Win a Free Couples or Engagement Portrait Session: Contest Ends Valentine’s Day 2018


I will be giving away a free couples or engagement portrait session to which ever couple can get the most people to comment their names in the comments section of this blog post. This session includes a thumb drive with digital files with web rights for personal use and no creation fee. Additional prints or products can be purchased at the normal cost. Contest ends at 10pm on February 14th 2018.


Current Tally as of Tuesday February 14th at 10:00pm:


Congrats to both couples Ryan and Megan and James and Alyxczia who will both be getting free couples portrait sessions for Valentine’s Day! Both couples tied with 156 votes!


Ryan and Megan 156

James and Alyxczia 156

Deineira and Brandon 25

Matt and Stephanie 2

Rachel Medford and Alex Crafard 1

Colin and Paige 1

Haley & Daniel 1

Brittany and Kris 1


Updates coming daily








The Importance of Timelessness in Photography


A month or so ago I read thru an article on Rangefinder Magazine featuring the best wedding photography of the year. I forget right off hand what the title of the article was but it featured 30 photographers. Many of the images were stunning, within and of themselves, but almost all of them had a similar retouching applied to get a dark, gritty, dingey look. Even though the images themselves were beautiful the trendy grungy muddy retouching made almost all of the photographers work look the same and clearly dated the work to instantly scream “2017.”

When I first got started in photography back in 2009/2010 high dynamic range photography (commonly called HDR) was all the rage. This technique originally required special software and required the photographer to take several photographs (usually three or more exposures) which were then combined to get details in the lights and darks of an image. These images usually resulted in garish cartoonish images which were loved by non photographers and hated by professionals. Now thanks to improvements in smartphone technology HDR is even available on phone cameras and commonly known to most people today.

Shortly after graduating from Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 plugin and app makers such as VISCO popularized presets and retouching techniques which made images look like they were shot on film. As a fellow Hallmark alumni and I predicted this hipster trend would die and die hard.

Back in the 1980s wedding photographers were the least respected group of working photographers in the industry, after the advent of digital photography nature and landscape  photographers (with the exceptions of a few well knowns) took that position. Part of this was due to hideous trendy photos(like gaudy double exposures of people’s heads in wine glasses).


As time goes on I’m sure we’ll have to witness (suffer thru?) many trendy photographic styles; most of which will be caused by retouching and post processing more so than the photography itself. As I had mentioned when observing the recent trend of dark grungy images (which is possibly an overreaction to the airy faux film images of the few years prior) the original photographs (what was captured in camera) were gorgeous but the over processing is what permanently stamped them with the look and feel of 2017.  

Imagine you come from a large family and each sibling had hired the same wedding photographer. Now imagine that the photographer simply adopted the trends of each year. The first 2010 couple would have gaudy HDR images, the second 2013 couple would have hipster-centric faux film images, and most recently photographed 2017 couple would have dark grungy images.


The antidote to modern trends in retouching is timelessness. I don’t take the purest view that all retouching is bad and that we should go back to ye olde film days. I have much respect for those who shoot with film but my formal training has been with digital therefore I stick with such. A consistent timeless approach to both the photography and retouching is something that I want to be a hallmark of my work.


Since receiving my formal training at Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 my photographic style hasn’t changed greatly. This isn’t an excuse for stagnancy. A photographer’s work should improve over time, and mine has, even though my overall style hasn’t changed. I flee novelty while still improving at my craft. As the years have went on I’ve gotten better at capturing gesture and expression in my images (something my early work lacked). I have also learned to shoot in ways requiring less retouching and post production (partially for pragmatic efficiency workflow reasons) and partially because my work is improving and I’m becoming less dependent on post production. I have always strived to present simple, clean, elegant portraiture (and wedding documentary) to my clients. These defining traits (clean, simple, and elegant) could also be used to describe my commercial, event, and fine art images as well. If you look at the slideshow on my homepage I have images spanning from 2013-2017. The changes in the imagery is subtle. Newer images show more expression and gesture while older images where a little more static and focused on technical precision. Despite the year taken the style as remained the same.

