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.
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!
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 :).
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.
Support is a funny thing.
As an artist, 96% of our career is spent dealing with rejection. Rejection from friends, family, other artists and even the art world itself. Making a living from art can be a very long and lonely, misunderstood journey, especially in the beginning, and having a decent support system can help make that early journey a little more bearable.
But just as we’re often learning the ropes of how to be an artist, we also know that you’re learning the ropes of how to best support us. We need you, and here are the best ways you can help us out.
Please Respect What We Do
All of that time you spent devoting yourself to learning your craft, whether it be accounting, nursing or even actual rocket science, we’ve devoted to learning ours too, so don’t diminish our ability by saying your kid could do what we do, or you yourself could probably do the same thing if you just had a little extra time. No, you couldn’t. I certainly couldn’t carry out nursing duties for a full day anymore than you could shoot an entire wedding or make a composite of 60 photographs into one believable art piece. Every profession has a learning curve that people spend years to overcome, and ours is no different.
This IS Our “Real” Job
Any job that puts real food on the table and real money in our pocket is a real job. Some of us have part-time jobs, some of us have full-time jobs and some of us have reached the point where we can survive off our art alone. Some of us don’t want to strictly survive off our art. We’re all different, and no matter how we bring income into our home, including from our artistic endeavors, it all still counts as a real job.
As a photographer, I have several real jobs. I sell prints through galleries and license images for use on book covers, but I also teach and even shoot the occasional wedding. Each of these jobs are just as real as any other – none of them better or worse.
It’s Okay if You Don’t Understand
We know we’re odd. Frankly, if we weren’t at least a little quirky we’d probably make some pretty boring art. So even if you don’t understand our process, like locking ourselves in a room and listening to the same song on repeat for 16 hours, or hiking back to some remote cabin to get us out of a slump, that’s okay. You don’t need to understand it, and we really don’t expect you to. All you need to understand is that this is our process, and this is what we need to be most creative and most productive. Please don’t criticize us for the weird things we do to find inspiration – we promise we’ve already attempted the more socially acceptable ways, and they just didn’t work.
Don’t Ask Us To Work For Free
Please, please don’t ask us to work for free. We have to put the same amount of work into each piece we create, regardless of the price. The fact is, asking us to work for free puts us in a really awkward situation. It’s tough to say no to close friends or family. Don’t do that to us. If you want a piece of mine hanging in your home, buy it just as everyone else does. If you want several of my pieces hanging in your office, ask to lease them, just as everyone else does. It may seem like great exposure, but really, it’s a couple thousand dollars to print a whole collection and have it hung. On the off chance that one is sold (not a whole lot of art buyers walking through the halls of a tanning salon), it still doesn’t make my money back. Please, please don’t ask us to work for free.
Promote Our Work
And if you can’t buy our work (totally understandable) than at least try and promote it. Sharing my work through social media is the easiest way to help me out. Seeing that someone pushed the little share button next to a photo of mine is an incredible boost of encouragement.
Get to Know Our Craft
Sometimes, the reason it’s so difficult to support us is because you don’t realize what we really do. My mom thought it was impossible to make any money as a wedding photographer until I had her tag along one day on a 12-hour wedding shoot. The next day, I had her come over to the house while I showed her the process of culling down the images and editing them to perfection, then briefly showed her how I order prints, albums and everything else. I still had a good week’s worth of editing to do, I explained. She looked at me with complete exhaustion in her eyes, and asked how much the couple paid me for this amount of work. About $5,000, I replied.
Of course there’s more to it than that, but just those 2 days were enough to open her eyes a little bit. I’m doing a lot of work for a comparable amount of money, just like any other job.
When I slowly moved out of weddings and concentrated more on the art and teaching side of photography, she didn’t doubt me for a second. Now that she knew the logistics of what I was doing, she trusted me enough to make a smart decision for myself.
If you’re having trouble letting us pursue our dreams for fear that you’re watching us “throw our lives away”, get to know our profession first. You might be surprised how similar a career in art is to other, more traditional career paths.
Accept That Our Work Will Evolve
I started out my photography business shooting weddings, but then I started making singular art pieces and after that I began teaching. Now I absolutely love teaching and I can’t imagine giving that up. I’m very, very selective about the weddings I now shoot (I maybe only do 2 or 3 a year), and I spend most of my time creating and selling art and teaching others.
It may seem like we’re bouncing all over the place, but that’s okay. Just as anyone tries to find their niche, we’re trying to find ours too.
Stop With The Jokes
Let me be very, very clear on this one – your jokes, as lighthearted as you think they are, are not funny.
