You know what? I just realized that as far as photography goes, I’ve been at it for 10 years, as of this year. To that, I say WOW. I mean, seriously. I never once thought that a one-time hobby would become a passion, and a night of dancing with friends with my camera would evolve into a business.
I can honestly say, after all this time (or SHORT run, depending on your vantage point), I’ve seen and done some things I never planned for, let alone anticipated happening. Some good, some bad. But in the end, it’s all been educational, memorable and a whole lot of fun.
To many people, I’m known as a professional photographer and have been given the most generous of praises, which I honestly, truly appreciate. But Lord knows I’ve made my mistakes and thankfully, few of them were ever discovered or affected my work. I also know that I’m far from where I’d like to be in terms of product output. Truth be told, I still consider myself a “practicing enthusiast” who is fortunate enough to get paid for what he enjoys doing. Still learning. Ever-growing.
So how do I classify myself? Well, I’m just a dude with a camera, “Capturing Moments For All Time”.
And although I’m not quite where I’d like to be, I’ve come to learn some very valuable lessons that have helped me improve my game. So, if you will, please permit me to share…
Cameradventures: 15 Things I’ve Learned As A Photographer
For sake of space, I’m bypassing the use of photos. Everything is self-explanatory. I know this is a photography post, but you don’t need visuals for what I’m about to say. LOL But seriously, you can follow me at @ZootShootPhotography on Instagram to access some of my work.
- Establish a rapport with your clients/subjects before the shoot (whenever possible). My son’s friend asked me if I would take her senior pictures. She had recommended me to her mother, who’d already committed to and used another photographer. Her mother was not at all happy with the photos from that shoot, which she shared with me. She was equally disgusted that despite the photographer’s excuses of having a “bad camera”, he still charged her the full price for subpar photos.
One thing that stood out in the photos was the lack of energy on her daughter’s part. When I asked what happened, she told me that she just wasn’t “feeling it” during the shoot, or the photographer.
Whenever I am consulted about a shoot, I insist on a face-to-face meeting, whenever possible (usually over a meal – I like to eat) to discuss the session and to get to know one-another. For me, that goes a long way towards building great chemistry, which comes out in the photos.
By the way, when she retook her photos with me, she rocked the shoot, looking as lively as ever.
I also like to make them laugh because having a good time makes for a great experience.
- Emotions show. On the heels of my first point, understand that if there is “trouble in paradise”, there will be wrinkles in the fabric, so to speak. If your subject is emotionally troubled, you need to do whatever you can to lift their spirits before you even begin. Sometimes a simple talk or being an ear will help. Just remember that you’re not a psychiatrist and there may be times when you need to suggest rescheduling for their sake. I once shot a wedding where the bride’s daughter was miserable after being reprimanded before the ceremony. Every photo (that her mother insisted she be a part of) showed her looking down with the saddest frown and casual tears. And I was powerless as she forced her to stand and pose in all of the family photos. Talk about tense.
- Make a checklist and keep fresh batteries. It’s a no-brainer. You know what you need for your shoots in terms of equipment, accessories, camera settings, etc. Put them all on a list and triple-check before leaving the house. I once arrived at my shoot location and realized that I left the transmitter (triggering mechanism) to activate my flashes. God spared me by raining us out and saturating the field before we could begin. We decided to reschedule. WHEW! I still need to purchase a second transmitter because I read where a photographer had one die on him at the shoot, leaving him to continue without. Quit procrastinating, Kenny…
- Pay attention to the overall cosmetic details. Prior to the shoot, remind the men that they need to cut/trim their fingernails (especially for close-ups where hands are visible) and that lotion is their friend. For hard-working blue-collar workers, remind them to put some extra effort in their bathroom while scrubbing to appear as clean as possible. It’s not an insult to tell them, especially if they work for companies where their skin accumulates a lot of dirt and grease (auto workers, construction, etc.).
Pay close attention to these things during the shoot as well: hanging hair, out of place clothing, women’s jewelry positioning, smeared makeup, etc. Even false eyelashes, lace fronts (hair) and other attachments. They don’t always notice it and if no mirror is present, you have to be that looking glass FOR them.
One time, after an entire shoot, I noticed during post processing (photo editing), that her right false eyelash was noticeably detached. Since then, I give them a once over, have them check the mirror and oftentimes have my wife come down for a final QA/QC check because she notices things I may never consider. Of course, she wants her cut for her time as well.
