A fun way to gift a photo

Cathy ZielskeCZ Life, Products & Classes17 Comments


I am not a professional photographer.

I am a scrapbooker and I have an expensive camera. I know how to frame a shot and press the shutter. I know to avoid direct sunlight. I know what open shade is. I understand depth of field, more or less.

I never shoot on manual. I rely on actions to improve my images. The reason I am telling you this is that just because I’m not some highly paid professional photog doesn’t mean I can take an awesome snapshot of someone and make something special with it.

If you’re the family photog, chances are you get asked all the time, “Hey (insert name here), can your bring your camera to (insert event here)?”

Yep. It’s the curse of owning a camera that likely cost more than your entire shoe collection.

I’m happy to bring my camera along. So often I end up leaving it home these days, but if asked directly, I usually comply.

Such was the case a few weekends ago to celebrate the recent wedding of my friend Christine Teel (I call her CT), and her new hubby, Brian. CT is the person responsible for introducing me and Dan back in 1989. She and Dan were friends from high school. In fact, they dated for a while and were voted “Biggest Punksters.”

(Yep, my hubby graduated with actor Peter Krause. So there’s always that. Also, the yearbook staff? Horrible proofreaders.)

I met CT in French class at the University of Texas–Arlington in 1986. One day she was called on to stand up and say something about herself. “J’aime la musique du David Bowie,” she said, and I thought, “I can get with that.” A friendship was born.

CT and I spend our latter college years hitting the clubs of Big D (Dallas, Texas). Deep Ellum was our new wave stomping ground. We filled our days with cheap beer, alternative music and Kodak T-Max film. I used her for nearly every photo assignment I had in my various journalism and photography classes. She was the coolest chick on film in all of North Central Texas. My Nikon F3 loved her.

When it came time to graduate, CT, originally from Winnipeg, decided she was going to move back to Minneapolis where she had gone to high school. At that time, her boyfriend and a guy named Dan Zielske were going to drive down to help her move back up North. She told me, “Oh, you’ll LOVE my friend, Dan.” Truer words were never spoken. But back to the story at hand.

I arrived before the party started to snap a few shots of the newlyweds. It was very casual. I had them stand here. I had them sit there. I took about 20 photos. Done and done. Throughout the night, I snapped a few more shots of friends, croquet games, drinks, flowers, etc. Just enough to capture the essence of the night.

When I got home and looked through the photos, I found a couple nice shots of CT and Brian and then hit them with a few Totally Rad Actions. Then I made one set of 8 x 10 Signature Prints from Artifact Uprising. I think the results are really cool.


And to add a little photog swagger, I signed my work.

The thing I love about these is that they are not professional photos. They are the result of me looking through a lens and taking a few shots. I also love the idea of giving people the gift of a photograph. Something tangible and more substantial than just a 4 x 6 print.

The best part of all of it? She loved them.

And that’s good enough for me.


I’m proud to be an affiliate of Artifact Uprising. I receive a small percentage of each sale I link. 



Cathy ZielskeA fun way to gift a photo

17 Comments on “A fun way to gift a photo”

  1. #2

    Love this story. I too am the family photog. About to head on family trip of a lifetime (Alaskan Cruise for in-laws 50th anniversary) and feeling the pressure to perform. Thanks for giving me some perspective. I’ve been curious about actions. Think I’ll have to do some tinkering when I get back to town.

  2. #4

    Great story!! I am also the “go to” photographer for family gatherings and among our friends. I took one college photography course. In 1986. In fact, I used my fully manual Pentax K1000, almost exclusively, for the next 20+ years. Finally changed to a digital SLR in 2007. When you said,”Kodak T-Max” I felt a genuine pang of nostalgia! Man, those were the days.

    I think that having a basic understanding of lighting/depth of field/how to frame a shot, and, more recently, how to enhance the images with some photo editing software, has given me everything I need to take satisfying pictures. A person can have the most expensive camera in the world, and the latest version of Photoshop, but if they haven’t developed “the eye”, I think they tend to be disappointed in the results.

    I was incredibly lucky, Cathy, to stumble upon one of your books years ago. Not only do you have “the eye” (in spades!) and amazing design skills, you are so very generous with imparting your knowledge. When my kids were babies (yes, I was old when I had them!), and even now, I have what I imagine to be your voice, in the back of my head, reminding me about the beauty of natural light coming through the front window, and about keeping things simple. I still have the piece of black velvet fabric I bought back then, which I used over and over again! I have duct taped that baby, and several other homemade backdrops, on many a surface while taking baby announcement and Christmas card photos for friends. Good times.

    Many thanks for continuing to share your wonderful talent with us, and for being so candid and genuine. It’s so fun being along for the ride!


    PS- Artifact Uprising rocks!!!

    1. #4.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Monica, you know what’s crazy? I had to Google “black and white film” because I couldn’t remember which film I used. I also remember using Tri-X Pan and some by Ilford. Thanks for your comment. 🙂 That black velvet… I remember it well.

  3. #6
    Christine K.

    Love this story. I am the family photographer who also relays on actions. Love that your husband went to school with Peter. Six Feet under is one of my favorite former shows.
    Do you use VSCO cam? I put it on my iphone but I really need a tutorial to learn how to use it.

    1. #6.1
      Cathy Zielske

      I loved that show, too. And yes, I do. I’m slowly learning how to use it. I wish there was a guide to the actions.

  4. #7

    I love opening the package from Persnickity Prints, shuffling through the pics and then, every once in awhile, it hits you. This pic is awesome. You thought it might be but live, in person…..so much better. I love it when that happens.

  5. #8

    So cool! Simple, clean and “PERFECT”….from one person who takes photographs to another…keep the joy in it, you will never be disappointed!

  6. #9

    P.S. love the artifact group and their new adventurous ideas of signing single prints ..thanks for you example.

  7. #10

    I can’t get over the fact that your husband went to school with Peter Krause! 🙂 (great photos, BTW)

  8. #12

    Love this post… So often I’m more scared of messing photos up when I’m being depended on for the family shots that I shy away from bringing my beloved camera – I often shoot some on auto so I know I will at least have some good shots but otherwise it’s just another of the hobbies I am passionate about… thanks for such a lovely, thoughtful opinion about this field of photography.

    You rock Cathy!

  9. #13
    Jenny B.

    Very nice! Are the prints thick? They look great.

    I had never heard of Deep Ellum until last week when some friends were talking about their college days and taking a road trip to Dallas for a sorority sister’s birthday where they lost one of their friends in Deep Ellum. Apparently she went to a different bar with some guy and then showed back up at their hotel the next day. They were all furious with her and gave her the silent treatment the rest of the trip. Aidan knows about the buddy system, right?? 🙂

    1. #13.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Very thick. They can stand on their own. And I’ll make sure she understands the buddy system!

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