Just Finish It

February 16th, 2024

I can’t believe a couple of weeks have already passed since my husband and I were at Imaging USA, PPA’s national convention.

This year will always be a memorable one for me and I am humbled and honored to have experienced recognition with international photo competition and with my image titled “I Don’t Know” with ASP.

My competition images this year started when I worked on them in January 2023 for Professional Photographers of Iowa. I listened/watched competition take place while I was driving to PPI winter convention in Des Moines. (I highly do not recommend doing that, by the way.) As I watched my scores, one of my images out of four did okay. But I watched as the judges brought down the scores on a couple of my images and one wasn’t near the score I was hoping for.

By the time I arrived at convention, I was hot. I had it. I said out loud, “I am DONE!” Competition was just too hard. I worked the hardest I ever had on those images. If I told you all the details that are discussed during judging, it would very much surprise the average person. Each image you put your heart and soul into is pulled apart and it’s hard when each image is so intensely personal.

After I had a few hours to cool off, I sought advice from a few PPI members whom I very much respect and have been through many years of judging. “Okay, what can I do to make these better?” I took notes on the advice that I received. Critique such as this is critical for becoming better and this is when learning takes place.

Competition was hard last year. It usually is. I did get in the top 10 in Iowa in the masters category, but I didn’t do as well as I wanted to do.

I took my notes home and I intended to work on my images some more. I was taking care of Riley and frankly I was sad knowing my time with her was limited. I sat the notes on my desk and did nothing with them.

Later in the fall, there was murmurings on the PPI Facebook about international print competition. Who was entering? How was it going? The deadline was rapidly approaching.

Then I heard advice that I am guessing was from growing up in my head. “You started this, just finish it.” Those PPI images weren’t really done in my opinion until I did everything I thought I could do with them and then just be done and head on to new images next year.

So I pulled out my notes and started working away. I submitted those images barely before the final due date. I paid a lot of money to enter competition. I told no one that I entered, not PPI members, not my husband. But I thought, okay, I finished it!

But then I really hadn’t quite finished, yet. There is something else that you can enter called merit image review, to earn merits and get critiques on images. I entered the same four images in merit image review. I paid more money. NOW, I was completely finished. I was done.

I expected absolutely nothing.

When I found out that I had 2 images that were in the finals in international print competition, I was incredibly surprised. I surround myself with people in PPA and PPI that are so amazingly talented! I feel like I pale in comparison to so many. Not that you are really comparing yourself, but I just see so much talent around me! I guess it inspires me to be better, to work harder. I find that the more I learn, the more I need to learn.

One of my images from merit image review received an image excellence award making it eligible for an award with American Society of Photographers. I sent it on. Again, I expected nothing.

When I received the call from one of the photographers I had admired for a long time with ASP telling me I had won the north central district award, I said, “Excuse me?” I was beyond surprised.

Imaging this year placed me in places where I was surrounded by the best of the best photographers in this nation. I never would have ever guessed when I started my business 19 years ago that I would have this privilege.

I also know that my winning image was yes, based on skills, but it is also subjective. It had everything to do with how that particular image struck that particular set of judges on that particular day. I happened to be blessed that day. It was completely random that it happened this time, it may never happen again. So I am glad and grateful that Al and I were able to experience it together.

How easy would it have been just to let my notes and my images just go, just leave them alone this fall? My luck this year came from an internal voice.

Just finish it!


February 2nd, 2024

I was about to blog about my experience at Imaging USA when I realized it had been nearly a year and a half since I last blogged. So before I talk about this past weekend, I felt I needed to explain my absence. Our sweet dog, Riley, passed away on September 25, 2023. Most of my time these last 2 years was spent taking care of a diabetic dog. I would not have had it any other way. She was in every way a family member. She had more good days than bad over the last couple of years, however, ever since the diabetes diagnosis, I tried to prepare myself for her loss. And truly, I felt like a little part of me was dying every day as I tried to mentally prepare for the day she would no longer be here with us. There were days where we witnessed puppy-like behavior and I would be on cloud nine followed by days that were not good. With her blood sugar issues, we would sometimes finding her shaking after taking her outside to go potty, even if it was a warm day. She had weekly laser treatments for a bulging disc on her back and we had a few serious bouts of pancreatitis. We did not feel like we could leave her for long periods of time. This limited our ability to go on trips – she was terribly traumatized by kenneling and with diabetes we could not leave her with friends to ask them to administer her insulin. The last months of her life, I was so torn by loving her so much and also desiring to go to some things and also feeling guilty for wanting to leave at times.

