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10 New Year’s Resolutions for Photographers in 2017

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As many of you know, I’m a resolution fiend. love New Year resolutions. I love making them, I love writing them down and I love re-evaluating them every few months to see if I’m on track. I make huge lists every year and then break down each resolution into smaller goals. What do I need to do each month? Each week? Every day? There’s something incredibly comforting to me about the entire process. It’s like watching the impossible slowly become possible. It’s exhilarating.

Of course if you’re not quite as resolution crazy as I am, no worries – here are my top 10 photographer resolutions for 2017.

1. Declutter

If you’ve been following me on Instagram at all, you’ve probably seen a pattern in my most recent posts. The last few years, my husband and I have slowly been decluttering everything in our lives, from our closets to our pantry to our furniture. We no longer buy things brand new just because something old breaks. Now we question every purchase: is this going to add value to our lives or just take up space in our home?

The result has been amazing: less stress, more time, less worry, more money. I’ll tell you all about that journey later. Problem is, decluttering is a bit easier said than done when it comes to your photography gear.

I’ve come to believe that old, unused lenses are the equivalent to the “fat pants” that sit in the back of your closet. You don’t use them, you aren’t going to use them anytime soon, but you still keep them, collecting dust, “just in case”.

All of us have gear like this. I’ve got an old Rokinon 8mm lens in the bottom of my storage chest, along with a couple flashes, gels, some old photo books and who knows how many timers, remote shutter clickers, filters and random novelty photo toys I “thought” I would need but have hardly ever used once.

You don’t need this stuff. I don’t need this stuff. Sell it. Donate it. Do something with it. It’s not serving you any purpose besides taking up space.

And while we’re on the same subject…

2. Evaluate Your Gear Needs

The photography world loves to tempt you with new gear. Lighter, faster, more megapixels. Sleeker finish, new colors, silent shutter. Countless blogs will inundate you with comparisons between the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 and the Canon 85mm f/1.2. If you want an 85mm, buy an 85mm, but if you already own the Sigma f/1.4 for the love of God don’t stay up all night reading the comparisons between the two and stressing out over whether or not you should sell your Sigma and splurge for the Canon. Whatever you have is fine.

Sometimes we need new gear, and sometimes we just want new gear. We want the promise of what we think it will bring: better photographs, more clients, more money. New gear does not guarantee any of these things.

Better yet, get the gear you need, and invest your money in education. Take an online business marketing class, or attend a conference or workshop. Money spent on education (provided it’s from a legit source) is rarely wasted.

3. Rethink Your Social Media Game

In previous resolution posts, you’ve read my advice of embracing social media. I’ve told you to explore new platforms you haven’t used yet to see if they could help with your business. And while I still stand by that advice, this year I’m personally planning on moving in a slightly different direction.

Social media can be a dangerous animal, and while we as photographers absolutely need it to market our business and round out our online presence, it can be easy to get lost in the world that isn’t real.

You don’t have to be everywhere. You don’t have to post every day. It’s better to have a cohesive, beautiful Instagram timeline where you only post twice a week than it is to have a disorganized, disjointed feed because you’re desperately trying to keep up with last year’s 3x a day posting goals.

This year, focus more on taking beautiful photographs, posting when you can and living your damn life. Social media is just one of many marketing tools. Don’t get lost in it.

4. Take More Photos of Yourself

I was genuinely proud of how many photos I took of my family this year. Everywhere we went I took a few photos or a short video. At the end of the year I was so excited to go through everything until I quickly noticed one very depressing trend – I was missing in nearly everything. I have countless memories stored of my husband throwing our daughter in the air, teaching her to walk, chasing her around the house; and if I’m lucky it’s a video where you can at least hear my voice. Otherwise, it’s like I was never there.

This year, commit to not only taking more photos of your friends and family, but also to being in these photos. If that means I have to forcefully shove my camera into my husband’s hands and demand he keep clicking until he gets something in focus than so be it. 2017 is not the year to disappear behind then camera.

5. Have a Travel Camera

I spend a large part of my time outside and I hate lugging around my giant DSLR. It’s not easy to carry and it’s expensive – which means I’m stressed the entire time I have it with me. If you don’t have a problem with carrying it around than by all means go for it – but no way I’m hanging out at our local blues festival with my pain in the ass Mark III hanging around my neck. I want to dance and drink and air guitar make questionable decisions just as much as anyone else.

In that case, have a smaller, travel camera. Something small enough to fit in your pocket. Anymore, your phone might be a reasonable alternative, though personally even my new phone takes a second to focus and doesn’t work worth shit in low lighting. There are some amazingly small, lightweight and inexpensive point & shoots available now. Consider picking one of these up and make your life a little easier this year.

6. Organize your inspiration

If you’re anything like me, you spend a fair amount of time on Pinterest pinning to your various boards – and then you never look at them ever again. I have no idea why I do this. I have countless recipes pinned on my cookie board, then when it’s time to bake cookies what do I do? I search for a new cookie recipe. I could just look at the damn board. That’s what it’s there for. 

I do the same with photography inspiration. Pin and pin and collect and pin. Then I never look back at it. The act of pinning to your board (or collecting magazine pages, or saving websites, or whatever it is you do) is not the final step. It’s just the beginning. This year, take some time really going through all of that inspiration you’ve been collecting and let it lead somewhere useful and productive…something like Resolution #7, for example.

7. Work on a long term project

No matter how busy you are, we all need a long term project to light that fire inside of us. Something that excites you every time you work on it. Sit down and take a close look at your newly organized inspiration we just talked about and see what strikes you.