To you, it may seem like a clever bit of humor every now and then, something we just need to “lighten up” about, but understand that you are not the only ones making fun of us. Those little jokes don’t seem like much, but when you’re getting them from all angles, all the time, they can really add up. From an artist’s point of view, it’s a never-ending, constant bombardment of utter humility. For our entire lives we’ve been a little different, and people have always been very keen on making sure we’re well aware of it.
When we chose a career on the artistic side of the tracks, we knew what we were getting into. We accepted the fact that we’re going to have to put up with a lot of negativity and a lot of ridicule – but not from you. If you’re going to be on our side you’ve got to be on our side all the way. No backhanded comments, no sly double-meanings; and no slipping back and forth between encouraging and demoralizing. If someone makes a joke on our behalf, we expect you to stand up for us. That’s what a supportive person would do.
Allow For Open Lines of Communication
It’s going to be tough for us to make a living, especially in the beginning. And if we’re constantly trying something that isn’t working, while we bang our heads on the counter and our life savings slowly drains away, we’re going to need someone to talk to. Don’t berate us with “I told you so” and suggest we hang this shit up and get a “real” job already – help us with the logistics. Is there a reason why we aren’t making sales? Maybe we need to adjust our marketing campaign. Maybe our work just flat out sucks right now and we need to supplement our income in other ways while we work on improving. If we’re not making money, suggesting we get a second job isn’t mean – it’s realistic. Help us brainstorm ways to make this work.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Your words and your actions speak very different. You can’t give us the thumbs up but then point and laugh as soon as we can’t see you.
Think of it this way: if you were a football coach, you’d want me to come to your games. It shows I support what you do. It doesn’t matter if your team is any good or even if the game is an important one; just the fact that I come is appreciated. But everything gets canceled out if I’m ass about it. If I sit in the stands and complain that football is the most boring, pointless sport ever, and keep asking when we can leave, that’s not supportive. If I crack jokes with friends about how sad and pathetic your fans are for actually enjoying this, that’s not supportive either. As a coach, you’re part of a community, and respecting that entire community is part of supporting you.
It’s the same in the art world. You can’t come to my show and then sit in the corner, complain about how bored you are and make fun of the other artists. You can’t come to my live music performance and then mock the “idiots” in the crowd that “actually like this kind of music”. This is my community, and I’m a part of it. If you’re going to support me, you’ve got to support my community as well.
Speaking of My Community…
While we’re on the subject of community: all those people that come to my shows like the men with the weird beards and the funny scarves or the girls with crazy makeup, odd haircuts and homemade clothes? Yeah, a few things about that:
1.) These people are either my friends or my clients, both of which are incredibly valuable to me. Without them, I’d have a pretty difficult time making it in this industry. So if you want me to succeed, you better hope more and more of these strange little misfit creatures keep showing up, and on the off chance you get to interact with one, be nice.
2.) Keep in mind – I’m one of these misfit creatures too! I’m just as slightly off-kilter as everyone else, and when you make fun of them you’re also making fun of me.
3.) Take a look around – you’re in very, very unfamiliar territory. We might seem like awkward, fragile little things in general everyday life, but at one of our shows – we’re kind of the shit…and you’re vastly outnumbered. As Seth Rogan’s character wondered aloud in the movie Funny People:
“I wonder if Tom (from MySpace) and Craig from Craigslist ever got in a fight, who would win? Tom has more friends…Craig has weirder friends though…Craig has friends that are willing to do a lot more for cash, I’ll say that.”
Trust me, you do not want to piss off a collective group of people that don’t follow the same logic that you do.
Know That We Want You With Us
In the end, you’re more important than you realize. Sometimes we’ve got to just shrug it off, say we don’t need any kind of approval from anyone and who gives a shit what anyone thinks (believe me, I’ve been there too), but no one wants to do this alone. We want to be able to come to you when we make our first print sale or when we book our first huge event. We want to be able to talk to you when we’re feeling frustrated and hopeless. We want you on our side. In all honesty, we’re doubting ourselves 90% of time we’re creating anything, so having someone standing beside us is a really, really big deal. Even the slightest bit of encouragement from you can really go a long way towards helping us along, and that’s what you can provide for us.
Plus, a healthy support system also helps us create better art. New and interesting interpretations of our work help challenge us and help us to develop further, and as someone that we know has our best interests in mind, we can fully open ourselves up to your input. That’s a pretty safe space we’re letting you in there.
So keep supporting your artists, and we’ll keep putting great art back into the world :).
