It took 10 years, but I’ve finally achieved one of my dreams! I’ve had my photos published in a magazine!
Back in February one of my good friends, Ariel (@sipandspoonful), hit me up with an opportunity that I wasn’t sure that I was ready for. She does freelance food writing and pitched a story on New England Oyster Farming. The photographer the publication usually sends out couldn’t make it and she threw my name in and sent my website over. Next thing I knew, I was signing contracts, submitting briefs, and eating oysters up in Portland, ME.
It was one of the most magical photography experiences that I’ve ever had. Check out the story, published by Here Magazine: Where to Eat Oysters in Portland, ME
After crying tears of joy in the parking lot of a local brewery, seeing the published piece made me stop and reflect on my journey. Along the way, I’ve read a lot, watched a lot, heard a lot, and experienced a lot that has shaped who I am as a photographer.
Over the next 5 weeks, I’m going to explore 10 things that have really stuck with me throughout the years.
Lesson 1: Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
I used to hate this phrase with a passion. When I first started, I felt like planning out every part of a shoot would limit creativity. My first few gigs were house parties and sporting events. How could I plan those out?
It didn’t click for me until my third year with a camera.
I was doing family portraits for the Pinder Family, who are close family friends. They’ve known me since I was in high school, if not earlier. This was my second time doing a shoot for their Christmas Cards. I was super excited to show them how much I had grown. I came in with my Canon T4i, a 50mm lens, a new 85mm lens, and a new flash and Rapid Box combo I was especially excited to use. So excited that I spent a few weeks beforehand studying lighting on YouTube and photography blogs.
I painstakingly set up the light stand, assembled the Rapid Box, turned on the transmitter and powered on the flash. Everything was perfect… until about 10 photos in, when the flash stopped firing. Apparently, I underestimated how much power I had left after playing with the flash so much leading up to the shoot. Now, I was lucky that this was a shot with a family I had known for a long time and we were at their home, because they happened to have batteries on hand. But, I realized that, if I wanted to do this thing right, I had to give it the right level of attention.
And, while I’m talking about planning for the photoshoot, this also extends to planning for business, too. I didn’t get business cards until I had a conversation with a rapper on an Amtrak from Boston to Virginia Beach. He wanted to book me for some shows in the DMV, but I wasn’t ready on the business side of things back then.
Now, I have a whole process, complete with checklists, due dates, and extensive notes, for each shoot that I do. I make sure to connect with clients throughout the whole process to create a collaborative vision and put it into a creative brief with an accompanying shot list. While this is mostly for myself, I do share this with clients if they wish. I also have a gear checklist, with a few reminders to pack extra CF Cards and batteries, that makes sure I come with everything I could need. And, before you ask, yes, that includes business cards.
I’m planning to go more into my process in the near future, so stay tuned to check it out!
Lesson 2: Flow, Like Water
The first thing I do when I get to a location is mentally throw out the plan.
But what’s the point of all that planning if you’re not going to follow the plan?
Ok, so maybe not the entire plan. But most of it. Sometimes, just some of it. Let me explain.
In a famous Bruce Lee quote that I will (terribly) paraphrase, he encourages people to behave like water. Water takes the shape of the space of whatever vessel that it is in. Flowing water, like in a river, will eventually create new paths as it runs. These ideas also work in photography.
Things never go 100% according to plan. Sometimes, you get to a location and you realize the lighting is worse than you anticipated. Or, you’re limited to specific areas you can shoot from. You never really know how a shoot will go until you’re there. What we need to do, then, is take what we’ve got and figure out how to make it work.
Challenges beget two types of opportunities:
- Opportunities to be creative
- Opportunities to grow
In 2019, I volunteered to photograph the College Student Development and Counseling Masters Graduation Ceremony at Northeastern University. It was being held in the John D. O’Bryant African American Institute’s new event space — a beautiful, large room with good lighting and a small stage. The shots I knew I needed were:
- Photos of each speaker at the podium
- Photos of each graduate as they were hooded
- Photos of each graduate as they crossed the stage
- Photos of families at their assigned tables
I got there and realized that the stage was a 1-foot tall platform at the end of the room. I’m 6’3″, so I would be blocking everyone’s view if I was moving around up front, snapping away. And I was a volunteer, so I didn’t feel comfortable pulling rank, saying I’m the photographer, and doing what I wanted. This was their moment, not mine. What could I do?
I did the best I could, given the challenges I had. I used the aisles down the middle and the sides of the room, in between the tables, to get a few shots. I dialed in my settings so that, once I got to where I wanted to, all I had to do was focus the lens and take the photo. Since I had the event itinerary, I knew where I needed to be at certain times and minimized the amount of time I was blocking the view. I was still able to achieve the goals set out in the plan by adjusting the plan to reflect the reality of the situation.
In the little lulls of the Ceremony, I was scrolling through the photos, feeling somewhat uninspired. Sure, I captured the shots we wanted, but did I capture the story? It’s a celebration of a major milestone! When I look at my old graduation photos, I think to myself “Wow, I was so young.” Then, I put them away, never to be seen again until my parents move to a new home.
I didn’t want that to be the thoughts people had with my photos — I wanted them to reminisce on what that Ceremony represented: two years of hard work and, ultimately, two years of great memories with their friends. So, I stuck around after the Ceremony, hoping to catch some candid moments. And, by going with the flow, I captured some of my favorite photos from the day in the 10 minutes after it ended.
There is always much more to learn in both of these areas, let alone in photography. Much like life, this is a journey. There is no mastery, per se, although we can get really good.
Did either of these lessons resonate with you and your own experience?