Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Learnings and reflections on being a part-time photographer

I just finished editing my very first wedding photo shoot.

For a first foray into the wedding photography world, I think I did ok. I mean, I've been to weddings, I've been a bride twice, and I immerse myself in the work of other photographers doing this kind of thing every day. But outside of that, I've never been a 2nd-shooter with a professional photographer and have never been through the flow of a wedding from the perspective of a photographer.

So, I knew, up-front, that I had a lot to learn. I wasn't wrong.

Here are my key take-aways:

  1. Patience and focus. Don't let external variables, personalities, or timelines distract from what you have been hired to do. (Which is not to say, be stubborn and inflexible, just focused.) This is obviously easier to do if you have a ton of experience under your belt and the process is old-hat.
  2. Pre-wedding communication. How are the couple scheduling their day? Have they built in enough time (with cushion, for the inevitable delays) for you to get the shots they need?
  3. Alignment with your style and goals. Is the photography as important to the bride and groom as the results will be to you? Is their style of wedding one that matches your style of photography and your goals for your portfolio? This relates to a whole set of variables: time to take photos; tolerance of the bridal party for getting the images you would like to get to make them happy; how comfortable the bride and groom will be working with you etc...
  4. Posing. I typically lean toward a more candid style of photography but, for weddings, you need to give your subjects more direction. I think this will come with experience. I'd really love to work as an assistant/2nd-shooter for an experienced photographer at this point. I feel the "lacking" if you know what I mean.
  5. Time to edit = a lot. My biggest challenge, doing this after my day job, was finding a clear block of time to edit the photos. It took me a few weeks, which is no time at all for a full-time photographer (most of whom take 6+ weeks) but usually this is at least in part because the photographer also has other sessions to edit. I felt the process lacked creative consistency for me because I was editing in 1-2 hour fits and spurts. By the time I was half way through I almost wanted to go in a different direction with the style of the edits but then had already committed myself and didn't have time to change the first half. All of this means I lost my momentum and enthusiasm (not entirely but I was feeling overwhelmed/dejected.) Honestly, I had a hard time with the editing, run out of steam, and I think it showed in the final product.
  6. Time. Time. Time. Weddings require a lot of time, a lot of focus, a lot of creative energy both in preparation, on the day, and subsequently in choosing and editing the final photos... or, at least, this one did for me. Right now, this is hard for me to fit into my life. It makes me question if this is an aspect of photography I should pursue right now. 
Don't get me wrong, I make this sound negative: it wasn't. I had a great time and I'm thankful for the opportunity. Learning about where you need to improve is just as important as having a positive experience that reaffirms your strengths.

Yet, as I think about the next 12 months for Memories by Michelle, I have a definite vision for where I want to go, what I want to achieve (creatively and from a business perspective) and it all seems a little overwhelming. I just don't have the time to devote to it that I want/need to do things to the standard that will make me satisfied. Further, I know I have made choices this past year that don't fit in with where I want to go in the next 12-18 months

Part of what this wedding, and the build-up to it with a ton of sessions this year, has taught me is that, as I referred to in #5 and #6, to achieve what I really want to achieve with my photography, at the standard at which I want to achieve it, I need to be more strategic in the way I approach my sessions.

Basically, I need to do fewer sessions to avoid burnout, and only accept clients whose vision for their end product not only matches where I want to go with my photography but also makes the time I spend working on the images worthwhile from a business perspective. Otherwise I run the risk of losing steam, getting sloppy, and devaluing what I want to achieve in the long term.

It's been an interesting and fun 12 months on this ride so far but I'm tired and I feel it - which is not a good place to be when you need to pour your passion and enthusiasm into your work. I've loved every one of my photo sessions (32 in 9 months) and have learned so much but now I feel I need some space. Some time to do some workshops, attend some seminars, and experiment with different techniques. At the same time, I don't want to stop doing sessions. I want to BUILD this business still. I want to move forward. I just wish I could press pause for a while.

Let's not even get into: the time away from my daughter (both mentally and physically); the strain on my husband and our relationship (do we have one right now?); the fact that my relationship with my parents has pretty much paired-down to seeing them as I drop off/pick-up my daughter; the housework and laundry that rarely gets done; the fact I haven't watched a TV program in months and have very little idea of what's going on in the world; and the short-term memory lapses that result from being spread too thin and that drive everyone in the family crazy.

No, this is not a woe-is-me post. I am not seeking sympathy. These things just are. They're a reality, a trade-off to pursue a dream, and I have to take note of them before they spiral out of control. I've been out of balance and I need to fix that.

So, I feel in a bit of a quandry. I'm sure it's not unique and I'm sure I'll push through it but I'm trying to absorb everything I am feeling, process it, and turn it into positive action.

I'll share as I go along. Of course, advice is always appreciated.


Kah-ree ;-) said...

Wow--you're putting into words SO MANY things I've been thinking/feeling lately. I'm tired too. I love my camera, I love picking it up... but knowing the hours of work ahead of me with post-pro and trying to carve out the time and knowing that it will be time away from other things is really hard. And I don't even have kids!

I TOTALLY.GET what you mean about editing in fits and spurts and losing continuity... that's what's been making me most insane, I think. I'm kind of burnt too. I love doing this... but I need time to take a break and focus on technique.

I've been wondering how you can do it when I'm not nearly as busy as you are and I've been feeling burnt out (although, now that I think about it, if you add in the number of work functions I've shot in the past 9 months, including the junior/senior prom, that brings me about to your number--and I'm not even getting paid for any of that!)

At least we have the next Chicks, Clicks, and Cocktails to look forward to... I think this is something we all need to talk about. How to stay fresh with it. Because I know this burnout feeling can't be unique to the two of us.

Joy @CGBC Youth said...

I read your blog post and got tired! I don't know how you do it. Knowing
how much work it can be to edit one photo (can the sky be bluer?! Can't
the electrical cords be deleted?) I can see why one would get burn
easily. I do love your work and think you work really hard at it and want to encourage you to build on your business and your passion for
sure. Hopefully you find that balance really soon, and I can see you
enjoying life and people MOST important to you more too. Love you!

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