggles with papa, a bit of sunshine, and crunchy apples. I'm so grateful to have met this beautiful family and cannot wait for the session they booked for next October! Thank you Weinberg family for placing your trust in me!


Enjoy.

continuing education | wildflowers workshop, indy 2016

As I sit down to finally write this post, four months post-workshop, I have so many memories drifting around in my head. Memories of the four hour drive to Indy - the furthest I've driven alone, part of it in a crazy downpour on a highway with too many lanes to count - and walking up the driveway into the cabin with a pounding heart... wondering what the three days ahead would hold.  This felt like such a huge step for me - investing a decent amount of money into furthering my education. I had dreamt of attending not just any workshop, but this workshop, for years. I had followed Joy Prouty on social media and read every magazine article she had written or been featured in. Something told me her workshop would be filled with my kind of people... 

When I walked into the cabin for the first time, several ladies greeted me, and I knew almost immediately that I was in for a treat. Joy's lovely quilts adorned the couches and chairs, and the ladies chatted like old friends. I loved that no one knew anything about eachother - we came with no expectations other than to learn from Joy, and only knew that the other ladies also enjoyed photography. There was not a single note of judgment. 

Over the course of the days there, something happened to me. My eyes opened to the idea of figuring out who I really was so that I could better serve my clients while also balancing my family life. I realized that I needed to make some changes, and scribbled probably 50 pages of notes in the cute green notebook Joy gave us at the beginning of the workshop. I still look at those pages every week or two, and it brings it all rushing back. The excitement, the passion, and the desire to work through some things in my life so that I could be the person God created me to be.

We really made the most of our time together thanks to Joy and her wonderful family. They have such servant's hearts. We shared our stories, ate delicious meals, chatted by the campfire, danced in the rain, and photographed the most beautiful families. We learned so much from eachother and I feel connected to these women in such a unique way. Their stories are now woven into my own, and we support and lift eachother up on a weekly basis. I'm so thankful for that.

It's rare that a day goes by when I don't think about our workshop. I think about Joy and her strength and vulnerability. I think about each of the women and the authentic way they shared. I think about the long drive home from our time together, and the prayers of gratitude I lifted up. A dream of mine came true, and the gifts I took away from that trip are abundantly pouring out of me into all areas of my life.

If you'd like to read more about the workshop, these beautiful ladies also blogged their experience from our workshop, and I know you'll enjoy reading their words...

Tara Strohl of Tara Strohl Photography
http://www.tarastrohlphotography.com/wildflowers-workshop-2/

Michelle Maddox of Isaac & Isabelle Homestead & Photography
http://www.isaacandisabelle.com/unveiling-my-heart/

If you're reading this and considering a workshop with Joy, I urge you to say yes. Go. Learn. Share. 

I'll also be blogging my own images from the two family shoots we took part in, so stay tuned! For now, here's a glimpse behind the scenes at our Wildflowers Workshop... enjoy!

kalamazoo michigan family photographer | the grau family

Did you know that location scouting is my other part-time job? (I'm only half-kidding...) : ) Photog friends, I know you understand the struggle! I adore this gem of a spot I found a while back, and the way the light streams through the foliage. With every client, every session, even if they've hired me for five years straight, I send a client questionnaire. And when it returns, the first thing I look at is the type of location they're wanting. I begin putting connections together and brainstorming what would be best for their children's ages, or best fits the interests they have. Some days (like today, just before I wrote this post) I'll grab a coffee, throw the kids in the car and drive around looking for new spots, pretty light, thick foliage. So when Katie's questionnaire said "We completely trust your eye for choosing the perfect location!"... it made my day. : )

I'm so, so thankful to know this sweet little family, and to see the story God is writing in and through their lives. I left this session on such a photographer's-high because I'm so blessed to do what I do ... I have this passion and I'm going to keep pursuing it, soaking up every bit that I learn along the way as I document real lives, real stories.

If you love what you see below - the light and the interaction and the documented love, let's chat. I still have a few openings throughout the winter for in-home or outdoor sessions. Think snowman building, gingerbread houses, hot cocoa by your fireplace, or even snuggling up in bed with books and board games. I customize each session to who you are as a family, and promise a relaxing, laid back hour or two that ends with a beautiful gallery for you to keep forever. 

