The Advice You NEED Before Senior Year

5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy

Hey almost seniors!! Can you believe that it’s time to start planning your entire life? Yeah! You’ve got less than a year to figure out exactly what you want out of the next 65 years of your life. No pressure, but you better make it good. To help you out a little bit, I’ve compiled a list of the 5 things I wish somebody would’ve told me before my senior year of high school.

  1. This year will fly by! Everybody says it, but you won’t believe it until you go through it. Take pictures of everything, don’t get caught up in the dumb drama (you really won’t remember it!), spend your time on what you care about, and cherish every last minute. There’s a reason that you hear this sentiment a million times. When I started my freshman year of high school, my older brother told me, “this will be the fastest four years of your life.” Think about how fast the past three years have gone… your fourth and final year of high school is going to go five times as fast. So get off of Instagram and go spend some real time with real friends, before you all move away from each other and form your own lives.

  2. Do the most outrageous things now. In high school, I was nearly expelled for a number of reasons, on several different occasions. It was never for anything malicious; only good fun and me pushing the envelope just enough. I think adults are sometimes afraid to tell you to just go wild because they’re scared that you might take that and run with it, but I say go for it! Sneak out, kiss that boy you like, dye your whole head pink, ask the popular girl to prom, apply to your dream college… you will never live in a time with so little responsibilities and repercussions. Take full advantage of this now, before it’s too late!

  3. Ask your teachers for advice!! I know they are super lame, but actually you’ll end up friending them on Facebook and then being like WOW they are super cool! And they are really helpful! They’ve got good insider knowledge on how to get into college, start a job out of high school, utilize your school’s resources and more! BONUS tip: make your favorite teacher your mentor. Ask if you can hang out and help during their free period in exchange for their time (and brain!!). Trust me!! Adults are not that uncool; they can help you get that leg up that you need before heading off to college!

  4. It is what you make it. When I was halfway through my senior year, my best friend picked up in the middle of the night (literally, like this could be a bad Hallmark movie) and ran away from home. The next week, I got kicked out of the spring musical for something I didn’t do. I really could have just given up then and there- nothing was going right, and the pressure was even more intense because I was 17 years old, trying to figure out the rest of my life. But when you don’t let the bad affect all of the good, you’ll end up enjoying your senior year so much more and be able to look back on it in a few years and laugh- not hold resentment. I’m really just setting you up for a future with less therapy fees, here.

  5. That brings me to my final point. This is not the end of your life. I know that it can really feel like you have to have everything figured out right now, for the rest of your life. But please please please, take it from somebody who let her anxiety get the most of her way too often- it’s okay to not know what you want. It’s okay to take a year off from college while you decide what you want to do. It’s okay to not go to college at all. It’s okay to go to trade school, to get a job at the local produce market, to camp out in your parents’ basement for a while. Everything feels like a hurricane right now, but things will slow down and you’ll have time to think things through. Don’t go crazy trying to put together a full life plan at the age of 17. Things are going to change, and you’re going to be happy to welcome that change instead of stressing because it’s not going according to plan.

What’s your best advice to your high school self? Scroll through the images of this fall Hershey Gardens, Pennsylvania senior portrait session, to the bottom of the blog post where I reveal a sixth BONUS tip!

5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
5 Things you need before senior year by Kara McCurdy
 

Oh! And your bonus SIXTH TIP: don’t forget to get your senior photos booked! Didn’t you read tips 1 through 5?! This year is going to FLY BY! You’re going to be busy making memories and applying to colleges once the school year starts, so make sure you book your senior photos early (in the spring or summer into fall) so that you don’t even have to think about it. Like the photos you saw here? Click here to book me for your senior photos and let’s make magic happen! Not yet persuaded? Check out my other senior portrait sessions in this blog post and in my portrait gallery!

Constructive Criticism: For Beginners

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It started like any other day for me. I’m just hanging out on Instagram, like I do daily (shameless plug), when I get a notification that a random stranger doesn’t like an image of one of my clients. Boo hoo.

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I click over to read the comment: “too much photo shop! don’t like!” No, the troll was not Donald Trump, although he certainly types like him. Just some random guy from New Jersey who wanted to make his opinions known on social media.

And we all have that right, right? We all have the right to like what we like, and dislike what we don’t like, and we should definitely explore elements that we’re drawn to in order to better define our interests.

But if I were insecure in my abilities and my personal style of photography, I’d probably be as bent out of shape as this guy. I’d probably be really upset and questioning whether or not my art is even good. Does it look photoshopped? Do people actually think I have the time to photoshop every single image from a full wedding? Are people going to start expecting that I will spend endless hours photoshopping their wedding photos? Should I start photoshopping my images? Will that make them better? Will it make them worse?