And if you’re looking for a little support yourself, know that I’ve been there too! Feel free to send me a message on my Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter, and don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE HERE for more posts like these!
I’ll admit, there is a lot to learn if you’re hoping to start selling art in galleries. How do you approach a gallery, and then if you do finally get a meeting, what do you say? What are they even looking for? When they ask to see your portfolio, what does that even look like? Do you price your work or does the gallery price your work? How much commission is the normal amount for a gallery to take?
And on and on and on and on…
Well, I’m going to try and answer all of those questions and more, all in a single post. Wish me luck.
Where Am I Getting This Information?
I’ve displayed in several galleries throughout my career, but the most I learned about this subject was at Fotofest.
For those of you that don’t know what Fotofest is, I’ll give you a brief description:
Basically, it’s a biennial (the next one is in 2015), 4-session festival where there are portfolio reviews, workshops, art displays and much more. Each session is a 4-day period with different reviewers, workshops,etc. Each portfolio review session, you meet with anywhere from 20-30 reviewers. These reviewers are fantastically well established people in the photography/art/publishing community. They are gallery owners and curators, book publishers, magazine editors and private collectors. You sign up for a session (and pay about $1000) and you get a 20 minute slot to meet with each of the reviewers on your list. You have exactly 20 minutes to pitch your portfolio and get feedback. At best they love you and either buy some of your pieces or book you for a show. At worst they hate you and you leave feeling them burn a hole in the back of your head with their very disapproving eyes.
That last part is an exaggeration. The vast majority of reviewers I met with were full of incredibly useful feedback. One was a complete witch, but she’s been banned from ever reviewing again, so good for Fotofest!
Here’s the other thing though, there are 2 very important lessons of Fotofest I wish I had known:
1.) The only reason you would attend 2 sessions instead of only one is if your work is extremely well-established and you’re looking for connections, not feedback. Trust me, after you’ve been through one session, you don’t want to show your work to anyone ever again until you’ve gone home and worked on it. No matter how well you do, having your work picked apart by 30 people in a 4-day time frame is brutal, and you definitely need some rebound time to go home, get drunk under your kitchen table, reevaluate every artistic decision you’ve ever made and then get back at it the next day.
2.) Each session naturally becomes very specialized; the photojournalist/documentary reviewers naturally all gravitate to one session, the abstract/conceptual art reviewers all gravitate toward another, the book publishers all gravitate to another. They all know each other, they’ve all communicated before hand to see who is going to which session, and they book their own tickets accordingly.
Quick tip: there is a Facebook group for people signed up to go – join this group and ask other photographers what kind of work they do and which sessions they are attending. If this is their third time and they do the same work you do, sign up for whatever session they are in, because they probably made the same mistake I did the first year and they’re still having nightmares about it.
I didn’t know either of these rules so I made both mistakes of attending 2 sessions instead of one and signing up (on accident) for both the abstract/conceptual group and the photojournalism/documentary group. Needless to say, my style of photography did not go over too well with the documentary group.
No…that did not go well at all.
But, after the first day in the documentary group I learned what was going on, and knowing these people were very knowledgeable in the art community, I didn’t want to waste my time showing them a useless portfolio. So instead, I’d sit down for my 20 minutes, push my portfolio box to the side and say, “Look, you don’t want to see that, I’m in the wrong group and I know it. But I do know you’ve owned a gallery for 25 years, so instead I’d like to talk to you about the process of pricing, sizing and limited editions.” They’d respond with “Absolutely!” and we’d get down to business.
I met with over 50 reviewers in my two sessions at Fotofest, and combined with my own experience of working with galleries, here is the gist of everything I’ve learned:
Finding the Right Gallery
Even if you get into a gallery, if it’s the wrong fit you’re in for a giant waste of time and money. Here are a few things to do before even approaching a gallery for display:
Check their website – Is it updated? Do they have photos and descriptions of current artists?
Any gallery you are going to work with needs to have a strong online presence. That means they need a calendar of events, up to date artist bios and portfolios, pictures of the actual gallery space, functioning social media buttons and a newsletter signup link. You want to know they make it very easy for people to keep in touch with them. The less steps a buyer has to make to buy the art, the better.
Also check out the overall look of the gallery. Is it well lit or dark and dungy? Is it clean and clear of other items, or does it appear cluttered and messy? Do they have a million little trinkets on desks, tabletops or even draped over other art pieces (aw hell no), or do they have clear spacing between one art piece and the next? You want as little distraction as possible. People are there to see your art, not to dig through budget finds at a flea market.
