Photo Tips

Featuring an Amazing Mom: Meet Santa Cruz Portrait Photographer, Michelle Riddle!

Me Ra Koh

It’s time for another Amazing Mom feature! I’m so glad that you liked Leslie Webber’s feature so much. Isn’t it inspiring to hear how other women are making their dreams happen! Sharing our lives and our stories are critical to not giving up on our own dreams. I’m a firm believer in the idea that we were meant to inspire each other.

Today, be inspired by Michelle Riddle!

Michelle Riddle, Santa Cruz Portrait Photographer

Michelle was in our Sonoma CONFIDENCE Workshop a couple years ago, and I’ve had the privilege of staying in touch with her. She is capturing some BEAUTIFUL images! And her business is growing right alongside her sweet family.

You’ll love this interview b/c Michelle shares what camera gear she used when she first started out, and she’ll also share a myriad of different workshops and photographers she has gleamed from. Her experiences are so rich! Feel free to ask Michelle anything else in the comments for today’s post. If you’d like to be featured on the blog, see below for directions on what to do!

Interview with Michelle Riddle

1. When did you start your business and what was the turning point of taking it from a hobby to a business of charging people and putting up a website?

Michelle: Like so many other moms out there, my interest in photography started soon after I had my first child almost seven years ago. I wanted to capture every moment, making sure I did not miss a thing. My point and shoot digital camera was not cutting it for me. I went to the camera store and bought a Nikon film SLR. I took a lot of photos but nothing too exciting. A few months after I had my second child, I came across Tara Whitney’s blog. In her work, I saw that there was another way to capture your children that was different than a snapshot or posed “sears” type photo. It was after viewing her work for a few months that made me want to go purchase a DSLR and learn everything I could to take better photos of my kids.

In December 2007, after slowly learning more and more and getting a little more confident, I was lucky enough to upgrade to the D300. Days after getting it, I felt like I needed to do something to help me figure out if I could really be do something with this photography passion of mine. I googled “photo workshop for moms” and found the information for the Sonoma CONFIDENCE workshop with Me Ra and Brian. It had just been released a few weeks earlier. I knew right then it was meant for me to go to the workshop since it was in driving distance. I asked my wonderful husband who had just days earlier bought me the D300 and he said yes!

Before going to the CONFIDENCE workshop, I did not think I could call myself a photographer until I knew “everything” there was to know about photography. I never considered myself to be artistic, I just liked taking pictures and did not ever think I could actually get paid to do it. I often thought of my favorite shots as “accidents” and worried that maybe I could not recreate that magic if I was getting paid to do it. Before the workshop I did not think that I had anything unique to offer. After the workshop I realized that each person has a unique eye and if someone else sees beauty in what I created then maybe I could someday have a business.

While at the CONFIDENCE workshop, I not only learned lots of photography stuff, I learned much more about myself, my fears, my dreams, my goals and most importantly, my story. Me Ra and Brian do not just teach about aperture, shutter speed and ISO, they really create an environment that allows women to open up and think in a way that just is not always possible in the reality of life as a mom. Lack of confidence is something that seems to be a constant theme, and it was so refreshing to be in a room with women who felt exactly how I felt.

Lucky for me, our workshop was smaller which gave us all a great opportunity to really get to know one another. As much as I learned at the Sonoma CONFIDENCE workshop, it is the connections I made that weekend that keep me going when I think about giving up. I had no idea that some of the women I met that weekend would turn out to be some of my greatest friends and supporters. I am lucky enough to live within driving distance of a few of them and look forward to when we can get together and catch up in person . It is so refreshing to know that I have a handful of women a phone call or email away who always know the right thing to say and are there to listen and support me.

Now a year and half after the workshop, I am slowly getting a little more comfortable calling myself a photographer. Even with other workshops I attended and all the learning and practicing I had done, I do not think I ever would have had the confidence to make the leap to starting a business if it had not been for the workshop with Me Ra and Brian.

2. What inspires your photography?

Michelle: My kids really inspire me.

Michelle Riddle, Santa Cruz Portrait Photographer

I want to capture every special moment of their lives, and love that I have the opportunity to do that for other people. I want the photos I take to be able to tell a story. When a mom looks back at a photo I took of her family years from now, I want her to be able to remember the way her daughter giggled and smelled or the way her son did a funny little smirk or the way her baby held onto her hair for comfort. I love how in a short amount of time you can get to know a family and capture the dynamics that make them who they are.

3. What are the classes/workshops/DVDs that you’ve watched to teach yourself photography? Were they helpful?

Michelle: Me Ra’s CONFIDENCE Workshop – This is the
first workshop I attended and it was exactly what I needed. At this workshop, I learned lots of technical things that were not clicking for me before that. Me Ra and Brian are so great at making the technical stuff make sense. More importantly though, they taught me that every eye is unique and that if I loved photography I should follow my dream. I have both of their DVD’s ( Refuse to Say Cheese and Beyond the Green Box ) and continue to watch them when I need inspiration or need a little refresher on some of the basics.

