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.
I am constantly reading books. Not because I think I’m smart. For the opposite reason actually. I’m aware there is so much I don’t know and need to learn. I came across this passage recently which got me thinking.
“we need to rethink our memories. What if the point-and-shoot cameras in our phones make us less capable of retaining discrete memories? One psychologist calls this camera-induced amnesia the “photo-taking impairment effect,” and it works like this: by outsourcing the memory of a moment to our camera, we flatten out the event into a 2-D snapshot and proceed to ignore its many other contours—such as context, meaning, smells, touch, and taste… If the cameras in our pockets mute our moments into 2-D memories, perhaps the richest memories in life are better “captured” by our full sensory awareness in the moment—then later written down in a journal. This simple practice has proven to be a rich means of preserving memories for people throughout the centuries. Photography is a blessing, but if we impulsively turn to our camera apps too quickly, our minds can fail to capture the true moments and the rich details of an experience in exchange for visually flattened memories. Point-and-shoot cameras may in fact be costing us our most vivid recollections. But until we are convinced of this, we will continue to impulsively reach for our phones in the event of the extraordinary (or less).” Tony Reinke – 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You
When I was in middle and high school I had a camera with me all the time. The camera on me was always the best camera I owned. I would document everything. Hanging out with friends. Family get togethers. Nature scenes and wildlife on the way to and from church, school, or commissioned shoots. Everything. If I didn’t bring my camera with me it seemed like the event was a waste. During college my thinking started to shift. I started only bringing my professional camera with me to professional shoots for school or clients. As I grew older I became less and less obsessed with documenting every mundane detail of life. Instead I choose to live in the moment. This thinking didn’t change overnight. It wasn’t even something I really thought about until I came across the Reinke quote. It was something that gradually happened over time. In December 2013 I bought my first iPhone. The iPhone became the camera I would document ordinary life with instead of a professional camera. I even created a personal series of iPhone images from late 2013-2016. The series saw less and less additions as time went on. In 2017 almost no new images where added. In 2018 I fully removed the gallery from my website. Now in 2019 I rarely take photos with my iPhone. The exception would be images for other business related tasks instead of artistic endeavors. Photos of business cards, location scouting, or of my car so I can find out how to get back to where I parked. I’ve had to many awkward experiences with the former to not be overly cautious now. Get togethers with friends, networking events, and my other ordinary busy work see no photographic documentation from me.
A friend of mine who runs in the same entrepreneurial circles I do shares a similar outlook. He greatly enjoys travel, but doesn’t take photos of his trips. Why? Because he would rather enjoy the moment than worry about getting a good photo.
It is okay to put the camera down. Enjoy the moment. You don’t need to document every minute detail of your life.
“I now find peace in the realization that countless potential masterpieces happen each moment the world over and go unphotographed.” Dan Winters – The Road to Seeing
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.
In 2017 I made a ton of changes to my business. One of the smartest decisions I made was starting to use Buffer. Buffer allows me to schedule social media posts in advance from my computer or phone. I use Buffer to send posts to my business Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and the facebook group I manage. Using Buffer saves me a ton of time. I no longer have to interrupt conversations and other tasks to post at the optimum time on social media. I single task. I will write several weeks or months worth of social media copy at a time and schedule it using Buffer. I would highly recommend anyone who uses multiple social media platforms for business check out Buffer.
Dressing appropriately for the situation is part of having good manners.
During every wedding consultation I ask the potential clients what the dress code is for their wedding. They usually respond with a weird look. I explain to them that I try to blend in during the wedding and want to dress like a guest. This allows me to get better candids during their big day.
When it comes to how you should dress for a wedding the first thing to keep in mind is the formality of the wedding. Most weddings I go to the dress ranges from khakis and polo shirts to suits for the men. On occasion I’ve been to very informal weddings where dressing down was appropriate. It is important not to outdress the groom. Their wedding is all about them and not you. Also keep in mind the time of year. Browns and other earth tones are more fitting for fall whereas lighter colors are more appropriate for spring and summer. I usually wear dress pants, dress shoes, dress shirt, blazer, tie, and pocket square to most weddings I photograph. Black oxford or brown derbies are safe options shoe wise. Grey or khaki dress pants are a reliable choice. A navy blazer is a versatile standard. Staying with light blue or white dress shirts is always a safe bet. A white pocket square with a simple presidential fold is always classy. Sticking with simple classic ties instead of gimmicky novelty ties is good choice. Feel free to go crazy with socks as long as they aren’t white.
