Family Photos with Augusta and Mitch

Wife Watches While Her Husband Holds up their Baby Girl in the Window Light

I just love it when former wedding clients contact me to do family photos! It was so thrilling when Augusta and Mitch reached out to me to see if I could capture some photos of their family! I love getting the chance to check back in and catch up with past clients, and I especially love it when my clients have kids! Their daughter was so adorable!

This shoot was so much fun because Augusta and Mitch are such fun people! Their daughter is so lucky to be blessed with such great parents. All throughout the shoot, Augusta and Mitch were constantly playing with their daughter. Her face lit up ever time they were around her!

This shoot was so much fun! Babies and toddlers can sometimes be difficult to capture, but not this one. She was incredibly photogenic and really lit up all throughout these family photos. There was hardly a single moment where she wasn’t laughing and smiling! Their daughter was an absolute delight throughout the whole shoot and she’s just so incredibly adorable!

Doing Family Photos Brings Me So Much Joy!

Sometimes I don’t really stop to take the time and write about how much I love doing different photo shoots. I really love weddings, but when I do family photos, like these, it gives me a break from the 8-10 hour days that’ll only ever happen once in a life. The way my clients interact with each other and love on each other is so inspiring. I know how it is with families most of the time: a hot mess. So I love delivering photos to them that capture them at their best, when the kids that aren’t screaming and crying and the house isn’t a mess. I know how much I treasure those moments with my family.

If you loved these family photos, check out some other shoots I did with Augusta and Mitch!

Augusta and Mitch’s wedding photos!

Their engagement photos!

Hendrick’s Yelp Elite Event

Hendricks gin and hors d’oeuvres were at the ready at the Garfield Park Conservatory, just waiting for a group of Yelp Elites to visit and consume them while learning to make cocktails. The mixology class was held in the beautiful Horticulture Hall. The tables and chairs were surrounded by plants and the roof and walls were all glass, allowing for a maximum amount of light in the building. It was the sort of venue that photographers dream about… Well, at least I do. Participants at the event were taught how to make cucumber lemonade and sumptuous seasonal lemonade. It was a lovely afternoon, and I had a blast capturing it.

Storytelling with your Photography

Every picture you shoot tells a story.

At a wedding I was shooting with my wife, I headed outside of the reception venue to capture some exterior shots of the venue. While I was shooting, one of the videographers working the wedding approached me and he said, “Sometimes I wish I did photography instead of videography. You guys have it so easy, because you don’t have to do any storytelling.” I just smiled in response, but in my head I was sighing in exasperation.

Every picture you shoot tells a story. Some pictures will tell multiple stories. Make sure that one of those stories is that you are a great photographer. As a photographer (who used to be a videographer), I have spent a lot of time working on making sure I can light shots well, focus well, and that I can compose shots well. If you are a professional photographer, then lighting, focus, and composition should be natural to you. If they are not natural, then shoot more until they are natural. This way your mind is freed up to think about the story that you are telling throughout the shoot. Your real goal when you shoot is to capture compelling stories. Focus on trying to capture the essence of your subjects whenever you see that bubble up to the surface of their skin, to capture the way they feel about each other, and to capture the way they feel in relation to those around them and their environment.

If every picture tells a story, then as the photographer you are the author of that story. If you do not capture a good story, then someone else will. They will capture it on a phone or camera or just as a memory that they tell to their friends. A good story is better than a pretty picture or a beautiful video. A good story lives on in the memories of everyone that comes into contact with it, so make sure every picture you shoot is telling a great story.

The important part is that there was a vision.

So here’s one of my favorite images from 2015 that my wife and I captured. Think about what it conveys to you, and the story its telling, then I’ll go into a little bit of detail below about the photo and what it meant to us.

