Category Archives: meaningful blogging

It is almost summer, and I am sure many of us are looking forward to warm sunny days, lots of ice cream and pool fun! I know I am! I am especially excited about taking my kiddos to the pool (oh, and we are so blessed to be living in Reston, which has 15 pools)! They are almost 4 and 6, and both are very comfortable around water. The “big one” is an independent swimmer (although of course I would never let him too far out of my reach and would never take my eyes off of him), the “little one” is my little fishy and he can float around and even swim a few body lengths underwater. Both LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! doing loud splashy canon-balls and jumping off the diving board. On my end, these days I am a lot less neurotic about taking them to the pool (now that they can just “swim to mama” or “swim to the steps” on their own). Instead, I will be enjoying my splashy summer fun with them and I CAN’T WAIT to bring my camera to the pool and do some awesome underwater photography as they jump, dive and splash.  So, I thought I’d share some pictures of our pool fun last summer along with a few tips about how I got these images.

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Important considerations

1. Underwater housing and gear: obviously, if you are going to shoot underwater, you need to protect your camera. Most electronics stores carry waterproof cases for different iphone and ipad models, so you can just pick the one that fits your style and budget. If you have a DSLR camera, I recommend the type of underwater housing that allows the lens to be firmly attached to housing on the inside (so, not just a clear waterproof plastic case).  This would prevent focusing and glare/reflection issues (which is a very serious consideration because focusing and glare/reflection issues can render all images you take underwater unusable).

I currently use  Ewa-Marine underwater housing (click here to follow to their website) for my 7D+17-40 mm f4 Canon L lens, and I highly recommend it (all the images in the post are shot with the camera+lens+camera housing combination)! It is a respectable underwater housing brand, and I have always felt very comfortable with it! US photographers can purchase their housing via adorama or bhphoto. You would need to think about what kind of photography you do and what lenses you own because you will have to specify lens thread (for example, 72mm, or 77mm) when purchasing the housing because your lens will screw into the clear glass plate protecting the front of your lens while underwater (Ewa Marine housing offers step up rings if you want to use different lenses, but I’d suggest buying the housing to fit the main lens you are planning to use) The Ewa Marine housing secures the lens firmly, and has a special grip to hold the camera, a strap to hang it around your neck/arm while you swim, and a special pocket for your right hand index finger to give you comfortable access to main manual control dials (it does require some practice to get used to). I had many questions when I was researching the right housing to buy, so I just called the brand distributor in the US (info here), and they were happy to help.

Now, I mentioned that I use my 7D camera for underwater photography, and I feel very comfortable using the Ewa Marine housing with it. If I were to engage in more serious, higher-end underwater photography, I’d probably want to use my canon 5d mark iii for best image quality and I’d want underwater housing with faster access to all manual controls – a higher end, pro underwater camera housing (so far, from my own personal research, I can say that I’d confidently invest in an “ikelite” model).

2. Wide angle lens: If you are planning to photograph your kids in the pool, I’d recommend using the widest angle lens possible. Using a wide angle lens for underwater portraiture has several distinct advantages:

– It allows you to get closer to the subject, which is important for two reasons. First, it is a crucial consideration if you are photographing children who are not yet excellent swimmers and you want to be at arms’ reach! Second, the shorter the distance between the camera and the subject the less water there is separating the camera from the subject, therefore your images will be clearer, brighter and less murky (so, you can keep your iso lower and your shutter speed faster). Water changes qualities of light and color and the farther away your subject is, the more distorted the color will appear (for example, reds will be lost and there will be greater shades of blues and grays) and the ‘muddier’ your photos will look overall.

– Wider angle lenses have a greater hyperfocal distance, so even at closer proximity to your subjects you can have better results with focusing and sharpness

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3. Aperture:  using a small aperture between f8 and f16 gives you a greater focal plane, and makes it easier to keep your diving and moving subject in focus (my go-to number would be f11, if I had to open aperture up to add more light and I couldn’t slow down the shutter or boost iso any more, I’d go down to f8). The “aperture” factor is closely related to the choice of a wide angle lens as they complement each other to allow the photographer a greater depth of field and keeps more of your subject in focus while photographing at closer range (small aperture is also more forgiving if you miss your focus a bit). Aperture is the FIRST dial I set when preparing to shoot underwater.

