Thoughts & Words

Portrait and Headshot Photography: Five Years On

Five years ago today I submitted my resignation at my day job to do freelance portrait and headshot photography full time. It was a big move, but one my family and I had prepared for. Over the years we’ve had our ups and downs in the business. I often think owning a business feels like sailing on the ocean: it’s a fun adventure but you never know what lies beyond the horizon. At first this uncertainty was a source of stress, but I’ve learned to embrace it. While I do have some slow spots, the business is working, and I am happy I made this career move.

Here are a few things I’ve learned since going out on my own:

– Consider what you really need to be happy and shape your life around it. In both business and hobbies, it really helps to narrow your focus.

– Pay off your debt! You’ve got enough to worry about without compounding it with interest.

– Get help! Naomi (my wife) does most of my bookkeeping, but we leave tax prep to the pros. There are quite a few considerations that we absolutely would have missed without our tax man. We also get marketing help from the amazing people at Fresh Figs Marketing. They’ve been a great client of mine for years and now help me keep the business rolling in.

– Business can be surprisingly variable. There have been a good few months where I thought I’d made it, I couldn’t have been busier, but those months were sometimes followed by dead ones. Make sure you plan for those ebbs and flows.

– Learn from mistakes. This is a tough one. One of the drawbacks of being a freelancer is that you’re easy to fire. Not that I’ve had many blunders, but there have been (unfortunate) times when clients were not entirely satisfied with the images we’ve made. Unless he or she is a dedicated client it is unlikely you will be called again. I make every effort to shape my work process around ensuring my clients are happy with the photography we produce.

– Don’t forget the real world connections! As an introvert it’s easy for me to just stay at home doing my thing, but real-world networking works. I attend meetings at a great BNI chapter and try to get out to a few social media gatherings a month.

I really do love my life now; the 9-5 world was just not for me. The mix of new and repeat jobs provide a bit of stability and variety in my day-to-day life. Not everything is the same, not everything is different.

Looking back it is abundantly clear that I could not have made it these five years without the incredible support of family, friends, clients, and business partners. Thanks everyone!

Colors Artist’s Statement

Here it is, after a bit of deliberation and editing, the artist’s statement for Colors:

Being part of the photographic community, I strive to bring new work and ideas to our collective body of images. As I consider new projects to take on I often discard ideas that have been covered by other photographers. Just as I try to distinguish my nature work, I am striving to do studio work that is my own. Working to make my own images, or in the case of this project, collaborating with others to make unique and compelling images that bear our own thumbprints.

This project finds its birth in that struggle. Initially started as an idea to bring something original to fashion photography, I was inspired to switch after helping photographer friend Steve Brokaw with a shoot of his own that used body painting. As a collaborative project it has been a delight to work with such talented individuals. To have others take up an idea and buy in as fully as I do is deeply gratifying.

So enjoy this lighthearted work of a photographer, and friends, trying to find a new way, their way, to make work that is beautiful and compelling.

Fretting the Details

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Lately I’ve been thinking about two ways to progress in my work: refine what I’ve already done or make the jump to work on something new.  New work gets all the glory, and it should.  You should shoot yourself bored, then keep going.  Realizing you’re making that picture again and refusing to repeat yourself is a sure way to see new things, or, possibly, see old things in new ways.

But I do love making headshots.  Over the years I’ve probably done… thousands?  Maybe not thousands of people, but certainly thousands of frames spent on making headshots and I still enjoy making them; but instead of the rush to move on to something new I’ve sunk in to the details.  I work on the finesse.  Balancing lights to finer and finer degrees.  I’ve learned how to quickly establish a rapport with a subject to hopefully relax and assure them (as a bit of an introvert, this is still a challenge).  I pay attention to finer and finer details.

A few weeks back the Roundpeg crew came by for some portraits.  The last time we got together it was near the library downtown, this time we met at my studio, M10 in the Circle City Industrial Complex. They wanted a new set of headshots and a set of high-key full length portraits of them and their furry office assistants.  It’s a difficult task: how to find new ways to move deeper into something that you’ve already thoroughly explored.

I had been considering this, prior to the shoot, and decided that for their headshots I would get a roll of backdrop paper that matched the colors of their logo and website.  It’s a minor thing, but details like this add up.

The Roundpeg crew has a great time together and it shows in the photos.  They’re always fantastic to work with and appreciate the time I spend fretting the details and exploring the mundane.

Checking in

Time flies
It’s hard to believe that it was almost three months ago that I took off on my own.  I had thought, at the time, that I would have a few weeks to get the business spooled up, to sound the “I’m in business” horn and get the last of the running a business things figured out.  That wasn’t to be.  I was pleasantly surprised at a quick start, and I’ve been just trying to keep up with it since.  It’s fantastic to have ideas for your business and then see them take off.  So to quickly check in, here’s the breakdown:

The good
— Like any new business owner, there was the fear that you’ll take the jump and then get nothing.  I’m happy to report that business has kept me hopping.
— Being that things have kept me  busy I’ve been able to accelerate my plans in some areas.  For example, I went in with a couple photographers and opened a studio / gallery on Mass Ave, check it out here:  http://www.facebook.com/M10Studio
— I’m pleasantly surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed running a business full time.  The book-keeping is a bit tedious, but watching your business grow is really exciting.

