If you ask someone how to get the perfect photo, you might get a response that includes information about exposure, posing, and lighting. Books you read might warn against chopping limbs, using wide angle lenses when photographing people, or failing to follow the rule of thirds. You might end up scared that other photographers will judge your photos and notice when you have broken “the rules,” making you nervous to step outside the box and get creative sometimes.
Even worse, you might try so hard to follow the rules that you leave every photo session stressed, exhausted, and disappointed–like I did, before I redefined perfection.
I did all of those things. When I first started trying to learn more about photography, I read a ton of books. I talked to a lot of photographers. I read a lot of tutorials, watched a lot of videos, and studied a lot of photographs to determine what I had to do to take “perfect” photos. In the process, I learned more than I thought possible about the technical side of photography, but I became so insecure and critical of my own work that I was not having fun.
I was not getting images that I absolutely loved.
For me, the sessions that stressed me out the most were always my own sessions with my two children. By the end of an attempt to get perfect photos with my sons, Gavin and Finley, I was usually ready to quit photography, my husband was usually ready to send me packing, and Gavin and Finley were usually crying because I kept trying to make them be still, look directly at my camera, and smile, when all they wanted to do was play or explore.
The turning point came for me when Finley was close to his first birthday.
I had planned out very specific shots that I wanted to get of him for his one-year photos, set aside a weekend to do them, and gathered together all of my props. I got a few cute photos with perfect smiles, perfect eye contact, and imperfect exposure (I only had a few months of experience with professional shooting), but I essentially ended each session with tears—either mine or Finley’s…and sometimes both.
When Finley’s second birthday rolled around recently, I had already made the decision that I wanted to capture his true personality and the things he loves most, not try to get perfectly posed photos with perfect eye contact and perfect smiles.
You see, Finley is the ultimate reason that I learned to embrace imperfection in my photography.
Finley has always been a difficult subject to photograph. He never reacted to my crazy sounds and pleas to look at my camera and smile. He never stayed still longer than a second. He never focused his attention on taking photos long enough for even one great shot of the four of us smiling and looking at the camera. After my experience with his first birthday photos, I gave up on getting “perfect” shots. And when we tried to get family photos a few months later using a friend as a human tripod, I didn’t get upset when this was the end result.
Even though people still make repeated comments like, “It’s too bad Finley isn’t looking at the camera,” the canvases I had made of this photo are hanging on my wall, my parents’ wall, and my father-in-law’s wall.
Why? Because he’s Finley. He would rather study a branch than smile for a photo or even look in that general direction. And you know what? That’s okay. In March, we got the official diagnosis that Finley is one of a growing number of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, and although it explains why I always had such a difficult time getting his attention in photos, it doesn’t change the fact that my entire idea of perfection in photography has been redefined. Finley’s photos that I took for his second birthday are perfect examples of my idea of perfection.
Perfection is capturing Finley’s love for drawing.
Perfection is documenting Finley’s habit of exploring textures by rubbing things on his cheeks.
Perfection is showing Finley’s love for horses (and wearing nothing but a diaper and cowboy boots).
And sometimes, perfection IS a photo of Finley smiling and looking directly at the camera, but not because it’s “perfect” by any definition of the term. I’s perfect because it shows the sweet spirit he possesses.
When I was stressing so much over getting my subjects in the perfect position or trying to make them constantly look at the camera and smile, I missed amazing shots of my boys being themselves.
I decided it was time to loosen up a little. Instead of planning out sessions with my kids, I started leaving my camera in the living room where I could grab it quickly if I saw an opportunity for a cute photo of them. I broke a lot of rules in those photos, and some of them are not very sharp or exposed very well. But some of those photos are my absolute favorites. Some of those photos, in fact, are the ones that I know my children will still treasure when they are adults.
By loosening up, I discovered that those photos were the ones I always considered perfect. I started to fall completely head-over-heels in love with lifestyle photography, and when I did, I rediscovered my passion for my hobby. Instead of trying to capture perfect smiles, I started trying to capture the love my subjects have for each other and the personalities that make them unique. As a result, my skills and the quality of my photos started improving because I had more room in my head to think about exposure and using available light to my advantage.