Jay Reilly– I am a big fan of Jays work and it was so great to be able to watch him shoot and learn from him. One of the things I learned from watching him is that with kids you have to keep moving, changing what they are doing so they don’t get bored. Which goes along with something else..if what you’re doing is not working, move on. I used to worry that if I stopped shooting at a certain pose or location the clients would think I would not know what I was doing, now I realize that I am the one in charge and that the clients expect me to do what works.

Melissa Koehler– I met Melissa when I was down in San Diego for Jays workshop. I was a fan of her work and a friend and I contacted her to see if we could take her to lunch. That in itself taught me that so many great photographers are willing to answer questions and share their knowledge. After that we arranged for her to come do a workshop which was wonderful. It was great to watch her shoot and have her share her whole process of what she does with images after she takes them. She was awesome and it was so great taking shop with her

The Light Workshop– This was a great online workshop that got me much more comfortable shooting in the sun. I had a tendency to look for the shade at various locations because I was scared of the sun. After the workshop, learning some great techniques, I realized I am not a vampire and do not have to shy away from the sun. Working with it can create some beautiful images.

Michelle Riddle, Santa Cruz Portrait Photographer

4. Can you tell us a fun back story behind this GREAT Senior photo!

Michelle: I did a shoot of 5 high school seniors, a BFF shoot as I like to call it. It was so fun and much easier to get the girls to loosen up and have some fun. As I was taking some photos of the 5 of them, I looked down, and loved that with just their pants, shoes and they way they stood, I could see so much of their personalities that I had gotten to know during the shoot. It is shots like this that remind me to always look for the details that make a person who they are.

Michelle Riddle Portrait Photography

5. What about this dynamic Family Portrait shot?

Michelle: This shot is from one of my favorite family sessions I have ever done. People always look at this shoot on my blog and tell me they want photos just like it. What made this shoot so great was that they truly were just being themselves. Mom was not super stressed out about matching clothes and that “perfect” shot, which made it so much easier to just capture them being themselves.

Michelle Riddle, Santa Cruz Portrait Photographer

6. What is the best and toughest part about doing this while being a mom and wife at the same time?

Michelle: The best part is that I am able to make sure I do not get lost in mom land and forget who I am and what my interests are. The toughest part is time, or lack of it. My husband is great about watching the kids when I go to shoots, but it is finding time to do all the other stuff that is hard. I have 3 kids. Eli is almost 7, Zoe is 5 and Ari is needless to say, my days are a bit crazy. I have a million ideas in my head of things I want to try, promotions I want do, business stuff that has to get done. Most days, I am trying to be a mom, a wife, clean the house, do the laundry, pay the bills etc.,while also trying to be a photographer. At the end of many days, I feel like I was not good at anything and everything was just getting 20% of me. I have to be better at carving out work time so that I am not doing it among all the other mom/wife duties.

7. What type of camera equipment did you have when you first started shooting portraits? And what have you added to your camera bag since then?

Michelle: I started with the Nikon D70s and a cheap kit lens and upgraded to the D300 two and a half years ago. The first lens I got was the 50mm 1.8 and truly believe that lens was a huge help in helping me get a better understanding of the technical stuff, especially aperture. That lens helped me understand what a huge role Depth Of Field played in taking pictures that went beyond the average snapshot. I also have the 85mm 1.8 which is a beautiful lens. I have the Tamaron 17-50 which I get a lot of use out of. I find myself shooting ALOT in the 17-20 range. I love that wide kind of distorted look. I think my next lens will be a wide angle prime lens. I just recently got the 80-200 which I am excited to play with some more. I wanted that one to use for family photos so I could get far enough away to shoot at 2.8 and get a nice family in focus with a beautiful blurry background.

Michelle Riddle, Santa Cruz Portrait Photographer

Michelle: I love this photo in particular. I know it is sometimes hard for dads to loosen up and just be themselves with a camera on them, but this dad had no problem. It was like he didn’t even know I was there, and I was able to capture a moment that warms my heart every time I look at it.

8. What is one piece of advice you’d give to newbie’s?

Michelle: That’s a hard one, I still consider myself a newbie. I guess I would say to make sure you have a great support system. Find other photographers who are at the same spot as you our further along. As great as workshops are, there is definitely something to be said for having a group of friends that you can go practice with, bounce ideas off of each other and just lean on when you need it.

9. Do you have a website that we can share with our blog readers?

Michelle : Absolutely!


Michelle, thank YOU so much for sharing with us! You are so sweet! We applaud your constant courage to go for your dream!

