Development

Dear New Photographer…


Lost In Thought

Dear New Photographer, 

I’m writing this post because I was up late last night on a Facebook forum, reading close to 200 comments about new photographers and what slime they are to the industry. How they’re stripping photography of it’s “art” and destroying any decent business practices. I read every comment, feeling more and more sick to my stomach the further I scrolled down the page.

“Who do these people think they are? Don’t they remember when they were new and making all the same mistakes?”

I know this year has probably had it’s ups and downs for you; the excitement of booking your first paid gig, the confusion of all that “must have” photography gear and the hurt and guilt of being single-handedly blamed for “ruining the industry.” I know the phrase “what to charge for engagement photos” is probably one of the first things to come up in your Google search bar, and secretly you’re still wondering why using the eraser tool in photoshop is such a horrible thing.

I also know that you’re afraid to ask for advice at every turn because for every established photographer that is willing to help, you’ve got 30 more breathing down your neck that are doing everything they can to cut you down. I’ve been there too – I’ve had my work ripped apart online by a “reputable” photographer (who went out of business earlier this year), I’ve bought things I didn’t need because some famous photographer endorsed them and I thought it would make a dramatic improvement in my work (it didn’t), and I’ve used the crap out of the eraser tool (layer mask, folks).

So what I wanted to do here is give you a heads-up. A bit of a rant mixed with some advice I wish I had known in the beginning, this is just about everything I wish someone had told me the first day I got that used and slightly beat up (but still very new to me) camera in my hands.

Beware The Vultures

– “Clients” will use you for free photos. 

Countless people are about to ask you for free photos. New parents will adamantly lend you their newborn baby to “practice” on or will offer up their family to help you grow your “portfolio”. Magazines and businesses will ask for those landscape photos of yours in exchange for “exposure”. Don’t confuse these requests with paid shoots or even as complements, they are neither. These are people wanting free shit, plain and simple.

Now in the beginning, you are going to have to do some things for free – you need the experience and you need to build your portfolio – but know this: anything you shoot for free that isn’t related to what you eventually want to be paid for, or a personal cause, is a waste of your time. I knew from the beginning I didn’t want to shoot newborn photos, but I was interested in shooting weddings. So between two non-paying jobs, I took the one that added to my wedding portfolio and referred the newborn shoots to someone else.

Don’t take this to mean you should specialize immediately – you shouldn’t. You should shoot as many different things as you possibly can to try and find what your really passionate about, but don’t feel obligated to take any free job that comes along.

– Other photographers will use you as an unpaid assistant. 

I highly, highly recommend interning, but the point is to get something out of it. If all you’re doing is running errands, getting coffee and carrying heavy gear, you’re getting taken advantage of.

If you’re in an internship, ask questions. Ask about the camera settings, the lighting, the posing; everything! Why are they using one light when earlier they used another? Why do they keep telling the model to put her chin down? What aperture do they shoot at for large groups? Is there a reason they prefer one lens to the other? Some of these are questions better asked at the end of a session, when the client is gone, but if you have a question, ask. If the photographer you’re interning for blows it off or won’t answer your questions, find someone else to intern for. This person is after the free labor, not in mentoring an upcoming photographer.

P.S: Look out for any mentor that requires you to sign a No Competition Clause or a waiver saying you’ll work for free for any given amount of time. If they bring this up – RUN. Oh my god, run. 

– More experienced photographers will try to sell you things. 

As a newbie, you are actually part of a growing market; a market where you’re willing to pay money for a short track to success, and there are a many other photographers ready to pounce. People are going to try and sell you workshops, gear, actions, presets, tutorials and more. All taking advantage of the fact that you’re willing to pay for something you don’t already have.

Now, I am a huge supporter of photographer education – the main reason I created PhotoFern.com was to help newbies get their businesses up and running. I teach workshops, give online coaching, and give away actions, presets & texture packs all the time, but you should know how to find the good ones. If you’re thinking of attending a workshop, ask to see references or testimonials from other workshop attendees. Ask to see an itinerary of everything you will be learning. Email the instructor to start a dialogue and see if your skill set is at the right place to be learning what they are teaching, and make sure any images you take at the workshop belong to you. You want to walk away feeling like you’ve actually grown in your development, knowing that all images taken by you belong to you, and that the money spent was worth every penny.

Jailbreak

Seek Out Meaningful Criticism

– Know where to go for the feedback you’re looking for. 

I love my mom and I love my fiancé, but when I’m looking for good, constructive feedback on my latest work, neither of them are the best people to go to. For one, they’re incredibly biased, and two, they know nothing about photography.

When I need good, quality feedback, I approach a successful photographer that is knowledgeable in the field my photography is in. I shoot fine art portraiture; a landscape photographer or photojournalist that loathes the use of Photoshop isn’t going to get me anywhere. In addition, neither is a Facebook, self-proclaimed photography “Pro”. Seek out the people that will give you unbiased, professional, relevant feedback. That’s how you grow.

It takes a little bit of effort to get that kind of feedback. Email a photographer you respect or try and schedule an appointment with a local gallery or editor. Sometimes you have pay for these kind of things, but it’s worth it.

– Be impartial about gathering advice, but very selective in applying it. 

No matter the advice you receive, people don’t know you. I was once told that my images were far too commercial to be considered art, and I should instead pursue work in fashion. All fine and well, except I didn’t want to do fashion work – I wanted to sell in galleries. Convinced I needed to shoot more fashion, they gave me plenty of advice about how to further commercialize my images, so I sat there and I took all of it – and then did the opposite. Their advice wasn’t necessarily right for me, but the knowledge was still very valuable. Now gallery sales are a large part of my income.

– Know you probably aren’t going to like what you hear, and shut-up when you hear it. 

The whole point of feedback is to get better, which usually means something you’re currently doing can be improved. It never feels good to hear you’re weak in a particular area, but the sooner it’s pointed out to you the sooner you can do something about it. I’ve stated in other posts how valuable my time at Fotofest was – not because of the positive feedback I received (I did sell 4 pieces), but because of the feedback where I was slaughtered. Brutal honesty hurts, but I learned more in two weeks than I had in two years, and my work has made a dramatic improvement because of it.

– Shrug off the jerks. 

There are plenty of people out there just dying to give feedback to a new photographer, simply on the basis of cutting them down. Some old, jaded, bitter photographer that still can’t get over the fact that this whole digital “fad” hasn’t worn off yet. Yes, film is awesome, but so is digital and wet plates and colloidal tin types and God knows how many other forms of photography there are in the world today. Be very aware of the narrow-minded.

Value Business Skills AND Photography Skills

– Just because there are a lot of photographers does not mean there is no room for you.

As with any other business, the quantity of vendors does not determine the success of a new vendor. A new vendor’s success is determined by the quality of their product or service, their reputation, their marketing plan, their community involvement, their prices and countless other things. Every business is different, just as every photographer is different. Figure out what it is that you can offer that is different than what is out there already and run with it.

– Get ready to work…a lot. 