Thankfully, I’ve made a conscious effort to be selective with who influences my work. My old college professors, who have proven themselves more skilled and knowledgable than most. My peers and colleagues who have undergone similar training, and whose eye for successful art I would never question. My husband, of course, a creative director and successful designer who never hesitates to dish out the harsh criticism I need. And then- lastly (this is important)- my paying clients, whose honest feedback has helped me understand what the general ~untrained eye might be interested in. And that’s about it. I don’t let social media dictate my artistic style. I don’t let strangers’ opinions affect how I feel about my work. Because it’s important to protect your creativity. When you start a business- well, when you start anything really- people are going to have a lot of opinions about how they think you should do things. And you have to remember that their opinions do not matter. Unless they are the ones paying the rent, purchasing the supplies, operating the equipment, or signing the paycheck- they don’t deserve a say in the way you run your business.

So, when I saw that somebody had an opinion about an image that I worked hard on and felt personally attached to, I stopped and thought, “this is a really beautiful opportunity for education.” Opinions are wonderful things. Constructive criticism is better. What’s the difference? I would be willing to hear remarks about this photo such as, “you should remove the people from the background, because they’re distracting from the subject of the photo,” or “you should darken up the skyline to make it pop more!” or even “what if you lightened up their faces so that we can better see the look they’re giving each other, which will help transport us to this very moment in time when their eyes were locked on one another?” These types of remarks are helpful. They give me a supported opinion and a comprehensive solution. They show that the viewer has taken ample time to study the piece and react from an educated perspective (ooooh she’s an artiste!!). When somebody challenges you and your work like this- hold onto that person. They would make a good mentor.

Now, please stick around for upcoming blog posts where I talk about how to place things in front of your camera to create depth, what a dynamic image consists of, and of course- what a tree is. Peep below for some before and afters of placing objects in front of the lens.

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How I Travel While Vegan

April 4th marks three whole years of me being vegan! Now that’s not without a cheat meal or cheat snack here or there. Or the time I cried in the bathroom at a restaurant when they gave me a BEEF burger when I asked for a BEYOND burger (I get it… easy mixup). But for the most part, I’ve operated at at least 95% vegan for the past three years, and I think that’s saying something! I haven’t stuck with anything for that long, and I have never once regretted my decision to go vegan.

So to celebrate that, and my upcoming trip to Croatia, here are my 5 best tips on how to travel while living a vegan lifestyle!

 

Unlike when I first transitioned into veganism, now I travel- a lot. And I have a few rules for traveling, some of which are pretty unpopular, but here we go!

My biggest travel rule is that I don’t eat vegan while traveling internationally. I know. You can begin hurling the “fake vegan” hate all you want. But let me explain!

I think the greatest part of being able to travel the world is that we get to experience other cultures. Maybe we only get to visit these countries with these rich histories once in our lifetimes. I don’t want to waste that one time. I want to relish in the culture- which is so hugely impacted by food.

That doesn’t mean I view international travel as an excuse to eat whatever I want. But if the traditional dish in a country has dairy in it, I’m still going to try it. I mean… if the traditional dish is steak, I’m going to pass. I still get sick when I eat animal products, so I can’t go crazy. But sampling various cuisines is such an important part of traveling. And while finding all of the best vegan restaurants in different cities has become something I’ve gotten increasingly good at, I think we should still submerse ourselves entirely into other cultures (but thats just me).

 

Now, traveling in America? I stick to my fully vegan lifestyle. Which is good because I travel around America quite a bit. Here are the top five things I always do to make it easy to stay vegan when I travel:

  1. Know before you go! Do the research beforehand! I always google “best vegan restaurants” in the city I’m visiting. This is so obvious, but people will forget before they get to their destination, and then cave because it’s too difficult to navigate a different environment. Keep a list on your phone of top restaurants as you’re researching so that you can refer back to it. This makes me really excited to find new places to try, so try to make it fun!

  2. Stock up early. When you get to where you’re going, hit the grocery store first. You might be tempted to rush to the beach or hit that first trailhead, but stop. Go to the grocery. Grab a few things that you can munch on if there’s nothing else around. Don’t wait until it’s 2am and you’re in the Uber on the way home from the bars and your travel buddies want to stop and grab pizza and you haven’t eaten all day because there were no vegan options. I usually grab a bag of arugula, baby carrots, a tub of hummus, and bananas. This gives me a lot of variety, for not much money (Helllllllo cheap!).

  3. Be prepared. In the weeks leading up to my travels, I get very in tune with my eating habits so that I can know my body before I take it to a different city or country. I always pack something for me to eat on the plane and for at least the first 24 hours of travel. One time I went to Stockholm and didn’t eat anything except Larabars for 2 full days because I couldn’t read the language. Whoops!! Could’ve been prevented had I just come prepared.

  4. Remember your staples. What food items can you always rely on? For me, when I’m out at restaurants, it’s usually salads, steamed vegetables, rice, and almost always french fries. If you know off the top of your head the ~usually vegan~ foods, it’ll be easier to decipher a menu and feel more confident in your food choices when you’re out and about. Take it one step further by asking yourself: What have you been craving lately? Can you pack some of those things along with you, in case you can’t access vegan options?

  5. Speak up! Don’t be afraid to ask your server if certain foods are vegan. I usually find the most likely vegan foods, and then I’ll ask “does this have any dairy or eggs in it?” or “Is this cooked in butter?” Knowing what to ask and not being afraid to speak up can really help you stay fueled up while traveling!