Do they sell something other than art?
Let’s say they are also a coffee shop, or a furniture shop or a restaurant. This usually means their main business is not selling art, it’s selling something else. If your art is displayed in a furniture store/gallery, for example, you are accepting that most of the people walking through their doors are coming there to buy couches and dressers, not art. There is nothing wrong with displaying in a combo gallery/other business, but it does affect the amount of commission they can ethically collect each time you sell a piece (we’ll get to that later).
Visit them in person – how does the staff treat you?
If you walk in and the owner waves to you in between a conversation they’re having with a friend in the back, and then you do a complete circle, walk towards the door and receive a half-assed “Thanks for stopping in!” as you leave, this is not a gallery you want to display in.
You want someone to meet you at the door and ask how your day is going, if you’ve ever been in before and if there’s anything specific you’re interested in. If you’re looking on one display, someone should be there saying, “Doesn’t he do amazing work? You should see his next collection, Memory Fields, that’s set to go up next month on the 21st. He’s got a few sample pieces on his website (listed right here on his business card she gently hands you). I’d be happy to show you more if you’re interested.”
This is important because this is how they will act when you have art hanging in the gallery. Do you really want to be showing in a space where someone just sits in the back and bullshits with their buddies? No. You want someone that is going to treat every person that walks in that door as a potential sale – because they are a potential sale.
Exactly what kind of art do they sell?
If you specialize in, let’s say, surreal portraiture, a gallery that displays strictly Japanese flower photos is not going to be interested in your portfolio. Don’t even try and push it on them; they know what they like, and it isn’t you.
What kind of price point are they selling?
If the art they have displayed is upwards of $30,000 and you’ve never made a sale, just keep moving. Those works are selling for that price because they are established artists. And you are definitely not an established artist…or you wouldn’t be reading an article about how to start displaying in art galleries. Find a gallery that is selling art for something at least relatively similar to your own price point.
Approaching & Submitting to a Gallery
Approaching a gallery seems intimidating, but in reality…actually never mind, in reality it’s just as intimidating as it is in your head. But you’ve got to remember, gallery owners are people just like you and they would much rather be approached by a proactive enthusiastic artist than drag along an insecure artist that has no idea what they’re doing. So suck it up, and do the following:
The In-Person Approach
If you’re hoping to schedule an appointment with a gallery owner, go in person. All you’re doing is asking if they ever meet with potential artists or do portfolio reviews. DO NOT bring your portfolio to the gallery. This is essentially saying, “I am so unbelievably talented, you’re definitely going to want to stop what you’re doing and take a look at this.” It’s cocky and presumptuous. Bring a business card in your back pocket and leave your portfolio in the car.
They will either respond with 1 of 3 things: 1.) No, they are currently not accepting artist submissions, 2.) No, they do not do in-person appointments, but they do have an online submission process (which they will direct you to), or 3.) Yes, they do offer portfolio review sessions that cost (x) amount and they have an opening on (x) day and time.
If you are asking for a portfolio review know that you’re going to have to pay for it. Their time is just as valuable as yours and they aren’t in the business of handing out charity review sessions. A portfolio review is a great way to get your work in front of them though. They will either give you great feedback or like you enough to talk about a future show.
The Online Approach
Most likely, they will direct you to an online submission process. This will be on their website and will have very specific instructions. Follow these instructions – they are there for a reason, and chances are if you don’t follow them exactly as they are written your application will immediately be thrown out – this is no time to go rogue.
Usually, they will ask for a CV (this is your artist resume), your artwork list (title of your collection, medium [the type of paper it’s printed on], your piece dimensions, edition sizes and pricing for each), your contact information, links to your work and sometimes a few low resolution example images.
Your artist resume is basically exactly the same as any other resume. You’ve got your contact information, your website, a short bio and description of your work. Then start adding on anything that is relevant, like art/photo-related education and awards, publications you’ve been featured in, teaching experience, recent exhibitions followed by recent solo exhibitions. Do a quick search for “artist resume” and you’ll see plenty of examples of the layout.
Sizing, Editions & Pricing
Everyone has specific sizes according to their art, so this is going to be very general, but there is basically one rule that every, single, gallery owner told me to follow: have no more than 3 available sizes. The reason, simply put, is so you aren’t (accidentally) taken for a ride for other galleries.
