Author Archives: susanmichal

How you can avoid letting your kid’s “cheesy” smile ruin the family photo



Say cheese….who in the world came up with this?


When meeting with moms during a design consult before a portrait session, one of their biggest concerns is can I get a natural smile without the cheese? I can!! And so can you. The cheese smile, and we all know what it looks like, is fake and unnatural. Its The one you often see in school pictures. The question is how can you get rid of it.


First never… EVER!!!   tell your child to say cheese for the camera unless you want to deal with this forever. Mothers of very young children can avoid this situation by never letting anyone tell them to “say cheese”. This is a learned reaction that you can stop!

If it’s to late and your children have already learned to react this way for the camera,  don’t worry. There are ways to deal with it.  Believe it or not it starts with you.

Learn to be sneaky when using your camera. The biggest give away is the flash. Try turning it off. More on this in a later discussion. You will be surprised how much better your pictures will look.

You may see your child sitting on the couch reading or paying attention to something else. They have that beautiful inquisitive expression that you love. This is what makes a great image…not say cheese! Quick take your shot before they see you.

You have seen me work with your children. Next time really watch what is happening. The best images are the camera unaware moments. Most parents are so concerned that their children are not giving me the reaction that I want, that they often go overboard during the session, trying to get their children to smile… Or worse, say cheese. This makes things harder for everyone. Most often the relaxed natural look will be the image you will fall in love with…this is really your childs best expression.

Watch how I communicate with your children. Many times I will just start talking, ask them them questions. Sometimes I will chat with you, but I am always watching them- just waiting for the moment they let their guard down. That’s the decisive moment you get your image.  Of course practice makes perfect. This is what I do everyday. And just so you know, my own nieces and nephews will work me just like your children will work you. They know when your upset. So relax, and keep in mind-They will always react differently to another adult that’s in charge. In the end natural is always best.

Follow theses simple tips…

 Never ever tell your child to say cheese

Try turning off your flash so your child is not aware of the camera

Learn to be sneaky

And last but not least… Give your kids a break. Don’t get upset because they won’t do what you want them to do. This will only make them hate having their picture taken and remember, There is always tomorrow to try again!

 Keep in mind there is a reason you get your hair cut by a professional and a reason don’t do your own taxes…even though you could!  When it’s important to capture that innocence that will disappear all to soon… Leave the job to a professional. This is what we are trained to do. 


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Flowers in Transitions




I have always loved the amazing and complex beauty of flowers.They speak to me! I can literally spend hours photographing a flower and not know where the time has gone. I especially love the transition a flower goes through during itʼs life. Daily I find myself dropping everything to photograph a flower when I see it change into an interesting
state because I know that ten minutes later it may look completely different.Recognizing that small window of opportunity and having the discipline to act on it, has been key to the success of the flower images.

I am very aware of the short life that flowers have, and have been very interested in photographing them as they transition through the stages of bud to full bloom and
death. As flowers transition through different stages colors change drastically and the textures become intense. Many of my favorite images are of blooms well past their

In the beginning of this project I was more interested in finding unique flowers to photograph, but very quickly I began to experiment with more common flowers and realized that every flower was an incredibly interesting subject to photograph. Some of my favorite images are of flowers I found along the roadside blooming wild, or in my studio garden.

When you look at a flower through the camera lens you see things that you may never have noticed when viewing them with the naked eye. I love the complex textures the intense colors and the unexpected shapes. Some are soft and gentle in their beauty,
some are bold, many are funny and some are just strange, proving that God has an intense sense of humor and a strong imagination.

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Going unplugged is the newest wedding trend!

There is a reason brides and grooms are asking their guest to UNPLUG

I happen to channel surf by Fox and Friends today and catch a few minutes. I stopped and watched because I saw they were talking about wedding photography. There was a photo of a number of guest blocking the bride as she came down the aisle and the professional photographer had taken to Facebook to complain about the guest getting in his way while he tried to do the job the couple hired him to do.

I found it interesting that the Fox host took the opportunity to talk about how staged professional photography was, how long it took to get your images after the wedding and other disparaging remarks. They went on to say that at least now, the wedding couple could see their wedding images posted on FB right away. I guess that could be true! But, if the images are terrible, as most are, the couple could be very embarrassed by how bad they look. Sadly this is often the case. Recently, a bride told me how she thought the FB pictures her friends had posted made her look fat, and how it had runined her wedding day for her.

The value of having a Professional Photograher at your Wedding

Nobody at Fox seemed to recognizing the value of having a professional photographer at the wedding. Guest with cell phones can ruin the very moments they were talking about. There is no way to stage a bride coming down the aisle with her father towards the groom! That’s a completely candid moment, and when guests get between a professional photographer and the bride they can ruin that moment for the groom, and the couples parents, as thier veiw is often blocked by the standing guest. Not to mention the lost opportunity of a professional image of what is surly one of the most important moments of a wedding service. It would seem, that everyone thinks they are a photographer now days just because they have a camera in their cell phones.