Getting correct exposure is critical, and there are some “rules” that have their place in your work. I would never want to use a wide angle lens to take a serious portrait of a bride, for example, or make my subjects look like they are sliding off the edge of the photo. However, it’s okay to chop a limb sometimes, if necessary. It’s okay if my subject is not looking at the camera. I even read once that you shouldn’t have your subject looking off camera unless you can see what he or she is looking at. But does that make this a bad photo?
Here’s my point—If you are one who absolutely, positively, LOVES perfectly posed photos where everyone is looking at the camera and smiling, then that’s perfectly fine. Those types of photos are perfect—for you.
However, if my experience raising an autistic son has taught me anything so far, it’s that what is considered perfect for one is not necessarily perfect for another.
Just as Finley is perfect in my eyes, the photos I take that show who he is and what he loves are perfect in my eyes as well.
If you find yourself stressed, exhausted, and insecure like I was every time you attempt to get great photos and want to redefine your idea of imperfection like I did, here are a few tips to help.
- Get a good grip on exposure first, if you don’t already have one. No amount of emotion or personality in your photos is going to matter if you can’t see it because your photos are completely over or under exposed. There are tons of MCP tutorials here on the blog that can help with that.
- Stop scouring Pinterest and trying to replicate the images you see. Getting inspired by photos you see is one thing, but trying to make your subjects do exactly what you have seen done before in those photos will usually only end in frustration. I once spent two hours creating a backdrop of newspaper pages to use in photos of my boys only to rip it down five minutes later because neither of my boys would cooperate at all.
- Decide what you truly want to document. Is it a relationship between two people? An aspect of someone’s personality? A hobby or interest? A particular emotion? Once you decide, make sure your exposure is solid, and then solely focus on capturing what you are setting out to capture.
- Relax about the “rules.” Don’t toss a photo that cuts someone off at the knees if that photo shows genuine emotion. Use a wide angle lens, if you like the look it gives your photos. Relax. Sometimes rules are meant to be broken…if breaking them results in a photo you love.
Now, grab your camera and go take a photo YOU think is perfect. Don’t worry what the books say. Don’t think about what other photographers might think of it. Take a photo you love, and love the photos you take.
Lindsay Williams lives in south central Kentucky with her husband, David, and their two sons, Gavin and Finley. When she isn’t teaching high school English or spending time with her quirky little family, she owns and operates Lindsay Williams Photography, which specializes in lifestyle photography. You can check out her work on her website or her Facebook page.
Over the next few months, please join us for a fun, behind-the-scenes look at some of MCP’s favorite photographers through a special “Featured Photographer” series. Learn their secrets, their favorite photography items, how they got their start, and much more!
This Month? We’re focusing on Jenna Schwartz’ business out near sunny Las Vegas. She is the owner of Photo Studio Vegas and is currently running her business part-time. But let’s face it… those of us who do part-time photography know that it’s always spinning in our head!
The following is the Interview MCP did with Jenna relating to any and all facets of her business.
Photography Business-Related Questions:
1) How long have you been in business? Full-time or part-time?
I have been in business since 2008, when I took on my first senior client. Back then, I was much more focused on learning and did only a few sessions a month as practice. Now, I shoot part-time, as a choice, to also help my husband run his internet marketing business. I’d guess to say I do 4-5 sessions a month.
The top two photographs below are shots Jenna did when first starting out all those years ago. This is her sister, who was also her model in the below shots! Look how far Jenna has come!
2) What type of photography do you specialize in?
I specialize in portraiture that goes through the stages of life – maternity, newborn, baby, child, senior, couple, and engagement. However, I think I’ve shot more seniors and children than anything else. My goal is to eventually specialize in either seniors or newborns. I haven’t quite decided which one I like more yet.
3) What made you want to be a photographer?