Here at Ryan Watkins Photography I strive to provide clean, simple, elegant photography for my clients regardless of current trends or what genre of photography I am photographing for them.

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Luxury Metal Prints Now Available for Purchase Online


My popular luxury metal prints are now available to purchase online! If you are a 2017 client of Ryan Watkins Photography the store on the personal link you received with a gallery of images from your session has been updated to now included my luxury metal prints. Future clients will also have access to these prints in their private online galleries. Clients now have the option to purchase any of my existing images for sale in my fine art store as metal prints as well.

What to Expect from Ryan Watkins Photography in 2018


2017 was a great year here at Ryan Watkins Photography. I can’t wait to see what 2018 will bring.

A few years ago I was considering moving, but in the spring of 2016 I ultimately decided to stay in mid-Michigan. As I’ve grown older my home town has grown on me and I’ve learned to be content in central Michigan. Similar to 2017 I expect to travel around the state quite a bit for portrait sessions and weddings, but my main locations of emphasis will be on Clare, Midland, Mt Pleasant and the small towns in between them.


In 2018 I plan on putting a heavy emphasis on the portrait and (especially) wedding side of Ryan Watkins Photography. I already have a few weddings and portrait sessions booked for 2018 and several consultations which will hopefully lead to sessions as well. As those who have been following my work during 2017 will already know, I spent a great deal of 2017 training Nikki Robinson to be my second shooter for weddings. Her work has came a long way in the last year, and I look forward to having her assist me on weddings during 2018. I don’t currently have any plans for additions to my fine art galleries, but archived work will still be available for purchase as prints via my fine art website. I look forward to photographing the Clare Irish Festival as I always do around Saint Patrick’s Day. I got to photograph several bands such as Kari Lynch, The Chase Engel Band, and Sprout and the Orange in 2017 and hope photographing concerts and events will continue into 2018. I also plan on hosting various headshot days in Midland, Michigan throughout the year as well. To stay up to date with the various specials and events throughout the year sign up for the Ryan Watkins Photography Newsletter.

Since the new product and pricing structure I implemented in 2017 has worked out so successfully, I will be keeping it in 2018. 2018 clients will receive their images via online gallery (where prints and products can be purchased and shipped to their home) within a week of the shoot. Digital files can also be downloaded at that time. My complete price list can be found here.


I have a long list of eighty plus items I want to work on and complete during my off season. On a side note, when I refer to my off season (or slow season) I’m referring to the winter months and early spring when I have less work. I’m still available for sessions and weddings during this time. Due to the weather I get less work during these times of the year. One of the big tasks I’ll be working on during early 2018 is completing my weekly blog posts for the year. I like to blog a minimum of once a week. I plan on writing a variety of personal posts so potential clients can get to know me better. I also will be starting a handful of new blog post series highlighting local wedding vendors, frequently asked questions, and how I got various shots from my archive. Blog posts with new photos will be added through the year as well.

In 2017 I created a Facebook group called the Michigan Photography Network: for networking with those connected to the photography industry in Michigan. The group has now grown to over 700 members and has hosted two in person meet ups. I plan on putting on more in person meet ups throughout the year. To stay up to date with meetups and events put on by the Michigan Photography Network join the group here.

To stay up to date with my various specials and events throughout the year sign up for the Ryan Watkins Photography Newsletter.


Looking for Wedding Vendors to Feature in e-book about Planning Your Central Michigan Wedding


I’m starting to write an e-book for potential wedding clients about planning your mid Michigan wedding. I’ll be including information about wedding vendors I’ve worked with and would recommend. If you’re a wedding vendor catering to central Michigan and would like to be considered for inclusion in the e-book please contact me. I’m only including people I have positive experiences with and would recommend to clients. I want to get the e-book out to clients on Valentine’s Day so if you are interested in working together please contact me sooner than later.

2017 A Year in Review

2017 A Year in Review


2017 has been an amazing year here at Ryan Watkins Photography. I’ve been able to photograph and network with a wide variety of amazing people throughout the year. This post will showcase some of my favorite images and the plethora of projects I was able to work on throughout the year.

