This is What Happily Ever After Looks Like

Natalie and I have been friends since we met on the school bus in first grade. I haven't seen her and her husband Ben for two years! A lot has changed in those two years! They've moved back to their home state of Indiana with their baby girl Nora and their two rescues Costello, on the right, and Lexi on the left. This is the first time I've met their daughter and their dogs! They've created a very easy-going, furry family of five. 

Natalie wanted 'down to earth' grassy family shots, which my Aunt and Uncle's backyard delivered. It was perfect, we could let the dogs off-leash without any worries, and the only distractions were an occasional bird or squirrel. 

Here are two similar shots, but different focal lengths. I couldn't make up my mind if I liked the naturalistic shot with the large depth of field (more detail in the background), or the more artistic looking small depth of field (very blurry background).

This is what happily ever after looks like. 

Furry family of five family portrait, grassy wooded area, Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Furry family of five family portrait, bokeh background Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Seeing Nora feels like traveling back in time and seeing Natalie as a baby. Those eyes. Those cheeks! Oh my goodness! The drawer that Nora is sitting in was refinished by Natalie, and the blue knitted blanket in the background is the first knitted blanket Natalie ever made. I was there when she knitted it, probably ten years ago, because I learned to knit alongside Natalie. One of the many things I adore about Natalie is how she's so thoughtful and puts so much sentiment and meaning into everything she does.

chubby cheeks baby photo, distressed drawer, bokeh background Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

chubby cheeks baby photo, distressed drawer, bokeh background | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

nuzzling dad, bokeh background family photo | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

bokeh background, baby and parents | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Here are some shots of Costello. He was the first furbaby Natalie and Ben adopted after moving to Colorado! He was a little timid at first, but I gave him plenty of space and used my zoom until he trusted me more. What a handsome, fluffy guy! 

Pet photography, rescued, Australian shepherd mix, bokeh background | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Pet photography, rescued, Australian shepherd mix, bokeh background | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Pet photography, rescued, Australian shepherd mix | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Whenever a camera is around, Lexi does her best Audrey Hepburn, doe-eyed wistful look. She is the ultimate people lover, and lives to greet people. She's always by Natalie's side in the house, helping put Nora to sleep for naps, and hanging out during changing time. She loves protecting her family and nanny-ing baby Nora. Nana from Peter Pan would approve!

Bokeh, back-lit, pet photography, wooded area | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Pet portraits, sniffing | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Love, Love, Love. Just in case you didn't notice, those lilac colored flowers match Lexi's collar! Seriously!

Pet portraits, bokeh, wooded area | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

I worked with Costello and Lexi while Nora had an outfit change, but like the good watchdogs they are they kept checking on Momma and baby periodically. 

Dogs checking up on Momma and baby | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

This was a touching end to our session! Natalie's husband had the sweet idea to go back to Main Street, Zionsville and recreate some of their wedding shots from 2008! Those were taken in a snowy November, so the contrast and change is really fantastic. I hope they keep doing updates as their family grows and changes over the years. Can you imagine a wall gallery in their home of the changes over time? 

Furry family photos in downtown Zionsville, Indiana | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Furry family photos in downtown Zionsville, Indiana | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

Momma hand and baby hand | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015

What a joy! It was so rewarding to shoot this session for my best friend. One of our favorite things to do in High School was photo shoots in Arbuckle park in Brownsburg and neighboring corn fields. Some things never change!

And because I just can't resist, here's a picture of Natalie and I in first or second grade, at the Indianapolis Zoo, visiting the polar bears of course! That's my big brother Shawn on the left. Fanny packs! Oh boy!

90s kids wearing fanny backs at the Indianapolis Zoo polar bear exhibit | Photo by Polar Bear Studio, Copyright 2015


A Dog and Her Guy

Holding paws, a dog and her guy. Senior Guy Photo with Dog, photo by Polar Bear Studio

This photo shoot can make me go misty-eyed for all sorts of reasons. First being, that Dustin was one of the first babies I'd ever held, and now look at him. High School Graduate! And another reason being the incredible bond he has with his rescue Nala, a lab/retriever mix. She has the look of total admiration, undeniable love. 