This is a hard question I get asked often. I have always been a creative person, and throughout my early years I was involved in writing, reading and music, things of which I excelled past my age in experience. However, in 2006 I had my senior portraits taken by a woman who had left the red eye from the flash (a darker, subtle red and not the harsh red we normally see) in a set of wallets she ordered for me to pass out. I felt as though I could do better, but it wasn’t until a year later in 2007 that I actually went out and bought a camera with the intent of learning to take photos. Something about photography interested me, but I didn’t know just how much it would envelope my field of passion until I got my first DSLR in 2008.
4) When did you know you wanted to be a photographer?
When I first started taking photos, I knew I liked it but I didn’t know it was what I wanted to do for a career until 2009. I did a senior session and an engagement session, and although I was proud of the work, it wasn’t until a few weeks after those sessions when my camera was stolen that I realized… That was what I wanted to do. I enjoyed taking photos. I wanted it to be a part of my everyday life.
5) What is your favorite part of being a photographer?
My favorite part of being a photographer is the words clients say to me after I show them their gallery. I think the most beautiful thing someone said to me was, “ Oh Jenna….I am crying happy tears, every picture is beautiful.” It really made me realize that the work I put into these photographs is appreciated by my clients.
Here is another example of Jenna’s work, Straight out of the Camera, with the edited version on the bottom.
6) How do you juggle your personal life with photography business demands? i.e. weekend shoots, night events, editing marathons, etc.
I juggle personal and business life very carefully! Because my husband and I already work from home offices, we have created a system for juggling work and play. Everything work related stays in the office, and the home life doesn’t seep into the office. When it comes to weekend and evening shoots, family comes first. Unless there is an emergency (like a birth session) or a really high paying client who needs weekend help, I will look at my personal schedule to make sure a work event doesn’t get in the way. Even when I know there is “nothing” scheduled, I will still ask my husband if a shoot will interfere with his schedule with me.
7) What is your yearly income from your photography business?
Jenna picked this range: $1-$25,000
8) How many hours a week do you put into your business?
I try to put about ten hours a week into my business. A lot of it is marketing, but it is also sessions, editing, and learning. I will put at least one hour a day into learning, watching others, and finding inspiration for my next shoot. It helps keep the photography side of my mind refreshed and rejuvenated, so I am never feeling dull. I only take a break when I am on vacation with the family, or sick.
9) What makes you feel “successful” in your business? If you’re not quite there yet, what are you striving for and when will you feel like you’ve “made it”?
I feel successful when a client loves their photos, and sends me happy words. I feel like I have “made it” when I win an award for my work. I think the biggest achievement (and what put the permanent, “you made it” thought in my head) was when I got my yearly roundup report from a network I am in, and I ranked in the top 100 of 6,500 national professional photographers for portraits in their network. I also have 49 awards and counting with that network, which is all judged by other professional photographers. This makes me feel great because I know that these kinds of people are looking at the important things like exposure, white balance, color, contrast, composition, and other “technical” aspects that a client just can’t see. I’ll always get the nice words from clients on how they love the emotional parts, but the technical knowledge shows I truly know “what I am doing” with a camera.
10) Where would you like to see your business go within the next 3-5 years?
I would like to see my business go into a commercial studio. I don’t do “a lot” of commercial work, but to have somewhere that I can edit, do studio work, show off client galleries and do sales is something I dream of.
11) Do you have help with your business (not including accountants/lawyers/etc)? If you do have help, how long was it in your business timeline was it before you hired on additional staff? (multi-photographer studio, business manager, 2nd shooter for specific events, assistant during shoots, etc)
I do have some help in my business. It’s mostly marketing and the business side – my husband helps me to learn how to effectively run my business, marketing and SEO techniques, and how to gain exposure and do lead gens. It was two years before I got any help like this, and it really has improved my clientele base significantly.
SOOC image on the left, with the MCP edited version on the right.
Social Media-Related Questions:
1) Do you regularly blog? Daily? Weekly?
I try to blog at least once a week. Right now I am so busy blogging for my own marketing clients I barely have time for myself! Optimally, I’d like to blog every other day.
2) How would you rate your writing skills? Is blogging fun for you or is it something you really wish would just go away!
