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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!

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! 


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….


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?


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.


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.


Mountain Maker Session | Chautauqua Park, Boulder, Colorado

I love the mountains. And not just in the simple way, either. I mean… I need the mountains to survive. My parents first took me to the mountains (that I can remember) in the summer of 1999 and it’s safe to say I was immediately hooked. I spent my 6th birthday in the mountains that year, and I got my first camera (a 35mm pink Barbie camera with a flower on the front and a photo album that I filled with photos of Yellowstone). The mountains are where I spent my first summer away from home, when I moved to Denver with my sister for my Denver Art Museum internship. Whenever I’m feeling sick or unsure of myself, I run to the mountains. They have, quite literally, saved my life several times.

I think that’s the truth for a lot of people. I don’t know anyone who isn’t in awe of the giant rock formation jutting out of the ground, reaching up to the skies. And if you’ve never seen the flatirons in Boulder, Colorado, I’ve just described them. These incredible, larger than life, red rocks that emerge from the ground completely unannounced. So how could I not plan a photo shoot there? 

We started in downtown Boulder, over a few tacos and margaritas (my absolute favorite way to start any and all sessions!!).

One quick outfit change and a few minute later, we hit the range (like… home on the range??) for the real meat of the shoot! Here’s some tips if you’re looking to shoot at Chautauqua Park in Boulder. It. Will. Be. Busy. You can maybe even see some other photographers in the backgrounds of some of these photos (although maybe not. I’m pretty good at photoshop hehehe). When we arrived, there were FOUR other photographers within earshot. I think if I was still early in my career and still got nervous about other people watching me work, things could’ve gone poorly.


Okay this was just the warm up for the whole reason we were there. Maybe it was the margaritas that made us totally forget hahaha. Nathan is A MAKER Y’ALL!!! Like a real life quilter (which I am just amazed by over and over again). He REALLY did make this quilt in these photos, and he makes other quilts too, and I’m sure that if you asked nicely he would even make you a quilt!!


Mikey + Marisa | A Downtown Wedding


Marisa contacted me a few short months ago, “I came across your beautiful work and would love to know if you could be interested in shooting my courthouse wedding in June?” She gave a few locations- the Queens Courthouse, Flushing Meadows Park, a restaurant in Long Island City. She’d found me through a Facebook group that we were both a part of- a fan club for the My Favorite Murder Podcast

Although we bonded over our true crime obsession (it was the day after the Golden State Killer was captured and we were LIVING FOR IT), I had to email back and let her know that I was regretfully unavailable for her desired date/time. And so, life went on.


Then a few days later, I got another email. “Kara. We are now considering a different date. Maybe in Central Park. Maybe close to Manhattan. Would this new date work with you?” At this point, I’m thinking…. okay…. their wedding is about 2 months out and they don’t have a date or location selected. Yikes. But Marisa explained: her fiancé was in South Africa, awaiting his visa approval. They weren’t entirely sure when it would happen, but they figured a June wedding was a safe bet.

I emailed back- the new date was a go! 

She emailed back- the new date was no more. 

I emailed back- let me know if it changes. 

She emailed back- the date has changed!

I emailed back- somebody is interested in your date!

She emailed back- we’re ready to commit. We’ll book you for the date. We’re pretty sure it’ll be that day.

And it was. On the day of their wedding, Mikey had only been in the country for about a week! We started in City Hall Park and did some couple shots and formal family photos. It was so nice and quiet in the park that day, the weather could not have been better, and everyone’s spirits were high! We snuck over a “do not cross” fence into the green grassy area of the park (what’s the point of a park if you can’t cross over into the greenery, NYC??) and got some adorable shots! They were just so happy to be with each other finally, and it showed in their photos!


We had all met up at this location prior to their wedding, and Marisa had literally shrieked when she saw a Nathan’s Hot Dog cart. She made a point to let me know that there would be cheese fries in her wedding day photos. And we all know- the bride is always right.


Family members slowly started rolling in, and we began taking a few fun family photos. If you’ve ever talked to me about weddings, you might know I roll my eyes at every formal posed photo I ever have to take. Family portraits are different, because almost every mother, aunt, and grandmother wants a formal posed photo (I think it’s probably a generational thing). I was so happy when Mikey and Marisa let me know that they’d prefer a more casual approach.


Guys… we did all of this in AN HOUR. Like… less than an hour actually. Do you need a photographer who is FAST for them courthouse weddings and elopements? It’s me, y’all. I am like lightening. I am like Usain Bolt, but with photography and definitely not with running. But the whole under an hour thing was mostly planned, because we had to run to the actual ceremony!


Mikey and Marisa were wed in the most adorable little Tribeca restaurant, Two Hands. They stood in the room, surrounded by a literal circle of their closest friends and family, and they spoke into each other the most heartfelt, handwritten vows. I laughed. I cried. I took a lot of photos.


When you have a small, intimate wedding, you really share the day with your guests. You don’t stand on a podium, removed from your loved ones. You are right there with them, and when you cry- they cry. Love filled the room from one side to the other; it was contagious.


My favorite part of wedding days lies somewhere between “I do” and “let’s dance!” Mikey and Marisa didn’t disappoint on either front. As much as I cried during their vows, I equally laughed during the reception and dancing.