Florida Senior Guy Photo with Dog, photo by Polar Bear Studio

Dustin is my second-cousin, on my Dad's side of the family. He's quiet, and doesn't usually appreciate the spotlight. However, I found that using some of my attention-grabbing tricks that work great for dogs, also crack up quiet high school-aged teens! Ha! Ha! 

These were taken in a park near their home in Punta Gorda, a small portion of a larger Senior Session. Nala greeted me as soon as I got out of the car, a big, gentle girl who was wagging her tail appreciatively before I'd even had the opportunity to love on her. Dustin is completely outdoorsy. Fishing, camping, kayaking...all of it, and Nala is the side kick on all of Dustin's adventures. 

Florida Senior Guy Photo with Dog, photo by Polar Bear Studio

Couldn't resist this moment... 

Florida Senior Guy Photo with Dog, photo by Polar Bear Studio

Nala is a little..crooked? No one knows why her skull/facial features are out of alignment. Birth defect, or possible abuse by her original owners when she was a puppy? We'll never know. She's been living the furry fairy tale with Dustin and his family since 2012, and that's all that matters to us. Personally, I think unique is more beautiful than perfection. 

Lab Retriever Mix, Palmetto Fronds, Photo by Polar Bear Studio

Lab Retriever Mix, Palmetto Fronds, Photo by Polar Bear Studio

I love the symbolism of the two palms in the background, my cousin April pointed that out to me, and the way Nala tilts her head. So sweet. 

Lab Retriever Mix and her Guy, Senior Photos, Palmetto Fronds, Photo by Polar Bear Studio


Guest Post: Socks the Cat

I'm turning the blog over to the newest furry family member in my extended family, Socks the cat! My Mom adopted her from Cat Depot a little over a month ago. We wanted to give Cat Depot an update on how she's doing, and thought this would be a really fun way to do it! 

Here she is!

Socks looking out the door at the birds

Dear Cat Depot Staff & Volunteers,

This is Birdie! But now my name is Socks! My new Mom finds it amusing that while I'm dressed up everyday in a furry tuxedo, I still keep things a bit casual with my white socks. Also, I love my Mom's socks, they're probably my favorite toys of all time! 

I've had a lot of new experiences! I've seen REAL-LIFE squirrels, woodpeckers, and other birds, just like in the TVS at the shelter. There's a bunch of windows and even a catio I can see them from. 

Also figured out what a window is...apparently there's something deceptively solid about it, even though it LOOKS like you can jump outside, you can't. First thing I did after getting out of the cat carrier was jump at a window and bonk my head. It was pretty embarrassing, but my Mom and my Aunt Denise (who is a pet photographer, and this is her blog) found it kinda funny. 

Socks checking out a window for the first time

I'm getting along with my new step-sisters, the other two cats in the house. They've kindly shared all of their beds, food bowls, sleeping spots, and climbing trees with me. But, now that I think about it, I don't think I really asked for permission first. Oops! Oh well. I think one step-sister is a bit nuts, but we get along fine. Apparently she's the one everyone was so worried about that I wouldn't get along with, which I find pretty amusing. Truthfully, I've yet to meet a cat or person I didn't like. I'm a very, very happy cat. I purr all the time!

Socks looking pretty by the door

My new Mom took me to the vet to get my sniffles checked out. I always have a runny nose, and sound a bit congested. The first thing I did to my new Grandpa, who lives with us, was sneeze on him. The vet gave me a shot, which was not fun, but it did alleviate some of my congestion. I'll probably always have a bit of runny nose, but my new Mom said that's ok and she loves me, boogers and all. Moms are awesome like that.

I want to let everyone at Cat Depot know how happy I am, and also how grateful I am for taking care of me, and rescuing me from the cruel conditions at Napier's. I waited longer than most to find my perfect family, a little over a year, but it was so worth the wait. I keep Grandpa company during the day while Mom is at work, and I'm never bored or lonely. 