Riley had a full life, a life where she was completely loved. We had people say to us through the years, “I want that dog’s life!” She had a life where we held on to her until her very last breaths. She experienced a full 15 years with us. At times, I almost wish I had another dog. And at other times, I think I was 15 years younger when we got her. I’m not sure I have it in me again, especially with a puppy…. I never say never…. I also don’t really want to experience this kind of pain again, but a little tiny part of me feels dead right now.

At this time, my husband and I are enjoying being able to do a few things. Going to convention this past weekend was the first time we had flown since the shutdown. It was nice to be able to spend time together and experience different restaurants and attend Imaging together. I am so thankful that my biggest supporter and best friend was at my side! We would not have been able to travel like this a few months ago.

Life goes on….

By the way, Riley visited Al and I a couple of weeks ago, so I know that she is okay. We were both standing at the island in our kitchen when the front door bells shook vigorously and made a noise. We left the bells hanging after she passed, she rang them when she needed to go outside to go potty. Al and I both looked at each other incredulously. We walked over and looked at the bells… We knew with the loud ringing, she had come to get our attention and say Hi.

Riley was an amazing chapter in the life of our family. We were so blessed to get one more family picture just a few weeks before she passed. God bless her little spirit! We can’t wait to see her again someday!


June 19th, 2022

We thought we were going to lose our sweet Riley 3 weeks ago. She was seemingly fine on a Monday morning and that same afternoon, her back legs stopped working.

Treatment of a bulging disk involved a steroid shot which set her diabetes out of control and put her into pancreatitis and diabetic keto acidosis.

Riley was really, really sick. And our family was devastated at the possibility of losing her.

She is the youngest member of our family and yet for a dog, she’s getting old – she will be 14 a month from tomorrow.

How do you prepare for losing one of your “children?” I still don’t quite know how we will deal with such a loss, but fortunately it wasn’t this time around. Our local animal clinic has taken excellent care of her and she is acting normal again. And yet I know we will face this day, eventually.

I grew up on a farm. Our pets were outside. People were inside. And unfortunately, on a farm, pets could be almost disposable – subject to being run over by cars passing by, getting into rat poison, or being accidentally hit by vehicles in the yard. My relationship with Riley, my first indoor pet, is something totally different and unique from what I was accustomed to while growing up. She is in every way a family member. The loss of her someday will be incredibly difficult for us.

Today, we celebrate every additional day we have been given with her.

Our children wanted to take this opportunity to have new formal pictures taken with their “sibling.” None of us knows how long anyone (or any pet) has time left on this earth. Illness tends to make all of us take stock of what is the most important things in our lives – our relationships.

Cherish every moment with your loved ones. Give thanks for all of their days. And preserve their memory with images.


May 19th, 2022

This past weekend was filled with special moments! We are in a time when most of us, including me, pull out our cell phones for quick snapshots.

But this was an occasion when I pulled out my (gasp!) actual camera to capture wonderful memories!

I, of course, use my professional camera for my work. It’s my biggest and bestest 🙂 camera and it stays primarily in the studio. I took a slightly scaled down version this past weekend.

I used to pull out my camera all the time when my kids were little. Why did I stop? Perhaps it was because as they got bigger, they said, “No, Mom. No pictures.” I honestly can’t remember…. If I pulled out my camera on them randomly now, I would definitely get protests. I took TONS of pictures of my kids when they were in their high school sports…. It was fun to pull it out again this weekend. Although, I have to admit, I took a number of pictures on my cell phone also – convenient & less “in your face” than a camera.

