Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hard Lessons Learned & Setting Goals

As 2013 comes to a close, I've reflected on the past year of growth in my photography business and in myself. I learned things I want to change next year, things that are important to me, things that can go away and never come back. I've learned about people and communication, courage and faith in myself.

2013 started with a few simple goals. From a "photographer's" point of view, they may have seemed miniscule, laughable even. But it was the only place I knew where to start. Do you want to know what they were?

1. Blog once a week, regardless of if I had a "paid" session that week or not. This meant that, in January, 3 out of the 4 sessions I posted were unpaid sessions - either done for family or friends simply because I wanted to photograph someone. It meant that in February, all 4 posts were of my own family and were simply for the joy of shooting. It meant that in March, 4 out of the 5 posts were for myself or done free. It meant that in April, 3 out of the 5 posts were sessions I had done for free and the other 2 were done for EXTREMELY cheap. It wasn't until May, after I had invested over $4,000 in new equipment and done countless hours of free work, that I finally started to get the ball rolling on paid sessions.

2. One session, other than my family, a month. One a month? That's it? Yes, that's all I required of myself. But to me, at that time, I knew that would probably mean seeking out a session of my own. Asking a friend if I could photograph them, rather than waiting for someone to come to me. And that thought scared me. So I only required myself to do it once a month. Here's what happened, though. I started to not be so scared. I started caring more about practicing and getting better than what other people thought of me or how they might critique my work. I also started to realize I didn't really care if I was getting paid or not, I was shooting for the joy of shooting.

3. Make M Rose Photography a licensed business. I knew that if I was getting paid, however infrequently, for my work, that I should be a legal business that paid taxes. I didn't want to start the process, and I still don't know what I am doing whatsoever, but it gave me a confidence boost to make myself "real."

That's it. Those were my three big goals for my photography business in 2013. Aside from that, I did one other thing that I mentioned above: I invested a butt ton of money in myself. It was the scariest purchase I've ever made. I almost backed out of it while we were in the store. But I had my husband's support, and he was what finally pushed me to allow him to swipe that credit card. I was so scared of putting that much money into something, scared I would get "nothing" back from it. After it was all said and done, and I came home that night with my new equipment, I realized what his support meant to me: It meant he believed in me. This investment in myself was way more than monetary; it was a big leap of faith that proved that my hobbies and my desires, my goals....it was worth it. I proved to me that I was worth it.

Now, I'm not saying everyone needs to rush out and invest a lot of money in order to feel like they are going somewhere in their business, but it was one thing that I personally needed (I had been shooting with the same equipment since 2008 and knew I needed something more for the things I wanted to do with my business). Investing in yourself doesn't always have to be monetarily - I am also investing time, energy, sacrifice, and so much more. If you want to go somewhere, be willing to invest in yourself and realize your dreams and goals are worth it. You are worth it. 

So those were my goals, and as small as they were, they led me to greater things. Greater and.....harder. I messed up so many times on so many shoots, that I eventually started to keep a log of every session I did. I would list who I photographed, the time of the day, the lighting and weather conditions, the location, props/reason for session. Then I would list what I did wrong and what I did right during the session, whether it be technicalities with my equipment, posing, the way I communicated, the location, or anything else. Writing all this down allowed me to review past sessions before going out for another session, which insured I didn't make the same mistake twice. I really was learning from my mistakes. Here are some of the major mistakes I made, and the things I learned from them. All of them but one were made in the past 8 months.

1. I started a family session in manual focus, thinking it was on auto focus. I went an entire 15 minutes into the session before I figured it out - one quarter of the session - and I had to throw out all the pictures I took because none of them were in focus. I made a note in my session journal: "Should have admitted my mistake and re-taken them ASAP"

2. I shot another entire family session with the bracketing on. I didn't even realize something abnormal was going on until about halfway through my session. At that point, I knew something was wrong but I didn't know what it was. All I knew was that some of my photos were coming out incredibly over exposed and some were coming out completely underexposed. I finished up the session, doing the best I could, and when I got home I realized there was a pattern: Over-exposed, properly exposed, under-exposed. That's when it clicked in my head: Bracketing. I had to throw away two-thirds of a session. I still got great shots for the family in the one-third of the properly-exposed images, but I also knew that there had been some shots that were better but I had to completely throw out (thankfully I shoot in RAW so I was able to save some of them, but not many).

3. When I arrived at one family session, I realized my battery was quite low and that I did not have my spare with me. I crossed my fingers that the battery would last the rest of my session. And while my battery did last, it was only because it stopped auto-focusing on me to save its juices. I had to do the entire last-half of my session on manual focus. I'm not very good at manual focus to begin with, but with quick-moving children? It's nearly impossible.

4. In the middle of one session, I accidentally pressed a button that locked my focus point. I didn't know what button it was, so I didn't know how to unlock it. That meant that all of my photos had to be composed the same, in order for the subject to be in focus. This ended up meaning that some of my compositions were completely awkward and unattractive, even after trying to crop them.