Socks in her favorite new spot, the top of the couch

If it wasn't for the extra time and effort that you took writing such a detailed description about me and what I'm like, my new family would have never found me. You see, my Mom was worried about her other two cats not accepting a new cat, and although she really wanted another one, she wasn't sure it was a good idea. But the volunteers made sure to write about how I love other cats and haven't met a cat I didn't like, and that gave her the encouragement to come meet me, and fall in love with me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. 

Socks with her gifts from her sponsors

I also want to send a special purr out to my sponsors. It can be kind of uncomfortable going to your new family with empty-paws. I was surprised and delighted to find out I had sponsors that had a care package for the family who would adopt me. It was a big bag full of all sorts of goodies for me to take to my new home, including this awesome bed that I love to knead. It was so thoughtful! My Mom and I really appreciate it, and we were touched by this additional generosity. 


Ok! Well it's about time for my 2:30 cat nap. The sun has just started to shine through the back door, and there will be a sun-beam on my favorite new sleeping spot on top of the couch! It's purr-fection!

I send you all lots of kisses! Thank you for everything! Rest assured your Birdie is living a furry fairy tale!

With lots of love!

Socks the Cat

Socks, getting ready for a nap


WE LOVE THIS CAT. She's fantastic. My Mom and my Grandpa can't stop raving about how wonderful she is. Socks was originally rescued from the animal cruelty case at Napiers back in February of last year. If you're unfamiliar with the story, here's a link. But bottom line, this cat has been through a lot, and we're ready to fill the rest of her life with love, sunbeams, and food! Cat Depot was there for her, as well as so many other cats in need. Thank you! 

Please, always opt to adopt! There are wonderful cats waiting for a forever home at your local animal shelter. 



The Beagle Knows The Way

I was getting frustrated with Anna Maria Island’s dog policies. None of the beaches allow dogs! None of the piers allow dogs! What do dog owners do on this island? Eat outside at a dog friendly restaurant or walk on the sidewalk? Neither idea really seemed worthwhile pursuing.

Then, while booking other shoots for the Dogs of Manatee County calendar, I realized that a particular Saturday in October had my Anna Maria Island solution already scheduled....Bayfest!

My Grandpa loves car shows, and I had marked Bayfest 6-8 months ago so I wouldn’t forget to take him.

One thing's for sure at an outdoor Florida festival...there will be dogs of all shapes, sizes, and colors! Usually I’m feeling dog envy pining for one, but this year’s Bayfest, one dog would be there for me!

When this light bulb exploded above my head, I proceeded to do a happy dance in my chair!
Introducing, Francine Fishpaw Pup Champion 2.0!

Beagle at a car show, photo by Denise Mueller

Are you laughing? I hope so! I love the name! It makes me smile, and I think they should seriously consider coming up with a theme song/soundtrack that could be used to announce her.

Francine is a rescued beagle, and her Mom, Kim agreed to doing a shoot at Bayfest. It would be their first Bayfest, they’re new to Manatee County. Francine’s Grandpaw has a 1931 Model A Ford. I was doubly delighted our families share a passion for car shows.

Beagle at a car show, photo by Denise Mueller

We planned to get to Bayfest right at the start to try to keep the crowds at a minimum, but I was immediately overwhelmed. SO MANY CARS! We strolled leisurely along all the cars, but inwardly I was beginning to panic as I wondered how on earth I would choose one car to shoot?!

A little kitschy beagle sculpture lifting its leg to pee marked the spot!

I think I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that, and to make things even better the cars were the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue, with yellow, my favorite color, right in the middle. I don’t think I could have planned this any better, and I didn’t plan anything. We were just really lucky.

Beagle at a car show, photo by Denise Mueller

Francine was nervous, happy, and anxious. She reminded me of the trademark shy girl at prom who doesn’t realize how beautiful she is and continues to be self-conscious for no good reason.

We tried to signify this was our ‘home base’ by sitting down on the street with her, giving her treats, and putting our bags down. It seemed to work. In order to get the shot I ended up choosing for the calendar, I laid flat on my stomach on the street, while Kim and Ron, Francine’s Dad, would walk Francine by the cars.

