The Brand

When I was in grade school, nothing came easy to me. In first grade, I had a very hard time learning to read. I remember my mom working with me every night with real concerns I might have some learning disabilities. Turns out, I didn't but what I did need to do was put in a lot of extra effort. It wasn't just reading that took me longer than normal to get the hang of. Math was another area I struggled in as well as test taking.  However, although I was not a fast learner, I went through all of my schooling as an honor role student. For me, I needed to put in effort. Lots of effort....and once I did, it would click. Some people are just like this...and I am one of them.

Developing a "style" with my photography is another area that fell in this same category for me. With all the other photographers I follow on social media, it's been hard to focus in on a "style" that represents me. I've spent years testing the waters of overly saturated images, extremely desaturated images, high contrast images that pop, flat images that are soft, images that are dark and moody or images that are bubble-gum bright. I've dabbled with photographing animals, landscapes, people, weddings, candids, lifestyle, events, sports...you name it. I've not really had much of the luxury or understanding of focusing on one area and becoming great at it. Until, I put in the extra effort to figure it out. And I did.

While re-creating my site, I went through all my old hard drives, pulling images from old shoots that I liked. They were all over the map, literally. But, slowly, as I narrowed down a select handful, I began to see a pattern of what I was drawn to and instead of trying to mimic other photographers, as I always had before, I just went with what I liked. I like people. I like color. I like bright light. I like laughter. I like the sun and anything outdoors. And, I like animals. That pretty much sums me up and when I pulled back to see all the photos I have dug up from past shoots to put on my site- it was just that- my style. I guess it has been there all along, just clouded by my own thoughts and head getting in the way- thinking I should shoot like someone else.

Putting together my new site has been exciting mostly because I've put together a body of work that feels like "me". It's easy to lose track of who we are with so many talented people out there making great work that we want to be like but if I've learned anything it's stick to what works for you....and for me, that happens to be sunny, optimistic, light hearted photographs.

Welcome to Michelle McSwain Photography. It's been a long road to get here, but now that we're here, nothing is going to stop us. 💛

Snow Day

Woke up this morning to a real life snow globe. I spent the first few hours of the morning catching up on work for an upcoming shoot until deciding I needed to grab my camera and get outside. I hopped on the subway headed to the West Village to capture the scenes of New York in the snow. I had all intentions of meeting my good friend Kivvi to shoot some portraits but my phone died right when I got off the subway so I had no way of contacting her. It was all good though. From 14th street and 5th Ave I walked downtown and west, through Washington Square Park and onto the cobble stone streets of the West Village. Pretty dreamy.

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91 Horatio

This past weekend, we did our last big flower job for awhile with the ever talented Vicky from Dinner Bandits. It was a small intimate wedding that took place in Meat Packing at 91 Horatio. Working with Vicky is always such a dream. She designs and executes the most dream-like spaces. It was her idea to create this gorgeous garland to hang asymmetrical as the focal point of the ceremony.

I used lemon leaves, Italian ruscus, and jasmine to give a wild garden look. I spaced out some Shimmer roses along with a couple Juliets and O'Hara roses.  Hanging it was not easy, but the outcome was definitely beautiful. We completed the ceremony with bunches of seeded eucalyptus and more Juliets to line the aisles. 

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As center pieces on the tables, we went with a collection of different bud vases showcasing two to three stems each of lithsianthus, ranunculas, stock, jasmine, and wax flowers. 

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As much as I have loved learning and getting to work with flowers the last year and half, as I work on my new mobile App, I've decided to focus my time on my freelance photography. I definitely plan to revisit flowering and it will always be something I love however, it's time for me to focus. I look forward to sharing more of my lifestyle photography over the next few weeks!

Home.

I'm back in Brooklyn after spending a month in LA hiking and creating. I couldn't believe how easy it was for me to pick up and go spend a month focusing on being alone and daily creating photographs. It was definitely something my body was craving.