I spent much of my off season (winter) of late 2016 and early 2017 reading business books, bouncing ideas off friends in the industry, and listening to podcasts and lectures on the business side of photography. The late winter and early spring was spent enfleshing the ideas I had learned. Early 2017 marked some huge changes to the pricing and products offered at Ryan Watkins Photography. I radically changed my product and pricing structure allowing clients to buy products a la carte and started allowing clients to print their own photos (even though I politely recommend against it). I also started giving clients online galleries where they can buy prints and easily share photos with friends and family. These changes ended up being incredibly successful and clients loved it.

When I wasn’t reading or studying the business side of photography early in the year I was shooting fine art images of snow covered trees and roads in rural mid Michigan. Few of these images ended up being happy Thomas Kinkade-esque winter scenes but instead many were foggy scenes of rural midwestern living. Some of my favorite images from this project included chilled Amish riding down a foggy road and blistering winds blowing fresh snow thru fields. The best images shot during those months are available for purchase in either the Landscape or Rural Living galleries on my Fine Art website.  


In spring of 2017 a friend and I started studying virtual reality photography. After some gear rentals and tests I found out I was able to pull off the technical side of photographing virtual reality photos. He and I started putting together the plans to start another business called Parallax. We found a few other guys who were more experienced than us to help with the sales, marketing, and programing side of Parallax. After more discussion we eventually realized that it wasn’t financially feasible and we abandoned the project. Even though it didn’t go anywhere and costed us some money I still got to learn a great deal from the experience.

I rarely photograph much of anything the would be considered documentary photography but thru some unfortunate events in early summer I had the opportunity to. In June we had some of the worst flooding in Michigan that we have had in decades. Instead of staying home in my home on a slight incline I decided to drive around Clare, Isabella, and Midland county documenting the rains and their damage. Some of these photos would eventually end up getting published in local newspapers.


Every time I talked with fellow Hallmark Institute of Photography Alumni they heavily emphasized the importance of networking with local photographers. Most of the photographers in the area seemed to (more or less) ignore one another. I looked online to see if there were any good networking groups for professional photographers in my area on Facebook but few turned up. I decided to start my own Facebook group for networking with others connected to the photography industry in Michigan. In May 2017 the Michigan Photography Network was created. Currently at the end of 2017 the group has grown to over 700 members and we have had two in person meet ups (one in Grand Rapids and one in Clare). I have met several great local photographers and other entrepreneurs thru the group and look forward to more future meetups in 2018. The group also got me in touch with the amazing group of entrepreneurs at The Energize Workspace in Midland, Michigan. I would highly recommend going to their various events if you are a business owner in mid-Michigan.

During my last off season I decided I was going to put a much heavier emphasis on wedding photography in 2017. Every time I talked with fellow wedding photographer friends they mentioned that I needed to offer a second shooter if I was going to get into weddings. In mid March I received a Facebook message from an old high school friend Nikki Robinson asking about what camera she should buy. After talking more via Facebook messenger I found out that she wanted to get into photography. We met up in Mt Pleasant in early April and discussed the idea of me teaching her how to second shoot weddings. She was on board. As the months went on her and I developed a great friendship full of inside jokes and shared bizarre experiences on photo shoots. In early November her and I would shoot our first wedding together. Her photos turned out way better than I could have ever imagined. In the final gallery send to the client I don’t think they could even tell which images were shot by me and which by her. She has also started shooting her own portrait sessions and recently got her first major publication in Photographer’s Forum. I can’t wait to shoot more weddings with Nikki in 2018 and come back with more crazy stories from our adventures.


In addition to training Nikki to be my second shooter for weddings I’ve also went out of my way to collaborate with local wedding vendors. I have had the opportunity of working with two great Clare venues the Venue at 501 and the White Barn. I also got to work with the amazing DJ Branson Wolfgang from Epic Beats as well as the great Grand Rapids based wedding band Rebel Swain. I also would highly recommend working with Andrea and Morgan at Splendid Events for your wedding planning needs. Here are some of the images captured for local wedding vendors throughout the year.