Let’s play the hypothetical game for a second. Let’s say you have square format photos, that come in 5 sizes (in inches) 10 x 10, 20 x 20, 30 x 30, 40 x 40 and 50 x 50. Great. Now let’s say you’re applying to 20 different galleries and 2 of them love you and want to feature you. One wants you January – March, the other from April – June. The first gallery prefers the 30 x 30 size, the second gallery prefers the 20 x 20 size. That means you have pay for the cost of printing, framing and shipping a whole other show (which can range upwards of $3000). Limiting your sizes isn’t going to cause a gallery to shy away. If the second gallery likes you and you only have 30 x 30 instead of 20 x 20, they’re going to take the 30 x 30 – which means you can just move the first show to it’s new location when it’s done. This keeps you from having to pay a fortune for 2 different shows in 2 different sizes.
Your sizes also need to be spaced enough apart to be used for different purposes. You want one small size (10 x 10), something people can hold. A “little jewel” as it has been explained to me by curators. Then you want your main size (30 x 30) that is large enough to hang comfortably in someone’s home – this is the size you will be displaying most often in galleries. The largest size (50 x 50) is specifically for art collectors and for lease agreements. This is usually the largest size you can print without losing quality. Your large size will probably seem a bit comically large, but that’s kind of the whole point – it’s a statement piece.
You don’t have to edition your pieces, but…let’s just say I’ve never met anyone who suggested against it. Having limited editions increases the value of your artwork. People aren’t just paying for the actual art piece, they’re paying for the exclusivity. Edition sizes range anywhere from 3-500, and it really depends on the kind of art you’re doing. A photographer that has one size of print, may have a total edition size of 25, for example. That means they can only sell 25 prints of that photo, and then they’re done. No more selling of those prints once the edition has run out (there are reintroductions of an edition, but if you’re ever in the situation to reintroduce an edition, you’re probably super famous…and also dead).
Sound kind of scary? It’s supposed to. In all actuality, you rarely sell out of editions, but it creates a sense of urgency and exclusivity among buyers. The edition sizes also get smaller as you go up, creating even more significance. My pieces, for example, follow this basic pattern:
Size (in inches):
10 x 10, Limited Edition of 15
30 x 30, Limited Edition of 7
50 x 50, Limited Edition of 3
Pricing can also be a tricky subject, and needs to be dealt with on a very case by case basis, but at least this will give you a jumping off point.
Labor + costs of production + printing & shipping costs + profit = Price.
It’s also important to research your local market to see what comparable art is selling for. While some people may advise against this, since art sells for virtually anything nowadays, I still think it’s just plain smart to know what your competition is doing. The art market in Montana, for example, is much different than New York. If I were to price my art in Montana for the New York market, I would probably have a very, very hard time being taken seriously.
I also take the gallery’s opinion into account on my pricing. The reason being, they know the market better than anyone and they know exactly what range they can sell to their current client base. They need your prices high enough to show value, but low enough to be comparable to other artists they’ve had in the past. If you’re priced the same as a well-established artist they just showed in their gallery but you don’t have near the track record, it makes it difficult for them to pitch your work to clients. They have their own credibility and reputation to protect, and that means they can’t sell on potential alone, so price your work accordingly.
It’s also important to note that you can move up, but not down. I say to ask local galleries about the local market because if this is your first gallery, this is probably where you’ll be displaying. But know that if you start in New York, then try and display in a gallery in Montana, you can’t lower the cost of your pieces to match the market. That’s illegal.
Some artists also raise their prices as editions start running out, since they are, in fact, more valuable. It’s up to you.
Costs & Commissions
Typically, it’s up to the artist to pay for the costs of the show. This includes printing, shipping and framing. Since you’re selling your pieces as art, they need to be printed on archival certified paper. The gallery typically handles all of the hanging of the art. It’s important to work with the gallery on this process. My fine art pieces are typically either matted and framed or simply mounted and hung floating off the wall, depending on the gallery. My underwater photos have been displayed both mounted and floating off the wall or hanging on clear fishing line so they have a slight sway and movement to mimic the surreal motion of the water.
Every gallery is different, but most galleries take somewhere around a 50% commission from pieces you sell. Some take 40%, but rarely do any take more than 50%.
Some galleries take a very small percentage in exchange for a monthly payment. Say it costs $300/mo to display in the gallery, but they only take 30%. If you can, avoid this type of gallery – and here’s why: you want to show in a gallery that only makes money when your art sells. By charging a monthly fee to display, they are essentially covering their costs without having to worry about the art selling, which means it’s taking away their incentive to promote the art. If you don’t sell anything they don’ t really care – they’ve already covered their costs on your monthly fee, get it? You want to display where they don’t make a dime unless your art sells.
