Nikon D5 Review

Tamara Lackey —  May 2, 2016

My Nikon D5 Review (or at least a first look!)



I jokingly posted on facebook the other day that I needed to stop petting my Nikon D5 so that I could actually go out and shoot with it. But it really wasn’t all a joke because this is truly a beautiful-looking camera, and it feels, from an ergonomic perspective, more comfortable to hold than even before. That being said, I have been having a LOT of fun shooting with it, too ; ) So, here is my Nikon D5 review, showcasing just a bit of what it is capable of, even in the loosest of scenarios.

There has been a bunch of hype around the D5 and much of it has been around the incredible ISO levels it is capable of capturing quite well. I decided to put it to the test in a largely uncontrolled environment – literally, just taking a few shots around my house and neighborhood. Spoiler: oh my goodness, it so does not disappoint. Do note that every image shared here, even those shot at slow shutter speeds and high ISO combinations, were all shot handheld!

Let’s start pretty simply. This is an image I photographed of my daughter, clearly about to be attacked by a variety of assorted animals living just above her, all while she was innocently about to go to sleep. As you can see, she looks exhausted, like she does every night when she’s about to go to sleep ;).

The “trick” with this photograph, though, is that there are no lights on in her room, only light coming in from the hallway while I am standing in the doorway taking this photograph – as well as some moonlight coming in through the window. The reason it looks a lot brighter is because I’m shooting this at an ISO of 8000. There is no additive light. The full specs are as follows: 1/160th, f2.5, ISO 8000:


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It progressively gets better. Here is a shot of my son. I also checked in on him, while he’s clearly near sound asleep (ahem). In this image, the only light is coming from a dimmed setting from the bathroom light, just off his room, which he is looking towards. This was shot at 10,000 ISO, also with no additive light. The full specs are 1/40, f1.4, ISO 10,000. It is actually a little over exposed, as you can see there is some loss of detail in the highlights on his teeth. I couldn’t believe that I would even have to think about over-exposing an image in this dark of a room while I was getting this type of image quality out of the camera.


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To really play with the Nikon D5 ISO capabilities, I dimmed the bathroom light fully and cranked up the ISO to 51,200 – and I achieved this rather bright capture, again with no additive light, in a very dark room. Full specs are: 1/100, f1.4, ISO 51,200!


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Okay, so now I just started feeling a bit spoiled with what I could do with this camera. I checked in on my oldest who was also going to be sound asleep, just like her sister and brother (because we are great parents, and they always listen to everything we say, all the time). Even though she was in slumberland, she oddly was also holding up an iPhone and FaceTiming with her friend. So weird.
Note: the only light in the room AT ALL was the light from her phone. Her blinds and door are closed, and her overhead light is off. It’s DARK in there. But this is what I was able to capture at 64,000 ISO. I couldn’t help but notice that the clarity of the image was even more dramatic with just the pop of light from the phone, which was even dimmed, so she could better act like she was sleeping. And the color capture at 64,000! The full specs of this shot are: 1/125, f1.6, ISO 64,000:

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And, seriously, because the quality of this image is slightly insane when you consider it was shot at 64,000, I’m just going to paste one of these specs directly in here – just for fun:

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And, lastly, a “super” uncontrolled shot. This is a photograph taken on our back porch, a candid shot taken of my husband in conversation with friends, so also with movement, in extraordinarily low light, with a slow shutter speed, handheld – which normally means full blur. Note: there is only some very slight ambient light coming from a small string of lights lining the porch, no additive light whatsoever. Just to compare, I took the same shot with my iPhone and am sharing them side by side here. I tried to do the exact same pop of brightness and “auto color” function to them both. I got a boost in the D5 photo, which was shot as a jpeg – I could only get to this with the iPhone before it completely fell apart. The specs on the D5 shot are: 1/40, f1.4, ISO 40,000:

Tamara Lackey, Nikon D5 Review, Tamara Lackey Photography

I could go on and on about the ISO; it’s seriously stunning. And one of my favorite redesign aspects of the D5 is that the ISO button is now an easy-to-reach button on the top of the camera, which makes perfect sense, as it will be utilized so much more often.