Then, just take it step by step. No matter how large a project you’re interested in doing, just break it down and begin working on one piece at a time. If you want to make a photo book, break it down by chapter and content. What photos do you want in the book? How do you go about setting up those individual photoshoots? How can you get the maximum exposure for this book when it’s released (can these photos be shown as a gallery show to coincide with the book release)? Who can you team up with the help this process run as smoothly as possible?

If you’re looking for suggestions for the new year, consider reading my recent post on using photography for good, Philanthropy Through Photography, or consider joining our 2017: 52 Week Photography & Business Challenge.

8. Avoid the Snooze Button

We all have a photography snooze button. We know the most beautiful light is 5:30 am but we just don’t want to get up that early. The snow outside looks so beautiful to shoot in but it’s just sooooo cold and there’s coffee inside. We could put together the most amazing shoot but we have to get the wardrobe together and schedule a time with the studio and we’ll just do it later after we edit these client photos.

Stop putting off your creative shoots. Get up early, make the call to the studio, do what you need to do to get this shoots done and in the books. These are the shoots that feed your soul and keep you from burning out. You need them!

9. Narrow down what you’re truly passionate about

If you’ve been shooting non-stop all year, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the hustle. We begin taking jobs because they pay, and before you know it you’re shooting anything anyone will pay you for. This may seem exciting at first, but you’ll usually end up worn, ragged and confused by the end of the year.

As you become a better photographer, you’ve got start narrowing down what you’re actually passionate about, whether that’s weddings, families, landscapes, concerts, fashion or something else. That doesn’t mean you have to cut out all paying jobs, but it does mean you can start adjusting your marketing strategy to hit more of your target audience.

10. Print your photos

Every year I make this resolution, and every year I do make a little progress, but it still deserves a spot on the list. Print. Your. Photos. Hang them up in your house, send them to grandparents, put them in your wallet. Our process is never truly complete until you’re holding that photograph in your hand. Print your photos. I can’t stress it enough.

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10 Best Business Resolutions for Photographers

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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:

 

Sammi+11.) 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 waterI can’t do that with Facebook and I can’t do that with InstagramIn 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.

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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.

No.

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.

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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.

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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.

Michala

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.

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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!

madi2

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My Protest Of Matching Socks

 

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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.

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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.

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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 :).

leila

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Taking Back What’s Mine

UW - bdayToday is my 31st birthday!

But before I get on to that, I have to write this post. I need to write this post. And I’ll warn you now…this one’s got some language.

I used to be a birthday hater. I dreaded it. And not because I hated being the center of attention or because I was getting older or anything like that, but because I had been straight-up conditioned to hate my birthday.

My childhood, without getting too much into it, wasn’t the greatest. Our household was run by my adopted father, who was a literal – diagnosed and everything – psychopath. Birthdays (along with Christmas of course) were his favorite days. He’d give us gifts, only to make us watch him destroy them. He handed out abusive, creative punishments, without any reason except to “test them out for later”. Each week leading up to our birthday he’d grow giddy with anticipation, while the rest of the family lost sleep and wondered what horrible thing he would come up with. Each year, as my special day got closer and closer I’d plead to any powerful existential being willing to listen to please, please let my birthday go unnoticed this year…but it never did.

Every birthday I could ever remember had been controlled by this man, so even when I moved out, I remained terrified of my own birthday. The thought alone still made my hands shake and my stomach queasy. I kept it a secret from everyone I met. I wanted absolutely no part in it.

Then, one day, as a freshman in college, I got a phone-call from my dad. He screamed at me from the other end of the line. I placed the phone on the dresser and sat on my bed. I could hear his voice, but not what he was saying. I didn’t want to know what he was saying.

My roommate pointed to the phone and asked, “Who’s that?”

“My dad,” I answered.

“What’s he yelling about?”

“Nothing, really. He just calls to yell.”

She stared at me, then asked, “Then why don’t you just hang up the phone?”

I stared back for a second while I considered it. I hadn’t lived at home for years. He’s 8 hours away in a different state. He doesn’t pay for a cent of college. Everything I own (car, cell phone, etc.) is all in my name. There is literally nothing he could do.

So I hung up the phone.

“Better?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I replied. Then out of nowhere, I confessed, “My birthday was 2 weeks ago.”

“Really?!” she shouted, “We should celebrate!” and darted off into the kitchen.

Sitting in the kitchen of my dorm room, watching my roommate bake some cupcakes, it occurred to me that for the first time, I was actually going to celebrate my birthday.

And I. Felt. Free.

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I’m not sure why it took so long. I had moved out long before I was 18. I’d had plenty of birthdays without him, but I still had the same frame of mind: that no matter where I was or who I was with, every year on October 16th my life would turn into a living hell.

What a bullshit way of thinking.

As understandable as it is that I should hate my own birthday, there comes a point when I’ve got to make the choice: let someone drain me of happiness 1 day of every year for the rest of my life, or to take back something that is rightfully mine, and goddamnit, it’s my motherfucking birthday.

So I’ve been making up for stolen time. Now, every year, I want a cake, loaded with candles. If I’m at a bar, I want a free shot. If I’m at a restaurant, I want free desert with the entire staff singing a horribly embarrassing version of ‘Happy Birthday’. I also want balloons and streamers and a birthday hat and any other cheesy birthday item that I’m technically too old to have. I want to be a kid again, every year, on my birthday.

And it’s worked – my birthday is now one of my favorite days of the year. There have been surprise parties and get-togethers with friends, quiet movie nights at home and long walks around the neighborhood. Hell my husband even asked me to marry him on my birthday.