Let’s also revisit the idea of combo galleries: places where they run a completely separate business while also displaying art for sale. Places like this should be taking no more than 30% commission at the most and here’s why: their commission is your way of paying a gallery for all that they do. That’s all the promotion to bring in potential art buyers, their contacts of past buyers that will be interested in your work, events that are specific to the art-buying community and much more. All the promotion a gallery does goes toward selling your work, and that is worth 50% of the commission.
In a combo store, however, a very small portion of their income might go toward bringing in potential art buyers. If they’re a coffee shop, for example, the vast majority of their marketing and promotion is going to getting people to come in to buy coffee. If someone happens to walk in and buy a piece of art, fantastic, but they aren’t actively pursuing it. Since only 20% of their income goes to promoting the art in their store, they should receive only 20% commission.
Contracts can be pretty complicated, and while there are many details that ideally you’d have your lawyer look over (you know, the one we all have on retainer), here are a few things to at least make sure of:
How much you will be paid and when. This is generally your percent commission and a date your commission will be distributed, usually at the end of the month.
How long the contract lasts for. Most contracts are about 3 months long. If your contract has a possibility of being renewed, most galleries will need new work to display in the new period.
How your art is displayed. You want to make sure either your entire collection or at least 50% of your collection is always on display. Some galleries show part of the collection and then rotate pieces out throughout the contract period. In this case you need to know exactly how many pieces are guaranteed to be on the floor at all times.
How soon you are notified of a sale. I require to be notified within 24 hours of a sale. This is extremely important to make sure you don’t sell more than you have available and that your clients will get the exact edition number they were promised.
Who is in charge of damages while the art is held at the gallery. If the gallery catches on fire and your art is destroyed, that should be up to the gallery to cover. Some require you to have insurance of your own to cover any damages that may happen while it is in the galleries care, but to be honest, it’s very difficult to file an insurance claim for a piece of art that you haven’t even seen for 2 months. If it’s at the gallery, it’s the gallery’s responsibility.
How the contract can be terminated. If something happens, you need to know what the penalty would be for terminating the contract on either side. Just as you could be liable for a fee if you pull your art before the end of the contract period, the gallery can also be held liable if they don’t display your art for the entire contract period.
Who can sell your art. This will cover who else is allowed to sell your own art, including yourself. If this is a solo show, for example, you may not be allowed to release any images online or have them displayed at any other location. This is also relevant because if you are selling art on your own, without any referrals to the gallery, they can choose not to promote you…which is fair.
Think about it – if they spend all of their efforts handing out your business cards and sending potential buyers to your website and then a buyer contacts you to buy a piece and you make the sale completely independent of the gallery, all that work on their end would be for nothing.
Therefore, it’s good to have an agreement that if you have pieces in a gallery, and buyers come to you that were clearly introduced to your work through the gallery, you need to refer them back so the gallery can collect their commission. It might feel like a very difficult thing to do (especially when it’s cutting your profit from the sale in half) but it’s the right thing to do, plain and simple. Plus, the more loyal you are to the gallery, the more they will promote you, because they know they can trust you to send potential buyers their way.
Ask for previous artists’ references. I have been in galleries before that have been very unethical in the way they do things (I don’t want to name names or anything so let’s just make up a pretend one, like, I don’t know, the BeHuman Gallery located in Houston, TX). Had I spoken to previous artists about how this gallery does business, I probably would’ve come to the very obvious conclusion not to display there. Lesson learned.
Selling Your Work at the Opening
One of the most stressful parts for any artist is selling their art at the opening. You’re going to have to convince who knows how many people to try and buy one of your pieces, all without conveying that if they don’t buy anything there’s a good chance you will be homeless by the end of the month.
I get it, and thankfully while I definitely struggle in some areas, selling my own art at an opening is most definitely not one of my weaknesses. Not even kidding – I can sell the shit out of my own art at an opening.
And so can you. For those of you that are terrified of even the thought of talking about yourself for 4 solid hours to complete strangers, here’s a little script:
Step 1: Introduce yourself, thank them for coming and let them know you’re available to answer any of their questions.
Step 2: Answer any question they ask in great detail.
Step 3: Refer to more of your work for as examples.
Step 4: Answer following questions in great detail.
That’s it. Really. You want to go into great detail with your answers because the more they know about it, the more they want to buy it. They don’t want something they can hang up in their hallway, they want something they can point out to guests in their home and explain how awesome it is. Here’s an example dialogue:
Me: “Hello there! I’m so glad you took the time to come out tonight. If you have any questions on anything, don’t hesitate to ask, I’d more than happy to answer them!”