In the spring the owner of the 515 Gallery told me that the Four Leaf Brewing in Downtown, Clare was looking for local artists work to hang on their walls. I got in touch with the owner (Amy) and brought a few samples of my work. She liked them and now several photos by both Nikki and I are hanging on the walls at Four Leaf. I now frequent the Four Leaf and my friends have even gotten annoyed at me for how much I brag up this local watering hole. If you find yourself in downtown Clare I’d highly recommend stopping by the Four Leaf which has great beer, food, and service.

Every year I try to work with new models (as well as returning ones) to help add to each others portfolios. I had a great time working with Sheridan, Chelsea, Dayna, Brittany, Ashley, Dakota, and Karra this year. Some of these shoots (like those with Brittany and Sheridan) worked as good ways to show Nikki the ropes and help add photos to her portfolio as well.


Much of early summer was spent shooting images for a massive composite with over 120 images which is now on display at Art Reach in Mt Pleasant Michigan. All of the images in the final mosaic deal with arts in mid Michigan.


I also got to photograph some great seniors this year. Some of the highlights included photographing the multi talented Don Owens from Midland who is an expert pianist and aspiring pilot.


I ended up working with more families this year than any year before. Some of the highlights include the heavily armed Myers family and the Owens family with eleven children. Here are some of my favorite family portrait images from 2017.


I got to work with a ton of amazing couples this year which allowed me to travel all over Michigan to cities including: Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Greenville, and Howell.


As the years go by the more I enjoy photographing events. I photographed many public events in 2016 (which admitabley didn’t lead to much business) but this year I decided to choose what festivals to photograph more discerningly (in addition to getting several paying event gigs). I had a great time photographing the Clare Irish Festival which lead to some of my highest website views of the entire year. I also volunteered to photograph the Mt Pleasant Craft Beer festival and became their official photographer. The Venue at 501 got me access to photograph local Clare celebrity Kari Lynch during her concert in downtown Clare. Nikki and I also shot the Beaverton fireworks together on the Fourth of July which was a ton of fun. My high school friend Alex Crafard is the lead guitarist in the Saginaw based Chase Engel Band who are in the process of recording their first album with Tesla bassist Brian Wheat. Nikki and I were given access to photograph one of their concerts in Bay City and had a blast. Lastly Sprout and the Orange (a Saginaw based jam band who’s tunes are right up my alley) hired me to photograph their concert/Thanksgiving dinner (yes you read that correctly) shortly after thanksgiving. Below are some of my favorite event photos from the year.


The 515 Gallery in downtown Clare, Michigan has been a home away from home for me since high school. As usual I had my work in a few of their shows this year (two to be exact) and also gave an artist talk explaining the process behind one of my portraits on wood.

During 2017 I wrote a variety of blog posts that potential clients and aspiring photographers should find helpful. Below are some of the highlights; the entire list of articles (including my product overviews and location recommendations) can be found here.


Recommended Central Michigan Wedding Vendors

Meet My Second Shooter Nikki Robinson

Recommended Resources for Learning About Photography

Recommended Gear

Recommended Print Labs

The Extended About Me Page

The Ryan Watkins Photography Experience – Sessions from Start to Finish

Location Recommendations: Downtown Grand Rapids


This is the eighth of a series of blog posts showcasing the various locations I recommend for portrait sessions around Michigan.

I love doing portrait sessions in Grand Rapids, Michigan, so much so I was even considering moving there for a time. Downtown Grand Rapids specifically has tons of beautiful locations for portraiture all within a reasonable walking distance. 

I recommend parking at the Gerald R Ford Presidential Library and Museum at 303 Pearl St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504. From here most locations in downtown Grand Rapids can be easily reached by walking and you don’t have to worry about figuring out which of the similarly marked parking garages you are located in. 

I recommend starting sessions at 6pm and shooting for about two hours if the session is during the summer or fall. This gives us plenty of time to shoot around down town in the evening, sunset, and early night. 

Below are some of my favorite images taken in and around Grand Rapids over the years.