4.Shutter settings: Use at least 1/160 shutter speed to avoid motion blur in your images, if you have to, you can go to 1/125 but then you would need to make sure that your focusing is spot on and you may still get a little bit of motion (especially in hands/legs). It is the second setting I adjust for underwater photography.

5. Iso settings: I set my ISO after  setting aperture and shutter (basically, I set it to whatever iso is required to get the correct exposure). This said, I recommend knowing your camera’s iso limits or, in other words, how high you can push your iso before image quality degrades considerably due to noise. With my 7d, for example, I wouldn’t push it higher than 800 (and I’d use iso800 underwater only if I absolutely have to); with my 5d mark III I’d probably go comfortably up to 1600 (but I do not think I’d ever need to go that high).

5. Burst mode: Photograph in burst mode! If you are using an iphone or an ipad, just keep the shutter button pressed to take a burst of pictures. For DSLRs, you would need to set your camera to burst mode manually (I recommend setting to the fastest burst speed your camera is capable of). Remember, you are dealing with multiple factors when photographing underwater: a moving subject, swimming and holding your breath while photographing, waves and bubbles, and, finally, looking through the viewfinder underwater to focus on your moving subject (OMG, can I just say this was the most difficult thing for me to master, I hate opening my eyes  under water and there is really no way around it I want to see through the viewfinder to focus. Alternatively, you can use live view on the back screen of your camera, but I found that it takes longer to focus and resulted in too many missed shots). Please keep in mind that if you shoot in RAW your camera’s and your card’s recording capacity will dictate the speed of the burst mode and how many shots you can take per single burst. If you feel like you would want or take many images in a sequence to get what you want, I’d go with JPEG only. If you think 3-4 is enough, then RAW or RAW+JPEG would work.

6 How and where to photograph: Start out by photographing on a sunny day in a shallow end of the pool. If you have a choice, I’d suggest choosing a pool with white or light blue walls and bottom so you get more light reflected back on your subject. The darker the pool’s walls and bottom, the greater the color cast and the more light your camera’s sensor would need for adequate exposure. Get up close to your subject, and start by focusing on portraits – kids’ expressions are priceless when they pose underwater! And then – practice, practice, and practice some more. And don’t forget to have FUN!

how to take pictures underwater_02I hope you found this article helpful! I’d love to see your underwater shots, so feel free to leave an image or a link to your photos in comments! Also, I am here to answer any questions – just comment with your question here or shoot me an email at Next, I’ll write about editing underwater photos and getting rid of that murky, blue tint and increasing overall look and clarity (stay tuned, I will be working on it next week!)

Oh, and finally, if you are in Northern VA and you want me to come over to your pool to photograph your kids – shoot me an email at and we’ll work something out! I am starting to consider summer-time underwater sessions for clients with access to their own private pools or where they have community permit to conduct photo sessions, so I”ll be happy to work with you on making a “pool fun” session happen for you.

One of the most common things my clients say (as I am frantically trying to fit them into my schedule) is “OMG! I didn’t know I had to book a newborn session so early”! Yes! For example, I am currently booking newborn sessions with due dates into late October (and it is mid-May!).

Here is my take on “when to book a newborn photographer”: I recommend booking as soon as you decide that you want a newborn session and you are past the first trimester. Professional, high quality newborn photography is a niche. Experienced, qualified local newborn photographers are often booked up for months in advance. Think about the process of booking a newborn photographer the same way you would approach booking a wedding photographer! You wouldn’t want to wait until the night before the wedding (or the day of the wedding) to find a wedding photographer, right? Now, I am sure you can probably find a wedding photographer – but, most likely, he or she won’t be exactly what you are looking for in terms of style, photography, quality of work, experience and expertise as well as pricing. Same logic applies to hiring a newborn photographer! Newborn photography is at least as important as wedding photography; having a newborn is truly a once-in-a-lifetime event, whether you are looking to photograph your first baby or your fourth!

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So, if you are pregnant and you want to capture your baby’s newborn-ness, get online and research local newborn photographers! Some keywords I suggest are “newborn photography studio” or “professional newborn photographer” coupled with where you are located – either your city/town name, or, if you live in a metropolitan area, your general area name or a county name (For example, I am in Reston, so clients looking for a “Reston newborn photographer”, or a “Fairfax county newborn photographer” or a “Northern Virginia newborn photographer” will find me with ease). If you search for more generic and less precise terms, you will come up with results that are not as relevant (for example, “baby pics” or “newborn photos” without further specifying the location or that you are looking for a photographer).