There’s a LOT more to the camera than mega high ISO capabilities, though. The speedy capture rate is now even more blazingly fast than ever.  It’s not just the fantastic shutter capabilities, but the frame rate for raw files is pretty nutty, especially when using the XQD cards (more on that here:…/what-is-xqd-and-why-should-i-use), which have faster transfer rates than any other memory card. But with frame rates of 12 shots per second and literally up to a couple hundred shots in a single burst … bejeebus, you can do so much with that.

Here are some fun shots of some of our awesome neighbor kids – and one of mine – throwing water balloons at each other. Again, there is no additive lights on these, no strobes, no controls of any kind (other than shooting in full manual mode, of course). You can not only see the balloons break as they hit their targets, but you can see them just before they break, as they break, after they break – every part of it in sharp detail and strong focus. Oh, and that’s another big shift with the Nikon D5, the super sharp, redesigned focusing system. I also cropped in on a few of these JPEG (Oh, and yes, these were all shot as jpegs, except for the last two images shown in this post!). The “20.8MP Fx-format CMOS image sensor and ExPEED 5 image processing” does its job superbly.

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Lastly, there is the gorgeous image quality, which includes fantastic color and way RICH toning right out of the camera. I shoot everything in a neutral picture control, and these two shots only got a quick boost in photoshop after they downloaded (and downloaded quickly – thank you, XQD’s). These were the only two images that were shot in RAW:


So, there you go, a quick Nikon D5 review, although there will be much, much more to come. With a full workshop this week in our studio (all were sold out, next upcoming has just opened and is scheduled for early October!), an editorial shoot, new Beautiful Together work and a handful of portrait sessions all coming up very soon, this camera will get quite the workout. And I am quite happy about that, as it is just a fun camera to use. I look forward to sharing more soon!


Tamara Lackey, Beautiful Together

An update on Beautiful Together & the Build An Orphan Feeding Kitchen Project

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In February, my husband, Steve, and I flew from Dubai to Ethiopia. Almost immediately upon landing in Africa, we learned of the urgent need for a kitchen in the new feeding center in Korah that Beautiful Together helps to support through our partner organization, Life To Live for Korah, a grassroots feeding program in the village.

More specifics from our project page here:

“Korah is one of the poorest communities in the world, built around a large trash dump that people have used for years to find food and to scrap plastics for money. Originally a small community for lepers, Korah has now grown to over 120,000 people, all within a few miles’ radius.

One month ago, the trash dump was moved away from Korah. This was for a good reason, so new government programs could create energy from the trash. But the removal of the trash dump has been absolutely devastating for the people of Korah, who had depended on the mountains of trash to mine for scraps and food.

Suddenly children and families, who were barely getting by, now have no possible way to generate monies needed to buy the even the smallest portions of food and clean water. And those children without families, those who have relied on relatives and villagers, are now the most vulnerable of all.”

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We immediately set up the Build an Orphan Feeding Kitchen project, and the response was overwhelmingly amazing. In just a few days, we were at 200% of our goal, and that number kept climbing! That enabled us to immediately shop for appliances and fixtures and lock down additional needed items while we were still on the ground in Africa.

And, side note, I also learned that you sometimes have to go to over a dozen stores to find a water filter that you can purchase, since nearly all of them are just for display only.
(Who knew?!)

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We also had the opportunity to visit more homes throughout Korah and film some of the conversations we had with people throughout the village. In the video below, I was able to chat with a young widow with two small children in her home. She lives in one of the many “plastic houses,” homes where the walls are simple sheets of plastic, or coverings found from industrial wrappings (like a very large bag of rice).

We learned later that she and her family are receiving support, which is wonderful. There are so very many families like hers, and we would very much like to create an income-generating opportunity for them.

Due to the additional donations—and the imminent food crisis in Korah—we were able to move forward immediately with what was originally considered a longer-term plan. We started making plans to purchase a separate, larger oven that can be used for baking, invest in additional bread-making supplies, and open a small bakery just a few minutes away from the care center. That will (1) allow women in the town to go to work, (2) supply these people some daily food, (3) give a community that currently has no easy way to buy bread a bakery nearby, (4) create an opportunity for these individuals to make money (keep impoverished families together/LESS ORPHANS) that will also be shared with the feeding center … to (5) support more children.