And the challenges
— I still haven’t been able to touch personal projects.  When I left my day job I had hoped that I could run the business and have some extra time to get to some personal projects that have been languishing, like http://indyhikes.com  So far, that hasn’t happened.  This isn’t to say that hope is lost, as we get the business processes streamlined and the figure-it-out-once-and-you’re-good-to-go sorts of problems solved I’m not having to spend as much time on business issues.  So, more hikes and personal projects coming soon, hopefully.
— In preparing to make the jump I was sure to build redundancy into my photo toolset.  Two bodies and multiple pro and standard lenses that over-lapped focal lengths so I would sure I could keep working in case any of them went down.  The one piece of equipment that I didn’t have a backup for?  My laptop, and two months in the hard drive failed.  Poetic.  It was under warranty, but I couldn’t run the business for a week or two without it while it was being repaired, so I made the switched to Mac and have been pretty happy.
— Keeping track of tasks and scheduling was a challenge at first, but judicious use of Google’s Calendar has really helped.

So, that’s about it for quickly checking in.  I have been dragging my feet on posting to the blog since I was trying to switch the site to a new WordPress theme.  That’s been done, so I hope to get to the backlog of posts I’ve started writing.  We’ll see though, the best laid plans…

Making the jump

I spent a lot of time on the slopes growing up, a very good friend of mine is a great skier and taught me well.  When out together he was always pushing me to keep trying harder and steeper slopes.  As I would stand at the top of some triple black with my tips hanging over the edge, I would lean into my bindings and look out over the drop.  I’ve had this feeling often in the last few years as I’ve considered going full time with my photography.

Usually progress happens in small increments; but there are some steps that require a scary leap, and after a year-and-change of looking over the full-time-photographer’s cliff, I’ve finally made the jump.

In the two weeks after I gave my notice at my day job, I certainly had a few moments of panic, but I’ve worked hard at photography like I worked hard at skiing.  I know it well.  I’ve done my research and made my plans.  I’ve got small fires burning and have just lacked the time to fan the flames.

The plan is to keep going with the corporate work I do: Portraits and headshots, group portraits, brochure photography, website photography, editorial (down the road…).  I also love to teach and am looking for ways to work that in.

I’m also excited to keep working on my own projects, especially indyhikes.com.  I’ve got the content for more hikes but just haven’t had the time to pull it together.  I’ve also got a beautiful photo printer and have been thinking about some new ways to display the work.  Hopefully print sales can help support the project.

This is an exciting time, and I wanted to thank everyone who has helped get me this far.  I’ve got a long ways to go, but I certainly wouldn’t have made it even this far without the fantastic support of friends and family.

So, need some pictures?  Send me an email or give me a ring at 317-443-3792.

When the right tools matter (and a bit about paper)

That photography is a tool-oriented art is not a new idea, but it’s sometimes surprising to me how much the tool can matter.  I used to fight with my old D70, but when I got the D300 it was like the scales fell away.  Finally a camera that got out of the way and let me get down to making pictures.  Even more so with the D700.

The same holds true for printing, I’ve recently found.  I’ve tried my own printing in the past, at first years ago with an early Epson inkjet, then more recently with a hand-me-down Epson R1800.  I enjoyed the process somewhat, but between me and making a print were too many hoops.  I never could get the color quite right in my home-made prints and the cost of ink was outrageous (a frustration compounded by frequent nozzle clogs that wasted far too much ink to get cleared).

With the launch of IndyHikes (something I need to write about here), I recently purchased a new photo printer, hoping to be able to sell prints to help support the project.  This isn’t a printer review, nor is it meant as an endorsement for Epson printers, but like other photo equipment, I’ve finally found a printer that gets out of the way.  (Or possibly, printing technology as progressed enough that many current printers are sufficiently slick enough to get out of the way, but I happen to have purchased an Epson 4900.)

It’s still not a perfect process, you  have to know about paper profiles and have the equipment and know-how to make the profiles if they aren’t provided by the paper manufacturer.  Finding the paper that works for each image and makes it really sing is just a blast, though.  And, better yet, seeing that the same image can say different things depending on what paper it is printed on adds a whole new dimension to image making.

So far, here’s a few of my favorite papers: Epson’s Cold Press Natural for warm-toned B&W, and Cold Press Bright for color images that work well on textured paper (like this: http://prints.pdaphotography.com/p251038326/h2342a7cd#h2342a7cd).  I also liked Museo’s Textured Rag quite a bit for color with texture and Moab’s Entrada Rag Bright for color without texture.  Moab’s Slickrock Metallic Pearl or Inkpress’ Metallic Glossy for a print that really pops but isn’t over the top (these papers are so similar I have trouble telling them apart).  Epson’s Exhibition Fiber is a very nice gloss paper, I need to experiment with this one a little more though.

I’ve been babbling about this sort of thing over on Facebook lately, so if you’d like to chat some find me over there.

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