Should wedding photographers be afraid they will lose jobs to guest with cell phones? 

The broadcasters even went so far as to say the professional photographer was just afraid that he was going to lose a job because of cell phones! What a ridiculous statement! While trying to capture a moment of your friends wedding with your cell phone is understood, it should be said that you’re not going be expected to bake cupcakes and bring them instead of a wedding cake nor are you expected to help the bride design and sew her wedding gown! Let’s certainly hope you are not expected to help cook dinner or serve it even though I expect most guest know how to cook! Can you imagine walking into the kitchen during a wedding and whipping up a few of your fave dishes for the other guest? Of course not! Why then, would you expect to help take the pictures?

Ok maybe this is a bit of a rant … But come on! As a professional wedding photographer, I know the value that these images bring to my clients after their wedding, and while I certainly don’t mind people using their cell phones occasionally during a wedding, there is a reason the biggest trend in weddings these days is going “unplugged.” This is when guest are asked to put down their cell Phones and enjoy the event!

Rant of a worried photographer, or just plain common sense, you decide! The host on Fox and Friends apparently have no idea what the true value of a professional wedding photographer is. The truth is most cell phone photos look about as good as the Betty Crocker cake a guest could provide would taste! To insinuate that a guest with a cell phone can possibly do the job of a professional photographer is just plain… well silly!

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Arbus Art and Business magazine of North Florida

It is really exciting to be the featured artist on the Cover of this months Arbus magazine
in association with Unity Plaza and the opening of my “Flowers in Transition” show, October 29th at the Trasher Horne Center at St.Johns State College. The show is the official introduction of my Fine Art flower photography to North Florida.

The show will be exhibited in the beautiful Jack Mitchell Gallery located in the Thrasher Horne Center. The show is open to the public during Box office hours. The public meet the artist reception will be October 29th from 7:30 PM until 9PM

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Dancer in the Utah Salt flats

I have always wanted to visit the Salt Flats in Utah. I recently spoke at the Inner Mountain Professional Photographers Convention and got a chance to visit the Bonnyville Salt Flats. I was fortunate to be able to have a beautiful dancer make the two hour drive out to the flats with me.

Even though Utah was technically in a drought situation the flats were not completely dry. Have you ever walked on wet salt? It’s an interesting feeling. I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of the very first available Canon Mark 5s camera’s with it’s amazing 50MB file. What a great way to break in a new camera! Wet salt and a dancer! My good friend Drake Busath helped me out with one of his photographers and another dancer went along to help with ideas and posing.

The light can be very harsh on the Salt Flats, much like photographing on the beach, and this day was no exception. We ended up photographing until 10:45 at night. The later it got the more romantic and beautiful the light got. I think it is important for photographers to get outside of their box and try new things. The flats were defiantly a challenge, But we ended up getting some amazing images.

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Why Every Photographer Should Compete

I have always felt like entering my photography into competitions would help me grow as an artist. There are many different competitions available to photographers that can help get their art noticed.

One of the most important ones for photographers is Professional Photographers of America’s International Photographic Competition. As a long time member of PPA I have always been a supporter of this competition. Having your work judged by your peers is perhaps one of the best ways for a photographer to learn and grow.

Choosing the right images to enter into any competition can be a daunting task! While PPA’s membership is primarily wedding and portrait photographers, the competition actually reflects all of the many facets of PPA’s members. There will be landscapes, commercial and food photography along with portraits, weddings and many other types of photographic art.

Photography has gone through so many changes over the last ten years and PPA members continue to be at the forefront of these changes and always pushing the boundaries.

I received my Master Photography degree from PPA in 2001. I have continued to enter this competition over the last 15 years. I recently received my Imaging Excellence Award. This is awarded to a photographer achieving 13 print merits over the needed merits for their Masters Degree. It’s that time again and I have been working to choose images for this years competition. Every photographer that enters hope for the holy grail of a ”perfect case”. This would be four merits and four loan prints, resulting in a Diamond Photographer of the year award. This is no easy feat! As with any competition, you can never predict what will do well. Opinions differ and what the Judges think will vary based on the make up of the panel.

Having the courage to enter competition can really help you grow as an artist. Developing a tough skin is a must for any artist. To see a sample of some of the images entered in to PPA’s competition go to or find PPA’s loan collection and showcase books on Amazon.


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Top 10 Favorite Wedding Images

Since I have been photographing weddings for almost twenty years it is a daunting task to choose only ten images that would be my favorite. As a disclaimer there are many thousands of wedding images that i have taken over the years and hundreds of them could be on this list. As  beautiful as they all are these are the ones I have picked! Of course I am a girl and on any given day I can change my mind. Enjoy!

