Things Change and Change Always Happens

Things Change and Change Always Happens

So I went on a rant about “pro” horse show photographers poaching horse shows. (if you missed it go here)  Now while I am not going to rant (okay maybe a little bit) I am going to point out some things about the MWAC’s (Moms With A Camera) and others at horse shows and well everywhere. Perhaps MWAC is not the best term as that has an awful lot of negative connotations around it. (Thanks to MCP Actions’ Guest Blogger for pointing that out.)

Things change and change always happens.  Technology has made digital cameras more readily available with their prices coming down and technology going up.  It is the way of the world, and yet many photographers are trying to fight this change.  I have news for you guys – you can’t.   Whenever you have technology come down in price, then the amount of that item out in the general public goes up.  Remember the time before cell phones??? (yeah I am old – get over it…) The only ones who had them where the elite business people.  Prices started coming down and then we saw lots of adults who had cell phones, prices came down some more and now they are every where.  Even grade school kids have them!  So what makes camera equipment any different? News flash….it’s not.

So now we have a whole lot of people running around with the entry level DSLR to the pro level cameras.  And all of a sudden everyone wants to be a professional photographer….”I have always wanted to be a photographer”, “Now that cameras are cheap I can become a pro” and the list goes on. Really I am not against this!!   What I am against are those that do not have enough respect for those that are professionals and trying to make a living with their photography. On the flip side, I am also against those pros that bash on the newcomers.  Now before you start throwing things at your computer screen or screaming at me about this, hear me out.

All of us, not just a select few, but ALL of us had to start somewhere.  Each of us had to learn how to use our cameras, how to sell ourselves and our work, even how to price said work.  Each of us has done some kind of photo work for free (or dang close to it – so go ahead and admit it) to get photos in our portfolios or just to learn.  There is a time, a place and a way to do this.  Am I an expert at how those things need to get done? Heck no, but I do know there needs to be some respect from the up and comers towards the pros and from the old pros to the up and comers.

Instead of tearing down the new photographers, lets give them some advice and guidance.  Point them to a local meet-up  group, offer mentoring sessions, or workshops don’t just start telling them how awful they are.  Will some of these new photographers turn you down? Of course!  There are always those out there that feel they know everything. Not everyone is open to learning new things.  And there really is plenty of photography work to go around. If you are a professional, you better be on the cutting edge of your field (horse show, portrait, weddings, pet, etc.) both artistically and mechanically. That is what sets you apart form the up and coming photographers.  Now, I did not say drop your prices, if your work is good and you have great customer service skills you should be ok. I also did not say that poaching horse show is ok – it is NOT.

New photographers, most of you could stand to take someone up on mentoring, or perhaps take some business courses at the local community college…..what?? Business classes??  YES!!!  (or the SBA) If you are going to do portraits, horse shows or whatever kind of photography and plan on making any money at it, then you need to remember that it is a business!  If you want your photography to be a hobby, then pay attention to what else is coming in this post…you may learn a thing or two.

Many new “pro” photographers think that the photography world is just point your camera and take pictures, everyone will love them and buy them. Guess again, while you may post your pictures on Facebook and get 30 people to like the photo, and your mom telling you how great it is, it may not really be that good.  Our Moms love us, remember those finger paintings you did in grade school that she showed to all her friends…..yeah, she still does that, only now she uses your photos. Now, I am not saying you don’t take great shots, perhaps you do, but our friends on Facebook and elsewhere may see our work though rose colored glasses. And yeah it stings when someone critiques your work, but you will learn from it and grow from it, so be open to it.  Heck be brave and ask for honest criticism, you may not like what everyone says, but someone may give you some great insight on how to make your shots better.

And remember those business classes I said you should look into?  Trust me most of a photographer’s work is not and I repeat is not taking pictures. It is running your business.  There are invoices to be done, websites to maintain, gear to be cleaned and taken care of, there is bookkeeping, oh and the editing, ordering and delivering of your wonderful photos.  How many new photographers out there are running around shooting kids, or weddings or horse shows with out insurance or a business license???

Business licenses are required! You need to collect sales tax according to your local municipality, none of us like it, so suck it up and do it. You want to be a “professional” remember?