What we hoped to capture in this photo of a flower girl having lipstick applied by the bride, is the flower girl’s desire to be older. With the lipstick, does she look older? Does she look more beautiful? Is the bride, her aunt, proud of her? Does the bride see herself in the flower girl when she was younger, yearning to be older, to be married, to love and know that she is loved? The way the flower girl is looking into the camera signifies that she’s aware of the camera and that she’s curious about how she looks. This vanity is both childish and mature. It’s adorable. At some point in time, we were all this kid, wanting to be older, wanting to grow up, seeking love and attention. Also, at some point in time, we have all been or will be, this bride, indulging a small child’s fantasy of maturity and reveling in how adorable it is for someone younger to desire to be older.

That’s the story as I see it. Either you see that, or parts of that, or you do not see it. The important part is that there was a vision. The way the shot was composed was meant to bring that vision to life. As you shoot more, many times this will happen in a matter of milliseconds. Hopefully the storytelling will become second nature, just like lighting, focus, and composition.

Stories are what matter most to us.

Here’s another one of my favorite photos from last year.

This is a photo of the bride and groom kissing. I used a prism to make the reflection. What I hoped to portray is how beautiful the reality of marriage is through the portrait of the kiss, and how when we romanticize marriage we end up with this dark reflection of it, which while being beautiful emphasizes the fantasy over the reality. It is upside down (literally and figuratively). Their kiss is reflecting over onto itself, and the reflection ends up like many memories, distorted, beautiful, and misleading. The important part of the wedding day is the couple and the future they are making together, not the way the sky looks or whether the decorations were perfect or whether the DJ played the right songs at the right time. I wanted them to look like they were rising out of that fantasy captured in the reflection, like they were more than that romanticized version of their wedding day. That is in itself romanticizing the photo, but that’s the story I was trying to convey.

I hope when Jenn and I shoot weddings that we always capture stories, and not just pretty pictures. I do not care if we are shooting the venues without any people in them, details that will just be included in the blog post and the wedding album, or if we are capturing the bride and groom and their guests. The goal is to always tell a story about the wedding day. Stories are what matter most to us. They matter the most, because they resonate deeply with us and make our work relatable to other people.

GiftStarter | An Easy Way to Make the Gift of Photography Affordable

We have a guest blogger! Melissa is sharing the exciting news of how you can give a photography gift or receive a photography gift through GiftStarter. We find a lot of value in photography for our own family, and Giftstarter is a great, new way to help you realize that value with help from your loved ones!

We also have a special promo code that Melissa has provided to make it even more affordable! (Bottom of post)

My name is Melissa. I work for an amazing company called GiftStarter, where my job is to rally a community around our product: a community of people who long to create memorable, emotional gifting experiences. I’ll get to talking about GiftStarter here in just a moment, and why you’re hearing about it on this amazing photography blog, but first, I want you to take a look at this photo:

This photo is important.

I saved up for weeks to be able to afford a professional photographer who could capture a moment like this for my little girl and me. Today, this 11″x17″ print hangs on my living room wall. When I look at it, I’m reminded of my daughter’s fleeting littleness. I’m reminded of keeping her warm on that cold day, of her teeny, pink little kitten-nose against the blustery wind, of her goofy, silly demeanor. I’m reminded of my role in her life, and when everything around me begins swirling about, as it so often can for a single, working mother, this photo grounds me. Today, it reminds me of who I am, and why I do what I do.

In the future, when she’s all grown up, this photo will remind me that no matter how much she changes, or I change, the love I have for her will always exist just as it did on that cold March day.

Professional photography really is a gift.

It’s a gift I imagine countless people would love to give to a family or a couple who means the world to them.

But professional, on-location photography with an experienced, skilled photographer is never “cheap”—and it shouldn’t be.

Which means that there are probably so many people who would love to give the gift of photography to a family or to a couple, but who can’t afford to give that gift by themselves.

Enter: GiftStarter

GiftStarter is a 500 Startups company on the rise that’s making it easy to give bigger, more memorable gifts (like professional photography) together with friends and family. Now, instead of skimping and saving to be able to afford to gift a photography session on your own, you can use GiftStarter to create a gift campaign for the photography session, and then use social media to invite friends and family to pitch in toward the cost of the session.

