The Biggest Shift In My Thinking Since Graduating From Photography School


I first took an interest in photography over ten years ago. I started entering photoshop contests on the now defunct website worth1000.com per the recommendation of a friend of mine from church. After several unsuccessful attempts in these photoshop contests, I decided to try worth1000’s photography contests where my entries served much better. Back in 2008/2009 I had dial up internet, so much of my early education about photography came from books and magazines. I’d spend hours reading every article in magazines like Shutterbug, Digital Photo, Outdoor Photographer, and similar magazines. My biggest goal at that time was to get my work published in one of these magazines. I entered every contest and call for submissions I could find. In late 2010 I got my first publication in The World of Photography bookazine. In 2011 I got my first magazine cover on the February issue of Shutterbug magazine. During high school I ended up getting published in several other magazines including Outdoor Photographer, Digital Photo, and PDNedu.

After high school I moved to Greenfield, Massachusetts and became a student at the Hallmark Institute of Photography. Hallmark was an intense ten month program which taught how to be a professional photographer. The technical requirements for the photos you submitted where high. I tried to shoot everything by the book. I ended up graduating with the highest academic honor for having the highest grades for the overall school year.


After graduating I was still in the academic mindset. I was still trying to create the most technically perfect photo I could find. Most of these tiny details I’d fret over where things my clients wouldn’t have ever noticed, even if a photo with and without the fretted over details were put side by side. These details were things that only other photographers cared about. But in this pursuit for technical precision I missed many of the things which made a great photo and the things my clients actually cared about. Gesture. Expression. Timelessness. I cared more about meeting the approval of photographers than getting the photos my clients wanted. My priorities were misplaced.

It wasn’t until 2017 that is shift in my thinking really started to take place. Taking photos isn’t about me, meeting the approval of other photographers, or sanctimonious horn tooting, but instead about getting photos my clients will love and cherish for years to come. I started shooting for my clients and not other photographers.

My clients want photos which showcase them. Their genuine expressions. Their personality. The people and places they love and cherish. Not photos flaunting my technical ability.

There are times I get asked to photograph locations or things that aren’t the most photogenic. Usually these are sentimental to people. Back in 2013/2014 I would have tried to talk the client out of it. Now I go with it because it is what my clients want. Will the photo win award or end up in a magazine? I doubt it. But that is not what matters. Getting the photo my clients want is.


This type of thinking didn’t just change how I shot in 2017 but it started to permeate other parts of my business as well. I changed my turn around time to one week instead of two. I started offering digital files and not just prints. I got rid of in person viewing sessions and switched to much easier online galleries. I switched from collections to a la carte offerings for prints and products. I also changed my pricing and put my prices publically on my website. I continue to tweek and adjust the internal systems in my business to make things go as smoothly as possible for clients.

During every wedding consultation I ask the bride and groom what they are most looking forward to on their wedding day. This gives me direction for how I will approach the wedding. Different couples have far different answers. For one couple last year it was all about their two families coming together. For another couple they both came from broken families and wanted a huge emphasis of the day to be on their friends. Another couple wanted a big focus on the details of DIY decorations made for them by their friends and family. At the end of the day it is about shooting what matters to the bride and groom, not trying to get a photo into a bridal magazine or industry recognition.  

Occasionally when I run into people I haven’t seen in years they’ll ask if I’ve been published in any magazines recently. I tell them no. At this point in my career I really don’t care about industry accolades and recognition but shooting good work for my clients instead.  

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Photographer/Retoucher at Ryan Watkins Photography
Ryan Watkins Photography specializes in portrait and wedding photography catering to Clare, Mt Pleasant, and Midland, Michigan. Ready to travel anywhere in the state. 

Graduate from the Hallmark Institute of Photography and Highest Academic Honor recipient. 

Published in several magazines including Shutterbug, Digital Photo, Outdoor Photographer, and PDNedu. 
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