My writing skills are fantastic! I was writing at a 9th grade level in the fourth grade, and I only exceled from there. If it weren’t for “accidentally” discovering photography, I would most definitely be a writer. I enjoy it, and it is something fun for me.
3) Do you regularly update your Facebook page, Twitter, Google+, etc., and interact with your clients and potential clients after updating something? How many times per week? Per day?
Right now I am slow to update social media. I tend to use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram the most and I think business-wise I update these several times a week, but I’d like to do it every day. Again, one of those things where I am so busy doing it for clients, I don’t carve out time to do it for myself.
4) What social media site do you enjoy the most?
Definitely Facebook, with Instagram coming in as a close second!
5) What social media site seriously makes you want to throw your camera out the window? Why (be specific)?
Google+. Google has worked hard to compete with Facebook, and I feel that as a result, they have spent more time trying to “compare” themselves to Facebook rather than create a unique network of their own. This is one of the reasons I don’t even bother to update it much or create a page for my business.
6) Do you use Pinterest a lot to showcase your work or share interesting items in the photography field?
I do! And I love it. Pinterest is such a great area of inspiration and so much fun. I love when I see my work pinned by others for their inspiration boards.
7) What items do you tend to pin?
Business wise, I tend to pin collages of all my sessions. Personally, I like to pin inspiration boards (I make one for almost every session or niche), and I like to pin crafty DIY project ideas. I am one of those people with about a hundred idea pins and only two of them implemented.
8) How many boards on Pinterest do you have focused for your business? What types of boards are they?
I have 22 boards pinned to focus on my business. One is a board of my work, two are boards for design and logo inspiration (which I do on the side with the photography and mostly for photographers), one is a social media marketing board, and the other 18 are posing ideas and inspiration.
9) Do you use Instagram for business-related purposes or is it used more for personal use? i.e. Behind the Scenes during shoots, features, etc.
I use Instagram for both business and personal. I don’t share things that could show me as unprofessional or a bad business person when I share personal things, and I don’t use foul language or sexual things on my feed, but I do share personal photos (like my stepson and my cats) alongside photos of work. I don’t have a whole lot of behind the scenes photos to share, though.
10) How many followers do you have on your social media sites? (as of this initial interview)
- Facebook – 514
- Twitter – 35
- Pinterest – 119
- Google+ – 29
- Instagram – 154
SOOC image on the top, with the MCP edited version on the bottom.
Photography Equipment & Services Offered-Related Questions:
1) What is your favorite professional printing lab service?
Artsy Couture. I like their small business feel and professionalism. Their items are almost always gift wrapped for free and are so cute. My second favorite for convenience is Mpix and MpixPro.
2) Do you offer packages for your prints and custom services? If so, what?
I just started offering a package service for seniors, which includes some wallets and prints. I do create custom box designs, and announcements and invitations.
3) What is your favorite lens to use? Do you have a “fun” go to lens?
I use my 50mm lens the most! I don’t have a fun lens, but more like fun techniques to use with my lenses. I want to upgrade to the 24-70, I feel it would become my favorite lens.
4) What professional printing lab would you stay away from with a 10 foot poll?
Ha! I don’t think I have a professional lab that has been “bad”, honestly. But I haven’t tried very many! Why fix what isn’t broken? I stay with what works for me.
5) Do you rent lenses, camera, or other equipment to try things out? If yes, what is your favorite rental place?
I have yet to rent equipment.
6) What brand of equipment do you primarily shoot with?
I shoot with Nikon equipment and Cowboy Studio lenses. I shot for a year with my husband’s Canon, but I felt like it wasn’t as sharp as my Nikon. On the subject, I am a firm believer in that Nikon and Canon are not that different – and preference really stems from your knowledge of the equipment and ease of use, not because one is “better” than the other. They are very much similar in every way.
7) What piece of your equipment could you not live without?
My 50mm 1.8 lens. It really saves the day with creamy bokeh and great light.
8) What piece of equipment do you wish you never would have spent money on?