Enjoy!

kalamazoo michigan newborn photographer | the sandoval family

Perfectly round baby cheeks, a sweet 'big brother' (aka: the cutest little pup named Frank), and loads of kisses & snuggles all over the house. I could've photographed this stunning little family all. day. long. They're so filled with love and joy after the birth of their new baby girl, and I was honored to be the one to capture some of her earliest days at home. 

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." -Psalm 139:13-14

Enjoy. 

kalamazoo michigan newborn photographer | the orr family

A beautiful farmhouse, the cutest baby boy taking his first sink bath, and plenty of cuddles from his loving mom & dad. This session took place last winter, and I can't believe I'm just now sharing it! 

Enjoy.

kalamazoo michigan family photographer | austin family in-home storytelling session

The Austin fam and I go back a little ways... their first session took place in golden autumn fields & I remember thinking after their session how great it felt to photograph a family that just enjoyed eachother & (for lack of a better term) ignored me & my camera. ;) I was starting to get the itch to move toward documentary photography. 

Their next session took place when the gorgeous baby girl shown below was born. I visited their hospital room for a Fresh48 (a documentary/lifestyle session that takes place within 48 hours of birth). I loved every second of that shoot. Despite tricky, low lighting, and an energetic toddler, I walked away from that session with pure joy in my heart. Capturing a family and the bliss they're feeling after the birth of a new child... there's just nothing like it. 

Fast forward to a couple months ago when I received a sweet email asking if I'd be interested in documenting their typical evening routine, and my heart started beating a bit faster... ;) 

I met the Austin family at their house just before dinner on a normal Tuesday night. They were all relaxed, playing in the yard while homemade pizza cooked on the outdoor fireplace. It felt just like the night when we were in the field, except this time, we were in their most sacred, comfortable environment. I photographed their every giggle, every shared smile. I captured details, like big brother's first time using the strawberry cutting tool, or dad stirring the fire while mom prepared the rest of the meal. After dinner, the family played one of their favorite games, t-ball, and I laughed until I cried (my stomach muscles were literally sore after the next day...), and then we headed inside for some more play before bedtime routine. Bathtime, giggling while putting on pajamas, a couple of great books, some more laughs, and then hugs and lights out. It felt so familiar to me... it's what I do with my own children, and that makes me appreciate it even more.

My job is to capture the mundane, ordinary, everyday moments. You know -- the ones that change suddenly, or stop happening before you even realize things are changing, and then all you have left are memories that fade over time. Knowing that I created tangible evidence of those memories is the very best part of my job... because now you'll never forget the look on your little boy's face as daddy read him his very favorite book in his tiny toddler bed, or the way your baby girl tucked her feet up close to you as you rocked her to sleep. It's documented happiness, even in the everyday, typical moments.

If you've been considering a documentary (aka Storytelling session), can I just encourage you to take the leap and do it? It's the least scary session of them all. There are no outfits to be shopped for, because you wear whatever you would normally wear. There is no location to be chosen, because I come to you, and let me tell you... the size of your house, the amount of light, and whether or not your house is *exactly* as you want it to look does.not.matter. Every person feels this way about their house, whether they live in a fixer upper or a mansion.... and my eyes? They only see the love you wear on your face as you scoop up your child up in a moment of raw emotion.  

So, contact me. I'd love to chat, no pressure. I promise you won't regret it!

Kalamazoo Michigan Family Photographer | DeGroff Family

I'm literally posting this within minutes of finalizing their edits (amazing, right? considering I rarely blog).. but how could I not?! This family -- the way they enjoy eachother and laugh and play... it's beautiful. Rocks were thrown in the river, boo boos were kissed, necks were hugged, and crickets were caught. The sun warmed us and the wind died down just as the session began. Everything aligned for the perfect session, and I was *so* glad after they endured a gloomy session last September! (Can I tell you something that I think about every.single.day.? I LOVE my repeat clients. You all have the most special place in my heart.) DeGroff fam, I'll be sending your gallery over soon - filled with so many more incredible moments, but until then, enjoy this sneak peek! xo

kalamazoo michigan family photography | rypma family

"Joy comes to us in ordinary moments. We risk missing out when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary." -Brene Brown

There's so much truth to what Brene said -- these ordinary nights you spend with your family, the walks you take in the sunshine, the laughs and tantrums and snuggling and talking -- these moments are where joy is found.

Sarah, there are no words to express how much I love you and your family. The chats we've had over coffee, the weddings we've photographed together, and the many, many times you've given me amazing business & life advice... I just appreciate you more than you'll ever possibly know. You're an absolute gem. <3

Enjoy!