Aug 29, 2014

Shooting Old School: Valuable Lesson Learned

Vacation is over and it's back to reality. In the chaos of Northern Virgina traffic, forgetting to load the kid's suitcase in the car, purchasing new clothes for the kids at Target, an ear infection and some car sickness, we managed to have a really good time in OBX. Really. It was awesome.

I mentioned in my 1999 post that I intended to use my old school Cannon ELF APS camera on this trip. The primary goal was to ensure that I'd create tangible memories from the trip (no digital madness) by using film only. While I haven't sent the photos out yet to get printed (I guess that could be the equivalent of never going through your digital files) I did take away something extremely valuable from the experience. And it goes far beyond just holding tangible memories.

This experience allowed me to tune in and turn off.

Limiting myself to only my film camera freed up my time to NOT dwell on capturing that perfect shot. There were no do-overs of an image. I wasn't forcing my kids into one scenario or another just to get that shot. There was no hiding around the corner. No crawling on the floor. No focusing on the light in the room. If I saw a little moment, I asked my kids to smile and I snapped the shot. I may have said "cheese" at some point over the week, too.

There were selfies with my kids and with the family. There were some beach shots. Some car shots and some shots just because. I may have taken two images with my cell phone during the week, but for the most part, it stayed (almost uncharged) in our room. It was nice not worrying about social media and posting images of my feet at the beach. For once, I felt totally there and in the moment.

I will admit that on 2 occasions I busted out the big girl camera.
  1. To take landscape images for a HDR project that I'm doing. This happened on one night and one night only and it lasted 1.5 hours.
  2. On the final night of our stay, my friend asked if I could take some beach photos of her family. Before we called it quits for that little session, I handed the camera to my friend, gave her a quick lesson in BBF and got the image above. 
I seriously feel like learning photography is a gift and a curse. You never look at a scene the same again. We're always evaluating the best possible scenario every time we snap a picture. But there is something about the organic and sentimental nature of going old school. My kids seriously do not care how I capture the images of us together. All they will care about is that they are there.   I cannot wait to see these images in two years when I finally send them off for processing!!


Back in May my family and I participated in Screen Free Week (I wrote a little something about it on my business blog---> here ). For one whole week my family ditched the TV in place of good old fashioned family time.

Aug 22, 2014

Just Say No.

For those of us just starting out, we're excited. We want to build our business and will jump at every paid, slightly paid or unpaid opportunity out there. We want to learn the craft and we want to build our business in that greatest attempt to build our portfolios. We're anxious and ready to go. It's fun and exciting, and gets old. And, I'll tell you why.

When I started taking all of this seriously a few years ago, I wasn't quite sure what direction I wanted to take my little I did a little (actually, a lot) bit of everything. I did a lot of children's portraiture. I did many family sessions. I did one wedding reception on my own and was a second shooter for a friend for a full wedding. I did some maternity and an engagement. While I certainly appreciate all of the time and trust that everyone put into me, all of the "everything-ness" of my business was starting to wear on me. I became the "go-to" photographer for all the wrong reasons. I felt like "dial-a-photographer". You need a photographer? Michelle will do it. I wanted the opportunity so badly that I never turned anyone down...and it wore me out.

A few months ago I announced that I was going to direct my business to high school seniors. Sure, I still take the occasional family session here and there, but I stopped marketing to them all together. Why? It's not my core business anymore. So when I received two separate messages this past weekend asking for my services, I almost second guessed myself and said "yes"...almost.

The first text I received was from a friend asking me about my services for her friend's wedding. Her friend is on a budget and wants a cheap photographer to capture her very important day. While my friend didn't say "cheap" she did say "budget" so already that means a ton of work for little pay. While the opportunity is definitely there, I declined. First, I'm a high school senior photographer and really want nothing to do with weddings. Second, photographing a wedding would take an enormous amount of time away from my actual business and would take away from a potential high school senior client for that day. Third, I found from those first two weddings that I HATE photographing weddings. It's just not me.