I can’t honestly remember the last time I had a day off. If I’m not shooting, I’m editing, or answering emails, or sending out submissions, or planning, designing, and budgeting the next shoot. Every ounce of free time is spent doing something photography related – which is pretty awesome…mostly because I’m utterly obsessed with photography. If you aren’t obsessed though, this isn’t going to be the best career for you. You need to know your workdays will be long and your days off will be few, and if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for, than welcome aboard.

– Use the business model that works for you. 

Hey guess what, when it comes to client work, I’m a shoot-n-burner. I shoot entire sessions, edit out the best photos and give clients the digitals. It’s what works best for me. I don’t build my business around the idea that I need to make money on prints. I make money on the cost of the sessions. Could I be making more if I sold prints? Probably. Would it be worth my extra time? Not to me. I don’t want clients coming back 8 months from now asking for 8 x 10s. I’d rather focus on booking another wedding, teaching another workshop or emailing another gallery. Each of those things has a much better value to me than filling another order of 11 x 14s and 5 x 7s.

Don’t feel bad, for one second, about begin a shoot-n-burner, charging less than everyone else, shooting for free or doing anything else other photographers are going to berate you for. The fact is, you have to shoot some things for free in the beginning and you have charge less in the beginning. It would be unethical not to. You don’t have the skills, the experience or the portfolio to be charging what established photographers do. And in all honesty, if your low price is taking business away from them, they’re doing something wrong, not you.

– Raise your prices when you’re worth it. 

All that shooting for free or at very low rates is no way to make a living though. As soon as you’ve got a decent portfolio together, you’ve got to start raising those prices to something more reflective of the kind of images you can produce. And yes, you’re going to lose some clients, but the truth is anyone paying you $50 for a full photoshoot isn’t a client anyway – it’s someone taking advantage of an exceptionally good deal.

– Never underestimate the value of social media. 

Learn how to use social media or get left in the dust. I can’t remember the last time I picked up a magazine, saw an ad for a company, remembered that company, went home and googled them, ended up at their website, searched for whatever product I saw in the magazine, and bought that product. I can, however, remember the last time I saw something scrolling through my Facebook news feed, clicked the link and bought it. That happened earlier today.

– Other photographers are your best friends. 

Great photographers slowly become more specialized over time. It’s only natural that the more we shoot, the more we begin to refine our skills in certain areas. Which means every photographer in your town won’t be shooting the same thing you are, and the ones that do, won’t all be going after the same target audience. If you’re a wedding photographer, be friends with other wedding photographers. There are countless weddings in various price points; way too many for one person to shoot them all! If you shoot weddings, refer newborns to the newborn photographer, lingerie shoots to the boudoir photographer, seniors to the senior photographer and they’ll all refer weddings to you. It’s a two-way street where everyone wins.

– Get over your goddamn watermark already. 

1.) No one wants to steal your images right now. You’re not that good. There are a lot better photos out there that people could steal.

2.) Putting a giant watermark in the middle of your photo does not keep people from stealing it, it keeps them from enjoying your work.

3.) If they really want to steal it, a watermark isn’t going to stop them. Hell just last week I had to use one of my photos for a flyer, and I didn’t have the original on hand. So I took one from Facebook, cloned out the watermark and pasted it on the flyer. Worked for exactly what I needed it to do and it took all of 6 minutes. The watermark didn’t even slow me down.

4.) “But my watermark let’s people know who took the photo! And removing it shows criminal intent!” Fair enough. In that case put it in tiny letters a corner somewhere, similar a signature on painting. If it’s not taking up the whole photo people will be much less inclined to crop it out anyway.

NestedBW

Redefine How You Feel About Failure

– “Getting it right” is subjective.  

So much about photography is finding your own personal style, and that’s usually done through making a lot of mistakes. I remember the first time I accidentally left my shutter speed too low (because in the beginning I didn’t know how fast a shutter had to be to stop movement) and a huge number of my photos were blurry – and I LOVED it! Soon I learned how to control that blur and use it in a way that I wanted. What would’ve been a complete failure by conventional terms was actually a huge step forward for me.

– Welcome the mistakes. 

Learning from mistakes now will help you from making them in later, probably more crucial situations, so be a little more liberal with risks in the beginning. A mistake in your first wedding probably isn’t going to kill you; no one knows who you are and you’re shooting it for free for a family friend anyway. That same mistake at a wedding where they’ve put down $6K and you have a business and a reputation to uphold is probably going to be much more damaging.

– Learn all the rules, then break them. 

As much as I hate rules, they’re there for a reason. The first time I heard about the “Rule of Thirds” my mind was blown. I quickly began rearranging all my images to fit, and I was pleasantly surprised. And then I was bored. The “Rule of Thirds” is now one of my favorite rules to break – but it’s broken with intent, not by accident. There’s a difference.

– Challenge yourself.

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut in this industry. A 365 day project or a 52 week challenge is a great way to change things up a bit. In addition, start shooting things you aren’t necessarily familiar with. If you’ve only ever shot families, take on a pet shoot. Take a drive to somewhere new and shoot a few landscapes or try your hand at some street photography. You may not completely switch gears, but you’ll no doubt learn some new skills you can apply to your current photography.

Keep Reminding Yourself Why You’re Doing This

I love my job. I love waking up every day to take photos. I even kind of love slaving away in front of the computer spending 40+ hours editing a single photo because I know at the end of it all it will be worth it. I also know that there is plenty of room in this industry for newer, upcoming photographers and the world would be a lot better place if more people loved going to work every day just as much as I do. So overall, dear New Photographer, don’t ever forget that end goal. Keep plugging along, keep learning, keep growing, keep researching, keep shooting and keep taking things one step at a time.

I can’t say that this roller coaster ever really stops, and I can’t say that you’ll ever stop feeling like a newbie, but in a way, I don’t think we ever should. The second we think we know everything is the second we should probably pack it in. I hope I’m a newbie forever :).

And if you ever need someone to talk to about said roller coaster, feel free to talk to me – I answer best through email, Instagram or on my Facebook page, Jenna Martin Photography :).

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5 Words You Don’t Hear Often Enough

Lost In Thought

As photographers and artists, as much as we like to think otherwise, we’re a bit sensitive to critique. Not that it’s a weakness – it’s natural. Being an artist is an incredibly vulnerable profession – you’re putting your bare soul out into the world, and when it gets a little battered and bruised, it’s hard not to let it get to you. I’ve worked countless other jobs that weren’t in a creative field, and I’ll gladly admit that a boss screaming at me for stapling papers incorrectly is NOTHING compared to someone making a mumbling, “I…guess people like this…?” comment under their breath at a gallery opening. The former is easy to handle. My heart and soul is not in those staples – they want me to rip them out and do them over again? Gladly. But the latter example…I’ll be honest I still remember how much that hurt. I don’t even like typing it.

But with all the bad comments, there is usually some good, and many of us bounce back and forth in a kind of equilibrium. And while, personally, one negative comment will still kill the upbeat mood of 100 good ones (I know it’s stupid, and it’s getting better, but it’s still a struggle), rarely is there anything that can be said that cancels out any negative setbacks I’ve had…except for this. Except of these 5 little words that many of us haven’t heard in years.

