The short version: I quit photography once and then came back because I fell in love with old family photos I found at my grandparent’s house. This is why I love lifestyle so much, because pictures become family history treasures.
The long version includes some of the old family photos: In 2010, I decided to quit photography. People thought I was crazy because, they said, “You are so good.” I don’t think most people understand how stressful it is to photograph portraits and weddings. Sometimes I felt expected to please everybody all the time, and fell short of either their expectations or mine. My prices didn’t help at $2800-$5000 per wedding and $250 for a portrait session that didn’t include anything. I felt like I had to be perfect in every way.
This might be the biggest stress of all: I was never completely satisfied with all my work. Some photo sessions would be great and my love for working in the industry would be renewed and others would fall flat plunging me into a cauldron of stress. Most of my clients were more forgiving of me than I was of myself, but some were worse. I was left with this nagging uncertainty, being helpless to control the outcome.
It was all I thought about. I hoped film was the solution because I could send them to a lab and they would come back looking amazing. Once again, I got mixed results. Sometimes they would look great and sometimes I would still have to edit them to make them presentable. My anxiety returned and I quit.
During my 3 years away from the industry, I disconnected from the pressures of running my own small business. I told myself and everyone else that I would still do my own personal work and shoot film. I sold my digital cameras so that I only had a film camera. When friends and family wanted me to shoot for them, I always agreed and told them that if they would pay for my film costs, I would be happy to do it; which was true because I enjoyed practicing my film skills for fun.
I ended up doing a lot of personal work as promised, but not like you would think and not much of it was film. For example, I went back to school for a while, I read deep and thought-provoking books, and developed a love for genealogy thus reconnecting with the service oriented-tradition of my faith. While doing genealogy, I got a hold of pictures from my grandparents. LOTS of pictures. My cousin and I spent a couple of days scanning them into digital format so that we could share them with other family members. Some of the pictures were not very meaningful to me such as the huge group shots that make it difficult to find my relatives, but some bubbled-over with personality and I felt a deep connection with people I had never met and a deeper connection with the ones I already know and love.
Here is one of my favorite images. My Great-grandpa Oakes is playing the harmonica for my mom, who is a baby. It looks like my grandparents visited my Grandma’s parents at Christmas time in a very small house that my Great Grandpa built himself. My Grandpa took the picture and he probably directed the composition a little. He was a photographer by profession and knew what he was doing, but he wasn’t telling everyone to look at the camera. He embraced the imperfections and editorial nature of the scene and that makes me cherish the image even more.
Here is my grandpa, the photographer, as a little boy (he was the oldest) with his brothers and his dad.
Here is his mother, a free spirit if I ever met one.
The pictures my Grandpa took, which were mostly of his family are very high quality, but none look posed rather editorial. Here are some images that he took of his family while they grew up.
As a child, I regularly saw pictures similar to these. My mom took a lot of pictures of her kids and she embraced the imperfections as well, never fussing over how we looked in them very much. We didn’t have very many portraits taken of our family, but we had multitudes of good quality pictures of our life. We liked to look at them while growing up. It helped us remember things about ourselves and what we liked to do together.
Before I quit, I wanted the pictures to have meaning and tell a story, but I wasn’t sure how to do it. I got distracted, caught up in trying to figure out what other people wanted. Sometimes I would create pictures that had a commercial feel and that told a story, but the story wasn’t meaningful to their family history, it was just something I saw in a magazine and wanted to recreate because it looked good. I knew that it didn’t have soul.
When taking a portrait, most people seem highly concerned about having it look perfect with everyone looking at the camera and smiling. Why are they worried about how the picture will look? Because it’s hung on the wall of their house for the world to see. It’s kind of a big deal. What I don’t think people contemplate as often when they think of professional photography is having pictures to pass on to future generations; treasures because they epitomize the family. Maybe this is because professional photographers are so expensive.
I thought, “If I were to do photography again, it wouldn’t be for portraits, it would be for memories.” Even so, this was still not enough to get me interested in entering that world again. I am not sure there is even a market for the things I would want to do, and it doesn’t solve the issue with my perfectionist attitude about the resulting pictures. I still had absolutely no interest in getting involved again.
Then one day, I was browsing on Facebook and saw a link for an article about film vs. digital. I have read many articles like this before, and it wasn’t anything attention grabbing, but I read it. It let me to discover VSCO presets. My heart started beating faster as I looked through the before and after images. It was incredible. The look of film with the control of digital. I wondered if it was too good to be true.
I found out that although VSCO didn’t look exactly like film, it solved some of the problems that drove me crazy about digital. This discovery overcame a huge hurdle for me.
When thinking about what made photography so stressful before, I realized that my price was so high that it added pressure to have a perfect, flawless product. This doesn’t match my personality and I would have never hired myself because of the price. I decided that I wanted a business model that I believed in because I would be willing to hire myself. That meant that I needed to offer a more affordable, more laid back, and a more meaningful product.
In the beginning, I didn’t plan to offer portraits at all because I love the old family lifestyle pictures so well, but I found that at the lower price, I enjoy taking portraits too. I always do my best, but I don’t have to be such a perfectionist anymore. So I offer both lifestyle and portraits and hope that my clients will see the value in lifestyle in addition to portraits.
Here are a few more favorites:
The image above has a fun story. My great-grandparents thought it would be funny to take a picture of their 4 year-old son behind the plow. People thought they were really making him do that kind of work. They had to explain that it was only for humors sake.