As for insurance, it may not be required – but it should be. Again you want to be a “professional” right? (here is where you hobbyists may want to pay attention) Let’s say you are going to shoot some children’s portraits for a friend.  The park sounds like a fun place, there could be some cute shots on that little rock waterfall or the jungle gym.  You have made all the time and date arrangements. So off you go to meet mom and child at the local park. Oh, look the little water fall would be soooo cute… you prop said child up on the little rock waterfall, and they slip and crack their head open.  Now we have blood everywhere, a screaming child that needs stitches and a mother in a panic.  Oh no worries, it was just an accident, or so you think.  Next day you are slapped with a lawsuit for the medical costs. Wait you don’t have insurance?  Hope you have a large bank account, because this is not going to go away cheaply.  I hope I have made my point. If you can get sued for something, eventually you will.

How about pricing?  You think you are not good enough to charge for your photography?  Well then you are not good enough to be a professional yet. Here is where mentoring and business classes will pay off.  Knowing your COGS is paramount to running a successful business.  If you want to price like Wal-Mart then you have created an image like them – cheap. This I think is what worries many of the older professional photographers. The new photographers that will do a session for $50 and give the customer all the images on a cd. Guess what pros, if this scares you, then you are going after the wrong customers. Think about it, do you want a customer who is so price driven that they do not care about quality or customer service?  No, this goes back to you better be an amazing photographer, who because of their artistic abilities and knowledge of how to make great pictures can command a customer that is willing to pay for it.

Horse shows – my favorite and least favorite place to see newbies that want to be pro. There are ways to go about shooting at a horse show, just showing up and shooting is not one of them.  If there is an official show photographer, they are usually contracted in some way shape or form.  And depending on the location of the show are required to carry a minimum of a 1 million dollar liability policy.  The hours of a horse show tend to be horrific (and many times the weather as well), they stand in the arena all day and many times into the night to make sure everyone has pictures of them.  Lunch? Bathroom Breaks?  Don’t be silly, the horse show has to keep moving along. Now along comes the new photographer who wants to shoot horse shows, they stand ringside (many over the officials shoulder – yep have had it happen, a lot) and happily shoot away. Many listen to the pros camera to see when to actually take the picture. (yep had that happen too…) Next thing you know they are handing out business cards to everyone or emailing them and giving the pictures away.   I will cover all of this more in another post – just wanted to give you guys a little bit of insight…(so stay tuned!)

Bottom line, there are going to be more and more new photographers coming into the photography world. The price of technology has allowed this to happen.  It is not a bad thing, it may be scary if you are not sure about your work. But if those things scare you, then you have bigger things in your own business that you need resolve. It is a small world, we all need to play nice and really why not continue to change and move forward by helping and respecting each other.

I Lost A Piece Of Me

This post is dedicated to anyone who has lost a pet

Thank you Cindy for allowing me to share this with you and for showing my heart what was in me

WeaselSRS_5026I Lost a Piece of Me

When you lose a pet you lose a part of you. Every time we give away our heart to a pet, when they leave this world, they take a piece of it with them.

That piece that we gave willing and freely. It will remain with them forever and yet a piece of them remains with you as well.

A piece that is yours and only yours. It holds a special place within you, a place of love and peace, and that piece in turn holds all those fond memories that you have of them.

Memories that you will call upon and cherish for the rest of your life.

And when you are ready, another animal will come along and you shall accept it as you have the ones that have gone before, and it too will own a piece of your heart, and you theirs.

Yet while we are so busy loving and grieving when one leaves us behind, we do not realize what is happening to our heart.

Yes it is in a million pieces but when our heart slowly comes back together and it is done with all the original pieces yet one more.

That one piece that makes our heart just a bit bigger allowing for you to give freely again without losing the ones that are held by others.

And the cycle shall continue and our hearts shall grow and continue to love even though so many pieces belong to so many others.


-Suzanne Sylvester


Comfort and Peace

Comfort and Peace

I learned some thing about myself this last week.  Photography has always been a passion for me (bordering on obsession….lol). Yet last week I became aware that it was something more, way more.  It is a place I can go and find comfort and peace.

The week started as any other, home from a horse show and processing photos – LOTS of photos.  Then Tuesday night the call came that my Grandmother was in the hospital and not expected to make it through the night. She was 87 with Alzheimer’s that was taking over more and more everyday. By Wednesday evening I was in Denver and with my family at her side she was hanging in there, but unresponsive. We sat with her Wednesday, and well into the evening Thursday, before heading home to get some rest.  She found her peace early Friday morning (only a few hours after we had left her), and made her own journey home, I could not ask for more for her. Although my heart was breaking for my Grandfather who had been married to her for 70 years. Wow 70 years, unbelievable, here is a man who took his vows to heart.  He promised to take care of her for the rest of their lives, and well he did. He may have needed help at times, but he truly took that vow to the end.

