As many of you know, I’m a resolution fiend. I love New Year resolutions. I love making them, I love writing them down and I love re-evaluating them every few months to see if I’m on track. I make huge lists every year and then break down each resolution into smaller goals. What do I need to do each month? Each week? Every day? There’s something incredibly comforting to me about the entire process. It’s like watching the impossible slowly become possible. It’s exhilarating.
Of course if you’re not quite as resolution crazy as I am, no worries – here are my top 10 photographer resolutions for 2017.
If you’ve been following me on Instagram at all, you’ve probably seen a pattern in my most recent posts. The last few years, my husband and I have slowly been decluttering everything in our lives, from our closets to our pantry to our furniture. We no longer buy things brand new just because something old breaks. Now we question every purchase: is this going to add value to our lives or just take up space in our home?
The result has been amazing: less stress, more time, less worry, more money. I’ll tell you all about that journey later. Problem is, decluttering is a bit easier said than done when it comes to your photography gear.
I’ve come to believe that old, unused lenses are the equivalent to the “fat pants” that sit in the back of your closet. You don’t use them, you aren’t going to use them anytime soon, but you still keep them, collecting dust, “just in case”.
All of us have gear like this. I’ve got an old Rokinon 8mm lens in the bottom of my storage chest, along with a couple flashes, gels, some old photo books and who knows how many timers, remote shutter clickers, filters and random novelty photo toys I “thought” I would need but have hardly ever used once.
You don’t need this stuff. I don’t need this stuff. Sell it. Donate it. Do something with it. It’s not serving you any purpose besides taking up space.
And while we’re on the same subject…
2. Evaluate Your Gear Needs
The photography world loves to tempt you with new gear. Lighter, faster, more megapixels. Sleeker finish, new colors, silent shutter. Countless blogs will inundate you with comparisons between the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 and the Canon 85mm f/1.2. If you want an 85mm, buy an 85mm, but if you already own the Sigma f/1.4 for the love of God don’t stay up all night reading the comparisons between the two and stressing out over whether or not you should sell your Sigma and splurge for the Canon. Whatever you have is fine.
Sometimes we need new gear, and sometimes we just want new gear. We want the promise of what we think it will bring: better photographs, more clients, more money. New gear does not guarantee any of these things.
Better yet, get the gear you need, and invest your money in education. Take an online business marketing class, or attend a conference or workshop. Money spent on education (provided it’s from a legit source) is rarely wasted.
3. Rethink Your Social Media Game
In previous resolution posts, you’ve read my advice of embracing social media. I’ve told you to explore new platforms you haven’t used yet to see if they could help with your business. And while I still stand by that advice, this year I’m personally planning on moving in a slightly different direction.
Social media can be a dangerous animal, and while we as photographers absolutely need it to market our business and round out our online presence, it can be easy to get lost in the world that isn’t real.
You don’t have to be everywhere. You don’t have to post every day. It’s better to have a cohesive, beautiful Instagram timeline where you only post twice a week than it is to have a disorganized, disjointed feed because you’re desperately trying to keep up with last year’s 3x a day posting goals.
This year, focus more on taking beautiful photographs, posting when you can and living your damn life. Social media is just one of many marketing tools. Don’t get lost in it.
4. Take More Photos of Yourself
I was genuinely proud of how many photos I took of my family this year. Everywhere we went I took a few photos or a short video. At the end of the year I was so excited to go through everything until I quickly noticed one very depressing trend – I was missing in nearly everything. I have countless memories stored of my husband throwing our daughter in the air, teaching her to walk, chasing her around the house; and if I’m lucky it’s a video where you can at least hear my voice. Otherwise, it’s like I was never there.
This year, commit to not only taking more photos of your friends and family, but also to being in these photos. If that means I have to forcefully shove my camera into my husband’s hands and demand he keep clicking until he gets something in focus than so be it. 2017 is not the year to disappear behind then camera.
5. Have a Travel Camera
I spend a large part of my time outside and I hate lugging around my giant DSLR. It’s not easy to carry and it’s expensive – which means I’m stressed the entire time I have it with me. If you don’t have a problem with carrying it around than by all means go for it – but no way I’m hanging out at our local blues festival with my pain in the ass Mark III hanging around my neck. I want to dance and drink and air guitar make questionable decisions just as much as anyone else.
In that case, have a smaller, travel camera. Something small enough to fit in your pocket. Anymore, your phone might be a reasonable alternative, though personally even my new phone takes a second to focus and doesn’t work worth shit in low lighting. There are some amazingly small, lightweight and inexpensive point & shoots available now. Consider picking one of these up and make your life a little easier this year.
6. Organize your inspiration
If you’re anything like me, you spend a fair amount of time on Pinterest pinning to your various boards – and then you never look at them ever again. I have no idea why I do this. I have countless recipes pinned on my cookie board, then when it’s time to bake cookies what do I do? I search for a new cookie recipe. I could just look at the damn board. That’s what it’s there for.
I do the same with photography inspiration. Pin and pin and collect and pin. Then I never look back at it. The act of pinning to your board (or collecting magazine pages, or saving websites, or whatever it is you do) is not the final step. It’s just the beginning. This year, take some time really going through all of that inspiration you’ve been collecting and let it lead somewhere useful and productive…something like Resolution #7, for example.
7. Work on a long term project
No matter how busy you are, we all need a long term project to light that fire inside of us. Something that excites you every time you work on it. Sit down and take a close look at your newly organized inspiration we just talked about and see what strikes you.
Then, just take it step by step. No matter how large a project you’re interested in doing, just break it down and begin working on one piece at a time. If you want to make a photo book, break it down by chapter and content. What photos do you want in the book? How do you go about setting up those individual photoshoots? How can you get the maximum exposure for this book when it’s released (can these photos be shown as a gallery show to coincide with the book release)? Who can you team up with the help this process run as smoothly as possible?
If you’re looking for suggestions for the new year, consider reading my recent post on using photography for good, Philanthropy Through Photography, or consider joining our 2017: 52 Week Photography & Business Challenge.
8. Avoid the Snooze Button
We all have a photography snooze button. We know the most beautiful light is 5:30 am but we just don’t want to get up that early. The snow outside looks so beautiful to shoot in but it’s just sooooo cold and there’s coffee inside. We could put together the most amazing shoot but we have to get the wardrobe together and schedule a time with the studio and we’ll just do it later after we edit these client photos.
Stop putting off your creative shoots. Get up early, make the call to the studio, do what you need to do to get this shoots done and in the books. These are the shoots that feed your soul and keep you from burning out. You need them!
9. Narrow down what you’re truly passionate about
If you’ve been shooting non-stop all year, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the hustle. We begin taking jobs because they pay, and before you know it you’re shooting anything anyone will pay you for. This may seem exciting at first, but you’ll usually end up worn, ragged and confused by the end of the year.
As you become a better photographer, you’ve got start narrowing down what you’re actually passionate about, whether that’s weddings, families, landscapes, concerts, fashion or something else. That doesn’t mean you have to cut out all paying jobs, but it does mean you can start adjusting your marketing strategy to hit more of your target audience.
10. Print your photos
Every year I make this resolution, and every year I do make a little progress, but it still deserves a spot on the list. Print. Your. Photos. Hang them up in your house, send them to grandparents, put them in your wallet. Our process is never truly complete until you’re holding that photograph in your hand. Print your photos. I can’t stress it enough.
If you were to ask me about a specific time in my life when photography made a significant impact it would’ve been fall of 2011. For my birthday, my husband surprised me by taking me out for lunch at a tiny burger dive, and then stopping in at the local art museum. He’s not exactly an “art-lover” per say, so I was a little confused by the move – until he explained what they were showing.
There was an exhibit with every Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph since they started handing out in the prize in 1942. Each photo was blown up huge on the wall, with a long description from the photographer hanging next to it. I remember he told me not to plan anything for that evening, and instantly I knew why: I was going to read every, single, one of these descriptions.
Photos of war, of celebration, struggle, heartache, starvation, triumph. I couldn’t take my eyes away. These photos were beautiful, powerful, and gut-wrenching. Particularly the “vulture photo” by Kevin Carter (Google it, because there is no way I’m posting it here). The description next to the photograph was written by a good friend of Kevin’s, since he had committed suicide just 3 months after shooting it. That picture will haunt me for the rest of my life.
These Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs, they made you feel something, made your heart ache and tears well up in your eyes. They aren’t meant to be seen in passing, commented on and then never referenced again. They stick with you, forever.
That’s the kind of photographer I wanted to be, then and there. I wanted the camera in my hand to make a difference. A real difference, to someone, somewhere.
That difference doesn’t have to mean shooting from a helicopter in a war-zone, it just means using your camera to make something near you just a little bit better. If you’re interested in using your camera for a little more this year, here are a few ways to get started.
Baby steps are still steps. A great place to look to make a difference is in your own community.
- Volunteer at your a local charity to photograph a charity event. They can use these photos for their newsletter or to post on social media, and hopefully gain more people for next year’s event.
- Hit up your local animal shelter. It’s been proven time and time again professional photos help animals get adopted faster. A picture of a scared dog, in the back of a dark kennel, with red eyes surely doesn’t do him any favors. Bring him out in the sunlight and snap a few photos of him playing fetch. The faster the shelter moves animals out, the more they can bring in.
- Dole at free family photos at your local homeless shelter. Many families go their entire lives without decent family photos. Help Portrait has a great program for getting started in this area.
Work With an Established Organization
There are some amazing organizations out there doing unbelievable things. Of course there are a few organization pretending to be charities and really just taking in money, but let’s just skip over those hell-holes and focus on the good ones. PhotoPhilanthropy is a great place to point you in the right direction. There you’ll find photographer resources for working with non-profits as well as tips to get your own photo essays and projects off the ground. A few other amazing photography related organizations:
- Photographers Without Borders is another fantastic program, that allows you to sell your photos with the money going straight educational purposes of the country the photo was taken in.
- Operation Love Reunited is an organization that gives military families free family photo sessions before a family member is deployed. Get involved by filling out an application here.
- Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep is an organization that offers free remembrance photography for parents that have lost their newborn babies. These are often the only photos parents have to remember infants who have passed.
- Flashes of Hope offers free portrait service to children with cancer, giving them ownership of their new identities.
- 100 Cameras works to give cameras to kids in marginalized communities to help them tell their stories (that’s the extremely condensed version of course, they do much more than that).
These are just a few on a very long list of amazing organizations. If there’s another cause close to your heart, seek out a non-profit for that cause and email them! Very few organizations will turn away free photos, especially good ones that really help their cause.