There is really one person to thank though, through out my time in LA, and it's Adam. His unwavering support through the past month was all the encouragement I needed to go and be alone to create for a bit. Not only that, but, he showed up at the end of my little sabbatical, took me outside under the California stars and got down on one knee. I'll spare the intimate details, but, it was perfect, and simple. There was champagne and little Julep was right next to us the whole time. For about 60 seconds, every emotion completely overwhelmed me as we sat underneath the stars hugging.

 

It was such a monumental moment, for both of us, to look each other square in the eye and make a conscious decision to commit as life partners. In all my life, this sort of commitment has always been a deep fear of mine. However, after one minute of being in my head and feeling speechless, it completely went away. It was just us. It was just Adam. And if there is anyone I'm going to adore for the rest of my life, it's going to be him. My fear almost immediately turned into an overwhelming sense of love and excitement.  I was on sensory overload, trying to burn in my mind every single detail around us so I'd never forget. The sounds, the feeling, the smell...all of it. We sat in the same position for almost the entire night, not wanting the moment to be over. 

We did finally move though...and since then, I've unpacked all my things and I'm back in Brooklyn. This time, it feels like I'm living with my new family however. A lot of people have asked me if it feels different being engaged and, not to sound cliche, but yeah, it does. It feels a lot different. It feels like I'm home.

Whims

As I have been practicing floral design, I am realizing more and more, it's hard to plan out exactly how each piece will turn out. I can plan the colors, the style, the vase, even a vision. But what I can't seem to plan for is how all the stems will look when put together.  They each bend in their own unique way. Each bloom displays different pigments. Each petal creases different than the next. No matter what techniques I try, there's only so much I can control. It's like I'm really at the whim of each stem and how they all fit together.

When I first started looking for a dog to adopt, I had a whole list of requirements of things I wanted in a pup. The most important was size. I wanted a big dog. BIG. A REAL dog, if you will. The time I had looking for a dog was quite complicated here in NYC (it's not an easy process here) and by the time Julep popped up at a shelter I was ready to just take almost any dog. But, she seemed perfect. They said she would grow up to be around 35-40lbs and was a Shepherd mix...very close to what I was going for. So, I took her home. At the time, I thought, ah, she's perfect and that's a good "city dog" size. Through the first couple months of having Julep though, it became abundantly clear that she was in fact a Chihuahua mix and would mayyyyybe break 15lbs when full grown....

What.

It was hard not to be disappointed. In fact, it was just hard to not be in denial. I had done everything right, I thought! I searched for months for the right dog. I did all my research. How did I end up with a TINY, CHIHUAHUA mix of all things!? 

As it turns out, a year later, I think she's absolutely perfect and I never would trade her size for anything now. It definitely took awhile for me to swallow down that I was a "small dog owner" but, I love this small dog more than anything. In fact, I love that she never grew much and it's what's allowed her to be in LA with me these past weeks. 

It's something I've noticed more and more the older I get. You really can't plan for anything in life. Sure, you can do your homework. You can educate yourself to the best of your ability, Try to make wise decision. TIme things. Buy all the right flowers. Read all the books. But you can't plan for what life has in store. I can't plan for how my bunch of Anemones are going to bend and stand. I can't plan for when the poppies will fully open up in bloom. I couldn't plan on a certain size Julep would grow up to coming from a shelter.

We're all just doing the best we can. There's something beautiful about this part of life. For me, it's translated over into each flower design I create....even if it's not as I planned. There is something perfect about all of life's imperfections. Even a tiny Julep.

Candle Making & Hat Wearing

Friday night was my first night "out on the town" if you will. I met Sarah and we hopped from spot to spot in Venice beach until randomly stumbling upon someone's private 40th birthday party (so we gathered). The party had spilled out onto the side walk from some sort of garage/house (?) and we helped ourselves inside. It was as if we walked onto a movie set of what you think* Williamsburg Brooklyn looks like. The place was packed with caricatures of Hipsters (is that even possible?)....all trying so hard to out do the next. I counted- at least 85% of people, male and female, had on a random hat. You guys, it was wild. It was so wild, and so far from what actual "hipster" Williamsburg looks like (having lived there for the past 8 years), that Sarah and I concluded this most definitely had to be a costume party. There was no way any of these people were serious about their attire for the evening...

We enjoyed our free drinks and stood around in awe, judging the "costumes".  It was harmless judging since we knew no one there and oddly felt out of place, I mean, we weren't technically invited nor in costume. But it got me thinking about judging....and why we do it. My dad always tells me that the things we point out in others that bother us or we make fun of are usually a direct reflection of something we don't like deep down about ourselves. I thought about that a lot the next day. Maybe I am just jealous I can't pull off one of those ridiculous hats...or maybe I wish I was confident enough to even try?

I wasn't going to post that I had been making homemade soy candles. I felt like one of "those" people....the kind with so much time on their hands they can blog about making candles. And then I realized, wow, I'm judging myself. Post about the candles! Make the candles, guys! Wear the hat! Who cares! Do you. And don't let anyone make you feel weird about it.

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How to make soy candles. Woop.

1. Melt some soy candle wax flakes, on medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. I used this pouring pot.

2. When the wax has completely melted and turned transparent, remove from the heat. Add in whatever scent you would like to use. I used geranium rose and lavender essential oils. I put in about 2 teaspoons, or until the smell was fragrant. NOTE: There are specific candle scents you can buy that are apparently more fragrant than using essential oils...but this is all I had around and I don't like my candles over powering.

3. Let the wax cool for about 25 minutes. In the meantime, add your wicks with clips (I used these) to your glass containers. 

4. Pour the wax into your containers, centering your wick. Trim the wicks to be level with the top of your container. Let your new cute candles set for at least 24 hours. 

Then, there you go. Your first homemade candle. 

How to wear a hat:

1. Put it on your head.

2. Be confident.

Moscow Friday

I love putting flowers in little mugs all over my house, especially in the bathroom. Nothing says "attention to detail" like a Moscow Mule mug full of fresh blooms on the back of your toilet...am I rite? Also, this is a great idea for a wedding reception. Instead of plain glass vessels as center pieces, mix it up with some pretty mugs or stemless wine glasses. Since it's Friday, I'll be re-purposing these two to actually hold the contents they were meant for. Lemme hear ya, Friday!

Julep's Day

A year ago today, I stood inside Social Tees animal shelter in the East Village and for the first time held this shivering, tiny, puppy in need of a home. She was my baby the moment they placed her in my arms and I had to see to it that she was never cold or scared ever again. And, it's been that way ever since. 

People love their pets. People have separated pets from even really being "animals" anymore. We humanize them- giving them traits like you would a little kid growing into their personality. I do it too. I mean, Julep is a princess in every way, preferring to sit in my lap while I eat dinner and sleep under the covers with me....and I let her! It's crazy! But then again, it's not. I'm definitely not the first to let their dog snuggle all night but then again, why have a dog if not to snuggle all night. Dogs take on the the real-life role of your first stuffed animal you would pretend was alive. You tell them everything. You talk to them. You even come home and ask them how their day was, as if they could respond. And as if they'd have any more to report other than they spent it waiting on you to get home (or in some cases, ate your couch). You take them to the doctor when they have a belly ache. You even let them sleep horizontally across the bed at night, with you hanging off the edge, because they are just too darn precious to disturb. 

And wow, can we talk about their capacity to love, again, another way we humanize them. But there is something special about the sheer excitement and joy they express when you come home. I've never experienced that before from any humans, especially not every time I open the door. Animals sure know how to make you feel loved. And it's the least I can do in return to make this little Julep feel loved back. 

Adam and I ask each other all the time, "Do you think she knows how much we love her?" I'd like to think so. I sure hope so. Over the last year, she's become our most favorite topic to discuss. Sometimes, we go out to dinner and spend the entire time talking about how cute she is and how funny she was earlier that day. I'd like to think it's brought Adam and I even closer, giving us a common responsibility, and one we love taking care of together. 

