Tuesday, April 19, 2011


We are very excited to introduce Christene Schaaf to our Behind the Lens series.  Christene is a Life art photographer. She offers a unique photography service where she custom designs true-to-life portrait sessions with the goal of adding beautiful life art to a client's home. It's sort of a cross between interior design meets photography.   Perhaps we'll see her on HGTV one of these days!  Without further ado, please welcome Christene!

Your Name: Christene Schaaf
Your studio/business name: C.S. Photography, Inc.
Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia

Your Style

  • In 50 words or less, how would your clients describe your photography? Natural, emotionally driven, catching the in-between. I like to call it Life Art. I strive to create a sense of playfulness and comfort between family members at a shoot so they are actively engaged in each other.
  • Are you self-taught or classroom trained? Self taught
  • How many years have you been a professional photographer? About 2 years
  • Where do you want to take your photography business in 5 years? My business plan incorporates interior design with photography. I want to hand hold clients through the entire process of discovering what their design goals are, incorporating a custom photo shoot of their family and children while incorporating the emotion, relationship and life that exists in the family. From there I want to work with them to design gorgeous wall galleries that make a statement in their home. So often people hire a photographer and then are lost or afraid to ask for help or simply think decorating with the images is something they can do on their own and end up selling themselves short by hanging portraits that are too small for a wall space. They also might not see the full potential or have access to the industry's innovative products. I'm acting not only as a photographer, but as a guide to educate and inspire them with possibilities so their life art becomes treasured home décor.
  • Is there a photographer who inspires your style? Who would that be? Me Ra Koh inspires me everyday as a woman in this business. I attended her Discovery Workshop in San Francisco a few years back which was such an amazing experience. I think my style was defined at that workshop because we concentrated on identifying who we were first as artists and then incorporating that into a style that we wanted to bring to our photography. I adore Stacey Woods in Tampa. She has an incredible way with storytelling that mesmerizes me. Especially with her newborn photography. I see myself leaning more and more towards this style to bring real life and connection into my newborn portraits.
  • Favorite location to take photos? For family portraits I love shooting at the beach. Families come alive out there. I love getting to run around with the kids in the sand. They are always surprised when I don't make them sit and smile for an hour of torture.
  • Favorite vacation spot? Anywhere outdoors. I love connecting to nature and bringing up our 2 boys in the same environment. I remember going camping after my 2nd was just born. He couldn't of been more than 6 weeks old. West Virginia and Maine have been phenomenal vacation spots. Some of my favorite images have come from the there.

Your Business

  • What was the pivotal moment when you decided to become a photographer?  It was in late 2009 when my first son was almost walking. I was working almost full time from home and started feeling like I was overwhelmed and failing at everything. I couldn't give my son 100% because I had to answer the phone, return emails, check production levels. And I wasn't able to give my job 100% because the baby was crying, or needed to eat, or was just plain bored. I found that I was often working after hours just to catch up which definitely put a strain in my marriage. That was the moment. When I felt like 5 arms were being pulled in every direction and I couldn't get a breath in. I had lost myself, my passion for working and the baby was crying.
  • What’s the best marketing tip that has worked for you?  Before I could market anything, I had to have a brand, a purpose, and a plan. So my biggest tip would be to make sure you have those in place. Do a business plan, have goals and objectives, do a break even analysis. Otherwise how will you know if the marketing you are doing is succeeding? Or even who you are marketing to. Because I am looking to cater such a defined niche, I had to look in the not so obvious places to find them. Networking has been huge to me. Community involvement has started to become widely beneficial. I am so big on the philosophy that the more you give, the more those synchronicities start to show up in your life. Networking is about helping others succeed in their business without asking what's in it for you. You start developing a web of people who are ambassadors for your business instead of passive observers.
  • What’s the most surprising thing a customer has asked you?  I think the most surprising thing would be to take portraits for an internet dating site. I do think there's a huge market potential for this type of portrait service, but just not my cup of tea to explore as a lucrative business avenue.  
  • Favorite print lab?  Pixel2Canvas for my gallery wraps and metals. I use a couple different labs depending on the purpose. Millers is a favorite, WHCC and H&H are other favorites. 