Here’s a breakdown:

A Giver visits and contacts the Gift Concierge, informing them that they’d like to create a Gift Campaign for a photography session with Jennifer van Elk Photography (or any local photographer in the recipient’s area.) The Gift Concierge does the work of creating a special Gift Campaign just for you, and sends you a link to that Gift Campaign. You simply share that link with the gift recipient’s friends and family (Contributors), and from there, they can buy virtual “pieces” of the gift. Once the Gift Campaign is funded, GiftStarter will contact the photographer, order the photography gift certificate, and make sure it gets to the recipient.

It gets better though.

Each time a Contributor buys a piece of the gift, they also get to sign a virtual card with a loving message. Then, GiftStarter creates a really cute handmade card from all those loving messages, packages it up, and sends it to the gift recipient. 

Here is an image of a gift (an Amazon gift card) that’s being funded using GiftStarter. You can see that Contributors have pitched in and purchased “pieces” of the gift—their photos show up as a small circle each time they buy a piece! 
Here is an image of a gift (an Amazon gift card) that’s being funded using GiftStarter. You can see that Contributors have pitched in and purchased “pieces” of the gift—their photos show up as a small circle each time they buy a piece! 

The gift recipient is thrilled when they open their mailbox and find that card with all those loving messages on it, only to find out they’ve just been group-gifted an amazing photography session!

This is also perfect for weddings: wedding photography is one of those most invaluable expenses at any wedding. What if the couple’s family all pitched in to group-gift their wedding photography for them? Not only would they get amazing wedding photography, but they’d have that keepsake, handmade card that will forever remind them how loved and cherished they are by their family and friends.

When you use GiftStarter to group-gift a photography session—whether it’s a family session, or a day of wedding photography—the recipients not only receive amazing photography as a gift, but they’re reminded that they have a community around them who loves them.

Because GiftStarter comes complete with a personal Gift Concierge experience, we can customize any gift exactly the way you need it. Oh, and if the Gift Campaign doesn’t get fully funded, we got you covered there too: we’ll send the recipient a gift card for the amount that was raised, so they can still enjoy the excitement of a group-gift.

If you’re reading this right now, and wishing you could give the gift of photography to an engaged couple, or a family, contact GiftStarters Gift Concierge. We’ll make it happen for you, and we’ll help you create a gifting experience that no one will forget.

Reach out to us!



AND… Here’s the promo I’ve promised you!

Enter: “GiftPartner” to receive a discount from Giftstarters for JVE Photo couples and clients! 

Monroe Central Bear Bars Recipe

There were very few positives of being surrounded by brown and gold all through your teen years, but Monroe Central students wore it with pride. Actually, there might only be one real positive, and it’s manna from heaven: Bear Bars. This brown and gold pure sugar treat kept the school high on energy and was the highlight of lunch time. Bear Bar days brought in kids with money filled pockets. We saved our weekend ice cream shop paychecks for those bear bars and even to this day, it’s hard to have extra money and no Bear Bars to buy… until today.

After college, I coached two years at MC. Dark browns and metallic golds were the only way to create somewhat attractive uniforms.

I recently saw a recipe floating around social media. Could this be the real deal? I had my doubts but figured I’d try it out. Well, the only thing that was disappointing was my self control, because I ate 4 in a row. It was like being 16 again, but better, because I have a whole tray of Bear Bars.

They are delicious. It’s like a peanut butter cookie bar meets a buckeye (chocolate peanut butter fudge).  Recipe below!


For the Cookie:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1 cup oats
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Mix sugars and butter, then add remaining ingredients. Pour into a greased 9 x 13 pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes (mine were perfect at 22).

Peanut Butter Icing
2 cups powered sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
3-4 tbsp of Milk

Chocolate Icing
3 Tablespoons coco
1 1/2 Cup powdered Sugar
3 Tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-4 Tablespoons milk

Peanut Butter icing should be thicker, like peanut butter. The chocolate should have a thinner consistency, thinner than the peanut butter but thicker than brownie batter. Add more powdered sugar for a thicker frosting.

After cookie bar cools, spread peanut butter icing on top of the entire pan. Spread on chocolate or create a fun design. Both are delicious. The Van Elks are chocolate lovers, so it was important to have chocolate in every bite. Store the bear bars in an air tight container to keep the bars from getting too dry. The bars are amazing the next day, but be sure to keep them sealed.