On behalf of Julep, I hope one day, we can live in a world where we see the capacity for love and emotion in all creatures...not just the ones we deem pets. It's contradictory and very heart breaking to know that 9.1 billion animals, just like Julep, live horrendous lives full of fear and stress. It's very easy to look at meat as just meat, but I hope, more and more, we can see meat for what it really is, or was...a living, feeling, being, just like our dogs. There are so many ways to get involved, and even start small, into helping change the industry so less and less animals are suffering. During my time here in LA, I'm volunteering with Mercy For Animals, one of the few organizations dedicated to raising awareness around factory farming conditions, environmental impact, and animal equality. Their website is full of small ways to make a big impact.

So, today, I celebrate Julep and all the animals out there that just need some love...like Julep did a year ago. I'm glad she made it into my arms. After all, it's the animals who have it figured out...not us:

“A dog has no use for fancy cars or big homes or designer clothes. Status symbol means nothing to him. A waterlogged stick will do just fine. A dog judges others not by their color or creed or class but by who they are inside. A dog doesn't care if you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his. It was really quite simple, and yet we humans, so much wiser and more sophisticated, have always had trouble figuring out what really counts and what does not......I realized it was all right there in front of us, if only we opened our eyes. Sometimes it took a dog with bad breath, worse manners, and pure intentions to help us see.” - John Gorgan, "Marley & Me".

 

Wilting Dahlias

Today, I spent over two hours either on hold or on the phone with NY State of Health. Collectively this month, I've spent over 5 hours on the phone with them. In December, I spent roughly 7 hours working on getting health insurance for myself/on hold.  At the moment, I'm sans health insurance until March 1st. Either, I don't get it...or they don't get it. Someone is not getting it....which appears to be me...not getting any health insurance. Anyways, while on hold today, I made this:


California Poppies

The biggest difference I've noticed so far, in my four days in California, is the abundance of nature. I've also found myself spending more hours outdoors rather than indoors. It's a nice change and I know Julep has been loving our daily hikes and trips to the beach. Our little house has a backyard where I can keep the door open and let Julep run in and out as she pleases. A couple times now, I'll notice I've not heard anything out of her for a little bit and I'll look out the window and she'll be sprawled out, basking in the sun. We're really soaking it up here. With the door open, I get this beautiful flood of natural light. I've loved being able to photograph with it and play with how it lights up these translucent poppy petals.

Poppies are long stemmed and delicate. I've watched all of these bloom right in my kitchen, shedding their outer skin with their crinkly petals bursting out.

Self Worth

"Does the sun ask itself, "Am I good? Am I worthwhile? Is there enough of me?" No, it burns and it shines. Does the sun ask itself, "What does the moon think of me? How does Mars feel about me today?" No it burns, it shines. Does the sun ask itself, "Am I as big as other suns in other galaxies?" No, it burns, it shines."

-Andrea Dworkin

Entrepreneurship

When I was 8 years old I started my first company. I wish I had some cute story around how it all came about but unfortunately, I do not. It just seemed like the most natural next step. I hadn’t seen anyone else in my short life start a business before so I’m not sure how I even got the idea. Although years later, my dad would go on to start a few ventures so maybe I was just born with it. All I remember was 1. I liked to create. 2. I liked including people. 3. I wanted to buy myself a trampoline. And thus, my first company was born: Parkridge Kid’s Paper, "PKP" for short. 

My family had a built a nice house with a white front porch that sat on a high hill in a suburban neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky. From the outside, our house fit right in with the other red brick houses lining the streets. The only difference was that ours was the bare minimum square footage required to be able to build in that neighborhood. But hey, we made the cut. Directly next door were 3 siblings, John, Blake and Drew. They had a trampoline. Directly across the street was the house where Heather lived. She had a trampoline. Directly behind my house, was Todd and he also had a trampoline. Everyone had a trampoline it seemed but me. Day after day, I would ring John, Blake, and Drew’s doorbell and ask if I could jump on their trampoline. If they weren’t home, I’d go across the street and ask Heather. And if she wasn't home then on to Todd's. If no one was home I'd just climb the fence and jump my heart out anyways. I was determined. 

