My Journey as a Photographer (part 2) – The Early Years

This is a continuation of last week’s post My Journey as a Photographer (part 1). Last week’s post explained how I initially found my love of photography and this week it explains the next step in my journey to becoming a professional portrait photographer.

My sophomore year of high school is when my love of art and photography really started to grow. I started taking more art classes. I read any photography magazines I could find locally and bought a handful of books about photography from big names in the industry.

In late February of 2010 I photographed the above image for my church. It was originally for a slideshow for their Easter program featuring images that represented life, joy, and revival. This image also ended up being my first magazine cover when it was picked a year later to be the cover of Shutterbug Magazine’s February 2011 cover.

At this point nature and wildlife photography still continued to be the main focus of my work mostly do to my location. I grew up ten miles outside of the small town of Clare, Mi. I didn’t have a vehicle or drivers license at the time so most of my time was spend reading about photography or taking photographs of nature. The birds and wildlife that would meander into my front yard would usually end up my being the subjects early on in my career.

This image of a nuthatch at my mom’s bird feeder was another defining image for me. I shot this in early August 2010. This image would eventually get published in Audubon Magazine January/February 2011 issue, Nature’s Best Photography Magazine Spring/Summer 2011 issue, the World of Photography – Volume One – Bookazine, and Photographer’s Forum Best of Photography 2012. This image wasn’t flipped; this bird feeds upside-down.

Four months later during my junior year of high school, church got canceled due to the intense winter storm the night before. I decided to take advantage of the winter storm and photograph the beautiful snow covered trees across the road from my house. This image would later be published in Digital Photo Magazine’s March/April 2011 issue.

Between my junior and senior years of high school my nature photography had already been published in a handful of magazines like Shutterbug, Digital Photo, Audubon, Nature’s Best Photography, and World of Photography Bookazine. My parents and I made a trip to the Canadian Rockies that was awe-inspiring. This was the peak of my interest in nature photography. This image photographed in Field, British Columbia would later be published in Outdoor Photographer Magazine’s March 2012 issue and is my favorite image from prior to my formal training a year later.

About a month later I’d be hired to photograph my friend Jerry’s senior portraits. An image from this session would later be published in PDNedu Magazine Spring 2012 issue a few months later.

At this point I was still open minded to what my future in photography would be. I had already been accepted to the Hallmark Institute of Photography and had yet to decide what style of photography I would pursue. Check back next week for Part 3 for Why I Became a Portrait Photographer.

Should you have an Unplugged Wedding?

A current trend amongst brides and grooms are having unplugged weddings. An unplugged wedding is where guests, with the exception of the hired photographer and second shooters, aren’t allowed to bring phones, iPads or other cameras to the wedding. I personally think this is a great idea and will go thru some of the pros and cons of having an unplugged wedding.


The biggest reason I like the idea of an unplugged wedding is this makes it less likely that guests will photobomb images. If guests don’t have cameras, flashes, phones, or worst of all iPads it makes it harder for them to ruin important photos during the ceremony or reception. During the ceremony and cake cutting many of the guests can inadvertently get in the way or the professional photographer by stepping in the aisle to take a photo or by holding their phones or iPads in front of the photographers view. This recent Huffington Post article has examples of what I’m talking about.

Second, all the images taken during your wedding day will be by the professional photographer. They’re won’t be any unflattering or blurry images up on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter of your special day. Essentially this prevents any bad images from your wedding ending up on social media.


The biggest disadvantage to having an unplugged wedding is if something happens to the wedding photographer’s images all the photos of the wedding are lost. Granted this unlikely, but it is plausible. The first thing I do after a wedding or sometimes even during the reception is I start backing up the images from the wedding day. By the next morning I usually have three or more copies of the wedding.

There are advantages to allowing guests to take images during the wedding day to. You get far more images and from different view points that the photographer and second shooter couldn’t realistically get to. There are also apps that allow you and your guests to view and share guest images more easily. Check out this article for more info on wedding photo sharing apps. You can also have guests tag all of their Instagram photos and tweets with a specific hashtag or even get 35mm disposable cameras from guests to shoot with.

Here is another great more contemporary article about the subject of the pros and cons of unplugged weddings.

Find this article helpful? Buy Ryan a coffee at

My Journey as a Photographer (part 1) – How I Got Started in Photography

A question that comes up during almost every portrait session is, “How did I get started in photography?”. This blog post explains just that.