The New Website is Up!

Before 2013, I always felt like I had a logo and website just because I needed to have one. None of these things ever felt like a good representation of me and certainly not of my husband and me. I found myself frustrated any time I had to showcase them. In the fall of 2012, I contacted a few designers about re-branding “Jennifer Van Elk”.  So after 16 months of research from us and the fabulous work of a few different designers, we finally have launched the final piece to our brand. I tend to change my style a lot, but I know this is something I’m going to love for quite a while. We’ve launched new logos, a new blog, and I’m happy to announce that our new website is up and running!

Since we are still working out some of the kinks, we’d love any feedback, especially if something isn’t working for you.

What I Wish I Knew When I Started My Business

While reading an article on Rock’n Roll Bride yesterday titled “What I wish I’d Known When I Started My Business,” I started to form my own list in my head. I decided to post some of it below.

My Beginnings

In 2009, in the midst of the economy collapsing around us, unemployment knocked me off my feet. After months of searching, slightly sad that a college degree hadn’t brought me to a better place, I decided to rely less on the job market and to instead forge my own path. I decided to pursue a dream that I had since I was much younger. I dusted off my camera, and cautiously entered the field.

At first, although I had been a photography major, I didn’t want to call myself a “photographer.” I shot engagements here and there. I never meant to pursue shooting weddings as soon as I did, but I’m glad fear didn’t keep me from shooting my first one.

After creating a Facebook page and shooting my first wedding, inquiries came rolling in. I was excited to turn my dream of being a photographer, which I’d dreamed of since I was 9, into reality. I had one big problem though, I didn’t know how to REALLY run a photography business. In 2010, I shot 14 weddings, and after one crazy summer I thought, “Wow, this really happening.”

In 2011, I decided to be much more serious about my business. There are so many things I wish I would have known then. I was shooting the amount of weddings I wanted to shoot in a year, with AMAZING couples, but there is so much more to a photography business than just “the amount of weddings you shoot in a year.”

(My Love List) My List of Important Things To Know When Starting Your Business

Skill is so important when approaching something like wedding photography, but to keep a business going, you need to keep these things in mind.

1. I wish someone would have told me the importance of networking.

I didn’t start networking until 2 years ago, and it has completely transformed my business.  We’ve had so many opportunities that have given us the confidence to publish our work, and we even had the opportunity to shoot the cover of a magazine.  I keep imagining, if I would have just started networking at the beginning, imagine where my business could be now!

Why it’s important:  If you approach wedding photography (or anything for that matter) as separate from the industry, you are making a huge mistake. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” rings very true in the real world. I’m not saying you should approach networking as “what can I get from this,” but I am saying that no one will recommend you if they have a. never worked with you and/or b. never heard of you. The best way to work with someone is getting to know them and maybe later having the privilege of being recommended by them. If you work with them, say hi! Being friendly goes much further than being unapproachable.  Recommendations from vendors are highly valued by couples. They already trust their venue/makeup artist/florist, so they’ll trust that vendor’s opinion about you. It’s important.

Tip: Don’t go to networking events to talk about yourself. It’s rude. Get to know people and remember names! I’ve met a few people multiple times, and they’ve introduced themselves as if we’ve never met. It’s off-putting. If you’re going to walk around the room, talking about yourself and passing out cards, then don’t be surprised when you don’t get any referrals. If you have trouble remembering names, plan on going to the event to talk to just 1-3 people.

2. I wish I would have known that I should hire an accountant.

Just do it. Unless you are super good with organizing numbers and keeping track of things every week, hire an accountant to do it. It’s completely worth the money. The first year I did my own taxes. 28 hours later, after organizing all my files and crying (exaggeration), I finally finished them. The next year I paid $170 to have an accountant take care of it for me. It was worth every cent and probably a lot more.

Also, pay your taxes quarterly. The winter is the hardest time to be a wedding photographer in the midwest. Having to pay thousands of dollars after a money drought is very difficult, unless you are really good at setting aside money and not touching it.