Even if every single thing goes wrong, it doesn’t matter. My birthday is mine again. I have one extra day every year that I never had before.

We all have a part of our past that is holding us back in some way. Some sort of insecurity that just keeps hanging on or an outdated fear we’ve never confronted. Something that’s robbing us of a better day, a better relationship, a better career…a better life.

What do you have that is stealing thunder in your life? Is it a toxic person? A job that hasn’t challenged you in years? A reoccurring negative thought process? Whatever it is, there is always an opportunity to do something about it, and it might be something as small and simple as hanging up the phone.

Take a look around. If something is holding you back, I beg of you, sit down, take a few deep breaths, and confront it.

As for me, today is my birthday. I turn 31, it’s going to be awesome, and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it.

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Following That Gut Instinct

Drowning

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…

DejaVu

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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. 

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The Photo I Wish I Had

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Today was my wedding day.

It wasn’t a very big wedding. We’d actually been planning to get married in August, but after we found out I was pregnant (yay!), a very simple fact was staring us right in the face – I needed insurance. Now. Plus I’d be about 8 months pregnant in August, and call me crazy but I kind of want to be able to dance my ass off at our wedding, and 8 months pregnant does not qualify me for the kind of dancing I’ve been preparing for.

So instead, I put on a little white dress I had in the closet, Chris wore a button-down shirt and we headed over to his dad’s house for a “family BBQ”, where one of our family members, who was already ordained, married us in the backyard. The ceremony lasted maybe 6 minutes. I cried the entire time I read my vows, and then even harder when Chris read his.

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Another family member snapped some photos of the ceremony, and there was plenty of BBQ to go around. All in all, pretty much the perfect little backyard wedding.

Except for one small thing…

We were both sick.

Chris woke up with the flu, and by 10:00 that morning he was having a rough time keeping anything down. I jokingly told him he might want to try taking the ring off to see if he felt better, but he was pretty devastated at the idea that he was ruining our only wedding day. “I’m so sorry,” he kept saying. “I’ve been waiting for this day since I asked you to marry me. Just give me second, it’ll pass, I promise it’s nothing,” and then he’d make a mad dash to the bathroom. Poor guy. I’m sure on some level he was worried that I thought he might be having doubts about this whole “rest of your life with one person thing”, but of course I wasn’t. We’d been together 7 years already. We both knew we were in it for the long haul.

Our ceremony was at 2:30, and by 5:30 we were both headed home, desperately trying not to get sick in the car (him from the flu, and me from the morning sickness, which always hit me in the early evening). We got to the house and we both crawled into bed, where we stayed for the rest of the night…not exactly the romantic escapade most people envision their wedding day to be.

A few days later, our relative gave me the card full of photos from our big day. Lots of smiling, happy photos. I love them, but in all honesty, there is a different photo I wish I had.

Rewind back to our wedding night, and there we were curled up in bed together, munching on Saltine crackers and reading baby books. I flipped through one and showed him a photo of what our 6 week old baby currently looked like. “That looks like a velociraptor,” he said very matter-of-factly, and I agreed. Then he snuggled up closer, laid his head on my shoulder and said, “Read me more about our tiny dinosaur baby.”

That, right there, is the photo I wish I had. Both of us cuddled up in bed, sicker than shit, reading about the small alien growing in my belly. I so wish I had a photo of that moment.

It’s really made me think of all the other photos I wish I had in my lifetime. As photographers, we don’t usually take photos of bad or mediocre times in our lives. We take photos of happy, new experiences because we think that’s what we want to remember. Our life checkpoints. The time we went to the Grand Canyon, the time we turned 21, the time we ran a half-marathon. Don’t get me wrong, these all make for an awesome scrapbook, but if we focus only on the happy snapshots, we miss out on everything in-between. Times like when you’re just sitting on the porch hanging out with friends or when you’re curled up on the couch with the dog. Even “bad” times, like when you got completely lost on a road trip and everyone was yelling directions at each other, or when you visited a sick family member in the hospital. In these moments, the experience may not seem all that interesting, or even like one you want to remember, but trust me, it is.

Our wedding story wasn’t some huge, blown out fantasy that every couple dreams about, but it was still ours. And even though it doesn’t sound romantic, it really was. If I could go back, I might be tempted to change the fact that we were both sick, but then I’d lose the memory of us both cuddled in the bed, reading baby books and gingerly eating Saltine crackers…and I wouldn’t give that up for the world.

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I do know, that I’ll be making an effort to take better photos this year. And by “better” I mean redefine what I would normally consider to be a promising photo opportunity. Because if you knew this would be the last time you talked baseball with your Grandpa over a couple of beers…wouldn’t you want a photo of it?

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When It All Gets To Be Just Too Damn Hard

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I have had a shitty, shitty week. 

Not like the kind of week, where you have a flat tire, an overdraft fee and get gum stuck in your hair, but the kind that makes you question everything about who you even are in the first place. The kind that leaves you feeling lost, confused and hopeless.

It all came to a point yesterday at 7:00 am sharp. Our cat, Study Buddy, had been sick for some time and in and out of the vet about once a week for the last month. He was in pain, but no one could figure out what was wrong. I woke up at 7:00 and went to check on him on the floor at the foot of the bed, and he couldn’t even move. I called the vet, they fit us in at 9:00 (first appointment of the day), and I curled up on the floor next to him with a blanket and pet him for the next 2 hours. I cried the entire time…I knew I was saying goodbye. 

