Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Your Own Self.

I was on the phone with one of my favorite people and photographers today, Liz LaBianca.  Liz and I became fast friends when she interviewed me last year for Inspire Me Baby. 

That statement alone makes me laugh on the inside. Me, interviewed.  For you see, I'm still such a work in progress in photography, that to have someone want to interview me made me feel a little weird. Flattered, but weird.

We had a conversation today about the idolization of photographers in the industry.  And how damaging it could be... to the person doing the idolizing.

We talked about how every single photographer has a so-so session.  How not every image in 'their' Gallery is perfection.  We are only human.  We're supposed to make mistakes (thanks Billy for the insight there).

Imperfections are everywhere,  no matter how long you have been shooting, how many Facebook fans you have and how many books you have published.  No one is immune.

So when you go to compare yourself to the hottest shooter in your mind, stop.  Insert a shake of the shoulders by me.  And get over it.  Because it is more damaging than you think.

You are your own unique self.  That should translate into every area of your life, including photography.  Photographers are some of the most insecure people I know- myself absolutely included.  We eagerly lie in wait when we post images to Facebook to see if anyone commented (refresh page. refresh page. refresh page. Darn. I knew I should have went with another image for the sneak peek!)

When I started out in this industry in early 2009, a mere 3 years ago, I knew pretty quickly what I wanted to do versus what a lot of the trends were: I knew after my first shoot with a newborn and props that was not me.  I failed miserably.  I was shaking putting the baby into the basket.  My black cloth to use as a backdrop was wrinkled and full of lint.  That awkwardness was NOT the way I wanted to feel shooting, ever.

I decided I wanted my images to make people feel something and be like a mirror held up to their lives.

So great. I had my style, and it was called lifestyle.  Let's go with that.  Check that off the to-do list.

But then the problem arose of pining for my images to look like something I just couldn't translate them into when I clicked the shutter.  Indoor lifestyle shots with a Nikon D40?  Epic (noisy) fail. Why couldn't I get the results 'x' got with her camera? 

Guess what?  The camera DOES matter.  The equipment DOES matter.  The mantra of 'it's not the camera it's the photographer' is certainly true, don't get me wrong.  But shoot, the camera and lens play a pretty darn big part in the difference between a snapshot indoors and an image worthy of charging people money for!

When you look at someone like me, for example, who is blessed to own a Nikon D3s take pause.  Your images are noisy at 1,000 ISO?  Of course they are!  Stop kicking yourself because your D90 doesn't crank to 100,000 ISO and you can't shoot in the dark.  Baby steps.  I saved, saved, saved, and poured (and continue to pour) money back into my equipment to get better results.  Unless you have the numbers to the next lottery, it takes time.

And speaking of getting better results, I did something starting out I bet a lot of you did (or do) too- I asked about settings in the camera.  It's fine to ask, don't get me wrong.  I try to include them as much as my 40 year old brain will remember to, but in the end, settings mean nothing if you don't know why you are choosing those settings.

Photography is a constant education.  I still learn something new nearly every shoot- and some things work and some things don't.  But what I can tell you absolutely works is shooting time under your belt.

I often liken it to a pilot accumulating his/her hours to become certified.  You simply do not get better through osmosis- you. must. shoot.  And shoot often.  With different subjects.  In different light.  In different locations.  The more you shoot, the better you become.  Simple fact.

How about some examples?

Here is an image I shot circa 2008 of my daughter.  I'm a fan of head chops but yikes! The light is all wrong, focus is off, color if off (but she's still so darn cute :)).

2009 had me getting a little better.  At least focus and light was improving a wee bit.  Ok, ok she's a bit green...let's move on.

2010 I really started seeing the change...though those eyes were way over sharpened and her skin a bit cool, it's a big leap from the prior year.

2011 is my sweet spot.  That is when I really started understanding my camera, settings and finally when my 'vision' was coming to light and it literally clicked. 

And now, 2012.  A similar shot as the one above, only now it's more polished. This year it's all about experimenting with my edits, angles and composition.  Never stop learning and challenging.

So there you have it- my journey over the past few years.

In the end, please learn to embrace your 'mistakes' because they are helping you grow.   Stop going crazy following every photographer's feed and getting yourself into a lather because you can't BE them.

You are right, you can't, you won't and you will never be them.  You will be you.

And that is awesome.


Heather T. said...

Wonderfilled encouragement!! You're a beauty. I've done much of the same and will continue to learn. One of my major obstacles is the pricing, simply because I want to be available to those who may not be able to afford it - - and I believe that my images will prove that, even though I charge very little in comparison, my eyes are worth the cost. I, too, am a true to heart lifestyle photographer - began that way, tried to please with the {ick} backdrops and {little} props...and now, I can stand tall stating that I am what I am.

:) like your post

Kristina McCaleb said...

It is so hard to get out of the wishing and hoping and comparing! This is a long journey and sometimes it is so very hard to be in the first mile of it. Excellent post!

kelly ens said...

This is a fantastic post - thank you! I see progress in my own journey (thank goodness) and am beginning to see my own style develop.

Laura said...

I can't even begin to show my gratitude to this post! As a photographer who just launched my business, who's still learning, saving, spending (I know this will never end), I am so wholeheartedly appreciative of successful photographers who reach out to people like me who are in the shoes they wore 2,3,4,forever years ago. I'm there. I've learned to not want to be one of the 'togs on my feed. I'm working at learning, bettering my images. I'm thankful for your (and Liz - love following her for same reason) outreach to us, the not-quite-there yet. So, thank you.

Debbie said...

