Courtney Cook Photography » Philanthropic Fine Art Photography

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The Cook Family … circa 2016

2016 was a whirlwind … yet in the midst of the swirling and whirling we managed to set aside a few days to hideaway for a staycation at the new Okoboji Commons Hotel. It was more than perfect and we were even able to squeeze in two hours to have my dear friend Kelsie take some family pics! Last year we started the tradition of some cozy pics in pjs and so we started out with an update!

My favorite images are always those that are in between the actual pose. Telling secrets, making faces, and when needed … a few tickles …

After a lot of planning and coordinating and ordering of extra outfits, I was able to find my favorite combo of blues, denim, and chambray for our love of the lake … (thank you Gap!) … and even though they can push my buttons … these three girls are my entire heart and soul …

Let’s pause just a moment for a few more of the many faces of Kennedy … serious … curious … spitfire …

Have I mentioned how cool The Okoboji Commons Hotel is yet?  The scenery and modern industrial feel worked so well for us and they have the most amazing setup for weddings … just in case you’re planning one … =>

I managed to convince Kyle to work in one for outfit change for me and slip away from the girls for just a few pics of us … I think he was telling me his favorite breakfast food in that second pic?  At this point in the day he had to leave for work and the girls were itching to go fishing before we checked out of the hotel … but Kennedy was finally up for a few last pictures …

And below is about the best family pic of all five us that I meant to use for this year’s Christmas cards … but those didn’t get designed, so here it is for you now.  Cheers to 2016 and bring on 2017!

All photos by Kelsie Christensen Photography.


A New Year … An Improved Me …

New years resolutions tend to get a bad rap … with a less than ideal percentage of those who actually follow through. I still love the excitement and feel like the visual of a fresh start is motivating.

This year is my turning point.

This year is my turning point.

I have take specific steps to help me in my vision planning and writing daily affirmations to see them come through to fruition. I even invested in an amazing planner system with the David Byrd Achievement System.

A big part of this year will be focused on improved my overall health, beginning with a morning routine that involves yoga, and eating more protein and healthy fats. To start January 1st out right, I followed through with a Good Morning Yoga Flow on my app and a chocolate protein shake.

Good Morning Yoga Flow

Good Morning Yoga Flow

Business wise, this year is starting out with the completion of my updated website and a re-fresh of my brand. Kara Layne is ensuring that when people enter my site they immediately get a feel of who I am as a photographer and what type of experience to expect with full day wedding coverage.

Kara Layne Design

Kara Layne Design

Kara is also mentoring me in setting up a system to streamline my workflow to ensure that as I take on more work outside of photography that I’m still able to deliver a completely enjoyable experience to my clients.

Lastly, as 2016 is beginning, I am also reflecting back on 2015 and how grateful I am for all of my blessings and my amazing wedding clients. Thank you and Cheers to a New Year!

Courtney Cook 2015 Reflection One

Courtney Cook 2015 Reflection Two

Class of 2014 Preview // Northwest Iowa Senior Photography

A full post is due to hit the blog later this week, but I know quite of a few people have been itching to see what I was up to last Saturday.

To kick-off the senior photography season here in Northwest Iowa, I gathered four senior models from area schools for a fun styled shoot.

Casey Henricksen from Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn

Shelby Neet from Emmetsburg

Kristin Amato from Emmetsburg

Marshall Klingenberg from Armstrong-Ringsted

Every time I go out to shoot a high school senior, I want to find a place that is unique and captures their personality.  Since this was for a styled session I got to think of my own “theme” and capture a mood.  I have always wanted to shoot inside the old Lake Center High School and fortunately for me, my brother-in-law happens to own the property so I was in like flin!

When I was searching for models I wanted a variety of styles and personalities, and I think I got just that.

The rocker.  The preppy one.  The country gal.  The jock.

Here is a quick little peek at some of the individual shots captures of our Northwest Iowa Seniors.

Stay tuned for more Northwest Iowa Senior images later this week!

Courtney Cook Seniors

be.YOU.nique  •  be.YOU.tiful  •

*Hair and Makeup provided by Amanda Musser and team from Salon M*

The Heart of a Lion // Beautiful People 2013

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.

These persons have an an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.

Beautiful people do not just happen.”

-Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

In my last post I shared  with you how touched I was by this quote and that I have set out on a personal project to photograph people who are beautiful.  Being an Iowa portrait photographer, I of course photograph beautiful people all the time, but this project would be different.  I would find those individuals who have been to the bottom and back up to rise up and be strong role models for us all  I would find beautiful people that would inspire others.  I announced that the very special Makensie Owens is the first beautiful person of 2013 and now I will share her story.

Before having cancer I didn’t realize how beautiful life was, or how much I had to be grateful for.

When I found out I had Ewing’s sarcoma, the smell of rain became something I loved and I never before realized the little pleasures in my life.

When the doctor told me I had cancer, my first question for her was “Am I going to lose my hair?” Being 14, I was all about my image. 😉 As soon as she said yes, I lost it. It seems like my hair would be the least of my worries but it was just a sure sign that I would become the typical cancer patient. I floated around for awhile just saying “Yeah, I have cancer …”  and I don’t think it hit me until the day my dad shaved my head on our back porch.