Beagle at a car show, photo by Denise Mueller

I like how the light is hitting her, she looks comfortable and natural, and the kitschy beagle sculpture is ‘there’ without metaphorically hitting the viewer over the head with it. 

Beagle at a car show, photo by Denise Mueller

Thank you Kim, Ron, and Francine for going to Bayfest with me and for helping me get these shots! They mean a lot to me!



Canine Fairy Tale

“If its important to you, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.”

Anyone that’s ever volunteered, fundraised, or donated can relate to this quote.

When I read Rudder’s model application, I felt a kinship to his mom Alicia immediately. When an animal’s health was on the line, she didn’t blink at the emotional or monetary costs because an animal’s life is important to her. It’s important to me too.

Alicia found Rudder wandering the streets as a starving puppy. Just to make things interesting, Rudder also had Parvo! I think most people would have turned him over to a shelter or rescue rather than take on the challenge of nursing him back to health, if they even stopped the car to check on him in the first place....“If its important to you, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.” Alicia found a way.

Rudder is a good dog. Seriously, he attained his ‘Good Canine Citizenship’. Once a week he even goes with Alicia to work where her patients love on him because he’s such a charmer! He’s calm, laid-back, and incredibly smart. He enjoys camping and boating with his family. Rudder has a wonderful, happy life, a canine fairy tale.

Given Rudder’s rescue story, I thought it would be appropriate to try and capture some halo-effects through sunlight. So we planned to meet a few hours before sunset to arrange that.

I definitely regretted not doing a portfolio building session at Emerson Point Preserve a year ago, and I thought its dense, lush sub-tropical foliage would help with creating halo-effects. I needed the sunlight to have something to play with and peek through if I wanted to shoot towards it.

The Emerson Point Preserve sits on the southern part of Snead Island in west Palmetto, and is home to the area’s largest Native American Temple Mound, the Portavant Mound. If you’re not familiar with Temple Mounds, you can find more info here from the Trail of Florida’s Indian Heritage website:

You’re able to cross over the temple mound by a wooden boardwalk. The boardwalk hugs a HUGE tree in the middle. If there was any doubt that this was an old space, this tree puts that doubt to rest. If that tree could talk, I’d be an avid listener! Rudder looks pretty small in comparison right?

Emerson Pointe Preserve Temple Mound, Photo by Polar Bear Studio

He has several canine friends, who he knows all by name, as well as a wide family tree that he knows by name. Alicia would run through some of the names, asking Rudder, “Where’s So and So?!” And Rudder would do a heart-melting head tilt, like below.

I think after a while Rudder was probably wondering why we didn’t just invite all these people along if we were going to keep asking him where they were.

Dog at Emerson Point Preserve Temple Mound, Photo by Polar Bear Studio

I knew shooting into the sun would be risky, so I took more photos than I needed, but overall I was very pleased with how the shoot turned out.

I chose this one (below) for the calendar because I like the viewpoint of putting Rudder up higher with the backlit branches behind him. It pays tribute to the theory that the chief may have lived on top of the Temple Mound. I also love Rudders expression and how it invites you to turn to see what's making him so happy.

Dog at Emerson Point Preserve Temple Mound, Photo by Polar Bear Studio

Dog at Emerson Point Preserve Temple Mound, Photo by Polar Bear Studio

We also explored one of the trails on the Tampa Bay side of the park. Another boardwalk, but this time with mangrove trees providing a filter for the sunlight. Some of the paths were very narrow and felt more like footpaths worn down by time rather than official trails. At this time the sun was much lower.

Dog at Emerson Point Preserve Temple Mound, Photo by Polar Bear Studio

Thank you Alicia & Joseph for taking the time to volunteer for this calendar! And thank you for sharing Rudder’s story with me. I hope by sharing it we’ll inspire others to do the same. It’s a happy ending that just warms my heart and I’m very glad to know your furry family.



Show me more!