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.

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.

How I Got the Shot: Frigid Gesture


Since I first got started in photography I loved wildlife and nature photography. I even got some of my bird photography published in Audubon, Nature’s Best Photography, and a few other publications back when I was in high school. Due to using primarily shorter telephoto and standard lenses (which are a bit short for wildlife photography) I don’t shoot a ton of wildlife work anymore.

In early December 2016 I woke up early Sunday morning to head to church. I put the key in the ignition of my car and it didn’t start. I messed around with it trying to get it to start until it got to the time that I would be late for church anyway. I went back in and noticed the beautiful light streaming down on the frigid trees in my backyard. I grabbed my Nikon D600 with my go to Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens. When I got out there were several chickadees out their as well eating from our bird feeders. This chickadee had just landed on the barbed wire fence causing some snow to fall off of the fence. The golden light streaming thru the trees lit this falling snow making the image. This little bit of movement and gesture is what makes the shot one of my better wildlife images.

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens. ISO 800 200mm f/2.8 1/4000 of a second shutter speed.



How I Got the Shot: Bird Butt

Because I primarily shoot portraiture and weddings my gear choices (obviously) reflect that. I have a great deal of respect for those who shoot wildlife but I don’t get to do it much myself anymore due to other priorities. The longest lens I currently own is my Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 (yes 80-200mm not 70-200mm; the 80 is cheaper and I don’t need the bells and whistles of the 70) which is great for portraiture but can be a bit short for wildlife. Due to this I’m limited to shooting wildlife I can get close to.

I have a dog dish on our porch which holds the cat food for the outdoor cats (originally strays who have warmed up to us). I have made a nice warm place in our garage for the cats so there are plenty of times the cats are inside (the garage) instead of out on the deck. When the cats aren’t around various birds come and eat the bird food on the deck. This also makes it so I can easily photograph the birds with my 80-200mm lens from my living room.

In February 2017 I walked into the living room to see a gorgeous cardinal out on the deck. For years I’ve wanted to get a good cardinal image (especially when I was younger and my aunt who loved cardinals was still alive). The first time I had gotten a cardinal image I was happy with was a year prior in 2016 (that image would later get used as the cover of the Phone Guide Isabella – Gratiot County January 2017-2018). I grabbed my camera out of my bed room and slowly approached the window in the living room. Because of the constant threat of our cats these birds are very skittish. I slowly inched closer to the window snapping images as I went. I was worried that my camera’s shutter noise would scare off the cardinal (one of my few gripes with the Nikon system is how loud their camera shutters are and the quite mode’s uselessness). The cardinal stayed put long enough for me to get right up into the window. As the cardinal flew away it kicked up some snow off the railing of the deck. Later in post I would crop in quite heavily to emphasis the snow being kicked up. Little bits of gesture like this in any photograph greatly improve their quality. This ended up being one of my most liked images on Instagram in 2017 and an image people have mentioned they liked to me in person several times over the year.

Shot using a Nikon D600 and a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens handheld. ISO 800 200mm f/4 I/4000 of a second shutter speed.




How I Got the Shot: The Accidental Homage to Kinkade


I enjoy shooting commercial photography, but due to my area (rural mid-Michigan) I seldom get to shoot much which would fall under that category. A few years ago in late 2013 and early 2014 I was commissioned to shoot images of the exteriors of various churches which were part of the Church of Daniel’s Band (a non-denominational church with its roots in Methodism which I grew up attending). I knew shooting these images at midday would result in boring images. Instead I opted to shoot them during the “blue hour” (as us photographers call it) shortly after sunset when everything has a bluer tint to it. This would create contrast between the warm tungsten bulbs lighting the interior of the church and cool evening light hitting the exterior. I also wanted the church to have some shape and dimension to it as well. To achieve that look I used my Alienbee B1600 flash to light the part of the church with the entrance door. I placed the flash far enough back that the light would spread and light that entire side of the church. This made that side of the church slightly lighter giving the church some dimension (making it look more three dimensional). The light put off by my strobe is daylight balanced (which means it looks white to my camera) so I had to adjust the colors in post making the strobes match the ambient blue light. Looking back now I could have also attached a CTB (color temperature blue) gel to the light to minimize my time in Photoshop correcting the colors. I also added a moon to the sky in the background in post to add to the night time look. After showing this image to various people many have commented that it reminds them of Thomas Kinkade’s paintings. People have made similar comments about other night (images taken shortly after sunset during the “blue hour”) images of mine that they remind them of Kinkade’s work. I’ve been aware of Kinkade’s work for years but none of my “blue hour” shots have been intended as an intentional homage to his work (even though I’ve always liked his work). He and I use a similar technique to make our images shot (or in his case painted at this time of day) look dramatic. The natural color contrast between the warn interior light and the cold exterior light always makes for dynamic engaging images regardless of medium.

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8 Lens on a Feisol Carbon Fiber CT-3371 Tripod with a Kirk B3 Ball Head with an L bracket. Lit with an Alienbee B1600 triggered with Radio Poppers and powered with a Vagabond Mini. As I’ve stated before I quit using Radio Poppers in 2016 and switched to the cheaper and more reliable Yongnuo triggers. ISO 100 28mm f/10 0.8 of a second shutter speed.

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. 

Shirley Fitness Shoot in Bay City, Michigan

I had a great time getting to photograph Shirley at the Old Town Gym in Bay City. My favorite images from the shoot can be seen below.