- Conditioning is paramount. I’ve had two Total Knee Replacement surgeries, a mild stroke and a car accident, resulting in a bad back. Obesity, High Blood Pressure and diabetes are not my friends either, especially during outdoor shoots. Never underestimate how taxing it can be to walk to a site, carrying equipment, set-up, stoop, kneel, sprawl out, stand on uneven terrain and/or walk in water. Being “in shape” is an absolute must. There is nothing cool about your clients helping you stand after you’ve been shooting from a prone position for 10-15 minutes. We laughed it off, but the truth of the matter is, at age 55, I need all the inner-help I can get.
- Too much can be dangerous. I have a tendency to give my clients a little more than they planned, particularly photos. That means the pictures that I think are the absolute best of the bunch plus those that aren’t the greatest, but additional images they might like for safekeeping. That even includes the crazy blinks, hilarious blurs and other bloopers.
Well, one day, a client was so happy to get such a photo overload that he posted every single one of them on social media in a gallery.
Once I release photos to you, I usually don’t care what you do with them, but some of these I definitely didn’t want the public to think was my “best work”. I politely convinced him that he should keep some for his and his wife’s “eyes only” and that everybody else “didn’t deserve” to see everything. Some things they should keep as their own private Heaven. It worked. He deleted everything and his wife later posted just a few.
- Only share/show your best work. I think my last point segues into this point quite well, if it hasn’t already explained it. Still, it deserves its own lesson point. Everyone knows that we are all human and that every photo you take won’t be perfect. But that doesn’t mean you need to prove it.
I once posted a photo that was really cool, but just a tad blurry. Not a lot, but more evident, the larger you made it. If someone looked at it on a larger computer monitor, they definitely noticed. And although everyone complimented me on my unique eye when taking the photo, it was clear to me that some were silently forgiving my “less than professional” end result. I deleted it a day later. I doubt it would have been a deal breaker for a potential customer, but you don’t want to give them any unnecessary thoughts either.
- Creativity can come back to haunt you. Once I got the hang of it, I started taking advantage of Image Presets in my software editing program (pre-designed effects that give unique looks to photographs like cartoons, earth tones, bronze tones, grittiness deep dark imagery, etc.). To impress my customers, I often gave them various photos with multiple effects. The worst that I anticipated was a request to give them just a “regular old untouched” version of a photo or two, or three. And that very rarely happened.
The bottom truly dropped out when one couple contacted me with a full list of modification requests: “Can you put the effects from #12 on #18? Then give me two more of #08, but with the same effects as #02 and #25…” I mean, it was ridiculous! It didn’t help that I gave them a generous amount to begin with (Lesson #6). I had cut my own throat by telling them to let me know if they need anything changed. That translated to “anything goes” and a full week of additional editing! That was the last time I offered multiple effects and if I were to ever shoot this couple again (which I sincerely doubt), they’d get all normal shots. Not even B&Ws. Yeah, I’m still salty, but I deserved it.
- Pay close attention to your subjects and the background. Just like Lesson #4, but on a grander scale. If you’re shooting in a studio, be wary of the position of the subject or group in relation to background borders or flashes (some things you can edit later, but why invite the headache?). Learn the Do’s and Don’ts of posing/positioning your subject, particularly hand placement. When shooting outdoors, look for distracting items in the background, especially items that seem to protrude from the subject’s head, like trees, poles, etc. Yeah, that happened to me once.
It wasn’t until I was editing photos that I noticed that the son in the family photos kept putting his hands in the same spot, no matter how they posed. It didn’t kill the overall look, but I should have caught it and worked on him directly.
- Hydration is life. I hired a 2nd photographer to help me shoot an 8+ hour wedding event. We did everything from the dressing rooms to the ceremony to the post ceremony shots by the waterfall to the reception (which ran late because the wedding party couldn’t find the location for the outdoor shoot – of course, the guests blamed the photographers for the delay). Drinking water was not readily accessible, but thankfully I thought to put several 32 oz. bottles of Gatorade in my cooler in the car. It was a life saver! I’ve never gone on a shoot without something for proper hydration since (or my glucose tablets, in case my blood sugar level drops) and God-willing, I never will!
Trust me, cramps are the last thing you want on an assignment. Well, blacking OUT is the last thing. Let’s hope that heat never gets you.
- Know when to call in the cavalry. Sometimes, you need those extras to keep children (and sometimes adults) interested. Music can save the day for those grown folk. I like to play age-appropriate music to keep things light, oftentimes getting them into the groove. I have a TV in my basement studio to keep the attention of those who are not posing in certain shots at that moment. Just make sure what’s on the TV doesn’t distract those who should be looking at the camera.