We have also made some great strides in securing distribution connections for roasted coffee. More news to come on that very soon, which includes the emergence of a new coffee shop in Chapel Hill, North Carolina that will have close ties to Beautiful Together.

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We also filmed a tour and walkthrough of the new space that Life to Live for Korah has leased. Check out my conversation with Cherenet, who runs this feeding program in Ethiopia, to see what we started with when setting out to start building a new kitchen. You can see the whole walkthrough of the space in this video:

After we left Ethiopia, things kept progressing quickly in Korah – and the developments have been incredible. Changes included ripping out the blue plastic walls surrounding the rooms, clearing out the ground, laying concrete, and installing clean new flooring in the kitchen.

The biggest shift is that the new kitchen capabilities will allow for more children to be fed every week – and for them to be fed more often.


Beautiful Together, Tamara Lackey Photography, Korah, Ethiopia, Tamara Lackey

When I got back, I shared this video of this adorable little girl who is just one of the children who is a part of the Feeding Fund that Beautiful Together is grateful to support. I absolutely *love* her incredibly shy smile, her sweet little voice, and what she shares as her favorite food:

If you haven’t seen a lot of these faces, you can check out this short Animoto video describing the program and showing more photographs of the children.

And here are the very latest images of the kitchen and the feeding program, starting with a before & after of the kitchen! It’s definitely coming along, which is pretty incredible:


Before and After, Beautiful Together, Tamara Lackey Photography, Korah, Ethiopia, Tamara Lackey

Beautiful Together, Tamara Lackey Photography, Korah, Ethiopia, Tamara Lackey

Beautiful Together, Tamara Lackey Photography, Korah, Ethiopia, Tamara Lackey

I can’t stress enough how much every donation counts. The Beautiful Together websiteFacebook page, and Twitter account have the most up-to-date project information, and we work hard to keep them all current, including the specific Korah Feeding Kitchen Fund.

Also, we’ve been honored to have various photographers and friends from around the country organize events and give back a percentage directly to Beautiful Together; you can learn more about them by simply scrolling to the bottom of this page. (We have even been able to sell some very cool-looking and great-quality merchandise to support our efforts!)

And now there is another great, new way to do something great for yourself and for others:


Our newest Beautiful Together partnership is with Story First Blogging, blogging templates for the professional photographer. Their process is built to help photographers find the words for each blog post using a system of forms and client questionnaires that you can purchase and use in your photography business. They give back 50% of each sale with the code: BeautifulTogether. Their goal is to help photographers find their client stories with each blog post, and we love how in-line that is with our mission to help families find their stories. They are also quite good at what they do, which doesn’t hurt.

Thank you, Story First Blogging, for caring!

It truly takes a village, and I am so appreciative of the support we receive from all parts of the world, in addition to the encouragement and backing from friends and family. I am looking forward to seeing how these improvements will help not only the orphans but the entire population of Korah.

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Live Photo Critique with Nations Photo Lab – Friday, April 22nd at 12PM EST

I will be joining up with Nations Photo Lab next Friday, April 22nd at 12PM EST for a live print critique, and we’ll be inviting a few of you to join us on the live broadcast, and to get some of your work printed for free! : )

To submit your image for review, simply post your photo on this Facebook Post before Monday, April 18th. Be sure to register by clicking here – and please note, space is limited, but all registrants will be sent a recording of the event following the conclusion of the webinar.

Nations Photo Lab, Tamara Lackey Photography

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Nikon School: Family Photos – Capturing the Moments on April 7, 2016

I recently visited the Nikon headquarters in Melville, NY for another fantastic Nikon Ambassadors Summit.  I really enjoy being a part of such an extraordinarily talented group of creative individuals. We had fun hanging together and spent time learning all about some (exciting!) upcoming releases. And now I get to head back in a few days to host a special workshop as part of the esteemed Nikon School.

I’ll be speaking on family photography (and getting the most from your camera!) the evening of Thursday, April 7th near Nikon HQ at the Huntington Hilton Hotel also in Melville.

You can register to join us for a Thursday evening of instruction, conversation, and exploring all kinds of cameras and lenses – plus lots of Q&A at

They even gave me a family and friends code: FBFAM20* to get an additional 20% off!