Create Your Own Project
Just like Photographers Without Borders, you can also sell your own photos and decide exactly where the money goes. You can also complete your own photo essay, bringing awareness to a topic or cause you are passionate about.
You can work with a gallery or local business to print and hang photos in an exhibition. Use social media and shared networking (both of you combine email lists) to spread the word. See what other companies would like to get involved. You might be able to get the catering for a show donated, or part of the publishing costs covered for small book. Many companies are open to the idea of donating goods or services if project proceeds are going to a deserving cause.
Give a Free Class
Photography allows people to tell stories that would otherwise remain silent. You don’t have to teach your entire craft – just an introductory class at a high school or community center. Have a free class at your studio where you show kids how to use an old hand-me-down camera they bought at a yard sale. This may not seem like much to you, but you’re giving someone the ability to express themselves and create something entirely their own, which can be a drastic turning point to their lives.
Donate the Proceeds
Often the easiest and fastest way to get involved is to sell some of your current photos as prints and donate the proceeds. Even just simple landscape shots can go for something.
Another option is to use your skills and current market to donate a day’s worth of client proceeds. If you’re a wedding photographer, maybe the cost of one wedding per year is donated to a cause near to your heart. As a family photographer, you could have one day a year where the fees from any session scheduled on that day goes straight to charity.
Just Do What You Can
It’s all up to you to decide what you’re doing with your time. If you aren’t in a situation to donate an entire weddings’ worth of fees, than by all means, don’t do that, but if you can afford to take one day a month and shoot a few photos for the local humane society, than do it. Every little bit counts.
The bottom line is we tend to take our cameras for granted more than we realize. After years in this business, we can forget how powerful of a tool it is. Even if you don’t think a few photos will make a difference, chances are, they probably will.
“Year of the Monkey?” Please, I beg to differ.
2016 has basically been the equivalent of me thinking I could totally do my own smoky eye makeup.
Me: “This is gonna be fierce!”
2016: “HAHAHA OMG here use the waterproof liner…”
Now I know what you’re thinking: December just got started! Christmas! Hot cocoa! Family, presents, all that warm and fuzzy shit – things could still look up!
Yeah, they could – in the same way that I’m down by 50 points in my fantasy league and my kicker is going on Monday. December could have the best game of all time, but let’s be realistic here, folks: 2016 is bust. I’m calling it.
I’ll admit, it didn’t exactly get off on the right foot. In January we lost our aunt after a battle with cancer. In February I found out I was pregnant, canceled the Bali workshop due to Zika, then lost the baby in March and somehow managed to speak at Shutterfest just a few days later, when all I really wanted to do was stay home, curl up in the shower and cry myself into oblivion.
So not a great start.
Soon we learned we were pregnant again and had an ultrasound the day before we left for the Greece workshop in June. About halfway through the workshop I began spotting and cramping. I called the doctor and she told me, very calmly, that the results from the ultrasound were in…and they weren’t good. They should’ve seen a developing baby and heard a heartbeat, but instead they saw nothing and heard nothing. I was barren and silent. Even though I was still feeling all the symptoms of pregnancy (exhaustion, morning sickness, depression), this was most likely the start of another miscarriage, and we’d probably have to just wait for the worst.
At the same time, I was getting messages on my photography page from someone trying to friend me on Facebook. Soon his messages changed from “please accept my friend request” to “accept my friend request or I’ll track you down and rape you.” Oooooooh okay, my bad, see I was listening to my gut instinct on this one but clearly I was wrong because you sound lovely…
On the 4th day of the workshop I got an email that said the reservation I made for the Catalina workshop, less than 30 days away, for 15 people, was canceled. No reason, just an email, a refund and an apology. I scrambled to find lodging for everyone – which I did – but it put me $6k over my budget.
I guess you could say between the doctor telling me I was having another miscarriage, a stranger threatening to rape me and an unexpected $6,000 lodging fee, all within a few days, things were starting to get to me. I remember sitting in our hotel room, telling my husband I just can’t handle anymore of this year, to which he held my hand and queasily replied, “Babe…it’s June. We still got a lot of year left.”
Thankfully, first thing we did when we got home was have another ultrasound – and everything was fine! There was our baby, all curled up, little heart beating away. That’s right folks, we’ve got baby #2 on the way, due February 1st. 🙂
Aaaand that’s about the only thing that went well this year. As July turned to August and August turned to September, things continued to spiral downward. We thought we might catch a break in October when we left for Hawaii for what should’ve been our first real, work-free family vacation ever – but the first day there our 1-year old daughter came down with Roseola. While everyone else was snorkeling and exploring the island, we spent most of our time in the hotel room on the phone with the ER desperately trying to break her 104 temperature.
But we did get to see Hawaii through the Facebook photos of the rest of the family that was there…which is kind of the same thing as enjoying it yourself, right? Sure it is. It’s the same thing. Just go with it.
The crazy thing; the more I talked to people around me the more I realized everyone I knew was having a horrible year. I had friends that were hit with divorces, fertility issues, and mystery medical problems no doctors could solve. I had two friends that were literally hit by a car while they were walking to the store. Both needed multiple surgeries and intense physical therapy.
Here I thought I was having a rough year, but hey at least I wasn’t run over by a fucking car.
And these were just people I knew personally, I’m not even including the global level of devastation that’s going on right now. By the time November arrived, it all hit me like a ton of bricks, and I just wanted to do something, anything to help, and my poor husband had to lay out in a very practical manner why it would be a horrible idea for me, being 7 months pregnant, to run off to Aleppo to assist in the makeshift hospitals. I had to very tearfully admit he was probably right.
Meanwhile, the hits just kept on coming. Cars broke down, gear broke down, pets got sick, people were assholes. Delta is a piece of shit airline. We lost more family and more friends. If 2016 was a Grizzly bear – I was definitely Leonardo DiCaprio.
But as much as this year has shredded me to pieces…I think I should be saying thank you. Just as it took an asshole of an ex-boyfriend to open my eyes to what a great guy really looks like, this year has opened my eyes to what living a good life really looks like.
I thought I was doing my part in the world, I really did. I thought volunteering and donating was enough, but it wasn’t. For crying out loud I’m a photographer – that’s an amazing skill, especially when it comes to exposing hurt or injustice. Photography has the power to make the world a much better place, and I’ve been using it to take pretty photos. It’s like having a crystal ball capable of changing the future, and using it for decoration in the dining room. It feels like a waste, and I think I needed to be reminded of that, as violent of a reminder as it turned out to be.
I’ve already made changes for next year. I’ve changed my photoshoots, my lectures, everything, and for the first time in a long time, I’m excited. Not the kind of excited you get when your food comes out in a restaurant, but that deep down, night before Christmas, childlike kind of excitement where it’s hard to focus and sit still.
So go ahead December, bring it on. I spent last night with my daughter, curled up on the couch in the softest blanket ever flipping through a National Geographic magazine while my husband baked both a batch of gingerbread and chocolate chip cookies. That is some Hallmark fucking shit right there.
Like I said, I’m stepping up my game.
I see you 2017. I see you and I’m ready. Let’s rumble.
Every time I write an informational blog post, I try to write two separate versions. The first version is a bit more straightforward, where I develop intelligent thoughts and place them on the page in a pleasing fashion, edit out most of the profanity and keep the rambling to a minimum. That’s the one that usually gets shared in other photography forums and blogs, and brings new members to my site. It’s the business post, the one that grows my email list and keeps me relevant in photography related discussions.
The second version is the one I write after reaching a breaking point and is posted with little to no editing.
The other day I wrote my 7 favorite tips for keeping your sanity while running a photography business. That was the first version.
This is the second.
Personally, when I think about that perfect work/life balance, I imagine my day starting something like this: I’ll probably wake up well rested, at the perfect time, without an alarm clock, with a smile on my face and my arms outstretched. Then I’ll do a quick hour of yoga in my sunny – but not too sunny – private exercise nook. I’ll eat a healthy breakfast of yogurt, oats and freshly cut fruit (which I grew in my private backyard orchard, by the way) and then maybe I’ll do a bit of morning journalling. I’ll take a quick shower, brush my teeth for the full dentist recommended two minutes, blow dry my hair, put on a perfect face of makeup and then head out the door looking and feeling fabulous.
And then I remember I don’t live in a fucking Ambien commercial.
That woman does not exist. That lifestyle does not exist. The only way I might even come close to a morning like that would be if my husband were out of town, my daughter stayed the night at her grandparents and I just murdered someone the night before and completely got away with it.
Yet for some reason, that continues to be my standard.
I also have an unrealistic standard for everything else in life. I have full Pinterest boards with just white furniture. White furniture. My husband and I have a 9 month old baby girl, 2 cats and 2 dogs. And out of all of us, I’m the messiest one! I covered the entire kitchen in taco salad the other day because I wanted to try flipping it in the bowl the way they do on Iron Chef instead of just mixing it with a giant spoon like the fucking amateur I am. White furniture wouldn’t last 20 minutes in my house.
But nonetheless, white bed cover, white rug, sheer white curtains flowing in the breeze, a white nightstand with a solitary white vase containing a perfectly formed Pink Rock Orchid? Fuck yeah I’ll follow you on Instagram.
This conventional idea of ‘balance’ is complete bullshit. It’s purely aesthetic, a level that exists solely for Instagram followers. Those people with houses filled with perfectly minimalist white home decor? I’m not sure they actually live in them. Or if they do, they don’t have kids. Or pets. Or hobbies. I mean if you’re single, germaphobic, agoraphobic and have a shit ton of money to blow than yeah, I guess that’s the setup for you, but then where do you go to experiment with the taco salad once in a while?
And while I really do try and follow my 7 rules for keeping my sanity, I certainly can’t follow them all the time. Some days I just can’t help but obsessively refresh my email or scroll through Facebook for hours. Some days I’m just not productive. I’m well rested, in a quiet, disturbance-free house, with plenty of work ready to complete at my finger tips and I’ll find myself whittling a pencil eraser into a miniature teacup. Some days work just isn’t going to happen.
My only real, tried and true technique for getting through the madness is to pick a date in the future when I know the madness will temporarily subside, and just focus on making it to that date. The current date in my head is August 1st. I have an enormously intimidating mountain of work to complete by then, all of it non-negotiable in terms of a deadline. I have no idea how I will get it done, but that’s all future Jenna’s problem. Present Jenna just has to worry about making it to August 1st, because on that morning, I know everything will have been completed.
My husband texted me today to ask how it was going at home. My daughter is teething again and is now completely mobile, which means I’ve got my hands full. And today was one of those days when she demanded my complete undivided attention. So we played. All. Day. Long.
