I believe I was around 8 years old when my dad gave me a little Kodak Brownie camera and black-and-white film. He was an industrial designer and inventor who loved taking pictures of his eight children and also of his inventions and product models. I started making a little dioramas with my dolls with captions and shot the scenes for posterity. At a young age I excelled in the arts and music. Earning a BS degree in Fine and Applied Art from San Diego State University cemented my intent to become an artist and graphic designer. I bought a fairly good 35 mm film camera in my early 20s. I started with an Olympus and later, the Pentax Spotmatic 35mm cameras. Photography was a hobby for me for many years while my career path meandered from high school art teacher in Carmel, California to working as an art director for an advertising agency in San Diego and then later continued along that path when I move to Jacksonville, Florida. I was a Creative Director for a national direct marketing company in Jacksonville, Florida. I also was learning Photoshop when it first came out. (I think it was Photoshop 3 then.) In the early years of my photography business, I continued to explore my fine art photography and invested in a large Epson printer to make fine art prints that were sold in galleries around the country. I was tenacious in learning as much as I could. When I didn’t feel confident, I studied on my own to learn the skills I needed.
Experience is your most valuable tool.
Early photo portraits including hand colored Black and Whites
Making sure I am properly licensed and insured, tending to my finances efficiently, paying taxes monthly, concentrating on very good customer service, my business grew. I am fortunate to have my husband, a CPA handle the accounting over the last decade. He uses Quickbooks and has configured our books properly, with externals backing up everything. In my office, all of the images, raw and retouched jpgs are stored on external hard drives with DVD burns of the final images which I file in job folders. Organizing my clients alphabetically by last name first and also with sub folders for raw, retouched, with copies of invoices and payment information is done weekly. On my 27″ iMACs, I only keep current client images and stored in four main folders: Portraits, Weddings, Fine Art Photography, and Paintings. Since I am good about filing and getting back with clients quickly, its become easy to locate a photo. My rule is always to post the proofs within the week of the session. Even when I have a thousand shots to go through from a wedding, I never have disappointed a client by taking too long to post. They are always anxious to see the proofs so I don’t like to make them wait.
BABIES, FAMILIES AND CHILDREN
The key to a good portrait is making your clients feel good and gently posing them. I am a fan of natural light for much of my photographic portraits. My favorite camera for portraits is my Nikon 800E with an 85mm prime lens.
The hour goes quickly if you continually keep moving, making new groupings, concentrating on individual portraits (which gives the others in the group a break) …especially if you sense a person is uncomfortable or if a pose isn’t working. Working with children and babies is difficult at times so I keep the session moving by having several set locations worked out in advance. Also telling jokes or talking to the little ones directly so they feel comfortable with me (without their parents urging them to smile which generally makes it worse.) Sometimes I bring toys, bubbles and noise makers to help with a little ones attention.
Studio and Location Portraits
Fine Art Fantasy Photography
As an artist who paints, I also like to explore a bit of fantasy with costumes and artistic manipulations. This requires some conversations prior to a session with your client/model. Then spending the time to locate props and costumes. I actually rented a real wolf for my Little Red Riding Hood portrait. Some are done in the studio and some on location. When I am out and about, I scout for locations continually. Once, a friend had some antique crossbows and archery bows and he was a hunter. So when I did his wife’s portrait, I made her into Diana, the goddess of the Hunt.
Professional Business Portraits
During the early years of study my photography business, I spent a lot of time and money investing in really good equipment in education. Fortunately for my years as a graphic designer, retouching and working on my images digitally came easy. As an artist I adored spending hours manipulating my images to be a little bit more artistic and creative. Starting a business is a big challenge of finding clients that trust you to do a great job for them and then delivering on that promise. Being able to offer coffee table books is a great way to share a family’s session with friends and family. I always designed my books with traditional design methods, making thumbnails of the chosen images, design sketches and placing them on pages in Photoshop with no templates. There are many companies now who print consumer books with various templates for photographers who do not have design skills. I feel that my designs are totally unique in this regard.
Custom Designed Books
A lot of my business was word-of-mouth and I have spend a lot of capital on advertising, printed sales sheets, cards, professional folders, packaging, and everything that it took to set myself up as a professional. Because of my graphic design skills, creating custom books for my clients became a big draw. Shooting weddings, portraits, babies and families really kept me busy. I was offering something a bit different: A Traditional and classic posing mixed with tinting and artistic effects.
For the next decade I shot approximately 225 weddings locally and internationally.
Early in my photography career the pro lab that I was using, accidently destroyed two rolls of film from the wedding that I had just shot. It was the worst feeling I’ve ever had because I always wanted to do an exceptional job for my clients. That was when I switched from film cameras to digital professional gear. I’ve been using Nikon products for the last 15 years. I generally like to carry three cameras with various lenses and flashes to big shoots and scale it down to two cameras for family portraits. Having numerous Nikon cameras, D2X, Nikon D200, D300, D600, couple D700s, D800E are part of my arsenal. I used to use zoom lenses because of the price and convenience but have found that prime lenses are now my go to LENSES. Also using a bracket for my flashes for vertical versus horizontal shots is a must. Notice in the shot above, I have a shadow to the right because my assistant did not use his bracket correctly.
Over a decade ago, I turned my two car garage into a professional portrait studio and I’ve had a lot of success being able to create images in my studio.
In the studio, I use daylight fluorescent Westcott light Banks and have a myriad of props and backdrops for portraits, children, and fantasy portraits. These Westcott lights are great because they don’t strobe and when you’re shooting a baby or somebody who is sensitive to light flash. …These really are PERFECT. By the way, because they do not flash, there is a chance to capturing a blurry shot so really planting yourself and asking client not to move much helps. For action shots, I make my ISO faster or add more light.
I have always enjoyed directing my brides and grooms into having fun, and enjoying the experience of being photographed.
Sometimes I find myself in acute back pain at my computer “playing” with an image to enhance and create an effect I envision. Its addicting. There are so many photoshop actions that you can purchase and also I make my own actions of effects that I want to try on other images.
Photographing crackling paint, water, rocks or wood textures and then softly layering into certain areas of a photo alters the feeling sometimes dramatically. Each image calls to me to create something more special than when I originally shot it. Each become unique statements. Each image brings back memories and history.