At the end of every year, I like to look back and reflect on how things went before I look forward and dream about the upcoming year. I’ve done a lot of reflecting and made quite a few lists. It’s really in my nature to be pretty critical of myself, so I really had no problem thinking of the worst parts of 2014. What was harder was acknowledging the places of growth and where things totally rocked! So in an effort to grow in my own self-awareness as an individual and business person, and as a way to encourage others to take an honest look at where they’ve been in the past year, I’m going to share my Best & Worst of 2014. No, these aren’t my best and worst shots (though maybe I should do that too…). These are the things I did or was a part of that were either really fabulous, or totally awful. Like, really really painful. I’m pretty nervous to be this open about areas of growth and weakness, so I’m taking a deep breath……and just going to go for it!
Best of 2014
Working with talented second shooters for weddings.
This wasn’t something I specifically set out to change this year, but I think it just happened anyways because I’m picky. After several years of working with a variety of second shooters, I zeroed in on a few people I like working with regularly and who have consistently high quality work, which makes my job so much easier. Less editing, less worry about consistency of photos matching mine, and just a more pleasant experience all around. Not only that, but I also managed to find several that have great personalities, which just made the wedding day more enjoyable and fun for me and my couples. Granted, there are sour apples here and there when I had to find someone super last minute because of cancelling, but it really turned out quite great. The other awesome bonus is that I feel like this contributed to me having a better network with other photographers, which is always a good thing!
Couples that were totally the right ones!
One thing that I’ve worked really hard on the past 2 years is clarifying my style, brand, and the kinds of couples I want to work with. And it’s SO wonderful to look back at this year and say that every single one of the weddings I photographed was a perfect fit. I feel like I’ve finally found my groove and know pretty soon after meeting with a potential bride and groom whether they are right for me. With all of my 2014 couples, they were just right. The right kinds of weddings, budget, style, but most importantly, personality. I loved that each wedding was effortless this year!
Photographing more senior guys!
Finally FINALLY more guys are contacting me to do their senior photos! I swear, I must have needed to move mountains to make that happen, because it has taken a LOT of work. Granted, a great majority of my marketing and images are of young women, and my style and experience is more geared towards them as well. But I truly love photographing the senior guys as well. They were so much FUN! And a little secret? In some ways, the guys were easier. Ha! I know so many photographers who disagree with that statement, but I found working with guys to be a breeze. So hopefully 2015 will bring more senior guys!
Refining my post processing for weddings.
I worked really hard during the summer months to fine tune my post processing, particularly related to my wedding work. I’ve definitely found my happy place for seniors (though I’ve also felt the need to dial back some of the skin smoothing a bit), but I’ve never felt 100% satisfied with how I was editing my weddings. It has always been a different process, and so it has taken me a bit longer to figure out how to edit literally thousands of photos in a way that I truly love. I have long since abandoned Photoshop for weddings, it’s just way too time consuming to edit that many photos by hand. I’d be behind my computer screen for hours! But I’ve never been super satisfied with how I could edit in Lightroom. One of the MAJOR things that helped me figure out a post processing style that I love was upgrading to Lightroom 5, and experimenting more with various presets that I’ve purchased in the last year or so. I really took the time during the slower weeks of late June and early July to figure out how exactly I want my wedding photos to look. I love a clean edit any day, but I also liked a slight film look as well. It took a LOT of experimenting and tweaking, and it was definitely frustrating at times. But I am SO much happier with how my images look now, and I’m glad that they are all consistent. It makes the post-wedding workflow so much more enjoyable!
Getting the help I need when I need it.