I hope to see you there : )


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reDefine Episodes with Conceptual Artists Amanda Diaz & Sara Lando

These next two reDefine Show episodes both feature different kinds of Conceptual Photography. The first with Amanda Diaz focuses on portrait photography, and the second with Sara Lando focuses on her more mixed-media approach.

So what is Conceptual Art? I found this description helpful to explain the overall thinking behind the style:

“A concept is an idea or thought, so the term conceptual art means literally ‘idea art’ – or art about ideas.”

I think it’s pretty striking how these two very talented artists redefined this definition with their own expression and flair.

Conceptual Portrait Photography


The so-talented Amanda Diaz and I chatted about her photography, specifically how she worked on a budget to create elaborate concepts.  And she offers awesome suggestions for getting started/moving forward if this is something that interests you.


The type of photography that inspires me is romantic and dreamy, almost pre-raphaelite. I admire all the different beauty in people and love sharing that with others in my photos.
Many photographers pride themselves on their technical ability but I rely on my creativity and the valuable people that contribute to my ideas. The whole process from start to finish truly excites me.
Photography is my passion and always will be a part of me and what I do in my life.

– Amanda

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Conceptual Mixed Media Photography

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In this episode, I had this fantastic conversation with Italian artist Sara Lando while we were both in Dubai teaching at Gulf Photo Plus. We chatted about her unique and VERY COOL mixed media conceptual photography/art. If you haven’t seen her stand-out work before, take a look here – and see exactly how she does it:


Born and raised in Bassano del Grappa, my suitcase is always packed. I like individuals, I’m scared of people. I eat all my broccoli.
There are few things I wouldn’t do to get the photo I have in mind, but I’ve never accidentally killed anyone (yet).
I love to collaborate with people who are passionate about what they do, even when it has little to do with photography.
I like to share what I know but I don’t do other people’s homework. I sleep too little. I take pictures.


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As always, a huge thank you to!

You check out this and other fantastic content by talented Adorama TV hosts Joe McNally, Mark Wallace, Richard Harrington, Bryan Peterson and Gavin Hoey by heading over to

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WPPI 2016 in Las Vegas & $500 Giveaway from Adorama

This is my 12th WPPI. What?! Crazy. WPPI feels like a summer camp for photographers, coming back to the MGM in Las Vegas for this week of festivities. Even though I can technically only be there for five days, I definitely have more than a week’s worth of events, speaking engagements, interviews, demos and more planned – so I’m just calling it a week. 

This post lists out the events that I’m a part of this week AND includes a $500 (!!!) giveaway from Adorama, which I’ll be awarding to one lucky commenter on this post. One of my favorite parts of going back to WPPI is catching up with so many friends from all over the world (not a light phrase; quite literally, from nearly every continent) and sharing not just a passion for photography but also sharing details from our lives, the major milestones we are all experiencing. Whether or not you are going to WPPI, I’d love to hear from you: Who is someone you love reconnecting with, whether you see them once a year, once a decade, or once an hour – and why? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and we’ll choose one lucky commenter to gift a $500 gift card to Adorama, to spend however you wish on their 80 million+ products!!

And if you are coming to WPPI, I hope to see you at one of the following programs.
I hope you come up and say hi and we get a chance to connect.

This will be the first year I haven’t judged the WPPI International Print Competition in a while, something I normally quite enjoy doing. But this year it falls before my son’s birthday, so the timing just doesn’t work. Interestingly enough, though, WPPI has asked me to co-host their rather glamorous 2016 WPPI Awards Show at the end of the week, along with my friend Jerry Ghionis, which is an amazing honor – and also quite makes up for having to miss out on judging it this year!

WPPI 2016, Tamara Lackey, Tamara Lackey Photography

With Jerry Ghionis, Sally Sargood and Melissa Ghionis at the 2015 WPPI Awards Show at the MGM in Las Vegas

Here’s What’s on The WPPI 2016 Agenda:

Sunday, March 5

During the day: I’m be spending nearly all day filming my web series, the reDefine Show. I’ve been filming this show for the last 4 1/2 years now, and every episode has aired on the AdoramaTV channel, with 400K subscribers and growing. I’m grateful for their continued sponsorship of the program, and for all those who have shared these interviews over the years.