Sure enough, 9:00 came, and the vet ran through our options – none of which were treatable. I held him in my arms and Chris and I both pet him and talked to him until he fell asleep, and then was gone. I kept holding him and petting him while they went over cremation options (burying was out of the question – we’re planning on moving in a few years and I didn’t want him to get left behind). I headed home from the vet’s office and Chris went to work. 

I cried all day. Like uncontrollable, body-shaking sobbing. All day. I ate nothing, I drank nothing. I tried to work, but it was futile. Then around 2:30 I decided to chop off all my hair. I cut 12 inches off. It didn’t help. The loss of my hair, did not in fact, bring back my pet. I cried some more. 

*And before a single one of you says, “Come on, it’s just a cat, pull yourself together.” No, no it’s not, and fuck you. It’s a member of the family, and I’ll grieve in whatever way keeps me out of jail. 

Problem is though, yesterday was just the cherry on top of the shit-filled sundae that has been my week…and it was only Wednesday. Rejection letters, broken gear, taxes, a broke down car, canceled workshop seats, wedding refunds, medical bills, a debt collector trying to collect a debt that isn’t mine and more fucking snow – it just kept adding up. And on top of everything…I’m pregnant (which I haven’t formally announced yet, so that’s just a little secret for you blog subscribers) which means lots of exhaustion and time spent in the bathroom, hugging the toilet. By the time yesterday rolled around all I wanted to do was stand on top of a very high building and throw watermelons over the edge…but instead I was in a vet’s office, saying goodbye to my best friend. I was done. With everything. 

Study Buddy

When Chris got home I had crawled so deeply into a hole there was little chance of reaching me. I wanted everything to stop. I wanted to be able to go to work at a meaningless job, do meaningless tasks, come home and leave everything at the office. I wanted to be able to go for a run again without puking. I wanted to stop stressing over how much our lives are going to change at the end of September when we come home from the hospital with a new baby. About how much more money we’re going to need to make to care for an infant. About how much more art I was going to need to produce, and sell, in order to make that money. I wanted to be responsible for nothing. Fuck paying for the car to get fixed, they can keep it. I just wanted to be done. Done, done, done. 

Now I know I signed up for this. I know this is the life I chose and I know I’ve actually got it pretty damn good. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful. I make art for a living. Not a lot of people can say that. I come home every day to the most supportive, loving man I have ever known, and after about a year and a half of trying, we’re finally going to be able to start a family…and that’s a pretty amazing notch in the good news column too. But if one more person asks me to work for free, or refers to my pregnancy as a “magical time” and then proceeds to give me unsolicited advice about how to raise my future child, I will murder them in broad daylight. 

I’ve been going back and forth about sharing this. Mostly because I follow a lot of very famous photographers, and none of them ever write about imploding in on themselves like a dying star. Their feeds are bright and shiny and happy, happy, happy. “Look where I’ve been featured! Look at what I’m selling! Check out how awesome I am! Buy my book, attend my workshop, click this link and spend money on whatever it leads to!”  Surely if they are all following the same formula, and they are all very successful, wouldn’t it make sense for me to follow that formula too? To hide these ridiculous insecurities? To pretend, even on the days I want to throw in the towel and apply for a job at Target, that everything is sparkling with awesomeness? 

Maybe. But I’d rather not. It’s unrealistic to think that everything is always perfect and awesome because a lot of the time, it isn’t. And even though there are ways to help with a little self doubt, there are also times when none of that works. When the only thing that is going to help bring you back to reality is crawling under your desk, having yourself a good cry and then approaching even the smallest of goals. I remember a little while ago I was sick, in Walmart, standing in the cracker aisle in front of the Saltines, absolutely bawling…because I couldn’t find the Saltines. A lady came, asked why I was crying, I mumbled incoherently and she pointed in front of me. And just like that, I was fine. All it took to calm me down, literally, was a box of Saltines. 

I’m not writing this to vent. Or even for a little sympathy. Trust me, I vented a lot yesterday, and sympathy just reminds me of stuff I want to forget right now. I’m writing this because I want you to know that everyone has times like these, and to let you know that if you’re in the same situation, it will eventually get better. While yesterday was a horrible, horrible day in an already awful week, today is a little better. I’m still sad, I’m still overwhelmed, and I am wondering where all my hair went, but for the most part, I’m okay. And hey, I’ve never had short hair before, and it is kind of fun. I guess I was due for a change anyway. 

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An Open Letter to the Artist Support System

Keeper of Spring

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.

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Don’t ask. Whatever I’m doing, it’s not normal. I know.

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.

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Underwater Bride

 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.

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“Rainy Day” headed out the door to a buyer in North Dakota.

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.

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Artist Group Shot

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!

Inspiration in Photography & Why My Crazy Isn’t Going Anywhere

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I love December. I love Christmas, I love all the sparkly lights and gingerbread everything, not to mention the fact that snow makes for fantastic photos. But besides all of that, I also love that it comes right before clean-slate January.

I’ll be honest; I make a lot of mistakes during the year. I’m either completely missing that little voice in the back of my head that warns me not to do something, or it’s completely drowned out by the other voice screaming at me that it’ll make for an epic story later. Either way, it’s not exactly a fool proof way of going through life, so by the time December rolls around, the mistakes have added up, and I’m very, very ready to see just how many of them were worth it. 