To all our readers, it takes A LOT of guts to share your images and story. If you have a minute, will you leave Michelle an encouraging word or two in the comments? There is nothing better than knowing people enjoyed your stories. Thanks so much!

AND, would you like to be featured on our blog too?

If you have attended our workshop or watched our DVDs, and feel like your life has taken a new and wonderful turn for the better, then please send me an email at I will send you directions on how to be featured. We can’t promise to feature everyone, but I want to do this type of blog post more and more. Hundreds of people have sent us the most amazing emails regarding our workshops and DVDs impacting their life, their before and after photos, their revived passion; I would love for all of you to hear those stories!

Much love to you all, and a BIG HUG to the beautiful, talented Michelle Riddle!

Me Ra

p.s. Is there anything else I should have asked Michelle in our interview? I want to include as much helpful info in these interviews as possible. Some of you wanted to know what camera gear Leslie Webber had when she first started. Fantastic question! Why didn’t I think of that! I made sure to ask Michelle on her interview. But if you think of another question I didn’t touch on, post it in today’s blog!

p.s.s!! Tomorrow is Winner Wednsday! πŸ™‚ I’m going to announce the Winner for the Running on Empty DC Workshop, the Winner of the Top Five Finalists from the Vacation Photo Contest and the Random Voter Winners! Winner Wednsday…has a nice ring, don’t you think? πŸ™‚


Here are the DVDs Michelle Riddle referred to in her interview! They recently won the GOLD award from NAPPA! Check them out and have a BLAST! Refuse to Say Cheese and , plus our 101 Kits for starting or expanding a business in photography, click on the titles of your choice

Our CONFIDENCE DC Photography Workshop for Women is SOLD OUT! YEAH!!!

But we have spots still open in our upcoming October Minneapolis Workshop! The Minneapolis Workshop is off to a FANTASTIC start! In the first 24 hrs. we were almost half full! I can’t wait to meet these beautiful women! Want to join us? If you register before August 31st, you get 20% off!! To find out more details and get yourself a spot, CLICK HERE!


  1. CA says:

    Wow Michelle! Your work is beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing with all of us!

  2. Jeramy says:

    your work has grown so much. I really love these shots. You have such a great eye! I’m glad to call you a friend. Keep it up!

  3. Sara Elliott says:


    Your images are beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story with all of us and keep on shooting!!


  4. Allison G. says:

    Wow, so many of the things you said rang true and are exactly what I have been feeling!! (finding time to get things done, feeling like everyone gets 20% rather than 100% of you, feeling insecure) Thanks so much for sharing your inspiring story with us!!! Your photos are fabulous! I love that one of the big, strong dad with holding the sweet little baby on him arm. AWESOME!!! And the one of the family on the ground is fabulous, too. Way to go on making a business for yourself!!!

    MeRa, I absolutely LOVE these interview posts!!! What a great idea!!!

  5. Sarah says:

    These stories are awesome! Michelle.. alot of what you share is like looking in a mirror.. really!
    I can’t agree enough with finding a support system.
    It is nice to hear what has TRULY helped you the most. πŸ™‚

  6. jen flake says:

    I love these interviews! ?…..I don’t call myself a photographer either…what’s the criteria behind that word anyway?
    Anyhow…I just love these interviews and hope you keep doing them! If you need a hint for someone to interview…I got a friend who would be GREAT.

    and…really…don’t you wanna come to PHX to do a Work Shop? Or better yet…my small town of 5000 people that’s 3 hours north of PHX? I’ll take you horse back riding…well…my hubby can because I’m not cowgirl…but I will make you a yummy treat and try to get people to come!…Okay…so honestly…I have very little to offer as a bribe…and I am certain I would have to feed my kids mac and cheese and top ramen for a year to afford to go…but that’s okay right?

  7. Michelle says:

    Michelle – these images are beautiful! Your families are very lucky to have had you to photograph their memories!

    THANK YOU SO MUCH for sharing your journey. It helps us newbies to not feel alone.

    Me Ra – Thank YOU for doing these features. It gives me that glimmer of hope! =)

  8. Tacey says:

    First off, Michelle…WOW. You are an inspiration to the ga-zillions of us ‘newbies’ out there! I love the saturation in your images, and the artistic DOF…One question, I saw you had a slideshow from a June 26 post. What program did you use to create your ss and post it to your blog?

    Now for MeRa…Love your interview questions! One question that may be helpful for us starting out, would be about the ‘how to’s’ of transitioning between PB’ing and charging new clients (marketing yourself in the beginning?).

    Thank you both! Much love,

  9. MIchelle!!!!!! You are so incredibly gifted. I adore you and your work so much. You must be incredibly proud looking at all of these photos knowing that YOU CREATED THEM! The thing is, ALL of your photographs look this amazing! I loved hearing about your journey in your own words. Great questions Me Ra! It’s really amazing when you actually sit back and realize all that you’ve accomplished and how much you’ve grown as a person and an artist since Sonoma. GO MICHELLE! There is no other YOU, and your work is such a gift for all who get to experience it!!!