She chased me around the house (by chased I mean scooted herself through the kitchen), we stacked blocks, we knocked them down, we pet the cat and then went outside and pet the basil plant. We threw the frisbee for the big dog and watched the cross-eyed dog dig a hole. We yelled at a bug. We ate sweet potatoes with cinnamon, then later tried blueberries and bananas (both were awesome). We sent a lot of weird Snapchats to dad (you can find me at jennamtphoto) and then pet the basil plant again.
I got nothing on my list done today. Nada. But tomorrow she goes to Nanna’s house and I’ll have to get an unreasonably high volume of work done in a small amount of time. Bring it.
That’s how I define balance. Some days I work like a mad woman. Some days I stack blocks with my baby girl. I know I need those good work days, they’re the entire basis for my income. But if more important shit comes up and I have to skip work and then double down on it later, so be it. When I look back, I don’t remember the days Chris came home and I told him how productive I had been. Those all fade. I do remember the days when my baby just had to be held though. The days she just had to be with her mamma, so the only “work” I could realistically get done was one-hand typing a blog post while she fell asleep in my lap.
Blog posts exactly like this one right now.
Today was for home. Tomorrow will be for work.
Fuckin’ balance, bitches.
I don’t miss much about my pre-photography days, but what I do miss is a very specific type of freedom. The freedom to say, “Take it up with someone else, I’m off the clock!” That feeling of getting in your car and literally driving away from any work-related responsibilities is amazing. Once you’re checked out everything is no longer your problem.
But as a business owner, everything is your problem. No matter how big or small or what time of day it comes up, it is your job to take care of it, and that can be pretty exhausting.
Thankfully, as time has gone on, I’ve developed a few personal rules to keep me from completely losing my mind while running my photography business.
1.) Outsource What You Can
Our natural instinct is to do everything ourselves, especially when we’ve developed our own little way of doing things. And yes, you are a one of a kind, super special snowflake of unique creative energy, but your office tasks? Not so much.
The fact is, there are so many things we do as a business and only a fraction of those things really need your creative input. The rest are just time-sucking tasks you can outsource.
Make a list of everything in your business you don’t absolutely have to do yourself, then write down how much it would cost to outsource those things and how much time you would save doing so. Maybe you can delegate just a few of the larger items, or maybe you can hire a part-time assistant for all of it.
2.) Learn to Say ‘No’
As time goes on, you will learn what to accept and what to pass on to others. One example: I now have a rule where I don’t shoot friends’ weddings. I used to shoot friends’ weddings and gradually I learned that it’s an awful experience. I don’t get to hang out with anyone because I’m taking pictures of everyone. I don’t get to eat a normal meal, I have to shovel food in my mouth as fast as I can get because I have to hurry up and shoot the first dance. I’m not in any of the photographs because I’m the one taking them. I don’t get to relax in even the slightest amount because I’m in work mode the entire time. I. Do. Not. Shoot. Friends’. Weddings.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t still get asked, and I have to say no in the nicest possible way, because people genuinely don’t understand why I wouldn’t want to shoot their wedding. It’s difficult and it sucks to say no, but I can gladly say now I get to watch my friend’s get married with my own two eyes, not through a lens. I get to eat cake, and dance, and be in the photos and laugh and reminisce when they talk about their crazy uncle Joe splitting his pants on the dance floor because I actually saw it because I was there dancing too.
‘No’ is not a dirty word. Learn it and use it often.
3.) Turn Off Social Media Notifications
That goes for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and whatever else is constantly pulling your attention away from a certain task you’re working on. The only notifications I get anymore are basically calls or texts.
This seems counterintuitive, the the fact is, notifications are significant distractions that pull you away from important business tasks. Set aside specific times to post to your social media accounts, then get out. No checking back every 10 minutes to see if anyone has commented. That’s nothing more than an ego trip that has virtually nothing to do with your photography business. Post, tag, and then shut that shit down.
4.) Check Emails Twice a Day
I used to think a quick email response (and by quick I mean immediate) guaranteed me the edge over my competition, but that very rarely turned out to be the case. Answering emails immediately turned out to be just as much of a distraction as checking Facebook every few minutes.
Now, I check my email once in the morning and then again right before I close down shop for the day, usually some time around 4:30 pm. Sometimes I’ll check it again after dinner when my daughter is asleep and we’re finally settling down in front of the tv, but that’s really out of boredom. If I see one or two emails I can quickly respond to quickly before Game of Thrones comes on I’ll take care of it, but otherwise, it’s twice a day and that’s it.
5.) Time Yourself During Monotonous Tasks
For most photographers (including myself) editing is not necessarily the fun part of your job. Editing used to take a lot longer for me, and it’s because I saw myself as needing to complete a specific task, not work for a specific length of time. Now instead of “I’m going to edit these senior photos” which is a very vague goal, I tell myself “I’m going to work like a crazy person for the next 30 minutes” and then I set a timer for 30 minutes and literally work like a crazy person.
I take a short break at 30 minutes, then reset the timer and go at it again. Editing that used to take 4 hours now takes 45 minutes. Emails that used to take 45 minutes now take 15. Anytime I’m about to start a task I absolutely am in no mood to do, I set that timer.
6.) Schedule Time for Yourself
I run in the winter and I swim in the summer. Yup, in January in Montana I’m the crazy girl running with mittens in -30 degrees. But it’s just something I have to do. It keeps my head clear. And if I try and “find” the time during the day, it’s never going to happen.
Now, it’s scheduled in just like anything else. If a client wants to meet on Tuesday, they don’t get the option of 2:00 pm or 4:00 pm, they get 4:00 pm and that’s it. At 1:55 the running shoes go on.
Whatever it is that clears your head, whether it’s going for a walk, a round of yoga, playing your guitar or baking cookies – schedule it in. You are just as important as your clients, so make yourself a priority just like you make them one.
And this doesn’t just include little daily breaks – schedule vacation time as well. Pick a time in your down season and take a trip. Doesn’t have to be expensive or extravagant, just spend a weekend at the lake with the family or spend a couple days binging on Netflix with your spouse or best buddies. Whatever recharges your batteries!
7) Ignore the Inaccurate Information
It’s pretty easy to think you’re the only one struggling to keep up when everyone else seems to have this shit on lock. But know that’s what they want you to see. Keep your chin up, focus on what you need to do and keep moving forward and stay off of Facebook!
Do you have any tips that have helped you keep your sanity? Share them in the comments below!
I have to admit, when I first started my photography business I didn’t think it was going to be that difficult. I thought I’d get a camera, take some photos, put some stuff out on Facebook and people would start hiring me. They would give me money, I would give them photos – done deal! How tough could it be?
Well…as it turns out, it was a bit more complicated than that. But most of what I could find still focused on the photos – and I was struggling more with the business side of things. So for anyone else out there still in those beginning stages, here are a few things I had known for getting your photography business up and running.
*Sidenote – most of the examples in this post are for wedding photography because that’s how I started. Now I’m a professional underwater portrait photographer. So if you go to my site and don’t see any wedding photos – that’s why. I figured these examples would be more relevant than underwater examples ;).
Price Your Work Correctly
It’s tough to come back from bad pricing. I shot my first wedding for $650, and it went awesome! That couple recommended me to everyone…as a wedding photographer that did great work and only charged $650. It took me awhile to realize I was actually losing money shooting weddings at that price. I didn’t know how to account for gear, insurance, travel costs, editing time, ordering costs and a whole lot of other stuff too. Bad pricing almost killed me in the beginning.
Finding your pricing sweet spot is kind of like a cruel treasure hunt. My advice for your first step – see what others are charging in your area. Not to compare yourself – but to research. This will at least give you a general idea of where the market is. Successful photographers aren’t shooting in a price range because they drew that number out of a hat, it took a while for them to get there, which means you can learn just as much from their price range. Here in Montana, for example, most wedding photographers stay around the $2,000 – $4,000 range. If you shoot in California or New York your average market prices are probably going to be a bit higher.
Then take a close look at everything that goes into your entire shoot – from planning all the way to delivering the photos. I’ve found that personally, between what I offer and what I have to spend (editing time, travel costs, everything), I was breaking even somewhere around $1,200.
Everyone is different, but this should give you at least a starting point.
Insure Your Gear
Chances are, if you’re just starting out, you’re spending a huge chunk of your savings (if not all of it) on new gear. You’ll need a camera and a couple decent lenses for almost any kind of photography you choose to pursue, and that doesn’t come cheap. Granted, with how fast photography technology is moving you can get a fantastic camera nowadays for a fraction of the price you’d have paid a few years ago, but it’s still going to leave a dent in your bank account. And if something ever happens to your gear (which something most definitely will), do you have the money to start over? Probably not. Insure your gear. It costs about $28/month to insure your gear with PPA. If it’s between that or a new lens, get the insurance.
Learn to Edit Efficiently
Of course you’ll want your shots to be the best they can be SOOC (straight out of camera), but part of what a client is paying you for is your post-processing skills. Skin retouching, color correcting, removing or adjusting things in the background (like fire hydrants or drunk in-laws): all these edits take time. And your time is valuable.
Try and develop a series of steps to editing, and get to know your shortcuts in Photoshop and Lightroom. For example, in Photoshop, pressing ‘B’ on your keyboard gives you the brush tool. It may not seem like much, but pressing ‘B’ instead of manually selecting the brush from your toolbar every single time makes a bigger difference than you think. The more shortcuts you use the more milliseconds it shaves off per photo, saving you hours of editing time.
And for the love of God go easy on the clarity and saturation sliders. You’ll thank me later.
Draw Up a Contract
I didn’t know I needed a client contract until a client asked for one. Whoops.
Thank God I got one though, because when you’re shooting weddings for as low as $650, you get taken advantage of, and without a decent contract there’s a couple times I probably wouldn’t have been paid at all.
Depending on what you shoot, there are countless different contracts you should be using. I shoot portraits, so I need a portrait agreement and a model release. My clients also receive digital files with some packages, so I also need a print release. I have a consignment agreement for art that is sold in galleries, plus a digital works agreement for my work that is used for book covers, websites and album covers.
For a basic portrait agreement, you’ll want to include spaces for both your company information and the client’s information, product or services to be agreed upon, deposit amount, cancelation terms (by both parties), date of delivery, and additional information, like travel fees, or shooting requirements. Almost all wedding photographers, for example, have a clause that ensures they are fed on the day of the wedding. My wedding photography contract guarantees me a piece of wedding cake because, well, I like cake.