That’s where these people come in. See I’m not necessarily interested in assessing measurable forms of progress at this time – that’s for later. This is about evaluating whether or not I’m anywhere closer to the kind of artist and person I want to be. Call me crazy, but after 7 years of college and 3 degrees that I don’t use but definitely pay student loans on, I’m no longer interested in just drifting along and hoping “things will work out.” No – if something isn’t working, it’s up to me to do something about it. 

So at the end of the year I turn to my biggest inspirations in photography and business, and ask myself these questions: 

– What qualities do they possess that I find so rousing, and am I any closer to possessing those qualities myself?
– What do I need to do to further become what I find so inspirational in others?
– Where have I strayed from the artist I want to be and how can I do better in 2015?

And to answer these questions, I give you my top 5 inspirations in photography and business, and exactly what I’m hoping to take away from each of them. 

Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick
Image Credit: Awesome People UK

My background is in psychology, which might give some insight as to why I love Kubrick’s work so much. To him, everything is important.  In The Shining, there are several long camera shots of Tommy riding his trike throughout the hotel, alternating between carpet and hardwood. The sound he makes on the carpet is barely audible, while the sound of the hardwood is enormous and uncomfortably loud. That rhythm: peaceful, near silence broken by harsh, jarring uneasiness is an actual torture tactic used to break people. How brilliant then, to include it in the early scenes of a horror movie.

In addition to his painful attention to detail, his work ethic was unparalleled. He used to shoot the same scene hundreds of times, until the actors were completely exhausted and even delirious. That scene where Jack Nicholson breaks down the door with the ax and yells, “Heeeeeere’s Johnny!” was a complete improvisation. If you watch the behind-the-scenes footage, just before the last take he was waving the ax around the room like a madman, laughing and dancing and making everyone pretty damn nervous. After 100 takes, that was the mental stage he was in, and it worked.

Kubrick actually holds the Guinness record for most takes in a dialogue scene in a movie (also for The Shining), and he was working on film! That kind of work ethic is pretty tough to find anymore. Where others may have shrugged after 40 takes and thought to themselves, “We’ll just make one of these work”, he didn’t. If something wasn’t working he stuck with it until it did. He was obsessive, detailed, persistent and never settled for anything less than his original vision – a perfect artist philosophy if there ever was one. 

Alton Brown

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Image Credit: Don Chambers

Alton Brown is a chef and author on Food Network. He originally had a show called Good Eats but you probably know him more as the host of Iron Chef America. 

Admittedly, I love Food Network, for some right reasons and some wrong reasons. I love to cook, and I really do attempt the recipes I see on Giada’s show, though I’m saving Ina’s recipes for a time when I’ve got some extra cash to burn and am comfortable enough in my cooking skills not to royally screw up any ingredients I’m paying top dollar for. On the other hand though, Food Network is also my guilty pleasure. I don’t watch reality shows and I don’t watch dramatic soap operas, but when I’m in a horribly bad mood I watch the crap out of Food Network while texting my mom memes of the various “stars”. 

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But Alton Brown is an entirely different person altogether. On his show Good Eats, puppets explain the discovery of saffron while he builds homemade cooking contraptions that require the use of goggles “just in case” something goes wrong. It’s like taking a cooking class from Bill Nye the Science Guy. With puppets. And a shitload of valuable information.

What makes him so inspiring though, is he doesn’t just show how to put a recipe together, he shows why that recipe exists in the first place. I don’t know how many times I’ll be watching someone cook something and think to myself, “Screw that, I’ll just stick it in the microwave and then I won’t have to wait 3 hours.” During Alton’s show he explains the chemistry of why you definitely do not want to put this in the microwave – and that’s what makes a great educator. It’s not about giving you a quick fix, it’s about giving you a solid foundation to build upon so you can move forward on your own. The more you understand how something works, the more confident you are in experimenting with it.

So many “educators” are actually very stingy with the information they hold, and I hate that. They want you learn, but not too much – that would be threatening somehow. Alton Brown doesn’t care about any of that; he genuinely wants people to get as much information out of his show as they possibly can. That is a true educator: someone that is entirely unselfish about sharing their knowledge in the most effective way possible.

I hope I can live up to that standard; of being so utterly passionate about my field that I can’t wait to share the information I collect over the years. And I hope I get to meet Alton Brown someday. He makes homemade cooking equipment and I make homemade photography equipment. Maybe we could work together to build a camera that also cooks you up a grilled cheese sandwich. Don’t  you want something like that? Of course you do. Make the meeting happen and it could be a reality. 

Anthony Bourdain & Hunter S. Thompson

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I know these are two very distinctly different people, but I respect them both for the same reasons, so I’m including them both in the same section. Plus, even though Hunter has long since passed, I’m pretty sure if he were still alive he and Anthony would probably be friends.

A few weeks ago I received an email that told me I have the same, “snarky, cynical writing style as useless ex-cokehead Anthony Bourdain, and the same rambling incoherence as Hunter S. Thompson.” I was thrilled. When my fiance got home I read him the good news and he congratulated me. Relating me to either Anthony Bourdain or Hunter S. Thompson is a joke of a comparison; they’re both actual, published writers and I’m a photographer that occasionally pens a rant-style blog post at 3:00 in the morning, but who cares?! As far as step one goes, it was a very good day in the Martin household.

Anthony Bourdain is another chef, author, and traveler of virtually everywhere. You might know him as the host of CNN’s Parts Unknown or the Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. I idolize him because he’s curious, has an in-depth knowledge of food, an open disgust for convention and corruption along with a deep respect for other cultures. Hunter S. Thompson is another brilliant writer, most famous in my generation for writing the book the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was based on. He did a lot of other noteworthy things (some good, some very bad), but if his name sounds only vaguely familiar to you, there’s a good chance that’s where you know it from. 