Something else disappeared when we switched, especially from film cameras, to digital cameras and eventually cell phones – printing our pictures. And I am embarrassed that I have been guilty of this as well. The exception has been our formal portraits.

I started something several years ago, to capture and store images in a different way. I have files on my computer that I store my children’s images – pictures meaningful to them. I know that they are meaningful because they have shared them on their social media pages. After every year, or sometimes semester, depending on how many images there are, I create books for them. So at least these memories have been stored in one way or another. I also burn disks of the pictures and store them, in case we find need to print more of them later.

Is it a perfect system? I don’t think such perfection exists. But I can tell you that my children really enjoy them! And you can get a LOT of pictures printed in a rather thin book, also saving on space.

I would love to hear about your ways of preserving your snapshots! 🙂


April 12th, 2022

I have been thinking for quite a while on making this announcement. It has been a hard decision, but sometimes you are shown which way to go. I believe that this is one of those moments.

I will no longer be photographing high school senior sessions as I have been at Portraits by Michelle. Those who have family members yet to graduate and I have photographed their older siblings or families will be grandfathered into having the option of still having their senior sessions photographed here.

As you know, I have been working diligently at creating my Fine Art Painterly Portraits these last couple of years. This art has wildly taken off and I am so excited and blessed to create these magnificent images that honestly take my own breath away!

I have struggled with back issues since I was in junior high. And as you might imagine, they have only gotten worse over the years. The cause? Honestly I think it’s just genetics. Both my dad and mom have had significant back problems.

If you have witnessed me shooting a senior session, you are aware of just how much energy I have put into creating such images. I am steaming backgrounds in advance, there is multiple clothing changes and every time an outfit is changed, so is the background. I’m up on a ladder, I’m down on the floor. I have multiple lighting set-ups to move about. On location is another story – we have many different locations, assembling, disassembling, and moving/carrying of lightboxes. We will walk literal miles to get to various locations. These sessions have taken anywhere from 4-6 hours.

My back issues have finally caught up with me. I have an appointment coming up with a neurosurgeon as I now have constant pains that go into my legs. I am not sure what his recommendation will be. But considering that I also found out I have a tear in my hip labrum, I feel some decisions are being made for me.

Does this mean I will no longer shoot seniors? Far from! I can still create amazing sports images for you with edgy lighting patterns that are so cool! I can still create fabulous montages for you that I shoot in the my studio. I am still available to create that one beautiful wall portrait that you really wanted to commemorate this special time, including gorgeous painterly portraits! I just can’t do all of this at the same time in the same session anymore. It’s too hard on my body.

Life evolves. Please do not feel badly for me. Everyone has something and I will be fine! I just need to make some modifications!

As always I strive, as with everything I do, to create the most amazing images for you!

Our Fine Art Studio Montage
Fine Art Painterly Portrait
Sports Image

My Calling

February 14th, 2022

My love of photography came from an early age. When I was young I loved to sit and look through family photo albums, over and over. When I went to school, I carefully saved each person’s school picture in my own photo album. Photographs amazed me, each was a little piece of history frozen in time on a piece of paper! They were magical! I received my first camera as a Christmas gift when I was in 6th grade, a long, skinny Kodak Ektra film camera. I can still vividly remember the first time I opened the royal blue and yellow box with my newly prized possession.

In the past, when asked about my photography career, I have referred to my first memories of taking pictures as a child and how that love turned into a hobby. When my daughter was in kindergarten, I took two beginning photography classes in Fort Dodge at the community college – beginning photography followed by beginning photoshop. My memberships with Professional Photographers of America and Professional Photographers of Iowa and the education opportunities in these associations led me to where I am today.

But there is more to the story. Today, on a day of love, I wanted to share my transition from hobby to career. I have been reluctant in the past to share because this is such a personal story. But after discussing my story with her niece and her sister, I am ready to share…

I came to know Lisa when we first moved to Algona in 1996. At that time, I sold Longaberger baskets and pottery and she had been to a couple of my shows. I knew Lisa, but not well, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt a bond with her, however, as I was a cancer survivor myself. When we came to town, I had just been diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma when I delivered our 35-week old son. I had gone through 7 months of chemotherapy. I knew a little bit about the pain she was going through with her own treatment and having two little girls.