I remember vividly, the first time in a long time that someone uttered this to me. I was driving my ice cream truck around town –

Small timeout so you can freak out for a second…yes, my mom and I own a small ice cream truck, Mr Pugsley’s Ice Cream (click that link to like the Facebook page, my mom would love it!). I don’t run it much anymore, but my mom still does. I love it, but to be honest, it’s a brutal job. It gets hot in Montana (usually at least 100 degrees), and you’re in that heat all day, no doors, sitting on a tiny seat cushion with the engine running underneath it. Hot engine air pumps out onto your legs, you’re swimming in sunscreen, going 1 mph down every street you’ve already been down a million times, dealing with screaming kids, inconsiderate teenagers, rude parents, angry dogs and all while that fucking circus music is playing above you. The awesome people and hilarious stories all make it worthwhile, but it can be pretty tough to keep your sanity. Seriously, next time you see the ice cream truck, throw an extra dollar in the tip jar – that job’s a lot harder than you think.

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So back to it. About 5 years ago I was finishing my Master’s in college. I was taking summer courses and paying my way through school by running the ice cream truck every spare second I had. This day was like any other, but the end is what really hit me hard:

5:50: Run 6 miles.

6:50: Do dishes, prep food for dinner, finish writing 8-page Cognitive Dissonance/Situated Cognition paper. Turn in online before 8:00.

8:20: Friend texts. “It’s only a 4-page paper, I just don’t understand how to do the calculations is all. Can you help me out?” I say yes. She emails me her paper and I check over to make sure the calculations are correct. They aren’t. I fix her calculations and email it back.

10:30: Shower, slather on sunscreen and gather things for the ice cream truck.

11:20: First customers. Three teenage girls driving a 2008 Ford Focus. “Do you have anything that’s strawberry?” asked Girl #1 without even looking up from her phone. “Sorry,” I said. “I have huckleberry, would that be okay?” Girl #2 rolled her eyes. “Eww,” she said, “That sounds disgusting.” Girl #3 clearly agrees. “Let’s just go to Dairy Queen,” she whined. “This sucks.”

<Insert “Mean Girls” reference here>

1:26: Temperature hits 100 degrees.

3:30: I run by a friend’s house to check on her cat while she’s out of town. She has no cat food in the house. I run to the nearest gas station, buy some cat food, come back and feed her.

4:30: Made routine stop at a house with 5 kids and Cruella DeVille mom. She only lets them have what is free (though she clearly has enough money for tanning and cigarettes). I give them a few popsicles and tell them not to tell their mom, hoping one day she might cough up some change to cover the weekly dent she makes in my donation jar. Wishful thinking, I know.

4:42: Temperature hits 104 degrees.

5:30: A man stops me in traffic to say his dog is missing, and since I’ll be driving the streets all night that if I see it on my route to give him a call. He gives me his phone number, address and description of his dog. I tell him I’ll keep a lookout.

6:40: I head home to grab a bit to eat. The air conditioner has leaked all over the carpet, so I put a bowl underneath it and clean up what I could. I’ll get the rest later. I head back out.

7:30: I find the missing dog. I call the number but no answer, so I take it to the address. She’s a hyper Border Collie named Bella, and secretly I want to keep her. He’s not home, but his neighbor, and elderly woman, starts screaming at me and accuses me of trying to steal this man’s dog. I explain I’m actually bringing the dog back, but she just shakes her fist at me and walks into her house. I wait another 10 minutes and he pulls up. Crisis averted.

8:20: I realize I forgot to refill my water bottle when I stopped by my house. I’m out of water but I’ve only got an hour or so left, so I’ll just ignore it.

9:30: I make my last round through a familiar neighborhood and am waved over by a little boy and his dad. He takes awhile to ponder the choices, and I don’t want to rush him but in the back of my mind I know I have to get home before it gets dark – this truck has no working headlights. After narrowing down his options he chooses a chocolate ice cream sandwich. He gives me the money and takes his frozen treat.

“What do we say?” asked the father.
“Thank you,” replied the little boy.
“Aww, you’re welcome bud!” I said back.
“And what else do we say?” asked the dad once more.

I waited for a second. I didn’t know what else he was supposed to say. He paid me, he said thanked me…I wasn’t sure what else the dad was talking about. But his son looked up at me, with big, brown eyes bordered by long lashes and said with complete sincerity five words I hadn’t heard in years:

“You’re doing a good job.”

I choked.

“Oh, wow,” I stuttered. “Thank you so much. Thank you so, so much.”

He smiled, his dad dropped $0.50 in the donation jar and I headed on my way. I was completely silent until I walked into the empty house and sat down at the dining room table, set down my water bottle, and cried.

You’re doing a good job.

I couldn’t remember the last time someone had told me that, and I’ll never forget how hard it hit me when someone finally did. Not assumed I already knew, not insinuated it in a round-about way, but had actually said the words.

As artists we’re constantly looking for some kind of affirmation that we’re on the right path. We’re looking for something to prove we’re not throwing our lives away; that all this time spent learning random Photoshop skills on YouTube at 4:00 in the morning isn’t for nothing. We’re always bouncing back and forth between feeling free and feeling lost, feeling creative and feeling crazy, feeling independent and feeling alone. We’re all going through it – it’s a natural part of navigating life as an artist. But at least today, we can reach out to a fellow artist and say the 5 words they have probably forgotten what it’s like to hear:

You’re doing a good job.

I hope you tell this to someone today. It could be your mom, or it could be the person that gets your coffee, it doesn’t matter. Someone deserves to hear this, and they would love to hear it from you.

Daniele & Henry

 

And if you ever need someone to talk to, feel free to talk to me – I answer best through email or on my Facebook page, Jenna Martin Photography :).

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Essential Conceptual Photography Gear List

Let’s open with an obvious statement, just so we’re all on the same page: photography gear is expensive.

Wait, let me clarify: photography gear is crazy expensive. I bought my camera last year with my entire saving plus whatever I had in my checking account (talk about going all in).

This makes purchasing gear that much scarier. For most of us, we either fall into one of two categories: the “Forever Sticker Shocked” or the “Expensive Disappointments” (write those down for future slow-pitch softball team names).

For the sticker shockers, we are constantly buying the cheapest gear we can find. We buy the tripod made of plastic and duct tape and pray that it will stay standing in a light breeze. We glue pieces of our camera back together and hope it lasts through just one more senior shoot. I mean for crying out loud, I spent 3 months building my own underwater camera housing. And there is no fear on earth like putting your entire, not even remotely waterproof life savings, into a homemade device that looks remarkably similar to a pipe-bomb.

Yes, I have definitely played for the “Forever Sticker Shocked” team.

But I’ve also played for the other side. I’ve sucked it up and spent money on a piece of gear I figured I absolutely needed, and guess what, it didn’t do the job either. Turns out it doesn’t matter how amazing something is, if it’s not the exact thing you’ll need it’ll still end up sitting in the corner, collecting dust.

So I’ve decided to make your lives a little easier. Included below is my entire preferred gear list, with all the specifics, that I use on virtually every shoot. I love these items so much they don’t even get checked on a plane. No seriously – I’ve had 20 minute arguments with flight attendants about the size of my bag and whether or not my tripod counts as a separate carry-on (it doesn’t, by the way, as long as it’s attached in some way to your other bag).