The next text that I received was from a past client who wanted a cake smash for her 1 year old son. This client is special to me. She found me through Google when I just started out and her family was one of the first families that I photographed for my portfolio building sessions. She also became my first maternity client. We asked her to be our guinea pig for the session, and she gladly obliged. She was such a trooper. However, I'm no longer an "everything" photographer. I'm a high school senior photographer. As much as I love and adore this client, I declined. I sent her the information for another photographer in the area that does cake smashes and wished her well.

It's understandable that you will most likely say "yes" to many different types of sessions when you first start out. Heck, there are some folks who live in small towns and have to cater to these different types of sessions to stay afloat, but in any case, it's OK to say NO. You can do it. You don't always have to be booked 100%. You don't always have to be putting new material on your blog. You CAN have a say in the way your own business runs.  If it's not your cup of tea, then it's simply not your cup of tea. Say no and then move on.

NOTE: If I do decline a session and I know of other photographers in the area that fit the bill, I will ALWAYS try to get them that referral. It looks good for me (I didn't leave this client hanging) and it's good for them (they get some business). 


Aug 8, 2014

Client Photos: If It's Broke, Don't Fix It!


This post takes me back to a session I did a few years ago. It was a portfolio building session that brought me about $100 in cash and cost about $700 in time. Nice. Talk about a HUGE lesson learned here.

I'll break it down like this...

The session went very well that day. Mom was happy. Dad was happy. Baby was happy. And, I was feeling confident. On our walk back to our cars as we finished the session, I decided to grab a few last "just in case" shots. In camera, they were awesome. The trees framed the family perfectly. The baby was smiling. We ended on a high note.

Fast forward to post processing. As I was sorting through the images, I got to those money shots. It didn't take long until I realized that those money shots were worth about 2 cents. My shutter speed was at about 1/60. Doh. Still feeling very good about the session and the gallery that I selected for the family, I pushed on. I brushed those images off as my "lesson learned" images and continued to edit the rest of the gallery.

Shortly after delivering the gallery I received an e-mail from the client.
Michelle, I really love the gallery, but am disappointed that those last images by the trees are not in there. My son was laughing and giggling and they seemed perfect. Can you add them? I'm confused as to why they would be excluded.
Oh boy... I proceeded to inform my client that, while the situation was perfect at that moment in time, the images were not perfect and were excluded. And then, I did myself in. What happened next still haunts me to this day.
I'd be happy to give the edit another go so you can have at least one image in your gallery. Would that work for you?
What happened next was a cacophony or one issue after the other. As per is usually the case, the client chose the image with motion blur for her full size print. Against my better judgement, I ordered the print, had it shipped to her house, hid behind my couch and prayed to the photo Gods that she would know no better and hang the dang thing on her wall.

Well, I guess the photo Gods know my stance on religion and did nothing for me that day. Soon after, I received another e-mail from the client.
Michelle, I just wanted to let you know that there is something wrong with the image. It's very blurry. Maybe it's the printer's fault? You may want to contact them.
She's so sweet. After informing her that it was in fact the image that was the issue we resolved to order a different print from the gallery. Before placing the order I receive the following e-mail.
Michelle, We are so excited to receive our next print, however the frame that I have purchased is for a landscape photo and the print is portrait. Is there something you can do about this?
Clearly lesson not learned...
 I'd be happy to give that a go!
In the end, about 50 hours and several prints later, we settled the matter. There were no frustrations on the client's part (at least she was sweet in her e-mails to me) but there was much on my part. I should have been clear from the get go that the first image was unfit for print and politely encouraged her to move on. Once again, another lesson learned.

Running any business requires a learning curve. The next time a client asked me for a specific photo that didn't make it into the gallery because it looked like sh!t, I responded in the following manner.

Yes, I sure wish those images turned out well, too. Unfortunately, the light was horrible and the image just didn't turn out as we had hoped. But, on the plus side, you still have many amazing photos in your gallery to choose from. xoxo~Michelle
Thanks, Michelle. That's too bad, but we understand. We love the gallery and are looking forward to the prints. Signed~ Client

BONUS TIP - If you LOVE an image, but it's just not right in color, DO NOT create a black and white and give that to the client. Why? Because there is a 99.9% chance that they will ask for the color version. And, guess what? You'll be busting your hump to fix the crappy color picture. (Yeah...just another lesson learned from good ole Michelle...)