3. I wish I would have established my brand sooner.

After years of switching my logo, my website, and my blog, I now realize I should have saved myself the time and money and just hired a professional to help me with this. Not only would my brand match, look professional, and reach the type of clients I wanted, I would have saved hundreds of hours! I could have put that into improving my craft, submitting work to publications, or networking.

Tip: Your brand is you. The easiest thing for me to do was look in my closet and see what colors I love: Navy blue & grey. Make a list of products, interiors, other websites, and things you like (you could make a Pinterest board to do it easily). It will help a designer create the perfect look for you. How can you hate a design that’s heavily influenced by what you love?

4. I wish I would have known that shooting photos is only 10% of the business.

You become a photographer to be a photographer, right? Well, that’s not true when you’re running a photography business. Now I’m okay with this, and I would have been okay with it when I started shooting for money, but in 2010 I put too much emphasis on the skill (and website) and not enough on the business. I wish I would have focused on a client experience, networking, accounting, record keeping, and storage solutions (you know, the logistics of running an actual business) as much as I did on the skill of photography.

5. I wish I would have let myself say no, and that I knew when to say yes.

Don’t be afraid to say no. Especially if you really don’t want the work. Several times I’ve bent over backwards for someone when everything about the situation told me not to do it, and as a result I came out of the situation with nothing positive. I was only left with regret.

 At the same time, I lost business that I wanted. This shouldn’t make you feel like you should do work for free. Most of the time, work shouldn’t be done for free, but I wish I would have been more flexible at times. I lost a wedding that I, to this day, wish I could have shot. I don’t wish I could have shot it because of the money, but because of how much fun it would have been to shoot it. If there is a job you really want then set your limits, but be willing to be flexible. This is not an open invitation for people to constantly bargain with you. I’m not afraid to tell someone I don’t want to shoot their wedding, but don’t be so stubborn that you lose work you really want.

Disclaimer: Brides, if you really want to work with a photographer, be willing to take them at cost. Bargaining can really turn a photographer off, and they might turn you away as a client. Most established photographers aren’t desperate for work. The photographer might offer you a deal, but don’t ask for one.

6. I wish I knew I didn’t have to be perfect to…

Start a business, network, publish my work, pursue work I wanted, make a sample book of my work, launch my work publicly, work with higher end venues….

The list could be much longer! I let the fear of not being the best keep me from getting better. That fear has been chipped away. The fear of failing is no longer holding me back, which has made my business much more successful than when I played it safe.

Being fearless can sometimes be reckless (don’t be stupid), but don’t be afraid to do the things you know are going to make your business better. Whatever you imagine your business to be in 3-5 years, start pursuing that now.

Some of this might ring true for other photographers as well. This is my personal experience. I think realizing these things has helped me build my business to grow to where it is now. For me, the love of my job is a huge drive for me to continue to build my business. Success rarely has much to do with numbers to those who truly love their career.

I hope that you can take these things into consideration and apply them to your business plan. It could really take your business to another level.

My last bit of advice is to be patient. Things don’t happen over night. As Jon Acuff wrote on, “Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”  Actually, don’t spend much time comparing your business to any other business at all. This will save you from a lot of unneeded anxiety.

All the best to the business owners out there,



We are so excited to be getting this rolling! If you are available, sign up! All courses will be located in Muncie, IN

Beginners Workshop – $50

November 6th & 7th – 6:30 pm
6th – Getting Your Camera in Manual
We’ll go over the basic elements of how to create a better
photo in manual mode. It’s great for those who are
beginning or want to a refresher. Basic topics include, but aren’t limited to,
shutter speed, aperture, iso, focus, & white balance.

7th – Individual Camera Review
Time slots will be available to meet with Jenn to
ask photography questions and to go over your
own personal DSLR camera.
Add to Cart

Portrait Workshop – $50
November 12th – 6:30 pm
12th – Posing & Light (Couples and Individuals)
This class is perfect for those who have taken the manual
class or are currently shooting in manual. Also great for
the aspiring photographer or individual who just wants to
take better pictures. We’ll show you how to work
with couples, and how to take flattering portraits.