Your Gear
  • Are you Canon or Nikon (or – gasp--“other”): Canon
  • If you could only have one lens on a photo shoot, what would it be? My 50mm 1.2L
  • What brand bag do you carry your camera in? If I'm on a shoot, I use a Shootsac. I love having everything I need within reach. For storage I just use a Lowepro backpack.
  • What gear would we find in your camera bag? My favorite lenses, a Canon 50mm 1.2L, Canon 24-70mm 2.8L, Canon 16-35mm 2.8L, my Canon 5d Mark ii and Canon 50D as a backup, the Canon 580EX and another Canon 580 EX ii speedlite, lots of CF cards, backup batteries, and business cards.
  • Are you a natural light fan or strobe fan? I try and use natural light whenever possible, but I'm not against supplementing with flash.
  • Are you PC or Mac? Mac

Your Tips and Tricks

  • What post processing tools do you use? Lightroom handles most of my clean edits. I pull them up in Photoshop if I want a more creative edit applied. I've started steering away from the use of a lot of actions. I think especially starting out in photography, actions become more of a crutch and keep us from focusing on getting the basics of exposure, lighting, focus and composition right in camera.
  • Do you shoot in Raw or Jpeg? Raw
  • Best advice you would give your 20-year old self? Take more risks in life. Don't always follow the safe route because it is laid out in front of you. And stop buying things because they are cheap. Investing in great quality will last you in the long run, and you'll be happier right from the beginning. Just take a few days to think about whether or not it's really a need, or just a want.
  • Best advice you would give a new photographer? Read your manual over and over. Practice every day. Learn your camera and its capabilities. Learn to shoot in manual and learn when to override your camera's suggestions for exposure. Once you are completely comfortable with your camera and can think quickly through exposure challenges, then you have the freedom to be creative. And please stop thinking of other photographers as competition. Bring something unique to the industry and your market. Be open to sharing what you've learned, be gracious and respectful.
  • What site do you use for your photography and why? I use photobiz for my website and  wordpress for my blog. I question myself on whether a website is necessary and if the benefit is worth the monthly cost. Most traffic is generated by my blog but I also think that I just haven't had the time to maximize the use from the website. I love the ease of use Photobiz templates offer and the ability to customize them as well hosting client galleries if need be right from the site.

What Else Should We Know?

  • What was your worst photography experience? I'm hoping this isn't yet to be answered, but really I can't pinpoint a bad experience. Every experience has made me grow as an artist and a professional. I've looked back on past work and cringed at some of the mistakes I've made, but at the time I remember feeling euphoria and happiness that I was engaged in my passion and getting paid for it. For the first time I knew what people were talking about when they say “Do something you love and it never feels like work.”
  • What would surprise people most about you, whether it is photography related or not? Oh, probably that I am the worst morning person ever. I've heard it said that if you want to get ahead in life to wake up early. So I thought I'd try it for a week. Setting the alarm for 6am, I had grand plans of working out, getting a shower in, reading blogs and industry news over coffee...and my husband would laugh because I can't begin to tell you what a grand failure that was. I'm pretty sure I actually growled at him when he tried to push me out of the bed after the snooze went off for the 3rd time.
  • Tell us something else you’d like us to know: I am a proud Navy spouse. I love supporting my husband and am so proud of him for what he does but I don't define myself by him or his career. I am a huge advocate for breaking out of the traditional military spouse role. There are so many barriers and challenges that we face and it's always a hope of mine that I offer inspiration to other spouses to pursue their own dreams and passion and to live their lives creatively.

And Just Because we want to know you, fill in the blanks

  • Three things I can’t live without…. My children and husband, decaf coffee and a phone to stay connected with family who live so many miles away.
  • I wish I had more…..time.
  • The best thing about being a photographer is… creative freedom. It rejuvenates me.
  • The most important lesson I ever learned was….Feed your soul first. It sounds selfish, but you will be much better equipped to handle life when you have a grasp on who you are as a person, a mother, and a wife.
  • My favorite time of day is…right after the kids go to bed.
 Click it forward!

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