More importantly to me though, both of these men have been brutally authentic and have made no attempts to hide the parts of their past that others may have found “unsavory”. Instead of censoring themselves or creating some fabricated public persona, they’ve lived their lives essentially the same way they would’ve had they not been famous. 

All of which make them two of the most “real” individuals on the short list of people I have never met but still look up to. 

See, by traditional standards, I’m not a very perfect person. I’ve been fired from a number of jobs for what we’ll call a “lack of verbal filtration”, I believe any personal conflict can be solved with fire and besides the last 6 years (when my fiance realized he was dating a klepto and gave me an ultimatum), I didn’t really pay for much of anything. Once you’ve become fairly skilled at stealing shit, it’s pretty tough to make a conscious decision not to. But I can proudly say I’m about 6 years sober – besides a small relapse a couple years ago when I did some damage on a bottle of tequila and unsuccessfully tried to steal a cop car…while dancing…

But all those little imperfections and mistakes are also what attracts me to others. It’s how I relate to people. The fact is, if you’ve got a squeaky clean background…I don’t trust you. I’m not very interested in meeting, or learning from, an overly happy, lab-engineered, fake-as-shit personality meant to sell me some fantastical, non-existent concept of reality. How can you trust someone who is always, cheerful? Who describes every, single life experience as breathtakingly awesome? You can’t, because you know at some point or another, that person is lying. There is no way I can rely on one’s sincerity to convey life’s most truly stunning moments if they use the exact same vocabulary for life’s shittiest moments. It just doesn’t add up.

(Of course, no one says it better than Louis C.K. Push play. Trust me.)

That’s what I find so inspiring: they support my theory that censorship is boring, that value can still be found in a genuine voice with a candid message and that sugarcoating is completely overrated. When Anthony speaks highly of a specific restaurant, I know I can trust him, because if it were an absolutely shithole that should be avoided at all costs, I know he would tell me it’s an absolute shithole that should be avoided at all costs.

I like that my writing reflects almost perfectly the tone in which I speak: blunt, slightly sarcastic, fairly grammatically incorrect, inappropriate at times and usually dotted with some (if I may say so myself) exceptionally placed profanity. These two give me the green light to embrace that style; to write exactly what I feel needs to be written, minus the flowery language that would make it more digestible to the more delicate-minded masses. They inspire me to be honest and authentic to those that matter, and unapologetic to those that don’t. 

As a sidenote, I really do hope I get to meet Anthony Bourdain in real life someday. Typically, on an occasion such as this, I’d crack some awkward, sexually explicit joke that no one gets, laugh at myself for too long and then look up only to wonder where the hell everyone went. I have a feeling he’d appreciate an awkward, sexually explicit joke though, so in the hypothetical world I’ve created (and frequently visit), Anthony Bourdain will think I’m hilarious and we’ll spend the day bullshitting while getting plowed on Montana brewed beer.  

My Mom

Without going into too much detail, let’s just say my childhood wasn’t really all that great. If we’re going by statistics, the probability of me becoming a heroin-addicted stripper was undoubtedly much, much higher than the probability of me gaining an income through legal means, dating a nice respectable young man and driving a car that doesn’t double as a getaway vehicle on the weekends. But hey, somehow I ended up on the happy and productive side of society, so I’ll take it. 

But, as many of you probably know, those demons don’t just go away, and my personal theory is you can either get very, very good at hiding them (for the short period of time before you spontaneously combust), or you can embrace them and put them to good use. My mom is a perfect example of putting them to good use. She turns that craziness into straight focus. When I was in high school she wanted an ice cream truck, but she couldn’t find one, so she bought the pieces and built it (we run it every year here in Billings, it’s called Mr. Pugley’s Ice Cream). When she wants something she goes out and gets it, and when something is in her way, she either finds a way around it or she quite literally goes out, buys a torch and welds her way straight through it.

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Honestly. I’ve seen it done. Welded the doors clean off.  

She doesn’t see her past as a crutch, she sees it as a badge of honor. From what she’s been through, there is no possible way of breaking her now, and she knows it. She’s afraid of no one, she’s intimidated by no one and she wastes no time dealing with people that don’t have her best interests in mind. When there’s a problem, she fixes it. She’s basically Winston Wolfe from Pulp Fiction if he had been an Italian/Basque woman with a flair for cooking and a much better sense of humor.  

Those two life perspectives of living through a horrible situation and using it to better yourself, as well as openly accepting whatever demons might be there is what I find so inspiring. Over the past few years I’ve learned to take a bad situation, pull a few lessons out of it and apply them. Once you’ve been through some real scary shit, the idea of being afraid to submit a photoshoot to a magazine is a joke. There are much more frightening things in the world. I know because I’ve lived through them. Push the button, send the email, move on with your life.

I’m proud that I am becoming more and more like my mother every day. Last year, my future mother-in-law and I were talking about how your childhood can shape who you are, and she asked if there were any parts of my dad that stuck with me. I said no (probably not entirely true, but I like to think so anyway), and she said, “But you’re not afraid of anything! And you’re…kind of crazy…” I thought for a second, then smiled and said, “Nope. That’s still all Mom.” 🙂

I am, hands down, my mother’s daughter, and if I grow more and more like her every year, I’ll count that as a win in my book. 