As much as we want to believe the best in people, a handshake does not ensure you’ll be treated fairly. You’ll want at least something down on paper.
Learn to Network
A hugely significant way photographers find clients is through referrals; referrals from happy clients and referrals through like-minded businesses. A wedding photographer should be working with local wedding venues, wedding planners and jewelry stores. A newborn photographer should be working closely with local baby boutiques, delivery centers and wedding photographers. A landscape photographer should be working with local magazines, hotels and tourism centers. No matter what you shoot, there are businesses and people you need to know. Don’t be shy here – if you want to run your own business you’ve got to put yourself out there.
Contact these companies and start building a relationship. Maybe you’ll give a venue free photos of every wedding shot at their place, and in return you’re first on a short list of recommended photographers they give to couples getting married at their facilities. Think about what you can offer them and what you want in return, then ask for a meeting!
Have an Online Presence
All those people and businesses you should be networking with? Without an online presence it’s very difficult for them to recommend you. They need a website they can send clients to, a Facebook page they can tag you in and an Instagram account they can pull up to show your work. When people hear about you, the first thing they’re going to do is whip out their phones and Google you. Make sure something comes up.
Get Your Marketing Materials Ready
Since I started out shooting mostly weddings, I thought I’d hit up a local bridal fair. So I printed some flyers, set up a booth and was quickly embarrassed. My “flyers” were a joke. I don’t have an actual example, but let’s just say they looked something like this:
Needless to say I got no new bookings, and the next day I tried to create my own handouts based on a few I had seen at the fair. It was a massive failure. Turns out, creating marketing materials is much more of an in-depth process than I originally thought. I probably should’ve just bit the bullet and bought a few templates to get me started, because I was just flat out no good at it and because nothing says “I have no idea what I’m doing” more than really crappy marketing materials.
Develop Your Portfolio
They always say, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” You can also apply this to your portfolio. You want it full of photos that will lead you to the clients you want, not necessarily convey the clients you have.
For example, if you want to shoot destination weddings, you’ve got to get some portfolio shots of somewhere other than where you live. My first year I took a greyhound bus to the California coast, slept on peoples’ couches and gave out free “wedding-styled photoshoots.” Clients stepped back into their dress and a tux and we took pics at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, at the beach at sunset in Los Angeles and in downtown San Diego. I came back with a treasure trove of photos that looked nothing like Montana. Now it actually looked like I had shot some destination weddings.
Be Prepared to Explain Yourself
You know why I shot my first wedding for $650? Because that’s what they said they’d pay me, because that’s what they thought was fair. They didn’t know everything that goes into wedding photography, and that’s not their fault. If you’re going to charge enough to make a living, you have to be able to explain yourself to clients who think otherwise.
Practice this before your first sales meeting. You want to be confident in your answers. You aren’t asking them for charity – you’re explaining why your services are valuable.
Figure Out if this is Right for You
People told me I’d never enjoy photography if I did it for a living instead of just as a hobby. Are you freaking kidding me?! I do not love photography any less because I get paid for it. Getting paid for it just means I ABSOLUTELY LOVE MY JOB! No way would I trade this in. All the stress, the sleepless nights, the responsibility, everything – totally worth it. I wouldn’t go back in a heartbeat!
Of course, I have friends that have gone full-time and hated it. They liked the part where they pressed the shutter button, not where clients are badgering them 12 hours after a shoot wondering where their photos are.
Running a business isn’t for everyone – and there’s nothing wrong with that! If you want something stable without all the responsibility, maybe keep your day job. If you’re like me and have gotten fired from almost every job you ever had because you have a tiny problem with authority, running your own business might be a perfect fit.
Bonus Tip: Ignore the Facebook “Pros”
Oh, dear God, virtually every photographer on Facebook is lying. Yes they may be booking clients, but they are also dealing with horrible clients and cancelations, and broken gear and unexpected business expenses. No one posts about these things because it doesn’t look great, but trust me, that doesn’t mean they aren’t going through it.
No one is wildly successful from day one – we’re all just as much of a hot mess as you are – but what people post on Facebook is meant to convince you otherwise. Don’t fall for it. Just skip over it and focus on what you need to do to get better.
And if you’re starting out and you’re a bit overwhelmed – that’s why I created PhotoFern. Meant to be a complete resource for photographers, we have classes, downloadable client contracts, fully customizable marketing templates, a combination of 300+ Photoshop actions, Lightroom presets, textures and overlays as well as a lively and supportive community all focused on the same thing: making our photography business a success. Use the code PHOTOFERN16 and enjoy your first 2 weeks free, and if you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on my Facebook page. Be sure to follow me on Instagram and Periscope if you’d like to watch some of the underwater shoots from under the water :).
Montana water is pretty cold in winter…and spring…and…okay actually it’s pretty cold every single day of the year.
As an underwater photographer I have to admit it’s not the most ideal place for year-round shooting. But the crystal clear glacier water I have access to in the summer (although freezing), makes it all worth it.
Winter, of course, is a different story. Can’t really shoot if the water is frozen.
Which puts me on the search for anyone with an indoor pool willing to lend it to a desperate underwater photographer. Thankfully, one of the nicest couples EVER allowed me to use their pool in Bozeman for a couple shoots, so when Rocky Mountain Entertainment Agency (RMEA) had the idea to do a full model workshop complete with underwater model training…in Montana…in February…we had the perfect place!
I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of shooting with RMEA. Everyone is enthusiastic and nice – and the girls are absolute rockstars. Underwater modeling is tough, and they have to figure it all out within just a couple days. This year, we had an extra little bonus, as one of the modeling spots for my Greece workshop was still available, so one lucky model would walk away with a trip to Greece completely paid for!
The first day of these workshops is usually practice. Hardly anyone, if ever, gets it right on the first day. There’s a lot of choking and sputtering, a lot of “This sucks” and “How do you make the water not go up your nose?”
But the second day – wow! Every time it’s like a whole new group of girls show up. Everyone starts to get the hang of it, and it starts being fun! Then we can play with props, with backdrops, fun poses and outfits.
Plus, with a makeup artist like Olivia, with OMD4 Makeup (who is also the makeup artist that will be on hand for both the Greece and Catalina Island workshops this year), we get to see some really great makeup looks. The girls also had their photos taken on dry land by Katherine, from Katherine Kingston Photography (who was just a blast to work with, btw).
A few shots from day 2 of the workshop:
And the model that won a spot at the Greece workshops is…
I can’t wait for this summer’s RMEA camps!
Fair warning: this is not going to be a happy post.
I’m really not even sure how to start this. Even as I’m writing I’m not even sure I’m going to publish it. I’m just awake in my bed, desperately trying to make any sense of this weekend, and so often the only way I know how to do that is to write about it.
Part of me wonders if this is something I should be writing about at all. Maybe this is too intimate. Maybe this is the line where I need to step back and say, “You know what, some shit is just too personal and painful for others to be let in.” But then again, I’ve followed that rule for years, and in all honesty, the longer I’ve kept something a secret, the more it hurts. So maybe the “keep it private” idea is bullshit. Frankly, I have no idea what the best thing is to do right now. This entire situation is uncharted territory for me.
What I do know is I’m sad. Heartbreakingly, incomprehensibly, devastatingly sad. So I’m just going to type for a while. See where that goes.
See a couple months ago I found out I was pregnant again. We were so excited. Beyond excited, really. Our family was growing again! We told barely a few close family and friends, plus the Bali workshop attendees, because unfortunately as of February 1st of this year Bali is on the “Don’t Even Fucking Think of Traveling There” list for anyone pregnant or looking to become pregnant within the next 60 days. So I created the Catalina workshop as an alternative, Chris and I started planning for baby #2 and life was pretty damn good.
Then last Friday night…I lost the baby.
Those dotted lines are me crying. Right now, in my bed, at 1:44 in the morning.
I’ve lost family members. I’ve lost friends. I’ve lost pets. I’ve been through a lot of really sad fucking shit but this is just…
I’ve never experienced a sadness like this. I’ve never experienced an emptiness like this. I’ve never had to cope with something…like this.
Maybe I should’ve known. This entire pregnancy was going swimmingly. I didn’t feel sick. Not even the slightest bit of morning sickness or food aversions. I could eat whatever I wanted. I had energy. My last pregnancy I was incredibly depressed, but not with this one. I didn’t even feel hormonal. I felt amazing. I felt so good that when my mom asked how it was going that very morning I told her that I really didn’t even feel pregnant at all.
Then that night as I was standing in the kitchen making dinner, it was like a faucet turned on. No pain, no warning, just what the fuck oh my fucking god there is so much blood.
My mother-in-law packed Leila in the car-seat and as she rushed us to the hospital I Googled “bleeding at 8 weeks pregnant” and found plenty of cases where everything turned out fine. Plenty of people on plenty of forums have had almost the exact same thing. They were fine. The baby was fine. It would be fine. It would all be fine.
But it wasn’t, and about 4 hours, a urine sample, a blood test and 3 different ultrasounds later my doctor told me with no matter of uncertainty that I was no longer pregnant.
I bawled. I sat in that room and I cried and cried and cried and cried. I told myself maybe this was a dream. Maybe if I tried really hard I could just wake up and Chris would be next to me and there would be a dog at my feet and a cat in my hair and I’d feel my belly and there would still be our little blueberry and we’d get up and make breakfast and everything would be totally fine.
But I was still in that hospital room.
After a minute I got dressed and left. I went to the front to checkout, where the checkout clerk happily greeted me with a, “So, what brings you in tonight?” When I answered him with, “I had a miscarriage,” He seemed a bit taken aback. Really? I’m crying at midnight in the fucking emergency room. My eyes are bloodshot and swollen shut; you ask what brought me in like I’m stopping by the fucking yacht club? How the fuck did you think this conversation would go? He then told me that I needed my checkout papers. I had to go all the way back down the hall to receive my follow-up paperwork and, as the nurse so excitedly put it, get one more set of vitals! She asked if I could just wait in that room a little longer while she got everything ready. You know, the same room with my bloody hospital gown, an ultrasound machine with photos of my silent baby and like a million tissues. I asked if I could wait in the hall instead, she said no, and I went back to that horrible room, sat down and cried some more.
She came in, took my vitals, told me I had to follow up with a phone call and a possible appointment, where she exclaimed, “Oh look! It looks like you already have one on April 18th!” When I started sobbing again she quickly realized that was supposed to be my first ultrasound appointment and replied, “Oh, right.”