Dressing well doesn’t require a large budget but it can require patience. Most of the dress cloth I own come from eBay or second hand stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army. I would highly recommend Real Men Real Style and the Gentleman’s Gazette as resources for learning about classic men’s style.
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.
Last year I went to one of Scott Kelby’s conferences in Lansing. I’ve been to several of his teaching events and every one has went great. Last year’s was no exception. While I was there I started talking with one of the fellow attendees. She was newer to photography and wanted to learn more about the basics. I told her about the Michigan Photography Network facebook group. I told her that many people ask photography related questions in the group. She was very anti-social media. I explained to her why I made the group. She responded with “Well I guess we can justify anything.”
I have came across several others over the last few years who have similar anti-social media views. Old friends who have wanted to hang out, but refuse to get on Facebook to see when our next get together is. Fellow entrepreneurs who have to call several people to find out when local networking events are, despite the info being clearly accessible on Facebook. Most in this camp seem to have a sense of superiority because of abstinence from social media.
On the other extreme I have came across several in entrepreneurial circles who act as if you aren’t documenting every minute detail of your life on several social media networks then you are being lazy.
I try to avoid both of these extremes.
So how do I use social media?
I primarily use social media for business purposes. I’ll use Facebook,Instagram, and LinkedIn primarily to build awareness about Ryan Watkins Photography. Clients will also private message me on these networks. This leads to work. I also have business Twitter and Pinterest accounts. I use Buffer to schedule my business related posts. Using Buffer to schedule posts has saved me a ton of time. Now I don’t have to interpret what I’m doing to post on social media for my business.
I also use social media for networking with others in my industry. I primarily do this thru the Michigan Photography Network facebook group. Other Michigan photographers and I frequently answer people’s photography related questions in this group. I also post twice a day to this group with edifying content of some sort. Usually this is articles or videos. Dank memes seem to be the most popular content though. These twice daily posts are also posted via Buffer and scheduled in advance.
I’ll also give businesses I frequent or have had positive experiences with good reviews.
I’ll use it for meeting with people in real life such as my friends from high school, networking events, and Michigan Photography Network meetups.
For personal use I’ll use goodreads and untaped to keep track of books and craft beer I like. I also use Feedly to keep track of blogs I follow. I have an anonymous Twitter for following some interests. I have never actually sent out a tweet from this account.
I avoid posting about everything I go out and do. If I go to a networking event or hangout with friends I usually don’t post about it. I don’t complain about things in my personal life. Nor do I argue with people about politics or other contentious issues on social media.
In summary, I try to maintain a happy medium between the two extremes of approaching social media. I’ll schedule posts in advance using Buffer to my business accounts to build awareness for Ryan Watkins Photography. I’ll use personal accounts primarily for keeping in touch with old friends and following various hobbies and interests. Thus far this happy medium approach to social media has worked well for me.
When I first got started in photography in high school, I was one of the cheapest photographers around. The prices made sense back then. I didn’t need to make a living from photography. I was also very green. This was prior to my formal photographic training at the Hallmark Institute of Photography.
After graduating from the Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 I moved back to Clare. I completely changed my pricing and offerings. I was one of the most expensive photographers in the area. I only sold prints. I prided myself on these things. I stuck with this pricing and structure from 2013-2016. During these years I took on far less clients but every client I did take on paid very well and I was able to live off of the income from that one shoot for some time.
I also had some very problematic clients at this time. Right after finding out about the death of my grandmother, I was screamed at by a client because the area of her home she wanted to put her print was poorly lit. Another client called to scream me out while I was trying to celebrate Christmas with my family because she wanted hundreds of dollars of reprints. No reason why she wanted the reprints was ever given.
Despite being way out of the price range for most people in my local area between 2013-2016, I would still get accused by fellow photographers in other states of being to cheap and a high volume photographer. Also during this time I’d regularly get inquiries about shoots from potential clients who only wanted digital files and many others who couldn’t afford me.
In 2017 I decided to make a change. I quit shooting to meet the approval of other photographers and started putting my clients first. I changed to far more reasonable prices. I got rid of collections and products that no one was buying. I started offering digital files and completely updated my session process.
Since my pricing changes I’ve had nothing but amazing clients. I don’t make as much off of each individual shoot. I would much rather have two great clients over three problematic ones. I do not care at all about meeting the approval of others in my industry. I just care about making my clients happy.