Camera: Canon 5D Mark II

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This was the first camera I bought, and honestly, the only reason I chose this one over the gazillion options was because it was the same camera my mentor used. I also bought the one that came with a kit lens (don’t get the one with the kit lens, you’ll never use it again). I think I even had her write it down, because Canon 5D Mark II doesn’t roll off the tongue too easily when you’ve never heard of it before.

But here’s the thing – your camera is not exactly the most important item on this list. The specs are all going to improve the further up you go in price (you can bet your ass I’m counting down days for the Mark IV to come out so I can take advantage of the following price drop of the Mark III), but everyone is comfortable with something different. Hell Chris Keeney’s CK Holga 120N photos can make anyone want to go out and buy a toy camera.

Plain and simple I use Canon over Nikon, Sony, Leica and many others because I like the menus better. I like how things are set up and organized. I like a full frame sensor because it’s a better fit for my photography, and I like the clarity it produces when I stick the thing underwater. So don’t worry, if you’re shooting with something else, feel free to keep it. This isn’t the part where I try to convince you to switch over to anything.

Tripod: ABEO Pro 283AT with GH-300T Pistol Grip Ball Head

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This, however, is that aforementioned part.

Most of my conceptual photos require multiple shots – which means I need a steady platform to hold my camera. On a poor quality tripod, even a slight breeze will throw everything off. The setup I have now is absolutely perfect – I love it so much that it makes me sick to even look at another tripod that doesn’t have the swivel head. You mean you have to sit there and adjust every axis to finally get to the right angle? And then what if something changes, you have to do it all over again? Screw that, I just hold down the little handle do-hickey and swivel it into place. Bada-bing, bada-boom.

Plus the tripod itself is surprisingly durable, even for somebody like me that isn’t exactly…ahem…nice to their gear. I’ve used this thing in dust, dirt, mud, saltwater and some seriously impressive winds, and it’s still rockin’ it.

My current combination came to be with a little trial and error, but if you’re looking for something similar, your best bet is to purchase a kit. The ABEO Pro 284AGH is an awesome tripod with the exact same ball head, so you won’t have to worry about buying anything separately.

Remote Shutter Release: Opteka RFT-40 Wireless Remote and Flash Trigger

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Why every photographer doesn’t have one of these I have no idea. The thing costs maybe $25 and is one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. It works up to 650′ away and even shoots through walls. Plus, not to mention, I’ve dropped the handheld trigger in water countless times and the thing still works great. Half the time I put it in my mouth and trigger it with my tongue so I can keep my hands free to fluff fabric, throw things in the air, and of course, keep an eye on whatever I’ve currently lit on fire.

Computer: 27″ iMac

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Scoff all you want, but this is hands down, the best photography related purchase, besides my camera, that I have ever bought. My PC crapped out last year, and after a lot of prodding from my local group of photographers, I finally just bit the bullet and got a Mac. A big one. And I can’t thank them enough. Seriously, I easily owe them all 40 beers and my left kidney for steering me in the right direction.

I’m not going to get into too much technical stuff, but the bottom line is this screen lets me see every single tiny detail in my photos, and I like the workflow better. Everything is just easier. Doing anything on my laptop kills me now.

To give you an idea of how much I love this computer, I brought it on the plane with me when I was working in New York for a month. That’s right, I hauled this giant, 27″ sucker from Montana to New York. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Editing Software: Adobe Creative Cloud

Why pay several hundred dollars for Photoshop or Lightroom separately when you can $30/month (sometimes less, depending on the programs you use on a regular basis) for the always up-to-date, newest version of everything? Don’t answer that. Any argument you try to make here is futile. Switch to Creative Cloud and let’s move on.

Editing Equipment: Wacom Intuos Pro Medium

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Now, for the longest time, I actually fought this one pretty hard. I just didn’t see the draw. It looked cool, but did I really need it? Was it absolutely essential to my photography business?

Turns out it is, and I feel like such an idiot for putting off a purchase as important as this one.

For those of you that aren’t quite sure what this is, let me explain. This is a tablet that comes with a “pen” that allows you to edit as if you were physically drawing on your photo. All that time spent outlining figures with your mouse (or god forbid, touchpad) is now gone. Just take your pen and trace along the edge of your photo – done.

Personally, what really convinced me to finally take the leap is how quickly obvious signs of carpel tunnel began setting in. I’d spend marathon sessions editing photos, only to find I couldn’t move my wrist the next day. My entire arm hurt, all the way up to my shoulder, and I had a hard time holding onto things with my right hand. All of this would go away in a day or two of course, but let’s be honest – these symptoms are not a good thing. If you’re going through something like this now, stop putting it off – you’re doing actual damage to yourself.

With this table, my editing time has easily been cut down but over 80%. What used to take me all week to edit now takes me one, very dedicated night.

Oh, and get the medium size. The large is too big to comprehend and I’m convinced the small size is just there to play the part of adorable little baby bear.

Camera Bags: Heralder 38 Shoulder Bag and UP-Rise II 48 Backpack

UP-Rise II 48 (1)

Now I use these two pretty interchangeably. It’s safe to say for any client work, the smaller, more manageable Heralder is my go-to bag. It’s pretty compact, but has a million pockets (I counted…1 million exactly) and they’ve all come in handy at one point or another.

The UP-Rise backpack, I’ll admit, is just flat out enormous. But it’s so light with so much storage, it’s pretty tough not to fall in love with it. I usually end up covering some serious ground to get to the landscape I’m looking for, plus who knows what crazy props and gear I’m towing along. This bag is light, comfortable, and holds whatever you can possible throw at it.

Well there is it is folks, my preferred equipment lineup. You’ll notice I’ve left off lenses – mainly because those are so specific to your individual photography style.

I hope this helps clarify any equipment questions you might have, and if you have anymore feel free to leave a comment below!

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How “Do What You Love” Can Be A Realistic Career Option

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To quote a recent article I read titled “Do What You Love” Is Horrible Advice: “It’s easy to confuse a hobby or interest for a profound passion that will result in career and business fulfillment. The reality is, that type of preexisting passion is rarely valuable.”

Um…no.

If you haven’t read that article go ahead and take a trip over there when you get a chance…or not, if you’d rather not be fuming the rest of the day. The author is a great writer, with many other fantastic articles, but this one was just so…wildly inaccurate. I tried to just label it as one of those unfortunate things orbiting the internet, but it was just gnawing at me. How many potential artists are out there now, squashing their dreams because they’re reading fear-mongering articles like this on the internet?

Well hopefully not a lot, but still, the thought of some teenage kid selling his guitar because too many people told him music was a “hobby” and not a career choice just kills me. He’s a teenager. Anything is a career choice.

Of course people are all entitled to their own opinions, right?

Exactly, which is why I’m going to spout mine off right now.

Unconditional Support May Fade Fast…

As we’re growing up, we’re told we can be anything. We’re told we can be astronauts, painters, unicorn tamers and anything else our little minds can dream up. A 5 year-old proudly proclaims she’s going to be a “rockstar” and the adults laugh and smile and say, “My goodness honey, of course you are!”