Decide For Yourself…

Now that you know my main inspirations, and what I hope to gain from them, I want to hear from you! Who are your inspirations? Who do you look up to and why? What characteristics do your greatest inspirations possess? We all have someone we have in the back of our mind that does something right, so who is yours? Take a second and let me know in the comments who your greatest inspirations are and why you choose to follow them. I want to know! 🙂

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Without Abandon – Vintage Fashion in Abandoned Buildings

On one of the chilliest days in February, two awesome friends and I set out to have a little fun out in the middle of nowhere. We spent the entire day swapping between trekking through abandoned buildings and desperately trying to warm up inside the truck. While Tony (with Big News Photography) and I were having a hard time even feeling our cameras, Kate was dancing around in little more than a cotton sundress. So it’s pretty safe to say she’s a badass.

Even though this was easily one helluva challenging day, it was also a pretty damn awesome one.

Sometimes it’s worth it just to go and shoot without having any plans beforehand :).

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Can We All Just Stop Complaining About “Stolen Work” Already?

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“They stole my idea.”

Oh, honey, sure they did.

Ok, bearing in mind that we all tend to get a little defensive when we think of something brilliant and then aren’t given credit for it, yes, getting your idea stolen sucks. But here’s another little tidbit to keep in mind:

Get over yourself.

Side note: I understand this can be counterintuitive in the world where our art is our living. A person going around and stealing our work could be a very dangerous thing. But I’m not talking about straight up stealing our work. I’m talking about someone that creates something, all on their own, that ends up looking remarkably similar to something you have already created. 

Your Ideas Are Not As Unique As You Think They Are

Yeah, this might sting a little, but we’ve got to address it. Thinking you were the first one to ever think of a concept is just plain egotistical. Just because you’ve never heard of a concept doesn’t mean the thought hasn’t already existed – all it means is that you don’t know anyone in your immediate circle with the same idea. In fact, it really only means that you haven’t casually come across anyone else, online or in person, that has actively expressed the same idea. And when it comes to having the “original” – all that means is that of all the people in the world with the same exact thought, you were the first one with the resources to execute it.

That’s it.

Having the “original”  doesn’t make anyone any better or worse than any other artist out there. It doesn’t give anyone the right to shame all those that come after them for being “unoriginal” or “uninventive”. Contrary to popular opinion, the timestamp is not more important than the art itself. Who executed it first, who marketed it first, who put it out into the world in a widely receivable form before someone else could claim its “genius” – that’s not what makes a true artist.

A true artist creates. A true artist is inspired by something, then puts the effort into creating the concept they have in their mind. They don’t do it so they can stalk the web and condemn anything similar that comes their way. Having the “original” doesn’t devalue any work following it. They came up with an idea, all by themselves. They babied it, they took care of it, they molded it into perfect piece of art they had dreamt up in their head. Why wouldn’t they deserve to have just as much credit as anyone else with the same idea that just happened to post their finished artwork first?

I remember the first time I saw an image similar to mine. One of my fans left this comment on my photo on the left, “American Beauty”, on my Facebook page: “Reminds me a lot of this image” with a link to the image on the right (belonging to Mandy Rosen). As innocent as it seems, I was crushed. I genuinely thought I had created something that hadn’t been done before. I put in so much work, so much blood, sweat and tears, only to find my whole world blown apart. .

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Now come on, these look pretty damn similar. Granted, her dress is made of butterflies and mine is made of rose petals, but look at the bigger picture. The colors (red standing apart from a muted, brown palate), the horizon line, even the arm positioning. If I were Mandy perusing the internet at 3:14 am, with maybe a small bottle of tequila, I might have a bone to pick.

And here’s the weird thing – even though I hadn’t even slightly copied (I’d never seen the image before, nor had I ever heard of Mandy Rosen, who does awesome work, btw), I felt like I had. I felt like even though I’d had a brilliant idea and spent countless hours bringing it to fruition, I was too late in executing it. All that work I had put in was wasted because someone else had already posted something similar.

It’s the same feeling I got when I wanted to show one of my friends my “Dreaming in Key” photo – so I Googled it, thinking it would come right up. But instead, I found many others, like this one by Anka Zhuravleva, and was again, crushed. You mean someone else thought of this photo idea? I wasn’t as brilliant and creative as I thought I was? I had been so proud of myself…

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It took awhile to get over that shot to the gut, but soon I realized that just because someone else had the same idea with a timestamp earlier than my own, it doesn’t mean that my image is any less significant. Plus, I made leaps and bounds in editing skills putting this thing together. If I had seen her photo before mine, I probably would’ve scrapped my idea and done something different. And I’m glad that didn’t happen. I love the image I created.

Here’s another example. My image, “Rough Drafts” is on the left and Von Wong’s is on the right.

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I actually did get called out on this one, with a random message in my inbox reading, “Hey, you didn’t happen to see our image, did you?” Which, honestly, was pretty annoying. Not because of the message itself (which I still haven’t been able to figure out the tone…), but because the photo I ended up with wasn’t even my original idea. In the image I wanted to create, I was going to be standing on the beach with the typewriter floating in the air in front of me. I didn’t want to be sitting on the ground typing; I figured it would be too easy. After hauling it down to the beach though, it became very apparent; that typewriter was heavy as fuck, and there was no way I was going to be able to hold it in any kind of realistic position in front of me. So I said screw it and sat it on the ground in front of me instead. This wasn’t a copy – it was the result of a botched idea to begin with. An entirely new idea was concocted in just enough time to get something done as the light was running out.

