New Personal Work with Model Rocio in Gladwin, Michigan


During 2019 I’ve been making a point of doing shoots in less photographed places. For this shoot with long time friend Rocio we headed to downtown Gladwin, Michigan. All images were taken with natural light and an 85mm f/1.8 Lens.


Guzowski Family Portrait in Farwell, Michigan


I had a great time getting to photograph fellow Jaycees members Mike, Sandra, and their adorable son Grant. Grant was one of the best behaved and cutest kids I’ve had the opportunity to photograph in a long time. All of the photos were taken near their home in Farwell, Michigan.


New Personal Work with Model Cassi in Mt Pleasant, Michigan

This year I’ve been making a point of shooting more personal work. This helps me grow as a photographer, meet new models, and find new locations to photograph.

The first shoot I ever did with Cassi was back in 2012 before my formal training at the Hallmark Institute of Photography. Since then we have worked together multiple times. Some of my most creative and unique shoots have been with Cassi. These have included shoots at night lighting up craggily trees with flash. Belly dancing and post apocalyptic themed shoots, and also a trip to Ludington for natural light images on Lake Michigan. Some of these images would later be displayed as metal prints at the Four Leaf Brewery in downtown Clare.

For this shoot we went to Nelson Park in Mt Pleasant. This is one of my most frequented locations. I knew that trying to shoot something new and unique here would be difficult since I have shot it so many times. The first images we did with Cassi wearing her normal cloth in natural light. The leaves made the image almost look like it was shot in fall despite it being photographed in April. This was shot using an 85mm f/1.8 lens wide open to get a very shallow depth of field. Some more selective blurring was added in Photoshop.

Then Cassi changed into her medieval dress. We shot around a patch of three trees near the entrance of Nelson Park. Despite shooting at Nelson Park countless times before I don’t think I had ever shot around these three trees before. I had usually opted for the more obvious location choices like the rocks, waterfall, trail between parks, and weeping willow trees.

The first dress image was shot on tripod with my Alienbee B1600 Flash modified with a standard white shoot thru umbrella very close to Cassi. The closer the lightsource to the subject the more flattering the light. I shot two images one with Cassi and the light and one without Cassi and the light. I later merged these two images in Photoshop removing the light and keeping Cassi. The final result reminds me of my favorite Dutch masters paintings even though this wasn’t intentional going into the shoot.

The remaining images were shot with a very shallow depth of field and I intentionally places the trees between Cassi and I to create depth. To get a very shallow depth of field I used an ND filter which works like sunglasses for your camera. This allowed me to get to an f/1.8 aperture despite is still being relatively bright outside. All were lit with an Alienbee B1600 Flash modified with a shoot thru umbrella. By making changes in the shutter speed and light placement I was able to get a variety very different looks.

Huge thanks to Cassi for modeling! This is one of my favorite shoots we have done together to date.

New Personal Work with Model Dakota in Loomis, Michigan


This spring I’m planning on shooting a lot of personal work. I have several shoots and consultations planned with both new models and models I’ve worked with multiple times. I especially want to shoot more in less photographed towns. I find myself frequenting many of the same locations a lot. This spring I’m challenging myself to get good photos in less attractive locations.

For this shoot I had an old friend Dakota model for me on the Rail Trail in Loomis, Michigan. A lot of times as photographers we can get caught up in the technical stuff and make things overly complex. Even though I had my vehicle crammed with all my gear including multiple lenses, several lights, and plethora of modifiers, I decided to shoot everything with one lens and natural light.

This first handful of images were shot just under the bridge near the Loomis Rail Trail entrance. We were able to get a variety of looks by shifting just a few feet. Lighting is a game of inches. Next we walked the Rail Trail towards Clare to get more backlit headshots. The final image was shot on the Rail Trail behind the Medilodge in Clare.

Huge thanks to Dakota for modeling.



Clare Irish Festival 2019

I had a great time photographing the 2019 Clare Irish Festival! Here are my favorite images from the event.

New Personal Work With Model Rocio in Clare, Michigan

“It’s amazing how a good day’s work will get you right back to feeling like yourself.”
Steven Pressfield


During the spring I always like to do personal work with models. In the winter I don’t shoot much. This is my slow season. In my busy season I’m out working with clients and during my slow season I am working on the internal systems for how my business runs. Michael Gerber refers to this as working “on” your business compared to “in” my business in his classic The E-Myth Revisited. After a few months of shooting less I always feel rusty. Getting back to shooting models for personal work is how I get warmed up for the busy season.

A long time friend Rocio was willing to model for me on this dreary day. We were originally planning on shooting in Gladwin. We drove to Gladwin but ended up in a torrential downpour. We decided to postpone shooting and wait for a day with better weather. On our way back to Clare we saw that Petite Park was covered in fog. We stopped and grabbed a few shots before the fog dissipated.

The first two images were shot in natural light. The grey sky and snow made for very soft light. Rocio’s loud outfit made her stand out against the snow and fog. The last image was shot with flash. I intentionally underexposed the background and used a tungsten white balance to give the image a moody cold feel. Ideally I would have put a color temperature orange gel on the flash to make Rocio’s skin a warmer color. Due to the fog quickly receding I didn’t have time. Instead I opted to warm up the light on Rocio in post. I plan on using one of these images as my entry into Art Walk Central in Mt Pleasant.


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.

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.

Chase Engel and The Night Shift in Merrill, Michigan

I had a great time working with Chase Engel and The Night Shift again in December in Merrill, Michigan. My favorite images from the shoot can be seen below.