Then somewhere down the line, we’re told to get real. We’re told to “get our heads out of the clouds” and start putting our efforts towards a feasible career. The idea of following our passion becomes a joke, and we’re told that art, in whatever capacity, is a hobby. People list off countless things they themselves are “passionate” about but could never get paid for, and then recite a mountain of inaccurate, old wives-tale statistics:

“You know you have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning than you do of ‘making it’ as an actor…right?”

Riiiiiight…

Now there are two arguments here: 1.) Passion alone doesn’t get you anywhere, and 2.) Where is the market? If there is no one to pay you for it, even if you are good, how can you make a living?

And for those points I have two responses: 1.) The concepts of talent and passion are widely misunderstood, and 2.) There is always a market.

Now this is the part where many people will say I have entirely overstepped my boundaries and have finally reached the point where the advice I give new, emerging and struggling artists does them more harm than good. That in this era of realism, dreams serve the sole purpose of glittery fairy tales we tell our children until they reach puberty and then we shove a spatula and a job application in their hand while cynically smirking, “Life’s not fair, deal with it.”

Well, fuck that – and here’s why.

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1.) Talent and Passion Are Not What You Think

Talent is no more than a word people use to describe a person’s skill level when they haven’t been around to witness first-hand the process of developing that skill. Musicians, dancers, painters, all of them, did you see their work when they first started out? They sucked. The hit wrong notes, had two left feet and couldn’t paint between the lines to save their damn lives.

They were absolute shit.

In fact, it wasn’t until they had already put hours and hours and hours of time in, before people started saying, “Wow, you’ve got a real talent for that.”

Because here’s the thing, while some people do naturally gravitate to box of colored pencils instead of a calculator, the act of producing art itself is still a skill, and I cant stress this enough – skills can be learned.

In fact, many features we take for naturally occurring personality traits (i.e. willpower, creativity, focus) are actually skills; all of which can be further developed with deliberate practice.

Quick side-note – I promise I’m not just blowing smoke up your ass and I would gladly link to peer-reviewed journals listing the relevant scientific data for all these claims, but it’s 3:30 in the morning and I just don’t want to. I will tell you though, that I have personally studied all of this, as I have a Master’s in Psychology, specializing in neurological processes and behavioral health. If you don’t believe me I encourage you to schedule an appointment with your local psychology professor. 

Okay, so what does passion have to do with anything?

The word “passion” is far overused in today’s common conversation. You hear people say, “I’m incredibly passionate about rock music,” when what they really mean is, “I, like, really, really like this one band I saw in concert last week.”

Passion is not just a love for something, it’s an obsession: an obsession capable of motivating people to practice a specific skill for an unrealistic amount of time. All those things that people list off to you as examples of things they are “passionate” about but could never get paid for – they’re right! But those aren’t passions they’re just stuff they like…as a hobby. And yes, if photography is your dream job but you dedicate the same amount of time to it as you would to any other hobby, you absolutely won’t be able to find anyone willing to pay you for it. However, if you’re really passionate about photography, you’ll spend every waking second trying to improve. You’ll stay up late on YouTube researching various lighting setups and editing techniques, you’ll make your own gear when the real thing costs too damn much (like this underwater camera housing) and you’ll take classes and workshops to further your skills, and all that extra time really adds up.

To put it bluntly, passion can get you everywhere, because it means you have the desire to put in a highly abnormal amount of work to excel at a particular skill; a skill, that when taken to a whole new level, is absolutely marketable.

So while you may suck right now, that’s okay, you already have the most important tool to producing amazing results. What you need now is practice and time.

Now on to my other point…

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2.) There is ALWAYS a Market

The article above (along with countless others spanning the internet) lists one question as the one you should be asking when pursing your dream job: “Will people pay me for it?”

But that’s not the right question. Instead, what you should really be asking yourself is, “How can I prove to people my work is worth paying for?”

I’ll explain. Here’s a line I’m sure we’ve all heard many times: “Well maybe you should still get an accounting degree or something. You know… just in case.”

Ah, yes. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone give me “just in case” advice to prepare myself for inevitable failure…well let’s just say I’d own an impressive collection of jet skis by now.

You never hear people tell accountants to get another degree, “just in case.” No one ever tells med school students that maybe they should learn welding, or construction or some other trade skill so when this whole “being a doctor” phase wears off they’ll at least have something to “fall back on”.

The fact is, people only pay for things they either want or need, and when your passion falls into a field that meets an obvious market need, following it is completely acceptable. People need doctors. People need accountants. Supply and demand; it makes perfect sense.

Art, on the other hand…

Art is seen as a “want”, which means that people have a harder time understanding the market for it unless they themselves are a part of that specific target audience. Someone that would never consider buying a piece of art for $1000 will have a very hard time reasoning how anyone else could possibly make a living selling art for $1000.

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But there surely can’t be a market for everything…

Yeah, actually, there pretty much is. You can make money doing virtually anything nowadays, provided you market it correctly. Ever heard of the NYC Naked Cowboy? He plays a guitar and sings songs in his underwear and a cowboy hat. And now he’s sponsored by Fruit of the Loom and has a net worth of over 2.5 million dollars.

Take that, guidance counselors of the world.

The point is, whether the market exists or not isn’t the problem – it’s real and it’s there. Reaching it is the issue. So develop a strategy – figure out what the hell you have to offer and how you’re going to get it out there. Who is your target audience? What value are you offering them? How do you explain to them that what your selling is going to benefit their lives in some measurable way?

I’m not saying that you can quit your day job, buy an art kit, take a modern watercolor class and begin a successful painting career next week – I’m saying that creating a career out of something you’re genuinely passionate about is a very, very real possibility, and contrary to popular opinion you’re not doomed to a life of waiting tables while you try and make something out of those “doodles” you’re always working on.

Put in the effort to hone your skills and create a comprehensive marketing strategy to sell the application of those skills. That, is how you begin a successful career of doing what you love.

And for the future photographers of the world – here’s a little something I made just for you to get you on your way.

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Well That Hurt: Finding Inspiration the Hard Way in Underwater Photography

Probably shouldn’t have done that…

From time to time I like to browse some of my favorite photographers’ work to see what they’ve been up to. It gives me inspiration, new ideas, and also lights that competitive fire under my ass.

But sometimes it has the opposite effect. Sometimes I see something so unbelievably good that I sink into a deep chasm of self-doubt and frustration.

Today was one of those days.

Now when it comes to underwater photography, I am obsessed. So obsessed in fact, that when I learned the cost of underwater camera housing apparatuses ($2,000?! What?!), I built my own. Hell I’ve been obsessed with water itself for as long as I can remember. I think it’s the weightlessness of it mixed with just a touch of danger. Swimming to me feels like flying – if the air could kill you at any moment.

Even in my above ground portfolio, you really don’t even have to look very hard to see watery influences. In almost every photo, there are people and objects floating around, and water is consistently a central theme. I’m either standing in it, sitting on a car in it, put someone else under it or have it coming out of an umbrella (multiple times). It’s actually pretty funny to look back and see that unintentionally, I’ve always had water somewhere in my photos.