So, every now and then, I would stop by her house with a little gift, something I enjoyed when I was going through treatment – a soft, new nightshirt, some lotions…

When Lisa was done with her treatments, all looked well! She was as beautiful as ever and moved forward with her life, caring for her children and her family.

Then one day, I heard the news. Lisa’s cancer had returned. I was so sad for her and her family.

I was getting ready in my bathroom one morning and trying to think of some way I could do something for her when I literally heard a voice say to me, “Maybe you could take some pictures for her.”

When my children were young, I loved photographing them with my 35 mm film camera. I captured many wonderful moments! I never had any kind of class, but I knew that I could take a good snapshot.

I didn’t know what to do with the words that I heard. I would happily take pictures for her, but would it be weird? Did I know her well enough to ask?

I asked a mutual friend, Dede, who was Lisa’s neighbor across the street. Dede thought pictures was a great idea and when she presented the idea to Lisa, Lisa was also thrilled!

So Lisa and her family got dressed up one day and I came over with my camera with little knowledge about photography, but a genuine to desire to do my very best at creating some images that she would love. We took pictures of her family, of her girls, of her, of her with her girls, and I remember taking a picture of her with her God-daughter, Chloe, who at that time we never would have dreamed would now be working for my husband. Our families have become intertwined in unexpected ways since then.

I had the film developed with double prints and gifted them along with the negatives to Lisa. Both Lisa and I found so much joy in this experience together. And I treasure the wonderful day we took pictures in my heart.

Then Lisa became more ill. My heart broke when she passed away. I went to the funeral visitation by myself. When I entered the church, with each picture board that I passed, I saw another image we captured on that fun day together. And with each image, I cried a little harder than the one I saw before. When I got to the front of the church, I saw a larger picture from that day, where she looked off to the side and each of her little girls was kissing her cheek. I went to my car and I sobbed as hard as I have ever sobbed. I am still breathless when I think about that moment.

When her sister, Linda, went to look for a picture to put on Lisa’s stone, she knew what image they wanted to use, but how on earth could she find it amongst so many pictures? She opened a box, and the picture she wanted, this picture, with the negative was right on top.

The truth is, I believe Lisa and our experience together led me to photography. I give credit to her for my career decision now. Because with her, I saw that taking pictures could make a difference in people’s lives. I already had a bit of an artistic ability. I just needed to learn more and with these passing years, I have learned.

My photography is more than a job for me. It was a calling from God. And with each session I pray to do my very best and make a difference in the lives of others.

Thank you, Lisa! I can’t wait until we can talk about this more some day!


December 2nd, 2021

It’s December 1st. Is it too late to express my thanks?

I am no different that anyone else. We have all experienced stress, anxiety and trauma in the last couple of years. Recent occurrences have brought me back to a habit I had forgotten to implement in quite a while – embracing my gratitude.

I had this beautiful journal that I purchased several months ago and was just sitting on my desk. It was begging to be used.

I have found that journaling the things that I am thankful for each morning sets an intention for my day. I am grateful for hope in the future. I am thankful for my family, my husband and my children. I rejoice when I hear the jingle of our dog, Riley’s, collar or hear her crunching her food. I am thankful for my body that can move and also for my health. Many things that I am thankful for may be unexpected – beautiful shapes, colors, and textures, the smell of seasonal candles, the feeling of warmth in my home when I get up in the morning, the artistic gifts that God has provided for me….

When I consciously thank God for all of these things and so much more, I am reminded over and over of my blessings throughout the day as I live my life.

Sometimes I forget in the morning, I figure better late than never and take a few moments to journal. But if I make the effort in the morning, I find my day just goes much better for some reason.

I also give thanks for all of you who are reading this. I am thankful that you are somehow involved in my little artistic world!

Thank you! Have a wonderful holiday season!

