Don’t Become Obsessed With Photography Equipment

Since creating the Michigan Photography Network in 2017 and starting to dabble in teaching photography in 2018, I have started to get more questions from amature photographers. A common thing I see with new photographers is they are obsessed with gear and acquiring it. This is especially true for those who come from a technical or engineering background. This seems to be less of an issue for those coming into photography from more of an artistic background. Those in the local art communities seem to care less about camera specs, new lenses, and other novelty gear. This obsession with acquiring the latest and greatest gear can become a huge financial burden and won’t lead to you getting better photos.

An amature photographer friend of mine told me recently about a trip he went on. He has a newer and higher end camera and lens combination than I do, but he wasn’t able to get the shot he wanted on the trip. Despite his huge investment in gear he wasn’t able to figure out how to get an image in the high contrast scene he wanted to photograph. If he had spent the time learning about basic photography instead of simply buying more gear he could have gotten the image and saved a lot of money.

The photography industry doesn’t do much to help with this either. A photographer I spoke with last year went on about how “real photographers” (sic) have to use Profoto flashes. I used Profoto flashes in college and they are amazing flashes. They also start out at well over $1000. I can create nearly the exact same photo as those I did in college with my current lighting kit consisting of $400 Alienbees and $15 Yongnuo flashes. The Profotos will last longer and recycle quicker than the Alienbees or Yongnuos but amature and professional photographers don’t need to use the highest end lights available. Quit trying to meet of the approval of the industry snobs and start taking better photos for yourself and your clients.

When it comes to purchasing gear you should focus on buying what you need and not what you want. A lot of photographers especially amateurs waste a lot of money on novel equipment like Lensbabies, fisheye lenses, and other weird novelty gear that will seldom get used. Over my career I’ve acquired a great deal of these novel odds and ends but have ended up selling, giving away, or throwing out most of them in 2018 after reading about minimalism.

My recent gear purchases weren’t impulse buys based off of what my favorite photo industry celebrity endorsed but instead where based on practical factors based on what my clients want. Two lenses I bought in 2018 were a 60mm macro and an 85mm f1.8. Why these two lenses? My wedding clients want macro shots of their wedding rings so I bought a macro lens. I also have many clients who get married in small dimly lit churches. During the ceremony I like to remain as inconspicuous as possible so I don’t use flash. Hence why I bought an 85mm f/1.8.

I also bought several cheap used Yongnuo flashes from eBay. Why? Because now I can give clients a lot more variety of lighting options.

Some of my best purchases for my business in the last few years weren’t even technically photography equipment. Examples? A red wagon I can pull my gear around in. A leatherman multipurpose tool which I’ve used for a wide variety of applications both on shoots and in daily life. Even pieces of foam core to use as reflectors and flags.

Don’t fall for it when people try to convince you that you need the latest, greatest, or most novel gear to get a good photo. Ansel Adams, Gregory Heisler, Arnold Newman, Platon, Joe McNally, Dan Winters, Irving Penn, and the other greats of photography have taken far better photos than I ever have with far inferior gear. Instead focus on learning the craft. It takes time and won’t be solved by buying the latest full frame mirrorless camera and Profoto two head kit.

Find this article helpful? Buy Ryan a coffee at

The Best Books I Read in 2018

The Best Books I Read in 2018

When I was a kid I hated reading. The books we had to read in school didn’t interest me. I dreaded taking the Accelerated Reader tests. In high school I started reading books and magazines about photography but still wasn’t big on reading much else. It wasn’t until well after I graduated from the Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 that I grew to love reading. In 2014 I started reading more, and now reading is one of my favorite hobbies. I have a very eclectic and esoteric taste in books. In 2018 I read seventy six books on topics as diverse as nootropics, minimalism, pipe smoking, Sigmund Freud, old timey medicinal practices, social awkwardness, personal finance, aesthetics, etiquette, and the scottish covenanters. As I looked thru my goodreads to see which books receiving a 5 star rating I would talk about in this blog post I was surprised that only one book I read this year dealt directly with photography. Ansel Adam’s classic The Camera: which held up surprisingly well despite its age and the advancements in technology. Here are some of my favorite books I read in 2018 on topics ranging from business to non-fiction to theology.

The Thank You Economy – Gary Vaynerchuk

The Thank You Economy is one of the best business books I’ve read in some time. Gary Vee’s books are far less crass than his podcasts and videos, which I appreciate. Some of the major themes in the book are summarized in the last chapter of the book.

“Care—about your customers, about your employees, about your brand—with everything you’ve got.

Erase any lines in the sand—don’t be afraid of what’s new or unfamiliar.

Show up first to market whenever possible, early the rest of the time.

Instill a culture of caring into your business by:

Being self-aware

Mentally committing to change

Setting the tone through your words and actions Investing in your employees

Hiring culturally compatible DNA, and spotting it within your existing team

Being authentic—whether online or offline, say what you mean, and mean what you say

Empowering your people to be forthright, creative, and generous

Speak your customers’ language.