So one of the photographers I casually stalk (read: intensely dream about working with someday) is Zena Holloway. Her work is stunning. Like, crazy good. It’s so gorgeous that it actually pisses me off on a certain level and if I ever meet her I already know she’s going to hate me because I will either completely freeze up and say something creepy and inappropriate (my default mode) or I will ask a million questions and annoy the bajesus out of her.

So two great options, really.

But last month she posted a behind-the-scenes video of one of her underwater photography shoots:

An Underwater Film: Behind the Scenes of ‘How to Spend it’ Magazine from Zena Holloway on Vimeo.

As always it’s amazing, but shortly after watching I found myself frustrated. Seeing her models gracefully pose while I consistently flail about made me think of the countless “Nailed It” moments you find on Pinterest. I should’ve known just from reading the description what I was getting into.

“750,000 litres of water
One 5m high bed
Six hours to set up
Eight hours to shoot
1,468 photographs
Nine underwater crew
Seven underwater cameras
53 seconds without drawing breath
1,609m of hair extensions
217 Valsalva manoeuvres
…and 62 wet towels!”

Holy fuck.

I spent all day yesterday setting up and shooting. My list was as follows:

One assistant
Two models
1 Camera
Dresses from Goodwill
Light from Home Depot
Bottle of Jameson

Ouch.

And then comes the self-pity party. “If only I could just borrow some designer clothes. If only I knew a qualified hair and makeup person that could do the look I’m going for. If only I had access to a better lighting system, a different lens, or a better location.”

“If only, if only, if only, blah, blah, blah, blah blah!”

See, this actually happens a lot. The pity party hits, and then I calm down and remind myself of a few solid points: 1.) All of this awesome stuff does not make an amazing photographer, these are tools that amazing photographers have acquired over the years. I’m very doubtful anyone has access to all this amazing equipment and vendors from day one, and 2.) It takes time. Photography is an art that takes for-freaking-ever to learn and there is no rushing the process. Eventually, slowly but surely, I’ll get there.

And you will too :).

Essentially, the video below is all you ever need to keep in mind. Trust me – I watch it anytime I need to pull myself out of a bit of a slump :).

THE GAP by Ira Glass from frohlocke on Vimeo.

And if I ever do get to meet Zena, maybe we can just hangout. Nothing serious, just, like, drink some tea, talk about photography, get matching tattoos…that sort of thing ;).

 

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I Am a Complete Failure

It’s true.

I am a complete and utter failure.

I have failed in relationships (both romantic and platonic), in plenty of career opportunities (still have just a teensy problem with authority), in schooling (I left my Master’s program with only one internship left), and in countless other areas, including photography.

Especially photography. Hell my first photo composites were replacing friends’ drinks with cats so we could post them on Facebook.

No…scratch that. Those non-alcoholic cat photos are brilliant.

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But nonetheless, the fact remains: I have failed at virtually everything.

And thank sweet baby Jesus that I have.

Let’s backtrack for a bit to my freshman year of college. If I had been successful in everything I set out to do, where would I be right now?

Let’s see…I’d be an aerospace engineer (my very first major) married to a very, very abusive man (my first serious boyfriend). I’d still talk to my father on a regular basis (no, trust me, this is probably the worst thing about this little flashback) and…actually, I don’t even want to think about my possible alternate life. That already sounds pretty horrible.

The truth is, if I had stuck it out for the sake of avoiding the dreaded “failure” stamp, I would be pretty miserable right now. Failure, as it turns out, is not that bad of a thing. Boil it down and you see that failure is really just another way of saying whatever your end goal might be, your current track isn’t going to get you there. It gives you the opportunity to recognize something isn’t working, make an adjustment, and try again.

You know what’s worse than failure? Inaction. Standing aside and doing nothing. Making the decision (yes, inaction is a choice), to literally do nothing about your current life situation.

Falling on our face is natural, having an idea go horribly wrong usually makes for an amusing story later, and stopping in the middle of something that isn’t working and starting over is just plain good time-management. But without action, we are stagnant. We cannot grow or develop. We experience nothing, we learn nothing and we gain nothing. Sure there’s the possibility things might not work out, but the sting of embarrassment is a helluva lot easier to swallow than the sting of regret. That shit lasts forever.

So from this point on, redefine how you see failure and redefine how you see success. Don’t stress so much about the end result and focus more on the process. As long as you’re trying, you’re still moving forward; no matter how slow it may feel.

And if you’re still a little wary of the whole idea, think of this fun fact: a high failure rate is actually what sets apart the most successful people in our society. The more you fail, the more you learn, the more you improve.

So with that being said, yes, I am a complete failure. Come join me down here, the future looks pretty fantastic :).

 

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Get anything out of this? Share it so someone else can too!

And if you ever need someone to talk to, feel free to talk to me – I answer best through email or on my Facebook page, Jenna Martin Photography :).

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6 Business Practices Learned in New York

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As you may have known, I’ve spent the last month living in New York City. The opportunity arose to assist Lindsay Adler for a month and without hesitation (of course) I took it. I had been home one day from Fotofest (which was another amazing experience, soon to be recorded in blog form) when I made the decision. A couple days later I found myself on a flight to the Big Apple.

First off, let’s state the obvious. New York is about as different as you could possibly get from Montana. Literally everything: the landscape, the people, the smells, the stores, the food, the entire way of life, is the complete opposite of what I’m used to. And while different can, at times, be very overwhelming (How the f*ck do you get out of Penn Station?!?!) it can also teach you a few valuable lessons in the process. And when it comes to New York, there are definitely a few things about I believe everyone could benefit from.

1.) Toughen Up

We all have our insecure moments, but New Yorkers don’t show it. Everyone in the city is trying to make it; whether they’re an artist, a musician or even a broker, literally everyone is gunning for success. And when you have that much competition floating around you, you either step up your game, or slowly wither away and move to Spokane (sorry for the cheap shot Spokane, but you’re still on my shitlist from last year).

New Yorkers have a gritty, self-assured kind of confidence, primarily because if you look like you can be taken advantage of, you will be taken advantage of. The people are just as nice as anywhere else I’ve been, but at some point you’re just in in the damn way. People will yell at you on the street and cars will honk at you because it’s Tuesday, but defend yourself a little bit and they back off. There is no convenient time to be a pushover.

2.) Make a Decision Already

Personally, I tend to stall on the decision-making process. I waste far too much time tossing around an idea when I could’ve moved on to much more important tasks weeks ago.

New Yorkers don’t seem to have this problem, and when you have shit to do and a very limited time to do it, it’s easy to understand why. Besides the commute sucking the time and energy out of your day (I had a good hour and a half commute from New Jersey to Lindsay’s studio everyday), you always have someone breathing down you neck – literally and figuratively. When met with a crossroad, don’t stand back and hope the right choice will just “come to you”, because while you float around in Lala Land, someone else is already assessing the situation and putting all the pieces together. Hard decisions are just as time-sensitive as easy decisions, so get on it.

flat iron

3.) Be Genuine

I’ve always known this was an essential part of doing business (as well as living a good life in general) but I didn’t realize how much it’s truly appreciated until I came to New York. With the population being what it is – a little over 8.3 million – you’ll find yourself interacting with hundreds of people each day. In addition, so many interactions consist of people wanting something from you and you can see right through them. It’s easy to go into autopilot and tune out for a while…but don’t. The smallest genuine gesture can mean a world of difference to someone that has been seen as a virtual pocketbook all day long.