This is a great follow up to the Beginner
Add to Cart

* Purchase both courses for $80 or individual courses for $50.

Both Courses – $80
Add to Cart

All participants will be invited to an outdoor shootout November 13th at 5pm. Feel free to ask questions, feel free to bring a friend. We are going to just hangout and take pictures.

More information at

DO NOT use Image Canvas | |

I hate complaining.  I really like to be positive and uplifting, but after the way I’ve been treated by Image Canvas, I find myself unable to be positive and uplifting.  Every company messes up orders from time to time. I can understand messing up an order, but I can’t understand why a company would ever argue with a client or after failing to fulfill an order say to the client that they had no idea how when they could fulfill the order.
As a result of the way this company has acted and the way they have treated me, I would recommend that you avoid this company like the plague, or at least avoid this company like a rat whose ancestors might have carried the plague at one point in time.

I went out on a whim and decided to order a canvas from Image Canvas instead of the company I typically use. Basically, I made a huge mistake.  20 days after placing my initial order, I contacted the company asking when my canvas would be arriving.  I received a response which implied that I should have known that the beginning of June was rush time and that somehow that meant that it was alright that Image Canvas had no idea where my canvas was or when it would arrive. No apologies were made. No assurances that anyone would figure this out. No willingness that anyone would help.

After reading that email, I read several reviews of Image Canvas. All of the reviews were complaints from dissatisfied customers who were still waiting to see the canvases they ordered (6 months after placing an order), and there were some customers who never received their order and had simply given up on the idea that they ever would receive their order.  I wish I would have read these reviews before I ordered a canvas from Image Canvas.

Do not risk ordering from Image Canvas. I didn’t save any money by ordering from Image Canvas, and there are definitely better companies out there.  This put a damper on my day, emailing back and forth with Image Canvas (with Image Canvas arguing about when I actually placed the order). I also made a similarly frustrating phone call. Still no apology.  I definitely do not want anyone to go through the agony that what I went through with Image Canvas.

I tried not to let this ruin my day, but it wasted a lot of my time.  I feel like I’m usually very understanding when mistakes are made, but I’m not understanding when I am treated like a number. I’m also not understanding when I am disrespected.

There are several great canvas companies that are affordable. I’ve been very happy with CG Pro for my personal use, and Mpix has also been a great company. Currently I’m just thankful I didn’t recommend Image Canvas to any of my clients or place any business related orders with Image Canvas.

Image Canvas is a scam and a ripoff.


Pinterest is my new addiction.  From photo inspirations to DIY laundry soap, this site has it all.  It’s a visual candy store while your on a diet and I waste hours and hours wishing (pinning fatting food mostly).
If you are like me, you get on clothing sites you can’t afford, copy and paste them into a folder called, “I want, but can’t have,” and then maybe you can do a cheaper copy of the designer masterpiece.  Well, now you can sign onto Pinterest, create a board called “I want but can’t have” and “pin” them to the board.

Here’s more details to this new social network:

When you sign on you’ll see tons of tons of Do it yourself tutorials, home decor, apparel, photos, recipes, work-out ideas, and more.  If you want to save it for later, you can either “like it” or “repin”.  Repinning is copying the photo to one of your boards.  If you click “repin”, a window will pop up asking what board to pin it to or to create a board.  Also, add a little comment in the box to make it easier for others to find it. Click “Pin it!”  Easy as pie.

Also, like twitter, you can follow anyone and see what they are pinning. Just another thing for our parents to ask why were aren’t “liking” their postings.

If you’d like to pin things online that isn’t on pinterest yet, click the +Add tab at the top right corner and either add the “Pin it” button to your browser, upload an image, or put in the website of the image you’d like to add.

The cool thing about the “Pin it” button is that you can click it with any non-flash website and add any picture to your board as long as you had previously logged into pinterest.  They make it very simple.

I’ve currently pinned almost 500 images of recipes and DIY and continue to find really great ideas! After you start I don’t know if you’ll be able to stop!

Follow me on pinterest: