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Before and After, Why Professional Editing is Important – Alaska Family Photographer

Photo editing is a really important part of photography, that not many people think about. Most of the time professional photographers shoot their photos as a file called RAW. Basically when they come out of the camera they are really flat, and perfect for editing. Once in a while a photographer will shoot in JPG. But if you try to edit JPG’s it can damage the file, and it doesn’t have  the dynamic range that a RAW file has. Some of the things I do to improve an image is to add contrast, warmth, clean up the background, clean up the skin. What most people don’t know is that after shooting the photos, the work has only just begun. It does take quite a while to edit the photos from each session by hand. I consider my work art, and so just shooting and burning a disk is not something I do. I spend quite a bit of time improving the image so it looks great to put up on your wall. Here is a before, it’s not bad, just not what it could be….

Here is the after. This is the work that comes from countless hours of education, and practice.

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Worlds Best Smoked Salmon Chowder Recipe! Shhhhh…. I’m Giving Away the Family Secret!

It’s fall in Alaska, and all of our freezers are stocked with beautiful Salmon. It’s that time of year where we all pull out our sweaters, and watch the leaves fall from the trees. This is a recipe that is delicious, and there is a reason…..fat. It’s got bacon, butter, and cream. But I am telling you, it’s worth it! Please share this email/page with friends and family. Everyone could use a good soup recipe. First, you need to smoke you up about 2-3 lbs of salmon.

6 Large Potatoes

1 Large Onion

5 Stalks of Celery

6 Strips of Backon

1 Bottle of Clam Juice (it is a real thing)

2-3 lbs Smoked Salmon torn to pieces

1 QT Heavy Cream

1/2 Stick Butter

Cut the potatoes into small cubes, meanwhile chop up the bacon and onion into small bits. Fry the bacon on low so it’s crispy, add the onions at the end and saute them until they are clear. Drain off that fat, because like I said, this recipe has enough to go around. Chop the celery and place bacon, potatoes, onion, and celery in a large stock pot if you have one.

Put that bottle of clam juice in the pot with the potatoes and cover with just enough water to touch the top of the potatoes. Cook on a medium heat until the potatoes are soft but still keeping their form. Add the smoked salmon bits, and cream and then lower the heat. Cook for about 45 minutes to an hour and don’t let the pot boil. Stir occasionally. Right before serving add that delicious half stick of butter!

Serve with crackers or sourdough bread, and enjoy the best bowl of smoked salmon chowder you’ve ever tasted!

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Baby F. – Alaska, Anchorage, Palmer Newborn Photographer

I love natural newborn photos. In my opinion for the most part babies should be photographed in their parents arms. That is naturally where they would be in the first place! All of these photos were taken in my home studio in Palmer. It’s great because you just come for your shoot at the studio,  I want it to be as stress free as possible. I start all of my clients with a consultation where we talk about what to wear, and what to expect. Then we have the shoot, and then you’ll come back when the photos are done for the viewing session. Shoot be an email at if you are interested in finding out more about my sessions.

natural newborn photos taken in palmer, Alaska studio

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A Day in the Life! – Alaska, Anchorage, Palmer Family Photographer

I’ve been trying to photograph my own family more often. I fiercely love these little human beings, but I’ll be the first to admit that I do get overwhelmed.  All of my kids have very strong personalities, and are not sweet demure people. I’m glad that they have their own minds, but it does end up with a lot of fighting. So, it’s constantly something we are working on. But at times, it does make it hard to pull the camera out.

For this day, I decided to set my camera to JPG black and white. It was fun! I love to watch light, and with great light black and white photos are stunning. Take a look at our day below, and thanks for looking.

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Summer Evening Joy – Alaska Family Documentary Storytelling Photographer

Pure joy, that is what is on the face of this 4 year old. Sometimes I’m in complete denial that he is old enough to be in Kindergarten next year. Where did the time go? He is a hoot to have around, and loves to get revenge on his older siblings. Although, he doesn’t know it, but they love this game that they play. They ride their bikes past him and he shoots them with the sprinkler! It usually provides a good hour of fun. He really is the sweetest little kid. He does this thing where he will take his little right hand and cup my cheek. Then he will stare into my eyes with the cheesiest smile you’ve ever seen, until I give him the same smile back. Then he decides that we’ve connected enough I guess, gives me a hug and goes to bed. I kind of hope he never stops doing it.

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What to do if your toddler wont cooperate for photos? Tips from a photographer who was that toddler!