I’ve had the great pleasure of speaking with creatives at the top of their field and learning more about how they make the work they love work. This includes creatives from all types of fields: comedy, acting, journalism, photography, cinematography, entrepreneurs, and more. Guests have included people like my dear friend ESPN Anchor Stuart Scott, Comedian Paula Poundstone and TV Host Katie Brown, as well as photographers and filmmakers Art Streiber, Chase Jarvis, Jeremy Cowart, and Vincent LaForet.

On this first day in Las Vegas, I’ll be doing a whole crop of new interviews for AdoramaTV with some rather striking individuals, including Luke & David Edmonson, Brooke Shaden, Mike Colon, Kenna Klosterman, Jen Rozenbaum, Jeff Rojas, Fundy, and Kenny Kim.

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Photo by Erin Costa

Monday, March 6

Monday 10AM – 11AM: I’ll be joining my friends at Nations Photo Lab, in their always beautifully-designed space for a proper WPPI Expo Kick-Off Gathering. Join us for Mimosas (or just an OJ!) at their booth and feel free to spin their prize wheel. They will be giving away a ton of stuff, including multiple copies of my new Family Posing Playbook.


Monday 2PM: I’ll be speaking at Profoto, on the Expo Floor, speaking to new clips I’ve filmed to illustrate “Shooting Portraits in Action”! Check out their lineup of speakers – they have quite a program going.

Tamara Lackey, WPPI 2016, Profoto Global, Tamara Lackey

3:30PM: I’ll be speaking at the Nikon Theater,  presenting a program on Expressive Portraits and doing a Live Shoot, shooting with the beautiful, extremely brand new Nikon D5!

WPPI 2016, Tamara Lackey, Tamara Lackey Photography

During the day: I’ll be Filming more reDefine Show interviews, with Tony Corbell and Kelly Brown.

WPPI 2016, Tamara Lackey, Tamara Lackey Photography

Last year’s reDefine Show filming team: Yesenia Bocanegra, Sarah Coppola, Rebecca Faulk, me, and Erin Costa


Monday at 6PM: I’ll be gathering with a number industry friends for an evening to memorialize our friend Bill Hurter, prolific writer and previous editor for Rangefinder Magazine and After Capture – and all-around great human being.

Tuesday, March 7

Tuesday 7AM: I’ll be waking up bright and early and hopefully maintaining the “awake” portion long enough to participate in the 7am WPPI Fun Run to benefit Beautiful Together. We helped produce it this year and are grateful for all those who will help support children waiting for families, while also running an iconic route to the Vegas sign and back (with the option to stop for photos at the sign). Join us to run or walk the 4-mile route – or choose what I bet will be the popular Sleep In Option!

Every registered participant receives a newly-designed, way-comfortable, very cool race shirt.
Register here!

WPPI Fun Run, Beautiful Together, Tamara Lackey, Vegas Sign

Tuesday 10AM – 11AM:  I’ll be racing back from the race to shower, change and get over to Nations Photo Lab for Mimosa Tuesday! More prize wheel, more awesome NPL products, and more copies of my new Family Posing Playbook will be won! Join us.


Tuesday 12:30PM:  I’ll be speaking at the Nikon Theater, presenting a program on Expressive Portraits and doing a Live Shoot, shooting with the beautiful, beautiful amazingly brand new Nikon D5!

WPPI 2016, Tamara Lackey, Tamara Lackey Photography

Tuesday 4PM:  I’ll be presenting my Platform Presentation on Modern Portrait Photography (reserve your spot here!), which will include a private concert by Tyler Stenson, thanks to Triple Scoop Music! If you haven’t heard Tyler’s music, you should definitely check out this incredible singer-songwriter.

WPPI 2016, Tamara Lackey, Tamara Lackey Photography, Tyler Stenson, Sirius

Tyler will kick off my program, singing to a video of my work I put together, and then he’ll hang out after the program is done to deliver a small, private concert to everyone who wants to stay for a bit. Such a treat.

My brand new program is all about Modern Portrait Photography, and I’m very proud of this comprehensive presentation, which will include a number of new images and a variety of behind-the-scenes footage shot just to illustrate sections of my program. You can pre-board to ensure you get a spot here.
Big thanks to Nikon, Nations Photo LabImagely, Animoto and Adorama for sponsoring!