That was my lowest point. I remember running to the bathroom and staring at myself and just screaming. It was all too real and I wanted my life back. I prayed to God. And had to find strength in him. I told myself that if I was going to have to do this, I would make it the best I could.

So I smiled at my nurses and thanked them when they were doing things I hated the most. I did everything I could to stay positive and show people that God was carrying me. I never allowed myself to believe I was going to die. I called myself a survivor during my entire experience.

My mom and I were at an appointment for my heart ultrasound during treatment once, and she asked God for a sign that I was strong enough to beat my disease. She said she looked over at the monitor and saw a roaring lion in the chambers of my heart. Since then, she has called me Lionheart, and it means so much to me that I decided to tattoo it on my left wrist, so that I always remember that I’m strong enough to overcome life’s greatest challenges.

If I were to have a conversation with pre-cancer Makensie I would tell her to see the good things in her life, and to cherish her time running and playing sports. I would also tell her to never regret having cancer because it was the best thing that has ever happened in my life.

To anyone who is diagnosed with cancer: Life gives you lions, cancer is your lion. Instead of running from those lions, chase them with all your heart and you will find that it was that lion that made you who you are. It will be scary, and it will be hard, but having cancer is an opportunity that only special people receive. It’s full of pain and suffering but some of life’s greatest treasures are hidden in that pain. You just have to fight and find them.

Everyone is beautiful, but I think life’s trials try to take away our Beauty.

Instead of allowing life to do that, we need to allow those trials to make us even more beautiful then we were before.

~Makensie 😉

April 10, 2013 - 4:43 pm

Courtney - Thank you so much for the kind words, Nancy!
I know that being connected with your family was no coincidence.
Courtney =>

April 10, 2013 - 4:36 pm

Nancy Owens - My heart is so full, Courtney. Your sweet pictures with Makensie’s words overwhelm me.

I don’t think anyone else could have taken pictures of our girl than you. Your love for her shows in every photograph.

Of course Kensie has blessed my life, just because she is my granddaughter. But I have to let you know that you have blessed my life also, first through your precious girls and the joy you all have brought into our lives, but also through your wonderful talent and the love you show through that talent. Thank you Courtney, you will always have a place in my heart.

Beautiful People Don’t Just Happen. // Personal Project 2013

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.

These persons have an an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.

Beautiful people do not just happen.”

-Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


The first time I read that quote was last November or December … I think … at my best friend’s parents’ house.
Their son had given a wall hanging to his mom with it stenciled on there – and I immediately welled up.
Why did I cry?  Well, if you don’t know me – I’m a bit of a cryer … sad times, happy times, it doesn’t really matter … if something hits me in the right spot – I cry.

Anyhoo … In this particular moment I was touched by the son’s thoughtful present and him calling his mother beautiful because of how she had sacrificed for her family.
Knowing her, I also cried because I know what she has gone through and I’ve always thought she was beautiful from the core.
It also made me think of my own mother and how beautiful she is – on the outside, and in.

It also hit me that I had discovered what my personal project would be.  Personal project, you ask?
Well, a few months prior to that another photographer friend of mine had been talking about starting personal projects and
I had actually sat in a platform class at WPPI 2011 on how important it is for
photographers to have personal projects to not only fuel their creativity, but to act also as an emotional release and ignition to keep going.
I once thought my personal project would be to photograph barns and abandoned family farms in Iowa … but that wasn’t enough …
and now – I had finally found it – my personal project would be to photograph beautiful people.
You might think that because I’m an Iowa Wedding Photographer that I photograph beautiful people all the time, but this is more than outside beauty.
Not the beautiful people that grace the covers of People Magazine, but the beautiful people that you and I know from our day to day lives.
The people who have known struggle and pain.  The people who keep standing up and moving forward.  The people who show us how to live beautifully.

Ok, so you’re probably thinking to yourself … Courtney, that was how many months ago?!?!?!  You haven’t started it yet?!?!?!
Well, I could list quite a few excuses – because I am the QUEEN of distractions and getting lost multi-tasking … but I’m not going to go there.
What is important is that I am starting today … but I need your help.

I have my first beautiful person already photographed and ready to publish … and I’ll give a sneak peek below …
but I want to photograph the people who you find beautiful as well.

So please, either nominate a beautiful person in a comment below, or send me a personal email letting me know who you find beautiful.
Who do you know who has known struggle and found their way out of the depths?  Who understands life and is filled with a deep loving concern?
I want to show the world – and them – just how beautiful they are, because most of the time – they don’t even realize it.

The first beautiful person of 2013 is Makensie Owens.  I will share her full story with you soon, but here is a sneak peek:

Makensie is on of the strongest and kindest gals I know.  She is a 4-year survivor of Osteosarcoma and truly a Beautiful Person.

Stay tuned for more of her story …

Thank you,

Courtney =>

March 22, 2013 - 1:33 pm

Courtney - Your mother is gorgeous indeed! When is the last time you told her this? I have realized that sometimes I forget to tell people not only that I love them, but why, and also forget to remind them of their beauty.

March 22, 2013 - 3:14 am

kirstyn blake - my mother is beautiful. inside and out. she doesn’t realize, how beautiful she is. she has no idea. telling her she is beautiful will not make her ever realize how much I truly admire her beauty..