Client: “Oh! Thank you so much! Are you the artist?”
Me: “I am! This piece right here is mine, it’s called Insomniac.”
Client: “Oh I see! I was looking at these tree roots here, that’s so interesting!”
Me: “Thank you! I actually had to individually draw those out of a different photo. It took about 100 hours of straight editing time to achieve that effect.”
Client: “Wow, I had no idea! Hey honey, did you know this took over 100 hours of work?”
Client’s Spouse: “Oh you’re kidding!”
Me: “Not at all! This piece over here, called Keeper of Spring, took about 80 hours. It’s a combination of 46 separate photos.”
Client: “Crazy! So how does that work exactly?”
Me: “Well first I set up a tripod, and then I have to click the first photo, and then (yada, yada, yada).”
See how that works? Now, instead of just looking at an interesting piece of work, they are thinking of everything that went into it. The excitement they feel right now is the exact excitement they want someone else to feel when they tell the story later. And that folks, is how you sell an art piece.
I know working with galleries seems like a very intimidating and complicated process, but the important thing is to take the first step and understand that they are people too. They got into this business because they genuinely love the art community, and they want to help in any way they can. Don’t go in with guns blazing thinking you’ll get taken advantage of. Just let your work speak for itself and keep an open mind. Hell I got my first show by walking into a gallery and showing them a photo on my cell-phone. True story.
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The more I shoot, the more I find myself annoyed by the clothing options. I have an idea in my mind, but the clothes are nowhere to be found. More often than not, I end up making something out of fabric. For “Gone With The Wind”, I knew I wanted red fabric floating in the background, but I had little idea how to make an actual dress out of it. Thankfully, Kate is pretty damn good at making a long sheet of fabric look like a kind of relevant article of clothing :).
The challenge for this shoot wasn’t just the dress though, it was the lighting. I knew I wanted there to be light falloff in certain areas and because of the height of the fabric I also knew we would need lights placed very, very high. With a lot of experimentation, we finally ended up with a Mola beauty dish low in the front, and then a strip soft box flagged off in the upper corner.
Ted then stood on a ladder where he dropped the fabric from high while Kate did her selected poses. Turns out fabric doesn’t just fall perfectly every time, so there was a lot of trial and error. Plus timing the drop, the pose and the flash took a bit of practice. Here I am demonstrating to Kate the exact way I’d like her to jump (while Ted laughs…a lot):
After a while though we got the hang of it!
Huge thanks to Kate for all the jumping and bending in a very makeshift dress, thanks to Ted for finding the perfect way to drop a long piece of fabric (just adding to the wafting resume, aren’t we?) and to Jenna Master’s for the BTS pics. These were some of my favorites yet!
So after a VERY long day of shooting, everything was cleaned up in editing to create what you see below. Awesome job to everyone, I couldn’t have done it without you! 😀
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This is one of those photos that happened all at once. I had made up my mind to shoot another photo this night, but as soon as I drove past the skatepark I completely changed gears (get it…nice). I decided I wanted to do something completely different. So I went home, changed, and headed back down to the local skatepark and hoped there were still people there.
There were. There were plenty of people there. The 90 degree day had slowly cooled off to the low 80’s, meaning it was just about perfect weather for a little time-killing.
Believe it or not, this was actually one of my easier photos to take. After I did the floating part, I just sat back and relaxed while I took plenty of photos of everyone else doing their tricks. Of course no shoot is complete without just a little bit of goofing around…
And then here are a few “extra” photos 🙂
Not a bad night if you ask me :).
In the end, this was the final photo. It was awesome getting to hang out with everyone, and thanks to all the people that let me photograph them doing awesome tricks!
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I’d actually been waiting for a cloudy day for this picture, but since the suitcases are on loan I decided last night was as good of circumstances as I was going to get, and in reality, I kind of like the way it turned out with the setting sun in the background.
I have to say, while some photographers plan their shoots to the millimeter, I tend to be more of a free spirit. I have a general idea of what I want the photo to look like in my head, but until I’m on location I never really set anything into motion. I guess you could say it all kind of comes to me in the moment. Sound cheesy? Probably, but I can’t quite think of a better way to explain it.
For this photo, I used suitcases as my prop. I set my camera up in the direction I wanted then began photographing myself until I got an image I was happy with. Fortunately (since I was quickly losing light) I hit a decent pose rather quickly, which meant the rest of the night was spent positioning my props the way I wanted them. Besides the obvious stares from cars passing by (no doubt wondering who the crazy lady dressed in white is and why she is standing on the side of the highway throwing suitcases into the air), the shoot went pretty quick. I snapped this photo right in the middle of the fiasco while taking a much needed break (it’s hard work throwing suitcases around!).