It is said very often that dying is harder on the ones left behind than the person who dies. After having gone through this, I now have a better understanding of this. I miss her dearly, but I also know her body is now healed and she can keep a watchful eye on her family.  She always did have eyes in the back of her head, and now , well she really does see everything. So I guess I best behave….

The rest of the afternoon we spent as a family together, eating, laughing telling stories of all of our adventures with Grandma.  You know I learned a lot about her that day to.  Stories that I had never heard before. It was actually very enjoyable despite the circumstances.

I had brought my camera with me to Denver (I really do take it everywhere…lol) and I am so glad that I did. My Aunt  has beautiful flowers blooming in her garden right now, and lots of birds sitting on nests, and just a photographers heaven.  Off I went in search of the perfect photo, here I was wandering around the yard in awe of all the beauty, (thanks to my Uncle  for pointing out all the nests…). Then it all came rushing in to my thoughts, that all was ok, I was at peace knowing grandma was in a better place. I felt ok with my camera in hand, and photographing the things that my Grandmother loved so much.  Birds and flowers were passions for my grandmother, every spring/summer she would spend hours and hours with her gardens, and she always made them welcoming for the birds.  (Ok so they weren’t very welcome in the strawberries.) She also had an amazing collection of porcelain birds, I can remember giving them to her for birthdays and christmas and the were all displayed proudly throughout the house.  She could tell you what species they all were while you were watching the live ones from the kitchen window or the patio or the porcelain ones perched throughout the house.  Flowers for her were no different, she knew them all and how to make them grow perfectly, her gardens were always the envy of others.

So now when I photograph birds and flowers it is with a different perspective.  I want to show Grandma that I now see more of what she saw, and I like to belive that perhaps she is helping me find the shots to take of her favorite things. My photography took a turn last week, and I have my Grandmother to thank for that. So Grandma the images on this page are for you…..

Zorro Finds His Place In The World

Zorro Finds His Place In The World

  Jerry and Zorro Zorro06 Zorro01

I am having a ton of fun photographing free pet sessions with pets that have been adopted into new families!!!  Being allowed to come into a family’s home and share with them the joy of a new family member is an amazing experience.  The new pet knows how lucky they are and their new family is overjoyed.  So really it may be somewhat selfish of me to relish being a part of this personal time with these families.

It gets so depressing seeing all the animals waiting to find their “furever” homes.  The pounds are overflowing, and most rescues have stopped taking in animals, since they have no more fosters available to take them in.   The pound is a horrible horrible place, it is depressing, and sad.  Even the animals are depressed and sad. I personally can not go there as it is just too much to take emotionally.  Bless the people who work at the pound.  They are doing a job that really no one wants, and no one wants to see done.

So to go and photograph a pet in its new permanent loving home, well it is the bright side of what these rescue organizations and even the pound do. It is truly amazing to see these animals blossom in their new homes. They really are grateful for what they have been given,  you can see it in their eyes if you truly take the time to look.

I recently went and shot not 1 or 2 dogs, but 5 for Terri and Jerry Watson.  Three who were permanent members of this family, and two fosters. One of the fosters named Zorro, caused me to  leave with tears in my eyes that day.  This little dog (a senior chihuahua) would come and just sit next to me while I was taking pictures of his “temporary” family. He asked for nothing, no nosing for pets, no licking trying to get my attention. He just sat there as if to say “you know I am here and I am safe, and that is enough for me.”  At one point his foster “dad” picked him up and just loved him with so much emotion that deep down, I knew even though I was told he was a foster, that he had truly found his place in the world. A place with a warm bed, toys to play with, siblings to hang out with and a family that loves him more than anything else.   This my friends is why rescues do what the do, and why I LOVE what I do.  I was fortunate to get the picture of Jerry showing love to this foster dog, and it has truly become one of my favorite photos that I have ever taken.  (and to be clear I have taken tens of thousands of pictures).  I do not know if Jerry knew I was shooting him when he was doing this or not, but I am so grateful to him and his wife for showing their fosters as much love as they do their own dogs. If I ever come back as a foster dog, I want a family as kind and loving as they are. So thank you Terri and Jerry for allowing me to come into your home and share your “children” with me, I will be eternally grateful.

If you have adopted a new family member and would like more information on a free photo session with your new pet, please feel free to contact me, I would be honored for being allowed to share in this special event with your family.