Converter ring for my film Minolta lenses to use on my Nikon. It was very soft with every photo, and it was manual focus, which I sometimes struggle with. I really should have saved the 8 bucks and put it towards getting the 50mm sooner.
Photography Marketing-Related Questions:
1) Have you done any community or charity events to get your name out in your community? Did it work?
I donated sessions for several years to the local elementary school’s science fair event. I have yet to get any business from it – and this past year, the person who won the session never even called!
2) How do you promote your business and do you see success with this?
I promote several ways – handing out cards, keeping cards at local businesses, and Facebook/internet marketing. I have found that the internet and Facebook marketing has worked the best, although occasionally the people I hand the cards out to have come to the studio.
3) How do you go about getting new clients? If you work on a lot of referrals, do you do anything special for those who have referred you?
Mostly I do marketing online, but word of mouth works GREAT, too. I love hearing that someone was referred to me. For those who refer me, often I will give them a free mini session.
Photography Editing-Related Questions:
1) Do you use Photoshop or Lightroom for post-production? If both, do you focus more of your time in one or the other?
I am strictly a Photoshop girl, CS5.
2) Do you use actions and presets as part of your post-production work or do you primarily use hand-editing functions?
I use MCP actions for editing – although occasionally, I will break down actions to learn how they work and know how to hand edit, in case I am away from my actions. But for ease of use and the speed, I use actions.
3) How do you primarily use actions and presets? More for simple finishing touches or to really enhance and change a photo?
I use actions to bring vibrancy, clarity, sharpness and exposure to images. I like that, for instance, a fall photo really pops with warm, soft matte color when I am done editing.
4) How long have you known about MCP Products and where did you first hear of us? How long have you been following MCP on social media?
I think I may have heard about you guys in 2010 or 2011. I don’t remember how I came across the page, but I followed for several years and used the actions for a long time before I joined the MCP group.
5) What would you say is your “style” in photography? How do MCP products help you achieve this? I.e. color pop, antique-feel, B&W’s, etc
Matte, vibrancy, clean studio edits and fun location edits.
6) Do you use MCP products? If so, which ones?
MCP Fusion, MCP Newborn Necessities, and MCP Facebook fix (which is a free action set).
I altered the Facebook fix so that it applies a specific size I like, and I have created a separate “Portrait Quick Find” group with Fusion edits I use the most, altered to remove the messages in them, and “Newborn Quick Find”, saved like the Fusion group. It has all my favorite actions copied into it. (FYI – There are online videos on the MCP Actions website to help you group things that you use often)
All of the edited images that you see within this blog post have been edited with the MCP Products above, or through hand-edits.
7) Do you believe in the ease-of-use and comfort that actions and presets can bring to a photographer’s post-production process?
In film, photographers would alter photos in the lab by changing how they process it with light and chemicals. Photoshop is the digital version of that, but on steroids. I am a firm believer in “enhancing” photos, using actions to help ease the editing process to give images a boost, or occasionally save an image gone wrong.
1) How do you get inspired? Do you ever feel like you’re just creatively tapped? How do you get your mojo back after feeling that you’re in a creative slump?
I get inspired by looking up things on Pinterest. It really gets me going. Sometimes though, I feel like I can’t create something on my own and all I can do is copy, at which point, I give the camera little rest to get my mind focused on something else. It helps refuel the ideas.
2) What was your first experience like as a photographer? Cringe-worthy or superhero?
I felt almost like a superhero! I knew very little about the camera but I created some really great images that I could even use in my portfolio now. I don’t have much beginner work I am afraid of. I think the difference between how I grew and how a lot of “shoot and burn” photographers grow is, I spent a LOT of time shooting inanimate objects to learn techniques, and only using them on people once I mastered them. In the beginning, it was all about mastering the techniques and having consistency in my work; being able to create things over and over, and not just on pure luck. I was VERY lucky to be blessed as a creative person, and have the ability to create a lot of things on accident before I learned how to do them on purpose.
3) Guilty photography pleasure? Let us hear it!
