Fall In Love With Film!

If you’ve been curious about film, or you’ve been wanting to attend a FILM INSPIRES! workshop, I have good news to you. I’ve just finished a big project called Fall In Love With Film, and it covers just about everything you need to know about shooting film. From modern MF and 35mm cameras, to toy and vintage photography, metering for film, getting creative with different techniques, developing film, choosing your gear, trouble shooting…there is a TON of information. It consists of:

– a beautiful 57-page PDF
– seven video segments demonstrating camera loading and film development
– my personal film development notes and data
– two print-sized images for your enjoyment
– if you buy it before Oct 30, you have full access to my Q&A session, and you can ask me any question you’d like.

The price? Tiny. Trust me.

You can find it here, and you don’t need to be a member to buy it. http://www.clickinmoms.com/cmu/archives/5494

Hope you’ll hop on over and check it out!

On plagiarism, invoices, and excuses

I’ve written on this subject a number of times, but it seems I need to do it again, and so I will.

I have a hard time these days not rolling my eyes every time a see a copyright notice on a photographer’s page.  Not because I think they shouldn’t post it, or because I don’t believe in defending copyright.  Quite the opposite; I’m a huge believer in our right to protect our work and be compensated for its use.  No, the reason I roll my eyes is because of the number of times I’ve seen those “all rights reserved, no use without written consent” words printed on a page right under my plagiarized writings.

That tells me that the photographer 1) is aware of copyright laws, and 2) will get all hot and bothered and offended if and when someone “borrows” his/her images, bio, or what-have-you.  (And please note, usually that bio has all kinds of words about how creative and unique the photographer’s work is.)

And yet, I still have to continually send out invoices to photographers who take my words, verbatim, and plaster them with no credit or permission across their websites, blogs, marketing — hell, even their studio walls.

Invoice, you ask?  Yes.  The first thing I send when I find unauthorized use of my work, whether it’s words or images, is an invoice.  This is because, as a working artist and writer, I demand payment for my work.  That is my primary goal.  And that’s lucky for the infringers, because I’m simply invoicing them the amount they should have paid in the first place; if I were to pursue it in court, I could ask for damages as well, and that is where the real money comes in.  I send that invoice as an opportunity for me to get paid for my work, for the infringer to avoid being put out of business with huge legal fees and damages, and for us both to avoid the headache of going to court.  Very often, the infringing photographer sees reason and sends the invoiced amount with an apology, which is the best case scenario.  However, quite often my emails and invoices are met with excuses and defensiveness — or worse, ignored entirely.

First, let me assure you that when I send that invoice, I am not bluffing.  I don’t kid around about my work and my income.  I will not send you an invoice and then give up and say, “Oh, well.”  I will send a second and sometimes third notice, and after that, it’s going to a lawyer.  Period.  So ignoring it is not going to help matters at all.  Also consider the fact that if I don’t get a satisfactory response from you, I have absolutely no obligation to keep the matter quiet.  Stealing and refusing to remedy the situation means that your reputation is going to take a serious hit.  And just to clarify, by the time I contact you, I have collected all the necessary evidence, including screen grabs, so denying it is senseless.

But let’s talk about that “excuses and defensiveness” thing.  Because that is what really gets my goat.  Here are the replies I see most often.

“I tried to found out who the author was, but I couldn’t find anything.”  I hear this way too much.  The problem is, it is simply not true.  I am not asking you to track down some obscure poet.  It is not difficult to find me and my writings.  Let’s be honest, here.  I’m not all that technologically advanced.  I don’t have crazy sophisticated software that seeks and destroys the tiniest little infringement.  I have Google.  If you have received an invoice for plagiarism from me, I probably found you via Google.  And the beauty of Google is that it works both ways.  So, had you typed in a sentence from that section of text you swiped, you would have found me.  In any number of places.  It is not difficult.  If you couldn’t find me, it’s because you made zero effort.

And here’s the real kicker: just because you “couldn’t” find the author doesn’t mean you had the right to use the words.  Whether or not you know who originally wrote the words, you know it wasn’t you.  So, either find the original author and ask permission, or do not use them.  If you choose to use them, you are choosing to take on the risks and consequences of your actions.