Ok then,

It is now May 2nd and I have not blogged anything since December!!  What the heck? Who sped the clock up?  I was supposed to be doing my self-imposed schooling, starting in January and here it is May already…..  Now in my defense (here come the excuses!) I have been learning many of the things on my syllabus, maybe not in the order I was supposed to but, hey learning is learning ! Thank goodness I do not have any teachers to report to, I can just imagine the excuses I would need to come up with for not turning my homework in on time.  So here it is May, when my schedule usually starts to lighten up. But not this year! (this is a good thing I think). Two of the things I really wanted to concentrate on this year were A) learning more, and B) really pushing my business further.  Careful what you wish for, ’cause it may just happen.

I have met some truly wonderful people in tha last few months and have reconnected with many more.  Life really is a good time when you let it.  I have joined a couple of Meet Up groups. These are groups of people with the same interests that you can get together with and learn/share your passions. One that I joined is AZ Shutterbugs West where KC Costa and Norman Beer have pushed me to do more and to share my knowledge with the rest of the group. Everyone in the group is great fun, and we always are learing new things from each other. (see I really am learning). And I have to say working with models like Wendy West, Claire Hinder, Jessica Vargas and AJ Martinez make learning that much more entertaining! Thanks you to each of your for your help!! I will be posting photos of our MAD Cap Theater shoot soon, so stay tuned.  For now you all will have to settle for Chalupa…….

So back to the learning part – what I have been playing with (sounds more appealing than learning, don’t you think?) . Studio lighting (again MAD Cap photos to follow) and studio lighting for commercial photography.

     As well as lighting entire horse show arenas.  Which by the way requires LOTS of lights…

Well, I am off to learn more and shoot more!!

Hug Your Family and Friends

Hug Your Family and Friends


It has been a difficult week to say the least.  When I saw the breaking news about the mass shooting in Seal Beach CA, it most certainly caught my attention since I lived there at one time.  Little did I know that I would be directly touched by this awful awful event.  On Wednesday, the day after the shooting I found out that a very dear family friend had been one of the victims.  My Mom was the one that called and told me.  I was stunned, I had no idea what to say to my Mom to make her fell any better, and I had even less clue what I was going to say to Dave’s family.  While we are not related, I consider each of them as close of family as my own family, and all I could do at the moment was to make that dreaded phone call.  It actually went better than I thought it would. Since this happened, I have tried to imagine what his family is going through, I find it impossible and then break down because I can not fix it for them. I have thought about how busy they are now with friends and family and police and, and, and…….. but then what? What can I do to help after all the immediate drama has gone and they are left in their own quiet space.  All I can do is offer myself and be there when I am needed. That next step that will come I see as a black hole, and I pray that they do not get lost there, and that they will soon see the bright sunshine and move forward – never forgetting, but really celebrating that Dave belonged to them, and they to him. What a truly lucky family they have been.

Dave was an amazing guy.  He would help anyone, and was always there when you needed him.  His family was his greatest asset and he knew it. They have a long road of recovery in front of them, but I know Dave will be watching over them, and protecting them.  The world could use a whole lot more like Dave Caouette.

His memorial service was on Monday at Patty’s Place next to the salon where the first seven victims were assassinated. Dave was shot in his car in the parking lot, three rows away from the salon. An avid Land Rover Offroader, Dave made many friends while exploring the state with the Land Rover group Wheels Events that he was a part of.  This group was amazing on the night of the memorial, they filled the parking lot with Land Rovers. It was a beautiful site, and a real tribute to Dave. Black tape across each one’s left headlight was their tribute, very simple, yet very meaningful. I would like to thank them all for all the good times they shared with Dave, and for attending the event on Monday – you guys and gals are awesome!!!

I could go on and on, but I will save you the boredom of my mediocre writing skills and share with you photos from the Memorials outside the Salon Meritage, Dave’s parking spot and some shots of the Land Rovers in attendance.

Please consider making a donation in lieu of flowers to help Dave’s wife, children and grandchildren, I know they would appreciate it.

Dave Caouette Memorial Fund
C/O Long Beach Police Officers Association
2865 Temple Ave.
Signal Hill, Ca. 90755-2212

The Dave Couette Memorial Fund is authorized by the Caouette family and 100% of all proceeds go directly to them.

Please always remember to kiss your family, friends or loved ones when they leave you and never let them forget how much they mean to you.  The old cliché is so very very true, you never know what will happen until you see them again……

I love you Dave!  and the entire Caoutte family.