I also strongly encourage you to try and get an understanding for different styles of the portfolios you are looking at. Are you looking for a “lifestyle”, unposed portraiture? Or are you looking for a more deliberate, traditional, posed session? I would recommend doing the former on location or at your home, and the latter at the photographer’s studio where there are plenty props, blankets and necessary equipment. Just remember, newborn photography is not all the same! With this in mind, do your best to figure out your “likes” and “dislikes” and contact the photographers whose work you love and admire. And, hopefully, book one of them!

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Here is a little bit of my own behind-the-scenes workflow when booking newborn clients: I only book a certain limited number of newborn clients per time period (based on my overall weekly/bi-weekly/monthly commitments) to allow for scheduling, session time, editing, ordering and working with each client individually. Once I book that “certain number” of newborn clients, I close my calendar to booking newborn clients for that time frame. I recommend scheduling newborn sessions within about 2 weeks of birth for the sleepy, posed, curled up images similar to the ones in my galleries.

This said, I always encourage last-minute clients to contact me and see if I have an opening! As we know, babies almost never arrive on their due dates. Quite often they arrive somewhat before or well after their due date and when that happens I have a last minute opening in my schedule and I can take a last-minute client!

Ashburn Newborn Photographer_03If you like my work and want a photo session for your newborn baby, please contact me at  or call me at 202-251-6368 to schedule your session! I have years of experience photographing newborns and babies and I guarantee you’ll love the photos! For more examples of my work, please see newborn galleries on my website:

These days, farthest corners of the world have become reachable due to advances of modern technology. We can connect people from around the world via online video and chat rooms, we can “visit” far away places via a virtual tour from the comfort of your home, and we can travel faster and farther than ever before in human history. Unfortunately, while trying to reach out, explore and connect with places and people around the globe, we often forget to truly get to know “our” corner of the world better. So, as a reminder to look around and get to know local people and communities  just a little better, today’s blog post shares a couple of things that happened to me recently.  (Accompanied, of course, by beautiful pictures of baby E. from Fairfax from a newborn session last spring. )

fairfax baby photographer_01Last month, on a flight from Denver to Washinton DC, as I got to my seat (one of the two in the emergency exit row), I thought I knew the man seated next two me. Obviously, the first thing that came out of my mouth was “Hi, have I photographed you before?” Which, in hindsight, was probably a pretty creepy conversation starter. So, naturally, the guy looked at me like I was crazy and said “No.” At that point, seeing how we were sort of stuck sitting next to each other for the next three hours, I continued to “stalk” him: “Do you have kids? Do you have a new baby by any chance?” (This too must have sounded pretty sketchy). Long story short, turns out I photographed his first daughter when she was born three years ago, I photographed his new baby girl last year, and I also saw the kids at the studio for their seasonal photos. Of course, he came along to both newborn sessions, and of course he had the pictures I took of his kids as screensavers and background on his phone and his facebook!! So, during the flight, we carried on a little bit of small talk and I got to learn some pretty amazing little things about him and his family. To me, it was also quite curious to realize that it took an accidental encounter across the country to get a tiny-teeny glimpse into who he is, what he does and what he likes.

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Here is another encounter that got me wondering about how truly little we know about the people who surround us in our daily lives. I was on the phone getting more information about registering my son for kindergarten. A few minutes into the conversation the lady on the other end of the line said, “Olga! Is that you? Do you live on such-and-such street?” Low and behold, I was talking to my next door neighbor!!! How truly little did I know about the person living next door to me! Sure enough, we never really talked about anything (other than an occasional chit-chat about the weather or plants in front of the house). And now, turns out, she works at my son’s future school and I”ll be seeing her at his kindergarten orientation!

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This said, I really hope to encourage myself to make more meaningful connections with people around me (whether they are clients, or neighbors, or mommy friends)!

Honestly speaking, my blog following (the true kind of following when people actually know and remember your posts!) has been close to zero. Miserable performance, to put it mildly. You know why? Well, because my blog has been awfully boring. With a lot of beautiful pictures (yes! I am good at taking beautiful pictures, I am a full time, professional photographer, after all), but – still – boring! Over the last few weeks, I think I developed an understanding “why.”