Photographing my food! I have sometimes even set up lights just to take a shot of a good grilled steak. I think if I had the extra time, I would do a food blog. There is not a lot I can cook, but what I can do, I can always make it look prettier than it tastes. Whenever I cook a good dinner, I grab my camera, take a shot, and boast on Facebook. No one is convinced I am a terrible cook, only because I make it look good, but honestly, I set fire to spaghetti that was still boiling in water (true story)!
4) What’s the craziest question you’ve been asked as a photographer? Who can relate?
What kind of camera do you use, I want to be a photographer too and I like your photos so much! I am ALWAYS using the “stoves don’t cook your meal” analogy. People are so convinced it is the equipment, but I have award winning shots taken with a camera that has less power and MP than most smartphones these days. I get a lot of alteration requests, but none that are out of the ordinary. I am a firm believer that it is my job to help make a person feel beautiful, and while I do a lot of that in camera with posing and lighting, I also do alterations when a client feels they don’t look beautiful.
- “How much was your camera? It’s awesome!” - I almost always recommend these people to a point and shoot alternative, as they can’t handle learning a DSLR most of the time.
- “How do you get everything in the background blurry?” – This is more ignorance of photography than anything.
- “Just photograph me from the waist up!” – I got this request from a mom once who felt she looked too fat to photograph with her one year old, and her favorite images ended up being the full body ones.
- “Can I see all the pictures before you edit them?” – Lots of photographers feel they need to “explain” why they don’t do this. If a client is being nice in a session, I’ll show them back of camera. But if they aren’t, I just let them know that I don’t show unaltered images. Simple as that!
- “Can you just change the color of my shirt/hair/hat/earrings/etc. You can just photoshop it, so it shouldn’t be a big deal, right?!” – Sometimes, it isn’t! And sometimes, it is. I let clients know in session if I think I can change something, and if I don’t think I can, I tell them we can always turn it black and white and still get a great shot.
5) Do you travel a lot and if so, do you tend to photograph a lot when on vacation and blog about it, too?
I travel a lot just for photography! I go 2,700 miles to do a week’s of clients in my hometown. It is a lot of fun and people love it. I am always booked up when I do this.
6) What has been your best experience/biggest accomplishment since you’ve become a photographer? Critical acclaim, that awesome gift one of your clients got you, being a part of a special family moment – don’t be embarrassed!
Honestly, it’s Blue! Baby Blue, whose real name is Kingston, was called Blueberry in the womb and now is known as Blue. His momma loves me and comes every other month, sometimes more, for a session. Photography is a passion of hers, but she likes seeing them, not taking them. I go out of my way to create unique scenes and themes for Blue. Everyone loves seeing him on my Facebook, too! He’s my little mini-star. Seeing him in his photos and hearing the words from his momma (the earlier quote I shared) are what make this job worth every ounce of sweat and late nights.
7) What has been your worst experience since you’ve become a photographer? Peed on, not paid, client tantrums… let’s hear it!
One newborn client didn’t realize that it was a home studio, was rude during the session, and left in the middle of it. She sent me a nasty message on Facebook asking for a refund, claiming she expected a commercial studio and hated the experience. My experience is one of the things clients rave about the most! I was a little embarrassed and upset. It completely ruined the weekend trip to the Grand Canyon. I honestly felt like I’d never take another photo again!
8) What has been your biggest regret in your photography business that you wish you could have a do-over button for?
Losing my camera in the beginning is my biggest regret. I had a 50mm lens, and I left my camera and lens in my car one night after coming home late from a shoot and someone broke in and stole it. I was so upset – I didn’t realize at the time how much that lens really meant to me, and it was three years before I got another one. I wish I could have it back, and put the money I spent on this new camera and lens towards a 24-70!
9) What is your least favorite part of being a photographer? Come on… we all have them!
Wow… Hard to think about what is my least favorite part. I think sales and marketing. Having to walk up to people and introduce myself, or network or do sales with clients. It is probably what will keep me from becoming really successful, until I can better handle it.
Follow Jenna’s Business Facebook page at Photo Studio Vegas. You can find her website here.