In all honesty, every person I met in the ER was fucking horrible. Happy and joking and completely oblivious to what was going on. During the final ultrasound, my last possible hope that this nightmare was not happening, the same nurse sat behind the ultrasound tech, stared at the screen and commented, “This is so cool!” as he moved around that giant, transvaginal ultrasound wand inside of me and searched for the tiny heartbeat he would never find.
Typically I would’ve said something. I fucking live for confrontation but in the back of my mind I kept thinking if I was nice to them they would give me good news. If I put up with their unbelievably inappropriate jokes and their callous, happy demeanor they would tell me what I wanted to hear. I know it doesn’t make sense, but I was just that desperate.
My doctor on the other hand was amazing. His shift ended at 10:00 and he stayed until midnight to finish this ordeal with me. He was kind and honest and understanding and told me this was extremely common. He said the body is able to know if something isn’t developing right. Maybe the chromosomes weren’t matching up. Maybe it was developing with only half a heart or no lungs. Whatever the case, this baby was not going to have a happy, quality life and when the body recognizes that, it starts over. There’s nothing I could’ve done differently. He said he knows that doesn’t necessarily help what I’m feeling, but to please don’t read too much into this. This kind of thing happens, and it wasn’t my fault.
I spent all day Saturday with Leila. Chris had to work, and usually Leila hangs out with one of her grandparents for the day but I just needed her to myself. She had naptime in the bedroom and for the first time since she was born, I slept right alongside her. I just…couldn’t be alone.
I won’t tell you the details of what happened Saturday, but let’s just say Friday was only the beginning. See here’s the thing about miscarriage: it’s a process. It takes a while. I thought the worst was on Friday…I wasn’t even close. Saturday was fucking brutal.
And it continued into Sunday, and it will continue into Monday, and probably Tuesday, and who knows how many more days or weeks.
That’s part of what makes this so hard. Once it starts there is nothing you can do, and even after you know the result, you still have to wait for your body to finish the process. I move and my stomach cramps. I go to the bathroom and there is still blood. I feel a little butterfly in my stomach that used to mean my uterus was expanding…now I know it means it’s shrinking.
It’s pretty tough to move on when you’re still right in the middle of it.
And I know it doesn’t end there. I know at every future OB-GYN appointment, at every pap smear, on every future insurance form, I have to check that fucking box that says I’ve had a miscarriage. I have to see it staring me in the face. I have to be reminded of it.
Earlier tonight I told my husband that while I am really, really good at faking a smile, between me and him (and possibly a few thousand other people, depending on whether or not I publish this), I am not doing well. This is far more difficult that I thought it would be, and I think it’s because I’m forcing my brain to think about it in a different way than my heart. My brain wants to think about it as a biological issue. As a group of cells that wasn’t developing properly; as a failed science experiment. My heart, on the other hand, is thinking of it as a death. It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t a child yet, it was a child to me. And an already very loved one at that.
We talked, and we decided to give him a name. We had no way of knowing if it would’ve been a boy or a girl so, we decided to name him “Jamie”, a name that would fit either way.
So now every time I have to check that box, it’s not that I’ll be reminded that I had a miscarriage, I’ll instead be reminded that our little Jamie existed. Maybe he only had half a heart and no lungs and was missing an arm…but hey, we’ve had a cross-eyed dog and a three-legged cat, and I’m sure as shit not normal, so I like to think he would’ve fit in perfectly with our little family.
I know this will eventually get better. I know I have my little Leila and an amazing husband that loves me very much. I know these things. But I am still sad. And that’s okay. Right now I think I just need to be sad.
Maybe I will publish this. Maybe there is someone else out there going through this same thing and just needs to be sad too. Maybe we can be sad together. And maybe it will help to know that Jamie will be remembered by more than just Chris and I.
And to you, little Jamie, you were already so, so loved, and you always will be loved. And you will count, not just as a box we have to check, but as a member of our family. You were perfect to us.
We’ll always love you, little blueberry.
Alright 2016, let’s chat for a sec…
Last year I wrote about my 10 Best New Year’s Resolutions for Photographers and I’m happy to say I followed most of them. I even printed my photos, which means there are photos of my husband and new daughter in my house right now as I write this. Fellow photographers I know you know what a big deal this is, so just allow me a moment to bask in the glory of all your collective high fives.
*basking…basking…basking…a few more…is that everyone?*
Ah yes, thank you. That felt good.
But as great as a hypothetical high five feels, it isn’t going to pay the bills. The reality is, no matter how amazing your photos are, if your business is struggling you’re back to the grind of the real world. Back to bartending, back to living with your parents, back to justifying your “hobby” as a legitimate career choice.
And then finally, back to nursing school.
And that’s no way to ring in the New Year. Unless your end goal really is to be a nurse…or a bartender.
Hence, instead of making another photography resolution list, I thought it wiser to make a photography business resolution list. Let’s make this the year you aren’t staying business by just the skin of your teeth. Let’s make this the year your career choice actually turns into a career.
So here they are. My Top 10 Photography Business Resolutions:
1.) Plan for Growth
Growth doesn’t just magically happen. If you want something more than what you currently have, you’ve got to hustle for it, and you’ve got to plan for it.
Gather your goals for the year and break them down. You want to make $70k this year? Great. Now how exactly are you going to do that?
If you’re a wedding photographer, for example, exactly how many weddings will you have to book per month? What months are going to be your biggest challenges, and how can you prepare for them? Do you want to take on more destination weddings? What steps do you need to take to make that happen?
After you have the answers to those questions, break them down further. And further yet.
The more you break down your larger goals into smaller, specific, detailed goals, the easier they will be to accomplish.
Then keep on it. You want to re-visit this plan a couple times each month to make sure things stay on track.
2.) Embrace Change
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
What a horrible, horrible business mantra. Just because something currently works doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way to do things. Before this year gets too underway, sit down and take a look at every aspect of your business and see if there is somewhere that can be improved. A good place to start is with the following three principles: organize, cut, and automate.
Organize: Receipts, expenses, client contracts, project proposals, schedules, email lists
Cut: Excess gear, outdated backdrops & props, old portfolio photos, bad clients, bad employees
Automate: Social media posts, email subscriptions, website analytics, product orders, invoices
This not only clears out the clutter, but it also frees up more time. Just imagine what you could do! So much room for activities!
And speaking of embracing change…
3.) Explore New Social Media
Look, I get it. There are a million different social media platforms out there and just thinking about learning the ins and outs of all of them can be downright exhausting, but this is the world we live in. Social media is an essential marketing tool, and if you stick with the old versions of marketing, you’re going to get left behind.
At the start of this year, the vast majority of my social media marketing was done through Facebook and Instagram. Now, as Facebook reach slowly dwindles, Periscope and Snapchat have risen through the ranks. With Snapchat, I can connect with a younger audience, and show how I make backdrops and prepare for shoots. With Periscope, I’m able to broadcast live, interactive photoshoots from under the water. I can’t do that with Facebook and I can’t do that with Instagram. In fact, Periscope has been so instrumental in my business that I’m actually speaking at their next summit on a panel for photographers. Had I stayed in my tiny little social media bubble, I’d be missing out on an incredible opportunity to connect with my target audience.
So for 2016, spread your wings a bit. It is frustrating to learn a whole new social media platform, but if you want to grow your business, you’ve got to be up-to-date on the most effective marketing practices.
4.) Rethink How You Feel About Expenses
A common mistake many new business owners (including myself) make is to categorize expenses as a “debit” to their potential income. They see expenses as a bad thing, as something that deducts from the overall net profit of their company.
Expenses are investments. They are ways to grow your company. You aren’t looking for ways to eliminate expenses; you’re looking for ways to get the most return for them.
If you’re spending $100/mo on a particular serice and it isn’t doing much for you, don’t think in terms of “If I cut that service, I’ll be making an extra $100/mo.” Think instead in terms of how you can re-direct that $100/mo into a more profitable return.
Don’t cut the expenses, re-evaluate them.
5.) Network Your Ass Off
Never assume someone in a different industry can’t give you valuable advice about your own. Believe it or not, my most valuable business insight did not come from fellow photographers, but instead from authors, graphic designers, a bicycle shop owner and a professional scrapbooker (yes, that’s a real job).
Don’t limit your networking circle to people from the same perspective. Email a local business that’s been killing it lately and buy them a cup of coffee to talk business; even better if they aren’t direct competition, since they’ll be more likely to share their success strategies. Ask about their marketing campaigns, what works and what doesn’t. Ask how they keep such a high rate of return customers. Ask how they got featured in that large publication you saw them in.
Then listen. There is a treasure trove of information to be had there.
6.) Improve What You Have To Offer
It goes without saying your product or service in your 5th year of business should be more valuable than it was in your first year of business, but time alone will not guarantee it.
So improve your photography! Take a class, attend a workshop or just get out there and shoot, shoot, shoot! Create a Pinterest board of your favorite photographs and figure out why you gravitate to them. Is it the editing style, the content, or the overall feel of the image? Are they clean and minimal or busy and detailed? Are they bold with high contrast or soft and dreamy? When you know the exact elements of what you’re trying to capture, it makes it easier to apply those elements to your own work, and the higher quality your work, the more excited you are to promote it.
7.) Update Your Online Presence
Folks, we’re in the 21st century, which means technology is running our lives. If you don’t have a website (and ideally, a blog and a strong social media presence), you’re well on your way to being obsolete.
Get a website that works. You want one that’s responsive to different screen formats and has a decent mobile version. It should be easy to navigate, with links to your bio, contact information, portfolio and social media accounts. I run my website through Squarespace and I absolutely love it.
8.) Get Rejected
If you aren’t annoying someone, you aren’t doing it right. Get out there and sell yourself! I was rejected by the same company 3 years in a row before they finally took me on. They ignored my inquiries the first 2 years, sent me a rejection email last year (at least “no” is better than nothing), and then finally accepted me as a company ambassador this year. The lesson: rejection is not permanent. If you get a “no” just put it in your back pocket, improve what you need to improve and try again next year.
9.) Make a Decision Already
Your time is valuable, and standing around splitting hairs is a productivity killer. Some business decisions that take some serious thought and time to work through, but the majority are not that intense. Can’t decide on a font for that flyer? Just pick one. Stuck on a background color for your website? Just pick one. Debating between bringing muffins or donuts to the morning meeting for the love of God just pick one.
Sidenote – this is the entire reason I created Photofern.com. So often we become paralyzed by everything we have to do in addition to taking photos, like editing photos, drawing up client contracts, creating marketing materials – yeah, that’s all available for download right over here. Save yourself some time to get to the important stuff.