Two weeks ago, I returned from a 5-day landscape photography workshop in Northern Arizona, which brought about many new thoughts and ideas and got me to revisit many old ones, both on a personal and a professional level. It may not have seemed like it at the time of the workshop, but it was truly enlightening, in a “spiritual journey” kind of way. In preparation for the workshop, I had spent much time researching landscape photography and reading travel and nature photographers’ blogs and websites. Then, during and after the workshop, armed with the knowledge and experience of shooting my own images, I researched other photographers’ work from the same locations (among them, the inspirational articles and beautiful imagery by the workshop instructor Don Smith and his workshop co-instructor Gary Hart).

And I made a stunning (Yes! It was stunning to me!) discovery about the way nature and landscape photographers blog and write about their images. Every image has a story! Every image entails an adventure, a thoughtful process that’s put into making that image, a physical journey, a mental pre-visualization of what it would look like after the shutter clicks, and a personal connection to a specific point in the photographer’s life. Every image has so much to say for itself! Therefore, landscape photographers have it easy when it comes to blogging – they actually do have stories to tell!

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Now, what about me? I am a newborn, baby and child photographer (and when I blog, I tend to sound like a hard-to-read SEO robot too). Since I am mostly a studio photographer, day in and day out I go to my photography studio (which is located in Reston, same wonderful little town where I live, so it’s not much of a journey getting there). I meet wonderful families who trust me with their “once in a lifetime” memories. My job involves a lot of love (yes! love! photography is only a small part of it) and a lot of holding, soothing, and photographing their newborns and their very little ones. Many of these same wonderful families come back to me over the years and I photograph their little ones growing up, first as babies, and then as sweet, curious, rambunctious toddlers. I love being part to this “circle of life”. It is the reason why I do what I do, why I love newborn and baby and child photography so much. All the littles I meet are beautiful, unique, sweet and precious. Absolutely precious. Each and every single one of them. When I work with them, I love them and care about them as if they were my own. I play with the toddlers, and notice the newborns’  beautiful little details – skin folds, long lashes, ten little fingers and toes, baby cheeks – the way their mommies and daddies do! And I try to capture them, as if I were a parent trying to capture my own child – so I can remember all these sweet precious, fleeting, little details forever meaningful photography blogging_03

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Yet, when I get to blogging these sessions and the beautiful images from them, I feel like I hit this giant wall and end up with the same old adage. (“Just look at this beautiful baby, awww! We put this cute pink hat (blue hat, baby tie – insert whatever accessory was used) on and (s)he was so cute. Don’t you just love it? And then we put her/him in this crate, and it just looked gorgeous”.)

You know what I mean? You’ve probably read the same variation of all my blog posts on most other newborn and child photographer’s blogs. It is a failing attempt to render in words just how beautiful that one sweet Baby is, and how truly special these images will be to his/her mommy and daddy will be forever and ever. It doesn’t sound personal, memorable or unique.  There is really no story, no adventure, no unique emotion in these blog posts. (Not like in an “I got up at 2am, drove to the mountains, hiked for two hours, and photographed this breathtaking sunrise on the mountain top” (well, actually, now that I wrote it – it sounds like a cliche too…). These words are average, common and boring. So is my blog. And if you are a photographer struggling to blog the way I struggle – you know exactly what I mean.

All in all, it has been a sort of a liberating growth, and I am coming out on this end of this “spiritual journey” with a firm set of new rules and commitments about photography and writing. I will no longer be the “meaningless blogger” writing for SEO or sneak peeks or just to “keep the blog fresh”. I want to be a meaningful blogger who writes honestly both for prospective clients and for other photographers. Let me repeat – I want to be a “meaningful” writer. I want to write what’s on my mind. What truly happens during sessions. What crazy amount of work and preparation (and laundry!) goes into each session. I want to write about business struggles and client relations. Personal growth and failures. About the good, the bad and the ugly. I will relate to my own life an my own journey as a photographer and a person, a mom, a wife, a friend (oh, believe it or not, but these “personal” topics have been considered taboos by many photographer bloggers too).

So, here’s to the “new me” – the “honest, meaningful” photographer-blogger. Cheers!