2017 A Year in Review
2017 has been an amazing year here at Ryan Watkins Photography. I’ve been able to photograph and network with a wide variety of amazing people throughout the year. This post will showcase some of my favorite images and the plethora of projects I was able to work on throughout the year.
I spent much of my off season (winter) of late 2016 and early 2017 reading business books, bouncing ideas off friends in the industry, and listening to podcasts and lectures on the business side of photography. The late winter and early spring was spent enfleshing the ideas I had learned. Early 2017 marked some huge changes to the pricing and products offered at Ryan Watkins Photography. I radically changed my product and pricing structure allowing clients to buy products a la carte and started allowing clients to print their own photos (even though I politely recommend against it). I also started giving clients online galleries where they can buy prints and easily share photos with friends and family. These changes ended up being incredibly successful and clients loved it.
When I wasn’t reading or studying the business side of photography early in the year I was shooting fine art images of snow covered trees and roads in rural mid Michigan. Few of these images ended up being happy Thomas Kinkade-esque winter scenes but instead many were foggy scenes of rural midwestern living. Some of my favorite images from this project included chilled Amish riding down a foggy road and blistering winds blowing fresh snow thru fields. The best images shot during those months are available for purchase in either the Landscape or Rural Living galleries on my Fine Art website.
In spring of 2017 a friend and I started studying virtual reality photography. After some gear rentals and tests I found out I was able to pull off the technical side of photographing virtual reality photos. He and I started putting together the plans to start another business called Parallax. We found a few other guys who were more experienced than us to help with the sales, marketing, and programing side of Parallax. After more discussion we eventually realized that it wasn’t financially feasible and we abandoned the project. Even though it didn’t go anywhere and costed us some money I still got to learn a great deal from the experience.
I rarely photograph much of anything the would be considered documentary photography but thru some unfortunate events in early summer I had the opportunity to. In June we had some of the worst flooding in Michigan that we have had in decades. Instead of staying home in my home on a slight incline I decided to drive around Clare, Isabella, and Midland county documenting the rains and their damage. Some of these photos would eventually end up getting published in local newspapers.
Every time I talked with fellow Hallmark Institute of Photography Alumni they heavily emphasized the importance of networking with local photographers. Most of the photographers in the area seemed to (more or less) ignore one another. I looked online to see if there were any good networking groups for professional photographers in my area on Facebook but few turned up. I decided to start my own Facebook group for networking with others connected to the photography industry in Michigan. In May 2017 the Michigan Photography Network was created. Currently at the end of 2017 the group has grown to over 700 members and we have had two in person meet ups (one in Grand Rapids and one in Clare). I have met several great local photographers and other entrepreneurs thru the group and look forward to more future meetups in 2018. The group also got me in touch with the amazing group of entrepreneurs at The Energize Workspace in Midland, Michigan. I would highly recommend going to their various events if you are a business owner in mid-Michigan.
During my last off season I decided I was going to put a much heavier emphasis on wedding photography in 2017. Every time I talked with fellow wedding photographer friends they mentioned that I needed to offer a second shooter if I was going to get into weddings. In mid March I received a Facebook message from an old high school friend Nikki Robinson asking about what camera she should buy. After talking more via Facebook messenger I found out that she wanted to get into photography. We met up in Mt Pleasant in early April and discussed the idea of me teaching her how to second shoot weddings. She was on board. As the months went on her and I developed a great friendship full of inside jokes and shared bizarre experiences on photo shoots. In early November her and I would shoot our first wedding together. Her photos turned out way better than I could have ever imagined. In the final gallery send to the client I don’t think they could even tell which images were shot by me and which by her. She has also started shooting her own portrait sessions and recently got her first major publication in Photographer’s Forum. I can’t wait to shoot more weddings with Nikki in 2018 and come back with more crazy stories from our adventures.
In addition to training Nikki to be my second shooter for weddings I’ve also went out of my way to collaborate with local wedding vendors. I have had the opportunity of working with two great Clare venues the Venue at 501 and the White Barn. I also got to work with the amazing DJ Branson Wolfgang from Epic Beats as well as the great Grand Rapids based wedding band Rebel Swain. I also would highly recommend working with Andrea and Morgan at Splendid Events for your wedding planning needs. Here are some of the images captured for local wedding vendors throughout the year.
In the spring the owner of the 515 Gallery told me that the Four Leaf Brewing in Downtown, Clare was looking for local artists work to hang on their walls. I got in touch with the owner (Amy) and brought a few samples of my work. She liked them and now several photos by both Nikki and I are hanging on the walls at Four Leaf. I now frequent the Four Leaf and my friends have even gotten annoyed at me for how much I brag up this local watering hole. If you find yourself in downtown Clare I’d highly recommend stopping by the Four Leaf which has great beer, food, and service.
Every year I try to work with new models (as well as returning ones) to help add to each others portfolios. I had a great time working with Sheridan, Chelsea, Dayna, Brittany, Ashley, Dakota, and Karra this year. Some of these shoots (like those with Brittany and Sheridan) worked as good ways to show Nikki the ropes and help add photos to her portfolio as well.
Much of early summer was spent shooting images for a massive composite with over 120 images which is now on display at Art Reach in Mt Pleasant Michigan. All of the images in the final mosaic deal with arts in mid Michigan.
I also got to photograph some great seniors this year. Some of the highlights included photographing the multi talented Don Owens from Midland who is an expert pianist and aspiring pilot.
I ended up working with more families this year than any year before. Some of the highlights include the heavily armed Myers family and the Owens family with eleven children. Here are some of my favorite family portrait images from 2017.
I got to work with a ton of amazing couples this year which allowed me to travel all over Michigan to cities including: Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Greenville, and Howell.
As the years go by the more I enjoy photographing events. I photographed many public events in 2016 (which admitabley didn’t lead to much business) but this year I decided to choose what festivals to photograph more discerningly (in addition to getting several paying event gigs). I had a great time photographing the Clare Irish Festival which lead to some of my highest website views of the entire year. I also volunteered to photograph the Mt Pleasant Craft Beer festival and became their official photographer. The Venue at 501 got me access to photograph local Clare celebrity Kari Lynch during her concert in downtown Clare. Nikki and I also shot the Beaverton fireworks together on the Fourth of July which was a ton of fun. My high school friend Alex Crafard is the lead guitarist in the Saginaw based Chase Engel Band who are in the process of recording their first album with Tesla bassist Brian Wheat. Nikki and I were given access to photograph one of their concerts in Bay City and had a blast. Lastly Sprout and the Orange (a Saginaw based jam band who’s tunes are right up my alley) hired me to photograph their concert/Thanksgiving dinner (yes you read that correctly) shortly after thanksgiving. Below are some of my favorite event photos from the year.
The 515 Gallery in downtown Clare, Michigan has been a home away from home for me since high school. As usual I had my work in a few of their shows this year (two to be exact) and also gave an artist talk explaining the process behind one of my portraits on wood.
During 2017 I wrote a variety of blog posts that potential clients and aspiring photographers should find helpful. Below are some of the highlights; the entire list of articles (including my product overviews and location recommendations) can be found here.