The editing, however, is not a fast process. It’s now 4:50 am and I’m just getting around to finishing up the blog post. Here’s a little peak of my morning as the editing goes along:
While I say I have about 8 or 9 layers going in the video, the final photo ended up as a composition of 32 layers, then a few extra for effect. It all came together for this final product:
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When I first started really getting into photography, the thought of underwater photos intrigued me. “How amazing it would be to capture images underwater,” I thought to myself. So I started researching exactly how one might go about putting their camera underwater, because lets be honest, this setup surely wasn’t going to do the trick (and yes, that’s one of my many beautiful cats lounging on my countertop).
But upon typing in my search inquiry, my heart sank. It looked as though there were two options: 1.) A camera bag and 2.) A housing facility. The camera bag, priced at the low end of the spectrum (roughly $100-$150), seemed to better fit my budget, but after reading the horrible reviews every bag received (“Hugely susceptible to human error”, “Leaked the first time I tried it in my bathtub”, “Leaks if placed lower than 1′ of water”, “Leaks because it’s Tuesday” ) I decided against it. I needed something substantial that put one of my most valuable possessions in as little of harm’s way as possible.
So next I took a look at housings.
For a 5D Mark II, underwater housing starts at roughly $1500 and goes up from there. $1500? I was nowhere near being able to afford $1500! I slammed my computer shut and thought to myself, “It’s okay. I just need to save up some money before I can start taking underwater photos. I can live with that.”
Except I couldn’t live with that. The thought burrowed into the back of my brain and wouldn’t leave. “Does this mean only people with $1500 lying around should be able to take underwater photos?” The more I was told I couldn’t take the pictures without proper equipment, the more I became obsessed with it. “There just had to be a way…”
And that way, I decided, was to make my own housing. I figured I could devise a structure that would allow me to put my camera inside, and I could use an automatic shutter release to take the photos from the outside. As long as all my settings were adjusted before I put the camera underwater…it was possible. So I recruited the help of my boyfriend’s step-dad, Scott, and we started to build.
The first prototype was part of an insulated cooler. I needed to have a removable lid so I could take my camera in and out. I figured we’d cut the bottom out, replace it with Plexiglas and seal any spots where water could get in. Seemed simple enough, right?
Not even close. As soon as I reached a depth over 3′ deep the Plexiglas popped off the bottom like a dandelion head. Apparently I had completely underestimated the amount of water pressure I’d be dealing with here…
Some adjustments had to be made. Instead of sealing the Plexiglas on the inside of the container, we sealed it on the outside. By pushing the small disc against the contraption to which it was already attached, the water pressure was working with me instead of against me. There were still some issues with the lid leaking (as per the water-soaked dive weights inside), so I thought an extra dose of duct tape might do the trick for now.
How wrong could I be. The bottom seemed solid, but water was still rushing in from the top. Since I couldn’t find an O-ring large enough to fit inside, I tried everything else: thread tape, weather stripping, plenty of silicone and countless other options. Sealing from the inside certainly wasn’t going to do the trick.
So we opted for an outside option instead. We tried a variety of rubber options with a combination of pipe clamps. We even tried an old bike tire, but it turned out that it wasn’t even remotely waterproof (who would’ve thought?).
Plus, water was slowly leaking in through the Plexiglas window. Somehow, it was coming in through the lid, seeping down through the insulation and coming back out through the bottom. I needed to start from scratch.
Instead of starting with something already built, I decided to design something myself. When I met with Scott that night, he showed me some of the designs he had drawn up and they ended up being almost identical to what I was thinking in my head. Since my camera measured a little more than 6″ across, I knew that would be my rough estimate of a sizing option.
The available pipe options I had locally went from 6″ to 8.5″. We took a chunk of 8.5″ pipe, a chunk of coupling and sanded some Plexiglass to barely fit into the rim of the coupling. We sealed it, placed the pipe on top, sealed it with AVS glue and used a rubber pipe cap and pipe clamp as the lid. This had to work. It was just too pretty not to!
Off to the pool I went (thanks to the Comfort Inn for constantly letting me use their pool over the last few months!) hoping this would be the one.
And the result?
It worked! It worked, it worked, IT WORKED! Thanks Scott for all your help, and be sure to click here if you want to see my first round of underwater photos :)!
Now to make a list of all the things I can put underwater…