Early one morning my mother decided that she was going to take me to go get my photo done at the local JcPenny’s. She had 6 kids at the time, and obviously wanted to show the world her youngest little beauty! I’m surprised that I can even remember this event seeing as I was so young, but I do. The photographer sat me up on the bench, stood behind the camera and told me to smile. Now just in case you don’t know me well, sometimes right off the bat I don’t like people. I did not like this photographer. Looking back on it, I felt like he was talking down to me. So, I did what every little sassy pants toddler does…I REFUSED to smile. He then proceeded to try everything he could do to make me smile, and nothing worked. Out of desperation my mother bribed me with an ice-cream shake if I would just give her one smile. I can still remember the desperation in her voice! At that point I knew I had won! I gave my mother what she wanted, this sassy little smile, and we were out the door to get that shake.  What is interesting is that this last Christmas this picture came up, and we didn’t talk about how cute I was. We laughed about what a stinker I was that day! So what can you do to have a stress free photo-shoot with your toddler….

  • First, hire a photographer that is good with kids. I try my best to get down to their level and introduce myself right off the bat. Kids often get talked down too, and if you read the above story you’ll know that they don’t like it.
  • Maybe a sitting portrait isn’t for them. Let them play for a bit, and then try to engage them. Talk to them about something that is interesting to them and try to capture their reaction. Please don’t ask your child to say “cheese”, there is nothing I hate more than the word “cheese”! Maybe a storytelling/documentary session to remember what their childhood was like would be a better fit for your toddler than a portrait session.
  • Try not to bribe. I’ve seen this tactic many times. I’ve seen kids be bribed with anything from ice cream to a trip to Disney Land. Often times the parent has to keep bribing to keep their kid to keep smiling. My approach with toddlers is to just let them be. They like getting attention, so take the focus off of them for a bit. Then when they are ready, play with them, and most of the time they will want to be part of whatever is going on.
  • In the end just ask yourself what you want to remember about this moment? Do you want to remember how frustrated you were? Or do you want to remember picking flowers with your toddler and making them giggle. The best photos are made from real emotions.

I hope this helps! Thanks for joining my newsletter!

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Tips on how to Photograph the Northern Lights – Alaska Photographer Christal Houghtelling

On Christmas night I stood next to my car in -40 degree temperatures outside of Denali National Park trying to capture the perfect photo of the Northern Lights.


Because photographing the northern lights is addictive, magical, and so much fun. It was also on my bucket list, and it’s probably on yours as well. The dancing lights can be fleeting, so I want to give you some tips on how to get it right the first time.

Denali northern lights dancing across the sky by photographer christal houghtelling of palmer alaska

Protecting your camera:

Taking your camera in and out of the cold can cause condensation, and so it is very important to properly protect your camera. I place my camera into an extra large airtight ziplock bag. I then place the camera into the camera bag that I have also had out in the cold. The condensation will form on the bag and not on my camera. The reason I place the plastic bag into a cold camera bag is to allow the camera to adjust slowly to temperature changes. Just be sure to let your camera warm up slowly, it can take quite a while.


Protecting yourself:

Be prepared for the weather! I live in Alaska and -20 or colder at night is normal. I wear thermal underwear, long sleeved shirts, a heavy winter coat, snow pants, snow boots, gloves, large mittens over my gloves, hat and a face mask. I also use hand warmers in my gloves, and my boots. I like to be warm! Obviously this might be overkill for where you live, so prepare yourself accordingly. DO NOT touch your tripod without gloves in very cold weather. It can be very painful, I know from experience!


Recommended Gear for photographing the Northern Lights

  • Tripod: You will need a tripod for the long exposures that are required.
  • Shutter release: Although this isn’t a requirement, I find that using one helps keep the photo sharp, and free from camera shake.
  • Wide angle lens with a wide aperture: I use a wide angle lens exclusively for my northern light photos.
  • Extra Battery: You will be taking lots of long exposures, and the cold reduces battery life! Be sure to keep an extra battery on hand. I keep mine inside my coat to keep it warm.

Recommended Camera Settings

Your camera settings will vary depending on the brightness of the Aurora, but here are some good starting points.

  • Aperture: Keep your f-stop around 1.4-2.8, or the widest your lens will open up.
  • ISO: Start with an ISO around 1000, and increase or decrease as needed.
  • Shutter Speed: Shutter speeds will also need to vary depending on your desired effect. If the lights are dim try shooting around 1/15-1/25th of a second. If the lights are bright and really dancing, increase your shutter speed to 1/10 of a second or faster to catch the movements.
  • Focus: I set my camera on manual focus, and focus to “infinity”. Then I check and adjust as needed.

The northern lights can be unpredictable, and can change in intensity. You will need to adjust your settings as needed throughout the shoot.

Don’t let the dark winters keep you indoors and away from shooting. Yes, it can be hard to drag yourself out of your cozy bed, but it is worth it! Just don’t forget to stop for a moment and really enjoy what you are seeing. Now get out there and capture some magic!

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