My love of photography started when I was fairly young between the ages of thirteen and fourteen. I was a bit of a computer nerd at the time, and a friend of mine had recommended I check out a website called which featured Photoshop, photography, and other art competitions. I saved up money from mowing lawns, bought Photoshop CS2, and started making some pretty horrendous composites that I entered into contests on After a few months of entering Photoshopped images into contests, I still wasn’t very good, so I decided to try entering one of the website’s photography competitions instead. I grabbed my mom’s Kodak Easyshare and took a photo of my parent’s blue pole barn. This photo ended up scoring far better than any of my composites so I decided I try out photography instead of just Photoshop.


By the end of my freshman year of high school in 2009 I had saved up enough money to buy my own Nikon D40. I brought this with me everywhere and shot with it religiously. My parents and fellow church members saw my growing interest and encouraged me to pursue it further.



The exact moment I decided I wanted to be a photographer was in-between my freshman and sophomore years of high school. My parents and I were on a small vacation to Grand Rapids, Mi. We were at the Fred Meijer Gardens; I had my Nikon D40, metal Velbon tripod that my dad had bought back in the early 80s, and a refurbished 70-300mm lens. I was walking around trying to get some decent images of flowers when another visitor to the gardens noticed my camera and pointed towards some brush on the side of the trail. I walked over in just enough time for a baby raccoon to pop his head up. I snapped an image of him just before he hid back in the bushes and scurried away. This was the first photo I had gotten that I was really happy with. After seeing this photo was when I decided I wanted to become a photographer.


At this point in the conversation I usually get asked, “Why do I shoot portraits?”. It wasn’t till much later I decided I wanted to be a portrait photographer and the explanation takes a bit longer to. Check back next week for part 2 of My Journey as a Photographer.

Jason and Rachael Wedding Clare, Michigan

I couldn’t have asked for a better couple and wedding to photograph two weeks ago at the Clare Christ Fellowship Church! From Rachael and her bridesmaids getting their hair done at the Waterworks Salon and Spa in Mount Pleasant to the intimate couples portraits of the bride and groom at sunset at the dam in Clare the wedding went off without at hitch. Enjoy this slide show of Jason and Rachael’s special day.

What is New at RWP? – My Mackinac Island Trip

After shooting an amazing wedding in late July I got to take a great trip to Mackinac Island with my friends Jason and Ashley. Mackinac Island is a quant island in the middle of Lake Huron where no vehicles are allowed. Mackinac Island is full of bike trails, fudge shops, and historic sites.


I took my Nikon D600, my go to professional camera body, and four lenses but never used them. All of the photographs I took where shot using by iPhone 5s and edited using VSCOcam. A few images had minor global adjustments applied in Lightroom. All of my professional work and non-iPhone personal work goes thru a lot of planning and retouching to reach the final product. With my iPhoneography I take a far different approach. The images I capture throughout my travels and daily life with my iPhone are spontaneous images of lighting and sights I find interesting. Theses images aren’t meant to be saleable but instead personal images I shoot for fun for myself.



This first image was shot on our boat ride to Mackinac Island of another boat sailing in Lake Huron. A storm was coming towards the island creating the intense clouds.




This image was also shot on our boat ride right before we got off on Mackinac Island. A thick fog was surround the island when we first arrived.




After checking into our bed and breakfast the Small Point Bed and Breakfast, which I would highly recommend staying at, we headed back to downtown. We stopped by Fort Mackinac and ate a few doughnuts under the statue of Père Jacques Marquette. We affectionately nick named this seagull Sheldon since he shooed away other birds when they got near his spot that he never left. We saw Sheldon perched on his spot several more times during out trip.



Next we grabbed a quick lunch and then hiked up to Fort Mackinac where is photo was taken. We ate a great dinner downtown and then went on the Haunts of Mackinac tour at Mission Point Hotel.



On day two we left downtown and explored the outskirts of the island more. I decided to rent a tricycle because of my lack of balance and coordination. Two wheels are to mainstream anyway.



On one of our first stops I found this patch of daisies. I decided to play with the Contrast by Hornbeck app that lets you capture high contrast black and white images on your iPhone. It also has an invert function that was used to create this image.