Knowing that you need help is half the battle, right? Luckily, I anticipated the busy season this year and knew ahead of time that I would absolutely need help. I planned for it. Based on previous years, I’ve learned that August and September are generally my busiest time or senior photo shoots, and also my husbands busiest and most stressful time for work. So BOTH of us are pretty in over our heads, plus we have a toddler thrown in the mix to make it even more fun! I also had quite a few weddings scattered throughout this time, so I just knew that I would need to let go of some things in order to keep my sanity. And I am so SO glad I did. One major thing I did was that I had two weddings outsourced for editing. Letting go of editing is really hard for me, but it was a necessity. I also decided to get some regular babysitting help for my son Gus. We’ve never done daycare, so it’s mostly been me as a full time stay at home mom and part time business owner (which is kind of ridiculous when you think about it!) If I wanted to continue with my business, there was no way I could accomplish everything I needed to and still be a great mom for Gus. So, I made probably one of the best (and hardest) decisions I made this year – I hired the two granddaughters of my neighbor to come watch Gus for about 90 minutes three times a week so that I could get some work done. This was a HUGE game changer for me. It helped me have more reasonable work hours (no more late night editing) and it also helped me really figure out a consistent and speedy workflow, since frankly I didn’t want to waste time while I was paying someone else to be with my child! The really great thing about this, though, is that these two wonderful young girls have really bonded with Gus and he absolutely adores them. It’s the sweetest thing!
Worst of 2014
Each year, I think I’m going to be more organized. And then I’m not. And I hated it! There were two specific situations where this really became a pain. One was in my post-wedding workflow. I wasn’t being consistent with how I would name files, and ended up having a total mess of file names and organization for one particular wedding. It wasn’t anything major, but it was just ANNOYING, and to me, unprofessional. I also was getting really behind or unorganized with my bookkeeping, particularly with my business expenses, which is just not good. I’ve made SERIOUS improvements in both areas since realizing how bad it was. I have a much more polished workflow, one that I actually follow every single time so I don’t make mistakes! And I finally FINALLY got a filing cabinet to help with organizing files, bookkeeping, client information, archives, etc. I never though a piece of generic office furniture would be so revolutionary, but I think it may just change my life!
I had several really frustrating mishaps with equipment this year. One of my cameras was shooting out of focus. Or maybe it was a lens. I still don’t know, but I sent both in for repairs and that seemed to have done the trick. Then I was having issues with my flash. I bought a different one, and sold the bad one. THEN I had a pretty serious issue with one of my camera bodies right in the middle of a wedding that caused a great deal of stress. Fortunately in that situation I did have backup gear, as well as my assistant. In the end, I spent a lot of money on upgrading and replacing gear this year, (upgraded one camera, one flash, one lens, bought a new lens, and bought a ton of studio lighting equipment) which wasn’t something I was planning to do. I don’t regret it, because I want to have gear that I can fully trust and depend on, but I was hoping to make those changes further down the line.
Not scheduling breaks.
Looking back, I wish I had scheduled a bit more off time right in the middle of a busy stretch in the fall. Over the course of a month, I had 4 weddings, several engagement sessions and senior shoots, plus a LOT of ordering appointments. I was very very busy, and I was starting to burn out a bit. I really just needed a solid week off to recuperate. When November came, I finally did have a few days off, and it was amazing how much it improved my energy level and enthusiasm for photography. In the future, I know that I really can’t do more than 3 wedding weekends in a row. Nor can I do more than 2 shoots per non-wedding week, or 1 shoot on a wedding week. I need time with my family and time on my own so that I can refuel.
Not as much family time.
This is probably the one that I hate to admit the most. When things were REALLY busy, I often was editing late into the night, missing out on valuable time with my husband. Often my evening routine looked the same – my husband would get home from work, and if I didn’t have a shoot, then we’d eat supper with Gus, play for a bit and hang out until it was time for bedtime. We’d get Gus to bed around 7:30ish, and then I’d head straight to my computer to work for the next 2 hours, and then go to bed. And my husband would spend most of those nights reading on the couch on his own. Now, thankfully I am married to a man that LOVES to read and needs a bit of time on his own each night. Yet, we both agreed that this pattern of doing our own thing in separate rooms, particularly me working, wasn’t one that we wanted to continue forever and ever…or at least not every night. This is one area I’m still working on – balance, and regular set working hours/nights. It’s hard to have consistency when I don’t have consistent patterns to my shooting schedule, so that’s one goal I have for this year – I’d like to have specific days I do shoots, and if those aren’t filled, then I won’t let other work expand/leak into that time. I’ll have that time off. And I’ll have set time for other work tasks too and take the same approach with that as well.
Whew….looking at all of that, there were some tough things this year! But there were also some really amazing things that happened too. I’m so grateful to continue on with photography in 2015, and hopefully it will be an even better year!