You see, I had to have a trampoline. It was not only annoying for me to not have one but I was becoming annoying towards everyone in my neighborhood as well. I remember asking my mom if I could have one for Christmas a few times one year. The answer was no. I never totally knew why but looking back, trampolines are not cheap and they can definitely be dangerous. For whatever reason, it was something I never really pushed her on and just accepted I wasn't going to change her mind. So, I decided I’d make my own money and buy it myself. No one could say no to that.

Parkride Kid’s Paper was a weekly “newspaper” I put together and included my two neighborhood friends Justin and Kacy, neither of whom had a trampoline. We united our efforts and imagined how we would not only secure a trampoline but share its use, even though I insisted it would be best located in my backyard. Weekly, Justin reported on Sports.Kacy wrote a segment on weather. And I wrote an on going short story that would pick up in each new paper where it had left off in the previous. 

We went door to door selling our weekly paper for fifty cents. We were even successful in convincing a few to sign up for a "subscription". 

As you could imagine, revenue on a fifty cent paper was slim. We were going to need a second  source of income. To expedite the trampoline fund, I created my second business, the trusty old "Lemonade Stand". This proved to be quite profitable. Margins were low, especially considering all of our Country Time Lemonade, Dixie cups, and ice cubes were donated by my mom. One summer I earned $78 selling lemonade to construction workers building new homes in my neighborhood. 

In spite of our economic success, it still took several summers to earn $350, the cost of a trampoline. By the time we reached the goal I was more interested in sun tans and highlights in my hair. I ended up spending the earnings on a small hammock and several bottles of SunIn

I’m not sure if it was living with a family who always had just enough to get by or if by nature I was quickly bored, but I became someone who loved to create work. Which likely explains my slight obsession throughout my adult life with the creation and operation of my own businesses. Soon after turning 28, however, I had a momentary lapse of judgement and took a corporate job. Chasing a variety of dreams, free-lancing here and there as a photographer, developing a photography mobile App, or inventing a photo booth had all become exhausting and I wanted just one job. Just one thing I could excel at.  After all, I was finding it more and more embarrassing to try to explain to people, some of whom insisted I should just settle down and find a good paying "job", what I actually did. It was a question I would dread from people. My response was a jumbled, "well, I'm sort of a photographer, sort of an owner of a start up, sort of an amateur floral designer...." I was just a lot of “sort of’s.”

Luckily, that judgement call did not last too long and I quit the corporate job. Everyday I'm growing more and more comfortable in my own skin and accepting who I am, really, who I have always been.  And even if none of my “million dollar ideas” ever actually make me anything close to it, at least I know, it was my idea and I made it with my own hands. It's all the meaning I need.


Lala Land

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I came up with this plan in September of last year. It’s not as random as it might seem since LA has been tucked away in my heart since I first visited seven years ago. The beaches, the warmth, the outdoors, the food…I’ve been plotting ways to get my butt there for so long now. Finally, the timing seemed right. New York was approaching the dark days, literally, the dark freezing cold days that annually send me into my own deep, dark days. My business partner and I had decided that by end of 2016 we would no longer be working on LightBomber, and a side flower business I had spent the last year trying to build had come to an abrupt end. Everything was feeling pretty bleak. So that’s when I decided to make a change. I’d spend the coldest month of the year living near the beach in LA.

Of course, you make a plan, stop worrying about all of your worries, and then everything falls into place. A nice reminder that things do work out. As for LightBomber, that’s exactly what happened. As soon as we stopped trying, everything came together. Not long after I finalized my plans for LA, LightBomber signed contracts to merge with another company, a funded development company. Finally, we could give our long exposure photography App a real shot. Spending a month away will help me continue to focus on the new app we are building and launching in just a few months. I can’t wait to share the progress.

But, what about my newly developed love for flowers? Having spent the last year studying, interning, and practicing floral design, I decided to make a new home for my experiments. It’s become my favorite thing to photograph, which I’d never really had before. Here I hope to share my creations…along with snaps of my accomplice and California native pup, Julep. 

This is a work in progress. One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received while starting businesses and launching products was to just "put it out there". Even if it's not perfect, even if it's not where you want it to be, make it live and put it out into the world. This site is nowhere close to being "done" but...it's live. 

My home for the next few weeks: