From the heart essays

I quit! ...the corporate world

Portland's best photographer

...not photography, the other thing.

This post has been a long time coming. The winds have been stirring around here in the last couple of months. 2015 was a year of build-up and it finally all culminated into some much needed changes.

1- I started a grad school program. Give me two years, and I will have three extra letters after my name: M, B, and A. I'm not exactly sure where this will lead yet. I have some thoughts and aspirations to go into coaching, consulting, or business education with other creative businesses, but who knows. My goal is to find new opportunities, to extend my horizon, and to basically become a business ninja.

2- My totally awesome husband recently transitioned into a vice principal position at a middle school. Oh the stories. I was never that young and naive, right? ...I can feel my mother rolling her eyes now.

3- As for the meat of this post, yes, I recently put in my notice at my day job. While I have a mix of emotions, for the most part, I'm really excited! I've been unhappy and stuck for a while. My drive hasn't been fulfilled and ultimately, I need a place where I can be creative. And by creative, I don't just mean keeping in touch with my artsy-fartsy side (although I like that too). I need to be able to implement my own vision; to problem solve, to critically think, and to construct change. I need to be able to be autonomous and flexible. Basically I need out of the corporate world, at least for a while, but maybe forever.

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I can unequivocally state that starting and running a small business is one of the hardest things to do to make a living. I have so much respect for people that have built a successful business. It's one of the reasons I love Portland so much. Competition is fierce, but this city supports local business like none other, and the culture that has grown from that supportive mentality has made this city the coolest place to be. I've enjoyed all the perks of Portland's culture for 10+, and it's time to jump, cannon-ball style, into the thick of it. It's time to participate.

So I guess this post is my announcement. The start of a new story. I've been walking through the woods of entrepreneurship for a while, but have never lost site of the corporate highway. It's time. I'm moving out of the brush and into the thick forrest unknown. the a deep enough metaphor for you? 

Portland Professional Photographer

As I write this post, I feel vulnerable. It's like I'm opening my chest to give everyone a little peak of my heart. It's scary to expose myself, especially when I'm not sure where this journey will lead.

I use photography as my medium to connect with the world. Through running my photography business, I have found a passion for business. I'm excited to be able to spend my time honing my craft and getting my hands dirty in the entrepreneurial world. I'm excited to work with other creative businesses owners (more on that coming soon-ish). I'm excited to test myself, to find out what I'm made of and to see what I can really accomplish. So while I'm feeling vulnerable, I'm also feeling hopeful and eager; like a great adventure is on the horizon.

Portland's best photographer

I guess I'm also hoping you'll tag along for the ride. I'll be blogging about twice a month about new adventures and my favorite recent shoots. I'm also going to keep running 10 on 10 (which is a blog series which photographers from around the country documenting and showing photos of their own lives on the 10th of each month). If you'd like to get notified with each new blog post, you can sign up here.

I'm also starting a MONTHLY NEWSLETTER. The purpose of the newsletter is mainly to document as I navigate through this new journey. It's a place to communicate challenges, hurdles, and accomplishments. least that's what I think it's going to be. It may change or progress, but it will have different content than the blog. If that sounds like your jam, sign up here.

Lastly, I have a mailing list for photography specials and highlights. This will be sent out with promotions and client announcements. It's my way to give a little extra to those who have shown their support. You can sign-up for that here.

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One more thing before I stop typing. I think it's important to recognize the support that I've had thus far. Two days ago I got the best random text from a client saying how much she cherishes her family photos. When I hear that, it make my heart swell. I love documenting of the best things in people's life to keep like a little time capsule, and I love even more being able to do that as a profession. My small way of making the world a little more connected.

A big thank you and an even bigger virtual bear hug to all those past, present, and future clients/friends. Thank you for your support on this journey. Thank you for telling your friends and for believing that your life is worth documenting.

The Growing Family

Portland Family Photography, Courtney Z Photography

Some recent stories:

#1 - A few months ago, I randomly got the chance to have dinner with an aunt and uncle that live in Florida. If I’m lucky, I get to see them once every other year, so we had a good amount to talk about and catch-up on; life, career, family, upcoming changes and challenges, etc. Of course we got on the topic of photography and documenting life, real life. I mean have you never met/read me before? It's like all I talk about. …and you may hear more about this part of the conversation in the coming months.