4.) Walk More

I’ve literally rediscovered walking. You should too. It’s awesome.

5.) Examine Your Risks

You all know how much I love taking risks. At this point it’s almost more of a not-so-adorable side hobby, but New York has made it into a fine art. A single well-calculated risk can make your entire career, but an brash decision can destroy it. It’s up to you to roll the dice, but you’ve got to stop being so damn scared all the time. Some chances are worth taking and others are not. Learn to tell the difference and make a move.

6.) Take A Break

In general, I tend to thrive best with my head just barely above water. Comfortable to me is synonymous with boring, and I just can’t grasp the idea of not having too much on my plate. That being said, everyone needs a break once in a while, and New York has a not-so-subtle way of reminding you that maybe, just maybe, you need to get away for a little bit before you go postal on the train to Jersey.

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And if you ever need someone to talk to feel free to talk to me – I answer best through email or on my Facebook page, Jenna Martin Photography :).

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11 Myths About Running A Photography Business

 

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I can vividly remember the first day I opened my photography business. I had spent weeks getting everything in order, from my official business license to my website to my own, handmade personal logo. I had all my release forms printed out, a folder to keep them organized and a calendar all laid out, complete with color coded markers I would use for each different session I would (hopefully) be booking in the near future.

Oh yeah…I was fancy.

I was also naive. I took advice from anywhere I could get it, regardless of the source. Fellow photographers, internet business articles and Facebook photography groups were my best source of information, and honestly, it was quite a mixed bag. There was a lot of information that was complete (pardon my french) bullshit, and I wish for the life of me there was a way to go back and talk some sense into my early photographer self. However, since I’m still not the proud owner of my very own, personal time-machine, I figured spilling the beans to the rest of you might be just as productive.

Myth #1: The Photography Market is Over-Saturated – There’s No Room For You

I heard this little tidbit countless times during my first year as a photographer: that I better have a backup plan, that I shouldn’t invest too much money into my business because it was only a matter of time before I realized it was doomed for failure.

Here’s the thing – photography is an over-saturated market – with mediocre photographers. There are plenty of people out there with cameras calling themselves “photographers” that shoot on auto and have no idea what the hell “ISO” and “DOF” even stand for. And that’s okay! Those people aren’t your competition.

Your competition is the photographer that is doing exactly the same business model as you are, which (as you’ll read in the next point) probably isn’t happening. I’ll give you an example:

There are hundreds of professional photographers in my town, but I’d say the number of truly, truly exceptional ones are under 20. Of these, they all specialize in different areas. I know of maybe three utterly fantastic weddings photographers, two unbelievably talented newborn photographers, a couple boudoir specialists, a few senior photo pros, one fashion shooter, a couple insanely talented photojournalists and one unbelievable landscape/interior photographer. Then there is me who shoots fine art. There is plenty of room for all of us. Which brings me to Myth #2…

Myth #2: Fellow Photographers Are Your Worst Enemies

For semantic’s sake, I put this as the second myth, but really it should be #1, hands down. Your fellow photographers aren’t your competition – they’re your best allies! Let me explain:

Wedding photographers, for example, can only shoot one wedding a day (and many times, only one wedding per weekend), so what happens when someone calls for a day they’ve already booked? They refer out to other wedding photographers! As a fellow wedding shooter it’s in your best interest to have a fantastic working relationship with every other wedding photographer in town. If they can’t do the job, you’re first on their referral list.

Plus, with everyone specializing in so many things, it only makes sense to work together. Many wedding photographers aren’t interesting in shooting newborn babies, but you can bet a year after a couple gets married the first one they’re going to call as soon as they’re expecting is their wedding photographer. So refer to your favorite newborn place, and in turn they’ll refer weddings to you. Why wouldn’t they? A wedding sent to you is a guaranteed client the following year!

In addition, getting to know your fellow photographers also give you the chance to collaborate with something amazing. The photographers in Billings are now some of my closest friends and I would be miles behind in business if I hadn’t gotten to know them. Besides, who are you going to share nerdy photographer humor with? Because contrary to what you might think, your cat is not laughing at your random jokes about shutter speed and F-stop.

Myth #3: You Can Finally Get Out From Behind That Computer

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Sorry folks, but not quite. As a fine art photographer, the vast majority of my time is spend sitting behind a computer screen, editing individual pixels one after the other, but it’s similar with others in the business as well. The time you spend shooting is actually a very, very small percentage of how you’ll spend your time, and most of it will be on the computer. Editing, marketing, submitting content for publishing, writing blog posts, filing, accounting, and a thousand other things I can’t think of right now because I’m in the middle of Myth #4.

Myth #4: Owning Your Own Business Means Making Your Own Hours

Oh…honey. Owning your own business means working all hours. See this is where a photography business has the exact same quality as every other small business that has ever been in existence – you’ll work far more than 40 hours/week. It takes literally every ounce of time you have to get your business off it’s feet and moving in the right direction.

Myth #5: Your Photographs Sell Themselves

Oh dear God no they don’t. I admit it’s very difficult to sell in the beginning, especially since you’re fully aware of your lack of experience in the photography arena. If you’ve only been a professional photographer for three weeks it can be very difficult to convince a client they should hire you without sounding like you’re begging. But sales is all part of the game and the sooner you learn to sell yourself, the better.

Myth #6: A Successful Photographer Makes a Lot of Money

A successful photographer makes enough to support themselves as a photographer. That is all.

Myth #7: You Should Specialize. Immediately.

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Woah, calm down there. Photography is such a vast field, it takes a while to find out what you’re truly passionate about. I’ve gone from portraits, to night photography, to weddings, to pets, to fashion to fine art and loved every one of those genres…for a while. Then I moved on to something else.

Don’t tie yourself down in the beginning. Feel completely free to branch out among other areas of photography. Try a boudoir shoot or tag along for a wedding. Attend a fine art photography workshop (hint hint: here’s an awesome one coming up soon) or take on a couple senior clients to see if that’s something you’d be interested in.

Myth #8: “Natural Light Photography” Is A Thing

Calling yourself a “Natural Light Photographer” simply means you don’t know the first thing about alternative lighting. Don’t get me wrong, natural light is fantastic (it’s definitely my preferred method of shooting), but you can’t use it as a crutch for not learning how to use proper equipment. Intern at a studio and banish this phrase from your website.

Myth #9: It’s All About The Gear

You know the fastest way a photographer breaks someone of this thought? As soon as someone comments on how amazing our camera must be to take such awesome pictures, we hand it to them and let them snap a few on their own. Everything changes after that.

Because it’s not about the equipment you have, it’s about whether or not you know how to use it. I’ve seen photographers with incredibly expensive gear take some downright embarrassingly bad photos, while witnessing other photographers take spectacular photos on their iPhones. Don’t run out and throw a bunch of money at the newest thing – it’s better to have something modest and then spend your money learning how to properly use it before moving on to bigger and better equipment.