  10. Wendy Tienken says:

    Hey Michelle! Love these shots! You have a great eye, and I would love to come down and “watch you work” one day! Your picture of the couple on the beach with the sun to the left/behind them is awesome! I would’ve totally looked for shade in that situation. You are so very inspiring, and I’m so thrilled to see your dreams coming true. You are definitely a “Rockstar”!

  11. The Light Workshop, that sounds like something I need. I can’t figure out the correct way to “work” the sun…..maybe someday I hope.
    Beautiful images Michelle, thank you so much for sharing your heart AND your work.

  12. Me Ra says:

    I’m so thankful to Michelle for sharing her inspring story! Isn’t she wonderful! I’m so glad you are liking the interview b/c she has so much to offer. And Tacey, that question about the marketing tips is FANTASTIC!! Thank you for the feedback. I will be sure to include something like that in future interviews!

    Jen, we would love to come to Phoenix. If a community builds to have us come, we will totally think it through for sure!

  13. abbey says:

    Michelle — wow! What an inspiration you are! Thank you so much for sharing! Your photography is incredible! I love, love, love the shot of the couple when you talked a little about light! Now, I am heading to your site! Awesome stuff!

    Me Ra – I love this interview part. I loved the other ladies sharing at the atlanta workshop. Just like in Michelle’s interview I thought multiple times “oh good, I’m not the only one who feels like that or thought that”! It is very helpful, encouraging, and inspiring!

  14. ellen zeserson says:

    i am so very proud of my daughter Michelle. i am always looking for new pictures Michelle takes.
    keep up the wonderful job you are doing
    love mom

  15. Michelle says:

    Me Ra..thank you so much for letting me share my story. This community is so wonderful and I would truly be lost without it. To think that I can be an inspiration to someone is such a strange thought, but if I can do can you!

    Tacey..I used show it for the slideshow, super easy to use.

    I look forward to seeing the next mom that you feature so I can get inspired by her.

  16. Kerry says:

    Way to go Michelle! I feel lucky to have some of your work. I love to look the photos you took of my two girls. I’m so glad you were not afraid of the light because some of my favorites are the ones where the sun sort of distorts the image in an artful way. Keep it up my friend!

  17. […] wait to meet these beautiful women! Want to join us? … See the original post here:Β  Me Ra Koh Photography Blog Β» Featuring an Amazing Mom: Meet Santa … Share and […]

  18. Aileen says:

    I love these blog posts! Great pictures Michelle! You and your photos are truly an inspiration!

    Thank you.

  19. tracie says:

    michelle, i LOVE the photo of the couple in the sun! absolutely beautiful!

    i too, had a hard time … STILL have a hard time calling myself a ‘photographer’ … the title seems reserved somehow for the elite artist … i love that me ra is giving us all the opportunity {and courage} to realize that we actually DO belong in the group! it’s open to all of us who desire to enter! πŸ˜‰

  20. Andrea says:

    Way to go Michelle- You are truly talented and amazing! Keep up the good work and inspiration for those of us who are a bit slow at getting things going. I absolutely love your pictures and always anxiously await your next post!

  21. Leslie W. says:

    Michelle, I absolutely LOVE the senior picture and the idea of a BFF session. I actually did this with some close friends in high school, and ahem…we all wore different vests! πŸ™‚

    Great work and your artistic eye is obvious!

  22. Sarah Lewis is says:

    Michelle recently photographed my girls ( 6&3yrs old) and can I tell you I have never been brought to tears by photos but when I saw the look in my daughters eyes and saw that it really was them looking back at me I lost it. Michelle has a gift that can make a child or adult show who they really are though photography! All I can say is thank you Michelle for the wonderful gift and your passion and art in photography!

  23. Amanda Mays says:

    Yay! Way to go Michelle! I am so proud of you! You have come so far and your work is getting more and more amazing with every shoot! So happy to see you on your journey & to watch you grow. Sending you hugs!

  24. I love reading these stories! Thank you for sharing, Michelle, I love the images you capture. Very nice work.

  25. Andrea J says:

    Your pictures are beautiful and inspiring, Michelle. Thank you for sharing your story. I absolutely LOVE this new feature, Me Ra, please keep it up!!

  26. Amanda says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your amazing story! You should feel so proud. Your work is stunning! Congratulations! And I have to say I am now a fan of you on facebook! πŸ˜‰

  27. Hey – I stumbled on your page by mistake. I was looking in Bing for beach suggestions for my trip when I came upon your site, I have to say your website is really cool I just love the theme, its amazing!. I don’t have the time today to totally read your site but I bookmarked it and also will sign up for your RSS feeds. I’ll back around in a day or two. thanks for a nice site.