Allow your customers to help you shape your brand or business, but never allow them to dictate the direction in which you take it.

Build a sense of community around your brand.

Arrange for traditional and social media to play Ping-Pong and extend every conversation. Direct all of your marketing initiatives toward the emotional center, and to the creative extremes.

Approach social media initiatives with good intent, aiming for quality engagements, not quantity.

Use shock and awe to blow your customers’ minds and get them talking.

If you must use tactics, use “pull” tactics that remind consumers why they should care about your brand. If you’re small, play like you’re big; if you’re big, play like you’re small.

Create a sense of community around your business or your brand.

Don’t be afraid to crawl before you run.”

Sleep Smarter:  21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success – Shawn Stevenson

Since graduating from the Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 I have struggled off an on with insomnia. This is primarily due to my inconsistent sleep cycle from being self employed. Sleep Smarter greatly helped me sleep better in 2018. Stevenson doesn’t just give practical things to start and stop doing but explains the science behind why these practices work. Using these techniques I was able to wean myself off of melatonin and get on a far better sleep cycle for the majority of the year.

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse In The Age Of Show Business – Neil Postman

I found a copy of Postman’s classic for ninety-nine cents at Goodwill in Mt Pleasant. Postman shows how we are headed towards the Huxleyan dystopia of Brave New World due to our obsession with entertainment and how we got to this point. Not a happy read but an eye opening one.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir Of A Family and Culture In Crisis – JD Vance

JD Vance’s autobiographical Hillbilly Elegy tells the story of the author’s impoverished upbringing in Kentucky and Ohio and how he later became a Marine then Yale graduate. Raw and vulgar at points but necessary. One of my biggest takeaways from this book was the importance of social capital.

Living In God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Approach To Christianity and Culture – David VanDrunen

My church went thru David VanDrunen’s Living In God’s Two Kingdoms during our Christian Education classes in late 2018. VanDrunen goes into detail explaining the common kingdom, rooted in the Noahic covenant, and the redemptive kingdom, rooted in the Abrahamic covenant. Learning about two kingdom theology has greatly impacted how I practically live my life and is the reason I have joined several of the organizations I am involved with.

I hope to read at least a book a week in 2019. To see more of what I am currently reading check out my Goodreads profile.

Find this article helpful? Buy Ryan a coffee at

Sam Personal Work at the Energize Workspace in Midland, Michigan

I first met Sam through Model Mayhem back in early 2016. Since then we have worked together several times. My previous work with Sam has been featured in shows at the 515 Gallery in downtown Clare.

I can always count on her to come to me with cool photoshoot ideas which are outside of my typical wheelhouse.

For this recent shoot we started with shooting images with a tinfoil background. Next we did a fake underwater shoot using a tub of water. We had seen these ideas executed by other photographers in articles I had posted to the Michigan Photography Network facebook group.

Huge thanks to Sam for modeling and her friend Amanda for helping assist me.

Also a huge thanks to the Energize Workspace for letting me use their co-working space for this shoot. I would highly recommend local entrepreneurs interested in working remotely, networking, or learning about how to grow their businesses check out the Energize Workspace.

What to Expect From Ryan Watkins Photography In 2019

2018 was my most profitable year in business thus far at Ryan Watkins Photography. I can’t wait to see what 2019 will bring!

The primary emphasis for Ryan Watkins Photography going forward is weddings. I already have eight weddings set up for 2019 and hope to bring in more. My second shooter Nikki Robinson will be working with me in the upcoming year.

I plan on continuing to shoot portraiture as well. This includes engagements, families, seniors, and headshots.

Engagements and couples portraits is where I plan on spending most of my time. More Headshot Days at The Energize Workspace are being planned. The next will most likely be in the spring. I will continue to offer senior portraits but I won’t market them heavily.

All pricing for portrait and wedding work will stay the same in 2019.

I removed the pet and child portrait session pages from my website due to lack of interest in these sessions. I also plan on doing less freelance retouching in 2019.

Any paying work outside of portraits and weddings falls under the category of commissioned work. I will continue to offer these services but will increase prices for shoots outside of my traditional wheel house of portraits (engagements, families, seniors, headshots) or weddings.

I plan on working on new personal work and new personal series during 2019. Updates to these projects will be posted on my blog, social media, and email newsletter.

As in years past I plan on continuing to do pro bono work with Flashes of Hope, the Mt Pleasant Craft Beer Festival, and the Clare Irish Festival in 2019.

I don’t offer boudoir, newborns, nor videography. If you are interested in these services I would recommend Miss Lily in Rosebush for both boudoir and newborns and Dan Tuma Media in Midland for videography.

My slow season is approximately November-April and my busy season is approximately May-October give or take a month of so depending on the weather. During the remainder of the slow season I plan on studying writing advertising copy and writing a year’s worth of weekly blog posts.