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Wednesday, March 7

During the morning: I’ll be filming more reDefine Show interviews with Rocco Ancora and Ashley & Graham Scobey!

Wednesday at 2pm: I’ll be giving a presentation on posing & lighting at Adorama, on the Expo Floor, and making time for some Q&A. I’ll also be giving away some really fun prizes from Adorama after the talk!


Wednesday at 6PM: For the first time ever, I will be co-hosting The 2016 WPPI Awards Show with Jerry Ghionis!  I’ve attended this show a number of times, and I’ve been greatly surprised/shocked at this show a time or two, but hosting is a whole new thing. I’m quite looking forward to it.

WPPI 2016, Tamara Lackey, Tamara Lackey, Jerry Ghionis

Jerry Ghionis hosting the 2015 WPPI Awards Show

Thursday, March 9

Thursday at 10AM:  Photographer’s Ignite – I will be joining eleven other speakers as we speak for exactly 5 minutes each. This year I’ll be speaking on How Much You Don’t Need to Know to Change The World, sharing some of the history, projects, and struggles of our work with Beautiful Together – including just how much we haven’t known each step of the way. Spoiler alert: It’s been a lot ; )

Past Photographer’s Ignite talks that I’ve done include: How to Know Someone in Under Five Minutes, I’ve Got To Be Honest: The Fascinating Truth About Lying, and The Meaning of Life, Host Kevin Kubota always does a great job bringing this event every year.

Whew! And that will be the entire week – I fly home on Thursday.

If you cannot make it out to WPPI 2016, check out my announcing-here-first 3-Day Portrait Photographer’s Workshop, taking place in my Durham, North Carolina studio this May 3rd – 5th. I shared this workshop opening with a waiting list we had first, so there’s only a few spots left now. If you’d like to join us, check out all the details (and link to register) here.

WPPI 2016, Tamara Lackey, Portrait Photographers Workshop, Portraits, Children's Portraits

We are quite proud of our 100% photographer’s recommendation rating after years of doing this workshop, tweaking and updating it each and every time we do it. You can see lots and lots (and lots) of feedback from all our workshops here! At this point, this is the only workshop we have planned left for the year- our two in Dubai sold out – so, if you’re interested, let us know!

WPPI 2016, Tamara Lackey, Portrait Photographers Workshop, Portraits, Children's Portraits

If you magically made it all the way to the end of this post, congratulations. That’s seriously impressive.

I really look forward to reading your comments and choosing a winner for the $500 gift card to spend at Adorama!
Take a moment to think about who in your life you love connecting with – and share with us here. The winner will be chosen very soon!


Winter 2016 reDefine Show Episodes with Jesse Kalisher, Heather Evans Smith, and Sara Harris

This new year has brought us some great new reDefine Show episodes! You can watch them below or on the AdoramaTV page.

First, I spoke with friend and fellow Portrait Photographer Sara Harris Photography about how she has built a thriving destination portrait business, based in Virginia but also based in Colorado – and she shares some excellent, concrete tips about how to get started, lessons learned, and what to keep in mind when marketing. This is a how-to guide for anyone wishing to build a similar business model.

Then, if you’ve ever been interested in a career in fine art photography, I recommend this rather informative interview with the (very talented) Heather Evans Smith Photography on how she got started, from scratch to gallery. So often making that vulnerable next step is what brings us to the next level, and she shares just how she did that.

And, most recently I spoke with Jesse Kalisher on how he took a risk growing his business, overcoming some serious nerves when expanding their studio, and deciding to take a chance on a specific tip he’d been given – a gift, he says, that changed everything.

Funny side note: even though we’re neighbors of sorts, I’d actually never met Jesse until he came to my studio for this interview! I find his approach to art and business to not just be smart but also inspiring. He and his wife Helen have grown their company from a single black & white shooter (himself) to a now 75-person & growing company, creating a massive variety of art pieces for major clients across six continents. The range of work they produce is impressive: abstract, three-dimensional work, photography and more. And his work is found in the Smithsonian and the Louvre, among other notable places. Their tagline, which runs throughout all they do: Art Is Love.