Snacks are another cure for children but can also be a curse. One family gave their children dried cereal and cookies during an extended shoot (multiple groups, costume changes, etc.) to bribe them into continuing. It worked, but I later noticed stains on my white fabric background. While we’re on the subject, if they eat snacks, watch for crumbs and food stains on their clothing and skin. Take every precaution.
- You can’t satisfy everybody / you will never see eye to eye (what you like, they won’t and vice versa. It is what it is. Photos you love, they won’t always see the same way. Some they love you may hate. All I can say is to stick to the basics of composition, the exposure triangle, posing, etc. If you take enough photos, give them time to look them over and decide what is right for them. Remember, they are the customers, and they are the ones who must ultimately be satisfied.
I learned my lesson after a couple gave me freedom to advertise the photos of my choice, pending their approval. It wasn’t until years later that the “couple shot” I loved the most and received many compliments on, was the one they hated. I never understood it but do wish they had expressed their opinions of it early in the game. It wouldn’t have hurt my feelings to exclude it. Yet and still, I have yet to understand why…
- The greatest ideas come when it’s too late. We’ve all been there. It’s like walking away from an argument and realizing you should have said this and that. I’ve had many times that I’ve studied photos and said to myself, “I should have had everybody hang upside down from the tree branch like bats!” Well, not to that extreme, but great ideas have come along long after the shoot was over. I don’t hate myself for it. I just make it a point to study as many photos as possible (in books, magazines, the internet – particularly YouTube posts). Learn from others. I also scout out locations prior to the shoot whenever possible (taking sample pictures of backgrounds/settings). Studying those pictures before the session and knowing the theme and count of bodies in a shoot can go a long way with creative planning.
- Never compromise yourself. Know your worth. In the beginning, in addition to giving way too many photos, I also charged much less than I should have. Part of it was due to insecurity. I didn’t think I had the right to be competitive with pricing because I didn’t think I was very good, despite the opinions and praises of others. I was still learning the basics, which included the innerworkings of my own camera (READ THE MANUAL – LEARN YOUR EQUIPMENT) among other things. I took assignments that I had little experience in, but I was eager. In turn, I charged little to nothing. What that ultimately did was portray me as an obvious amateur and, in some cases, one of low self-esteem and with no confidence in my work.
Too often, when giving quotes, the question I got was, “Is that all?” or “Why don’t you charge what you’re worth?”
I also thought that by keeping it low, I could outbid others. When peer photographers found out what I was charging, they caringly warned that I would not be in business long at that pace.
Trust me, people want a good deal, but you’d be surprised how important it is that they know they’re getting quality work. And for that, people are willing to pay a little more, pay what you what you are worth.
- Never stop learning. To my previous point, I will continue to say that I still have a long way to go. But I’ve evolved enough to hate my old work, knowing what could have been done differently. But that’s maturity. That’s experience. That’s my mind telling me that I still have much to learn and the moment that I think I know it all, I need to quit. Only a fool believes he has nothing left to learn. I’m always discovering something different, something fascinating, something helpful.
That is why I continue to watch YouTube videos. Share photos with others for constructive feedback. Subscribe to photography websites. Take tutorials. Take online photography challenges.
As I always say, I don’t have to be the best, just better than before. And always that guy who can give you something you never thought about when you called on him.
Ok, so I lied. I’ll post ONE pic. And here’s a Bonus Tip:
Make the most of every situation.
This little one wouldn’t stop crying, so I had her twin sisters improvise.
Would-be disaster turned Instant hit!
Like what you read? Have a thought to share or a personal experience? Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section below. And be sure to sign up at the bottom for email notification of future posts from Kenny’s Camera, Cooking & Crazy Confessions at ZootsBlogSpot!
Kenny you cease to amaze me! Great examples and advice. I enjoyed reading them.
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I’m glad you enjoyed it, old friend. Thanks so much for reading!
The picture of the three girls you posted is so good. Though you orchestrated part of it , it looks very natural and spontaneous. I know people want to look their very best in pictures , but I like the pictures which are taken without the subject’s knowledge, catching their expressions when they are not posing, I feel they tell a more beautiful story of that moment.
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I need to remember to show you those candid shots. My favorite couple shots are when I tell the man or woman to kiss the other on the back/side of the neck when I give the signal. Their reaction is authentic and even better, priceless.
Thanks for reading!