“I’ve never seen your article, and I wrote those words myself.  It’s just a coincidence.”  OK, let’s be reasonable here.  We all know that there are common buzzwords, phrases, and cliches in the photography world.  If we both happen to have the sentence, “I love making real memories of your kids that will last a lifetime,” I am not going to yell plagiarism.  However, when I see full sentences of mine, written in my identifiable voice, strung together and used verbatim, that is not a coincidence.  The most recent example of this was a photographer who claimed that all on his own, completely coincidentally, he penned the following words which happened to be identical to mine, published years earlier:  “People  photography is about people, not about photography. Great photography is a side effect of a strong human connection.”  I’m sorry, but no.  You may not remember having read it elsewhere (although when it is two full, lengthy sentences quoted verbatim, I have a hard time believing that) but the simple fact is, you read it somewhere and used it.  You had the responsibility to look up the original author.  There is no excuse.

“I found it on Pinterest and it said ‘author unknown’ so it was OK for me to use it.”  [pardon me for a second:  seriously, are you freaking kidding me?  Am I supposed to be laughing right now?  Oh, wait, you’re serious?]  Alright, let’s discuss this.  First of all, Pinterest is not an intellectual property grocery store.  You cannot go there to find stuff to use for your business, unless you track down the originator and ask permission as you should anywhere else on the web.  Pinterest’s own copyright statement begins with this:  “Pinterest (“Pinterest”) respects the intellectual property rights of others and expects its users to do the same.”  So, it is your responsibility, wholly and solely.  That said, you also must remember that there is no IP cop roaming Pinterest checking each and every pin for copyright violations and plagiarism.  Just because it’s on Pinterest does not mean that the person who posted the “original” did any kind of research.  So, that cool quote you found on Pinterest with “author unknown” or “anonymous” after it does not excuse you from doing the due diligence to check it out.  “Author unknown” is usually pure laziness.  The fact that the person who quoted it didn’t know offhand who wrote it does not mean the author is unknown.  It generally means they couldn’t be bothered to do five minutes of research and give proper credit.  In any case, even if the author is indeed “unknown” it does not mean you can claim that you wrote it, or represent that in any way.  It’s not just unethical and immoral, it’s illegal.  You are not the author.  You cannot legally claim to be.

“Well, it really inspired me and so I wanted to share it.”  Great.  I write to inspire, and to teach, and to motivate.  I’m glad my words worked.  But that does not mean you do not have to ask permission and give credit.  If you really appreciate the words, appreciate the person who wrote them.  Honestly, when people have emailed me asking permission to share my words with proper credit, I have never once turned them down.  Now, if you’re wanting to put my words on a product and sell it, with or without credit, then we’ll need to talk about compensation.  But to simply share the words with credit?  Absolutely.  I’ll be pleased and flattered.


“I’ll just take the words down.”  No. This misses the point.  By the time the plagiarism has come to my attention, you’ve already benefited from my work without compensating me for who knows how long.  And remember, nothing on the Internet is ever “gone.”  And so, no, it is not enough to delete the words and ignore the invoice.  If you steal a car and keep it until someone catches you, you don’t get to just give it back and get off free.  Not the way it works.  You used my words on your business site, in your marketing, on your studio walls….you owe me proper payment.  So, again, you can either pay the invoice or I can take you to court and add damages onto the bill.  (And just to clarify, if you pay my invoice, the terms state that you can continue to use the words for the specified amount of time.  Because that’s the way paying for license works, and I am allowing you, after the fact, to legally license the use of my work.)


Let’s be very clear about all of this.  Plagiarism is illegal.  It is intentional.  Ignorance does not get you off the hook.  And getting caught comes with costs, both to your reputation and to your wallet.  The Internet might make plagiarism easier and more rampant, but it does not make it more legal.


The best way to avoid all possible problems?  Write your own stuff.  Post your own pictures.  It’s a creative industry, for the love of God.  Let’s all create for ourselves.


The reviews are in!

The first run of the Art of Self-Critique Online Workshop was a smashing success.  Here’s what some of the attendees had to say:

One of the best things I’ve done for myself EVER.

On the second day, I already knew that this workshop had exceeded my expectations. CJ covered a huge variety of topics from processing to composition to light and how to use these skills and your own vision to assess your own work. I’m a hobbyist who mainly shoots my own child, so I often have that dreaded question in the back of my mind – is it mommy goggles? CJ helped me trust in my vision and skills. She literally spent hours with each workshop attendee. I felt like it was more like a week long mentoring session, but instead of her telling us what worked and what didn’t, she helped us to decide for ourselves. I recommend this workshop to anyone from beginner to pro, it was probably one of the best investments in my photography, I just wish I had done it sooner!

The workshop was simply amazing. Eye-opening. Enlightening. I have a much better vision for my work now. I’m inspired and invigorated, and I feel like I know where to go next.
But the best measure of success is that nine of the ten attendees have signed on for a Part 2 workshop, covering even more techniques and assessing and directing their photographs and body of work.
Because demand is so strong, I’ve just announced several more opportunities to take this course, which you can view in the post directly before this one.  I hope you’ll join us for an amazing learning experience!