And this is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever made, regardless of how similar it accidentally looks like someone else’s. Which brings me to my next point…

An Idea Is Not A Physical Object

If you stole my camera I’d have a real problem. I wouldn’t be able to take pictures, and I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills. I’d also have to buy a new camera, and in the meantime I would spend a large portion of my day figuring out what the hell I could steal of yours that would ruin your life. Not to be vindictive or anything, just because…well, I’m a little crazy.

Also I like to steal shit.

But ideas are different. Ideas aren’t all-inclusive objects that come in a nice, neat little package. If you steal my idea it’s still just a concept – it’s up to you to nurture it, mold it and bring it to realization. And if you do have the dedication and drive to bring it to fruition, good for you! That kind of work ethic should be respected, not condemned.

Just a couple weeks ago I was browsing Instagram when I came across this image, belonging to Brei Olivier (once again, fantastic work). Mine is on the left, hers is on the right.

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This is freaky – this could literally be the same model in each photo! And if I had run across this earlier in my career, I would’ve freaked the hell out. I was still so arrogant, so full of myself, that I probably would’ve thought she had copied. That there was no way anyone else on the planet could’ve possibly come up with a similar concept all on their own.

But I didn’t freak out, because of the examples above. The fact is, this kind of shit happens, and it’s no one’s fault. After I contacted her I learned that even as similar as these two images are, the thought process was even more similar. She said she was inside and wanted to practice dropping an image in the background. In my case, I was locked inside doing literally the exact same thing. So how the hell does that make mine “better”? Just because mine was “technically” posted first on some social media site doesn’t take a single thing away from her photo. In fact, if anything, it shows how similar we both are. If we ever get to meet in person, I’d have to have a pic of both of us holding up our own version of this photo – proof that we were meant to be friends from the beginning.

What’s more, are so many artists are feeling paralyzed, because they come up with an idea, see it already done and then scrap their own concept even though they thought of it with no influence from anyone else. They were just so afraid of being accused of copying, that they stop producing work. How the hell does that facilitate growth in the art community?

To be honest, I’m glad there are so many ideas already out there. Not only does it force us to be even more creative, but it forces us to develop our own specific style. Plus, it helps us discover other artists that are similar to ourselves. I have met an amazing community of fine art photographers, and I never would’ve met any of them if we didn’t all start out with somewhat similar images. We actually laugh about the fact that so many of us have similar images in the beginning of our careers:

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Yup, two of those are mine (the other two belong to Tara Denny and Two Creative Birds). What’s really funny, is the one on the bottom left is a stock image. That means there are enough images on the internet of people floating through windows that it’s become a stock image. Does that mean people are all copying each other? No, it probably means they are creating the same idea. And good for them! It’s how you learn! Is each image copyright? Of course! Is the concept of levitating through a window copyright? Of course not.

Now I’m not saying copying in general is a good thing – yes, be original, and push yourself to come up with new ideas, but don’t be so arrogant as to think that every idea you have ever had is original – it isn’t. Sometimes, believe it or not, someone else has already had the same idea and brought it to life. And in that case it’s not copying; it’s two people executing the same concept – a concept they each dreamt up without any help from each other.

Here’s another example: a few years ago, I thought of a book that I wanted to write. I wanted to interview various photographers about the best photo they haven’t taken. What was the photo? Why didn’t they take it? Maybe they didn’t have their camera, or maybe the situation was one that warranted no pictures, but I wanted to write an entire book where photographers had to describe, in words, the most amazing photo they missed. I would call it “The Photograph Never Taken.” And it would be awesome.

Then, while buying some photo gear on Amazon, the little, “Other people that bought this also bought…” tag came up, and look at what was right there, staring me in the face:

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A book, with almost the identical title, full of photographers talking about the photo they missed. 

My first thought was that this was my idea. Someone else had “stolen” it. But no, they didn’t. I only told maybe 5 people about this idea before. Surely Will Steacy wasn’t hiding in the bushes the day I decided to tell one of my friends about it. And honestly, I may even still write the book I have in my head, but this book, already being published, doesn’t take away from my own creativity. He had the same idea, with the means and resources to execute it. And I’m glad he did, because my second thought was, “Damn…I really want that book…”

So if you see one of those articles where one artist is bashing another for “copying” their idea, tell them to shove it. We don’t have copyright on our ideas, we have copyright on the result of the execution of that idea, and no one has any right to destroy another artist for having a similar artistic thought process.

How about you guys – have you ever run into this before? Have you ever seen another image that looked uncannily similar to yours? How did you feel? What did you do? I want to know!

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

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

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

Um…no.

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

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

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

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

Unconditional Support May Fade Fast…

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

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

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

Riiiiiight…

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

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

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

Well, fuck that – and here’s why.

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1.) Talent and Passion Are Not What You Think

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

They were absolute shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now on to my other point…

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2.) There is ALWAYS a Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art, on the other hand…

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

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

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

Take that, guidance counselors of the world.

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

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

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

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

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

Probably shouldn’t have done that…

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

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

Today was one of those days.

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

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

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

So two great options, really.

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

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

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

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

Holy fuck.

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

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

Ouch.

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

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

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

And you will too :).

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

THE GAP by Ira Glass from frohlocke on Vimeo.

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

 

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I Am a Complete Failure

It’s true.

I am a complete and utter failure.

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

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

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

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

And thank sweet baby Jesus that I have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Continually Developing: 5 Ways to Break Your Photography Plateau

Clouded

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

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

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

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

1.) Write Out Your Goals – Correctly

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

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

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

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

2.) Get Critiqued

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

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

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

3.) Join a Community

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

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

4.) Donate Your Skills

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

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

5.) Switch Sides

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

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

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

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

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