Anyway, mid-conversation my uncle said something that stuck out to me like a pin prick. It was something like:

The thing I remember most about when Mitch was young was when he would fall asleep on his bedroom floor, wearing his superhero costume. 20 years later, I wish I had real documentation of that.

Portland Family Photography


#2 - I got an e-mail from one of my repeat clients from over the last year. Like a handful of my families, I've been around to document their son at different time points in his first year. It's one of my favorite parts about this job, to see how a family grows and changes over the years.

Her e-mail was in response to sending her a gallery of our latest session:

"I'm glad we did three sessions this year. It is so crazy to look back through the 6-month session and see how different he looked then! I almost didn't remember him like that!"


#3 – If you know me at all, you probably know that family is really important to me. …I feel kinda weird even writing that. I mean, isn’t family really important to almost everyone? It’s your backbone. Anyway, over the last two and half years, there has been one little lady that’s been particularly important to me and Nabil, our niece Myra.

Here’s the thing about kids. They grow like freakin’ weeds. In fact, I have a killer dandelion in my front walkway that grows slower than this girl. We see her as often as possible, but in reality, that translates to about twice a month. Sometimes more, sometimes less. You can imagine I take photos of her almost every time she comes over. Naptime in particular.

Can you believe how much she’s changed over the last six month? Each time I see her, she has grown, changed, learned...


Are you sensing a theme here? Throughout life there are key moment and phases, but those moments are just that, moments. They’re fleeting. They’re temporary.

One of the challenges about being a photographer is trying to convey the value of professional photography, especially this day in age when everyone has a decent camera in their pocket. But the thing is, real photography of real moments transcends time. It’s something that becomes more valuable as time passes because it freezes a moment that you won’t ever get back.

Having the opportunity to stay with families and see their kids at different stages in life is really something special. It's a unique opportunity to be able to get a somewhat intimate view of a family once a year. I get to see milestones, how they have their mom's eyes, and how that mischievous smile still hasn't gone away. You know the one that says, I know that you want me to walk towards you, but I'm about to run the other way. ...and then fall in the dirt and get my nice cloths dirty.

I can't tell you how often I hear something like "I miss seeing my kids at that age. At the time I just wanted that phase to be over, now I miss it". 

If you've read my blog before, you know that I preach this from the hillside. (If you haven't you can read more ramblings here and here). Documenting your life with intention gives you the opportunity to later look back at your life and remember all the best pieces that the present often clouds. It gives you the chance to lay to rest all the frustration and irritations time has a way of dissipating, and instead to celebrate what once was and what is now. I can't count how many times I've looked at an old picture of my sister or of my husband and I, and had that ache of nostalgia and the joy of growth all in one moment.

…so, I guess what I’m trying to say (again), is that making it a priority to intentionally and regularly document your life and your family will be something that you will value more and more with each passing year. It costs money, yes, but so does that patio furniture or that new phone, and only one of these things will be around in 20 years. Whether it’s with me, another photographer, or with your cell phone, make the time to remind your future self that you lived a pretty kick-a life.

Portland Family Photography

...and if you're interested in booking something soon, you can check out some info about upcoming holiday mini sessions here.

7 things in 7 years

On August 9th of this year, Nabil and I celebrated our 7 year anniversary. In many ways it seems like we have been together so long that we know each other better than any one else, and to be fair, that's true. We were together for 6 years before we got married. We grew up together. We became the people that we are today, together. And then on the other hand, I feel like our wedding was just last year. Time has flown  this last couple of years, and I really don't see it slowing down any time soon.

Over the years though, we have learned a thing or two about being married and how to basically rock the whole thing. So in honor of 7 years of marriage, and 13 1/2 years together, I'm bestowing 7 gems of wisdom onto the interwebs.

7. Every thing is the hardest thing

This is a weird one, and sometimes I'm still on shock about how much people project their own struggles in a relationship onto someone else's life. But it happens, a lot. Every single year we hear something different about how we are about to embark on the hardest part of marriage. "Being engaged is the real test", "The first couple of years are the hardest", "Year three is always when you start fighting", "This year is when the real work starts", "Marriage has years of difficulties. It takes lots of hard work", "the 7 year itch...", "Don't have kids, they ruin a marriage", "Hurry and have kids to save your marriage", etc.

To be frank, we have learned that everyone is full of shit. You make your own relationship. You have your own ups and downs, your own twists and turns. Your journey is your own. Make it what you want. Tune out the crap as much as you can and focus on the person across the table. Nabil and I take the time to focus on one another and our relationship, but it no way would I consider it "hard work". In fact, when we put in the time, it comes pretty easy.

6. Communication, blah, blah, blah...

This one is cliche. Sorry, but it's for real. We talk a lot. We talk about family, career, politics, our house, and the future. We talk and make each other laugh. We talk about how to communicate better, about finances, about sex, about kids (or no kids). We talk about where we want to live, our hopes and dreams, and social issues. We have inside jokes and movie quotes from way too long ago that we've already forgotten where they originated, but it still makes us laugh. We talk without talking.

Here's the thing. We talk because we want to be on the same page. We check in with each other and want to be there for one another. He's usually the first person I tell when I'm upset or frustrated or stumped or excited. We talk so we know each other and so we change together.


I would put this not just as advice for marriage, but also advice for life. You have one life. One chance with limited time on earth. You're the one who has to live with your choices. Take it and make it the best you can! Don't waste your time being where that doesn't make you happy or being with someone who isn't good for you.

I don't want to look back at my life in 15 years and say "why did I spend so much time in that job?", or "...with that person?", or "...letting that happen?" Live the life you want to live. You only get one. This is it. Make it a goal to look back at your life in 15, 20, and 40 years and say "ya, I'm pretty damn good at this whole living thing". When you pick a partner, find a person who also has that same goal.

Portland Wedding Photography

4. Be your own person

Nabil and and I have made this a priority for our entire relationship. We started dating in high school, and we knew that if we were going to survive college and keep our relationship afloat, we needed to make sure we were able to grow on our own. To be our own person. We make sure to have our own interests, our own groups, and our own goals.

Don't get me wrong, we both actively participate in one another's interests, but we are also both very independent. I want to be the person to hold his hand as he finds his best self. I want to support and cheer for him, but I don't want Nabil to ever feel like he needs me or depends on me to be himself. I think he's pretty great on his own. I love that we are both sifting through life trying to find our way, and that the other person is there to hold one another's hands, to maybe give one another a boost when necessary, but not to hover or be a crutch.

3. Supporting one another is different than setting expectations

I'll be the first to say, I started our marriage with all of the wrong expectations. I had this idea in my head what it meant to be a wife, to be an adult, and to be a professional. Spoiler alert, adults are just as confused as teenagers about life and marriage isn't meant to be any one thing.

I think I started with this idea of the white picket fence and a wrinkle-free, Pleasantville marriage. What I didn't realize was that my unrealistic expectations were putting so much unneeded pressure on our relationship and on my life. Life isn't perfect. I am not perfect. Nabil is not perfect. And once I let go of that idea of perfect, life and our relationship became a lot easier. Instead of setting expectations for each other, we try to support one another to become the person that we want to be. Allowing one another to grow at their own pace in their own way has ended up blowing both of us away by what the other is capable of doing. Every single person in this world is just trying to find their own path, to be their own person, and by working as a team instead of as a coach (or another parent), we've been able to find a balance of being happy with ourselves and as a couple.

2. be nice to each other

It sounds simple enough, but often I think that people get so busy with life and get caught up in the chaos that we take out our stress and frustrations on the people closest to us. I know that I'm guilty of this sometimes, but really when I take a step back, I think I should be the nicest to Nabil. If I'm a complete ass to everyone else, I should be nice to my husband. He's my person. He's the guy I come home to at the end of a long day. The world is hard enough on all of us as it is, why would I want to add to that for Nabil? Why would I want to pick someone to spend my days with who may add more anger, or resentment, or frustration onto me? I don't.

Be nice to one another. Simple.

1. Liking each other is more important that loving each other

This is my number one for a reason. It seems like all couples go through the same kind of path. First you are attracted to one another and form this kind of "liking" for the other. Then over time and shared experiences, you grow to love one another. If you're like us, you may even have some sappy story about the first time you said the L word. It was nerve racking and left you vulnerable, but felt so good when the other person said it back. And then you get married and make a family and live happily ever after, right?

Well, kind of. What I have found is that love starts the real parts of the relationship, but continuing to like one another keeps it going. I like that Nabil is funny. He makes me laugh and makes our friends laugh. I like that he is caring and loyal. I like that he works hard and is motivated to always be better. Basically, I like who he is as a person. I want to hang out with him everyday and to hear about his day. I want him to tell me about the people that he works with and all the hot office gossip. In my mind, he's still the coolest dude in the room. 