The Art of Self-Critique, Online Workshop

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know how passionate I am about thoughtful, insightful critique.  It’s critical to every artist’s development, and helps keep you motivated and challenged.

Just as important, however, is the ability to step back and really see your own work.  So often, the photographers I work with are feeling frustrated or stuck, second guessing themselves, not sure where there work is at both technically and artistically, and therefore not sure what steps to take to grow in the right direction.  While an outside perspective is invaluable, knowing how to spot your own habits, perspective, aesthetic preferences, strengths, and weaknesses is absolutely necessary.  If you’re like most photographers, you spend a lot of time beating yourself up over your work; let’s turn that into a valuable, positive skill set instead!

This workshop is designed to give you a clear method for critiquing your own work in an objective and logical manner, to help prevent frustration, and to allow you the skills to build confidence in your own work.  The course will run five days, Monday through Friday, and is absolutely appropriate for every level of photographer.

This truly might be the best investment you’ve ever made in your artistic development.  Let’s do it.

Upcoming dates:

August 5 – 9 (full, but waiting list is available)

August 19-23 (a few spots left)

September 23 – 27 (just one spot remaining)

Limited to the first 10 attendees


To register, please email cjnicolai08@gmail.com




Good news!  CJ is getting a raise!

I’ve kept my online critique rate at $150 since I began offering them several years ago. I adore giving critiques, however with more opportunities and demands on my plate than ever before (I’ve taken on the role of Managing Editor for Focus Magazine!) it’s time to adjust that rate a bit. For the next seven days, if you contact me to schedule your critique, you can still get the $150 rate; after April 4, the rate will change to $175, and promotional specials will be rare. I have been honored to critique some of the best in the business and art world, and I’m looking forward to working with you!

For details and information on how to book, please click the critique tab to the right.  Thanks, and happy shooting!


 – CJ

All Women Are Beautiful! Online Workshop

All Women Are Beautiful! That’s what I’m calling my next online workshop, scheduled for March 25 – April 6 (UPDATE!  This workshop will run again June 3 – 15.)   Whether you should portraits, families, seniors, maternity, or boudoir, this workshop is about using lighting, posing, wardrobe, angles, and other elements to create the most flattering photograph possible — without faking it in Photoshop! (If you didn’t read my recent rant, please read my previous blog entry.  If I’m going to rant, I should do my part to counteract the trend!) This workshop will include critique, lessons and assignments, lots of examples, and discussion, and will be a whole lot of fun in the process. We’ll all talk about incorporating a woman’s natural characteristics and your own personal style to go WAY beyond standard, cliched poses. Let’s truly celebrate every woman’s shape, and learn how to make women look and feel their best! For more info, please email cjnicolai08@gmail.com, or simply reply below. I do expect this one to fill quickly, so now’s the time!

March 25 – April 6, 2013

June 3 – 15, 2013


Registration is first come, first served, and is currently nearly half full.

Orchid Mei

Orchid Mei

Let’s be honest…about boudoir photography

I was in the gym this morning sweating out a week’s worth of bar food and bad habits (because I’m human.) I love to go to the local rec center, where I don’t feel I have to wear a full face of makeup and designer yoga pants with flashy letters across the bum to feel accepted.  I work out looking like early morning death, with lots of sweet little old ladies.  It’s great.

I found myself watching the few younger women who were there, particularly the ones who looked strong, thin, toned, and in the kind of shape most of us want to be in.  And I reminded myself, as I often have to, that not even those women have perfect bodies.  They don’t.  And if you told them they did, they’d laugh at you and tell you exactly what is wrong with them, and why they’re “fat” or “soft” or “awkward” or “droopy.”  Because that is what we women do.  We criticize ourselves to death and never truly believe a compliment.  I’m 5’8” and 115 pounds and I work hard to be in the best shape I can be, and I still walk around most days feeling chubby and flabby.  I’m just like nearly every woman on the planet, holding myself to an impossible ideal and struggling against feeling unattractive.  It’s insanity.

I worry, like every other mother out there, about my daughter, who has always tended toward being overweight and who would prefer to just be a couch potato most of the time.  At twelve, she’s finally started to understand that in order to be healthy and happy as an adult, she needs to stay active and eat healthfully.  But I worry about things like anorexia, peer pressure, teasing by girls who are shaped differently than she is.  I worry that her generation will be as obsessed as my generation is over numbers on a scale and imaginary or perceived body “flaws.”