After triking a bit longer we stopped for a quick lunch. I went over to the beach and shot some non-inverted images of the stones using the Contrast by Hornbeck app. I loved the pattern and texture these rocks created.




Stacking rocks on the beach on Mackinac Island is popular so we decided to give it a try. Our final stacked rock formation wasn’t very impressive but we did come across this one which was. This was also shot using the Contrast by Hornbeck app and later cropped in VSCOcam.



The stacked rocks where right across the road from Arch Rock a geographical formation caused by glaciers. This was also shot using the Contrast by Hornbeck app.




Next we headed up to Mackinac Island’s highest point Fort Holmes. There isn’t actually a fort their but it does have a nice view of the island. Here is quick shot of my friends Jason and Ashley on the highest point of the island.



Later that night after dinner we went on one last walk by the water before heading back to small point. This  minimalistic shot of a few ducks near sunset was shot across from the Mission Point Hotel.



This last image was the next day shortly after returning home to Clare, Mi. I shot this down the road from my house while I went for a walk before getting caught up on retouching and other work after our trip.

What Is New at RWP? – Clare County Charity Calendar

UPDATE: I recently heard from the Clare County DHS and the printing of this calendar is being postponed until further notice

Behind the scenes image of the Dover School Shoot

July was a great month at Ryan Watkins Photography! I got to photograph an amazing wedding, had a great trip to Mackinac Island, I continued my #iPhoneography series, and got to help create some new images for a charity calendar which will be available locally in the next few months.

Two years ago before I moved to Massachusetts I was approached by the Clare County United Way about shooting images for a calendar that would raise money to help their Project Kids Christmas charity. We shot the images but sadly the funding for the project didn’t come thru. Two years later I was contacted by the Clare County DHS to see if they could use my images for the same calendar to benefit Project Kids Christmas. I was more than willing but wanted to reshoot some of the old images. I spent the last two weeks of July photographing a variety of local landmarks and still lives which where relevant to Clare County.

The final Dover School image

The first location I knew I wanted to reshoot was Dover School. The Dover School is a one room school house that was renovated to its original condition. I shot several images of the Dover School while the sun set gradually set. I ended up compositing two images for the final shot. One had the shadows from the trees in the foreground the way I liked them and the other had the exterior of the school lit with flash.

The final Farwell Cannon image

Next I photographed the cannon in Farwell, Mi. This is a real life size cannon not a replica or paperweight. I photographed this at night and lit it will flash to eliminate the distracting park surrounding the cannon.

The Farwell Cannon before being lit

Morel Mushroom Still Life

In the spring many people in Clare County enjoy morel hunting, where they look for wild morel mushrooms. I wanted to reshoot an image of morel mushrooms for the calendar but it was almost four months to late to find local wild morels. So I went on and bought an incredibly overpriced bag of morels for the shoot. For this image I placed the morels on a tree stump near my house and lit them with flash at a very low angle to bring out the textures of the mushrooms.

Black Eyed Susans shot using a Lensbaby for the blurred effect

Black Eyed Susans are another common site in Clare County. I wanted to do something different from the traditional flower shot so I tried out my new Lensbaby. A Lensbaby is a flexible lens which lets you change focus my pulling the lens in different directions. I lit these with flash and turned the Lensbaby to create this blurring effect.

My new Lensbaby used to photograph the Black Eyed Susans

The rest of the calendar will have images of nature, landscapes, and wildlife from Clare County.

The final calendar will be available later in the year at several locations within Clare County. I’ll post on my blog and on social media when I find out where and when the calendars are available.

Art Walk Central Piece up at 3 Wishes Floral and Design Studio until August 23rd


Art Walk Central annually attracts artists from across the state and country to showcase their art pieces in local business in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. My work will be hosted by the lovely 3 Wishes Floral and Design Studio. Not only was 3 Wishes gracious enough to host my work but they also gave me some free flowers to photograph for a charity calendar I’ve been working on! Below is an image I shot of their roses using my new Lensbaby!


The image at the top of this post is my piece that will be on display at 3 Wishes. This was photographed of my friends and fellow Hallmark Institute of Photography alumni Sean and Jess of River Valley Photo back in March 2014 when I made a trip down to Cincinnati, Ohio to visit them.


If you are in the Mount Pleasant area defiantly check out the amazing artists work on display throughout downtown!


3 Wishes Floral and Design Studio


Art Walk Central


River Valley Photo