Thank you to all of these inspiring guests for sitting down and speaking with me. And, as always, a huge thank you to!

You check out this and other fantastic content by talented Adorama TV hosts Joe McNally, Mark Wallace, Richard Harrington, Bryan Peterson and Gavin Hoey by heading over to

Portrait Photography with Sara Harris

Photography by Sara Harris

Photography by Sara Harris

Photography by Sara Harris

Photography by Sara Harris

Photography by Sara Harris

Photography by Sara Harris

Photography by Sara Harris

Photography by Sara Harris


Visual Art Photography with Heather Evans Smith

Photograph by Heather Evans Smith

Photograph by Heather Evans Smith

Photograph by Heather Evans Smith

Photograph by Heather Evans Smith

Photograph by Heather Evans Smith

Photograph by Heather Evans Smith

Photograph by Heather Evans Smith

Photograph by Heather Evans Smith

Hospitality Art with Jesse Kalisher

Photograph by Jessie Kalisher

Photograph by Jessie Kalisher

Photograph by Jessie Kalisher

Photograph by Jessie Kalisher

Photograph by Jessie Kalisher

Photograph by Jessie Kalisher

Photograph by Jessie Kalisher

Photograph by Jessie Kalisher

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Leaving Ethiopia

Tamara Lackey —  February 16, 2016

Believe in fate.
But lean forward, so fate can see you. ~ Quentin Crisp 

We left Ethiopia looking somewhat like these people, but we actually took this shot when we first arrived there. It was a sloppy, fun marker of just how excited we felt to be leaving customs as we headed straight to see our little boy again.

Ethiopia, airport, Tamara and Steve Lackey

We didn’t take a photo when we were leaving Ethiopia because we were far too emotional, exhausted and bedraggled to even think of it.

We left Africa feeling deeply grateful for how much Beautiful Together work we got done in such a short amount of time, with so much love and tangible support from many of you. Truly grateful. But we also left after having just said another goodbye – for a third, brutal time – to our now six year-old son, who is still living at an orphanage in Addis Ababa. Who is not yet able to come home with us, as we continue to wait. (And wait.)
Our son, who is growing up on the other side of the world from us.

Before we go, before we have to let him go, I hold his face and look into his eyes and tell him just how much we love him and how we will come back for him. Again. As often as it takes. And I remind him to please brush his teeth and to please keep washing his hands and to please try to stay as safe as possible and to please try to stay in his seat more now that he’s in kindergarten. I try to squeeze all my mothering of him into these last few moments as much as I possibly can. I try to keep the panic I feel rising up in me out of my voice.

My husband takes my hand. All three of us are in tears. We hug tightly one last time.
And then (this part always feels beyond unnatural), we leave him there.


While in Ethiopia, we spent most of our time working on our Build an Orphan Feeding Kitchen project in Korah and checking in on our projects at the orphanage in Addis. It was a very full and rather sleepless trip – but our son was with us for all of it. Every morning, we would drive across town, wash him up, buy him new clothes, and hold him close. I say I love you to him all the time when we’re together, but when I say ‘ewodihalehuI’d’, Amharic (the language of Ethiopia) for I love you, his smile is bigger. He whispers it back to us. I’d hold him on my hip or we’d walk hand in hand, or he’d go up on dad’s shoulders. We stepped through a large list of to-do’s for our Beautiful Together work, which took us to a whole lot of places, and he very naturally went to all of it with us. Because he just fits with us. It was like that the last couple of visits, too, when our whole family was there. He just fits with all of us.


Beautiful Together, Ethiopia, Orphan Kitchen Build, Tamara Lackey, adoption

Buying appliances for our Build an Orphan Feeding Kitchen project in Korah, Ethiopia for Beautiful Together.

We said goodbye to him right before we packed up for our 25-hour flight back, leaving him with a bunch of little gifts, a photo album of the last year and a half of visits (which he looks through at least fifty times while we’re there, so carefully placing it back in the box every time), a ridiculous amount of hugs and kisses, and the complicated hope that he understands all of this, even as we don’t really understand all of this.

Ethiopia, adoption, Beautiful Together

My daughter took this photograph on our last visit to Ethiopia. I didn’t know she took this photo until she showed it to me later. It exactly, perfectly shows how I feel about him.

