Working with friends is fun. Case in point: this photo shoot for Bailey Fine Art Printing. Curtis is the premier fine art printer in Souther California. I've had the privilege of knowing Curtis for over ten years, back to when we both started out working at Tuttle Cameras. We rubbed shoulders every week as we sold film during the day, and practiced our craft in the back studio after hours.
Curtis focuses his craft of precision and nuance. He's a technical wizard, but he still feels the essence of the photo. It's a rare combination, and I'm so glad I'm still close enough to his shop to get my work printed by this master in his craft. He makes my photos look better then when I took them.
Bailey Fine Art is updating their website, and so when it worked out for me to shoot a few images of Curtis' work I was elated. Not only do I get to represent someone I deeply respect through my craft, I got to do so in the company of a good friend.
Sometimes I have the privilege of shooting people I know well. This weekend I had a family session with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law and my adorable new niece Violet. We had a simple Mini Session in a local Long Beach park.
I love shooting in this park because of the gorgeous light it gives before sunset, and because it illustrates how little the background matters for great photos. In fact, having a simple background, blown out by shallow depth of field (f/1.2 in many of these photos) allows the focus to be where I want it: on my client. Undistracted by what's behind, I get to let their expressions, interactions, and features take center stage.
It's an old photographer's joke: in the middle of the photo session the client says, "Oh, it doesn't matter! You can fix XYZ in Photoshop!" To which the photographer replies: "Absolutely! It's how I make all my money."
As a professional photographer time is insanely importantly -- meaning, how well or not I manage my time directly influences how much money I make. If I charge $100 and spend 1-hour on the project, I made a great profit. If, however, I spend 15-hours on the same $100 project... well, then, there are easier ways to make a buck.
After virtually burning myself out as a wedding photographer by 2013 (I started in 2006), I knew I had to change how I worked. Weddings were costing me too much. The price tag made it initially appealing, until I realized how many hours I was actually working on each event. It was unsustainable.
I decided to go after more portrait work. It was my favorite part of the wedding day anyway, and I figured I'd have less stress, too, working outside the demands of a wedding day. So I did and it was.
Shooting families more and more I started to hear the joke above play out. I never quite gave the photographer's reply -- but I began to see how many people were afraid of their imperfections. Unconsciously I went on a mission trying to shoot my clients in such a way that would allow them to see the best parts of themselves without the idealism of perfection. I wanted to honor their quirks, personality, and flaws -- not gaussian blur them all away.
Without the backup plan of Photoshop-ing in perfection, I focused on shooting in a way that was honoring to my clients' personalities. And I developed a "let it be" attitude in my editing. I realized this is how I had always wanted to shoot, and I finally had given myself permission to be who I was as a photographer. In addition, it freed up hours of time for me from each session -- not spending it behind the computer wiping away every laugh line.
The result has been an increasing return rate for my portrait clients. I'm learning they feel safe to let me represent who they truly are as I honor that trust by creating beautiful and realistic portraits that embody their entire being, not just their best smiles. And they feel safe because they sense that I actually like them (I do!). I'm fascinated by each and every one of them and take it as a honor each time I get to help them see a bit of what their loved ones see in them: their amazingly true and beautiful self.