10.) Schedule Vacation Time
You can’t go 100% all the time. You’re literally going to work yourself into the ground. Set your email and voicemail with an automated “out of office” message and take a long weekend once in a while. Take the family out to the lake, have a crazy night on the town and spend two days recovering, or just curl up on your couch and binge-watch House of Cards.
Tune out for a bit and hit the ground running when you get back. Trust me, you need this.
Here’s to business success in the New Year!
You will very rarely, if ever, catch me wearing a pair of matching socks.
I never match my socks. Ever. And not because I think it looks cool, or I lost some random bet or something, but for an entirely different reason.
Years ago (maybe 10? 12?), I read a published study that had broken down the amount of time the average person spends doing certain tasks in their lifetime. How much time they spend watching television, commuting in traffic, sleeping, and you guessed it, matching their socks.
It completely changed me.
The average person, I learned, spent about a month of their lives matching their socks.
In the scale of your entire life, one month might not seem like a shocking amount of time to spend matching socks, but to me, it was terrifying. I instantly pictured myself as an old woman, laying on my deathbed. A reel of my entire life was playing like a drive-thru movie, projecting on the wall in front of me.
I see my loving husband, alone, cooking dinner in our kitchen, the camera pans around the room to find me, but I’m not there. I’m in the laundry room, matching socks. A phone rings and I see it’s a call from my mom, but I ignore it because I can’t talk right now, I’m matching socks. Our family dog drops a Frisbee at my feet, but I can’t throw it, because I’m too busy matching socks. A comet streaks across the sky, my grandmother plays the piano, entire seasons come and go and I miss them all because I’m matching socks. In a small episode of admittedly, completely nonsensical paranoia, I pictured my entire life flashing before my eyes – and me missing all of it – because I was too busy, matching socks.
Right in that second, I vowed to never again, for any reason, spend any given amount of time searching for matching socks.
Then I had my daughter.
Being a mom was an entirely new role I wasn’t sure I would fit into. Babies are fragile, delicate little things and let’s be honest, no one has ever entrusted me with anything fragile or delicate in my entire life. That bag of flour “baby” they give you in high-school Home Economics class to keep “alive” for the semester? I baked a cake with that bitch and moved on. Babies have just…never really been my thing.
So as my due date loomed closer and closer, I became increasingly more anxious of what my future relationship would be with my newborn daughter. Would I stare lovingly into her eyes? Would I see a younger version of myself? Would she laugh at my jokes?
God I hope she laughs at my jokes…
But all that worrying was for nothing; on September 24th at 4:43 in the morning, my husband and I found ourselves holding the healthiest, hands down most beautiful baby girl we had ever seen. All that sappy Hallmark crap they tell you about holding your child for the first time – totally true. I was a mom, through and through.
After we got our bearings we did what every new parent does nowadays: took our announcement to social media. “Look what we made!” I proudly exclaimed on Instagram and Facebook. “Look at our adorable baby girl! Look how perfect she is! LOOK AT HER GODDAMNIT!”
We spent the entire day in the hospital, learning how to hold her, change her diaper and breastfeed. We learned that the little bit of dry skin around her hands and feet were totally normal, and just because she flipped off the lab technician that drew her blood doesn’t necessarily mean she’s a genius…although it could mean she does take after her mother.
As the day drew to a close, my husband lay sleeping on the couch, while I held our sleeping daughter against my chest. Very carefully, I reached for my cellphone.
I opened Facebook and read the many congratulatory comments from friends and family. My heart swelled with pride. I couldn’t wait for everyone to meet her! I stared at her picture again, then the photo of my husband holding his daughter for the first time. What an unbelievably emotional day. Just as I was about to put my phone down I hit the “news” section of my mobile Facebook app, and it took me to my feed. And out of complete habit, I did what every other person would naturally do…I started scrolling.
Before I knew it, I was browsing my Facebook feed like it was any other day: meme, pumpkin spice latte, clickbait article, diet product sales pitch, funny puppy video, sunset photo, political article, meme, baby, meme, baby meme…
For seven minutes.
After I put my phone down I looked at my little girl, and my heart sank. She was awake. What had she been doing for those seven minutes? Had she opened her eyes for a second to look at her mother? Did her mouth do one of those tiny, adorable reflex smiles? Did she open her hand to look for mine? And what was I occupied with that was so important to miss any of those moments? Browsing memes and latte photos? Oh dear god…
Almost instantaneously, a decade’s worth of worst fears was realized. While real life was happening right in front of me, I was missing it. I was elsewhere.
I was matching socks.
Look, I’m not going to condemn social media or delete all my accounts the second after I upload this post. I love social media. I love that in just a few seconds I was able to announce the birth of my daughter to almost all of my family and friends. I also love that standing in line at the post office or DMV is infinitely less boring when you’re browsing photos of cats with Trump hair. Hell I spent 20 minutes laughing at this video yesterday and at the end of my life you can bet your ass I’ll still consider it time well spent.
But social media can have its downsides, and for me, it’s the ability to pull focus from what’s happening right in front of me, right now. My mind is already a swirling pool of chaos, so when you throw in a mess of kittens, memes, political rants, cookie recipes and God knows what else, you end up with Pandora’s box of distraction.
So it’s time for me to address my relationship with social media. If one sock symbolizes actual, legitimate interaction with my online community, its partner sock would be the mindless, constant scrolling that comes with it. And how much time, at the end of my life, am I giving up to this scrolling? Will I really be laying on my deathbed, thinking to myself, “You know, I really wish I would’ve spent more time browsing Facebook.” Probably the same amount of time I would’ve wished I had spent more time matching socks.
And as you guys already know, I no longer have any room in my life for matching socks :).
Today is my 31st birthday!
But before I get on to that, I have to write this post. I need to write this post. And I’ll warn you now…this one’s got some language.
I used to be a birthday hater. I dreaded it. And not because I hated being the center of attention or because I was getting older or anything like that, but because I had been straight-up conditioned to hate my birthday.
My childhood, without getting too much into it, wasn’t the greatest. Our household was run by my adopted father, who was a literal – diagnosed and everything – psychopath. Birthdays (along with Christmas of course) were his favorite days. He’d give us gifts, only to make us watch him destroy them. He handed out abusive, creative punishments, without any reason except to “test them out for later”. Each week leading up to our birthday he’d grow giddy with anticipation, while the rest of the family lost sleep and wondered what horrible thing he would come up with. Each year, as my special day got closer and closer I’d plead to any powerful existential being willing to listen to please, please let my birthday go unnoticed this year…but it never did.
Every birthday I could ever remember had been controlled by this man, so even when I moved out, I remained terrified of my own birthday. The thought alone still made my hands shake and my stomach queasy. I kept it a secret from everyone I met. I wanted absolutely no part in it.
Then, one day, as a freshman in college, I got a phone-call from my dad. He screamed at me from the other end of the line. I placed the phone on the dresser and sat on my bed. I could hear his voice, but not what he was saying. I didn’t want to know what he was saying.
My roommate pointed to the phone and asked, “Who’s that?”
“My dad,” I answered.
“What’s he yelling about?”
“Nothing, really. He just calls to yell.”
She stared at me, then asked, “Then why don’t you just hang up the phone?”
I stared back for a second while I considered it. I hadn’t lived at home for years. He’s 8 hours away in a different state. He doesn’t pay for a cent of college. Everything I own (car, cell phone, etc.) is all in my name. There is literally nothing he could do.
So I hung up the phone.
“Better?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I replied. Then out of nowhere, I confessed, “My birthday was 2 weeks ago.”
“Really?!” she shouted, “We should celebrate!” and darted off into the kitchen.
Sitting in the kitchen of my dorm room, watching my roommate bake some cupcakes, it occurred to me that for the first time, I was actually going to celebrate my birthday.
And I. Felt. Free.
I’m not sure why it took so long. I had moved out long before I was 18. I’d had plenty of birthdays without him, but I still had the same frame of mind: that no matter where I was or who I was with, every year on October 16th my life would turn into a living hell.
What a bullshit way of thinking.
As understandable as it is that I should hate my own birthday, there comes a point when I’ve got to make the choice: let someone drain me of happiness 1 day of every year for the rest of my life, or to take back something that is rightfully mine, and goddamnit, it’s my motherfucking birthday.
So I’ve been making up for stolen time. Now, every year, I want a cake, loaded with candles. If I’m at a bar, I want a free shot. If I’m at a restaurant, I want free desert with the entire staff singing a horribly embarrassing version of ‘Happy Birthday’. I also want balloons and streamers and a birthday hat and any other cheesy birthday item that I’m technically too old to have. I want to be a kid again, every year, on my birthday.
And it’s worked – my birthday is now one of my favorite days of the year. There have been surprise parties and get-togethers with friends, quiet movie nights at home and long walks around the neighborhood. Hell my husband even asked me to marry him on my birthday.
Even if every single thing goes wrong, it doesn’t matter. My birthday is mine again. I have one extra day every year that I never had before.
We all have a part of our past that is holding us back in some way. Some sort of insecurity that just keeps hanging on or an outdated fear we’ve never confronted. Something that’s robbing us of a better day, a better relationship, a better career…a better life.
What do you have that is stealing thunder in your life? Is it a toxic person? A job that hasn’t challenged you in years? A reoccurring negative thought process? Whatever it is, there is always an opportunity to do something about it, and it might be something as small and simple as hanging up the phone.
Take a look around. If something is holding you back, I beg of you, sit down, take a few deep breaths, and confront it.
As for me, today is my birthday. I turn 31, it’s going to be awesome, and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it.
My brain is officially underwater.
Photographically, that is.
I see everything in terms of underwater. A friend shows me the gorgeous wedding dress she picked out, and I wonder what it would look like in a pool. My mother-in-law shows me a new chair she reupholstered and I wonder how well the color would hold up if it got wet. I’ve even made the mistake of approaching a potential model with an opening line of, “Excuse me, how well do you sink in water?”
I’ll admit though, starting out in underwater photography was pretty intimidating. I couldn’t afford my own housing, so I built my own, and it actually worked fairly well in the beginning.
I was still scrambling in every other aspect though, as I couldn’t find any decent information online that wasn’t primarily geared toward photographing fish or plant life. So starting from scratch, I slowly began exploring the world of underwater portraits…and making every single mistake along the way.
If there’s anything I wish I would’ve known in the beginning (besides the fact to never ask a stranger how well they sink in a pool) this would be it.
1.) Have An Open Mind
Everything is different under the water. Lighting, for example, follows different principles and patterns. Lights need to be about 6 times stronger than on land (roughly, depending on depth and distance to your subject), and since dealing with radio signals can be a huge pain underwater, your lights usually need to be either constant, ambient light or strobes that are connected directly to your camera.
