At FOTO, we are committed to helping our fellow creatives flourish. In our Q&A style blog series, Coffee with Creatives, we are highlighting the unique expertise of some of our favorite professionals, sharing tips and information on relevant topics to bring you some practical insight and inspiration for the important work you do.
Today, we are talking with Click it Up a Notch founder and educator, Courtney Slazinik, to discuss all the Holidays things - the importance of capturing the season with your family, how to shoot magical low light portraits by the Christmas tree, and even what gifts to give photographers in your life for Christmas!
First things first, how do you take your coffee? (And if you are not a coffee drinker, what is your go-to beverage for fuel?)
Courtney: I realize this is an unpopular opinion, but I don’t care for coffee. Water is my drink of choice. Room temperature water to be exact. However, I do love tea. We currently live in England so I’m learning to like tea more and more.
Tell us about yourself & what led to your love of photography?
Courtney: I’m a military wife and mom of three girls. From a young age I wanted to be two things when I grew up, an elementary school teacher and then a stay-at-home mom. I accomplished both. Like so many people I always had a camera in my hands and loved taking photos.
About ten minutes before my second daughter was born, a nurse asked my husband to move a chair. In all the excitement neither one of us noticed our fancy point and shoot was on the chair. We heard it fall to the floor and knew instantly it broke. Luckily, my mom and sister were there with their cameras. Being the good wife that I am, I took advantage of his guilt and the next day I was holding my baby girl and a new DSLR camera.
Honestly, I thought that was all I needed to take amazing pictures. Little did I know. I noticed one of my friend’s photos were so much better than mine so I begged her to come to my house and teach me what she knew. Thankfully she is a patient teacher because I’m a terrible student. I quickly became frustrated. However, once I started to see a difference in my photos I was hooked.
A few months later I started a Project 365 (where you take a photo everyday for a year). We had moved to Japan at that point and I loved documenting our life overseas with our two young daughters. A year later I decided to combine my love of teaching with my passion for photography and created Click it Up a Notch. That was nearly ten years ago and I still love capturing my family and our everyday lives.
As a photographer, what's your favorite part of the holidays? Favorite holiday movie?!
Courtney: I love the simple moments of the holidays. The way my kids’ faces light up when we look at Christmas lights or the joy they get when we decorate the tree together. I love being able to photograph holiday traditions as well. Since we move around a lot our traditions are a little different.
My absolute favorite is when my dad reads my girls "The Night Before Christmas" each year. He purchased the Hallmark Popup version in 1977 for my mom on their first Christmas together. He has read that book to me and my siblings each year growing up. Even on the one Christmas he was deployed he recorded his voice on a tape deck that we sat around and listened to on Christmas Eve.
Since we are a military family we aren't able to spend each Christmas with my family, but that doesn’t stop that tradition or me photographing it. When we aren’t with my parents, he calls us and reads it to the kids over the computer. And when we are together, the kids snuggle up and listen to their Pap read them the same story I’ve heard each year.
My favorite holiday movie is "Love, Actually." I look forward to when my girls are old enough to enjoy that one with me. But as a family we love to watch "Christmas Vacation."
Why do you think holiday family photos have become such an important tradition?
Courtney: Family photos are so important. As a child, my parents set up a tripod in our living room each year to take our holiday photo. I still remember the one year my dad accidentally put black and white film in the camera. After the pain of family photos was done, he realized it and we had to do it all over again. But those photos are important.
They give you a chance to reflect on each passing year and see the changes in your children. It’s the little things in photos that we want to remember. Like the year we took family photos and no one noticed my youngest had her shoes on the wrong feet the whole time. That was who she was at that age.
When we get our family photos done, I always tell the photographer to not worry about the perfect smiling photo. I want the photos that capture who my children are at this exact age. If you don’t get family photos done each year in the fall maybe your tradition could be each yearly vacation you hire a photographer. Whenever, or wherever it is, take the time to get in the photo with your family each year for a family session.
Any special photos you try and capture when your own family gathers together?
Courtney: Each year I try to take a photo of my children by the Christmas tree. As I mentioned our traditions are a little different. We are rarely in the same house each year for the holidays due to moving or visiting family. But each house has a Christmas tree. I love comparing the photos from the years as my daughters admire in amazement at the magic of Christmas.
Can you share a few quick tips about shooting in low light with Christmas tree lights?
Courtney: The key to great Christmas tree light photos is to make sure all the other lights in your house are off. For the photos of my girls in front of the tree I will pick one of my girls to meter off their face. Since the only light in the house is coming from the tree it allows the tree to really glow and gives you great deep shadows.
Don’t be afraid to raise your ISO. No need to worry about the noise because it’s better to have a properly exposed image than to have one that is underexposed.
How do you incorporate photography into gifts that you give others?
Courtney: We don't do name tags for the gifts. Instead, I print 4x4 images of the person who is receiving the gift. The odds are, if I’m buying you a gift then at some point in that past year I have a photo of you or with you. My kids love this because it lets them remember all the fun things that have happened over the year. Plus, it’s a bonus gift to give someone a beautiful image.
Then wrap your presents in brown wrapping paper and tie a twine bow around it. It feels like a classic parcel and people love the simplicity.
What are some of your go-to gift recommendations for photographers to give their peers?
Courtney: I promise I’m not saying this because I’m writing for Fotostrap but a Fotostrap really is my number one recommendation. In fact, I just told a family member (won’t say who as to not spoil the surprise) two days ago to grab one for a photographer in their life.
Another recommendation is the Ona Roma camera bag insert. This is a fantastic way to keep your camera safe inside any bag. I love the flexibility to use any bag as a camera bag.
And lastly, what Fotostrap do you wear?
Courtney: I have two but I haven’t taken the Dove Designer Camera strap off since it arrived. It’s soft, light, and great for travel. Plus, I have recently gotten into take more video with my DSLR and I love how it wraps so nicely around your hand to help steady the camera. It truly is the perfect camera strap.
Looking for more inspiration from industry creatives? Check out these other Q&A's:
Coffee with Creatives: Misty Rodda's Tips on Keeping a Fresh Perspective
Coffee with Creatives: Katie Lamb's Tips on Finding that "Mompreneur" Work/Life Balance
Coffee with Creatives: Mastering the Art of Low Light Photography with ClickPro Dana Leigh
Coffee with Creatives: Caroline Jurgensen's Tips on Running a Business with her Spouse