5. I had someone ask me to take pictures of a quilt a friend made them. The quilt had lots of tiny, intricate details and so I decided to rent a macro lens. When I got to her house to photograph the quilt, I took a few wide shots of the entire quilt, and then put the macro lens on. Once I got it on, I realized I wanted to a do just a few more with a different lens first. I was in a hurry when I didn't need to be, and as I was taking off the macro lens, something got jammed/stuck. I thought it was just because I hadn't ever put this particular lens on my camera before, but still I proceeded slowly and carefully. It took a great deal of effort to take off the lens, and I immediately knew something was wrong. I tried putting another lens back on but it wasn't fitting on correctly. I had to apologize to her, and tell her I couldn't finish her session that day. I went home, did some research, and finally saw that I had completely bent the metal portion of the lens mount. I had to send in my camera to Nikon, and pay $300 to rent a body for the next 3 weeks, as well as $200 to repair the damage. Ouch.

6. I had one senior who wanted to take her photos at a certain location you had to walk quite a ways to get to. Once we got there, I realized I had left the battery to my camera in her car, not wanting to take my entire camera bag with me on the hike. I had to sprint the entire way back, getting completely hot and sweaty and in flip flops. Once I got to her car, I dug through my camera bag, couldn't find the battery. My stomach sunk...then I slowly felt down my pant leg and found my battery nestled safely in my pants pocket the whole time.

7. This mistake was not made in the last year, but it's stuck with me. It was one of my very first paid weddings. We took couple photos the day before their wedding at the temple, to ensure we had enough time with just the two of them. When I got home that night and uploaded their images to my laptop, I noticed that they were loading quicker than usual. I didn't think anything of it, but casually mentioned it to Adam. He asked me what file size they were taken in, and when I checked, I realized I had taken their entire session in a smaller file size. It wasn't completely the end of the world, as I could still re-take some of the shots the next day at their actual wedding day, and technically they could still print these files, but just at a size smaller than 8x10. But can you imagine how embarrassing it was to tell a bride on her wedding day that her photographer shot their entire session in the wrong file size? It was crushing. Luckily the bride was kind and understanding, but I felt terrible nonetheless.

These are just a few of the bigger lessons I have learned so far, not too much mention the countless times I have looked back at images that I thought were sharp, only to realize they weren't as clear as I thought - I should have shot at a higher f-stop, should have had a faster shutter-speed, should have decreased my ISO, should have posed them so a leg wasn't sticking out of an armpit, should have noticed the shadows on their face, etc etc etc. It's a constant learning experience, and as long as I am willing to get back up and try again, I find myself getting a little bit better with each session.

I suppose I should end this post with my goals for next year, so I make sure to keep pushing myself and to keep getting better.

1. Blog twice a week. This will be a good challenge for me. I averaged 74 posts last year, which is more than one a week but not quite twice a week. This will also teach me to plan ahead and schedule my posts.

2. Shoot two weddings and two births. Both weddings and births are very taxing and time-consuming, during both the shooting time and editing time. I know I will be on maternity leave for a good portion of the summer, so I am trying to plan accordingly.

3. Average 2-4 sessions a month. Adam and I decided that having me shoot every Saturday was way too hard on both him and I. I also decided I didn't like doing more than one or two sessions in one day, because that meant I couldn't devote the time and effort into each session that I wanted to. It's also hard to do sessions during the week when it's winter because by the time Adam gets home from work, it's too dark outside to do a session.

4. Finish my 365 Project. I started a 365 project with a friend a few years back and only made it about halfway through the year. I love the photos I took during those 6 months; I know most of them are images I wouldn't have otherwise captured if it wasn't for my personal challenge.

5. Attend a photography workshop. This goal is already being met, as I have signed up for my first workshop in February with none other than the stupendous Katelyn James. I am not only beyond excited but
also quite nervous - once again, stepping outside of my comfort zone, knowing that's the only way I will grow!

Happy New Year, everyone! Thank you to everyone who has supported me this past year, I couldn't have done it without you!

Maryland Family Photographer - The Baileys

Do you recognize this beautiful family from back in September? Well, June called me up and asked for another session over the Veteran's Day Weekend because her sister and husband were going to be visiting. We decided to meet up at Downs Park in Pasadena, Maryland. We were crossing our fingers that the recent bad weather hadn't shook all the leaves off the trees, and happy to find some fall colors still lingering. Of course June's sister, Lisa, is just as lovely and I had a great time photographing all of them.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Maryland Family Photographer - The Niu's

I know this sweet family from church. They are all so out-going, energetic, smart, playful, funny, kind, generous......I could go on. They are the perfect little family. We had scheduled a shoot earlier in the month but had to cancel due to rain. When we met up again the second time, the skies were gray again but the weather held out for us, and we were able to get some great shots.

When I suggested one fun photo, to have the kids stand stacked on top of each other's shoulders, Mom said, "Oh they'd love that. They think they're going to be on America's Got Talent." I laughed at that, and could imagine these three kids pulling it off with ease!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Maryland Newborn Photographer - Matthew

 I was soooo excited when Matthew's mom contacted me and said she would like to do some "Army" photos of her newborn boy. I am a patriotic girl at heart, and felt honored to capture the essence of an American soldier father in a photo shoot. The love between this soldier and his son was so special and I can only hope I did them justice. Thank you to all who serve our country. I'm sure this little boy will grow up knowing his daddy is a true hero.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Maryland Family Photographer - The Caltons

I'm sure you all are starting to recognize Cassie, as I've had the pleasure of photographing her twice in the last few months. Well, this time I was lucky enough to get not just her, but her wonderful parents in front of the camera, as well! I love seeing the interaction between parents and their children - that's one of my favorite parts about photographing families: the connections. I try to make my photography style very relationship-driven. These three are beautiful together and work together in such a loving and energetic fashion, and it was a joy to capture it for them!