That’s not all though; you and your models need to adapt to shooting in a near zero-gravity environment. Your props and wardrobe will act differently as well – a gorgeous, flowing dress on land could be a tangled, transparent mess underwater, and a prop you thought would be a fantastic idea might be downright dangerous after it gets wet (I learned this the hard way with a fur coat and a pair of roller-skates).
No matter how long you’ve been shooting, you’re about to enter into a field that will make you feel like a novice all over again – which is incredibly exciting! But if you go into it with a rigid idea of how photography works, you’ll quickly find yourself frustrated and discouraged. So keep an open mind and be prepared to see things in a whole new light.
2.) Buy The Right Housing
Sorry to say, but underwater photography housing is no place to be pinching pennies. When you’re putting thousands of dollars’ worth of gear in an environment that could easily destroy it with just the tiniest of leaks, you need to know it’s going to be taken care of.
I only wish I would’ve known this earlier. At the time, I didn’t really know if this was something I was going to be actively pursuing, so I didn’t want to make a huge investment. After using my own housing for a while though, I knew I was hooked. So I started the process of upgrading, all while trying to spend as little money as possible.
I ended up going through three different brands of cheap underwater bags, housing specifically made for underwater video and various hard housings. The bags all leaked at one point or another, the underwater video housing was NOT ideal for photos and the cheap hard housings were large and awkward. It was a mess.
Now, I use underwater housing from Ikelite, and for the life of me wish I would’ve just gone to them sooner. I could’ve saved myself a lot of time, money, stress and one very unfortunate, doomed 5d Mark II.
My advice – if you’re just looking to have some fun, consider renting some gear or buy a GoPro. Take some pics and see how you feel. If you decide underwater isn’t for you, at least you can return the gear or use a GoPro for literally anything else, and if you do decide this is something you want to pursue, sit down and have an honest look at the kind of underwater work you want to produce and the gear you’ll need to produce it.
3.) Know Not All Water Is Equal
Our cameras see light very differently than we do. A heavily chlorinated pool may seem clear to you, but it’s a hazy mess according to your camera. If you’re shooting in a pool that looks clear, but you’re images are turning out cloudy and useless, there might be an abundance of chemicals in the water that you aren’t seeing, but your camera is.
In my experience, I’ve found there’s really nothing better than a clear, freshwater lake, followed by clear saltwater, followed by a saltwater pool. I’ll avoid shooting in a chlorinated hotel pool at all costs.
There are also other factors that come into play as well. Oceans have currents and potentially dangerous animals, like jellyfish. Freshwater lakes here in Montana are insanely clear, but they’re also freezing. There’s always a tradeoff.
4.) Embrace Wide Angle Lenses
To cut down on the amount of water between your subject and your camera, you’ll want to shoot as close to your subject as possible. I mostly shoot at a focal length right around 25mm. Any longer and I have a hard time keeping my subject entirely in the frame, and I started running into additional focusing and clarity issues. Any wider and there is too much image distortion.
Not to say you shouldn’t break the rules a little bit though! If I know I’m shooting in an environment where outer distortion doesn’t matter (say on a completely black background), I’ll shoot with something as wide as an 8mm, and for close-up portrait work, I’ll shoot closer to 40-50mm. I’ve also taken my 85mm underwater to0 because, well, why the hell not?
5.) Learn To Sink
The key to staying underwater is not to hold your breath, but rather to let all your air out. The less air in your lungs, the less buoyant you are, and the easier it is to maneuver down there. It seems quite terrifying at first, but soon you’ll learn to work with the residual air in your lungs, and the more you do it the longer you can stay down. It’s not uncommon now for me to sink down 15 or 20 feet for the angle I need, while the model goes through a couple cycles of posing.
For some people though, the thought of letting all their air out before diving down is just too much to take, and in this case you can use weights or even dive equipment. If you’re having trouble, a great tip is to take a 25lb hand weight, wrap it in bubble wrap and then black felt (if you’re shooting in a pool, this helps to protect the liner), than hook your toe under it and pull yourself down. The model can do the same if she’s having a hard time sinking as well.
6.) Be Patient With Your Models
Underwater modeling is incredibly difficult. They’re modeling in completely new conditions, with water going up their nose almost the entire time. They also can barely see the camera – it’s mostly a blurry black blob to them. Plus, since you can’t talk underwater, they don’t even know if what they’re doing is what you’re looking for.
So give them plenty of time to figure this all out. For most models, first they need to practice letting their air out and sinking. Once they get the hang of this, turn your focus to facial expressions. Most people naturally make a variety of unattractive facial poses underwater, like squinty eyes and nostrils, chipmunk cheeks or “fish lips” (what I call the underwater version of the “duck face”).
After they learn how to keep their face looking natural and relaxed, move onto body poses. Reiterate soft hands, pointed toes and a long neck.
I try to give my models a list of poses before the shoot so they can practice them on land before going underwater, and then during the shoot I slowly walk them through the process, suggesting small movement changes a little at a time.
It’s also important that you are fully aware of the conditions your models are in. Personally, I never, ever wear a wetsuit. I certainly could, considering Montana water is more than cold enough to warrant one, but then I wouldn’t have any idea how my model felt. By being in the exact same conditions my models are in, I’m able to better gauge what is appropriate to ask of them given the current conditions.
7.) Learn to Shoot Fast
Even if the water isn’t even that cold, a long day of shooting will quickly wear on both of you. Your model will have water going up her nose and in her ears as she tries to move into different poses, and you’ll because exhausted from trying to maneuver that camera around underwater. You’ll both be swallowing plenty of water and will both feel sick at some point (I like to keep a few bottles of freshwater nearby, as well as a box of crackers to help combat water sickness).
From a photography standpoint though, shooting fast is important because things change underwater, primarily makeup and skin texture. Fingers become pruney, makeup will run and fade and skin will take on an unattractive dimpled, dead texture, which you definitely don’t want…unless you’re going for a zombie look or something.
So this is where good planning will come in. If everyone knows exactly what you want before you even get into the water, things will naturally move much faster. If you have a huge shoot coming up with a new model, meet her a few days before and do a kind of rehearsal shoot so she can practice. Some models pick it up in a heartbeat; some need 3 or 4 shoots to begin even looking somewhat comfortable in the water.
8.) Have Plenty Of Assistance
Any extra hands on an underwater shoot will not go unused. If you have lighting or other equipment that’s on land just out of reach, for example, it’s much easier to have an assistant adjust it for you while you do a test shot, rather than have to get out of the pool and move it yourself until you finally get the look you’re going for.
Plus, underwater shooting can be a little dangerous at times, especially when the model is not wearing something they would normally wear underwater. Large dresses can become tangled, props can become heavy or the model can become disoriented while trying to hit certain poses. Extra hands on deck help make your job easier while keeping everyone safe.
9.) Embrace Post-Processing
Water is a medium, and anytime you shoot through a medium, you’re going to run into some issues. All of those brilliant underwater photos you see on the internet, even ones by Bruce Mozert, are not entirely straight out of camera.
Shooting through water takes away image clarity and sharpness, adds a lot of background stuff to clean up (bubbles, backscatter, light reflections), not to mention that pesky blue cast that takes some dealing with (you could use filters to try and combat the blue cast, but personally I feel they cause even more of a headache).
If your images look less than stellar straight out of camera, don’t get frustrated. You don’t need to go out and buy a few thousand dollars in lighting equipment; you most likely just haven’t put them through the proper post-processing techniques yet.
10.) Understand This Takes Time
To be blunt – underwater photography is not easy. It’s physically exhausting, time-consuming and potentially very expensive. When I first started I was coming home waterlogged and sick, with red, itchy eyes, ringing ears and about 10,000 images to sort through…and only 2 would make the cut. But even then, I was completely addicted.
Don’t be too hard on yourself in the beginning. There are a lot of components that need to come together to make a successful photograph, and it takes a lot of practice to get to that point. Take it one day at a time, and you’ll be there before you know it!
And of course, if you’re interested in a hands-on underwater portraiture course, don’t forget to check out my workshops next year in Greece and Bali, and make sure and SUBSCRIBE for more posts like this, and follow me on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter :).
There’s nothing quite as depressing as the sound of silence in a cubicle.
The incessant buzzing of the air conditioner and the relentless squeaking of a run-down office chair fills the air, broken only by the telltale sound of an employee attempting to surreptitiously remove the Ceran wrap from his late lunch. Fingers scurry across keyboards, mouses click, and chipper voices answer phones with that identical artificially caring voice they’ve used for the last 10 years. I sit in the back, as close to the only window as possible, undaunted by the measly view it provides. The sight of the adjacent building, just two feet away, is the only connection I have to the outside world.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is my nightmare.
I have decided that an office is the ultimate prison; one designed to keep its prisoners willingly confined, brainwashed by the sight of the strategically placed metaphorical carrot just inches beyond their grasp. I feel as if I have signed a contract without reading the fine print, ushered ahead to the next important benefit while passing over the sacrifices needed to reach said benefit. Even the fluorescent lights above flicker to remind me of the task at hand, like the most effective of prison guards; jarring and emotionless.
I stare at the computer screen before me and click my pen against my teeth, the scent of Windex and carpet hanging in the air. This is not my computer. This is not my desk. This is Patty’s desk, and hers is the bar to which all following cubicles will be measured. Her functional knick-knacks confuse me, and I feel even more out of place. A container of goo meant to make fingers sticky (for turning pages) and a bottle of Germ-ex sit directly next to the keyboard. I do not own a bottle of Germ-ex. I welcome the dirt and grime of the natural world. Oh how I long for the touch of grass…
Next to a colorful array of pens (the likely only allowed form of creativity or self-expression), is a palm tree post-it note container, symbolizing the relaxing beach she has probably desperately been saving her vacation days for. She has months’ worth of vacation days saved up, yet her planner hangs on the cork-board to the right, rows of assignments filling it: typing, filing, interviewing, typing, staffing. Is this what my life will soon become? Am the next generation of Patty’s?
But the most disheartening trinket of all is the digital calendar on her computer that displays a different “inspirational phrase” daily.
Today’s? “Smile. I like your sense of humor.” Great, a computer is telling me it likes my sense of humor. I have already discovered that no one in this particular job likes my sense of humor, so it’s ironic that a computer would have that opinion. Rather, I think it’s mocking me. Mocking my lack of humor and instead exposing my dutiful, uninspiring appropriateness that has replaced it. Within two weeks my wit has given way to internal cynicism. I used to be funny.
My stare is broken by the flicker of the fluorescent prison guard. Back to work. Deep breaths…
That was me, just 4 years ago.