Courtney Z Photography

So that's it. Those are my gems. Stick around for another 7 years, and maybe I'll have 7 more pearls to give you.

Until next time...


You Matter

I'm sitting here watching the very last episode of 


. Well, I'm watching it now, but by the time I'm done with this post, it will most definitely be over and I will still be crying. I don't know about you, but I think this is about the best show to ever grace my television. Ever. Anytime Nabil comes into the living room and I am in a puddle of emotional mush, his first comment is "Parenthood?". It's a good kind of cry though.

The show gives you the bad with the good, and it cuts to my core because that's real life. In real life you get in fights with your spouse, you might fail at your own small business even though you put all of your blood, sweat, and tears into it, and you will probably get so frustrated with your family that the only thing you can do is to yell, loud. Life is frustrating, unfair, and really, really hard.

But then there is all the good stuff. This month I made my 

10 on 10

 about my beautiful niece, Myra. I have so much love for that little girl, and she doesn't even know it yet. It feels like my heart is going to pop when I see how excited she gets to see her uncle. "Play?" she says as she grabs his hand and leads him into her room strewn with all of her toys; each of which she plays with for a total of thirty seconds before she's bored and it's onto the next. It's that moment that is the highlight of our whole week. Probably of our whole year. Probably more.

But back to the show. Tonight as I began my weekly ritual of removing my mascara with my own tears, I was reminded (again) why it is so important to document life. I'm not going to give any spoilers, but I will say that in the last episode, there is a wedding. ...I guess there is a little spoiler. Sorry. One of the characters, Max, photographs the wedding. That's such a simplistic and almost diminishing way of putting it, because what he's actually doing is giving everyone a reminder of a time they all shared together.

Thinking back to my wedding, my favorite part of the whole weekend was seeing all of the people that were the most important people to the both me and my husband in the same place, at the same time. Nabil's high school and college friends danced with my parents. My dad laughed with Nabil's relatives from Texas. And my last living grandparent made her last big trip from home. She past away three years later, and my favorite memory of her is still watching her cut a rug with her walker in tow at my wedding. Hindsight is 20/20, but if I were to know that day would be one of the best times of my life, not just because I married the love of my life or partied till I couldn't take it anymore, but because all of my favorite people and all of Nabil's favorite people were in one place celebrating us. If I would have known that then, I would have tried a little harder to soak it all in. Thankfully, I have some incredible photos to remind me of the whole day.

In the present, the bad things seem so difficult and our failures seem so big, and if you are anything like me, you tend to minimize your own successes. As life goes on, the bad things seem to fade away with the past, and you really only remember the good. The real good. Not the things you bought, but the moments you shared. The relationships that you have in your life now, may not always be there, so hold on to what you have because you never know when it might be gone. I know that sounds cliche, but it doesn't make it less true.

My favorite photos that I have from my wedding and throughout my life are the photos that show real life and real relationships. The photos of me and my sister being as weird as we always are around one another. When we were little I half hated her and half loved her. There is one photo in particular of Syd back in the day. It gives a twinge to my gut. For one because I know I should have been nicer to her, but also because I love her so much now. I love how much we have been through together. I love that she is my best friend now and I love watching her reach all of her potential. I'm not shitting you, that girl is out of this world amazing. I see that photo and I feel so lucky to be her only sister. I don't even have to share. All of that, in one photo.

Nabil and his two siblings and they share a similar story. When you are in the same room with them, you can feel how much they like each other. I don't just mean that they love each other because they are bound by blood. I mean they actually want to be around one another. Everyone has their crazy quirks (and I'm no exception), but they will always stand by one another and be the first in line to support the other.

I guess what I'm trying to say, is document your life. You will not see that line in your chin in 5 years. That thought will disappear, and instead you will see how much you love your daughter. You will be reminded that when your son was young his little nose used to get so red whenever he was out in the cold. And that thought will make your heart ache, because he isn't that little boy anymore.

Document your life. Do it for your family, and your spouse, and your best friend. Do it for you. Document your wedding because it is the only time all of those people will physically come together to support you and your relationship. Cherish the time and the relationships that you have. If you ever lose someone, cherish it all even more. Document your life so you have a reminder how much you are loved and how much you love. Document your life because you are important. Your kids and your grand-kids don't just love you as they know you now, they love you before they even existed. Celebrate real life. Document your life because you and the people around you matter.