I see constant posts and threads on Facebook and other social media along the lines of “real women have curves” and “all women are beautiful” and “beautiful women come in every shape and size.”  And we readily repeat this mantra, yet none of us seem to want to be the woman who is that shape or size.  We can appreciate that a certain curvy woman is truly beautiful, but those same curves viewed in the mirror are simply “fat.”

Where is this insanity coming from?

Well, we love to blame “the media.”  We rail on about ultra-thin models, magazine cover retouching, TV shows that only cast the genetically gifted, all of those things.  And yes, those do contribute, however that altered reality persists because the public pays for it.  So, yes, we also are nearly as quick to blame “society”––that of course being a code word for “everybody but me.”

It’s time to address this––particularly if you are a photographer like me.  And particularly if you are a female photographer (although men, this all applies to you as well.)

I started out photographing children, and then families, and gradually shifted toward adults.  I absolutely love photographing people of all ages, but lately I’ve been particularly drawn to photographing women.  I love it.  I love working with them, I love laughing and joking around with them, and I love the process of lighting, positioning, and styling the female form.  I love putting a woman so at ease during a session that she nearly falls asleep.  I love showing them photographs that make them tear up a little, and see themselves differently and more positively. As a film photographer, I’ve never developed much in the way of Photoshop skills, so I’ve always been forced to get it right in camera.  I’m extraordinarily grateful for that, more now so than ever.  Why?

Because the more I look around at this genre called “boudoir” these days, the more irritated I’m becoming.  The concept is wonderful: take an “average” woman, whatever that means, and make her feel beautiful and sexy, to celebrate her curves and uniqueness. That is a wonderful goal, and I think every woman should do it at least once in her life.  The trouble is, the industry on the whole is not helping women embrace their bodies; it’s teaching them that a Photoshopped, liquefied version of them is much more pleasing to the eye.  Got a little softness in your abdomen?  Don’t worry, poof, it’s gone.  Have hips?  Well, you shouldn’t have that much, we’ll subtract that.  Have a roll or two because you are a healthy woman who actually eats?  Well, not anymore.

We, as a whole, are not celebrating women.  We are celebrating our ability to fix them in a digital representation.

When we digitally alter a woman’s body in a significant way, we are telling her that she is not good enough as she is.  That walking around in her every day life, she has flaws that are objectionable to the eye.  And we’re feeding the disconnect that every woman has between how she thinks she looks, and what she sees in the mirror.  We’re teaching women not only to want to be digitally distorted into an impossible ideal, but to expect it.    Because seeing themselves photographs as they actually look is just too unpleasant.

Part of the problem is that photographers have become lazy.  It’s just easier to ‘fix it in post” than it is to actually flatter our subjects in camera.  Who needs careful, thoughtful, effective posing, lighting, and wardrobe when you can just use the liquefy tool?  While we’re at it, why even learn how to create flattering work on our own that really, truly conveys that woman’s personality, when you can just buy a posing guide and insert your latest subject (of course using Photoshop as instructed to fix the issues the original pose caused.)

Look, I am not anti-Photoshop, and I’m certainly not anti-digital.  I have the utmost respect for people who know how to do amazing things with either and/or both.  When I see an amazing photograph, I fully appreciate it and the work that went into it, regardless of the medium in which it was created.  And I have no problem cloning out a zit that would probably be gone tomorrow anyway.  I really don’t care if Photoshop is used to change colors, add crazy effects, remove objects, add backgrounds, anything like that.  I don’t even have a problem with minor adjustments when a neck wrinkle or a slight bump or lump here or there detracts.  But “fixing” a woman is wholly different.

And yes, I do realize that the old Hollywood retouching artists were certainly not above using that retouching machine to slim hips and nip waists, although the difficulty and tedium involved meant it was more minimal and certainly not on every image.  But it’s back to the old “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”   By creating these heavily altered, body distorting “portraits,” we are creating “records” of someone who never existed.  We are perpetuating the myth that all women should be perfect.  We, female photographers, are bringing this on our own gender.  We applaud the Dove ads featuring average-sized women, while we Photoshop-melt off the pounds to make our clients artificially happy with themselves.

It’s time to hold ourselves accountable, on both sides of the camera.  Focus on lighting, posing, and styling a woman to look as good as she possibly can, without falsifying her.  Let’s make her look like she does on her best day, without going overboard with mind-bending fakery.  Let’s develop the eye and the skills to create something flattering and beautiful without trickery.  And when you find yourself on the other end of the lens, remember to apply that same philosophy to your own photographs. There is true beauty in imperfection.  Maybe if we start letting women look like themselves, we can all start seeing that we really are beautiful in every shape and size.  And maybe things will be a little bit healthier for our daughters.