And that’s it! Mostly, what all of this leads to is: think ahead! It is totally possible to stay vegan while you travel, and it can even be easy if you just prepare. What are your favorite vegan snacks for travel? Let me know in the comments section below!

If you’re interested in following along with my Croatian travels, check out my Instagram to stay up to date!

 
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The Secret to Freelancing

I won’t pretend like I’m some freelancing wizard who knows all the tricks and trades and is making millions each year off of my photography business. I’m not. But! I am incredibly happy in my freelancing business and I feel like I’ve found a sort of golden ticket to the whole thing. And I’m going to tell you! Because I’m full of myself and want everybody to share my ideals! Kidding…. it’s because I really think this made my freelancing life so much easier and more enjoyable. 

Which is why I’m pairing this post with the full set of images from my absolute favorite shoot this year- an elopement I was fortunate enough to shoot in the beautiful snowy mountains outside of Salt Lake City. It’s all going to tie in together beautifully, I promise you that! 

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It’s not a scam, I promise! It’s a real tip that when applied, can make YOU the world’s happiest freelancer, too. It might not bring in more clients (although it’s possible!), and it might not make you rich (I guess it could…), but I guarantee it’ll make you feel better about the work that you’re doing. And the funny thing about it, is that it seems fairly simple. It’s something we can tell ourselves to do over and over, until we’re blue in the face. But it’s when we actually put it into action that our lives can change.

Okay, I’ve held out on you folks for long enough. The real secret to being a happy freelancer is….

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Only take the work you enjoy doing. It sounds radical, right? Sorry- you mean… you want me to enjoy my work? YES! I want you to LOVE what you do! And if you don’t love it, stop doing it. We are all so young and so old and have only as much time as we’re promised. Why would you waste that time doing something that doesn’t bring you joy?

Even better- applying this tip to your freelancing business will not just make you happier, but it will improve business. Think about your favorite artists. Do they love what they do? Do they seem happy about it? Are they excited to get out of bed each day and create? I know that’s something that drives me to take my freelance photography full-time: every other freelance photographer I see seems to love the hell out of it. And I want to love the hell out of my life too! I want to do something that excites me every single day! 

It’s a lot of work. It’s coming home from a full-time job exhausted, ready to turn on some Netflix and pour myself a glass of wine until I pass out on the couch… and instead, turning on my computer and launching Photoshop. It’s giving up Saturday morning to go chase that warm sunrise light. It’s sacrificing evenings with friends to stay in and edit. It’s too much work to dedicate to something I don’t enjoy. Which is easy to say, but what does it look like in practice?

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For me, it’s an easy answer. It means- turning down clients. When I was studying photography in college, my university made it something I hated. I dreaded picking up my camera, to the point that I never wanted to touch it again after graduation. It was because I was being forced to practice all kinds of photography, not just the photography that I love. So now, if a client approaches me and says “hey! Can you photograph me on Christmas Day?!” I get to happily say NOPE and not feel bad. This is my career. Do I lose money when I turn down clients I don’t want? I guess you could look at it that way… or look at it like this: instead, I get to make money from clients that I do want to work with. And the good news is that I’m attracting clients who want to work with me too.

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So next time you’re dragging your feet to a shoot that you reluctantly agreed to, ask yourself if this is really the life you want. It’s okay if it isn’t! It’s taken me 25 years to figure out what life I want, and I’ll probably change my mind again next year. But for now, I’m going to do what makes me happy while I’ve still got the time.

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A Studio Elopement

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One time I went in for an interview with a women’s shelter and they asked me what I was most passionate about in life. What an interview question, yeeeeesh. I thought about it for a bit, and responded, “I’ve always sought to help people. And I guess the people I’m most passionate about are women.”

I mean, I’m passionate about a lot of people. Find me out on the streets every weekend protesting injustices to minorities. But what keeps me awake at night tends to be issues related to women. So when I was asked to come on to volunteer with Build + Bloom as their SISTERXSISTER Director, I was like FAM YES.

SISTERXSISTER is a free monthly networking group for young women interested in creative media. We meet in-person in more than a dozen cities nationwide, connecting girls who are makers- whether that’s blogging, photography, modeling, graphic design- there’s room for everybody at the table. 

And sometimes, in these monthly networking meetups, we plan big photo shoots. So everything you see here is brought to you by sisterxsister. Everybody that came on to help put this together met through sisterxsister. Photographer Krys Patton and I coordinated and produced the entire elopement, and all of the vendors will be linked below, too! 

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Thanks to everybody who made this shoot possible! Thanks to Krys Patton for organizing and to Sky Mejias for renting her studio space out to us. If you’re interested in finding the sisterxsister event nearest you, click here. If you’d like to bring sisterxsister to your town, send an email to sister@buildandbloom.co! 

Bride: Isabella Porto
Groom: John Dinh
Makeup: Daisy Porto
Gown: Gypsy Bride
Jewelry: Hillary Davenport
Floral Arch: Femmenique
Flower crown: Slate Floral