This little guy was NOT enjoying being in tux. He was absolutely miserable and happy to let everyone know it. Sometimes these unplanned moments just play out right before your eyes… truly an all time favorite.


The bride and I were coming in from shooting some of just her when we open the door to this. It was so precious an unexpected. I fell to my knees for the best angle and literally within a second it was over. Apparently there was a bit of a sunburn issue and the most natural way to take care of the problem was to scratch it!


There are so many beautiful moments during a wedding. Cynthia had just been handed her bouquet for the first time and with out any direction form me she simply lifted it to her face for a quick smell. A perfect example of a caught unplanned moment that has always been on my favorite list.



This was one of the sweetest couples I ever photographed. They were so in love and ready to start their new life together. They LOVED taking pictures together and  would have done anything I asked. This was a quick  image that we have used many times over the years. Simple, sweet and FUN!


You can NEVER plan for a photographic moment like this. As the Bride and Groom left the reception they were coming toward me and stopped for a quick kiss. Serendipity was at play as a guest camera went of at the EXACT same moment as mine. I saw it happening out of the corner of my eyes and new there was a 50-50 chance it would ruin my image. Lucky me, God was on my side and  this was the result. Truly an all time favorite of mine.


I love a sexy bride and my friend, Ann, is a sexy girl! I was so honored to photograph her wedding, as Ann works in the wedding industry. While she was getting her make up done, I saw this and grabbed it. A true Marilyn Monroe moment. You go sexy girl!


There were so many beautiful images from Madyson and Billy’s wedding, to choose one was almost impossible.  Madyson’s chosen wedding venue very unexpectedly closed ten days before her wedding and almost EVERYTHING had to be rearranged. Mady was a trooper and got the job done. Her wedding to Billy was magical despite all of the craziness leading up to it. Madyson is very close to her father and this was a special moment between he two of them as they arrived to the ceremony in a horse drawn carriage. Truly the kind of moment every wedding photographer lives for.


Grady and Sandy were such a special couple. They had been together for ten years before they decided to tie the knot. There were so many special images from this wedding, but I have always loved this one. They are just enjoying each other and having so much fun.


This was truly a special wedding! The brides Mom had been very sick and passed away during the planning of the wedding. The whole day was just like a movie. Her Aunts were there to help her get dressed and there was nothing but love and support for this beautiful young couple. As the bride and groom exited the ceremony this was a candid image I captured. What i really love about this image is that it was taken over ten years ago but still looks as classic and fresh as if I had taken it yesterday. This was also the very first wedding I photographed almost entirely digitally. Thats was a BIG change for established photographers and I will always be grateful to have had such a wonderful couple to make that transition with.


I have always been fascinated by the way a new groom plays with his ring. I think I have enough fun images of this to do a book. Maybe another subject that would make a great TOP TEN! Of all of the fun moments like this I have witnessed this one is definitely an all time favorite. This groom was so sweet and had fun with everything about his wedding. Clearly that ring is not coming off anytime soon.


OK so you know I would have to pick an extra one. So here is number eleven.

Katie and Brian are an amazing couple. Their wedding was at the beautiful Cloisters in Sea Island, Georgia. I have been privileged to photograph their babies and extended family many times since their wedding. They feel like family, and truly building those kind of relationships is one of the best things about being a wedding photographer. Brian is a man’s man. He works in special ops and as you can imagine his groomsmen kept me hoping! But when it came to Katie, Brian was a big teddy bear. I LOVED this unplanned dip he pulled off beautifully at the end of the service. Take note grooms to be… This is how ya do it!




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FullSizeRenderMy friend Peter Lik is a world renown landscape photographer. In 2014, as President of Professional Photographers of America, I got to meet Peter while working on the presentation of his Lifetime Achievement Award, awarded him by Professional Photographers of America. We got to know each other and became friends during the process. I was so inspired by Peter. Not only is he an amazing photographer, he is a brilliant business man. His passion for the art of photography is unparalleled. It is pretty cool to be inspired by such a creative person. Throughout the journey of discovering the flowers and moving forward into a fine art genre, Peter has been so supportive and encouraging! We all need someone pushing us to take on a challenge and get outside our box, and Pete has been that for me! If you don’t know Peterʼs work you need to check it out. His landscape photography is absolutely amazing!

Find him at

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Big Tree Down

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It’s a sad day at Susan Michal Portrait Studio, we lost one of our beautiful big oak trees! :(

Many beautiful images have been taken with this tree as the backdrop.

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Headed to Engage Conference

I am excited to be heading to the Grand Cayman Island Monday to attend ENGAGE an innovative series of luxury wedding business events bringing together the wedding industry’s key influencers and thought leaders from around the globe to exchange ideas, network and be inspired to take their businesses to the next level of success. Can’t wait to get lots of new ideas and bring them back to Jacksonville brides!

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