Starting in 2017 I have spent a lot of time networking locally especially in Midland. I hope to start some casual networking groups in Clare and Mt Pleasant in 2019.

In 2017 I started the Michigan Photography Network Facebook group. This group was created to help Michigan photographers and those connected to the industry network with one another. The group has now grown to over 900 members and have had three in person meet ups. The in person meet ups have been replaced by a monthly meet up at The Studio Shop in Williamston, Michigan. These will be continued in 2019 as well as my participation in the facebook group. I usually post twice a day in the group to links of articles, videos, or dank memes.

In 2017 I was asked to teach two workshops at the Energize Workspace in Midland, Michigan. After this people started asking me to do one on one teaching. I plan on continuing teaching in 2019 but plan on systematizing it better. Updates to these teaching projects will be posted on my blog, social media, and email newsletter.

Since 2015 I loved listening to podcasts. For almost as long I’ve flirted with the idea of starting my own photography themed podcast. In 2019 I hope to finally go thru with this idea. I also hope to start reading public domain audiobooks for LibriVox.

Check the Ryan Watkins Photography blog on Monday evenings for my latest blog posts and updates for 2019.

2018 A Year In Review

2018 was a great year here at Ryan Watkins Photography! I’ve had the opportunity of working with a ton of great clients, and 2018 ended up being my most profitable year in business thus far. Here is a recap of 2018 at Ryan Watkins Photography.

The winter is always my slow season, meaning that I have less client work. During this time of the year I focus on working “on” my business compared to “in” my business. This means I have less weddings and portrait sessions but spend a lot of time working on the internal systems in my business as well as networking, marketing, web presence, and continuing education.

During my slow season I got to do some personal work with several great models including Lisa, Karra, Dakota, Summer, and Sam. One of the reasons I shoot personal work is to increase my photographic skills and become more proficient with my gear. I practice with new gear and techniques on models so I will be comfortable using this gear and techniques on shoots with clients

In January 2018 I joined the Clare Area Jaycees. The Jaycees are a not-for-profit organization which focus on community service and personal development. More information on the Clare Area Jaycees can be found here.

I first started attending events at the Energize Workspace in 2017 but in 2018 I became more heavily involved in the Energize Workspace. I became an official member of the space in 2018. Now I regularly work from the space as well as attending their networking events and classes. In March 2018 I taught my first class The Fundamentals of Photography at the Energize Workspace. I also taught another class The Photo Retouching and Workflow Workshop in August 2018. After people saw that I had started teaching workshops I had people reach out to me to do one on one teaching. I had a few one on one teaching clients in 2018 and plan on continuing and better systematizing the teaching side of Ryan Watkins Photography in 2019. Also in October I hosted a headshot day at the Energize Workspace which had 14 attendants. I look forward to continuing to be involved in the Energize community in 2019.

In 2017 I created the Michigan Photography Network Facebook group. This group was originally created to connect photographers and those connected to the photography industry in Michigan. We had two in person meetups in 2017 and one in 2018. The group has now grown to over 900 members.  I usually post two helpful links a day for fellow photographers in the group. These links are usually to articles, videos, or podcasts which fellow photographers and business owners would find helpful. In February 2018 I got to meet Will Long, a fellow Hallmark Institute of Photography alumni, who recently opened his studio space in Williamston, Michigan this year. He hosts monthly studio meetups in Williamston which I would highly recommend attending. These meetups have replaced the Michigan Photography Network Meetups which I hosted in late 2017 and early 2018. I look forward to working more with Will and seeing what this leads to in the future.

During my busy season this year I got to photograph a wide variety of work including weddings, family portraits, headshots, rock bands, events, seniors, and commissioned work for other businesses. I got to work with my amazing second shooter Nikki Robinson for several weddings. These shoots have taken me all over the state. I primarily work in Clare, Midland, and Mt Pleasant, Michigan but I have also had work in Saginaw, Charlevoix, Grand Rapids, Alma, Howell, Onaway, Trout Lake, Standish, Turner, Merrill, Kalamazoo, and Gladwin.

In addition to photographing portraits and weddings I like to do pro bono work. In 2018 I had the privilege of photographing Night To Shine, Royal Family Kids Camp, Flashes of Hope, the Mt Pleasant Craft Beer Festival, and the Clare Irish Festival.

In August I joined a local chapter of BNI: the world’s largest referral networking organization. I met a ton of great people thru BNI and it brought in many great clients, but I decided to leave during my slow season due to the chapter being over a half hour away from my home, making involvement difficult.

I’ve been involved in shows at the 515 Gallery in downtown Clare since I was in high school. I had the privilege of being part of two shows this year: Open Studio and Miniature Exhibit.

I finished 2018 by starting to pick away at my offseason to do list. The first thing I completed was giving my website a completely new look which was optimized for mobile.

2018 ended up being my most profitable year and business thus far. I can’t wait to see what 2019 will bring. Next week’s blog post will include the direction I hope to take Ryan Watkins Photography in the new year.