Our Family Picture

November 20th, 2021

It’s been a few years…. Time for a new family picture. Truly, if you want to see me at my most stressed, it’s taking my own family picture. And I am not sure why… Is it because the perfectionist in me wants a great image? Is it because of pressure, because I realize that it is representational of my profession? Have I just held onto the stress of when I took pictures when our kids were young? Those times also involved dressing them, curling hair, and parenting while trying to capture an amazing memory of our life at that time. But these images truly display a real family.  You will see the beautiful, final images soon!  But this is what our lives, everyone’s lives are all about!

My New Specialty

August 16th, 2021

Today in my Facebook memories, I came across this picture that I shared a year ago. This was when I was in the middle of perfecting a new fine art style and I decided to practice on myself.

It all started in January of 2020. I happened to be on Instagram and came across some images captured by another artist from the United Kingdom. I was completely captivated by her work! Was I looking at a photograph or a painting?….

Upon further investigation, I discovered that she was coming to the United States to conduct upcoming workshops. Almost all of her workshops were very far away, in other countries, and they were all sold out. There was 3 openings left in San Antonio for her class taking place in March 2020. After a discussion with my husband, I signed up for this workshop. The following morning after completing my registration, the San Antonio workshop was also sold out! I felt I was divinely led to sign up for this class!

So, March 3rd I took off to learn! I was in San Antonio just long enough to be there for my one-day class. When I came back, we experienced the shut-down. This time has enabled me to work on skills needed for my new portraiture specialty – Fine Art Painterly Portraits!

I am officially now sharing my new-found love with all of you! It took my 15 years of experience to be ready to master this kind of portraiture.

These portraits take me hours of time. This is a style that is found more in Europe that in the United States. Each one is truly a one-of-a-kind commissioned work of art! I am printing these on an amazing, thick-textured canvas that truly gives each portrait a vintage, timeless feel and resembles fine art paintings!

My studio is nearly complete redecorating featuring these new portraits as well as new decor! I am thrilled to be sharing these images with all of you and creating true art, meant to be handed down, for you and your family!


August 12th, 2021

It’s been a year… for all of us.

This time has given me a chance to reflect on all of the things that mean the most to me. And these things are more precious than anything else the world can throw my way.

My husband. He and I were meant to experience this amazing adventure together! He loves me like no other could and I love him with all of my heart! Our adventures together continue and I know God has put us on the perfect plan!

My children. How on earth I was ever so blessed with these souls in my life, I will never know! I am not worthy, but am so very grateful! They have blessed me with laughter and pride and love beyond measure!

My dog. Riley is absolutely our 3rd child! We were actually supposed to get another dog from the breeder. It didn’t work out and he offered us this dog. God meant for her to be in our lives! She has provided comfort and laughter! She communicates with us so well!

My family. My parents and siblings and all of my relatives that surrounded me as I was growing up created me to be the person I am today. I love them all very much and I am thankful!

My relationship with my dad. It continues to this day. He passed away 5 years ago. He has sent me very distinct signs to reassure me that he is around and is well! Lately, a cardinal has flown by my window frequently throughout the day, no matter where I am located in our home. Last winter, I asked him a question, and if the answer was “yes,” I asked for the sign of a coin that I would notice in the middle of something – a carpet, a rug, anything… A few months later, I was in my car and glanced down. I got my answer.

Lamplight. Is that silly? I love illuminating photos and things that I love in my home with lamplight. And as I turn on my lamps each morning, I feel happiness and warmth and thankful for all of the things they illuminate – pictures of my family, vacation mementos, my home… And each night as I turn off my lamps, I once again thank God for my blessings!

Family traditions. One simple memory is every time I see a shiny penny, I think of my Grandpa Christensen and his love for collecting coins. Every Christmas, he would give each of us a shiny, new penny. When I walk into Dollar General, there is a smell that reminds me of shopping with my Grandma. When I bake, which is rare, I remember Mom always handing us a beater to lick.

All of these things and more are the very most important things to me! My photography adds joy to my life, but when I count my blessings, I actually think of all of these things first!

My greatest blessing and privilege in my life is my relationship with God and my Lord, Jesus Christ! His love for me is my reason for my everything, all of my blessings! I am blessed beyond measure that he chose me as His child! The journey He provided for us continues!

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