And we return to our three children at home, who we are ecstatic to see and who we hold close. Because it’s been too long without them now, too. We show them each and every photo of him and his friends, all of whom they know so well, while we tearfully, laughingly watch all their sweet and goofy video-taped messages to them. We hug my parents and effusively thank them for taking such good care of our little ones while we were gone taking care of our other little one.

And then they all ask the same thing he asks. The same question we have been asking for so long: But, when? When do we stop saying goodbye and finally get to bring him home, for good?

The truth is that none of us know for sure. Not one person involved in this whole adoption process can tell us that right now, and we know this for sure because we never stop asking.

But we keep leaning forward, anyway.
So that fate can see us.


Digital Photo Pro Magazine – Spotlight on Beautiful Together


Recently, I was honored to be featured in the January-February 2016 issue of Digital Photo Pro Magazine, one of my favorite photography magazines that I pick up all the time when I’m at Barnes & Noble. (Like, all the time. I seriously just need to subscribe to it at this point).

A big thank you to Tracey Clark who really wrote a beautiful piece after interviewing me.  The focus of the article is on photography, yes, but also on how you can use photography as a force for good in the world, something I find truly remarkable. I appreciate how she summarized my story in such an enjoyable way:

It didn’t take long for her to determine she had found her passion and she slowly built a photography business, “learning on the job,” as she says, for the next three years. She then gathered all of the things she had learned along the way and wrote her first book, The Art of Children’s Portrait Photography. Her mission was, she notes, “To put, all in one place, all the things that I felt I could have used in a book, things that might have helped me skip ahead a few years right at the beginning.”

Sharing valuable insights with those who might be just starting out in children’s portraiture seemed like a way to give back to the growing portrait photography community that helped her on her own journey.

Her most passionate work, though, is with the not-for-profit she started, Beautiful Together. More than anything else, this organization seems like the perfect culmination of all the things that matter most to Lackey and the focusing point of her resolve to use her photography to give back to the world.

You can subscribe to the digital version of this here – and you can click on each image below to read the full article.




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Jill Conley

Tamara Lackey —  February 3, 2016

Unreal to think that Jill is no longer here.


We all have so many memories of her, and my most poignant one was actually a phone call – the long, beautiful conversation I had with her after Stuart died. She called to say she was sorry, that she was so sad, and that she was pretty surprised. She said that it didn’t seem like someone who could fight that hard could actually pass away. Which is exactly what it felt like this morning, about her – it didn’t seem like someone who could fight that hard – the female version of Rocky Balboa, as Bart Conley so awesomely said – could actually pass away. And she shared so much of that big-hearted love she was known for, even in the midst of the serious pain she was experiencing herself.


I’ve been thinking about her meeting him today. One of the most striking things about Jill in conversation with Stuart Scott was that you couldn’t help but notice how much these two people, who hadn’t known each other before, had in common. We were a full table out at dinner and everyone kinda just dimmed and watched them talk. They were both so seriously fun and dynamic and easy to connect with and they absolutely commanded attention simply because of how they seemed to shine, no matter where they were or what they were doing. They were also both STRONG. Like, insanely strong, by any standard out there. And, of course, they also shared that connection that none of us wanted either of them to have. As they compared chemo details and treatment options and side effects horror stories, they also toasted and shared hugs and sang and danced and LIVED, because that’s what they both did so naturally, and because that’s what they were both so clearly intentional about doing.


Our friend Sally Sargood & I were talking about how Stuart had to have met her this morning with one of those giant hugs he gives. How we imagined them both saying how amazing that life that they just lived was, how they got to make as much of an impact as they had hoped to before they got down here – probably even more. How it was pretty awesome to have made a true and genuine and lasting difference to such an enormous amount of people. And probably, also, about how that last part – the dealing with the worst parts of cancer part – totally, completely sucked. But at least, now that part is freakin’ done.

I bet they even know why it all happened how it did.
But we still don’t.


Please consider donating to The Jill Conley Memorial Fund, to help the Conleys offset their expenses, something Jill did for so many others, through Jill’s Wish, for years.

I love you, Jill. You will be missed and missed.


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