No, I’m serious – that’s an actual snippet from an old blog post dated August of 2011. While there is nothing wrong with working in an office, it wasn’t for me, and I was definitely not doing well.
Sitting in the office of my first counselor job straight after completing my Master’s, I was on the edge of a complete breakdown. I cried all the time. Once, while driving around on a random Tuesday, we passed an enormous house and my husband casually said, “Woah, I wish we lived there!” I replied with, “I wish it was Friday,” and burst into tears. Sometimes it didn’t even take a trigger; I’d just sit in the bedroom, stare at a pair of “professional work shoes” and cry.
I didn’t last long. Within 3 weeks I was fired for following a code of ethics that apparently my employer didn’t share with the rest of the mental health profession. I came home, told my husband the news and he and our friend Bill took me out for a game of golf (I drove the cart through a fence) and a night of never-ending beer and buffalo wings, which, as it turns out, is the perfect cure for that ‘just getting fired’ feeling.
The next day, I told my husband I was changing careers. I told him I needed to do something creative for a living or there was a chance I may just collapse in on myself like a dying star. He agreed.
I had no idea what I wanted to do though, so I made a list. I wrote down every single creative job I could think of…and I mean everything. I listed actor, musician, painter, cartoonist, interior designer, dancer, filmmaker, and about a bajillion other possible jobs. I narrowed it down based on location (I wasn’t moving), required education (I couldn’t afford to go back to school) and required physical development (it was a little late to start a career as a professional ballet dancer). I was left with a list of 3 options: writer, photographer and cake decorator. On a whim, I chose photographer.
I didn’t even own a camera.
Cue the unrelenting skepticism. People thought I had snapped. They thought I was going through a phase. I had been accepted into medical school and was set to attend in the spring – giving up an opportunity like that was nothing short of insane, they said. My husband was the only person who had my back at all times, while others just pretended none of this was happening. Friends asked when I’d be leaving for med school. Family mentioned when they heard of a new counselor position opening up. I was mocked constantly and openly. According to general consensus, I had just made the worst career decision of all time.
But wait…why am I telling you all of this?
Because today, I paid off my student loans.
Today, I paid off $40,000 in student loans that I acquired pursuing degree programs everyone told me would lead to a financially stable and satisfying career, all with money I made from a career everyone told me was the equivalent of financial suicide.
I spent $40k to guarantee myself a “real job” then paid it off with money made from a “hobby”.
Suck it, haters.
To be completely honest, I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time fantasizing about how I would celebrate when this day came. Perhaps I’d buy a plane ticket to a faraway beach and sit under an umbrella while someone brought me a never-ending supply of margaritas, or better yet maybe I’d take a trip down to the Billings animal shelter and spend the day adopting every single pet in the mothafuckin’ place. Who knows, maybe I’d run through the streets of Billings shouting, “NO STUDENT LOANS, BITCHES!” all while throwing dollar bills in the air behind me…and then later going back to retrieve them of course because let’s be honest, I still need those and I’m not in a music video.
But now that this day is finally here, all I want to do is write about it. All I want is to let you know that if you’re in a similar situation I was in 4 years ago, where you feel completely trapped, depressed and utterly terrified at the idea of starting over, there is a way out.
We have these struggles in every aspect of our lives. Whether it’s a career move or a bad relationship, there are always changes we avoid making even when our gut is telling us, indisputably, that something is wrong. We’re terrified of all that time and effort (or in my case, 6 years and $40,000) being for nothing. It’s not easy, but there comes a point where you either make the decision to keep pouring in resources to a dead cause, or cut your losses and head in a new direction. Remember, time and effort already spent is not an indicator of time and effort to be sacrificed in the future.
Regardless of all the embarrassment and fear that comes with putting yourself out there, sooner or later all of it passes and all you’re left with are the consequences of the decisions you’ve made. Each day is an opportunity to take a small step in a new direction. If you’re unhappy, change something. Good things don’t come to those that wait; good things come to those that know what they want and work their asses off to get it.
Four years ago I was at the bottom of a massively large financial hole, stuck in a career path I had chosen to pursue, and scared stiff of the embarrassment I would face knowing I’d have to explain my decision to do a complete career 180. And just last week, I was finishing up a shoot at Flathead Lake, and someone mentioned having to go to work the next day and I thought to myself, “I am at work. This is my job. I’m getting paid to be here, right now, sitting in the sunshine on the shoreline of one of the most beautiful places in Montana. This is what I do for a living.”
“This is my life now.”
For any of you out there on your path to photography, I made something just for you. Something I really, really wish had been there when I first started.
This last winter was pretty rough.
I won’t get into details, but like so many others I found myself craving the feeling of warm sunshine like never before. I was wearing shorts in February folks, simply as an open boycott of winter. I was done. I needed to be surrounded by cheerfulness and green, so when Kim & Eddy’s, a local boutique downtown asked me to put something together for their May 1st Grand Opening, I thought these double exposures would be a perfect fit. Flowers for all!
Hope you’re all having a wondering spring, and here’s to a happy summer as well!! 🙂
Ah, “photography”, you loosely defined word that everyone seems to have their own definition of. It’s amazing how polarizing you can be, isn’t it?
And one of your most polarizing aspects seems to be exactly how much retouching is considered reasonable. Purists claim no retouching of any kind is allowed (then they usually reference Ansel Adams, which is quite ironic considering the amount of dodging and burning he brought to the field), while others gladly accept Photoshop as a regular part of their photography tool-belt.
In general though, there’s a viewpoint around the photography community, that too much Photoshop is a bad thing. That it destroys photography as we know it, and those who retouch an absurd amount should be banned or beheaded or at least mildly reprimanded (depending on which Facebook group you happen to be in). But before we all start gathering our pitchforks, can we maybe examine this concept of over-retouching for just a second?
First of all, let’s all admit that the term “over-retouching” is pretty specific to the type of photography in discussion. In photojournalism or documentary style photography, even the slightest adjustment in Lightroom may be completely off-limits, yet for someone such as myself, who makes a living on work that admittedly straddles the line between photography and photo-manipulation, the definition of “too much” is entirely subjective.
And speaking of subjectivity, this brings me to my second point: we each have a preference for a particular editing style. I, for example, am not a huge fan of HDR. Actually let me rephrase that: I loathe the use of HDR. I can’t stand it. Out of 1,000 examples of what would be considered “well done” HDR, I’d only admit to liking one or two photos…and that’s strictly on the occasion that the photographer whose photos they were was standing right next to me and I didn’t want to completely crush his soul. But I’d be lying, because no matter how far down I dig, I just can’t bring myself to like HDR treatment of photographs.
However, as much as I hate this particular editing style, that doesn’t mean it should be banned from ever being used. It doesn’t mean I should be breaking down other photographers simply because they do enjoy it as an editing technique. If anything, it only means that I won’t be using HDR anytime soon on my own photographs. It’s a personal preference and nothing more.
Lastly though, the real issue I have with such hateful rhetoric of “over-retouched” photos is this: doesn’t everyone start off with a little too much adjusting?
Granted, if you started in the days of film and you didn’t have your own darkroom, it was probably pretty tough to manipulate anything in post-processing. But let’s talk about the 21st century, when most new photographers started out with access to both a camera and at least a decent version of Photoshop or Lightroom. Didn’t we all go a little crazy in the beginning?
I know I did. I was burning up those saturation and clarity sliders. Everything needed to be brighter! More color! More contrast! More, more, more, MORE!! (Cue evil, maniacal laughter here.)
My early work, like so many other photographers, was awful. I wasn’t experienced enough to be able to see color casts or recognize the breakdown of color information from over-manipulation. My skin tones were severe and unnatural…and I had no idea. I tried my hardest to get the best possible shot in-camera, and then adjusted however much I needed to make the photo “better” in post…or at least what I thought was better. Looking back though, everything looked pretty damn…well…amateur (in fact, if you scroll to the bottom of my Flickr account, you can see exactly what I’m talking about – I haven’t taken one photo down since the beginning).
People tried to help, but their feedback fell on deaf ears. It wasn’t that I was trying to be stubborn; I honestly just had no idea how to tell the difference between good and bad photography, and I simply couldn’t understand their critiques. They said the skin tones were bluish – I couldn’t see it. They said the vignette was too strong – I didn’t know what a vignette was. In short, I was exactly like the vast majority of the general public, because in terms of photography skills, I wasn’t a photographer yet. I was still a member of the general public…except with a camera in my hands and Photoshop at my disposal.
As embarrassing as it is to look through my early photos, I’m glad I spent the beginning of my career in the “overly-retouched” category, because it was the only way I was able to learn. All of that experimenting brought me to where I am now, where I rarely, if ever, use the saturation slider. My editing style leans towards a much softer and much more natural aesthetic – especially the more I shoot film.
Looking back though, if people had consistently destroyed me for my use of over-retouching, I may have completely avoided Photoshop altogether and I wouldn’t have learned near the amount of useful information I know now.
Therefore, after all this examination, I raise the question: why the constant bashing of overly-retouched photos? Either it’s overly-retouched according to your own personal preference, in which case your bashing serves only to prove your own photography superior in some conceited way, or the retouching really is awfully done, in which case it’s probably a new photographer simply feeling out their own editing style, and your bashing serves…well the exact same purpose.
So can we call a truce? Can we just admit a few simple points here:
1.) Every photographer has a different editing style, some that we find pleasing and some that we don’t. If someone’s editing style doesn’t match your own preference, certainly you can agree to disagree in a somewhat respectful manner, right?
2.) Some photographers simply haven’t reached the point in their development when they’re able to recognize their own over-retouching, in which case surely it’s possible to still offer them help without completely crucifying them for it as well?
3.) We were all there too at some point. None of us started out with perfect shots straight out of camera and we certainly didn’t have the perfect editing skills to accentuate the decent shots we did take. We’re all probably a little embarrassed to go through our own early work, and mocking other photographers because they might be in a different stage of development than you is really a pretty dick move overall, agreed?
I sure hope so. Because I really don’t have a problem seeing a cluster of poor, “overly-retouched” photos scrolling through my news feed from a new photographer excited about learning how to dodge and burn for the first time. Are they probably grossly overdone? Of course they are, but I’m sure we all overused the dodge and burn technique just as much the first time we learned about it too. It does bother me though, to see a collection of pompous, bitter “professional” opinions about how honest editing mistakes and experiments are destroying the industry. For the love of Ansel just let people play around and find their style, and in the meantime, remember where you came from and don’t be such an ass about someone else’s journey.
But that’s all just personal preference, of course ;).