Thank you so very much for sharing this post. As someone struggling with so many insecurities and so in awe of the amazing images that you and so many other talented photographers post, this really struck home. I have so very much to learn and so much I still get so confused by. Despite the positive feedback I've received from those whose children I have photographed, I often feel like a fraud when scrutinizing my images for everything that I did wrong. I never would have thought that accomplished photographers had insecurities too.

Cynthia Peterson said...

Thank you so much for this HONEST post! I recently got up the nerve and asked a local photographer idol of mine if I could assist with one of her shoots. It was such a great experience for so many reasons, but mostly because I realized that I AM doing a lot of things right! Knowing that the way that I'd been shooting (which was pretty much just learned from experience) was so similar to hers gave me so much confidence! I still have a LOT to learn and improve on, but it's so nice to know that everyone is a work in progress.

Kara said...

Great post and great point! When I first started out, I bookmarked all the photographers I wanted to emulate -- but I eventually realized that I had to stop ogling all those pages if I wanted to nail down my own style.

And AMEN to good equipment! :)

Lori Romano said...

"You are your own unique self. That should translate into every area of your life..." - Girl, I want to hug you for that line alone! Beautifully-written, heartfelt post. And now I'm off to share it! :-)

Jenn Bullen said...

This post says it all when it comes to our own insecurities about our work. You're so right when you say your confidence diminishes when no one comments on your work in Facebook, Flickr, etc. Well done for giving us a jolt to not worry about comparing ourselves to others. We are who we are and our style reflects that. Thanks again for your words of advice.

Ginessa Pierson said...

Thank you for this!!!

Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman said...

I wrote this post last night and went off line (you know the whole work/balance thing we all struggle with :)) but I was so happy to see the response this morning. I was hoping it would provide a lift to a lot of you, some who I know personally. Just know I've been there, done that and came out the other side (ok so I still hope for comments on the images and refresh my FB page until I get one!). Like I said, I am a work in progress...and there is nothing wrong with that!

Pamela said...

Thank you thank you thank you! Always so great to have this reminder!

Maureen said...

Jenn - Thank you for your post. Your honesty is what I totally respect in you! How many out there would be willing to show their early work? I am still working toward letting my new town know who I am ... but I found it more important to know who I was first. I am getting there. I shoot every day. I was so scared to add that new lens a few months back. I had been shooting previously with my kit 24-105mm f4 lens. I tapped your insight and input back in December. When I finally worked through my agony, I went with the 50mm 1.4. I completely understand what you say about equipment. I needed to stay with that kit lens to work on skill. But I also needed to move forward and expand and challenge. In the last 4 months of owning the 50mm, I have made great strides. I wish you could see my images on my personal page where I post - because you, baby, helped my journey! Thank you!

Prita said...

Hi Jennifer,
I stumbled across your blog a couple of months back and now I enjoy following your beautiful work. I JUST started my photography business in January and I am really enjoying but just feel like I have SO MUCH to learn. This post made me feel so much better. Thanks for your honesty!

Prita McKenna

Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman said...

Thanks so much Maureen and Prita and so glad to hear I am helping a bit in your journey!

Moira said...

Thank you so much, what an encouraging post, makes me want to keep on trying!I love your images!

Paws on the Run said...

Awesome post. Love the statement - "...be like a mirror held up to their lives." And I totally agree about the equipment - it can make a huge difference. I take candid pet photography and photographing a fast moving dog is much easier with my 70-200 than the 75-300 kit lens my first camera came with! It wasn't impossible, but I have a lot more "hits" than "misses" now.

Bethany @ 3SonsPlus1...and.... said...

I really appreciate your honesty and vulnerability in writing this post. Thank you! I think I just heard the collective sigh of relief as we all remember that learning is a process, and making mistakes is part of that process, too. Thanks again! I love seeing your beautiful photographs! =) Bethany

A. Leigh Photography said...

love your honesty!!! thanks for posting!

Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman said...

Paws on the run- I love your work too and the love you have for those pups of yours! Moira, glad it is encouraging. Bethany and A. Leigh, honesty is the only way to be ;) It is certainly not an easy road to take- though it may look 'fun' on the outside, you need to have that thick skin. Bouncing back from mistakes is essential to succeed!

Tisa Theresa Irene said...

Nice post...Thanks!

evereverafterblog.com said...

I just quoted your say about not comparing yourself to others on my post today. Thanks, great post and magnificent photos...

Sonja Hardy said...

This post is very inspiring and wonderful, thank you. Just what I needed to read at this stage in my photography career, which is still the practicing on friends and family stage. Thank you for saying equipment does matter, and for sharing your photography over the years. I am definitely looking forward to looking back on how my photos have improved over the years (too). Happy I found your blog today!

Kristy Beck Photography said...

Hi Jennifer!
I was googling newborn photography (as I regularly do to see what's out there) and I came across an article you wrote on iheartfaces website about tips for lifestyle photography for newborns. It led me here and reading this article was so great. I feel that I can't seem to nail down the props with newborn photography as much as I like it. I find that my best images from a session are the natural looking photos. I never thought about lifestyle photography for newborns. I absolutely love this idea. I think this could actually be the right path for me. So thankyou, thankyou, thankyou for such an inspiring article that may just help me become the photographer that will set me apart from everyone else in my area. I will now be a regular reader of your blog as you are so inspiring for me. Thanks a many.

Kristy (new photographer in Sydney, Australia)

Jessica Flett said...

A wonderful post. Thank you so much. I have just discovered your work and I'm loving exploring your blog. It is terrific to see how your shots have evolved over the years. I would love to think I'm on that path of getting better. I adore the use of light in your photos. It's so soft and lovely.

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