Anyone Can Make a Difference

Anyone Can Make a Difference


Oh sure it is a bit cliché, but it really is true.  I am blessed to do something I truly love and am able to make a living at it. Am I getting rich? depends on how you look at it.  I think I am, but it is certainly not in the monetary way.  My photography has allowed me to immerse myself further into the horse and dog worlds than I ever was before, and along the way I have made some great friends and captured some wonderful moments for people. Yes, my photos have made some people smile, and  they have made some cry.  My images have allowed people to share great triumphs and even share great sadness and I get to be a bit selfish and feel good about it.

What really let me know that I had made a difference was the day I received an email that a rescued Jack Russell Terrier had found his forever home because of a photo I had taken.  The woman who adopted Max said she kept coming back to him because of his photo on the rescue’s website.  I was elated for Max, and once again I got to be a bit selfish and relish the fact that I had made a difference not just in Max’s life but in the life of the woman who adopted him.  Way to go Max!!!

There are many special memories I have that have all stemmed out of giving back through my photography. From donating my time (photos) to rescues, to giving back to the associations that have allowed me to become their photographers, I am eternally grateful and am humbled that I have actually made a difference. Have I solved the debt crisis? created world peace? no but it is ok, I can still make a difference one small photo at a time. What can you do to make a difference?  You may be surprised and humbled by what you can do and how it will make you feel.


Busy Busy Busy

Busy Busy Busy


Well, The last week has been swamped with shooting, shooting and more shooting! Am I complaining? Not a chance.  I love what I do. And I am so thankful to all my customers who like my work – you are all amazing!!! From barn shoots to horse shows, to just shooting for fun, what better job can there really be? There is still that thing called frustration that shows up sometimes, but the fun/good outweighs the bad. I am so truely blessed with great customers and fans.  The picture with this post is probably one of my favorites from the last week, (with two different edits) and while I wanted to share some of the funny ones I was threatened not too!!!  lol  If you want to see more of my pictures, go check out S. Sylvester Photography on facebook, and become a fan (ok – just “like” the page). Thanks to all my customers, many of whom I now consider friends I could not have done any of this without you.

Kyle and Preston

Frustration – we all get that way

Frustration – we all get that way


The heat is making me crazy. Well, maybe not literally but crazy none the less becasue I want to RIDE!

Mini (hand up = bad)

I was put on my first horse at about 6 months, then began riding lessons when I was around 4yrs old.  It’s funny but I can still remember some of those days. My family always hoped I would grow out of the horses.  Well, I have only grown to love them more and more with every passing year. At this point, I have made the leap into cutting horses…..oh boy what a ride!  I have ridden western pleasure horses, reining horses, hunters and about every dicipline in between.  But cutting……… it is almost indescribeable.  You have to really trust that your horse is truely trained to do its job and be able to guide your horse with only cues from your feet.   In other words, while you may have reins, you really don’t get to use them! Now I know better than to be a green rider (ok maybe not green at riding but green at cutting) and buy a green horse.  But what did I do? Yep green horse. Her name is Mini (Da Cats Whiz Kid) and I have most certainly leanred a TON from her, however I wanted to be more competitive, so I went out and got another cutting horse (PG Zorra – aka Gracie). While she is lite years ahead of Mini, she is still on the green side and while I am more competitive, I am a whole lot more frustrated!!!  Not in a bad way, but in that “can we just hurry up and figure out how to do this already” way.

Frustration, we encounter it everyday in our lives, I guess it really boils down to how we deal with it.  Personally I have come to the realization that while I may be frustrated to the

Gracie (hand down = Yeah!!)

heavens, I am still improving everyday.  Gracie, I am sure has been way frustrated with me, but she is such a good sport, she just goes on. I am having to remember that while I know what direction I need to go, I may not get there in the next 5 minutes. It may be days, weeks or even months (oh I hope not!) before we get it right and score where we need to. The same is true with non-riding frustrations. Being frustrated is ok, it means you are at least doing something, you just have not figured out the way that the puzzle pieces truely fit together yet. Deep breaths seem to help, what is happening is no one’s fault necessarily, but rather the timing is not right. This is a hard concept to wrap your head around, without flat out getting mad.  I have leared to make it constructive for myself – like the puzzle – let it be a game.

Riding has taught me so many things, and not all of them are just about horses.  Many life lessons have come from my time with my horses, the current one is dealing with, working through and being ok with my frustrations.