Myth #10: You Can Do Every Aspect Of Your Business By Yourself

You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when a friend tells you they’re saving money by having their cousin photograph their wedding? Yeah, that’s the same feeling every accountant in the world gets when they hear you’re saving money by doing your own taxes. Certain things (like taxes and photographing someone’s wedding) should be left to the pros.

Myth #11: You Will Eventually Get Sick of Photography

I’m not going to lie – life as a photographer is tough, hectic and never seems to end, but here’s another secret – I love every second of it. In fact, the reason my work/free time lines are so blurred is because the first thing I want to do when I have some free time is shoot!

Think about it this way: I recently had a conversation with a friend about retiring. She said she’d happily retire ASAP while I told her I didn’t think I’d ever retire. She stared at me with wide eyes until I asked her what she would do with her time off and she replied with, “Photography.”

Exactly :).

And if you ever need someone to talk to feel free to talk to me – I answer best through email or on my Facebook page, Jenna Martin Photography :).

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Continually Developing: 5 Ways to Break Your Photography Plateau

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Photography is a strange beast – we all know this. The second you first get a camera in your hand it’s almost impossible to put it down. Everything has potential to be an amazing photograph. You go from landscapes to portraits to pets to fine art to fashion, and slowly you begin to find your niche. You begin to identify that one subject you can truly become obsessed with. That’s an awesome feeling, isn’t it? To be completely in your own realm?

Of course it is! But soon, as with any artistic profession that has ever been, you gradually come up against a creative wall and you become…dare I say it…bored.

Not with photography itself, mind you (I don’t think I could ever be bored with photography), but with where you currently are in your skill development. It’s something you can feel – you’re producing good work, but not exactly great work. Not exactly the kind of work you dreamt about that first night you went to sleep after having played with your new camera all day. The night you stayed awake dreaming of all the amazing photographs you were going to take – just as soon as you figured out what the hell ISO meant.

Well don’t worry – this is completely normal. Every amazing photographer worth their salt goes through this phase. What separates the greats from the rest of the mob is who figures out how break past it, and lucky for you, I’ve listed out a few tried and true ways that seem to do the trick every time.

1.) Write Out Your Goals – Correctly

Writing down your goals is a classic slump-busting technique – but only if you do it correctly. Writing “Be more successful” or “Make more money” isn’t going to get you anywhere. You need to be sure of four things:

1.) Your goals are clearly defined.
2.) Your goals can be measured.
3.) Your goals are realistic
4.) Your goals can be broken down into smaller goals.

This may be quite difficult at first, but push through it. The more specific, measurable and defined your goals are, the more obvious the steps that need to be taken to achieve them become. Pretty soon you aren’t grappling with how to “Get published” but instead making lists of magazines and contacts that might have a good chance of publishing your work.

Writing down your goals does more than just put them in front of you to see everyday – it forces you to actually define your hopes and dreams in realistic terms.

2.) Get Critiqued

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And not by your mom, your best friend, or your intern that idolizes you and knows hardly anything about photography. Get critiqued by someone that knows their sh*t. Someone that not only understands the principles of great photography, but is also familiar with the style of photography you’re shooting. Personally, my work contains a decent amount of photo-manipulation, so I don’t stand to gain a lot from someone specializing in documentary or photojournalistic styles of photography. Trust me, I’ve been critiqued by that person. It hasn’t gone well.

There are many ways to do this. You can schedule an appointment with a local gallery for a portfolio review, or attend a festival like Fotofest or Photo Lucida. Email a photographer you are obsessed with (we all have them) and see if they could take a second to look at your work. Sure it might be a long shot, but they might say yes!

I’m also not going to lie here – getting critiqued is rough. The entire point is to learn what can be improved, so even if your reviewer absolutely loves your work, they are still going to point out a weakness or two, and no matter how thick your skin is, it can be tough to hear. Here’s the great part though – now you know something specific that you can work on. You have a concrete aspect of your work that you can improve. That gives you a direct homework assignment…which brings me to Step 3…

3.) Join a Community

The best way to give yourself an assignment and stick to it is to do it alongside someone else. Join a 365 project, a 52 week project or even just a “Hey let’s go out a shoot” running group. Collaborating with other creative professionals is a fantastic way to break your mind out of its little innovative box it’s stuck in. Plus it’s great networking!

If you can’t find people in your nearby location to hold you accountable (I’m about as flighty as they come, so I totally understand), join an online community or do a mentorship with a photographer you respect. I offer online mentorships, and you can bet there is homework involved. All you really need is something or someone actively forcing you to create. Sounds awful? It’s not. Being complacent and stagnant is awful.

4.) Donate Your Skills

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This is hands down, my favorite way to break out of a slump. Nothing makes you appreciate what you do for a living as much as seeing the good it can do, and there is A TON of good that a great photographer can do. Volunteer to take family photos at a nearby Women’s shelter, photograph a fundraiser for your local Humane Society, give a free senior session to a kid that has fought tooth and nail to graduate.

The photo above is of one of the many, many pets I’ve photographed at the Rimrock Humane Society here in Billings. Better photographs mean the animals get adopted faster, which means there is more room and resources for animals that are brought in off the street. I can’t even begin to explain how much I love working with them. It’s honestly one of my favorite things I get to do as a photographer.

5.) Switch Sides

Sides of the camera, that is. It’s amazing how much of a difference 180 degrees makes. Behind the camera I am confident and enthusiastic. Put me in front of the lens and I turn into an awkward 6th grader. I don’t know what to do with my hands and I am all of a sudden extremely aware of my eyelids. Do I always blink this much? Do I look straight into the lens? I’m biting my lip? What the hell do people usually do with their lips?

But feeling what it’s like on the other side of the lens is essential to know what you’re clients are going through. Schedule a session with a photographer friend and photograph each other. What do they do that makes you more comfortable? Of the photos they take of you, which are your favorites? Do you remember what they did to get those photos?

This isn’t just applicable if you shoot portraits. Self portraits literally force you to see your environment from the opposite perspective. Just recently a friend of mine photographing a landscape flipped his entire setup around after he stopped midway through to take a picture of himself in the landscape and saw the sky behind the camera had turned into something ahh-maze-ing. He’d been so focused on one area he failed to see what was going on behind him. Thank god for a random selfie break.

And if you ever need someone to talk to feel free to talk to me – I answer best through email or on my Facebook page, Jenna Martin Photography :).

Don’t forget to subscribe below!

52 Week Photography Challenge

We’ve all heard of the “365 Project” for photographers. And while I attempt to do one every year (I’m in the middle of another one right now), let’s be honest for a second here – not everyone has the time to take and edit a photo every single day. So instead, I’ve created a 52 week project that’s a bit more realistic.

If you head on over to my Facebook page (Jenna Martin Photography) you’ll see an album titled “52 Week Photography Challenge”. I upload a single photo each week to introduce that week’s theme and then you leave your photo in the comment section! Don’t worry if you missed a particular week – just leave your photo in the comment section anyway! You all know I’m not a huge stickler for rules. ;).

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So if you’re in the mood to up your creative game, head over to my Facebook page and see what you can come up with! I look forward to all the different interpretations every week!

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